Classical Mind Parasitology: The Seven Deadly Sins (or Seven F***ing Awesome Virtues)
After my recent post on the envy of the left, a number of readers suggested that I do a series on the other “deadly sins.” One reader in particular observed that the left not only rejects the entire concept of sin--much less “deadly sins”--but that they actually seem to elevate these sins to virtues. Before even thinking it through, I knew that the reader was right. Just one of those instantaneous insights provided by Petey.
As a matter of fact, in the past, several readers have asked me if it might be possible to correlate my concept of “mind parasites” with the deadly sins. I said “sure,” even though I had never thought that out either. But if two things are true, then they can’t contradict each other, even if they might appear to on the surface.
It reminds me of when I was frantically trying to finish my book exactly two years ago. The deadline was approaching, and at the last minute I had disassembled the entire last chapter and was in the process of trying to put it back together again. I was trying to come up with a suitable ending, and I thought to myself, “why not show how the Ten Commandments and the Upanishads, understood esoterically, convey the identical perennial psychospiritual know-how to serious seekers? Call them the ten ‘Commanishads’ or ‘Upanishalts.’”
As soon as I thought of it, I knew that it was possible. But I needed help. At the time, I happened to be on a plane flying back from New York to L.A. I was on the right plane, because I needed a rabbi in a hurry. Normally I’m not the kind of guy who just walks up to to a total stranger and introduces himself, but something came over me.
I had seen this guy enter the plane, and if he wasn’t a rabbi, then he was hardcore Orthodox, and that was good enough for me. I walked down the aisle to where he was sitting, absently flipping through a magazine, and blurted out, “are you a rabbi?” He seemed a little disconcerted at first, but he could see that I wasn't Arab and I explained to him that this was a spiritual emergency and that I needed some immediate assistance. He didn’t know anything about the Upanishads, but when I mentioned that some people believe that “Abraham” and “Brahman” might be etymologically related, he was intrigued. I have no idea if that’s true, but at least it got the conversation going. I knew we were on the same wavelength when he started his discourse by saying that the first five commandments have to do with man’s relationship to God, while the second five govern man’s relationship to man. “Hey, vertical and horizontal! You 'da mensch!” And now you know the rest of the story.
So anyway, at the moment I am in need of priest or a Jesuit. Not having one around, I’ll just have to do my best to cobble this together with the assistance of Petey, who, like Muhammad, has passing, if often rather garbled, acquaintance with many other traditions.
“The Greek monastic theologian Evagrius of Pontus first drew up a list of eight offenses and wicked human passions. They were, in order of increasing seriousness: gluttony, lust, avarice, sadness, anger, acedia, vainglory, and pride. Evagrius saw the escalating severity as representing increasing fixation with the self, with pride as the most egregious of the sins. Acedia... denoted ‘spiritual sloth.’
“In the late 6th century, Pope Gregory reduced the list to seven, folding vainglory into pride, acedia into sadness, and adding envy. His ranking of the Sins' seriousness was based on the degree from which they offended against love. It was, from most serious to least: pride, envy, anger, sadness, avarice, gluttony, and lust. Later theologians, including St. Thomas Aquinas, would contradict the notion that the seriousness of the sins could be ranked in this way. The term ‘covetousness’ has historically been used interchangeably with ‘avarice’ in accounts of the Deadly Sins. In the seventeenth century, the Church replaced the vague sin of ‘sadness’ with ‘sloth.’”
So first we have to decide which system we’re going to use. I think it makes sense to merge vainglory and pride, and we certainly want to keep envy in the mix. But I think we lose something by conflating sadness and acedia. In fact, sadness belongs to a special category, since there are definitely times that it is self-indulgent (more often than you would think), other times when it is clearly a clinical condition outside the person’s control. So I’ll go with pride, envy, anger, acedia (encompassing sloth), avarice, gluttony, and lust.
Bill Clinton is adored by the left. In fact, in his new book, Manliness, Harvey Mansfield calls him “the envy of vulgar men.” How true. For Clinton embodies so many of these sins as character traits, including pride, gluttony, lust, and acedia, while Mrs. Clinton complements him and rounds out the mix with anger and envy. As a team they are quite nakedly avaricious, certainly for power. Thus, a complete set. The perfect liberal couple.
For me, what immediately comes to mind in attempting to correlate the deadly sins with mind parasites is the theoretical system of the great psychoanalyst R.D. Fairbairn. Here again, his ideas, like those of Michael Polanyi discussed yesterday, are so simple, and yet profound and far reaching. For Fairbairn was the first psychoanalyst to move away from Freud’s “drive model” of the unconscious, to an interpersonal and intersubjective model that now goes by the name of “object relations.” The nomenclature is confusing, because in Freud’s model, the “object” refers to the aim of an instinct--for example, the instinct of hunger seeks out the breast as its object.
But Fairbairn turned this theoretical formulation on its head, and regarded the object as primary, not something we seek simply for the purposes of instinctual release. In other words, we come into the world human beings and not just animals. As such, from the moment we’re born---and probably in the womb as well--we primarily seek relationships, not with “objects” but with other subjects. Therefore, it would have been less confusing if the new theory had been called “subject relations,” but what can you do? Just as early Christians went to great pains to link their new theology with the more established and venerable tradition of Judaism, Fairbairn didn’t want to appear too radical, and wanted to demonstrate the continuity with the established orthodoxy of Vienna.
Freud actually developed two different models of the mind, first the topographical (conscious, preconscious and unconscious), later the structural (id, ego and superego). But in each case, the implicit assumption was that human beings were fundamentally animals with a veneer of civilization on top. In order to be civilized, we had to repress and sublimate our animal instincts (the id), while internalizing the sometimes arbitrary restrictions of civilization (the superego). (I’m simplifying and streamlining things for the sake of moving the argument along.)
Now interestingly, Freud was immediately seized upon by the Marxist left as an adjunct to their diagnosis of human alienation, especially in the 1950’s and 1960’s, in the form of very popular (but now completely irrelevant) thinkers such as Herbert Marcuse (e.g. Eros and Civilization) and Norman O. Brown (Life Against Death). These vulgarizations were not really fair to Freud, who was both a genius and a subtle and hard-headed thinker who would have been deeply skeptical of their left-wing utopian nonsense.
But ideas have consequences, bad ideas as much as good ones. And toxic ideas that are hatched in the high country of the mind have a way of flowing downhill, trickling into the rivers, streams and creeks below. So one of the central psycho-spiritual “mind parasites” that infected all of the water in the 1960’s was the idea that our outward, civilized personalities are inauthentic. Rather, the “real you” is that repressed id, your undisguised animal drives and passions: “If it feels good, do it.” “Love the one you’re with.” “Do your thing.” Why don't we do it in the road?" “It’s my life, and I’ll do what I want.” "Looking out for number one." (There were so many others, but I can’t think of them at the moment. However, the lesson was obvious to all who heard it: express yourself and let your freak-flag fly!)
I think you can see just how pervasive this attitude has become. It gets to the heart of the “culture war,” one side celebrating “authenticity” and its close cousin, “attitude,” the other side wishing to preserve traditional standards of excellence and decency. In fact, this is where it is almost impossible to even have a meaningful conversations with someone who has been contaminated by the toxic water of the vulgar Freudians: So what if Janet Jackson exposed her breast on national TV! She was just expressing herself! So what if Bill Clinton was serviced by an intern in the oval office! At least he’s not a hypocrite!
Here we truly do see a monstrous moral inversion at the heart of the left, in which our animal nature is exalted above our higher human strivings, while the realm of the truly human is devalued and denigrated as hypocrisy. This, by the way, is why there is so much cursing on the left. It seems like a small thing, but it’s not. On most any left-wing blog, you will see that they can rarely express themselves without cursing, as profanity is a sort of “stamp of authenticity.”
Now the truth of the matter is that pervasive cursing is a helpful shorthand that allows us to discern those people who are incapable of expressing themselves without it. Therefore, we needn’t take them seriously. As one blogger expressed it today on huffingtonpissed, “If you don’t like obscenity, you don’t like the truth.” What he means is, “I’m so angry I can’t even express it, but you will know the emotional truth of my omnipotent anger by my profanity.”
In fact, there is another story there of Madonna’s recent performance last weekend, she being the poster child for barbaric crudity masquerading as daring and courageous authenticity. “During an energetic rendition of her song I Love New York, Madonna roared, ‘Just go to Texas and suck George Bush's d**k.’”
Of course, I suppose it could be argued that she is simply extolling the virtue of thoroughness to her fans, since even Madonna can't be everywhere, and Bush’s is one the few that she personally overlooked.
Well, with that, I’ve run flat out of time. More tomorrow on Fairbairn, sins, virtues, mind parasites and the left.
"Mmmmm,shiny.... I want, therefore I am."