Saturday, January 14, 2006

Weekend Sermon: What's Before the Beginning & After the End?

If, before beginning serious investigations, we were jestingly to say that all beings are striving after contemplation--not merely those endowed with reason but unreasoning animals as well, even plants and the earth that begets them--and that they all, in their degree, attain to contemplation of reality here below, who would listen to such nonsense? --Plotinus

I'm guessing that a majority of readers will not fully understand why my book begins in the unconventional, "jesting" way it does--in the middle of the sentence it ended with, and with the word nothing, followed by a few pages of possibly indecipherable puns, neologisms, and homologues. A fair point. Allow me to explain.

In beginning and ending the book this way, One Cosmos is very loosely based on the circular structure of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. Indeed, I found that this was the only way to illogically begend the book, since the big bang seems to have evolved out of a nothing that vastly transcends the horizon of dualistic knowability, while the highest state of consciousness returns us to the “nothing” of pure emptiness (which at the same time is the unmanifest plenum containing the potential for everything).

Despite the best efforts of science, we remain engulfed in a Mystery--the mystery of our origins, of our present being, and of our final destiny. Science searches outward, toward the periphery, looking at the data of the senses and the mathematically projected past to find the answers. Mysticism reverses our gaze from the periphery to the center, looking for our source and origin in the mysterious withinness of the cosmos--by following that withinness all the way back "upstream" to its non-dual source.

An esoteric cosmology--including Genesis--is only secondarily about the creation of the physical world. It is primarily about the mysterious manifestation of reality from the darkness of nonexistence to the light of conscious experience. Out of the Great Unborn, the timeless womb of eternity, forms and beings are ceaselessly given birth. As I hint at in the book, we are all beneficiaries of this voidgin birth.

This timeless ground, or "divine nothing," is the one place in the cosmos where we may truly gain first hand knowledge of the source of All, since the cosmos is psychic through and through, and we share that psychic life (or so we have heard from Petey). I like to use the analogy of a lampshade with millions of pinprick holes in it. Looking at the shade from the outside, it will appear is if there are a multitude of little lights. But in reality--looking within--there is but one source of light, the luminous source at the center.

Consider this statement from one of the greatest Christian mystics, Meister Eckhart: "If anyone wishes to come into God's ground and his innermost, he must first come into his own ground and his innermost, for no one can know God who does not first know himself." Here, "the eye with which I see God is the same eye by which he sees me."

This is the real meaning of esoteric cosmologies--that, on the one hand, they tell the story of the outward manifestation of the cosmos. But at the same time, they convey "hidden" knowledge of the inward procession of phenomena from the noumenal within, from a zero point of infinity at the heart of our own being. It is a matter of listening to and "hearing" this timeless wisdom that is perpetually sounding in our own depths.

Consider it this way: the big bang did not just happen once upon a timeless, some 14 billion years ago. Rather, a cosmos mysteriously explodes into being every moment, in every individual's consciousness. Likewise, an entire cosmos comes into being with each new birth, and a whole unrepeatable world fades into oblivion with each death. And it's all happening now.

In this view, the vexing duality of mind and matter are resolved in the only way they can be--by showing how both poles of the dialectic arise from a single, nonlocal source, outside space and time. Every moment--that is, the ineffable now--represents a ceaseless flowing out of eternity into time, accompanied by a simultaneous "flowing in" of time back to eternity.

The beginning of my book--through page seventeen--attempts to convey in poetic language the "flowing out" of the Infinite One into the dynamic many--for example, "The molten infinite pours forth a blazen torrent of incandescent finitude, as light plunges an undying fire into its own shadow," or "He expectorated a mirrorcle, now you're the spittin' image." On the one hand, these statements could be about the big bang. On the other, they could be about our own consciousness.

The end of the book--pages 252-266--simply reverses the process, taking us on the ascent from the many back to the One. Again, the reality of the situation is that this is occurring on a moment-by-moment basis. You might even say that this perpetual process represents the "interior life" of the Godhead (with certain modifications introduced by the Christian trinity or Jewish Sefirot that I won't get into here; both, in their own ways, are trying to describe this "interior life" of God.)

Thus, a sample from the end of my book reads as follows: "Reverse worldward descent and cross the bridge of darkness to the father shore; on your left is the dazzling abode of immortality, on your right is the shimmering gate of infinity." Here is another example, as we approach the singularity at the bigending of cosmic history: "Returning to the Oneself, borne again to the mysterious mamamatrix of our birthdeath, our winding binding river empties to the sea." Here we are "cured of plurality" and we experience "the blissful wave of the immortal now rising forth from the effulgent sea of existence." We are back before the beginning, the "Unborn body of the bodiless one, dark rays shining from a midnight sun, your phase before you were bearthed and begailed, empty tomb of a deathless child."

Traditional cosmologies--like any other spiritual truth--will not yield their meanings to the cognitively greedy accustomed only to linear, scientific ways of knowing; one cannot simply grasp at them, but must approach the endeavor with open hands (and more importantly, open heart and mind). And whatever you do, don't be serious. Sincere, absolutely. Serious, never. For,

Could it be true that in jesting we are contemplating? Yes. As do all who jest, in jesting we contemplate. --Plotinus

Friday, January 13, 2006

Memes, Literary Schemes, and Dietary Extremes

Next up: Four websites you visit daily:

First and foremost, amazon.com. At least for me, it has become the greatest research tool imaginable, and there is no way I could have written my book without it. Once I had instant access to every book ever written, my own little project took a a quantum leap forward toward its eventual fruition.

I don't know how other people write their books, but it's probably not in the way I did. For, just like my life, it was a matter of simply following where my curiosity led, and then trying to make sense of what I discovered. As I explain in the book, it all began as a skeletal vision during meditation of how the story of the cosmos might be told in one continuous, circular narrative. Originally, it had the working title of "Singularities," the idea being that the sudden creation of the cosmos out of nothing--the big bang--was followed by several more, equally sudden ontological mutations, specifically, the appearances of Life, Mind, and spiritual Realization.

Because the book began only as a "vision," I really had no idea whether or not I would be able to transpersonalate the vision onto paper. But at each step along the way--often with the assistance of amazon--I encountered the right thinker at the right time, to either reinforce my own ideas or help provide solutions to riddles I had been puzzling over, some of them for years.

When I started the project, I went to my personal library and pulled from the shelves every book, irrespective of the field or topic, that contained truths without which any vision of the whole of reality would be, in my view, incomplete. And when I say "truth," I don't just mean that in the banal, colloquial sense of the term. Rather, there is a way of knowing truth that is literally a physical sensation--call it the erotic effect of the logos, if you want. I'm sure many of you are familiar with it--when Truth comprehends you, rather than you it.

So I removed all of these shiver-inducing books from the shelves (my wife actually took a picture--if I knew how to post photos, I would) and literally placed them on the floor in no particular pattern, staring at them while waiting for Petey to tell me how they were connected to one another, how they comported with my hallucivision. The problem was how to unify the "truths" from these seemingly unrelated fields into a more generalized "Truth" applying to all of them, without reducing one to the other. In gazing at the books, it gradually occurred to me that they were obviously linked together by an evolutionary thread, in the sense that the cosmos was here prior to the biosphere, the biosphere prior to the emergence of self-aware minds, and minds prior to the discovery of non-dual awareness of mystical union.

However, as I explain in the book, if my own spiritual experiences revealed Truth--a point on which I increasingly had no doubt--then the question was not simply to explain how matter eventually came alive, started thinking, and realized its essential divinity. Rather, the central question became, what must the cosmos be like for such a transcendent experience to be possible? (And please, I'm not trying to set myself apart here--these spiritual truths are available to most anyone who seriously sets out to discover them, just as musical truth is available to you if you undertake the discipline of learning how to play an instrument.)

A related issue was the importance of envisioning the largest possible world consistent with spiritual reality, rather than artificially narrowing the world down in order to somehow wedge in a traditional notion of God. (Which, it seems to me, is what the ID theorists attempt to do. But even if ID did prove the existence of a creator, one must still engage in a spiritual practice to know anything about the creator. Spiritual truth is realized, not deduced or gleaned solely from books, including the book of nature.)

Again, the book was written in an entirely intuitive manner, in which I gave free rein to my freakishly hypertrophied curiosity. I would be in the midst of reading one book, see an obscure source cited in the bibliography, and instantaneously be able to look it up on amazon. There is no way this process could have been as free, fluid and spontaneous if I had had to drive over to some big research library and follow up on every single holy hint or ecclesiastical clue that Petey whispered into my ear.

For example, there was one point that I was fascinated with the topic of human sacrifice. Why on earth did every primitive culture known to man engage in this barbaric practice? There are surprisingly few books on the topic, but I was able to quickly get my hands on all of them--everything except for a "how to" manual, but I'm sure I could have found one if I had tried. During the writing of the book, I had at least several books a week--often several a day--arriving at the drawbridge outside my suburban liberatorium. Sometimes the books were helpful, sometimes not, in which case I would simply sell the book back on amazon marketplace.

Speaking of which, I probably couldn't have afforded to write my book without amazon marketplace. It's not that I have a fixed "budget" for my book buying. However, I was able to spend many thousands of dollars a year on books because I was able to actually sell the ones I didn't need, and make a lot of the money back.

But the primary benefit of amazon was that it allowed me to quickly follow up on a cognitive or spiritual trail when it was still "hot." I learned to pay much closer attention to the little flares that are constantly sent from above through intuition--little thoughtlets bubbling beneath or above the surface, waiting to be fished out of the formless infinite and given a voice. Often they don't come back. When they're near the surface, you have to relax your way into their realm and haul them out.

The identical thing is going on now with my present project. Once again it has begun as a vague vision that I don't know if I will be able to complete. But that's what makes it interesting. I would never want to write a book that I already understand, or has essentially been written before. It's another "meta" book that will require instant access to a whole range of subjects, so once again, my multiple daily visits to amazon will be central.

Four blogs I visit daily? Lileks, Little Green Footballs, ShrinkWrapped, and Dr. Sanity (I often leave comments on the latter three).

Four of your favorite foods:

Well now that's an interesting question, because it completely changed in July of 2004, when I was diagnosed with type I diabetes. Interestingly, that is the same month I submitted the final manuscript for my book and my son was conceived. In short, that fateful month represented a Triple Crucifixion of body, mind and soul.

That is, the end of the book was a real death, in that the vision that propelled me to write it had been the organizing principle in my life for several years. For that mad dash toward the eschaton to come to an end was a bit of a jolt. Took some adjusting, to tell you the truth.

And having a first child at my age--I was 49 at the time--was definitely a death. In fact, as I once heard Christopher Hitchens say, when you meet your son, you're looking at your own funeral director. Shudder! Then again, when you look into his eyes, you're also staring into eternity, into eyes that will be looking at the world long after you're gone, hopefully with some tools you gave him to do so in a deep and fruitful way.

On a more mundane level, fatherhood is the end of total self-absorption, which was actually okay by me. I was ready for the death of the old Bob. By completing the book, his work here was through anyway. He had done his best. Now it was time to allow someone else to be "bearthed and begaialed." One life was over. A new one set to begin. Plus, I'm old enough to know the secret of life. That is, you can never really fix your own life. You can only wreck someone else's. (That was a joke. Except for Palestinians.)

Right. Back to the food question. My diabetes has rendered the question moot. Before July of 2004, I might have responded "pizza." But my one post-diabetes experience with pizza made me realize that I'll probably never have it again. The white flour actually elevates your blood sugar faster than pure sugar, so I have simply cut it out. It has been relatively easy for me to be completely fanatical in controlling the disease, so that my average blood sugar may well be lower than yours. It takes a lot of work, but I would like to be around to see my son drop out of high school.

I guess I'm lucky, because I always loved eating as much as anyone I know. However, at the same time, I could also, to a certain extent, take it or leave it. Although I'm pretty slender, people would be amazed at the amounts of food I could put down. I could easily devour a whole extra large pizza in one sitting. In restaurants, I would finish my meal and two thirds of my wife's plate, all without gaining a single pound.

But now, in order to preserve what function I have left of my pancreas, I limit my carbs to what I need to stay alive, and stretch them out to six small meals during the day. No more eating contests at the all-you-can-eat Mongolian Barbecue with my friend Dr. John Corso, with bemused wives looking on at the grotesque spectacle. No more eating half a cheesecake in one sitting. No more wolfing down that 12" sub for a little snack.

But in a way, the diabetes is a perfect disease, if you must have one. It's not like dying instantly, or being told you have six months to live. And yet, unless you're an idiot in denial (which so many diabetics are), you must live with death shadowing your every meal. It's an end-loaded disease, so every dietary decision you make today has consequences 10, 20, 30 years down the line. Surprisingly, I don't really mind. In fact, I've never given it much thought. I just do what I need to do. I feel like those Buddhist monks who meditate over corpses in order to transcend death. For me, every meal is a meditation over my own sorry hide. You could say I'm a sorry hide and seeker.

Still left:

Four TV shows you love to watch
Four places you’d rather be
Four albums you can’t live without

Thursday, January 12, 2006

All About Meme: The Eternal Vacation at the Edge of the Known

Continuing with the Meme of Four:

Four places you've lived: I have always preferred to live at the edge rather than the center, an area where civilization abuts nature, where the manmade world ends and the simply "given" world begins. Although I enjoy visiting, say, New York, I could never live there. It would feel completely unreal to me. Like Hesse's Steppenwolf, I like to skirt about the foothills just outside civilization, occasionally coming down for nourishment.

I think this is a metaphor for where I like to live conceptually, at the edge or boundary of the known--where the known comes right up against the unknown. All of our sophisticated knowledge is like a giant spotlight. The spotlight is so bright, that we think that is all that exists. However, the vast majority of reality is outside the spotlight. I think of those astronomers who have to go to places far away from any sources of human light in order to see the starry heavens. To give birth to a novel idea, you really have to get far way from the influence of what the grazing multitude down in the valley think they know about the world.

Likewise, it's very difficult to unplug yourself from our modern cognitive light and to make your way in the dark. This is why people crave mystery. For ninety-nine percent of our existence, humans lived in an utter mystery. We awakened to an awesome cosmos that was here waiting for us, and yet knew nothing about it. Just as our primitive furbears set up safe little encampments around the fire, our civilizations are nothing but the same little campfires writ large. We revere real artists because they are the ones who make the "raids on the inarticulate" outside the boundary of the well-lit known.

So I've lived in several beach communities--Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach, and Port Hueneme, which at the time, was a quite underpopulated place about 25 miles north of Malibu. It was like having the entire beach to ourselves. I've also lived in Chatsworth, which is in the northwest corner of the San Fernando Valley, in the foothills of the then unpopulated mountainous region. Currently I live in a horseshoe shaped area that is completely surrounded by open space, where I take my mountain bike and do some of my best non-thinking.

Four places you’ve been on vacation. Now that's an interesting question. I almost never take what you would call a vacation. And yet, I take a vacation every day. Remember yesterday, I mentioned my boyhood dream of never working on a full time basis? One of the reasons for this was so I'd be able to take a daily vacation, to completely slip the moors of the space-time continuum and live in the deep and formless expanse of unstructured time.

After all, this is the experience people are after when they go on an expensive vacation, isn't it? Life becomes so stale, so routine, so boring, that they crave novelty. They work hard all year, save up some money, and then go to some exotic locale, where the sights are different, the sounds are different, the flavors are different, and even the smells are different. As such, it provides a spurious sense of aliveness, as all of your senses have come back on line, where they should have been to begin with. Novelty is always here, but it seems that for many people, they don't appreciate it unless their senses are being bombarded with fresh stimulation. People that are addicted to invasive and hypnotic things like television, computer games, or barbarous rap music are hopeless in this area.

I have taken the opposite tack of trying to refine my senses so that every moment seems like a novelty. This requires a lot of "unsaturation" of the mind, aided by daily meditation. The idea is to experience the world as arising and dissolving away on a moment to moment basis. It's always new. We just have to realize it.

Every day I try to complete my work by mid-afternoon, and then knock off so that I can enter the unstructured world a few microns away. This has admittedly been more difficult since my son was born nine months ago. Then again, he's in that realm all the time so it would not be an exaggeration to say that he has become my new guru. We take walks together (actually, I do the walking, he's in the front pack), and I watch him watching the world. It's all radically new to him--literally like a waking dream. His eyes are almost bugging out of his head as he takes everything in, studying, gazing, categorizing. What a place to be! He has a much more favorable known-to-unknown ratio than we do. And yet, if we can only open our minds a little, we can recapture that state of radical wonder. We just have to do it in a different way, for example, with ideas rather than things.

One thing I recently discovered is that when I take my camera with me on my mountain biking excursions, the experience is radically altered. Although the area is quite beautiful, it is possible to completely miss the experience. The beauty is actually impossibly rich, and yet, it can go unnoticed. Which means that it might as well not be there. But by virtue of bringing the camera, I regard reality in a completely different way, almost the delighted way I imagine that God would experience things. The beauty is everywhere--from the smallest to the largest scale. I play with angles, with light, with perspective, and all of a sudden, the aesthetic possibilities are truly limitless. Go at one time of the day and you see one tree, go later in the day and it's a different tree. It's an entirely new landscape in the morning, on a rainy day, in the spring, or in the dead of winter. And each is packed with beauty just sitting there waiting to be appreciated.

But why? Why is there beauty? I can imagine the cosmos being neutral, or ugly, but why beautiful? My dog doesn't think it's beautiful. Sure, there are some interesting smells, but her olfactory sense can be directly traced to some Darwinian utility. But what is the Darwinian utility of aesthetic arrest? I've heard a lot of explanations, but I find them rather pathetic--about as sophisticated as the literal creationists who think the world is 6,000 years old. If you want to talk about one of the weaknesses of the Darwinian paradigm as an all-encompassing explanation, that would be a good place to begin. We have so many "luxury capacities" that natural selection connot possibly account for, unless you are suffering under the weight of the most crimped and hidebound imagination possible.

The imagination, properly understood, is the true estate of man. It is the leading edge of the evolving cosmos, where the eternal breaks into time, where the roiling infinite spills over into the finite, and where we become fully human--in the post-biological sense.

Still left:

Four websites you visit daily
Four of your favorite foods
Four places you’d rather be
Four albums you can’t live without

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Meme, Myself & I

Since I can't think of anything else to post about, I've submitted the infamous meme of four to myself:

Four jobs you’ve had in your life: I've really only had three. Psychologist since 1988, retail clerk from 1976-1988, and mostly unemployed, vapid and shiftless beer guzzling bum from 1973-1976 (and a bit thereafter). However, this Dionysian period proved to be quite formative, laying the foundation for my future interests and passions. That is, the loathsome excesses of my early adulthood led directly to an abiding interest in the possibilities of consciousness.

To back up a bit, I actually independently discovered the concept of Slack quite early in life, and by the age of ten conceived the notion that, whatever I should become as a "grown up," it would never involve full time work. I have hewn to this childish, er, childhood philosophy ever since, although it has of course deepened into a mature eccentricity.

There is something about my edenic childhood summers from which I never recovered. Call it a reverse trauma if you want--an AM-U-ART. I always detested school, and to this very day, I well remember the anticipation of that trackless oasis of slack extending over the sunlit horizon from June onward. No school. No work. No time. Just the day-to-day exhilaration of pure, spontaneous play: of unalloyed being. Wake up. Eat. Play. Eat. Play. Eat. Play. Sleep. Very Zen-like, don't you know.

So much of our "doing" in life is actually a defense against being. Most people actually do not know what to do with spare time, with nothing, and are immediately compelled to fill it with something, no matter how trivial. The great psychoanalyst W.R. Bion built much of his theorizing around the idea that the mind is something to which we must adapt. In other words, unbidden thoughts appear out of nowhere, causing disturbing ripples on the smooth surface of being. What do we do with them? How do we manage them? If you really take the time to notice, you will see that for most people, their problem is not this or that conflict or complex, but the mind itself. It is a persecutory presence which must be managed by an elaborate network of defenses, instead of tackled head-on.

This is one of the reasons why I was always attracted to the Eastern religions (including Orthodox Christianity), for they too recognize the ubiquitous problem of "thoughts without a thinker," and prescribe definite means to deal with it. Buddhists call it "hand to hand combat without hands," while the early fathers of Christianity called it "unseen warfare." This is a war you must win in order to be able to enjoy being, or life itself, that is, the unqualified joy of simply being alive, prior to "doing" anything: walking with Dobbs at all times.

Four movies you could watch over and over: Funny you should ask. After graduating high school in 1973, I entered college as a business major. But by 1976, I had flunked out. Or to be perfectly accurate, I simply quit going in the middle of the semester. There was no way I was going to pass my classes anyway: accounting, money and banking, statistics. It wasn't for lack of trying. It's just that I had a sort of intellectual ADD that absolutely prevented me from mastering anything I was disinterested in. In other words, I couldn't artificially muster the passion necessary to focus my mind on something I couldn't care less about. Still can't.

But after a couple of years toiling in the market, I decided to try to return to college. It wasn't that I minded working in the market. In fact, I was quite happy working there. I enjoyed the camaraderie with my beer-drinking mates, our proletarian pastimes, those inebriated days innocently frolicking together on heterosexual Brokeback Mountain. And the job actually paid quite well, with medical benefits I could scarcely afford today. (I'm not even sure if such benefits exist today--just walk into any doctor, any time, and they pay for everything.) My thinking at the time was that, if I was going to be a "lifer" in the retail clerks union, at least I'd get a college degree, so people would see that it had been a choice--not something I had to do because I had no other options in life.

The only reason I'd chosen business as a major was that I couldn't conceive of anything else I might do. But a friend in the market was attending the same college (CSUN, the Harvard of the San Fernando Valley), and told me he was majoring in film. Film, you say? You're kidding! You can't go to college and major in something as frivolous as that! But I was wrong. I had always been very athletic, so the only other real possibility was P.E., but now I had found something even less challenging: I'd major in watching movies!

But as it so happened, this was one of those real turning points in my life. I was lucky enough to cross paths with the right teacher at the right time, the estimable Professor John Schultheiss. For up to that point, I had never had a teacher who was so passionate as he was about his subject. But that was not all. The way he could extemporize and pull various strands of an argument together, it almost looked as if he were in a trance, weaving the lecture out of his own psychic substance. This was so different than the typical robotic dullard that presided over a classroom, that it alone awakened something inside of me--call it an incipient sense of a love of Truth, if you want to get Platonic.

Later in life I realized that when anyone does what Professor Schultheiss did in the classroom, it creates an automatic charisma, because one is literally "in-spired" or "en-thused" when speaking in that unscripted but highly informed way. (It's also a lot like jazz improvisation, where one must spend a lifetime of study but then forget all about it when playing, in order for the performance to be fresh and vital. The ability to do that in any field is the mark of a true master.)

As it so happened, Professor Schultheiss's writing assignments were far more weighty and demanding than any other teacher I had ever had, but some theretofore unfamiliar impulse caused me to keep taking his classes--five or six, if I recall correctly. And that is what really began to turn things around for me, because not only did my papers get high marks from him, but on one memorable occasion he actually approached me and asked if I was an English major, because Radio-TV-Film students normally don't write so well. This was probably the first time any teacher had really praised me, and here it was coming from the only teacher I had ever really admired.

Schultheiss influenced me in another way, in that one of the virtues of his lectures was that he brought to bear so many other subjects in his discussion of film, including philosophy and psychology. As such, even though I did not have an undergraduate degree in psychology, when I did later attend graduate school in psychology, I was actually better prepared than my colleagues because of my background in treating "film as literature." In graduate school I later specialized in psychoanalysis, which is a heuristic science that analyzes character along different lines, so it came naturally for me to look at people as victims of their own bad movie that they themselves had unconsciously written, directed, and starred in.

We especially studied a lot of the great, but often unknown, films noir of the 1940's and early 1950's. Many of these film noir writers and directors were indeed influenced by psychoanalysis, and the best film noir captures that eery and preternatural sense of being pulled down into the "undermind," where a different sort of "night logic" presides. Doh! The fell clutch of circumstance!

So back to the question: four of my favorite films are Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, A Place in the Sun, and Night of the Hunter, for each in their own way has to do with the main characters being suddenly dragged or seduced into that murky underworld of being, the dark side of their own selves. It is a parallel world where the logic of the unknown dreamer who dreams us governs the action, and the unThought unconscious is destiny. Back to the idea of our thoughts thinking us, instead of vice versa.

I've already gone on too long with this exercise in self-indulgence. To be continued. Or not.

Still to come:

Four places you've lived
Four places you’ve been on vacation.
Four websites you visit daily
Four of your favorite foods
Four places you’d rather be
Four albums you can’t live without

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The MSM-Democratic Propaganda Mill

I do a fair amount of work in a thoroughly corrupt industry known as the California Workers' Compensation system. This system, which began with the noble idea of avoiding litigation and treating injured workers in a fair and efficient manner, has become a hideous bureaucratic monstrosity, especially when it comes to allegations of psychiatric injury. (Although thanks to Governor Schwarzeneggers' recent reforms, it's not nearly as bad as it used to be.)

That is, the system was set up to assist people with obvious injuries--say, a meat cutter who accidentally severed a finger. It was not designed to deal with a paranoid or narcissistic personality who is stressed out at work because he unconsciously provokes others and is universally disliked. Or with an incompetent person who is simply upset because he is being criticized at work. Or someone who is fired, and then retroactively decides that he was stressed out during the entire time he as employed.

Especially when it comes to psychiatric injuries, the legal process often comes down to a battle of competing experts. There is the applicant side--the person alleging that he has been injured--and the defense side--the the workplace or workers comp carrier that will have to cover the injury.

The reason why the system is so corrupt is that patients quickly became ancillary players in the process. Instead, the system became a way for doctors and lawyers to make vast amounts of money on the backs of injured workers. Therefore, there developed a built-in incentive to claim injuries, even if no injury was present. Lawyers began luring patients into the system with advertising, assuring them that they would receive extensive medical care at no cost to them. Medical "mills" were set up in conjunction with the lawyers, so that workers would be sent to any number of useless, wasteful, and expensive medical evaluations.

As such, someone, say, with a back strain, might be sent to an orthopedist, an internist (in case the pain is causing an increase in blood pressure or a stomach ache), a chiropractor, a neurologist (perhaps the pain is causing headaches), and a psychiatrist or psychologist (in case they had become depressed or anxious as a result of the alleged pain). (Would it surprise you to learn that these mills, like a certain political party, defend their dubious practices by suggesting that they are truly "looking out for the little guy?" Or that thousands of jobs will never be created for the "little guy" as a result of the high cost of doing business in California because of spiraling workers' comp costs? )

These psychiatric mills issue thoroughly predictable reports which always--always--maintain in the most florid terms you can imagine, that the injured worker has developed dozens and dozens of psychological symptoms, that they are completely psychologically disabled from them, that they require extensive treatment, and that, even then, they will never, ever be the same. Often, believe it or not, the worker does not even know that a psychiatric injury has been filed on their behalf (especially workers from third world countries who don't even have a frame of reference for what it is a psychologist does). They just do as directed by their attorney, by going for appointments and filling out the paper work. Many times I've asked a patient, "Dr. X says you are hearing the voice of your supervisor. Is that true?" The patient will be surprised, and often offended, to learn that they are being depicted as psychotic.

In fact, I have seen many cases in which the report is already written: all the doctor does is insert the name of the patient into a pre-formatted report, with all of the same boilerplate language and adjectives--lots of adjectives. In an applicant report, adjectives generally substitute for facts and details, as they often do in any bad writing. Other times the doctor's staff will even forget to change the pronoun in the report from "him" to "her," as in, "Mr. Jackson says that she and her husband now have no sexual intimacy, whereas before his boss yelled at him, they enjoyed sexual relations six times a day."

My job, as an ethical evaluator, is not to submit a report that is simply the mirror opposite of the other side's report, but to find out what's actually going on--to determine the truth of the matter. I will spend many hours with a patient, reviewing their current condition, their allegations of injury, their past history, medical records, investigative reports, and sometimes even sub rosa video tape in order to arrive at my conclusions, each of which will be thoroughly supported by facts, logic, and evidence. I try never to speculate--in fact, the system dies not allow idle speculation, only opinions based on medical probability.

I see an almost exact parallel between the corrupt workers comp system and our current political scene. On the one side we have the applicants and their mills--the Democrats and the MSM--on the other side, the defense--the Republicans and the alternative media. The Democrats operate by throwing out as many outrageous statements as they can think of, hoping that something will "stick," and perhaps persuade the trier of fact: the American public. Therefore, when dealing with the MSM and their political action wing, the Democrats, you must constantly wade through the most outrageous, wholesale lies and distortions--America is a racist, sexist and homophobic country, Bush is a liar, Bush wants to impose a theocracy, Bush is a torturer, Bush is spying on us, the economy has never been worse, the environment is being ruined, Bush caused the hurricanes, Bush hates black people, etc., etc., etc. You know the dreary drill.

Just yesterday, I believe someone counted at least seventeen demonstrably outrageous lies in Ted Kennedy's opening remarks at the Alito confirmation hearings. Of course, since the MSM is part of the corrupt system, they will not do their job and determine the factual basis of Kennedy's allegations. Rather, they will simply repeat them.

It is now up to the alternative media to serve the identical purpose in the political system that I do in the workers comp system: to independently evaluate the issue, gather the facts, dispassionately assess the situation, and arrive at a logical and reasoned opinion. Are there ethical Democrats and unethical or careless Republicans? Of course. For example, although I might ultimately agree with much of what a Sean Hannity says, I don't trust him or rely upon him to tell me the truth, for he is the equivalent a Republican "mill." He will come down on the side of the Republicans, no matter what. Joe Lieberman would be an example of an ethical Democrat, for example, willing to independently assess the truth of the Iraq war as he sees it.

But by and large, the reason why it is so difficult to engage leftists in debate is the same reason why it is so difficult to deal with an applicant report. There is almost nothing in an applicant report that I can rely on as being factually true. It might be. It might not be. You just have no way of knowing. You have to assess the situation independently.

Democrats say this is a racist country. Is that true? Not in my analysis. Obviously there are some individual racists, but the country itself is remarkably free of racial animus. Was President Bush lying when he said he believed there were WMD in Iraq? I've seen no evidence for that, only lurid accusations. Is this the worst economy since the Great Depression, a "jobless revovery"? Not based on the facts I have seen. Is Bush spying on his political enemies? I have no basis for believing that. Were blacks disproportionately killed in hurricaine Katrina? As a matter of fact, no. Is Bush running the highest deficit in history? Not if you place it in the proper context as a percentage of GNP. Are terrorists covered by the Geneva Convention? Not based on my understanding. Did Saddam have intimate and extensive ties to the international terror world? No doubt.

So being a neo-con paleoliberal has come quite naturally to me. It just means ignoring the distorted allegations of the MSM-Democratic propaganda mill, independently evaluating the "patient," and arriving at conclusions based on fact, logic and reason.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Thought and Language: Do Not Saturate Before Using

ShrinkWrapped is conducting an interesting experiment to determine if it is actually possible for leftists and neo-cons to engage in substantive debate without it quickly degenerating into name-calling and mutual demonization. To make things manageable, ShrinkWrapped is going to narrow the focus down to the differing perceptions between left and right as to the existential threat posed by Islamofascism. Obviously, those of us "on the right" regard it as a much more serious threat than do those on the left, who generally believe the threat has been manufactured by the President in order to consolidate power and impose a theocracy of his own. Not much middle ground between those two positions, for they aren't just "opposite," they're operating in two irreconcilable realities.

Although I am hoping for the best, I am personally pessimistic, as the first day of the experiment didn't seem to go particularly well. Partly my fault (you should read all the comments to get a sense of how it went). As I posted on ShrinkWrapped, "It's very simple. Leftists are naive about human evil, and always have been. For example, during the cold war, leftists refused to characterize the Soviet Union as evil, and castigated those who did. The identical pattern is occuring now with regard to Islamofascism. This has all sorts of ramifications. For example, if one cannot recognize true evil, one will see the non-evil as evil. As such, the left saw Ronald Reagan as evil, and now see George Bush as evil.... Leftists suffer from a poverty of imagination on the one hand (with regard to the true evil of Islamofascism), but an excess of it on the other hand (with regard to the fantasied evildoings of President Bush)."

Harsh words, perhaps, but are they inaccurate?

I find it virtually impossible to debate with most leftists, not just because they are wrong, but because they cannot possibly be right. In other words, they are not even wrong, for being wrong presupposes some rational basis upon which one can reason someone into, or out of, a position. Not so with with the typical leftist of contemporary America. As I posted, it would be pointless "to debate Cindy Sheehan as to whether George Bush is a bigger terrorist than Osama bin Laden, Howard Dean as to whether Republicans enjoy seeing children go to bed hungry, John Kerry as to whether this is the worst economy since the Great Depression, Kos as to whether Americans working in Iraq are mercenaries that deserve to get killed, Kennedy as to whether the Iraq war was 'cooked up' in Texas for political gain, and Michael Moore as to whether those with whom we are fighting in Iraq are 'minute men' analogous to our own founders."

The psychoanalyst W. R. Bion used the term "saturated" to describe a particular kind of pseudo-thinking commonly encountered by the psychologist. That is, the proper use of language in a healthy mind fosters the evolution of thought. A word or concept is saturated when it cannot do this--it is already so full of meaning that it loses its capacity to actually facilitate thought. Words and concepts can become so overloaded with personal meaning that their use for communication with others becomes extremely problematic. Among other problems, when words are saturated, there is no space left for them to accumulate meaning through experience: the word has become functionally dead insofar as its capacity to allow a space for thinking about internal or external reality.

I believe this is one of the key problems that underlies leftist thought. It is so saturated with meaning that it is absolutely useless for conveying ideas to anyone who doesn't already believe them--anyone who isn't already franticly twirling about in the end-times liberal Ghost Dance.

To illustrate my point, I went straight over to Petey's favorite idiotarium, huffingtonpost, knowing that there would be many fine examples of what I'm talking about. I plucked one off the top, entitled Bush as Bad Theatre, by a playwrite named Sherman Yellen. Although I am a film school graduate, I'd never heard of the man, but that doesn't mean anything. Apparently he's quite eminent in show biz circles, having won two Emmys and a Peabody Award, among other various encomiums.

Yellen's bio states that, having grown up in New York under FDR, he "has watched with great sadness the Bush administration’s dismantling of social programs and social progress in this country." That's quite an accomplishment to have escaped my notice, but no examples are given. I can't help wondering if it didn't really happen. Yellen "believes it is the obligation of artists to speak out against the erosion of our democracy during these troubling times." Again, no examples of the erosion he's so concerned about. No need to give any. Everyone who agrees with him already knows exactly what he's talking about, wink wink.

In fact, in the piece, one searches in vain for anything resembling an unsaturated thought--anything that can actually convey a fact or create curiosity in the unpersuaded, but persuadable, reader. Again, note the difference between Yellen's brand of saturated writing vs. writing that would allow a space for you to engage your curiosity as to just what has him so manifestly overwrought:

--"Bush is our own Tartuffe, Molière's insufferable pseudo-religious comedic character who uses his so called piety to gain power over the lives of others.... it is Bush's voice we hear as Tartuffe pronounces, 'How dare you even hinder or annoy when I've the means to ruin and destroy. You should have thought before my toes you trod. Attacking me, you set yourself 'gainst God.'"

Got it? Bush uses religion and so-called piety to gain control over others, whom he will ruin and destroy in the name of God if they resist. (Yellen is a pretty brave--even reckless--fellow to trod on this vindictive President's toes.)

Okay. Next?

--Bush "would serve nicely as a foolish father in a sit-com, or a ridiculous boss in an office comedy, but he is the Commander-in-Chief who can and does send young men and women to their deaths. Sadly, he does not even have the true villain's consciousness of when he has done wrong. This is why apology and admission of error is so difficult for him. He believes in his God-given rectitude in all situations."

Right. Bush is so stupid, he doesn't even know how wrong and evil he is. Plus, he thinks he is infallibly guided by God. This is convincing stuff. How foolish of me not to have recognized it myself.

Next?

--"Nobody can accuse George Bush of eloquence or locate his courage and love of country as he labors to strip it of its natural wonders, and sell his power to its worst exploiters. What he shares with Henry V is a ruthless ambition wed to a sense of royal entitlement. As Henry exploited his soldiers' patriotism, Bush exploits his nation's fears."

Haven't you been curious about what happened to all the natural wonders of the country? Stripped! That's right. Gone. Kaput. Bush did it while he had you looking the other way, at those two big buildings that fell down on TV. Because he thinks he's king. Plus he's not even eloquent. Not like a deep-thinking, silver-tongued New York playwrite, anyway.

Any more Emmy-worthy thoughts from our serious thinker of the left?

--"Like most incurious people Bush starts with a belief and then searches desperately for the evidence to support it. This faith-based approach to the world is one that most often has tragic consequences for others, rarely for the man himself, protected by his power and by the fear he has exploited in others.... In his heart of hearts he still believes that there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to be found if only we had the right dogs to sniff them out."

Incurious. When Yellen calls Bush "incurious," this is code for "not interested in what fascinates secular New York intellectuals who have never encountered an alien thought in their hermetically sealed cognitive bubble." Thus, it is Bush who "searches desperately" for evidence to support his beliefs. In fact, Bush was so desperate in his search that he somehow got every single intelligence agency in the world to confirm his wacky beliefs about WMD--before he even became president!

Yellen continues his analysis:

--"... in Bush we have a man who cannot understand and feel the emotional weight of any situation, or recognize the consequences of his actions. If becomes clearer over time that he has never learned in the course of his misadventures, as he kept failing upwards toward the Presidency, the most essential lesson of life -- the value of other people's lives. For this inherited characteristic we need only look at his mother, Lady Barbara..."

So, not only can President Bush not think or understand consequences, he cannot even feel! Now we are in the realm of the truly monstrous--the reptilian. Bush is a sociopath: he places no value on other people's lives. And there's not a thing he or you or I can do about it, because it's an inherited trait from his beastly mother.

Yellen saves the most devastating critique for last. That is, President Bush cannot be dramatized, no, not even by an Emmy award winning playwrite!

--"A character such as Bush who lacks such consciousness may preside over a country but he cannot command a stage. Bush's smirk is a poor stand-in for Richard's hump." Yes, the hopelessly "boring," "self-righteous, unexamined bad behavior," that "we see in Bush on a daily basis" is just impossible to bring to the stage.

Noooooooooooooo! Not that! You can't make a TV movie out of his life? Scott Peterson? Sure. The Menendez Brothers? Of course. Tonya Harding vs. Nancy Kerrigan? Yellen would write that script in a New York minute. George Bush? No way. Worse yet,

--"We have three more years of Bush as the main player in our national drama, three more years of platitudes, certainties, grinning, winking, cajoling, but never owning the consequences of his own actions. Since he cannot change his act, we will continue to get what we see -- an empty man propped up with a foolish sense of his own worth, taking us from one new disaster to another..."

Hmmmm. Platitudes. Certainties. Inability to change. Empty. Foolish sense of his own worth. And, I might add, saturated. Who does that remind me of?

What's that, Petey?

I won't say it. That would just cheapen the debate.