The Breakdown of Ignoring

A banana’s perspective on the human experience of time

When I was a regular banana, before I was uplifted, we would pretty much just hang out. It was a warm, fragrant, undifferentiated time, not yet cut up into shots of consciousness, and certainly not curated and arranged into concepts and stories. It took a long time for me to figure out that this awkward mental state was not the habitual state of most humans. Over time, many humans have taught me their methods for managing conscious awareness – for coping with it, changing it, pausing it, and avoiding it. Some critical banana scholars have asserted that we long to go “back to the bunch,” but I don’t think the undifferentiated time of bunch consciousness (or lack thereof) is really a foreign or undesirable state for humans.

It is in the nature of the world to be ignored. To the extent that tools, environments, and relationships are properly functioning, they are invisible. You hit the lightswitch a thousand times, successfully ignoring the material substrate of its reality every time it works. When the electricity goes off, when there is a breakdown, then ordinary ignoring must temporarily pause, and the underlying reality must be seen and dealt with.

It is in the nature of the mind to ignore things. Conscious awareness is an awkward sort of debugging mode, for use when things break down. The goal of conscious awareness is to adjust reality as necessary to successfully resume ignoring, for the mode of ignoring is the mode in which handiness, productivity, and even virtuosity can be practiced. 

A system can be ignored so long as its functioning is managed without conscious attention. To be ignorable, either a system must be managed by others (garbage removal, electricity), or managed through unconscious rituals performed without interrupting one’s train of thought (seat belts, hand washing). 

Most people are naturally capable of ignoring almost everything. There are various mental illness constructs created to explain people who lack the ability to ignore almost everything at all times. The inability to ignore things has real consequences.

One measure of the functioning of civilization is just how much its citizens can get away with ignoring. Another might be how its citizens respond to a mass failure of ignoring.

Time is mostly perceived in brief, awkward wakings-up from ignoring. Meeting again a child who has grown, or an adult who has aged, brings to awareness the fact of the passage of time, as revealed in the system of the body. When a relationship is permanently interrupted by death, a traumatic cessation of ignoring occurs. Some people experience regret in grief – if only I had spent more time, paid more attention! Is it regret for the misuse of time, or is it regret at learning the nature of time? Much of love is skillful ignoring. 

A sudden absence (as with death) can be a breakdown that causes a failure of ignoring. But a sudden and unexpected presence can also be a breakdown. Right now these are both common: breakdowns of absence (including isolation and death), and breakdowns of presence (having to deal nonstop with the unaccustomed presence of even the most beloved others, whose consciousnesses are usually managed off-site). 

A breakdown usually does not come all at once, in one moment. When there is a breakdown in the capacities of the body, breakdown occurs not just at the moment of injury, but in interaction with all the things of the world. Even if it happens suddenly, as with a broken arm or a stroke, as opposed to the almost imperceptibly slow breakdown of aging, the breakdown is a process unforeseeable at the time of injury. How do I brush my teeth? What about gardening, grocery shopping, opening the tricky door to the ancient van? The breakdowns play out in the learning process of the injury, forcing one into the breakdown state of conscious awareness over and over until the injury is fully coped with, and successful ignoring resumed.

Mass breakdown leads to mass conscious awareness, which is an awkward and undesirable state for most healthy humans. During a time of mass breakdown, there will be a great deal of conscious human attention available to fix all the mutually interacting layers of the base reality. But it’s important to remember that the final goal is to return to a state of ignoring the base reality once more. Many will be looking first for institutional approaches that allow a return to ignoring before the base reality is fixed, more or less. That might not be bad, depending on the institutions. It may be that humans are more effective when using medium-sized groups to organize their behavior in a state of successful ignoring, even as repair progresses.

Conscious awareness is often most vivid when it is most unwanted. Consider the late-night insomniac, or the athlete or performer unable to fall into a flow state because of excessive self-awareness. Perhaps we will learn about a time experience in which one is awkwardly aware all the time, for years or decades. 

The miracle of ordinary times is that they are ignorable and ignored. Mass awkward conscious awareness is the distinguishing feature of interesting times. 

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