Playing the Indian Card

Friday, November 22, 2019

Uber Uber Alles

Riot on Nevsky Prospect, Petrograd, 1917.

Richard Fernandez writes, for PJ Media, that the MSM are missing the big story while they fixate on Trump’s impeachment. The world is on fire: rioting in the streets of Hong Kong, Lebanon, Chile, Spain, France, Iraq, Sudan, Russia, Uganda, Peru, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, and Iran. Something is going on.

Fernandez does not say what it is, other than the people being fed up with the establishment. What I say is going on is the democratization of information flow thanks to the Internet. The ability of folks to organize through social media, and to access information online, makes the traditional establishment largely redundant. We have gone, for example, from the rigid organization of the traditional taxi company to the free form flow of Uber.

Structures are now more often than not getting in the way. Accordingly, people are less inclined to listen to their authority, to defer to them, and to pay for them.

The initial reaction of the establishment has been to try to batten down the hatches, and expand the role of government in order to squelch this perceived disorder. This, I think, is suicide.

The future is for less government. Whatever jurisdictions first realize this shall inherit the earth.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Don Cherry's Podcast

Happy news: Don Cherry is back, with his own podcast on Spotify. First episode is up, and has some great reminiscences of Rocket Richard.

I hope everyone will make a point of subscribing. Even if you don't actually listen, subscribe. Give it a listenership higher than the guys who fired him! Fight the cancel culture and save democracy.

Search on Spotify for "Don Cherry's Grapevine."

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Ron MacLean, Prince Andrew, and Narcissism

Prince Andrew, the grand old Duke of York

Ron MacLean last Saturday, defending his public knifing of Don Cherry, lamented that he was torn between principle and friendship. He turned on Cherry, he claims, on principle. 

This, of course, is the opposite of the way it looks—it looks like abandoning his own principles to save his job. Was Judas a man of principle?

Prince Andrew, asked why he continued to associate with Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted pedophile, explained that his error was in “my tendency to be too honourable.”

Again, this seems the opposite of the objective truth. It seems on the face of it dishonourable to engage in possibly involuntary sex with unknown seventeen-year-old girls.

And notice, neatly enough, that MacLean maintains that refusing to denounce a friend when asked is unprincipled, while Andrew maintains that even avoiding a friend in any circumstances is dishonourable.

These two examples bring up a larger point.

When someone does something immoral, and refuses to admit it, like MacLean and Andrew here, they do not tell only a partial lie. They do not just try to ameliorate the fault or offer extenuating circumstances.

For example, MacLean might more plausibly have said “I thought what Don said was reasonable when he said it, but others convinced me afterwards that it was wrong, and that I had to speak out.” That would still no doubt have been a lie by omission. It seems more likely that he was told he had to do it to save his job. But it would have been only a partial, not a total, lie.

It probably would have helped his public image more, too. People would have found it more believable.

Yet instead he stuck with a completely implausible total denial.

Prince Andrew might have said, “Yes, I knew the accusations, but I just did not believe them.” Again, surely still a lie, but not a total lie. And it probably would have helped his PR case. Some people, looking for an excuse to forgive him, might have seen one here.

Instead, he offered a flagrant total denial that what was a plain misdeed was actually an act of virtue.

It makes it very hard for anyone to sympathize with Andrew, once he has just publicly declared himself “too honourable.”

This illustrates the bigger point that people who are determined, unrepentant sinners never tell only small lies. Instead, they will say the exact opposite of the truth, and stress their exemplary morality and lack of all flaws. Oddly, in doing so, they generally pinpoint their guilt. By appealing to principle, MacLean was actually in effect showing his awareness that what he did was unprincipled. Prince Andrew was showing implicitly that he knew what he did was dishonourable.

Why do people do this? Why do they tell not just partial lies, but blatant reversals of the truth? Even when, or precisely when, they are unlikely to be believed?

Their conscience compels them to. This an example, no doubt, of God using the Devil for his purposes. Realizing the enormity of what they did, they feel some need to verbally get themselves as far away from it as possible. So they go 180 degrees from the admission of any fault.

This more or less explains what we call “narcissism.” To avoid his guilt, MacLean aggressively stresses how principled he is. Andrew stresses how honourable he is. You can readily see how this, over time, grows into what are sometimes called the narcissist’s “delusions of grandeur,” their assertion of how faultless they are.

Alcoholics Anonymous implicitly knows this, in requiring participants to take a thorough moral inventory and admit the exact nature of their wrongs. For if this is indeed the genesis of narcissism, the cure for narcissism is actually simple and clear, for all that conventional psychiatry finds it incurable. It is the clear recognition and admission of their own guilt. This is also why the alcoholic must “hit bottom.” They must be confronted with the sin.

But the sin is not necessarily alcoholism. That’s just one possibility; one variant of gluttony. The same mechanism applies for any vice, vices being settled habits of sin.

Exposure and admission are the key.

Podcast Now on iTunes

The new "Truth about Dragons" podcast is now featured on iTunes, so you can easily download episodes for your iPhone or iPod.

Now the challenge for me will be to keep three podcasts supplied with new episodes. Wish me luck.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

No More Clowning Around

Unsurprisingly, my left-leaning friend Xerxes enthusiastically supports the firing of Don Cherry. “About time,” he writes.

I think Cherry was fired for doing his job.

Can anyone think Cherry was there just as a hockey commentator? Such a popular figure, voted one of the greatest Canadians, making so much money for his employers and sponsors, because of the quality of his hockey insights? People with the expertise for sports commentary are thick on the ground. There is really rarely much to say in that regard. It ain’t rocket science. Most after-game shows are deadly boring.

Don Cherry is an entertainer. People watched for his flamboyant act, his outrageousness. His recent comments about immigrants were entirely within this character and role. Just what he was there to do.

Don Cherry is a clown. He even wears motley, for goodness sake. He even has a straight man.

Humor requires the reversal of expectations—always. That’s what makes things funny. Accordingly, the job of a clown or comedian is always to say or do things that are superficially outrageous.

To fire a clown for clowning is unreasonable and unjust.

You might respond, “Don Cherry’s not funny.” Matter of taste. He does not make people laugh out loud. But he obviously entertained. His viewership numbers prove it. He made folks smile.

It is worse than bad form, bad manners, to be unable to take a joke. Joking also serves important social functions. For one, jokes and laughter allow us to let off steam, which otherwise will be expressed in more disruptive ways. Every clown also at least in part serves the traditional role of the court jester: gently and unthreateningly speaking truth to power. We always need this so as not to slip off the rails and be lost in our own delusions. There is not much authentic humour in a totalitarian state.

Firing Don Cherry is a strong indication that this is the way we are headed.

And any aggression here, any ‘bullying,’ is not by Don Cherry, but by the wider society. He has always said things like this; he has not changed. The rules have, without fair warning.

And there was nothing objectively wrong with what he said this time, for anyone, let alone a clown.

Xerxes cites the legal adage, “your right to swing your fist stops at the end of my nose.” This helpfully demonstrates why all ‘hate speech,’ let alone anything Cherry said, should be constitutionally protected. It is in the US. The Canadian Constitution matches the American in guaranteeing free speech; but in the US, this matter has come to the Supreme Court, and they have ruled so.

For words, after all, never come in contact with anyone’s nose.

Except in certain specific circumstances, words cause no material harm. The specific circumstances are well-defined in common law: libel, slander, fraud, incitement to violence. One can see the common thread: material harm. Upsetting someone does not count. Any such imagined harm is ultimately self-inflicted: nobody is obliged to watch Don Cherry.

Abandon this principle, and there is no free speech whatsoever. The term then means nothing.

But even were this not the case, Cherry’s recent remark was not “hate speech,” illegitimate as that term is.

It is one thing to criticize people as groups based on race, creed, or colour. That is, at best, morally wrong, even if it must not be illegal. The problem is that these are things over which no one has any control. (Religion fits here because, if one believes, one’s conscience puts the matter beyond free choice.) But “immigrants,” or rather, to use Cherry’s words, “you people that come here,” are defined only by a shared action, done freely, that of moving to Canada. It is perfectly reasonable to suggest that actions have or should have consequences, implying certain responsibilities. If it is discriminatory to make general unfavourable comments about such a group, defined only by a voluntary action, then it must, to be just, be considered equally discriminatory, and a firing offense, to make any criticism of lawyers, or politicians, or used car salesmen, or the rich, or the Toronto Maple Leafs, or Torontonians, and so forth. Theoretically, it would seem wrong even to say anything against, say, criminals.

Which may, I suspect, be the real reason behind the growing social intolerance. A lot of people have a guilty conscience, and so are invested in objecting to anyone pointing out anything wrong about anyone. This seems of a piece with the US Congress trying to impeach Donald Trump for asking for investigation of a possible crime by Hunter Biden, rather than investigating Hunter Biden. Or the US media suppressing the story of Jeffrey Epstein, and attacking in full outrage the supposed ‘whistle-blower’ who revealed that the story was suppressed. The crime now has become pointing out the crime.

Surely it is obvious that it will be impossible to run a democracy on that basis. Let alone tell jokes.

Another little bit in Xerxes’s column perhaps shows why clowns are needed.

He reports approvingly that “the United Church of Canada has policies that will not permit an unmarried minister to fall in love with a member of the congregation.”

Now, that statement is surely false. To begin with, falling in love is not something any authority can prevent from happening, or even know has happened. Moreover, it is an entirely good thing, and certainly not harmful to its object. See St. Paul on the nature of love. Surely any denomination should want its ministers to fall in love with all their congregants; it is the core of the Christian message.

What he or the United Church actually mean, surely, is that their ministers are prohibited from having sex with members of the congregation. They do not want to say this because it sounds unsettling. It requires the tacit admission that their ministers are otherwise free to have sex outside of marriage.

This is the sort of politically correct falsehood, meant to mislead, that we need clowns to call us on. Like John the Baptist in his day, they “make the paths straight for the Lord.”

Which is to say, aside from gravely harming our democracy, and social peace, the firing of Don Cherry does not speak well for our shared morality either.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

What Is Depression? Podcast Version...

What Is Depression?

Depression Video

So What Is Mental Illness?


To begin with, it is not illness.

People generally seem not to realize that calling these things “illnesses” is a metaphor or an analogy. It depends on seeing our souls as equivalent to our bodies.

Yet they are fundamentally different. Our bodies can be seen like a machine that we operate.

But our minds are ourselves. We do not use the mind. We are the mind.

Because we use the body like a machine, it is easy to understand its functions. Each part has proper operations we can recognize. Illness is when some part is not performing its function.

But do we know what the proper function is of a soul? Of a mind? Of a self?

If we do, that is a religious question, not one psychiatry can answer.

Freud proposed that the proper function of a human being is to work and have sex. This reduces the human person itself to a machine. Is that really all there is? If it is, who wouldn’t be depressed?

If this is true, moreover, why listen to a psychiatrist? They are doing whatever they do only to get paid and get laid. This does not involve, notably, either telling the truth or doing anyone else any good. Should you trust them with your soul?

This sounds harsh, but this is what the logic boils down to.

Psychiatry and psychology in general have to rely on the goal of “being normal”; which is to say, being average. Being like everyone else. Again, not an inspiring goal. If mental health means simply conformity, it is a sinister thing: sinister to human freedom, and to human progress. Jews are not normal. Gandhi was not normal. Mandela was not normal. Einstein was not normal. Steve Jobs was not normal. Shakespeare was not normal.

It should be no surprise to us that people who have accomplished any great thing usually show the same symptoms the DSM lists in its descriptions of mental illness. This has become a commonplace recently, but it was already well understood by Plato and Aristotle.

Aristotle’s Problem XXX:

Why is it that all those who have become eminent in philosophy or politics or poetry or the arts are clearly of a melancholic temperament, and some of them to such an extent as to be affected by diseases caused by black bile?

Psychiatry has no answer. Religion does. And I think it is possible here to speak for religions generally. What is the proper function of the human person? The proper function of the human soul is to seek truth and good. Many will add beauty.

On this definition, it is entirely possible that the symptoms psychiatry considers mental illness are actually signs of mental health.

Consider Buddhism.

Gautama reveals the Four Noble Truths in the deer park at Banares.

Buddhism’s first Noble Truth is that all existence is suffering, dukka, “ill-being.” That’s one symptom of depression: “depressed mood.”

Buddhism’s second Noble Truth is that suffering is caused by attachment. The third Noble Truth is that one ends suffering by ending all cravings, all attachments. That’s a second symptom of depression, according to the DSM: “Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities.”

The fourth Noble Truth is the eightfold path, which involves, essentially, withdrawing from the world and sitting still, meditating, practicing mindfulness: “A slowing down of thought and a reduction of physical movement.” That’s a third symptom of depression.

Through such meditation, one comes to the critical insight of anatman, anatta: the self is an illusion, “no self.” That’s a fourth symptom of depression: “depersonalization.” “Feelings of worthlessness.”

The ultimate goal is “nirvana”: “cessation,” like the snuffing out of a candle. This sounds a lot like a fifth DSM symptom, “recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan.” More literally, in Buddhism, suicide is considered an honourable choice, more or less to be encouraged.

That’s five symptoms, meaning, according to the DSM, that any sincere Buddhist is suffering from depression.

Some will no doubt take this as evidence that the religious are insane. Some similarly argue that Muhammed was an epileptic, and the apostles in the upper room were hallucinating Jesus’s resurrection. Mad, all mad. But really, who are you going to believe, the acknowledged best minds of the world’s entire population over at least the past two millennia, or the relatively distinguished panel who came up with the DSM a few years ago?

It seems most reasonable on the evidence to posit that, suffering as they unquestionably are, the average “mentally ill” person is actually functioning better as a human being than the average person.

Religion does, it is true, recognize such a thing as spiritual or mental sickness. There are two forms: error, and sin. The first falls short of the truth; the second falls short of the good.

But religion is where these answers can be found.

Friday, November 15, 2019

So What Is Depression?

Edvard Munch, Melancholy

So what is depression?

It is not an illness, so far as we know. All we really have is a set of symptoms. See the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual to make this clear. It is a bulleted checklist. Check off five or more, and that’s your diagnosis.

And it may be an arbitrary list. What we call depression may, like fever, or a skin rash, have a variety of different underlying causes. Or it may be that one cause is behind both the symptom list we call “depression,” and another currently unassociated symptom list: “anxiety disorder,” or “narcissistic personality disorder,” or “autism,” or something else. Or all of them.

In fact, I submit that this is certainly the case. Depression can have a variety of causes, and it shares the same causes with other currently unrelated “mental illnesses.”

I think we can, however, talk about an essence of depression. It is not “sorrow.” The current label is misleading.

If you scan the official list of symptoms, it is not hard to guess. “Depressed mood.” “Diminished interest in activities.” “Loss of energy.” “Lack of movement.” “Indecisiveness.”

Bingo. The essence of depression is a lack of direction or meaning. One has lost one’s sense of purpose. One just can’t get that motor in gear. Or, one is in a kind of maze of thoughts, and cannot find the exit.

That tends to cause low spirits; not vice versa.

Cheering you up is not the issue, and is not going to work. You have to find direction.

You can actually see this happening to entire cultures. Jung observed it in Africa, and called it “loss of soul.” Back in the 19th century, when first contact with isolated cultures was still often recent, Darwin puzzled over it. He observed in The Descent of Man that when isolated cultures first encountered Europeans, they tended to stop marrying and having children. They stop working, whatever their work had been, and become deeply involved with alcohol or drugs. Their tightly integrated word view had been shattered by this intrusion of something vastly alien. They no longer understood the point of anything.

I have seen a similar reaction on a smaller scale among expatriates, on integrating with an unfamiliar culture. They retreat to their rooms, or to expat bars and alcohol. Some even begin to have fully delusional thoughts.

So the various symptoms we clump together as depression come from a feeling that nothing makes sense. We no longer know what to think.

Losing one’s sense of meaning can, in turn, have a variety of causes. It may be that some dramatic life experience, like going to war, or the arrival of aliens in some great ship, has challenged all our previous certainties, and we have found them not to be true. You can even get the effect from some sudden new idea, either something you learn or something you figure out for yourself. For a while, it can be deeply disorienting. This is one reason why, as Aristotle observed, learning is painful.

We generally derive a huge amount of our sense of meaning and purpose from our relationships: from family and social group, community and nation. We live for our lover, for our children, for our parents. We are prepared to die for our country.

So one inevitable major cause of depressive symptoms, probably the most common, is having come from a family in which one was rejected, devalued, unloved.

Psychiatry and psychology have been vaguely aware of this; but they see the critical factor as childhood abuse, usually physical or sexual. This is not the key; it is the devaluation of the person, or, conversely, the devaluation of the family or community relationship, however this is expressed.

This can explain another symptom labelled as depression in the DSM: a low sense of self-worth. You get this, most obviously, from living with others who tell you you are worthless.

But the same sorts of families or communities also tend to systematically lack or overturn more generally any sense of values. Parents with their own values in good order do not reject or abuse their children. This lack of values growing up may still be the most damaging thing.

If this is right, the cure is obvious. Pills aren’t going to do it. Pills can’t give you meaning. Many early psychiatrists themselves saw it, and said it: Frankl, Maslow, Jung. The solution for depression is to somehow find new meaning and direction.

Some find their new meaning and direction in psychology and psychotherapy. When it works, this is why it works. And this is why people today, who have been psychologized, tend to cling to their particular school with a fervor you would expect for religion.

But psychology and psychiatry are not very strong vessels for this. They are not intended for it, are new and untested, and are critically limited in scope.

The classical place to find meaning is, of course, religion.

The decline in organized religion in North America and Europe, not surprisingly, tracks exactly to a rise in depression and other psychiatric diagnoses. At the same time, people have tended to stop marrying and having children, they have become more inclined to retreat to drug use.

This is not a coincidence.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Credo in Deum Patrem

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of the saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

A social group to which I belong recently took in a Catholic mass. Discussing it afterward, one participant preemptively announced she was Catholic, and disavowed the Creed, recited at this as at every mass.

“Most Catholics,” she said, “just say the words, but we don’t believe all that stuff.”

I could not contradict her. She may be right. But this is troubling, since the original point of the Creed was to establish who is a Christian and who is not.

My friend Xerxes, a pillar of the United Church, also dismisses God as depicted in the Creed as a “fairy-tale God.”

They seem to take the claims as self-evidently improbable.

The same notion for years powered the “Jesus seminar.” But the logic of it is obviously wrong on the most fundamental level.

First, it takes no leap of faith to assert that a Supreme Being necessarily exists. This various major philosophers have demonstrated seven ways to Sunday.

A Supreme Being is, by definition, all powerful.

It follows that he is perfectly capable of everything in the Creed. There is nothing improbable about any of it. The only question is, would he want to do these things?

Xerxes dislikes the idea of God as a person, who might then so will. He likes to think of God as a force like gravity, or a kind of network.

But this concept too fails right out of the gate. Surely we can agree that a conscious, self-aware being with intent exists in a more complete sense than something unconscious: that, say, a human is a higher state of being than a rock. It is also hard to be omniscient without being conscious; lacking consciousness, God could not be God. A conscious, self-aware being with intent, is what we call a person.

Now, would he will to do these things, or something like them?

A Supreme Being, as Descartes, for one, demonstrated, must necessarily be good, and all-good. Evil is a flaw, a deficiency.

An all-good being would want to do good to man. He would love us, with a perfect love. Accordingly, he would want to reveal himself to us, and lead us to higher perfection.

And so it ought even to be logically expected that God would appear in history at some point. Obvious enough that it is found in Hinduism as well, in the concept of the avatar. Or, in effect, leaving aside some important theological differences, in Buddhism, in the concept of the Bodhisattva.

The only question then is when and where. 

Was it Jesus, or Krishna, or Kwan Yin, or some other, or someone yet to come?

To help us decide, there are also specific empirical facts asserted in the Creed. Christianity is actually to some extent falsifiable, meeting Popper’s criterion for scientific knowledge. It is not a matter of arbitrary belief.

If, for example, it could be shown that Pontius Pilate was not an authority in Palestine at about the time of Jesus, Christianity would be disproven. If a corpse of Jesus were recovered, or there were credible records of one, Christianity would be disproven.

Conversely, the fact that what historical records we have conform with these facts, tends to make the whole more probable than not. The disappearance of the corpse—something attested implicitly by ancient non-Christian sources, which had every reason to wish to debunk Christianity—being the most important.

The same is obviously not true of fairy tales. The existence of fairies is not logically necessary, and fairy tales make no historic claims.