One of These Things is Not Like the Others: Divine Comedy, Stand-Up Cosmology, Suicide
We'll let that one percolate awhile in the nonconscious and come back to it later, or maybe answer it in a roundabout way. But surely this is part of the answer: "He who speaks of the farthest regions of the soul soon needs a theological vocabulary" (Dávila).
Alternatively, one may bar extreme seekers from these black diamond spiritual trails by banishing the vocabulary. Perhaps even easier is what I have called "dimensional defense mechanisms," whereby a person essentially amputates higher realities -- the vertical -- from his soul and from his experience.
This is the approach of positivists, historicists, Darwinists, and the rest of the usual academic rabble. Let's say I don't like spaces, or I'm afraid of them -- you know, agoraphobic. One may defend oneself from the attendant anxiety by clinging to the second dimension -- the plane -- and pretending the third -- space -- doesn't exist. Just as Flatland is a defense against Sphereworld, atheism is a defense against spirit.
Yes, it happens. There is a kind of autism that is not genetic but acquired. It's been awhile, but there was a particular theorist, Frances Tustin, who wrote a number of interesting books on this subject. Another term for it is "encapsulation," which evokes the idea of being cut off from some part of reality and being enclosed in one's private Idaho.
Importantly, this private Idaho need not be something we would normally associate with mental illness. Or, think of it this way: as there is tailored clothing that fits us perfectly, there is also readymade clothing we may purchase off the rack.
It is no exaggeration to say that an ideology is a readymade neurosis (and sometimes psychosis), which has a number of advantages over a custom mental illness: first, it will be collective, and there is safety -- or faux sanity -- in numbers.
Analogously, if everyone is wearing wide-flared bell bottoms -- or platform shoes, or rings in one's nose -- then one doesn't look like such an ass wearing them.
Second, a well made retail ideology will cover most of the bases of human experience, the difference being that instead of being that wise little by which one may know much, it will be that ideological little by which one may know even less.
There are frankly too many to chronicle, and besides, it isn't difficult for you to draw the connections. Darwinism is an obvious one (by which I mean Darwinism "without remainder," as if it is a sufficient explanation of man's capacities); for Voegelin, it generally comes down to positivism and scientism, which are perfectly fitting suits for an adolescent McDullard.
The adolescent, of course, will continue to grow, and if he is normal, outgrow the garment and toss it aside. In other cases he may, to his surprise, burst through the seams. But some people -- we call them the tenured -- wear an adolescent suit made of iron. Imagine a teenage knight growing out of his armor. I wonder what that would look like? It's kind of repulsive to think about, but so too is academia, and for the same reason.
Speaking of autism and encapsulation, I ran into this article on Why Funny People Kill Themselves. I personally found you-know-who more irritating than funny, but the question is, was his humorous persona a kind of autistic prison?
First, I don't know if it's true that funny people are any more vulnerable to depression and suicide than anyone else. While I have heard that creative people in general are more prone to mood disorders, I wonder if this is simply because we hear so much more from creative individuals? They are more able to articulate their subjective states, whereas the average boob may be frightfully unable to do so. A lot of people have no earthly idea they are depressed, and their depression mainly manifests by making others feel depressed in their presence.
I mean, what wideawake person would not be a little depressed about the world and about the terms of existence? You might say that in order to not be depressed, you have to be worse than depressed, which is to say, out of touch with reality.
Indeed, In Freud's classic formulation, humor is the highest and most developed defense mechanism. All others are second best or lower.
Having said that, I think it partly depends upon the person. If we pull out old Bion's grid (never mind if you don't know what that is), humor will lay on a spectrum of maturity from, say, Adam Sandler to P.G. Wodehouse, or Jerry Lewis to Samuel Johnson. For me, Robin Williams always had that manic quality which is... well, it's manic, which is to say, a more primitive defense mechanism than humor per se. It is as if the humor is piggybacking on the mania, especially because he seemed unable to turn it off.
The author of the above-linked piece posits four stages whereby the funnyman may end up a deadman by his own hand. Now interestingly, a defense mechanism is always a kind of aggression turned toward the self. Thus, suicide is obviously the ultimate defense mechanism, and yet, it is just the initial death writ large.
One can see this by considering the author's first step; indeed it is rather transparent: "At an early age, you start hating yourself."
True enough, except that the majority of people who who hate themselves are not funny. Intentionally, anyway. Wong would no doubt respond that this is because they don't have the comedy gene, which has some truth to it. People who are not funny should never attempt to be, because they are just annoying.
Step two is the discovery that one may provoke laughter in others. Now, I enjoy making people laugh, but I do not connect it to step one (self-loathing), nor do relate it to a need to control others. To the extent that humor is deployed for these reasons, we have again entered a dimension that has nothing to do with humor per se. After all, the dour Obama is not a humorous person, but he sure loves to control people, and one certainly gets the impression that he exists in an autistic bubble.
Speaking of which, number three, "You soon learned that being funny builds a perfect, impenetrable wall around you -- a buffer that keeps anyone from getting too close and realizing how much you suck."
Really? I hope not. I actually try to do the opposite, that is, use divine comedy and stand-up cosmology to provoke the guffah-HA! experience -- to foster vertical escape, not to fortify the prison.
Number four, "In your formative years, you wind up creating a second, false you..."
Again, true enough, but this "false self" is very much related to the neurotic "autistic self" referenced above. It is a shell, an exoskeleton, a defensive structure that prevents vulnerability and intimacy. The more "open" you are as a person, the more you can sense the closed-ness in others, who generally have no idea how closed they are, because it is an unconscious defense mechanism.
And also, while the false self is an exceedingly common phenomenon, most false selves are not funny. The false self can revolve around anything from politics to entertainment to academics to wealth to sports to fitness to looks...
I hate to break up the party, but the laughter is over. Time to put on my false face and get serious.