Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Middle Age Crazy

As we know, the Divine Comedy begins with a hint of what it's all about, which is to say, the Mother of all mid-life crises: Midway upon the journey of our life....


We think of the "mid-life crisis" occurring in middle age. When I was a lad, the tripping point was around 40, but nowadays it seems to be more like 50, or perhaps even later. This is not necessarily a positive development, for it only means that we can put off the crisis a little longer by nurturing the illusions that maintain us and confer a bogus meaning upon our lives.

But make no mistake: any meaning short of God is no meaning at all. It's either God or nothing, Yahweh or the low-way, O or Ø. PZ Myers may be sociopathic (Taranto also comments on his moral depravity here), but at least he's intellectually honest enough to acknowledge that for the atheist, a baby can be no more intrinsically valuable than a burger. (My site meter indicates the presence of PZ readers, based upon the allegation that I wish to attract his attention. Do not flatter yourselves, children. Nothing does not attract us, although many nothings are strangely attracted to this blog for reasons only they don't understand.)

The good news is that if there is true meaning -- AKA Truth -- then there is God.

Now, life is not a mathematical equation. Rather, it is a mythsemantical journey, so one cannot actually assign a number to "mid-life."

Rather, as I believe I once heard Donald Fagen say, life itself is a continual crisis. Every stage of life is a mid-life crisis. For example, my son is having a mid-life crisis between the oedipal and latency stages of development. And it's no less intense than it is for some pathetic One Cosmos troll and obsessive stalker who wakes up and realizes he's a crock roach.

How do we know Dante is in crisis? Because he tells us so in the second line: I found myself within a forest dark. For us, the forest is a place of primal beauty, of slackful relaxation, of peaceful nature unsullied by civilization.

But for premodern man, the forest was a place of great danger. It marked the edge of safety, beyond which you were taking your life into your own hands. To venture in alone would be almost suicidal.

Hey Don, don't forget the hot dogs and beer!

Even outside the forest, the darkness of the premodern world was unimaginable for us. But inside the forest it was even darker. At night, you wouldn't have been able to see your hand in front of your face. There is an evolutionary reason why children are afraid of the dark, because darkness is where the monsters literally dwelt. You wouldn't even know what ate you. Thus the old adage, he who hesitates is lunch.

The little clearing of civilization is where things are illuminated. But this area of light is a hard-won prize, surrounded by darkness. No wonder people cling to their stupid cultures, since they are preferable to living in the dark.

In other words, whatever else a culture is, it is a collective defense against the dark. Never ask why people believe such idiotic things. Just remember the danger of the surrounding forest.

In this regard, it is analogous to the ego, which serves the same purpose on an individual basis. In treating patients, one of the first things Freud noticed is that you cannot simply confront them about their irrational beliefs. Reason is impotent, because the irrational belief is a defense against the dark. Just like culture, the ego, whatever else it is, is a little area of light surrounded by darkness. Freud called the darkness the "unconscious," but this is very misleading.

A better term would simply be consciousness, which is to the ego as the cosmos is to a planet. It is "relatively infinite," while the ego is the attempt to reduce infinity to some manageable chunk. It is not actually possible to do this, the reason being that the contained can never contain the container. But people never stop trying. Only when it reaches the point of absurdity do we call it "pathological."

For example, the compulsive personality reduces reality down to, say, a struggle with germs. He becomes preoccupied with cleanliness, washing his hands repeatedly, disinfecting everything, taking multiple showers a day. In this case, reality has become a kind of narrow beam of light, beyond which is the dangerous forest full of microscopic monsters.

But all ideologies -- and I mean all of them -- are just the same process writ large. Again: God or nothing. Everything "outside" God is just a nasty case of OCD.

It is the same with paranoia. The paranoid personality attempts to manage the forest by projecting it outside the self, into others.

I don't want to jump too far ahead, but the forest Dante is talking about is obviously the interior/unconscious one. To rip a vivid example from the headlines, liberals routinely manage their rage by projecting it into conservatives, as they did in the case of the Arizona mass murderer. They fear what they hate, because the projected hatred returns to them on the rebound. It's all an intrapsychic process, reinforced and leant legitimacy by the collective nature of the neurosis. Just as in the case of a primitive culture, there is safety in numbers.

I don't want to get sidetracked, but Taranto has been doing a great job exposing the absurdity of it all. Most people mark it down to hypocrisy, but it's much worse than that, since many leftists actually believe what they're saying. When we say that a defense mechanism is unconscious, we mean unconscious. It has to be unconscious, because these people obviously aren't stupid, and it requires no intelligence to see that the charges are not true.

Third line: For the straightforward pathway has been lost. Why is that? Because, as we have discussed many times, the realm of the unconscious (and supraconscious) is not governed by linear, aristotelian logic.

Rather, it is the world of symmetrical logic, as described by Ignacio Matte Blanco, so to plunge into the unconscious is to give oneself over to a world with very different rules. In the unconscious, linear math is of no assistance. For example, in this world it is completely unproblematic that One should equal Three, and vice versa.

Because the unconscious is always in us -- or, to be precise, we are in it -- a deadly crisis is always just around the coroner. As Upton explains, "This is the point where outward manifestation has reached its limit, after which a person must either ascend spiritually or be content to live within the progressive deterioration of the form of his life."

In other words, life is either ascending or descending, for the same reason that there is either God or nothing. Absent the ascent, then gravity and entropy take over.

But we cannot properly ascend with our little ego, which again, is just a defense against the dark. Rather, we must first colonize the darkness. We must redeem our own personal hell, so to speak, in order to be fit for the greater Light. The great balls of purifying fire precede illumination.


julie said...

But for premodern man, the forest was a place of great danger.

It's easy, though, to put oneself back in that place of understanding. I can think of many a time, walking down a remote road in the pitch dark of night with a couple of friends and no flashlight, when the creeping terror begins and you walk close together for the bodily comfort of a companion; when every sound coming from behind the trees elicits a rush of fear and dread - branch or bear? - and nervous voices hush to avoid attracting the attention of whatever hungers, watching as helpless and soft-skinned critters stumble blindly down the road...

Of course, for us that was temporary, lasting only as long as the camping trip or the stroll from campus to one of the cottages down the road a mile or two. For that to be a fact of everyday life is almost unthinkable.

Anyway, back to reading...

julie said...

To venture in alone would be almost suicidal.

And yet, when it comes down to it, isn't that exactly what must be done? Heck, if we take the Master at his word, there's no almost about it...

Rick said...

This post is reminding me of that movie Quest for Fire again.

Especially the opening scene where the little tribe is asleep except for the one or two designates who must "keep watch" overnight.. around the fire.

julie said...

Oooo, good point, Rick - think I'll see if they have that for download on Netflix...

JP said...

Let's see when my midlife crisis hit.



Actually, its my quarterlife crisis and midlife crisis rolled into one.

And I triggered it, accidentially on purpose. Well, I was trying to trigger SOMETHING. I just didn't realize that I was going to jam all my gears all at once.

Fun, it wasn't.

I just figured I could leave my life on autopilot. Apparently, that wasn't a good idea.

That will teach me to not engage in long-term strategic life planning.

julie said...

Why yes, it is available!

Thanks, Rick!

Rick said...

Yeah, I've had it in the Netflix Instant thing for the boy.

Keep in mind the monkey suit technology was pretty primitive back then. I'm not sure the makeup was even as good as the original Planet of the Apes. But the storyline is more believable :-) Or Bob's book is all rong.

Rick said...

"sociopathic, pathetic, "pathological", pathway"

Call me pathanoid, but I think I see what yor doin here.

Lions and tigers and bears..Oh Don!

mushroom said...

I saw Quest for Fire in an actual movie theater when it was first released. Does that make me old?

Speaking of movies and the woods and modernity, I wonder if a lot of horror movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre aren't at heart very culturally conservative reactions to modern man's point of view. It's as if they are trying to warn the arrogant, disdainful teenager that there are dangers out there in the dark.

Rick said...

"Does that make me old?"

I thought that was you.

walt said...

Today's post brought to mind a quote from the book by Sertillanges that you discussed a couple of months ago:

"To perceive in oneself the murmur of all being and all duration, to appeal to their witness, is, in spite of their silence, to assure oneself the best guarantees for the acquisition of truth. Everything is linked with everything, and the clearly visible relations of things have their roots in the night into which I am groping my way."

Gagdad Bob said...

Ah yes, the coonspiracy.

Van said...

"Most people mark it down to hypocrisy, but it's much worse than that, since many leftists actually believe what they're saying. When we say that a defense mechanism is unconscious, we mean unconscious. It has to be unconscious, because these people obviously aren't stupid, and it requires no intelligence to see that the charges are not true. "

I was making a similar point this morning after I alarmed Julie at my site, that "... the human mind is a curious thing, and just because it contains ideas doesn't mean that they are used as ideas - some people collect their positions like wall hangings and draperies, they are simply there, and the only meaning they attach to them is "kind, generous, tolerant", and it doesn't matter how clearly you spell out for them the pure evil and destruction which must follow from them... your arguments are gone as fast as the breath you used to speak them... and their decorations and draperies remain up, and they continue to think they brighten up the place."

When they say "I believe" it's not like they are working their way through the ideas, checking this against that, etc... they see their position on their wall of esteem, it's not hanging crooked or anything, so... "it's all good, next!".

They're not seeing the trees for the forest, I suppose.

Time to call in the lumberjack ('he's okay...")

julie said...

Oh, good grief - via Yahoo news, 10 Easy Ways to Become a Better Person. I know, I shouldn't have looked, but I knew there'd be a train wreck there, and I couldn't stop myself from clicking through.

They could have saved a lot of words by just listing the Decalogue, but that would have prevented them from redefining goodness...

Gagdad Bob said...

What Van said reminds me of Bion's "grid." One axis has to do with the development of thought, the other with the uses to which the thought is put. Thus, the most sophisticated thought can be employed as a bludgeon -- or for food, or for narcissistic mirroring, or for anything else. There is no necessary correlation between intellectual sophistication and emotional development.

Van said...

Julie said "Oh, good grief - via Yahoo news, 10 Easy Ways to Become a Better Person."

You know, I've come to appreciate the habitual ritual way with which they begin everything with "n Easy Steps to...", it's kind of like roadside flares or something like that to warn you away from getting too close.

'Nasty accident here folks, lots of gore, I wouldn't look if I were you, move along...'

(Heh... I wonder if the trol bait will work)

julie said...

Van - it might, if it's parceled out in ten easy steps...

Van said...


robinstarfish said...

Middle age crises are indeed the crackups they are cracked up to be. Are humans the only critters that think molting is something to be avoided?

mushroom said...

Molting -- I hadn't thought about that, but it is a parallel.

Rick said...

Bob, you're right, this Upton book is great. I'll tell you, it feels somewhat at times like reading MOTT again. The way the writer sounds. I've never read Inferno and I'm certain I wouldn't have come away with 5% on my own of what Upton has done here.
How did Dante get to be so smart?

Reading along some this morning about the Sodomites reminded me again of this PZ Myers. The intellectual sodomites. If he is of this type, his intelligence is all he has. It is external. It cannot affect his will.
The comments to the articles about him are also enlightening. Contrasting those who take his side (feel as he does) with those who have done the work he has done but are still properly revolted. Myer's perversion hides behind science, but not completely. Paints himself as a pioneer but he talks about worker bee work. The way he speaks gives him away, example, the intestines "dance" and "meat".

Reading Upton's take, it seems the way to deal with this type is to not talk to them directly. Myers should be treated as an outcast. Debating with him serves no good to either person. It just feeds his external intelligence which is a separate thing (his wheel pushed in Inferno), and not the person.

The name Sodomite I think means more than what I thought it meant (at least in the context of the book). Upton does good work here fleshing it out, discussions of reflection, etc. What is more important is the turning wheel going on internally (the cause, or lack of it) than the external acts and expression caused by it. Underneath is where the trouble lies; where one remains in trouble.

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, so far Dark Way to Paradise is of the caliber of MOTT, but I'm only up to p. 52. I'm taking it slowly, not because it's difficult, but because it's so rich, and deserves to be lingered over. She's an exceptionally clear writer for a subject of such depth.

I don't know anything about PZ except that I can't help him.

Rick said...

"but I'm only up to p. 52"

This is good news. I thought for sure, as is usually the case with me, that you've already finished and posting on what has surfaced since. Always thought it would be nice to be reading the same parts along with you.

You are right, it's rich. My post-it note-to-page ratio is very high, like MOTT. Fortunately it's not 800 pages so the thought of rereading it right after finishing it is not so intimidating :-)

philmon said...

"liberals routinely manage their rage by projecting it into conservatives, [..] It's all an intrapsychic process, reinforced and leant legitimacy by the collective nature of the neurosis. [..] Most people mark it down to hypocrisy, but it's much worse than that, since many leftists actually believe what they're saying. [..] It has to be unconscious, because these people obviously aren't stupid, and it requires no intelligence to see that the charges are not true."

This goes right along with an observation I've made ... conservatives believe that liberals are misguided. Liberals believe that conservatives are evil.