Sunday, May 13, 2012

To change, challenge the textscape

Charles Duhigg
My previous two posts have touched on how the textscape is a system of our beliefs (via Michael
Schermer's The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies--How We construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths (Times Books, 2011)) about which we are mostly unconscious. David George Haskell, author of The Forest Unseen: A Year's Watch in Nature (Viking, 2012), asserts that the written word/world (the textscape) is an ecosystem. I also think that a further important insight comes from another best-seller: Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit: How We Do What We Do in Life and Business (Random House, 2012) convincingly portrays how much of our lived experience is possible, and has meaning, understood as the dense fabric of habits --an inner textscape-- that make day-to-day life possible.

He writes: "The ways we habitually think of our surroundings and ourselves create the worlds that each of us inhabit. 'There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys. How's the water?" the writer David Foster Wallace told a class of graduating college students in 2005. 'And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?" ' "

"Water is habits, the unthinking choices and invisible decisions that surround us every day--and which, just by looking at them, become visible again."

Duhigg's book shows exhaustive examples of how our inner textscapes, the "habits, the unthinking choices and invisible decisions that surround us every day" -- can be either productive or destructive. The textscape is the ecosystem, the writing of the world, that Haskell observes, but the textscape is also the internalization of all those writings of the world that calcify into our habits (for good or bad). Duhigg is optimistic: "If you believe you can change -- if you make it a habit -- the change becomes real. This is the real power of habit: the insight that your habits are what you choose them to be. Once that choice occurs -- and becomes automatic -- it's not only real, it starts to seem inevitable, the thing, as [William] James wrote, that bears 'us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be.' " For Duhigg, the textscape isn't traditional concept of Fate; through Duhigg's vision, we see the textscape as an internal inscription (habits, a fabric of behaviors) that all -- or maybe most of us -- can rewrite, when we choose.