0259 – be cautiously wary of insight porn

The allure of insight porn

The first time I read the phrase “insight porn”, it really hit me hard. I realize that I was entirely guilty of enjoying it, and maybe a little too much. I know, people criticize things like TED talks, but that sort of comes with the territory. [1] If you’re trying to popularize things, you’re going to have to leave some stuff out so that it’s digestible for a mainstream audience.

What hit me was seeing somebody used the term “insight pornographer” to describe himself and his community of online friends, in a rather self-aware way. He enjoys unearthing insights, and he enjoys reading about them, and sharing them with others. And so does everyone in the community. That’s what the tribe is built around. Sharing and trading insights.

Some of these insights might be actionable, they might have real value when applied to day-to-day life. Others might simply be enjoyable to contemplate, like the realization that everything is connected, that things are much vaster, more complex and more profound than we normally appreciate. It doesn’t really change your day-to-day workload or your relationships in a direct way, but it does give you a more appreciative view of things– which might subtly influence your decision-making.

Regardless, when I saw the phrase I realized– that’s what I was beginning to become. An insight pornographer. I mean that with the slight negative connotation– where “insight” is meant to mean something that makes you feel good because of the way the thoughts and words are arranged. [2]

There are a whole bunch of subreddits with the Porn suffix. HumanPorn, GeographyPorn, ChurchPorn, ThingsCutInHalfPorn. Anything that seems gorgeous or splendid in some way that appears hyperreal, maybe.

The point is… porn isn’t a bad thing by itself, but it gets the nasty connotations it does precisely because it can become something very addictive and consuming. The hyperreal can become more compelling than reality.

I think the same applies as much to Insight Porn as it does to any other kind of porn. And I think when I really wrap my head around that idea– that I was spending time and energy trying to arrive at theories and descriptions of things that felt good, independent of anything else– I get a little uncomfortable. Because I know I don’t want to be an insight pornographer for life. It’s something I’ll always enjoy, sure, but I want to be something more than that.

What exactly is that? That’s the question I’m trying to answer, and it’s pretty clear that I probably won’t be able to think my way to the solution. Because then I’ll just get a new Insight ™, and that by itself is not very helpful. I’m reminded of Alan Watts talking about the “private buddhas”, people who think they’ve attained enlightenment when really they’ve just gotten themselves attached to a new illusion.

What do I really want? What is the “more than insight porn” thing about reality that I want to grasp, or at least open myself to and welcome, if grasping is not an actual possibility?

I’m grasping at straws here trying to figure this out so it’s going to be a bit messy and not make a lot of sense. But I feel like there has to be something real that’s beyond insight. In my bones I know it to be true– a person with a lot of insight isn’t necessarily a person who is fulfilled, who is full, who is happy and radiant. An insight pornographer can be a very anxious, spiteful person– at least, I’ve definitely found myself feeling that way.

What do I want then? I want to feel more full. I want to feel more at ease without being deluded. I want to be able to see reality for what it is, and accept it as it is, and operate in it as I am without feeling like I’m struggling to keep up. I want to swim with the current, not against it. I feel like I’m often resisting many currents and it’s an ugly mess, a very unnecessary, neurotic ugly mess. And insights don’t really help with that. They just sound good.

I slept later than I would’ve liked to, yesterday. And when I woke up I spent quite a bit of time bumming on reddit and imgur, which I wish I hadn’t. I was talking to D yesterday over burgers and beers and we talked about the mentors and role models in our lives, and I brought up the fact that my boss has this amazing ability to ask me questions about me that even I don’t ask myself. For example, if I ask myself, why did I end up on reddit? The answer would be because I’m bored, because I’m lazy, because it’s simple and easy, because it’s convenient, because I’m “like that”. I’m a slacker and procrastinator.

But that stops the inquiry short. There is something beyond that surface that I don’t normally dig past, and it’s clear that I’m going to have to dig past that if I want to really get into myself, really get Me. In a sense I am avoiding things, why? Because I’m perfectionist, why? I know that I want to write, I know that a part of me was hoping that I would do like 40 word vomits when I was in Cebu. When I came here, I felt compelled to relax. Which is fine, but then I did ultimately exceed into the excess-relaxing that I know within myself is not a healthy, happy, pleasant thing. It’s just ugh. And I don’t want to be ugh.

I suppose me writing this right now is a tiny little glimmer of hope for me to surpass my older programming. Even if it’s just by a little bit, it’s progress.

[1] I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen the term insight-porn used to describe TED, but if I did, I didn’t think much of it then.

[2] Jason Silva is a HUGE insight pornographer. He’s like the Sasha Grey of Insight Porn. TEDx is like /r/gonewild, maybe.

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