In which I theorize on the word “grounded”

This is a post about the word “grounded” and what it means to me. In general use, grounded means mature and sensible, but I think about it in a complex way that encompasses various social issues, and I think this concept can explain a lot of human behavior. This post jumps around a bit, because I have chosen several seemingly unrelated examples of ungroundedness to illustrate. I hope it makes some sense.

The two definitions of “grounded” that are of interest here are:

  • Of or pertaining to an electrical conductor which is connected to earth;
  • Mature, sensible with well-considered priorities.

The definition of grounded that refers to people is “a mature and sensible person.” The other definition here is only meant to refer to electricity, but I think that it applies to people as well because people can be connected or disconnected from the Earth, too. When I say “connected to the Earth” I mean that in a few metaphorical ways in addition to a connection to the natural environment. I think about groundedness as a connection to the material world in general, as opposed to the world of ideas and imagination, and a connection to the body and the self, as opposed to the feeling of disembodiment—awareness that we are living creatures with bodies, and not merely thoughts and ideas. These two definitions—mature/sensible and connection to the material world—overlap with each other, because a person who is connected to the material world will behave in a mature and sensible way, and a person who is mature and sensible will feel connection to the material world.

People become ungrounded for very different reasons. One of them is too much reliance on modern technology and man-made systems, which makes us forget about the natural world and that we belong to it. We are entirely dependent on the system we live in that is based on overconsumption of natural resources, particularly fossil fuels, and if this system were to be ruined, which is likely to happen, many of us would not survive. Many of us would have no idea how to even find food if there was no grocery store to drive to. We have far more awareness of brand names of food products than of plants and animals that live on our local land.

People also become ungrounded because of physical and emotional trauma—the results of trauma make us disassociate from our bodies and feel like our physical self is no longer real, or that it’s something we cannot live in or relate to.

Privileged people become ungrounded due to being in positions of power at the top of the hierarchies men have built. When someone has enormous power over others, he loses his ability to be mature and sensible and to recognize limitations.

These are all very different situations, but they all lead to ungroundedness or disconnection.

Our social system, culture and economy are quite ungrounded, in the sense that they ignore the limitations of the natural world, and are based on lots of abstract ideas and imaginary thinking. Our economy is based on consuming our resources as fast as possible and the daft idea of endless growth and expansion on a finite planet. Our social hierarchy (economic class system, male supremacy and white supremacy) ensures that there are always people in positions of power over others and they become drunk with power and behave totally irresponsibly, causing trauma in their subordinates. We humans have created a system that causes most of us to become mentally ill, whether from it’s a result of disconnection, too much power, or trauma.

In his book When Corporations Rule the World, David Korten uses an episode of Star Trek to illustrate how people in power become disconnected.

“The Cloud Minders,” episode 74 of the popular science fiction television series Star Trek, took place on the planet Ardana. First aired on February 28, 1969, it depicted a planet whose rulers devoted their lives to the arts in a beautiful and peaceful city, Stratos, suspended high above the planet’s desolate surface. Down below, the inhabitants of the planet’s surface, the Troglytes, worked in misery and violence in the planet’s mines to earn the interplanetary exchange credits used to import from other planets the luxuries the rulers enjoyed on Stratos. In this modern allegory, an entire planet had been colonized by rulers who successfully detached and isolated themselves from the people and the localities of the planet’s surface on whose toil their luxuries depended. The imagery of this Star Trek episode has stuck vividly in my mind. How like our own world it is, where the truly rich and powerful work in beautifully appointed executive suites in tall office towers; travel to meetings by limousine and helicopter; jet between continents high above the clouds, pampered with the finest wines by an attentive crew; and live in protected estates, affluent suburbs, and penthouse suites amid art, beauty, and a protected environment. They are as insulated from the lives of the ordinary people of our planet as those who lived on Stratos were insulated from the lives of the Troglytes. They too are living in a world of illusion, dependent on draining the world of its resources and so isolated from reality that they know not what they do, nor how else to live.” P. 103–104

This quote demonstrates beautifully how the privileged people in this world construct a hierarchy that elevates them above ordinary people and keeps them up and out of the toils of daily life. Using their power, they force the less fortunate to work for them and they live in a sort of imaginary world where there is no work, only pleasure. This leads to them being disconnected from the earth and from reality. The ruling class on our planet pay no attention whatsoever to the depletion of resources and to the coming end of fossil fuels and capitalism. They just cannot see limits because they are disconnected from the material world of the earthly environment; they only see their own fantasies.

Korten also describes the history of currency to demonstrate how our economy slowly left the material world and entered the world of the imagination. Long ago people traded things of similar value because they needed other things. Later they began to exchange items as mediums of exchange in transactions, such as precious metals and stones. Eventually they kept their precious metals locked up and simply exchanged pieces of paper with the amount of gold marked on them. This currency became the cash we know today. However, most of our transactions now occur on computer screens through the means of online banking. In the financial world, entire companies and careers are based on numbers on computer screens, not actual things. As Korten remarks,

“Each day, half a million to a million people arise as dawn reaches their part of the world, turn on their computers, and leave the real world of people, things, and nature to immerse themselves in playing the world’s most lucrative computer game: the money game. As their computers come on-line, they enter a world of cyberspace constructed of numbers that represent money and complex rules by which the money can be converted into a seemingly infinite variety of forms, each with its own distinctive risks and reproductive qualities. Through their interactions, the players engage in competitive transactions aimed at acquiring for their own accounts the money that other players hold. Players can also pyramid the amount of money in play by borrowing from one another and bidding up prices. They can also purchase a great variety of exotic financial instruments that allow them to leverage their own funds without actually borrowing. It is played like a game. But the consequences are real.” P185.

The fake numbers held in the computer screens of these bankers are not actual things of value. Everyone in the world couldn’t withdraw their bank accounts at the same time because there isn’t enough gold in the world to turn the “dollars” that exist on computer screens into real-life gold pieces. These dollars are not real. It seems to me that we could wipe out corporate finance completely just using some effective computer viruses. We could erase the records of the debt that is holding the working class hostage. These days, the ruling class are controlling a lot of us through finance rather than direct violence. No bloody revolution needed in this technological age—just take away the computer games of the ruling class and what do they have then? With no record of what we owe them, they would not be able to collect. They remind me of teenage boys addicted to video games, spending their entire lives in basements in front of computers because the world of the game is real to them but the real world is not. Capitalists are ungrounded, meaning they are disconnected from the Earth and from reality, and they are unable to make mature and sensible decisions. They will extract resources from the Earth to sell them in order to raise the numbers on their computer screens until there is nothing left to extract. They cannot see the insanity of caring more about a fake number on a screen than about the planet that sustains their physical body and their very lives.

Another form of ungroundedness (disconnection) I want to talk about is the social media sickness I’m seeing in youth. Social media sickness is what I call it when a person becomes addicted to social media and texting to the point where the online world seems like real life and the real world is neglected or does not seem real. Some things that happen to youth addicted to social media and internet use are:

  • Inability to concentrate on real-life activities due to constantly checking their smart phone or Facebook or Twitter for new messages, and feeling unable to put it away because they might miss something important online. And then, as a result, missing important things in real life.
  • Being unable to go to sleep because they might “miss something” that happens on social media. Leaving their phone on all night by their bedside and waking up to start texting during the night, and never getting enough sleep.
  • When a parent tries to remove a smart phone from their child’s hands, and the child screams as if her actual arms are being ripped off. She fights to the death to hold onto her phone no matter what the consequences will be.
  • Being distant, rude, irritable, anxious and overly tired.
  • Being in codependent relationships with anonymous people on the Internet that feel like real, close friends. Belief that they are responsible for meeting the emotional needs of anonymous people online and that if their computer time is taken away others will suffer.
  • When a parent tries to hide the smart phone away, the child does everything in his power to steal it back, even if it means breaking rules and getting in trouble.
  • Engaging in strange behaviours or using drugs in order to cope with the stress that she is feeling due to things that have happened on social media with people they don’t even know in real life.
  • A sudden strong belief in a way of thinking that they found online even if it makes no sense in real life.

Notice the similarity between addiction to the virtual world in youth and the reliance on a fantasy-based economic and social system in adults? In both cases, a human-made technology becomes the only thing that is real and we live entirely in the virtual world to the detriment of our health. (Full disclosure: I am addicted to social media myself, and display some of these behaviours. I never said I was perfect!)

The solution is a mixture of “go outside and play” and change the culture so that we no longer make people ungrounded. Everyone needs to face facts. There are only so many resources on our planet, and we are burning through them at lightning speed. There is only so much oil and gas and after that we will have no choice but to switch to other forms of energy. Our world is full of garbage and toxins that we keep producing and we are all being poisoned.  Men are fighting endless pointless wars and killing each other for no good reason. Human beings have collectively lost our minds. We should be using the remaining oil and gas resources we have to create the infrastructure to start harnessing energy from the wind and sun, so that when the oil and gas runs out we are prepared. But it looks like the way things are going we’ll completely run out of oil and gas and be in a big emergency before we actually change anything. We need to stop giving in to the demands of unaccountable and ungrounded rulers who make terrible decisions that negatively affect us all.

What we are seeing in transgenderism is a lot of ungroundedness. Some people (male autogynephiles) are in positions of privilege where they can declare their fantasies a reality and force everyone else to play along. Other people in transgenderism are ungrounded because of trauma and feeling disembodied and are looking for ways to cope. And other people in transgenderism have social media sickness and will believe daft nonsense on the Internet because that seems more real than the material world.

When humans are ungrounded, what we need to do is return to the material world, return to nature, and reconnect with our bodies. Some things to do if you are ungrounded:

  • Turn off your computer and GO OUTSIDE. Do not bring your smart phone. Observe the season and the weather and notice the physical world around you.
  • Meditation, yoga, or exercise to reconnect with your body.
  • Therapy for trauma or for reconnection with the self.
  • Volunteer in your community. Join organizations and meet people and do things.
  • Go on a long hike, or camping, or anything outdoors, or do some gardening.
  • Learn about the history of your area or your people, and learn about the plants and animals indigenous to your area.
  • Consider how people did things before the invention of the technology that you are dependent on, and consider how you will do things once we cannot rely on fossil fuels anymore.
  • Learn outdoor survival skills and making your own things.
  • Do any activities that don’t require technology.

These suggestions will help members of the proletariat become more grounded, but they will not work for the upper-class elite who are controlling the planet. They have no interest in coming back down here with the rest of us, they’re having a great time up in their cloud and they can only be grounded if we pull them down by taking their power away. By seeing their bullshit for what it is and refusing to obey. By overthrowing the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. Vive la revolution!

P.S. I have been holding onto this post for weeks without publishing it, because no matter how many times I revise it, I still don’t think I’ve written it in a way that makes sense. I sure hope this is understandable and doesn’t sound daft.

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24 thoughts on “In which I theorize on the word “grounded”

  1. My definition of grounded is that you don’t freak out about stuff all the time, don’t overreact, don’t jump to conclusions. It works with the electrical one, that you don’t let energy from elsewhere suddenly take you over, that you have capacitors for that stuff.

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  2. I LOVE this. Makes sense to me. I am quite alarmed by my slavish relationship to my goddam smug phone. And i’m old now — I don’t think as deep or as focused as I used to– I can’t. It didn’t take long, either, this re-wiring business. Ugh. Going for a walk now…
    Thank you for this.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This post definitely have me a lot to think about. You covered so many themes, I wish I could discuss all of them! The one that stood out to me the most, though, was your inclusion of our physical bodies as part of our beings.

    I’ve always thought of the self and the body as relatively separate entities. Similar to the distinction (and it may be telling that I immediately reach to technology for this metaphor) between a computer, and the programs it runs. I see the body as a wonderful machine, but in theory interchangeable. If medical science could connect a brain to a foreign body, I think the person in the new body would be the same as the old one. Furthermore, I think the brain is an even more wonderful machine that can be put together in a multitude of ways to contain an innumerable variety of thoughts, feelings, and personalities. There are special parts of your computer that contain the programs you run. These parts could contain different programs if you set them up differently. I think the brain is the same way. Every moment of living is “programming” your brain to be different than it was before.

    If the analogy hasn’t already broken down, we could say that just as you can transfer programs from one computer to another suitable computer, maybe you can transfer a human self either to a synthetic brain, or even an ageless machine. While this describes how I think human self may operate, of course self is not at all understood all enough to verify our deny these ideas.

    I unabashedly shared these thoughts as “I think”-style opinions because I don’t hold these opinions based on any real evidence. Nor do I feel like I’ve considered this stuff nearly long enough to feel confident in my opinions. The idea of self is really intriguing to me, and, I think, important because, as you pointed out, it reflects how we understand and respond to the environments and systems we see everyday.

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      • Well, to be fair, it is just an analogy. While the relationship between hardware and software helped me explain how I see the body and mind, I don’t think computer programs and people are the same. I have no qualms about copying or permanently deleting computer programs. “Deleting” or cloning an actual person: there are only a very few cases where my ethics would allow that.

        I do want to thank you for sharing these ideas, though. I don’t want to sound intentionally contrarian; I’ve never heard anyone question the hypothetical mind-body divide in a serious manner. To help me understand what we’re talking about, can we unpack what it means for the body to be part of the self?

        I recognize that the self isn’t immutable. Every moment we’re slightly different than we were the moment before. And, life experiences can change who we are drastically. Those changes, though, are a part of being alive. Importantly, although our personality changes over time, when we say, “Sally now and Sally 10 years ago are different people,” I think that means something different than when we say, “Sally and James are different people.” In the first, I can see myself emphasizing that Sally is a *different* person, because of any number of things that come with 10 years of life, but she’s still the same *person*.

        Sally-10-years-ago can (and has!) change to Sally-now, because at some core level, she hasn’t really changed her actual self. But, she can never become James. James is James, Sally is Sally, both for life. With that backdrop, I then ask are the things Sally does to, or that happen to her body part of who she is? And not “who she is” like her own personality changes. “Who she is” like her actual self.

        To start with a small example, if Sally loses a finger, it will certainly effect her, and her life will definitely be different, but she’ll still be *Sally*. That finger may have been part of who she was in a life experience sense, but when we say “Sally-without-finger is a different person than Sally-with-finger,” I don’t think we say it with that same sense as Sally and James being different. Doesn’t this imply, then, that who Sally is at the most core level had nothing to do with the state of that finger?

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    • Nope. Living beings are not machines. The unique combination of physical and environmental elements makes each of us who we are. Transferring to a different body (let me guess, men are going to demand women’s entire bodies be made available to them as meat suits, yes?) would have a profound impact. Even recipients of transplanted body parts, limbs in particular, have to deal with the psychological consequences of having part of someone else grafted to them. Iirc people who have facial transplants have even more traumatic issues to deal with, even allowing for the dreadful things they have gone through to require such an operation.

      This strikes me as worse than ungrounded.

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      • I daresay I would be a different person if I had the body of a two metre tall male. Hopefully not a worse person, but certainly a different one.

        I already notice this when playing pen&paper roleplaying games – your approach to problem-solving WILL change depending on what sort of body your character has. That, or your character dies, because a frail wizard will not succeed with the strategies (or lack thereof) that work for a giant, muscled barbarian warrior.

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  4. This is interesting and I agree with it, well said.

    I’m not totally in sympathy with trans claims that some people are the opposite sex in their brains and psyches, which they say is all that counts, but, I do believe in a beyond the body awareness, aka psychic stuff, which makes me have a lot of deep sympathy with some trans people’s claims that they really do have genuine experiences of being aware of the opposite sex in the sense of feeling that they actually are the opposite sex or should be. I think being the reincarnation of an opposite sex person, or having had many previous lives as the opposite sex, when memories of those are close to the surface, or, being influenced by opposite sex spirits, could be the explanation for those cases – I’m not saying those are the only explanations for people being gender non conforming, but when I hear of little children insisting they’re a boy or a girl, in some cases I wonder if they’re talking about a specific boy or girl, who may have once existed in physical form. But, I think it’s wise for people to make attempts to adjust to present life in their body no matter the intensity of what’s going on in their heads or emotions about stuff they’re sensing out there, because, our bodies and physical lives are going to affect us no matter what anyway, and involve important opportunities.

    I am so intuitive and imaginative, and have been so traumatised, that it’s hard for me to be grounded, but I try.

    I write haiku and I take walks every day to get inspiration for them from the season to help me keep grounded.

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    • “But, I think it’s wise for people to make attempts to adjust to present life in their body no matter the intensity of what’s going on in their heads or emotions about stuff they’re sensing out there, because, our bodies and physical lives are going to affect us no matter what anyway, and involve important opportunities. ”

      If you believe in reincarnation, then there’s a reason why someone is incarnated in a specific body.
      Therefore, according to that theory, men who feel like they made genuine experiences as women, could use that knowledge to develop sympathy for women and leverage their male privilege to improve women’s lives.

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  5. The content of this post describes a lot of why I really, really want to get out of China. It is the coldest, most disconnected, money-grubbing, social technology-obsessed society I’ve ever lived in. I’ve been here for long time, and I’ve never felt so immersed in unnatural and un-human surreality in my life. It probably doesn’t help that a) I’m teaching university students, b) most of them are male, and c) this society is racist and misogynist as stink. And I wonder why my mental and physical health took a sharp dive 5 years ago when I came back after several years away.

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  6. I just came in from today’s post-work walk. There is still some green clinging on, though the trees have shed their leaves and the grass is beginning to go matted and brown for winter. The sun was bright, but the air cool. There were ducks in the stream and I told them to hurry south because the fields here are bare stubble. My cheeks are pink from the chill, but I had to unzip my jacket as the exercise warmed me.

    I thought about the towers of shipping containers that sit unused and what they represent: a nation that imports so much we can’t even be bothered to send back the crates. I think about them often because if I could only know that they had not shipped toxic materials, two of them plus a roof would make a lovely dog trot cabin for me. Heck, even one with a porch and a shed addition. A home for less than $10K that would be mine. I could mount solar receptors to power it. One fewer low income woman afraid of losing housing. We have more housing than neighbors without homes and at risk neighbors combined, but people find Bank of America’s digital shenanigans more real than either houses or neighbors. 😠

    I think there’s another song you should listen to: http://youtu.be/hI0D44zYP-Q I ask with Johnny Cash If machines oughta take the place of living then what’s a substitute for bread and beans?

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  7. hetero cis (scum) male who has recently taken to reading your backlog of thought-shots. at first i was searching for more secular/leftist criticism of transgenderism, and goddamn was it hard. you think the internet is infinite, someone ought to be out there thinking this is crazy too, but then you find out how pervasive the mainstream is. so i am quite relieved to have stumbled on your blog.

    i am making my first comment on this post because it seems to strike at one of the most, if not the *single* most fundamental characteristic of our present society that is holding back full-scale revolution, despite the large degree of social consciousness that has developed over the past, say, century or so through the struggles of various social movements, and that is this concept of groundedness (or lack thereof) that you detail. this blog has got me thinking about all kinds of things lately, but i only just want to address the one that this post has rebrought to the forefront of my mind, and that is, how do you really effect THE revolution that you are talking about?

    you make a point that i rarely see anyone else concede when discussing such things, and that is that our rulers are perfectly content up in stratos and have no intention whatever of abdicating. this is because they have all that they need/want and more, they either don’t know or completely don’t care who suffers at the hands of their calculated exploitation (or they are so “ungrounded” as you call it that they really believe themselves to be altruistic/philanthropic/well-intentioned despite all physical evidence to the contrary), and in my view, know full well that their lives are finite (probably even some professed “christian” leaders have no delusions of an afterlife, or simply don’t think about it), and suspect–or hope–that even if they are a link in the chain of the total annihilation of the resources of the planet, it is of no material consequence to them *as individuals* anyway because they may very well not live to see the consequences. to me, this is the most “daft” part of the system that allows corruption and abuse to carry on the way it has/does. essentially: “i’ll be dead soon anyway, so who cares who or what i hurt.” this is why reformist movements are foolish and ultimately useless.

    so what i am saying is that it seems clear that you know only coercion/threat of force from below (that is, from the ruled/oppressed classes) can put a stop to the exploitation as well as what is sure to be the total destruction of our biosphere, either in our lifetimes or relatively shortly thereafter (within decades to a century maybe, at most). you speak too of a “refusal to obey”. surely you don’t just mean “vote for bernie”–i know you don’t. so unless you are advocating the organized overthrow of the government and its economic system (the vanguard of the ruling class), i am curious to know how you would encourage people to go about “refusing to obey”.

    as it stands now, you can choose to vote, or you can choose not to. the latter might constitute “refusing to obey”, but not exactly because voting isn’t mandated, and anyway nonvoters are still subject to rule of law. you can “protest”, but the right to protest is in fact championed by government, despite the fact that any genuine outcry, especially a violent one, would be silenced violently and posthaste (and everyone knows this). you can refuse to work (that is refuse capitalistic wage-based exploitation), but you will only be hurting yourself unless you do more than just learn survival skills, but also use them to live away from organized technological society (also ultimately only has the potential to damage you, not them, as you will be forfeiting probably most/all of your closest relationships, not to mention they will go on stripping the earth until there literally is no “off the grid”, whether you help them or not). or you could form a militia and attack the government physically, or you could do as you allude to in this post and get wicked brilliant, assemble a sick hacker team, and destroy the world financial system–in any case you would probably be found out and either killed or imprisoned for the rest of your natural life.

    it sounds like i am playing devil’s advocate but i want to emphasize i agree with everything you’ve said. to speak of groundlessness, i am ungrounded because i have had all these same thoughts, compounded by happenings in the modern technoindustrial age (SRS on demand, the ridiculous entertainment/social media spectacle, “mental illness” treated as underlying rather than the obvious result of the sick way we live, the general illusory quality that is “IRL” these days, etc.), but mostly ungrounded because i am pretty sure any genuine “revolution” is doomed to be put down hard until after the system collapses on its own (which it will). until then any “refusal to obey” would be merely symbolic handwavery, which is very depressing and antimotivational to anyone who wants to execute real widespread change for more than just personal reasons, but truly principled ones.

    anyway, sorry for the long post, but i appreciate your thoughts and will certainly continue reading.

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