Tuesday, September 27, 2005

R.I.P. M. Scott Peck

Philosopher, psychiatrist and author M. Scott Peck has passed away at his home in Connecticut.  He was 69.  The Road Less Traveled was more than just a self-help book.  It didn't provide work sheets or personal empowerment tips, how to be more successful sellers or how to lose weight or gain the person of your dreams.  It was an unadorned dose of reality.  Life is difficult, are its first words, echoing the Buddha's noble truth.  Pain is part of life, and it is only when we try to avoid necessary emotional pain, legitimate, existential pain, pain we are meant to feel in order to grow and change, as opposed to the misery we heap on ourselves for no good reason, do we run into psychiatric difficulty.  Coping mechanisms eventually turn into neuroses when they are used too frequently.  Neurotic people feel they are wrong in the world.  Character disordered people believe that the world has wronged them.  Neurotics are much easier to treat.  The will to transform the character flaws which are instilled in us in childhood is a painful, ongoing process which frequently fails and can be of life-long duration.

There is nothing in Peck's book that sugar-coats life in America.  For that reason, he is worth reading since he tries to tell it like it is.  In addition, he does a masterful job of giving a crash course in psychology for the masses. 

Monday, September 26, 2005


My first class went very well last Wednesday.  I like my students and everyone seems extremely focused and excited.  I feel very lucky to have such a good, smart bunch. 

Over the weekend I saw Roll Bounce, which was very enjoyable.  I was only white person in the audience until a white couple snuck in after the previews started.  I must say, it was an incredibly ennobling and spirited film.  No swearing, no sex, but a story told in charming, forthright terms that had a good message.  Notable because of its wholesomeness, but also because it took me back to high school.  There is something precious about those memories.  Some of them make me cringe, but the friends I made then are still my friends all these many years later.  And the 70's was a time of innocence, wasn't it, before AIDS, before the cynicism of Ronald Wilson Reagan.  Trickle-down economics indeed.  People know when they're being trickled on.

I was almost about to say before terrorism.  But as I recall terrorism was a fact of life in the 70s.  The Olympic murders in Munich, the hijacking of the jet to Entebbe, etc.  It's just that it was so far away.  Not any more.

It soothes me to think that George W. Bush is simply a hypocrite.  That he's only a born again Christian for the sake of politics.  He certainly found Christ at the same time he entered politics.  So the timing of it all is somewhat suspect.  That actually makes me feel a lot more secure than the alternative--that he really IS a Bible-believing evangelical who really doesn't care to preserve the earth because God will just simply remake it, and why take any pains to conserve the environment because the end times are upon us anyway.

I would rather have had the voters repudiate him in 2004.  However, if the GOP loses its majority in both houses of congress in 2006, that will be solice enough.  Vote Democrat.


Friday, September 23, 2005


Another so-called "Christian" school has expelled a student because of homosexuality--in this case, the homosexuality of her parents.  Christianity is about love and acceptance.  "They'll know we are Christians by our love" the old hymn goes.  However, the word "love" underwent a profound change during the 80's when Republicans invented the term "tough love" as a way of mitigating their reprehensible tendency to kick people when they're down.  Okay, okay, I don't know if Republicans really did invent the concept of tough love, but it's certainly plausible to think so.  Rather than reach out to someone who is different, to expose them to true Christian values, the principal indulged himself in the dubious luxury of passing judgment.  It is great to be able to transfer and project one's own sinful nature on to someone else, which is precisely what Christ spoke against when He said, "do not look at the speck in your neighbors eye and ignore the log in your own."  Christians are supposed to transfer and project their sinful natures on to Christ alone.

Just as in the Texas case, all the school has done is demonstrate hypocrisy and created a lifetime political enemy in the person of the girl they abused.

Monday, September 5, 2005

Der Untergang

Of all the actors who have convincingly played Hitler, Alec Guiness, Derek Jacobi, Anthony Hopkins, Noah Taylor, it is Bruno Ganz who comes closest to capturing what must have been his authentic decompensation in the Fuhrerbunker.  Downfall or, Der Untergang, follows the final two weeks of the Third Reich, with one brief flashback in the point of view of Traudl Junge (Hitler's stenographer) when she is hired in 1942.  This provides us with a glimpse of a healthy, hale Fuhrer who has an impish gleam in his eye, and an avuncular warmth of spirit, which he never really abandons.  When Traudl says she is from Munich, Hitler hires her on the spot. 

Is it right to present Hitler as anything other than a colossal fiend, the greatest evil of the 20th Century?  Yes, it is correct.  To do otherwise is to deny the reality that here was a man who, through personal magnetism, ruthlessness, and willpower rose to challenge the world's great powers.  He didn't do it by acknowledging his intrinsic depravity.  He was an all too human monster.  That he could be quite charming and tender in person is to all reports, accurate.  Yesterday, watching the President of the United States embrace hurricane victims in Biloxi, I thought to myself, he's probably quite charming and warm in person.

Too many absurd parallels have been drawn between our current president and Der Fuhrer by MoveOn.org and others.  There is no comparison whatsoever.  To try is to reduce Hitler and the suffering of his victims to the banality of modern politics.  It is nothing more than a sound-bite, a purile attempt to shock and offend.  It makes the accuser feel more self confident to call the enemy "Hitler" than to express a cogent argument against him, which might involve some mental effort.

But there can be no dispute that Hitler the person is as fascinating today as he has ever been.  Der Untergang is an amazing work of cinema that shows a society on the brink of collapse through the actions of their duly elected government.  But in the final analysis, they were moral midgets.  Neither Hitler nor Goebbels acknowledge the suffering of the citizens on the streets above the bunker.  "They get what they deserve" is Goebbel's argument.  Hitler says, "the best are already dead.  What remains is inferior."  And so they were willing to let the German nation die.  Rather than take any moral responsibility for the disaster that they perpetrated on the world, they contented themselves with the notion that the German people failed them.  Sheer, classic transference.  No wonder Freud was on Hitler's death list.