Attachment - virtue or vice? How to reconcile?

If there is one fundamental difference in my perspective on life which seems to result in the most static on a daily basis, it is this. And the older I get, the more I learn - somehow the more difficulty I have in managing it enough to have harmonious interactions with people.

I grew up in a weird convergence of systems: science, communism, and dharmic philosophy.Where “love” means respect, altruism, compassion - overcoming selfishness to be of service to people. This in practice means overcoming feelings of attachment - be it attachment to results, comfort, objects, places, wants, and even one’s own existence.

Yet, I have always lived in areas and cultures where people pretty much strive for the opposite - to create as much attachment as possible. Where sentiment and personal comfort seem to be pretty much everything. And any kind of social structure must be negotiated by means of some dance of power and intimacy.

So, suffice it to say that “the golden rule” is rather useless when it comes to navigating this. Some people can walk the walk without others feeling anxious or threatened about it, but that’s apparently not one of my skills. It has helped me to understand why so many people in the Upanisads and the Tantras have tended towards a monastic lifestyle, but that chafes against my praxis of trying to be an active member of the community.

I feel kind of paralyzed, as though I cannot effectively network and function with people anywhere, just because my basic models seem so different. Pretending that “they aren’t very different” does not work. I don’t really have any functional social infrastructure at all any more. Not to mention I tire and despair of accidentally upsetting people whenever I try to share anything. I don’t so much mind the personal discomfort and risk of being so profoundly alienated, but it is also so dysfunctional.


Well, I would argue that the “attachment styles” of object relations are a very different beast from the kind of attachment/non-attachment you describe in the first half of your post. “Attachment” in object relations is more akin to the ability to relate/form relationships and one’s style of relating to someone (or something) as “not me.” So, it would be completely possible to practice “non-attachment” and still have one’s relational ability described as an “attachment style.”


Jung’s Collective Unconscious was one of the earliest proposals in the psychological field to describe the hivemind that is humanity- a distributed thought system of organisms.

Which, on turn, has recently been applied to the human mind. There’s a growing school who now believes the human mind itself consists of distributed agents…


Sorry to derail the topic. It’s been a long night of melancholy solitude and reflecting on the transitory nature of human connections.

So many friendships are merely associations of convenience: of locality, and hobby, of philosophy and class. Change one of those things, and the friendships disappear like seeds on the wind. I’ve had a lot of friends come and go the past year and a half. Most whom I’ll never see again. Some whom I’m glad to never deal with again (here’s looking at you, WH).

Every now and then I have a think about my goals… Reaching most of them will take years, if not decades. This would be depressing, to a younger person. Or to people who haven’t encountered the delightful detached-but-engaging lectures of one Alan Watts.1

We’re here. Let’s make the most of it, while we can. Or not. It’s up to us, each of us, individually. You’ll get out of this site what you put into it. And to a lesser degree, so too in daily life.

Thank you. And make sure to turn off the lights.

1 Mr Watts ideas should be taken with a large grain of salt, as should any philosopher. At least he’s engaging and bearable, unlike Nietzche.


Cognitive dissonance being an example.

There is a Buddhist (non-canon I think) story that the night before Buddha went under the Bo tree he spent with a courtesan. Jesus has something similar in his comment that it is not what goes into someone that defiles them but what comes out. The important thing is to maintain the still centre, what Eliot calls “the still point of the turning world”.
My personal philosophy for what it is worth (<2c) is that attachment to things is to be avoided but that attachment to people is not. We must act with compassion. You can’t have compassion for a house, car or computer but you can for anything living. But we also have to be able to let go, to accept that people and animals have moved on or died. We have to live at the still centre surrounded by the flow of the world.

I think that Eliot sums up an awful lot of Buddhist thought in Four Quartets and that he clearly lived his ideas, but it’s not an easy read and, as my supervisor at the time presciently remarked, you really need to be at least 60 to understand it fully. On the other hand it’s the opposite of the awful self-help books that seek to apply the lessons of the great philosophers [spit] to everyday life.


turtles, all the way down


You’re referring to my speed of thought as I get older…


Well, that would seem a convenient perspective. But I find the very concept of “object relations” to be a contradiction in terms. It has a prerequisite that desires or drives can even be said to have an object at all, which seems suspect. For example, an infant does not actually feel a desire to be satisfied by food. It simply feels the discomfort in its abdomen, a self-contained somatic state. We can create a relationship between this state and the intake of food, but it is neither the only such possible relationship, nor anything which exists independently beforehand.

And that’s the other sticky area. An arbitrary, not-very-flexible boundary between presumed self and other, which many statically presume rather than actively negotiate in real time. Any “me” is a network of organisms, information, and ecologies with no static predefined identity. But we do exist in relation to each other, in a flux of ever-changing inter-dependence.

That static barrier/label/relationship which seems to be me is demonstrably bogus. A trick of the nervous system to simplify senses and memories for survival purposes, rather than anything accurate. Feeling like I am me, an ego with subjective primacy and self-affirming biases and perspectives does not become true simply because I am a biological program to convince myself that it is so!

There appears to be a fundamental difference in interaction, then. Where some might be convinced of the obvious reality and continuity of their sense of self, and even understand on some level that this might be inaccurate, but yet dismiss that as a mere intellectual or philosophical puzzle, a rationalization to amuse themselves with which neither informs nor changes their daily actions or interactions. And some other people who are more acutely aware of the unreality of the ego, the persona, the notion that they are somehow static individuals - literally, the atomistic units of self-hood. It is difficult to devise protocols which work both for those who think of selves as fuzzy networks, versus those who think of selves as having pre-determined boundaries. It is easy for either group to say, “Seriously, come off it, you know that’s just silly!”

Perhaps so. The way I perceive it, attachment is selfishness - both in the sense of greed, as well as unfounded egotism. There isn’t actually anything to acquire, anybody to acquire it or acquire it from. A person is fooled into believing in their own self in much the same way as when one obsesses over a crush, it is a feeling of entitlement, and a quest for fulfilment. Of identifying with one’s senses and memories. Identifying with one’s cognition and physiology. Attachments are when one feels entitled to fix the flux of real relationships into a static snapshot representation out of a feeling of self and need. But are those feelings unique to me? Am I the same person who felt them last time?

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Indeed, I grew up with both the macro and micro view of interdependence. So the perspective is more “fractal”, the boundaries are more or less arbitrary, depending upon the depth one views it from. The disconnect I think is that most social protocols I encounter pick one and say that this is The Real One. But there is no especially “real one”, that static atom of self is arbitrary. As narrative-spinning organisms, I find that humans reflexively personify everything. But this more distributed outlook inverts that, where there isn’t anything personal at all, at least any more than anything else. So even though some people like me, based upon my personality and ideas, there is always a deep existential dread that the way I perceive the world is essentially nihilistic and misanthropic because it challenges everything about what it means to be a person, to socialize, and even to be alive. But to me that feels weird because it feels not that I am embodying some profound ethos, but rather just how the world naturally is. And that possibility bothers people even more!

Sure, I think Alan Watts would be the first to admit that he was not offering the answers to people’s life problems.

One Wattism which occurred to me when writing the above posts was his speculation that one of the biggest differences in the underpinnings of Eastern versus Western thought could be described in that the former posits existence as an organism, while the latter posits existence as being an artificial construct. Being a weird synthesis of these systems myself, I suspect that I make fluid speculations of what is organism and what is construct which can annoy Easterners and Westerners alike.

Also, too many of the things I wrote sound like they were adapted from Brian Eno’s Nerve Net, so I am just going to leave this here.

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I don’t think this foundational assumption is true, so I don’t believe my further participation in this discussion is going to further either of our thinking.

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Which is more probable? That self-serving biases about ego and other are actually true, or that people reflexively believe it to be so because their biology makes this the path of least resistance? It’s hardly a foundational assumption, it was an illustration of one model, in a conditional question. Knowing that I am not this program is one way that I affirm my own non-existence.

I strongly disagree. Already sharing some assumptions does not sound like a very enlightening basis for discussion. When you decide to drop out on this basis, you effectively make the discussion one-sided, when instead you could explain what models you think do elucidate how and why people have a sense if self. Isn’t comparing disparate realities more productive than making the time or effort simply to affirm the same views? Difference is worth celebrating for its own sake. as it yields more tools that participants may find useful for solving their and other’s problems.


Yes, but to be foundational something must be established upon firmament.

Sometimes, as Albert Ellis once said, the foundation is tortured by the torturing logic of biologically programmed tortuses, then it’s turtles all the way down.


I thought it was “toruses”… brb

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