Monday, November 24, 2008
You may order your very own from Amazon.
The editors, Vince Liaguno and Chad Helder, have an interview over at Zombo's Closet of Horror which is quite complimentary to yours truly. Please check it out!
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Dr. Robert J. Lifton, in his book The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Pyschology of Genocide suggests that psychological doubling was the means by which such individuals as Josef Mengele (to name only the most infamous) were psychologically capable of being loving family men on the one hand, and ruthless mass murderers on the other.
In Dr. Lifton's view, the psyche doubles. This process is distinct from splitting, the effect of which is usually dissociation. The result is that the split personality is numb or catatonic. On the other hand, the psychological double experiences no loss of efficiency.
Says Dr. Lifton:
Doubling is part of the universal potential for what William James called the “divided self”: that is, for opposing tendencies in the self. James quoted the nineteenth-century French writer Alphonse Daudet’s despairing cry "Homo duplex, homo duplex!” in noting his “horrible duality” — as, in the face of his brother Henri’s death, Daudet’s “first self wept” while his “second self” sat back and somewhat mockingly staged the scene for an imagined theatrical performance.9 To James and Daudet, the potential for doubling is part of being human, and the process is likely to take place in extremity, in relation to death.
I have experienced this phenomenon when performing on stage, also watching myself perform from the audience. George C. Scott, the actor, also reported having this experience (as well as many other performers). Dr. Lifton's theory though, is that psychological doubling occurs under duress. The duress is the ego's rejection of the moral depravity of mass murder on the scale of Auschwitz. Thus the ego "doubles" or allows a separate and distinct personality to emerge that has no moral scruples.
Dr. Lipton states that for the Nazi doctors, the turning away from their previous code of ethics and moral equalibrium was a kind of psychological stress fracture. Their individuality had been pummeled into submission by the fuhrerprinzip. The Nazi hierarchy was entrenched and intractable. It allowed for no deviation, no dissent, and no disagreement. The alternative to utter submission to the will of the fuhrer was death. So yes, the psychological doubling of the Nazi doctors was in effect a Faustian bargain, which allowed them to survive as participants and organizers of the horror of the concentration camps and in particular the medical "treatments" and experimental procedures they imposed. That the resulting holocaust was so extreme is testament to the very nature of the SS Nazi "cult" they were all desperately trying to function within, coupling intense fear of death or reprisal with a desire to please one's superiors. None of this emancipates one from ethical responsibility, of course.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
So please kick back and take a look through the archives. Lots of comments on lots of different issues. Make yourselves t'home.
Friday, August 15, 2008
I read this in today's Post Intelligencer. This is not my prose, but I wanted to preserve it because I agree with it completely, I find it an extremely cogent and intelligent take on certain PC theories about the Religion of Peace.
Posted by thezorg at 8/14/08 9:18 a.m.
ajd_ind wrote, "Here in the U.S., however, the bigger threat to our democracy is Christian fundamentalism, particularly with people like Ken Hutcherson and Scott Lively and groups like the Watchmen on the Walls.
Americans need to stop being such weenies about criticizing fundamentalist Christian beliefs, particularly those that give perpetuate sexism and homophobia."
I can't agree with the points in either paragraph. Some Christian fundamentalist groups certainly advocate laws, policies and values that many of us consider opposed to constitutional values (though I don't know of any Christian groups that oppose democracy). Most of the issues raised by the likes of Hutcherson don't involve threats to democracy, they are threats to equality, equal protection and the like.
But those groups, while vocal, are more than balanced by other groups - many of which are also Christian, and others hail from other religions and from secular life. I don't consider the fact that zealous religiots are participating in our local and national debates over these questions to be a threat to democracy. To the contrary, I consider it to be the very embodiment of democracy and free speech.
As to Americans being weenies about Christian fundamentalists, you obviously have a very different experience on that point than I do. I see aggressive, vigorous challenges to Christianity on a regular basis. I'm talking about discussion between people, on-line discussions, op-eds, editorials, newspaper articles - it's not only not hard to find numerous examples of those things, it's nearly impossible to avoid them.
And that, too, represents the embodiment of American democracy and free speech. Groups advocating contrary and diametrically opposed views can go at it hammer and tongs, leaving everyone to make up their own minds in the end.
The fact that Islamic and Christian fundamentalism tend to share zealous close mindedness and advocacy of oppressive policies is of no concern to me. I have no problem with people who disagree with me, even if they disagree very strongly and we consider one another to be agents of our respective satans.
To me, it is vastly more important that Islamic fundamentalism accpets and in its more extreme forms actively encourages acts of horrific violence and terrorism. It advocates what we refer to as "vigilantism", the slaughter of anyone who dares say or do anything that they oppose. That is wholly antithetical to democracy, cripples free speech and destroys open debate.
Fundamentalist Christians don't accept or actively encourage those acts. There are certainly some folks like Eric Rudolph who are exceptions, but I not agree with those who argue that those exceptions somehow represent all Christians, or even fundamentalist Christians. They're the exception, not the rule. There are no more Christian violent psychos than there are non-Christians violent psychos (and probably fewer).
It is common in these debates to point to the history of Christianity, particularly the crusades and the inquisitions (there was more than one of each). And that's a valid comparison, although usually the argument misses the mark.
I believe that contemporary Islam is where Christianity was about 400 years ago, vis a vis social/political development. Christianity did go through periods where it inflicted terrible oppression and abuses on populaces. But Christianity grew out of that - slowly and over a long time, and not without internal and external upheaval. For a long time, Christians also slaughtered those they considered "heretics", burned "heretical" books, and forced people to convert or submit to horrible torture - for the good of their own souls. But today, apart from small groups we disparagingly refer to as cults, no Christian group endorses or advocates those practices.
That's what I think we're seeing within Islam today. But unlike Christian evolution, Old Islam is coming into direct conflict with a developed western world that has moved far beyond them socially and politically. There is a powerful backlash within Islam against what they view as "heresy" and the sins of the west. Mainstream Islam is confused, which is why we don't see clearer or louder opposition. Most Muslims are caught between a rock and a hard place without clear guidance from their religion. As for New Islam (those trying to take Islam faster into the future), its proponents tend to get killed as heretics by the Old Islam fanatics.
So long as the fanatics can continue their vendetta against anyone they don't like, New Islam will struggle to gain a hold.
So bottom line, I don't see any real comparison between Christian and Islamic fundamentalism today.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Thursday, May 8, 2008
Saturday, May 3, 2008
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
My good friend Steve today blogged about Grand Theft Auto IV and the Holy Lie. To recap the irony: many will oppose this game based on their perception that it promotes violence and antisocial behavior. Yet the empirical data doesn't support that notion. So the arbiters of moral rectitude will lie in order to promote their agenda. It used to be that the Devil could "quote scripture to his purpose." But now that the church has abrogated or has been deposed of the mantle of the determiner of reality, the Devil quotes data to the same purpose. What will please old Scratch more--the idea that there are some hormone-driven youngsters out there virtually carousing, drinking, stealing, etc., or their moral guardians' lies? Won't old horny-head salivate at the prospect of having a group of the righteous headed for the circle of hell that incinerates hypocrites?
I'd much rather stick a self-righteous theocrat with my pitchfork than a pimply faced kid. But that's just me.
If only it were that simple! The problem is not with the kids or the videogames or with the Devil, for that matter. The problem is the nature of belief. For 2000 years Western Civilization has relied on scripture as the final say in what's real and what's moral. But those attitudes have changed decidedly in the last 200 years. As a result, the purveyors of "correct standards of behavior" have changed their tactics. They now rely upon the bible AND the scientific method. It used to be that they could scold bad behavior simply stating that it was anti-Christian. Now, they have to have data to support their position because they know that science is the only thing that anyone pays any attention to. The subtext being: Isn't it interesting how science supports biblical standards. (Except for evolution, of course).
The problem is that they approach data without any understanding of science--they view data as though IT WERE SCRIPTURE. I.E., the data is a matter of belief and faith, *not of proof or disproof.* The data supports them because they *believe* it supports them. There is no truth other than the truth of personal perception based on biblical principles. Objective truth simply doesn't exist. Therefore, they can't be said to be LYING, because they don't believe the alternative to be true. Anything that does not support their personal perception of biblical principles is a lie. Thus the worst that they can be accused of is willful self-delusion. Not exactly the same as lying.
While it sounds like I might be defending these hypocrites, I realize that I fall prey to the same willful delusion by relying on science too much in daily life. While science might be helpful in some circumstances to daily living, it has less relevance than the bible. I'm not a researcher. I cannot independently verify the data, I have to have faith that it is true! I must choose to believe it. While experts will tell me that such and such is supported by the data, I either have to accept that at face value or say, "show me the proof." Graphs and charts are totally abstract. You can't see the objective truth unless you understand the statistical principles underpinning them. Again, you have to accept on faith.
In many respects it is just this problem of science/belief/faith that has caused Global Warming to be such a divisive area of science for so long. Science has theorized that it is happening for decades. But Science is not equipped to tell us what the moral response to the data should be. Thus we are left to flounder.
While it may be bad for you to play Grand Theft Auto, it isn't science's place to say so. Many of the same blue noses pointed to Doom and Quake and the Littleton, CO massacre.
In that respect we return to our old adversary, the devil. It used to be that if someone went out and shot someone "the devil made him do it!" That was quantifiable evil. Nowadays, because of psychology, we have to figure out the psychpathology that made him do it. Except for a small handful of researchers, psychopathology is a scientific stand-in for the devil. But where is the truth? And more importantly, where is the truth that matters to daily life?
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Saw a very disturbing thing this morning on the way to work: a naked woman sitting in the middle of the road. I had just turned the corner. Traffic had slowed but I couldn’t see why until I turned the corner. She looked like she was in her mid-20’s to mid-30s—difficult to gauge. When I saw her, I immediately thought that she was injured, that she’d been hit. But then she got to her feet. She looked like a character out of the Ring or the Grudge, with her snarled hair hanging down over her gaunt, pallid face. As she got up I could see that she was naked from the waist down. Next thought: has she been raped? As she crossed the street in front of me, she began to take off her t-shirt and it became apparent that she was psycho.
After those initial shocks, my attention widened to take in my surroundings. Plenty of other people were observing the situation and at least one had her cell phone out, so I stopped reaching for mine. And I drove on. I was scared that if I got out of my vehicle to try to help, the raw madness would coalesce into projection and she might take out her demented misery on me. So I drove on.
But then I felt absolutely horrible about myself. Obviously, I’m one of those people who can observe carnage without doing anything about it. While this quality may make me a good writer, it makes me a terrible Christian.
If this were an isolated situation, I might feel better about myself, but it’s happened more than once. (Not with psychotics, but with drunks).
I remember once when I was first moved to Seattle and saw someone lying insensate in the park near my apartment and when I returned an hour later and saw him in the same posture, I did call 911. Turned out he was just a derelict passed out. But I didn’t know if he was dead or not. So I called. When it turned out he was just a passed out drunk I felt like a fool. Maybe that experience caused a callous to form over my naïve heart. Life in the big city (especially one with as many homeless as ours) has challenges. One of the quips about Minnesota that I remember fondly is: “40 below keeps the riff-raff out.” Words of wisdom—words of wisdom. Minneapolis didn’t have the homelessness that Seattle has. (However, I don’t know if that’s still true).
Obviously, my mind doesn’t work quickly enough to respond. I live in too much fear. I fear altering my routine, even to the point of stopping to get out of the car to assess the situation. I live in a fantasy world of stories and ideas, to the point that, when confronted by grim reality it takes inordinate mental concentration to respond in a meaningful way. My response to this situation wasn’t meaningful. I didn’t do anything to ameliorate it.
So, here’s the philosophical point I’m left with: I didn’t do anything. In the Bible story, I was one of the many whopassed bybefore the Good Samaritan stopped to help. It isn’t that I don’t have a desire to help—I do, but the fear, the weird, disconnected, free-floating fear that I’m going to call “city fear” keeps me isolated and unresponsive.
It’s a primal state, a strange, subhuman state, and I don’t know what the answer is, except that if one other person had been in the car with me—this series of events would have been completely different. Isolation is as much a part of the problem as moral deficiency. Both for me—and the poor madwoman, I dare say.
Friday, February 22, 2008
Thesis. Antithesis. Tinnitus.
Feeling in a playful mood today. Tuesday and Wednesday were DARK NIGHTS OF THE SOUL in which heavy depression and anxiety dogged my every footfall. Can only speculate the cause. Tomorrow I turn 50.
I've been reading Duma Key by Stephen King and I'm enjoying it. Like all of King's work in the past 15 years it suffers from prolixity, but the mood is involving, the setting is different for him, and his characters are interesting.
However, in this case the story is very thin. That was the case with The Cell, too. I'm sufficiently engaged in the characters to keep reading, but very little has happened. The high points: Edgar Freemantle is involved in a life-altering, catastrophic accident that results in amputation of his right arm and neurological deficits (injury to Broca's area). His erratic behavior leads to divorce, but his children are grown and they support him. He retires to Duma Key on Florida's gulf coast in order to rest, recuperate and heal his heart, mind and body. But then his phantom limb begins to tingle. At first, Edgar's forays into drawing and painting seem like precognition. As time goes by, however, his artwork seems to actually be affecting reality.
Like all of King's work in the past few years, this too is derivative. The only thing original here are King's characters. The gimmick of the paintings affecting reality is identical to an episode of the X-Files in Season 9 titled "Scary Monsters." But the idea of art affecting reality is older than that. King compares one of the art dealers that visit Edgar as "Dorian Gray." So apparently he was completely cognizant of his plot pilfering. Plot pilfering is completely fine, as long as you spin it somehow, and King uses his characters to that end. It's going to be different this time because the characters are so unique. That's King's strength, always has been.
However, when the story no longer supports the number of words it takes to tell it, there's a problem. This is a problem with Duma Key. While King is always careful to give the reader sensory details, nice humorous touches, disturbing emotion and feelings, terrific reactions, etc., when that no longer propels the action of the story forward, the prose feels stagnant. That's what happens here. Too much description of too much minutiae. All of it is told with active, vibrant prose, but by describing everything in minute detail, the reader loses touch with what's really important.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Without doubt, one of the movies that influenced me most as a child was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It's now getting rave reviews as a stage musical in London and New York.
The character in the movie that fascinated me the most was the evil Child Catcher--played by Sir Robert Helpmann.
On stage, in a stunning feat of perfect casting, the character is portrayed by Richard O'Brien of Rocky Horror Picture Show fame.
Click here to see who I think should play the Child Catcher when they make the movie of the stage musical!
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Friday, January 11, 2008
Sometimes I don't want to write because it takes me out of the comfortable mental envelope protecting me from the shock of reality: dissociation. My mind unhinges, and drifts away on a cloud of minutae and the perfect activity to reinforce this warm stew of mental passivity: web surfing. So sometimes I just have to force my fingers to the keyboard and begin typing, no matter what comes out.
Things I've seen today surfing? Christopher Bowman (who I'd never heard of) former champion figure skater and child tv actor, died of a suspected overdose in a motel room somewhere off the beaten track. I'd wonder if he were playing checkers with John Belushi in the afterlife, if I believed in an afterlife, which I don't. Ashes to ashes/dust to dust. We go into the ground or our ashes get scattered and that's the end of it.
Until the Day of Resurrection and the Final Judgment. Not only is that the scenario I believe in, it's the scenario I prefer to believe in. The thought of consciousness surviving bodily death is too terrifying, and fantastic--like a grim fairy tale.
Once we were having a conversation about this during a trip to Ashland. When I laid out these views and defended them, saying that was what I was taught in Sunday School and by my mother--Cyndee, one of our group, snidely said, "well that's fine for a child, but what do you believe as an adult?"
So, I was the one who didn't believe that consciousness survived death--and I was being called childish...
I've decided to write about these moments that return to my consciousness, seemingly at random, but really not randomly at all. There's a purpose for why I remember these events which I might, except for some mysterious component, have long since completely forgotten.
Other surfing news: Mike Huckabee lost 110 pounds and wrote a book about it. That's the Republican healthcare platform--lose weight. I look forward to losing weight when I move to Iowa. It's already begun. My pants are very loose. Although I was up to 315 at my sleep medicine appointment on Wednesday, I suspect that I was actually heftier than that--probably 325 or 330--a few months ago. Stress has a way of creeping up on you.
So here's my thought on that: I could stay in my current job and make enough money to eventually be able to afford a heart bypass--or I could move to Iowa, reduce stress and my waistline, and avoid the operation, and come out none the worse financially.
And in the meantime, do more enjoyable, satisfying, authentic work.