Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Life Itself is a Mid-Life Crisis

Warning: this post took off in unanticipated and possibly fruitless directions, so don't get your hopes up.

We're digging beneath the superficially weird surface of the practice of Communion and looking for the perhaps even weirder core.

One thing that always strikes me is that Catholicism has by far the most sophisticated theologians -- from Aquinas to Balthasar to Ratzinger, etc. -- and yet this highly abstract pneumacognition exists side by side with -- or does it rest atop? -- what has to be the most primitive conceivable expression of worship -- of theophagy, or of eating God. You can't get more primitive (which I mean neutrally, as in primary) than that.

But as it so happens, we see something of this same hi-lo, or abstract-concrete, or psycho-somatic, pattern in psychoanalysis.

You might say that psychoanalysis is the Catholicism of psychologies, in the sense that it has by far the most deep and sophisticated thinkers and theories. If one is remotely intellectual, there is really no other option but psychoanalysis, since most of psychology is pretty vapid and silly (not to mention obnoxiously politically correct), and holds little appeal to the thinking person.

Modern, post-Freudian psychoanalysis (at least the main artery) is profoundly rooted in early attachment, which is to say, infantile experience (whereas Freud's outdated, one-person psychology revolved around instinct and energy).

Again, being that there is "no such thing as an infant," we're really talking about a primordial union of two, except that only one of the parties can be fully aware of the twoness. From the infant's perspective, reality must start out as a kind of oneness, out of which twoness gradually emerges. In psychoanalysis this is referred to as "separation and individuation."

Separation-and-individuation is not a one-time-only deal. Rather, it is a lifelong process, albeit reflecting different stages of maturity. To paraphrase Donald Fagen, life itself is a mid-life crisis.

For example, one rule of thumb is that in adolescence we will see the emergence of the same conflicts that were present in early attachment. This makes sense, because with the onset of puberty, we must renegotiate everything that had seemed settled. We have to discover "who we are" on a different plane that now includes sexuality, and more generally, an identity that is more separate from the parents.

I was thinking about this the other day -- that I'm starting to feel as if I am on the cusp of "old age puberty." It's not that I feel old or anything, but I think most people these days try to avoid the march of time, and cling to an earlier identity.

In my case, I vividly remember the onset of "middle age puberty." I guess it was in my mid-to-late 30s. One thing I noticed is that the world -- or the culture -- no longer revolved around me and my kind, AKA the Boomers. It was around the same time people were talking about "generation x," about the Pacific Northwest music scene, about new directors and TV shows, new sensibilities. All of a sudden, not everything was about me. I was an irrelevant geezer!

Flash forward 20 years, and it's even worse. Now nothing in the culture is for me. Except maybe talk radio. Which we already know is for grouchy old white guys.

In a way, you don't even know you have an identity until the context that had supported it changes. Then you either morph with the culture, dig in your heels and live in the past, or carry on your adventure in individuation, only paddling at a bright angle to the stream of culture, AKA "Shit Creek."

Again, think of an analogy to infancy. The infant has one type of relationship to the mother. But then, at around the age of one, he is suddenly able to walk, which is every bit as monumental as a sixteen year old being given a new BMW. Awesome! I'm outta here!

In the toddler we will see two competing -- or complementary -- trends, one that wants to be independent, and another that is afraid of independence and wants to re-merge with the mother. But ultimately there is no going back, any more than one can put the genie of puberty back in the bottle. (Notice how a pervert such as Michael Jackson attempted to do just that: take his sexual awareness back to a time of prepubertal innocence.)

We often hear from the tenured that there is no such thing as a "self," let alone a true self. However, we know they are wrong, if only because it is quite clear that they are idiots.

But more to the point, we all know people with a false self. Raccoons can smell one a mile away. Perhaps there have been times that you yourself were swaddled in a false self, so you'll know what I mean. You know what it feels like to shed the false self and exist as your true self, i.e., to caterpult your buddhafly into the upper atmansphere.

Now, the true self always exists as relationship. In fact, this is one reason why the tenured can deny its existence, because they can locate no individualistic "essence" inside the person's head.

But this is the whole point: in a trinitarian cosmos, essence is relationship (and vice versa), so it is not possible to be our selves if we aren't properly attuned to the other(s).

The rabbis have a useful image of this: it is if we are all jigsaw puzzles missing a piece (or two or three). Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find the relationships that provide the missing pieces. But in no way can "wholeness" be found outside relationship -- both horizontally and vertically, or toward man and God.

Just think of the beauty of this (not to mention the weirdness): without it, true community wouldn't be possible, not even stable family life. A family is not just a bunch of people living under the same roof, but rather, an internally related group in which the individuals are members of one another.

Every time I hear someone speak of the possibility of intelligent life on other planets, I think of the barrier of intersubjectivity that needs to be climbed before something resembling human intelligence could occur.

Indeed, intelligence itself, sundered from the human person, can just as easily be pure evil. Imagine, for example, if dinosaurs had continued to get more intelligent. Such a reptilian intelligence, existing apart from intersubjectivity, would be a nightmare. I would much prefer stupid dinosaurs, for the same reason I would prefer Muslims without nuclear power or liberals without tenure.

Speaking of the Islamic world, if I understand these babies correctly, it seems that the essence of their beef with modernity is that it doesn't comport with their fanciful ideas about themselves, i.e., their identity. Thus, this causes emotional pain: it is a crisis of separation and individuation. Their solution is to obliterate reminders of this painful separation, and to restore a culture in which their infantile omnipotence is mirrored. Good luck with that.

I don't know if this post actually went anywhere, and now I have to get some work done. I'll try to reboot tomorrow and get back on track.


Magister said...

I'm starting to feel as if I am on the cusp of "old age puberty"

Like much of this post, this bangs the nail on the head. Bob, the first time this feeling came home to me was the moment I looked at my kids and realized they were relating powerfully enough to each other and to their peers to be ok. It was like looking in a window and realizing the party inside would go on without me, and that it was ok, natural, and immense as time.

We can nod in abstract assent to this, but when it becomes personal, when it's your kids, and when you see your parents and relatives dwindle in number, when you start to feel the conveyor belt under your own feet, then you start to care for things in a new way, start to feel deeply generous, deeply protective, but also deeply called to detachment, death, and what's ineffably next.

It's ok.

Gagdad Bob said...

Yup. That's about the size of it. I even look at the trees in the backyard and say to myself, "I'm caring for these guys now, but they'll be here long after I'm gone." I wonder if they'll miss me?

Magister said...

(laughing) No, probably not. But you won't miss them, either.

At least trees are picturesque. I've had the experience of looking at coffee mug and thinking you know, this stupid thing will last longer than I will. I pass old junk items at the local farmers' market and think the same thing.

A hell of a lot of mess needs to be cleaned up before and after 2016. I worry more about that and my kids' futures more than about my own mortality.

You probably do, too.

I don't want them to be ruled by the likes of that Obamacare pajama boy idiot.

mushroom said...

...since most of psychology is pretty vapid and silly...

At one time something called the Worm Runners' Digest was a real publication before it changed to the more academic -- though no less trivial, Journal of Biological Psychology. I always wondered by that was chosen over Psychological Biology.

mushroom said...

... it seems that the essence of their beef with modernity is that it doesn't comport with their fanciful ideas about themselves, i.e., their identity.

We live right down the road from the Amish 'hood. I suppose in some ways they have the same conflict with modernity as Islam. Why are there no Amish suicide bombers?

Gagdad Bob said...

For the same reason there is no Palestinian furniture.

mushroom said...

I like that one.

ted said...

Now that's funny. I was looking for a fresh Amish joke.

ted said...

As you once quoted, I believe like Norma Desmond, we all need to be reminded "there's nothing tragic about being 50, not unless you try to be 25."

I still have 3 sexy years left though.

mushroom said...

I can't find a picture of a midlife crisis, but this could be a raccoon on the horns of a dilemma or de-limber.

Gagdad Bob said...

Driving my son to school this morning, I actually passed a raccoon who had perished in a mid-road crisis. A reminder to be careful where you scrounge.

julie said...

Yep, we see a lot of those out here.

Mushroom, that's awesome. Some days, I can relate.

julie said...

...most of psychology is pretty vapid and silly (not to mention obnoxiously politically correct)...

Good grief - proving your point.

Gagdad Bob said...

I even have an idiot relative who wrote a book incorporating a lot of bonehead psychology.

Gagdad Bob said...

With psychology and an agenda, you can prove anything.