Thursday, December 26, 2013

Life of Brian, Death of Saul, Confessions of Augustine

I suppose there are some individual differences even among lesser species, in particular, social animals. But those differences don't amount to much: one dog or gorilla is alpha, and the rest are either contented betas or scheming and resentful opportunists looking for the first sign of weakness.

On Christmas eve we attended a children's mass, in which the priest gave a sermon -- or is it a homily? -- on this very subject. With all the children gathered around him -- at least a hundred, of all different ages -- he distributed puzzle pieces to each of them, in order to bring home the point that every piece is utterly unique, and yet, a necessary part of the whole.

In turn -- he didn't exactly say it this way, but it was my tykeaway -- the whole is Christ, for the second person of the Trinity didn't just become "a" man, but rather, becomes mankind, here and now. Or better, mankind as such is ultimately "the body of Christ," at least in potential. But I'm not sure the children would be able to assimilate it on that abstract a level, for which reason it was transmitted to them in concrete form.

Difference creates tension, as it involves separating oneself from the group, which can be interpreted by the group as aggression, e.g., "rejection," or "superiority." For Rank, the space opened up by difference can often end up being filled by angst, which has a different connotation than anxiety, as it is more existential, or even ontological, in nature. Animals do not experience angst, since it is a direct consequence of individuation, of difference, of standing apart.

Last night I came across a vivid example of angst in the new Beatles biography, having to do with their manager, Brian Epstein. In addition to being homosexual at a time it was still a crime in England, he was just plain different from the rest of his family. He had no interest in joining the successful family business, but rather, was an artistic type, especially drawn to the theatre (there's lots more, but I'm condensing).

Long story short, he received zero support from his exasperated parents, when the very job of a parent is to assist a child in discovering and articulating his identity. Thus, as predicted by Rank, Epstein interpreted his difference in a self-loathing, angst-ridden manner. After his death, an adolescent diary was discovered, in which he had penned the following:

Help me. I am lost. Help me. I am lost. Help me [if] I am to stop. Give me peace, rest. That world, it's too big for me. O Lord God, I've asked these questions before. Where is the answer? Why am I here? Help me. What am I to do? O Lord God tell me where is my faith? Give guidance. This is hell. A hell of madness.

No doubt his homosexual impulses were a factor in his pain, but in this context it is difficult to tell if they are a cause or effect of his identity disturbance -- for clearly, at the root of his trouble was an absolute rejection by his father, which can set the stage for a later search for one's missing masculine identity via sexual relationships.

Thus, in Epstein's case, he spent the rest of his adult life in compulsive pursuit of violent, sado-masochistic homosexual encounters, in a kind of simultaneous attraction to, and rejection by, primitive manhood. And of course, he ended up doing himself in from a drug overdose at the age of 32.

But the suicide (supposedly accidental) was just the concrete expression of a death that had occurred much earlier. Long prior to that, he had been denied permission to be, even (or especially) from earliest childhood. When being is lost that early, it is difficult to recover it, virtually impossible if one doesn't later find an environment to support and nurture it.

So, that's an extreme case, but in psychology, extreme cases are sometimes helpful in illuminating processes that are more subtle in the "normal." You could say that they are somewhat like the microscope is to the biologist. It can be difficult to know what makes human beings tick until they stop ticking, or are prevented from ticking.

I suppose this is no different from how medicine developed. No one gives much thought to their heart, or lungs, or stomach, until something goes wrong with them. But by studying illness, we learn about how to prevent it, and about the proper function of the organ in question.

As we've discussed before, the mind is an organ. Okay, but what is it for? Depending upon your answer, you will have an entirely different conception of man, and of the purpose of life. For a Darwinian, for example, the "purpose" of the mind is adaptation to the environment in furtherance of the Prime Directive, reproduction. Everything else is just genetic window dressing.

Let's forget about tenured fairy tales. What is the mind really for? What I would say is that the mind is an organ for the perception of reality. However, I would add that this involves the perception of both exterior and interior realities. Humanly speaking, the most important interior reality is the self, and the case of Brian Epstein shows what can happen when this perception is systematically thwarted, suppressed, denied, and rejected.

Ironically, Rank traces the emergence of individuality -- i.e., of interior perception -- to the Judeo-Christian revolution, which brought about "a consequent change in the human psychological type" (Menaker). That is,

"The old world of antiquity was disintegrating at this time, and the standards for social conduct were being modified from a communal behavioral code to a more individualistic one. The new code gave the individual more responsibility for his own actions and his destiny than had previously been the case."

This had the added effect of lifting man out of the stream of fate and predestination, "to a plane spiritually much higher":

"The emergence of the idea that through faith and one's own efforts an individual can effect a change in his or her personality is a new development in the psychological history of mankind."

To cite just one dramatic example, "the possibility of a change through inner experience... was testified to by Paul's conversion on the way to Damascus.... It is the juxtaposition of two differing self-experiences that elicits the awareness of both self and of the possibility of change."

Thus, we are ultimately talking about a death-and-life experience -- i.e., the death and rebirth of the self (so much so that he has a new name for the self reborn: Saul is dead. Long love Paul).

It is said that Augustine's Confessions is the first real autobiography ever written. I suppose this would explain why. However, even if we never put pen to paper, we in the Christian west are always cowriting our unique autobiographies -- unless some unholy-ghostwriter is forging our biography with a hammer, gun, or ideology.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Cosmotherapy for Your Holiday on Earth

I once coined a word for the kind of therapy I'd want to to do if I wanted to do it: cosmotherapy. That way, if anyone ever invents it, I can sue for copyright infringement and get a piece of the action.

Well, it looks like someone already did. Almost, anyway. It's striking how often the word "cosmos" (or universe) is used in reference to Rank's work. Yesterday I mentioned in a comment that psychoanalysis became for many of its founders a kind of transparently substitute religious quest. Thus, Rank discusses the Oneness that is achieved via love, art, or any other activity that helps us transcend the difference -- or Twoness -- discussed in yesterday's post:

This Oneness "produces a satisfaction... that is the potential restoration of a union with the Cosmos, which once existed and was then lost." Thus there is a kind of oneness both before and beyond twoness. However, they are quite different, since the first is an undifferentiated oneness while the second is a differentiated one. Which reminds us of another Rock Bottom Mythematical Raccoon Orthoparadox: two is better than one, and One is better than two.

In twoness there is both gain and pain: the loss of security in undifferentiated union is partly compensated for by the forging of one's identity. But the latter is never enough, and probably more often than not, is too much.

By which I mean that individuality is fraught with ambivalence, and therefore full of potential pain. To cut to the bottom line, it can frankly be painful to be different, and many people naturally recoil from this pain -- especially in environments where difference isn't tolerated, say, Iran, or university campuses, or newsrooms. Or certain families.

Yesterday I mentioned that I didn't retain anything from reading Rank 25 odd years ago, but I now see that I did: the idea of the pain associated with difference always stuck with me. I'd just forgotten where I'd found it.

At any rate, I personally related to it in a profound way, because I was always aware of being Different, and for a very long time I tried to suppress this in favor of fitting in and being like the Others. Or in other words, I very nearly successfully committed cluelesside so as to become part of the Conspiracy. Thank God I was just too different to fake it.

Indeed, part of the purpose of this blog is to help others with a cosmic orientation to not feel so alone. In turn, it helps me to help others. Let's face it: we're different. Might as well explore and expand it rather than recoil from it. Besides, you're not fooling anyone, weirdo.

Along these lines, it is weird to be thought of as "conservative," since conservatism as such would be at the far end of the spectrum between conservatism <--> novelty. What I really want to conserve are the means to creative novelty -- means which are attacked and suppressed by the left, e.g., free markets, free minds, and free speech, in favor of compulsory statism, political correctness, and inquisitorial tolerance.

As alluded to in yesterday's post, "Without difference, there would be no individual will and no creative expression" (Menaker). Thus, freedom, creativity, and will are what account for the emergence of self-aware difference.

Other animals are essentially the same. Of course they notice some differences, such as the distinction between male and female (a vital difference which only human beings can forget), along with the differences between species. But they don't so much notice the latter as much as disregard them, unless said species falls under the heading of predator or prey.

So again, the emergence of humanness is entirely bound up with this question of difference. There is a hint of this in the psychogenesis section of Genesis, where it states that man is permitted to name all the animals. In order to do this, he obviously must notice all the differences.

But what about the pain of man's own difference from all the animals? Not good. So God gives him someone comparable, not identical. If Eve were identical, this would efface the differences, which God clearly doesn't want to do. God is not some androgynous feminist new castrati Pajama Boy.

Anyway, Rank noticed that a fundamental problem for humans is "individual difference," which we are prone "to interpret as inferiority unless it can be proved by achievement to be superiority."

This is the One Idea mentioned above that I internalized, because it rang a major gong in me. Some people are extremely cocky and confident in their difference. That wasn't me. And in any event, the confidence often has a downside, as it can merge with other pathological trends in the personality, such as narcissism and hubris, which can result in, say, over-confident buffoons such as an Obama or Clinton. No, there's no easy way out of Difference.

For example, I'm reading this new biography of the Beatles, and one theme that emerges early on is just how different John Lennon was, both to himself and to anyone else who was fortunate or unfortunate enough to run into him. (No one I think is in my tree / I mean it must be high or low.) In Lennon's case, he embraced his difference in an extremely obnoxious and often aggressive manner, basically out of insecurity. It was one way of coping with it, but not very healthy.

Because of his rank atheism, Rank thought of life as "a fleeting moment of light, a holiday on earth, between two eternities of darkness" (Robert Kramer, in Menaker) -- which it surely is without a religious orientation. Some holiday! Worse yet, some holy-day!

So, Sisyphus-like, we fool ourselves into thinking we can somehow immortalize our difference by some earthly achievement. This is the willed self-deception at the heart of Rankian therapy, because you can't do that. What's that wise crack about fame? That it means being known by a multitude of dorklings who don't know you? How can one confuse this with eternity, i.e., being known by God?

Any port in a storm, I guess. Or, speaking of cliches, so near yet so far. That is, Rank went further than Freud in peering "below biological bedrock to confront the ontological or, better, the pre-ontological mystery of Being itself. This is the difference -- the ineffable difference -- between nonexistence and existence" (Kramer).

That's pretty far, but why stop there? And besides, did he think he was the first to go there? I mean, Judaism (Rank was a secular Jew) is all about difference. Maybe he just forgot where he got his Big Idea.

For the very first act of God is to separate order from chaos -- followed by heavens from earth, light from dark, day from night, water from land, time from absurcularity, man from woman, etc. Furthermore, the original covenant is about the offer of a restoration of cosmic oneness to this wandering tribe of stiffneckleheads. In accepting it, they become even more different from the rest, which history proves was a recipe for pain. For the Cosmically Different may be recognized by the target on their backs.

And let's not even talk about what happened to Jesus. Maybe after his birthday.

To be continued, maybe even tomorrow...

Monday, December 23, 2013

What's the Difference?

Last night I had that dream again -- the one in which I can do anything.

What I mean is that it occurs to me that I somehow have this power to do whatever I want.

In your dreams, Bob! Yes, in my dreams. Stop taunting me. We've already stipulated that.

It's happened countless times before: poems, novels, songs, paintings, landscapes, architecture, all produced by my dreamer -- whoever that is -- in my dreams. In fact, why say "my" dreams, when it is the dream that contains us, not vice versa?

In any event, last night I had the clear and distinct experience of producing several novel jazz performances in my dreamscape, with unique arrangements and solos I'm sure I've never heard in this world. So, how did I do that?

More generally, I've done any number of things in my dreams -- as have you -- that I've never done out here, for example, being a professional athlete, or having more children, or public speaking, the latter of which would make me nervous in this world.

The bottom line is that there appears to be a huge disconnect between man's potentialities and his achievements. Yeah, well, duh.

What I mean is, if we can do anything, but end up doing just this, what went wrong? Who goofed?

Now, in point of fact, that is not at all how I feel about what I have "accomplished." Rather, I am astonished by my creativity, such as it is. Let me quickly emphasize that I don't mean this in any egocentric way, any more than I mean it in such a way when I boast of the inexhaustible creativity of my Dreamer, the original Fertile Egghead.

Rather, I mean it in a more impersonal and general way, just the very fact of generating meaningful novelty, which is something for which Darwinism (or any other reductionistic scheme) cannot account, and which places us at the leading fringe of cosmic evolution -- if by evolution we mean the unfolding of new and unprecedented developments, for I am quite sure this completely unplanned post has never occurred before and will never occur again.

Although I am a psychologist by trade, for a long time I've been alienated from the discipline, because it deals with a Man I don't recognize, and to whom I don't relate. I don't even remember how it happened, but over the weekend I stumbled upon some old books -- or they me -- which I hadn't looked at since I was in graduate school, and even then didn't finish reading. Nor, clearly, did I understand the implications, as indicated by what I highlighted then as opposed to what I highlighted over the weekend. Different Bob, different concerns.

My present concerns are entirely wrapped up in the freedom-creativity-individuality triad we've been paddling in ever since we ventured down this Hartshorne-Berdyaev stream. I am now more convinced than ever that Freedom is Of the Essence, the transcendental of transcendentals, although inconceivable in the absence of the others; for individualism is freedom creatively lived, just as creativity is an expression of the free individual.

That being the case, we need a psychology that reflects this reality, not a psychology that reduces us to, say, selfish genes, or blind instincts, or social adaptation, or creatures of the State, or anything less than the fullest articulation of our creative freedom.

The first book that fell into my lap this weekend was this well known blockbuster (ranked #4,464,231 on amazon), Separation, Will, and Creativity, by the psychoanalyst Esther Menaker. In it I discovered a psychology that is entirely consistent with the Raccoon Way, albeit missing the explicitly spiritual element (since psychoanalysis, like the science it attempts to ape, is an a priori secular enterprise).

I'm a little surprised I didn't steal some of this for my own SIGNED COPIES!, but perhaps this is because I was more focused on the mystical than the creative element, even though the latter is implicitly there.

Long story short, Esther Menaker was a disciple of the dissident psychoanalyst Otto Rank, who started out as Sigmund Freud's young BFF -- the Heir Apparent -- but who had a falling out with the Master as a result of having the temerity to nurture his own ideas. And his biggest idea revolves around Creativity, which really has no place in Freud's metapsychology, since the latter is firmly rooted in a scientistic metaphysic in which the present is reducible to the past. You know, blame your mother, blah blah yada yada.

Thus, for Freud, creativity might be interpreted as, I don't know, symbolically playing with one's own feces, or exposing oneself, or masturbation. And before you laugh at Freud, I advise you to tour a contemporary museum, read a contemporary novel, or turn on the television. Indeed, you have to really search to not find the feces.

Which leads to the question: why all the feces? Now that I think about it, could it be because our psychological models are full of shit? Yes, no doubt. However, I don't want to pursue that particular line of thought at the moment. Back to Menaker.

That title: Separation. Will. Creativity. These three are linked in surprising ways, for without "will," we cannot separate from the maternal matrix, but if the separation is only accomplished via will (i.e., the oppositionalism of the two year-old), then there is no creativity.

No. I mean Yes. Our separation has a purpose, which is the creative discovery and elaboration of our unique individuality. And clearly "unique" and "creative" are essentially synonymous terms, humanly speaking. To become an individual is to be unique.

But in reality, we now know, thanks to science, that we are absolutely unique from the moment of conception. So, er, why are all these human robots the same?

Good question! It really gets to the heart of how we ought to think of psychopathology in this new model of creative freedom as normative. For, as expressed in the Raccoon Companion of Bombastic Adages, if you're not eccentric, you're wrong.

Because of the ban on Religion, Menaker comes right to the threshold of Raccoon orthoparadoxy, without being able to cross it. Example?

"The will... is a representative of the life force: a force expressive of the creative principle in the universe." "Life force?" "Creative principle?" What unnecessary mystagogy!

"For Rank, two principles were operative in the universe: the causal and the creative." Okay. Agreed. But can the latter be reduced to the former? Of course not. That leaves us with the Creative. Where did that come from?

C'mon now. Think. Don't just assume, so as to fit it into your uncreative preconceptions.

Let's go back to the beginning: "Without difference," writes Menaker, "there would be no individual will and no creative expression." Ah ha. Difference. What is difference then, and why is it here? In other words, why should there be anything other than oneness?

Well, we could say that there is nothing but oneness prior to the appearance of man. I mean, right? For what is man but the realization of difference, of separation from the source?

You might even say that "man" and "consciousness of separation" co-arise -- which, I believe, goes to Genesis 3, which clearly and unambiguously relates separateness to self-awareness, the former being the price of the latter -- at least until a novel restoration is achieved.

Well, that's about all the time we have today. To be continued...

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