The Book!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Dymphna Complex: A Summary

A friend of mine has told me he cannot really make head nor tail of what I am going on about with my recent postings on depression and the Dymphna Complex. He says it is all at "too high a level."

I do not mean to be obscure.

Perhaps it will help to summarize.

1. What we call depression is usually if not always PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder): it is the lasting result of some significant experience of stress. It is shell shock.

The symptoms are the same. The same treatments work on both. The matter seems obvious.

2. In most cases, this significant experience of stress will be in childhood. It can happen otherwise, obviously, as in war, but war is a fairly rare experience. Aside from war, childhood is the most likely place for such trauma to be experienced. A child is uniquely vulnerable.

Yeats once observed that it was wrong to imagine that most children’s childhood was idyllic. For some, perhaps, but not for others. Lacking prior experience, the child does not comprehend that all things change. If things are good, he supposes they will be good forever. That is the childhood idyll. But if, on the other hand, things are bad, he supposes this too will go on forever. The child’s psyche is especially vulnerable to developing a fixed attitude of fear or despair.

3. The most likely cause of such stress or trauma in childhood is abuse by parents.

The parent is, by the nature of that relationship, all-powerful. For a number of vital years, he or she is the source and ground of being for the child. It is expecting a lot of human nature to suppose that all human adults are prepared to use this overwhelming power responsibly and in the best interest of the child. It is only too probable that some will come home to “kick” the kid, just as in cartoons a man who has had a bad day might come home and kick the dog. An individual who does not see others as fully human is going to use their children badly as a matter of course—seeing them as their possessions.

This can be so even if the child is superficially favoured. Toys can be favoured too. Are they favoured for themselves, or seen as an extension of the parent?

This explains the rapid growth in depression in the postwar era. It naturally comes with the loss of the extended, and then even the nuclear, family. When the extended family is intact, no one self-centred parent can bully or possess the child completely. There are checks and balances. When we are down to just the nuclear family, the odds for kids are worse. It is only too likely that a natural bully will have married a doormat. And they are worse again in a one-parent family, as is increasingly the norm. A lot of kids are getting used like rag dolls. A lot are dying emotionally in these trenches.

4. Such abuse can be physical, sexual, or emotional. The most damaging is emotional.

We think we are aware of the problem of child abuse. But there is deliberate or accidental misdirection here. To begin with, we automatically suppose this comes from someone outside the family. Statistically, we know, this is not the case. To make it worse, there is a common lunkheaded insistence that only physical harm counts. If you don't see cigarette burns, there's nothing there. Everybody worries about spanking and about sexual abuse. 

This is rather trivial. Obviously, the psyche cares more about psychic things; which is to say, emotional blows. Messages that they are unloved, unlovable, worthless; that their position is insecure. That they do not matter. That whatever they do is wrong. 

This lack of awareness of the risks again tends to allow abusive parents carte blanche to abuse.

5. This fact, that depression is caused by abusive and selfish parenting, was clear in antiquity; we find it, for example, in all the myths. We find it in almost every fairy tale.

It has always been pretty obvious.

6. It was obvious to Freud as well, in his clinical practice, when he began to listen to depressed patients. He pointed to sexual abuse as the invariable cause of depression in his early work.

It remains, then, pretty obvious.

7. Later, Freud suppressed this theory and proposed instead the “Oedipus Complex,” which just about reversed everything. It relied on the basic premise that patients always lie. Instead of the parent abusing the child, neurosis was all about the child wanting to kill the parent.

But Freud does not really give his reasons for this reversal. The reasons he gave in private correspondence do not justify it.

This is the real mystery: why is this blindingly obvious thing being suppressed? And not just by Freud or the Freudians, either. Although the evidence has obviously been plain since antiquity, as we see in the hero legends, we have also always had widespread denial. For millennia, we had the old doctrine of the four humours. Like the psychiatry of the nineties, it wanted to insist it was all a matter of “chemical imbalance.” Depression was caused by too much "black bile" in the system.

Why has everyone been ducking the obvious explanation?

In the natural course of things, children are weak; adults are stronger. Adults will tend to stick together for their interests against children. Don't believe me? Witness the current attitude towards abortion. 

On top of that, the sort of person who is chronically selfish and out for themselves is the sort of person who will abuse their children, and see them as possessions. Exactly the same sort of person is likely to achieve power over others in the wider world, because it is what they want, and because they will be ruthless to obtain it. Therefore, calling out child abusers within the family, and calling out the parents of the depressed, is going to involve making implicit accusations against some powerful forces. 

There is a reason why Satan is called "the prince of this world."

For n additional reason, it is congenitally difficult for the emotionally abused child to directly blame and condemn the guilty parent. He or she has been raised in the foundational belief that the parent is wonderful, that what they think is all important, and that all failings are their own. That is a hard cycle to break. It is a leap into the void.

Therefore, just possibly, the issue of child abuse and of depression is the fundamental issue of all psychology, and at the same time the fundamental issue for sociology. 

It is also, I suspect, the key to the story of Jesus of Nazareth. He called to himself the children, and he called to himself those who mourn. Go through the Beatitudes; they read like a diagnostic manual for depression. And he placed the blame, pretty directly: check out his parallel condemnations of the Pharisees.

Interestingly, the Buddha too said his message was fundamentally for those who mourn. The first Noble Truth was that all existence is “dukkha.” “Dukkha,” sometimes rendered “ill-being,” or “suffering,” translates fairly well as “depression.” It is those who experience it as so who are ready to enter on the path.

Which brings us to the most important point. Fixing blame for depression is one thing, and it is an important thing. It is an important part of the cure, surely, for depressives to see through what their parents have done. It is the tragedy of Oedipus that he cannot.

But the Buddha and Jesus point to it, as do many artists.

Broadly, this is escape into the life of the mind. Contemplation of the true reality of things, far from the madding crowd.

It is the life of the monk, the nun, the philosopher, the (true) scholar, the (true) artist.

This is the door through which the fairy godmother appears: God knows his own, and they know him.

There is an additional factor that should be mentioned here: given a selfish parent, it is the exceptionally talented child, the strong, the smart, the beautiful, who will be most abused. They are the greatest threat to the parent (and, not incidentally, to any other egotistic people they may encounter later on in life). Hence the striking association of depression with both genius and, as Aristotle pointed out, heroes. And, in every fairy tale, with girls of great beauty.

And the Jews. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Art for Politics' Sake

The height of trite: Whenever government puts out something on the arts, it must be illustrated by people dancing. This is from the home page of the PCHA. Art, by contrast, will strive for something fresh and surprising. 

The insanity continues to spread. Now all seventeen appointed members of the Presidential Committee on the Arts and Humanities have resigned in protest against Trump’s even-handed response to the rioting in Charlottesville.

To be fair, these were all Obama appointees, and so may be primarily political hacks. But still—there is something very wrong when every appointed member of the committee on Arts and Humanities is actually opposed to Arts and Humanities.

Maybe this demonstrates the wisdom of the common people in electing Trump. It shows the depravity of the artistic elite. “The Treason of the Intellectuals,” it has been called by one French author. Those in charge in the Arts and Humanities not only no longer believe in either the Arts or the Humanities—they openly and eagerly want to tear them both down.

Here is the full joint resignation letter, with commentary interposed:

Dear Mr. President:
Reproach and censure in the strongest possible terms are necessary following your support of the hate groups and terrorists who killed and injured fellow Americans in Charlottesville.

[You know something evil is afoot when there is an obvious lie in the first sentence. Trump condemned these groups in a press conference, even before the incident in which someone got killed. He has arguably been a lot better than his immediate predecessor in condemning terrorism.]

The false equivalencies you push cannot stand. The Administration’s refusal to quickly and unequivocally condemn the cancer of hatred only further emboldens those who wish America ill. We cannot sit idly by, the way that your West Wing advisors have, without speaking out against your words and actions.

[Did any of these guys condemn the hate? Are they prepared to even now? Have they, and will they, condemn Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and La Raza? If, on the other hand, they are adamant in condemning only “white” people, or white males, or cis white males—they are the hate.]

We are members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH). The Committee was created in 1982 under President Reagan to advise the White House on cultural issues.

[This looks deceitful—the current members have nothing to do with President Reagan, but were appointed by Obama. They looak as though they are trying to make it appear they do. So much for their moral character.]

We were hopeful that continuing to serve in the PCAH would allow us to focus on the important work the committee does with your federal partners and the private sector to address, initiate, and support key policies and programs in the arts and humanities for all Americans.

[And how exactly is Trump interfering with their doing this? No, clearly, these resigning members of the committee are doing this, not Trump, allowing their politics to come before their stated jobs, and then blaming Trump for it. Lie once, and you will lie about everything.]

Effective immediately, please accept our resignation from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. 
Elevating any group that threatens and discriminates on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, disability, orientation, background, or identity is un-American.

[Indeed it is. And that is just what these committee members are doing. But note that term, “un-American.” It is an interesting term. What might it imply?]

We have fought slavery, segregation, and internment.

[No, I wager you have not. You merely benefit from that fight. You are trying to take credit for the good deeds and hard choices and sacrifices of others. This again reveals your moral character, and it is not attractive to look at.]

We must learn from our rich and often painful history. The unified fabric of America is made by patriotic individuals from backgrounds as vast as the nation is strong. In our service to the American people,

[More cringeworthy self-congratulation. One wildly imagines the American people might be capable of, and prefer, speaking for themselves. Like in electing their president, say.]

we have experienced this first-hand as we traveled and built the Turnaround Arts education program, now in many urban and rural schools across the country from Florida to Wisconsin. 
Speaking truth to power is never easy, Mr. President. But it is our role as commissioners on the PCAH to do so. Art is about inclusion.

[No, it is not. First off, art is not about “Speaking truth to power.” This is insisting that art must be subservient to, and serve, politics. This is a fundamentally anti-art position. Nor is art about “inclusion.” Neither museums, galleries, nor literary publications accept all comers. Just the reverse: It would be truer to say that art is about exclusion. Good art is the rejection of bad art, and of all the humdrum and humbug in the world. These people actually have no sense of what art is.]

The Humanities include a vibrant free press. You have attacked both.

[Trump has attacked neither—neither inclusion nor a free press; whether or not either has to do with art. (And neither really does.) The left, however, with their “hate speech” and “political correctness,” and open hostility to “cis white males” has.

This is one of the main pillars of Trump’s appeal to his constituency: the fight for a free press and freedom of speech. Perhaps the main one.

Racists call anti-racists racists, and themselves anti-racists. Fascists call anti-Fascists Fascists, and themselves anti-Fascists. If you want to do something you know is wrong, the first instinct is to call it the opposite of what it is. You love your children by aborting them. Freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength. After all, you work for the Ministry of Truth.]

You released a budget which eliminates arts and culture agencies. You have threatened nuclear war while gutting diplomacy funding.

[Morality, in other words, means giving more money to bureaucrats. Or, as Jesus called them, Pharisees. Bureaucrats are not the poor, and they are not the artists.

Note that it was not Trump that threatened nuclear war, It was Kim Jong Un. Once you have walked through the wonderland mirror, everything is presented as its opposite.]

The Administration pulled out of the Paris agreement, filed an amicus brief undermining the Civil Rights Act, and attacked our brave trans service members.

[Never mind the arguments for or against each of these policy decisions; never mind even if what they say is literally true, as of course it is not. This is to chain the arts and humanities arbitrarily to specific policy decisions. To do so is obviously against the interests of the arts and humanities. It is to enslave and then destroy them for your political purposes.]

You have subverted equal protections, and are committed to banning Muslims and refugee women & children from our great country.

[Another outright lie. Trump has never proposed banning “refugee women and children” from the US. Unless perhaps they mean to suggest that it is immoral to deny automatic entry to any woman or child who claims to be a refugee. In which case, besides being profoundly harmful to the US, this policy would be sexist in the extreme. Only women, and not men?

Trump has never called for anything more than a temporary ban on allowing Muslims into the country. But, even if he had proposed a permanent and total ban, even this would have been a perfectly defensible position. Nobody has an inherent right to immigrate, and no country believes they do. Countries, as voluntary associations, have a right to choose to exclude as well as include when deciding their membership. How they treat citizens—members – is a different issue. Some grounds for discrimination might yet be frivolous, but surely not religion. Religion means values, and shared values are fundamental to the ability of any society to succeed.]

This does not unify the nation we all love.

[I think the charge of dividing the nation falls heavily on those who have been pushing “identity politics” for generations. That would be the left. If these folks are against identity politics, why have they been silent for so long? And they are still pushing division and identity politics here and now. They demand that Trump condemn only one side in a riot with two sides, both using violence. What could be more divisive?]

We know the importance of open and free dialogue through our work in the cultural diplomacy realm, most recently with the first-ever US Government arts and culture delegation to Cuba, a country without the same First Amendment protections we enjoy here.

[I thought they were in favour of First Amendment principles. They just said they were. Shouldn’t this mean condemning Cuba? Sequitur, meet non. I expected those with backgrounds in the Humanities would have some command of basic logic.]

Your words and actions push us all further away from the freedoms we are guaranteed.

[This is an assertion without any visible argument or evidence. It immediately follows what seems to be a demand for closer ties with Cuba. How empty can rhetoric get?]

Ignoring your hateful rhetoric would have made us complicit in your words and actions.

[Again, this is just employing prejudicial language. They offer no examples of “hateful rhetoric,” only the assertion. Yeah, and your mother is ugly!]

We took a patriotic oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

[Interesting. They seem to be using this as if to pull rank. Are they unaware that the President also takes such an oath? They seem to be implying he does not. Nor do they explain how resigning from an arts advisory council supports or defends the US Constitution--even if Trump were somehow violating it. If he were, the recourse would be to the Supreme Court.]

Supremacy, discrimination, and vitriol are not American values. Your values are not American values.

[Again, a bit of prejudicial language. Without argument or evidence, at least none apparent here, they are simply asserting that Trump believes in “supremacy” (presumably they mean “white supremacy,” because the word “supremacy” here without a modifier is nonsensical. Anyone with a background in the Humanities ought to understand this much English), discrimination (presumably they mean “racial discrimination”; same problem), and “vitriol.” Maybe Trump believes in vitriol. He should; there is obviously a place for vitriol. Presumably the authors of this letter also believe in vitriol, since they are employing it themselves.

Making them, in their own terms, “not American.”

But then, they also clearly imply there is something wrong with that. Isn’t this the height of nativism? If there is something wrong with being “not American,” what does this say about immigrants? Are they so utterly lacking in self-awareness as not to see this?]

We must be better than this. We are better than this. If this is not clear to you, then we call on you to resign your office, too.

How is that for claiming the moral high ground? They are declaring themselves “better” in some vague but absolute moral sense. In morality, saying it is always the obvious substitute for doing it.

And, the first letters of each paragraph in the letter, together, spell the word “resist.” Just in case you imagined this was all non-partisan and disinterested.

The final and most important irony is that at the event which initiated this resignation, one side had assembled in support of art and the humanities, and the other side was adamantly opposed to them. We cannot honestly know what else the “alt-right” side believed in; they were not permitted to speak. But one thing we do know with certainty: they were there to protest pulling down a public art installation commemorating American history. There you have it: Art and the Humanities, as they intersect with public life. The one thing we can know for certain about the other side—some have called them the “alt-left,” but we really have no better idea who they were and what they thought—is that they approved this pulling down of monuments.

Trump tried to be neutral. But guess which side his Arts and Humanities Commission falls down on?

They are working against exactly what they were appointed to protect.

On one issue, then, they were right. They absolutely ought to all have resigned.

One hopes Trump will appoint some people who actually like the Arts and Humanities. Or at least know something about them.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Reactions to Charlottesville

Desecration of the corpse of Mussolini
Everybody’s talking about the Charlottesville riots.

Many, even most, claim that Trump was wrong to blame both sides. I think the arguments I have heard for this claim are not tenable.

When Ted Nugent repeated the obvious point that both sides were being violent, and both deserved condemnation, he was interrupted with the question, “Would you have said that had the driver of the car that rammed the crowd been a Muslim terrorist?”

I would. Here’s the comparable scenario: Muslims gather for a rally somewhere—say Charlottesville. Somewhere they are a minority. Perhaps they chant anti-”Infidel” slogans; perhaps not. They carry bats and so forth, no doubt; that is ominous. A group of anti-Muslim protesters quickly gather in the same place, armed and determined to break up that rally. Fighting breaks out.

Some Muslim rams the opposing crowd with a car.

This is very different from a terrorist attack, and I would just as readily say there was blame on both sides, about equally – apart from one specific act of apparent murder, for which one individual is presumably responsible.

Chris Cuomo on CNN asks, “but can’t you see that these statues are deeply upsetting to a group of your fellow citizens”? Paul Krugman asks, “Would we feel okay about statues in Germany celebrating Rommel?”

Answer: there actually are statues of Rommel in Germany, I am told, and nobody has seen a problem. Why not? There are carefully tended grave sites throughout northern France commemorating German war dead from WWII. A man who risks or sacrifices his life deserves respect, regardless of which side he fought for. It is disgusting and cowardly to kick an opponent after he is down, defeated and dead. As Churchill himself said publicly when he heard of the murder of Mussolini; and he used that word, “cowardly.” There is nothing admirable in it.

But then too, even the initial premise is false. It is a false moral equivalence to compare the Confederacy to Nazi Germany. For a number of reasons:

First, Hitler invaded and sought to conquer foreign lands who had not declared war on him: Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Yugoslavia, the USSR. The Confederacy invaded no one, and sought only to achieve self-government. They were the invaded party.

Second, slavery is not comparable to genocide. Both are moral evils, but the one is vastly more evil than the other. It was entirely possible for good men to believe that slavery was actually of benefit to the enslaved Africans; that they had it better than their compatriots back in Africa, and were learning from the supposed tutelage. Nobody in good conscience could believe that genocide was in the interests of the Jews.

Third, Nazi Germany was relatively unique in its policy of racial genocide. There are other historical examples, but probably none so systematic and obvious as Nazi Germany. By contrast, the Confederacy was one of many states, in its day, that practiced slavery. Slavery was still legal throughout South and Central America, throughout Africa, throughout the Muslim world, and throughout the Far East. It was its abolition in the US North that was the exception. So it is discriminatory to single out the Confederacy for special condemnation here. They were worse than the Northerners; they were better than most others. If we are going to wipe out all traces of the history of the Confederacy for this, we are going to have to wipe out most of the world’s history. This would be a true crime against humanity.

Am I not promoting hate groups here? Weren't these guys white supremacists?

Perhaps. The problem is, we will never know. They have been so characterized by others. But the counter-protesters managed to prevent them from being allowed to speak for themselves. So all we have to go on is the word of their enemies. Given the circumstances, it is only sane and proper to give them the benefit of the doubt. Moreover, even if they were white supremacists or neo-Nazis, they have the same right as anyone to assemble and to speak, and that right was denied them.

Some American blacks are quite upset over the issue. But they are responsible for their own feelings. Nobody else owes something to them for this reason. Fair comparison: I am myself of mostly Irish ancestry. I surely have a similar reason to get upset at any references to Churchill, Peel, Wellington, the Union Jack, the Queen, or the British connection in Canada.

Do I? Good lord, no. Doesn’t it obviously seem absurd?

To do so would be, in the first place, grotesquely self-centred and self-important. In the second, it would be racist—it would be the sort of “blood guilt” that long justified pogroms against the Jews. It would be ignoring the many good deeds of the British—such as ending the worldwide slave trade, or opening up Canada and Australia to Irish settlement.

And it would above all be utterly childish. To react in such a way is to say as much as that you cannot handle adult life and adult responsibility. You need to be taken care of—by someone, anyone.

Great message to be promoting, guys. Be careful what you wish.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Fascists Always Call Themselves Anti-Fascists. Racists Always Call Themselves Anti-Racists

"Not by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character."

Over the last couple of days, people have been coming out and declaring themselves against “racism.”

The problem is, they are not really against racism. They are for it. To the terrible crime of racism, they are adding the terrible crime of lying about it, muddying the waters for those of us who are genuinely opposed to it.

Because when they say they are against racism, what they actually mean is that they are against the groups who assembled in Charlottesville recently to protest taking down the Robert E. Lee statue.

At least some of these groups practiced “white identity politics,” agreed. And white identity politics is racism. Fair enough.

But then, so is “black identity politics.” So is Black Lives Matter. So is “Hispanic identity politics.” So is La Raza. So is Muslim identity politics. So is “CAIR.” And on and on.

So what is racist is to protest against one, and not the others. That is saying that “whites” should not have the same rights as “blacks,” or “Hispanics,” or Muslims. And that is the real racism.

You actually hear statements like “only whites can be racists.” And “all whites are racist.” That is about as racist as a statement can be. An identifiable group of people are all being held guilty of something because of the colour of their skin.

I know what the response to my argument here will be: that racism has to do with power, and so, since straight white males have all the power in current North American society, only they can be racist.

There is a kernel of truth in there. Racism becomes truly dangerous only when exercised by political power—by the government. Individuals are, and ought to be, free to have their differing opinions. Including individuals freely associating in groups.

But who has that political power?

The clearest proof is, who do the laws favour? Whose statues, say, are the government authorities currently tearing down?

How many laws require “affirmative action” for straight white males? How much government money is being publicly put into programs specifically for whites, and white males? What are the laws about bequeathing scholarship endowments for white males, as contrasted to blacks, women, or Hispanics?

In other words, by the obvious test, the clear and present danger right now is racism/sexism against white males, not against blacks, Hispanics, or Muslims.

But, you may say, whites are the majority. Only minorities need protection.

In a democracy, it is true, the majority can run roughshod over a minority. This is a constant danger in a democracy; which is why we have checks and balances against it. Any despised minority can be scapegoated and brutalized by a democratic majority.

Now, guess who is a minority? Straight white males. The doctrine of “intersectionality” has conveniently and seemingly consciously parsed it all so that everyone else is separated off, leaving a minority that can be safely scapegoated. This is no different than had the target been blacks, or Jews, or Freemasons, or gypsies, or “the one percent”: you define your enemy as a minority, and then you can go after them.

Ah, you will object, but this particular minority has a disproportionate amount of financial and political power. So they are still getting more than their fair share.

Fine. Exactly the same argument could be, and was, used, against the Jews in Nazi Germany. They were better off and better educated, on the whole, than other Germans. One could not, then, by definition, be anti-Semitic, right? The Nazis were not racists, right? Only Jews could be racists?

The current rampant and growing racism and sexism against straight white males follows the familiar parabola of racism everywhere. The racists always begin by identifying themselves as the “oppressed”; they are just getting their own back. The Nazis said the Germans to have been viciously oppressed in the Versailles Peace Treaty, at the hands of the international Jews. Mussolini deffined Italy as a “proletarian nation” oppressed by the “plutocracies.” Before the Civil War, the Confederates, with reason, considered themselves an oppressed minority within the Union, being repeatedly pushed around by the more populous and wealthier north. After that war, the KKK considered themselves a purely defensive movement to defend poor Southerners oppressed by the northern carpetbaggers. In apartheid South Africa, the Boers considered themselves to have been oppressed by the British who came in, conquered, and put them in concentration camps. And wanted to throw them to the mercies of the fierce, oppressive Zulus.

This is all simply prejudice and racism as the game has always been played.

There is only one way to end discrimination: you stop discriminating.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

North Korea Calls off Their Guam Attack

It is not surprising that North Korea has now backed down from its threat to fire a missile at Guam. To do so would have been idiotic. In the first place, it is unlikely North Korea really could land a missile anywhere near Guam, and trying to do so would just demonstrate their incapacity. In the second, trying to do so would give the US justification for hitting North Korea without Chinese intervention.

So why did Kim Jong Un make such a stupid threat in the first place? Because North Korea has been trained to do it. Danegeld. They threaten war, fire some artillery, test-fire a missile, and the US and Japan rush to the negotiating table and offer them something to stop. And so far, the US has been stupid enough to fall for it every time.

It looks like Trump called their bluff. Say what you will; he knows how to negotiate.

Will the Norks now still persist with their nuclear programme? Perhaps not. What is in it for them, if the cannot use it for ransom purposes? After all, no matter what, if North Korea goes nuclear against anyone, they get wiped out.

Not that we are justified in being sanguine about it all. They can still sell technology to others to whom it might be more useful...

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Casual Sexism of Canadian Society

Seen in Ripley's Aquarium, Toronto. Har har.

Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlottesville

Robert E. Lee, in what is now Charlottesvilles "Emancipation Park"

The recent atrocity in Charlottesville, Virginia, is a useful lesson for American Conservatives in what it is like to be a Muslim these days.

We often complain that Muslims should speak out more loudly against Islamic terrorism. Now Conservatives are in the same position: have we spoken out loudly enough against the killer who drove his car into a crowd of Antifa protestors?

Yet if we do condemn, we are buying in to an offensive, bigoted premise: that these Islamist terrorists, that this driver, have something to do with us and with what we believe. That we bear responsibility, more than more than Baptists or Democrats do. It is a perfect Catch-22. Either way, we are scapegoated.

At the same time, it seems to herd us unwilling into accepting and endorsing a claim that the other side, which we oppose, holds some moral high ground. The truth is, Muslims really do believe, with cause, that modern Western culture is morally depraved. Similarly, those of us on the right believe that the current resort to public violence began on the left, and so the left must take responsibility, indeed, primary responsibility, for this. We believe that racism is a general problem on the left, and vanishingly rare on the right. We believe that the left is morally depraved on matters such as abortion. Why must we feed this monster?

Nevertheless, we must not remain innocent bystanders. Let me get my condemnations in:

I condemn the city of Charlottesville, in the first place, for planning to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee. This provoked the entire affair, and it was an unprovoked act of aggression against the heritage of an identifiable group among its citizens. It was founded on anti-white prejudice.

I condemn the views of some of the groups that organized the protest against this, if the reports are true that some of them were racist. I read that participants included the KKK. As a Catholic, I obviously oppose the traditional views of the KKK. As a Christian, I necessarily condemn all racism. We must use caution here, however, because it has become standard practice on the left to declare any group on the right “racist.” So we never know when we are being fed false information.

I condemn equally the well-known racist groups on the other side, such as “Black Lives Matter.”

I support the right of all such groups to hold a public demonstration. This is an issue of freedom of speech and of assembly. That said, public demonstrations are generally not helpful or useful in a functioning democracy. And there is no justification for a riot.

I condemn in stronger terms holding “counter-demonstrations.” This looks like an attempt to interfere with another’s free speech. If and when held, such counter-demonstrations must be kept far away from the original demonstration they seek to “counter.”

I condemn, therefore, if the charges are true, the “stand-down” of the Charlottesville police, allowing the two groups to clash. This is exactly the factor that led to the rise of the Nazis in Germany: the police and authorities would not interfere, allowing the stronger gang to work their will.

I condemn the driver of the car, who is, so far as we can see from the available evidence, a murderer. He should be prosecuted for this, as should anyone else who did likewise. I oppose the death penalty, but life in prison seems just.

I condemn those who try to make all the other “right-wing” protestors, who in all probability are entirely innocent of this crime, collectively guilty because they presumably share roughly the same political views as the perpetrator. This is simple bigotry and prejudice.

I condemn those who try to use this to scapegoat. The mayor of Charlottesville, for example, blamed it all on Donald Trump. This ought to be actionable as slander.

I condemn those who have condemned Trump for condemning the apparent hatred on “many sides.” This was the only honourable line to take, in the circumstances.

This was not like a “terrorist” incident, in which violence is unleashed on unsuspecting civilians going about their lives. This was a clash of two opposing sides. That is a different moral equation. Although it does not make escalation okay.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Real Life of the Hero


Since Otto Rank has helpfully collected what is for us a random collection of hero legends, what can we learn from them? Other than the broad outlines of child abuse, do they tell us anything else about depression?

Let us see how well they match with Dymphna, Oedipus, and Hamlet: our previous examples of depression in literature.

The father is king, the child a prince or princess; or this is the story of a prominent family

As with Dymphna, Oedipus, and Hamlet, the hero/depressive is here almost always a prince or princess. Rank too notices this: “The hero is the child of most distinguished parents, usually the son of a king” (The Myth of the Birth of the Hero, p. 65). As we have noted before, however, there could be various reasons for this that do not directly have to do with depression. People like to hear, for example, about the rich and famous. “King” might be a natural image of a selfish man; making the son a prince by default, without this reflecting on his own nature. It is traditional for a tragedy to be about the high born. Accordingly, we cannot be sure what to make of this.

The victim is beautiful, handsome, athletic, intelligent; he or she is exceptional.

This is burned in to the term “hero,” by dictionary definition. The male protagonists in these stories are legendary for their courage and strength; the heroines, Danae, Andromeda, and Auge, are legendary for their beauty.

Karna’s fate is made more painful because he is the eldest, strongest, and most accomplished of his siblings. Yet he is cast out and unacknowledged, while his three younger brothers are Pandava princes.

“Paris’s noble birth,” writes Robert Graves, “was soon disclosed by his outstanding behaviour, intelligence, and strength” (The Greek Myths, p. 364).

The disturbance rides the strongest horse in the stable.

The victim is selfless and driven by ethical considerations. 

We see, in most of these stories, a special concern on the part of the hero for righteousness, for the moral order: as the opening credits for Superman used to say, he fights for “truth, justice, and the American way.” This is also so for Hamlet, Dymphna, and Oedipus.

In heated battle, given the opportunity to kill his adversary Arjuna when the latter drops his bow, Karna refuses, just as would Hamlet. It would violate the rules of war. He is then killed by Arjuna, breaking the same rules of engagement, when his own weapon is set aside to pull his chariot wheel out of the mud. Rather like Hamlet, he has turned his back on his opponent, refusing to openly suspect him of dishonourable conduct.

Paris had a similar reputation for probity. He is chosen by the gods themselves to settle a dispute among Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena over which is most beautiful, because he has a reputation for being incorruptible.

When her master gives away Telephus’s abused mother Auge in marriage, she tries to kill her new husband rather than allow him to consummate the marriage, because she was still “faithful to the memory of Heracles” (Graves, op. cit., p. 318). Considering her relationship with Heracles was at best a one-night stand, at worst a rape, this is extreme loyalty. It is, in the abused child, more or less the opposite of the motif of illicit sexual pleasure in the parent. 

The Judgement of Paris

The case of Heracles, the best-known hero in all of Greek legend, seems more morally ambiguous. He is, as we have seen, guilty of the rape and abandonment of Auge, the mother of Telephus. That surely makes him a selfish parent who abandons his wife and child. He also kills his tutor Linos. This seems beyond the ordinary duties of a scholar. In a frenzy, he even kills his own wife and children. This fits with Alice Miller’s identification of the abused child with the abusive parent, and not our Dymphna complex. According to the Dymphna model, the abused child should grow up to have both a special concern for morality and a special care for their own children. Are these elements absent here?

Perhaps not. There are extenuating circumstances. As to abandoning Auge and Telephus, one tradition says that Heracles did not rape Auge, but that their union was by consent. There was no marriage because her father’s enmity made this impossible (Graves, p. 317). Did Romeo rape Juliet?

As to the killing of his children, this was in a psychotic fit sent by Hera, not by his own will: not guilty by reason of insanity. In the play Heracles, Euripides has the goddess Iris say to the goddess Madness:

“Hera is minded to brand him [Heracles] with the guilt of shedding kindred blood by slaying his own children, and I am one with her. Come then, maid unwed, child of murky Night, harden thy heart relentlessly, send forth frenzy upon him, confound his mind even to the slaying of his children, drive him, goad him wildly on his mad career, shake out the sails of death, that when he has sent o'er Acheron's ferry that fair group of children by his own murderous hand, he may learn to know how fiercely against him the wrath of Hera burns and may also experience mine; otherwise, if he escape punishment, the gods will become as naught, while man’s power will grow.”

The goddess Madness responds:

“Through his roof will I burst my way and swoop upon his house, after first slaying his children; nor shall their murderer know that he is killing his own-begotten babes, till he is released from my madness. Behold him! see how even now he is wildly tossing his head at the outset, and rolling his eyes fiercely from side to side without word; nor can he control his panting breath; but like a bull in act to charge, he bellows fearfully, calling on the goddesses of nether hell.”

Clearly, according to tradition, this was something done by Hera to Heracles, not an act of Heracles’s own will. The very fact that he cared so much for his children made it more terrible.

The killing of his tutor could actually show the depths of his concern for justice. As in Hamlet, we must not be misled by the modern delusion that violence itself is unjust. Heroes are not pacifists, and pacifists are not heroes. Heroes will kill as well as die for what is right. Heracles killed Linos “incensed over an unjust chastisement” (Rank, op. cit., p. 50). If we accept this claim, Heracles’s commitment is not to Heracles, but to the distinction between right and wrong.

In the same vein, Heracles is said in the Argonautica to have made war on the Dryopes “because they gave no heed to justice in their lives.” (Richard Hunter, trans., Jason and the Golden Fleece, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993, p 31).

It is said that Heracles never aggressed against anyone, but only resisted when provoked. “Heracles claimed never to have picked a quarrel, but always to have given aggressors the same treatment as they intended for him” (Graves, vol. 2, p. 93). The hero, paradigmatically, hoists the villain on his own petard. This is an image of perfect justice. Plutarch writes that Heracles:

“… always returned upon his assailants the same sort of violence that they offered to him; sacrificed Busiris, killed Antaeus in wrestling, and Cycnus in single combat, and Termerus by breaking his skull in pieces ..., for it seems Termerus killed passengers that he met by running with his head against them. And so also Theseus proceeded in the punishment of evil men, who underwent the same violence from him which they had inflicted upon others, justly suffering after the manner of their own injustice” (Plutarch, Life of Theseus).

Moses displays the same heroic temperament: when he sees an Egyptian overseer beating a Hebrew slave, he cannot overlook the injustice. He kills the overseer in his rage, and then must flee for his life. He meets his wife Zipporah when he defends a group of shepherdesses whose flock was being unjustly driven away from a water source. 

The rescue of the exposed Paris

Heroes are like that. They cannot fly blissfully by a fair maid in distress. It is not in them to be the innocent bystander.

Karna too, shows this insistence on righteousness. He insults Queen Draupadi by saying that a woman with more than four husbands, like her, is nothing but a whore. Not a judicious thing to say to a queen. This predictably earns him the enmity of all five of her husbands, the Pandava brothers.

It is easy to see why this commitment to righteousness might awaken in an abused child. With all self-esteem taken from him by the parental rejection, without egotism on which to build a foundation for action, he or she must find something else as a motivating force for existing. The obvious alternative is the three transcendentals: the good, the true, the beautiful, as enumerated by Plato, Aristotle, and, quite independently, the Bhagavad Gita. These are the ultimate cosmic values. For any of these, he is prepared to sacrifice all. Perhaps especially for justice, as he has suffered from being treated unjustly himself.

Note that the beautiful is also one of these values. This may explain Paris’s abduction of Helen, or Heracles’s seduction of Auge, which look like selfish acts: the hero will sacrifice everything for beauty, as he will for truth or justice. Accordingly, he can be overwhelmed by great beauty.

This might explain, in turn, the “artistic temperament”: that is, the common observation that artists are often depressives or melancholic, and depressives often artists of some sort. The beauty of art becomes something to devote his or her life to. For truth, in the same way, he is liable to become a scholar or a philosopher. For good or justice, he is likely to become a saint or a lawgiver.

Burton writes, in his Anatomy of Melancholy:

“Aristotle ... said melancholy men [are] of all others are most witty, which causeth many times a divine ravishment, and a kind of enthusiasmus, which stirreth them up to be excellent philosophers, poets, prophets, &c. … all learned men, famous philosophers, and lawgivers, ad unum fere omnes melancholici, have still been melancholy” (Membr. II Subsection III; Membr. III).

Aristotle’s 30th paradox begins: “Why is it that all those who have become eminent in philosophy or politics or poetry or the arts are clearly melancholics?”

The classic hero embraces, primarily, the quest for justice. The religious hero, like Moses or Krishna, embraces the good and true. The artistic hero, an Orpheus or a Michelangelo, embraces the beautiful.

But all are equally likely to be depressive.

The parent is selfish and self-centred. He or she treats others as objects.

This is the essential, primordial fact in a most of our legends. Damon is the ultimate cause of Dymphna’s suffering; Laius is revealed as the ultimate cause of Oedipus’s suffering; Claudius and Gertrude are the aggressors in Hamlet.

The Perseus legend may be the most complete analysis of heroic depression in all of Greek myth. As with Hamlet, it includes multiple examples. Apart from Perseus, his mother Danae is also an abused child; and so is his wife Andromeda.

Perseus, you may recall, encounters the exceptionally lovely Andromeda chained to a rock to be devoured by a sea serpent. She is a child sacrifice; or rather, as is more typical of the heroine, an adolescent sacrifice. We can mark her down as another example of the rejected child being cast on the waters, like Moses et al.

Why is she there? Because, according to legend, her mother Cassiopeia boasted that she was more beautiful than the Nereids. This demanded vengeance from the gods.

Her mother, then, is vain, narcissistic, and ready to sacrifice her child for her sins rather than take responsibility. Not a flattering portrait.

Perseus and Andromeda

In exchange for rescuing her, Perseus is promised Andromeda’s hand in marriage. He does so—and her mother Cassiopeia then tries to kill him to renege on the deal. Again, not obviously to her credit as a moral agent (Graves, p. 143). Self before service.

By contrast, Andromeda, the abused child, insists on the vow being honoured. This may simply be in accord with her own desires; but it also perhaps shows the typical depressive’s commitment to the good and true: a promise must be kept. Athene, at least, thinks so, and rewards Andromeda for this act of good faith by giving her an exalted position in the heavens (Graves, op. cit., p. 144).

Karna is sacrificed by his mother Kunti so that she could hope one day to become a queen. Perseus, Telephus, Gilgamesh, and Cyrus are all assailed by their grandfather. This can be seen to accentuate the motif of selfishness. It is simply necessary in the course of nature that, one day, a king will be supplanted by someone--if not a son, then a grandson. Yet these kings find the thought intolerable, and will destroy two generations and leave their kingdoms without an heir rather than accept it.

The child has no designs against the parent. Instead, despite all the evils the parent inflicts on the child, the child remains dutiful.

Despite the formulaic prophesy that the son or grandson would overthrow and kill the father or grandfather, the origin of the parent’s enmity in so many of these legends, this almost never actually happens in the stories, and never by the child’s choosing. It is the paranoid fantasy of an egomaniac: it is natural for a narcissist or egotist to be convinced that everyone, even their own son, is out to get them if they can—because that is what they would do if they were in that position.

But instead, when a child is schooled throughout childhood to believe that their parents’ welfare is all-important and they themselves are worth nothing, they are naturally inclined to take this to heart.

As we have seen, ACOA jokes that, when the child of the alcoholic dies, someone else’s entire life flashes before their eyes.

Hamlet, as well, has explained why it is absurd to imagine the child seeking to overthrow the parent. At least, he finds it absurd—it is inconceivable to him.

A parable of Karna seems meant to demonstrate this filial devotion; although it is about his relationship to his guru Parashurama, a surrogate parent. It has to be. His real father or mother are no longer in his life:

One day, Karna offers his lap so Parashurama, his guru, can rest his head and take a nap. While Parashurama is asleep, a bee stings Karna’s thigh. Despite the pain, despite even the bee boring a hole into his flesh, Karna will not move, so as to not disturb his guru.

When he conquers the Medes as king of the neighbouring Persians, Cyrus has his opportunity to get revenge on the grandfather who tried to kill him. However, the legend concludes, “Cyrus did not harm him, and kept him with him until his end” (Rank, p. 35). 

Danae and the shower of gold

The conclusion of the epic of Perseus seems intended to make the same point. After putting Dictys, the good fisherman, on the throne of Seriphos, Perseus sails with his mother for his homeland, Argos. Acrisius, the aged king, aware that he tried to murder both Perseus and Danae, flees in fear to Larissa.

This is his fatal error. Perseus had no intention to kill him. But in Larissa, he runs into his son competing in some athletic games, and an errant discus thrown by Perseus strikes his foot, killing him.

He was just in time for his appointment in Samarra. It was his fear of Perseus, and not Perseus, that killed him.

The child has a low opinion of himself. He unreasonably takes blame on himself (or herself).

This is, of course, the expected result of being abused by one’s parents; and it is perhaps the most classic and familiar aspect of what we call depression.

We indeed see, in Euripides’s depiction, a Heracles who suffers from what psychologists would call “low self-esteem.” Like Oedipus and Hamlet, he takes blame unjustly upon himself.

Although it is not his fault, he assumes responsibility for the death of his wife and children:

“Ah me! why do I spare my own life when I have taken that of my dear children? Shall I not hasten to leap from some sheer rock, or aim the sword against my heart and avenge my children's blood, or burn my body in the fire and so avert from my life the infamy which now awaits me?”

To Theseus, he describes his life as one of unrelenting misfortune and sorrow. He speaks here as the classic depressive:

“... I will unfold to thee why life now as well as formerly has been unbearable to me. ... Now when the foundation is badly laid at birth, needs must the race be cursed with woe; and Zeus, whoever this Zeus may be, begot me as a butt for Hera’s hate; .... Then whilst I was yet being suckled, that bride of Zeus did foist into my cradle fearsome snakes to compass my death.... Last, ah, woe is me have I perpetrated this bloody deed to crown the sorrows of my house with my children’s murder. To this sore strait am I come; no longer may I dwell in Thebes, the city that I love; for suppose I stay, to what temple or gathering of friends shall I repair? ... Shall I to Argos? how can I, when I am an exile from my country? Well, is there a single other city I can fly to? ... What right have I to live? what profit can I have in the possession of a useless, impious life?”

Theseus, more objective, points out that he is being too hard on himself:

“Have [even the gods] not intermarried in ways that law forbids? … Still they inhabit Olympus and brave the issue of their crimes. And yet what shall you say in your defense, if you, a child of man, take your fate excessively hard, while they, as gods, do not?”

Moses too has “low self-esteem.” When Yahweh God calls him, he responds, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3: 11). “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue” (Exodus 4:10).

Being stuttering or slow of speech is, Burton advises, a symptom of melancholy. “They stutter or falter in their speech,” he explains; and Aristotle concurs (Problem XI, 38). Although there is also a minority—we would call them manic—who are unusually fast in their speech (Membr. III).

Danae and Perseus

The child has some special connection with the spirit world. This gives him or her healing power for others.

Rank notices the infant hero is usually “surrendered to the water in a box.” The good doctor believes this attempted murder is a memory of birth: the box is the womb, and the waters are the amniotic fluid. “The exposure in the water signifies no more and no less than the symbolic expression of birth, the children come out of the water. The basket, box, or receptacle simply means the container, the womb; so that the exposure directly signifies the process of birth, although it is represented by its opposite” (Rank, op. cit., p. 73-4).

It seems intrinsically unlikely, however, that many of us have memories of being born. If we did, would it look like this from the infant’s perspective? To see the womb as a floating box seems to suppose some prior knowledge of a larger world outside the womb with which to compare it, and prior experience of some other medium than the amniotic sac. The observing doctor might imagine such an analogy: but the infant?

Moreover, exposing the child by casting him or her off of on water is not much more common than a second motif in the legends, of being left abandoned on a mountainside; and being nursed by wild animals. This second image cannot be easily understood as a birth image, surely; the womb is not much like a mountain.

Let us consider individual cases:

Sargon is cast on the river in a sealed basket. He is fished out and raised by “Akki, the drawer of water” (Rank, op. cit., p. 14).

Moses is famously left among the rushes. He is rescued by the Pharaoh’s daughter, who then, unwittingly, gives him to his real mother to raise. According to Genesis, the Hebrews lived in Egypt as tenders of livestock (Genesis 47).

Karna is thrown into the river by his mother, and found and raised by Adhiratha, a royal charioteer.

Paris is exposed on Mount Ida, and nursed there by a she-bear. He is then rescued by Priam’s “chief herdsman” Agelaus (Graves, op. cit., p. 364).

Telephus is born and left to die on Mount Parthenion, while his mother is being taken to be drowned. He is found and suckled by a deer. There is a second version of the legend in which he and his mother are set adrift in the Aegean in a chest. He is found by “some cattlemen” (Graves, p. 317).

Oedipus is exposed with bound feet on Mount Cithaeron, but found there by a Corinthian shepherd.

Perseus is locked with his mother in a box and cast into the sea. “Dictys, a fisherman, usually called a brother of King Polydectes, saves mother and child by drawing them out of the sea with his nets” (Rank, p. 26).

Heracles is exposed by his mother, Alcmene, in a place known as the Field of Hercules. Then serpents are sent by Hera or his stepfather to kill him in his cradle. Later, he is banished by his foster father to live in the mountains with the herders, “among whom he is said by some to have been raised entirely” (Rank, p, 50).

Gilgamesh is thrown off the Acropolis by his grandfather’s minions, but caught by an eagle and transported to a secret garden (Aelian. Animal Stories).

Cyrus is given to a cattle-herder to be exposed “on the wildest mountains.” The cattle herder and his wife, who according to Rank is named “the bitch,” (Rank, p. 29) choose to raise him as their own instead.

Tristan is raised by a courtier, conventionally enough, but in his youth is kidnapped by Norwegian pirates.

Romulus and Remus are abandoned on the Palatine Hill, although the original plan had been to throw them in the Tiber. They are, of course, suckled by a wolf.

Siegfried is pushed into a river in a glass vessel. He runs aground at a cliff and is raised by a doe.

Danae and the golden shower.

That is six cases of being thrown into water; seven cases of being abandoned on a mountain; one of abduction by pirates; and one of being attacked by serpents.

It would seem that whatever is intended by the motif of being cast on the waves must be something symbolically expressed more or less equally well by being abandoned on the mountainside.

In fact, we have clear warrant from some of the legends to see the two motifs as interchangeable: the story of Telephus, and perhaps the story of Siegfried, offer both variants, and the story of Romulus and Remus has one substitute for the other.

The obvious core of both tropes, remote mountain and sealed chest, is separation from other men, isolation. You get that at sea (note the etymology of “isolation”), and you get that alone on a mountaintop (note the etymology of “wilderness”). Being rejected by your parents in your very being, at infancy, inevitably sets you apart, alienates you from “society,” from human relationships. No one is so hopelessly alone as the abused child. And the resulting sense of alienation is, of course, a common feature of depression.

To separate from the shared, social world is also to separate from the physical world; for the two are interlinked. It is the physical world which we share communally as “objective.” It is therefore the source and the subject of our common discourse.

What remains when you subtract the social-physical is the psychic or spiritual; the world, as we have seen, of emotions, of imagination, and of transcendents, cosmic values. Therefore there is a common association of wild nature, the image of solitude, with the spirit: see, for example, the Romantic writers.

The rejected child, in other words, is automatically by this rejection thrust into the world of the spirit. This explains why, as we have seen with Dymphna, Hamlet, and Oedipus, he or she develops a special connection to it. The spirit world is full of anthropomorphic animals, who might nurse a child; not to mention fairies, dwarves, dragons, sea serpents, and other such imaginary creatures. These are all beings of pure spirit, of pure imagination, without physical form.

Water can naturally represent the spiritual as the non-physical. Physical objects have form and position in space: water is formless and in constant flux. It is transparent and insubstantial to the touch. Among physical things, therefore, it works as a metaphor or objective correlative for the non-physical. So the retreat to the spiritual world is often shown as a water journey.

Air, of course, is the obvious alternative image of the immaterial—obvious enough that the Greek word pneuma means both “breath” and “soul”; as does the Latin spiritus. It is a better image than water, in being less detectable to the senses; but a worse one by the same token: for who has seen the wind? And so, in order to give sensible presence to the wind, as metaphor, it makes sense to speak instead of being on the mountaintop: up in the air, open to the winds.

Another equivalent image may be Danae’s fate, as abused child, of being locked in a bronze tower; more broadly, as with so many other heroines, of being denied marriage and family as a virgin priestess. This is another, more literal image of isolation from the rest of mankind. There, in Danae’s solitude, Zeus, a being of pure spirit, appears to her in a shower of gold, declaring “I can turn this dark prison into a wonderful, sunny and blooming land.” Which he does: again wild nature as a metaphor.

Rank points out that when the abandoned child is rescued from his exposure, it is usually by “lowly parents.” He sees this as an issue of social class, and suggests that the adoptive parents represent the real family, while royal ancestry is a fantasy; a delusion of grandeur.

But this is the opposite of what the myth or legend gives us to understand. In the legends, except in the case of Moses, the shepherds are the imagined parents, the royals the real ones. Rank is arbitrarily inverting values. Moreover, however unlikely it may be to have the king as your father, it can happen. Having animal parents—for the exposed infant hero is often rescued and nursed, for an interim, not by shepherds, but by wild animals--is obviously less likely.

So the shepherd parents, or animal parents, must represent something more than lower social class, and cannot be the real as opposed to the imaginary family.

Class here is after all not terribly consistent. Moses is rescued from an ordinary family by a princess, and the fisherman who finds Perseus is the brother of a king. Adhiratha’s position as royal charioteer is not a humble one, although his adopted son Karna is considered of lower caste because his parentage is not known.

Nor are all poor folk shepherds. There are settled farmers, and cobblers, and woodsmen, and penny ante merchants, and so forth. Yet here pastoralists, shepherds and cowherds, dominate.

The green world

To be more specific, the occupations we find are charioteer, shepherd, herdsman, fisherman, pirate, and smith. And “Akki, the drawer of water.” What do they all have in common? 

Might it not be a nomadic, wandering life? (In the ancient world, smiths, like these others, were itinerant; as were latter day tinkers. Genesis lists them among the descendants of Cain—Genesis 4:22). A life not of social lowliness so much as a life apart from the social world, like gypsies, or cowboys? With all the traditional Romantic associations conveyed by the terms “pastoral” or “bucolic” or “idyll.” The essence is the sense of being “away from it all”: from all attendant on social life.

The point might be a separation from society: not low class, but no class. As many an abused child might wish to run off with the circus.

One can understand the abused child as having been given no solid ground to stand on, no foundation—a loss of any sense of meaning to his life. His very existence is offensive—so his parents have raised him to believe, and every child idolizes his parents. A sense of pointlessness seems an obvious and inevitable consequence of the lack of parental affection. And such an experience of meaninglessness is surely at the core of depression: Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!

Hence, an abused or rejected child, even when not literally left to die, is in a sense killed in infancy. He has no sense of self.

This separation from society might also be liberating: like Plato’s slave released from the cave of shadows. Apart from the world of men, he is in contact with the world of the eternal verities.

From this in turn may therefore come the hero’s ability to offer boons from the spiritual world, as we have seen with Dymphna or Oedipus. Moses forms the conduit between Yahweh and his Hebrew people. Karna took an oath that anyone who approached him with a request would not leave empty-handed; so that he is a suitable object of prayer petitions today. Heracles is elevated to godhood after death. Others, like Andromeda, are set in the starry heavens.

Ship of Fools

The adult child flees the parents: exile.

The exposure of the infant hero on a mountainside or in a sealed box is an image of exile. He or she is often raised by a step family or in a natural, wild world, as we have seen. But in the stories of Hamlet, Dymphna, and Oedipus, we have encountered something else: a deliberate exile, by the victim’s own design. Do we find this second form of exile here?

Moses exhibits this theme. He exiles himself to Midian after killing an Egyptian overseer, to escape his step-grandfather, the Pharaoh. “Zipporah gave birth to a son, and Moses named him Gershom, saying, ‘I have become a stranger in a strange land’” (Exodus 2:22).

Perseus, having inadvertently killed his grandfather, is too ashamed, according to legend, despite his grandfather’s attempts to kill both him and his mother, to accept the throne of his native Argos. He rules at Tiryns instead. Karna, although by birth a prince of the Kunti kingdom, becomes king of Anga instead through his friend Duryodhana.

As an adult, Telephus is told by the Delphic oracle to “Sail and seek King Teuthras the Mysian.” He goes to Myxi, and eventually becomes king there, far from his native Tegea (Graves, p. 317). To underline the significance of exile here, as solitude, Telephus also stops speaking at this point. “The silence of Telephus” was an ancient idiom. Thisd alerts us that the image of exile is an image, like the exposure during infancy, of solitude, of separation from the milieu of one’s birth.

Perseus is sent into exile by his adoptive father Polydectes to win Medusa’s head, with the intent to rid the latter of his presence as protector of Danae, his mother. This launches him on a career of knight errantry, as the wandering hero. The initial exile may not have been his own idea, but it is voluntary.

This adult exile and the exile in infancy bear similarities to what Northrop Frye has called “the Green World.” Frye’s thesis is that, in Shakespeare’s comedies and romances, there is a typical action: the protagonist, facing some grievous problem, retreats into a natural setting. In this natural setting or “green world,” the problems are resolved, and he returns to his original home.

Collier: The Forest of Arden

He writes, in Anatomy of Criticism,

“Thus the action of the comedy begins in a world represented as a normal world, moves into the green world, goes into a metamorphosis there in which the comic resolution is achieved, and returns to the normal world. The forest in this play is the embryonic form of the fairy world of A Midsummer Night's Dream, the Forest of Arden in As You Like It, Windsor Forest in The Merry Wives, and the pastoral world of the mythical sea-coasted Bohemia in The Winter's Tale. In all these comedies there is the same rhythmic movement from normal world to green world and back again. In The Merchant of Venice the second world takes the form of Portia's mysterious house in Belmont, with its magic caskets ...”

But the “green world” is not simply, as the term might suggest, a place of nature. As Frye describes it, it can be reached as well by a sea voyage, as in The Tempest, or The Winter’s Tale. It can even be a house, as in The Merchant of Venice. But what most identifies it is some uncanny element. The magic caskets; or the forest oddly includes palm trees, fairies, and lions; or the anthropomorphized animals who suckle our hero figures.

Frye seems this as a ritual element, referring to Medieval spring fertility rites. But this evokes the same objections as the solar interpretation of myths generally: so what? Why would the turn of the year from winter to spring be so god-blessed important? Rather, surely, the image ofr spring rebirth is in ints own turn an objective correlative for something psychic.

And the “something psychic” is, we have seen, the world of the mind or psyche—apart from the social and physical; and in particular apart from the family circumstances into which the child victim was born.

Andrew Marvell nails it to the wall in his poem “The Garden”:

Fair Quiet, have I found thee here,
And Innocence, thy sister dear!
Mistaken long, I sought you then
In busy companies of men;
Your sacred plants, if here below,
Only among the plants will grow.
Society is all but rude,
To this delicious solitude.

Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness;
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find,
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas;
Annihilating all that’s made
To a green thought in a green shade.

Here at the fountain’s sliding foot,
Or at some fruit tree’s mossy root,
Casting the body’s vest aside,
My soul into the boughs does glide;
There like a bird it sits and sings,
Then whets, and combs its silver wings;
And, till prepar’d for longer flight,
Waves in its plumes the various light.

Are we not perhaps seeing here a clear remedy for the sufferings of depression? In solitude and in the life of the mind?

This may also be the hint to be taken from one odd element of the story of Telephus. Telephus is wounded in the thigh by the spear of Achilles. The oracle of Apollo tells him that the wound can only be healed by the thing that caused it.

Robert Graves summarizes the story from here:

“So he [Telephus] visited Agamemnon at Mycenae, clad in rags like a suppliant, and on Clytaemnestra’s advice snatched the infant Orestes from his cradle. ‘I will kill your son,’ he cried, ‘unless you cure me!’ But Agamemnon, having been warned by an oracle that the Greeks could not take Troy without Telephus’s advice, gladly undertook to aid him, if he would guide the fleet to Troy. When Telephus agreed, Achilles, at Agamemnon’s request, scraped some rust off his spear into the wound and thus healed it; with the further help of the herb achilleos, a vulnerary which he had himself discovered.”

Why did Telephus go to Agamemnon? Agamemnon did not wound him.

Telephus wounded

Does this detail not tell us the wound of which the oracle speaks is not really the relatively minor matter of Telephus’s thigh. It is, rather, the deeper wound in Telephus’s soul, caused by child abuse. Accordingly, if it was caused by child abuse, the cure, by Apollo’s words, would be a further act of child abuse. So the threat to Agamemnon’s son.

The eventual solution is more symbolic—an herb that bears the same name as the assailant, Achilles. Or, put by the story in another way, the rust rather than the spear itself.

If child abuse is the spear, what is the rust? What is the old and peripheral part of the abuse?

Could the solution to the anguish of depression, then, originally caused by child abuse, be a retreat to solitude and the world of thought, almost in imitation of the enforced solitude originally caused by the rejection?

And so the solution to the problem symbolized by the exposure of the infant hero at birth, seems to be presented as the voluntary exile in adulthood into the Green World.

In other words, to be blunt, the practical cure for depression is solitude. A time away from it all in which one is free to commune with eternal verities. One ought indeed, as Hamlet indeed urges, to “get thee to a nunnery.” He is not insulting or rejecting Ophelia; he is giving her good and caring advice.

Ironically, tragically, this is the last thing the common psychiatric treatment for depression will allow. God forbid that the depressive should retreat into solitude to think things through! He or she must at all times remain in the social whirl. Being alone is almost considered the disease itself...

As a result, “professional help” may be the worst thing possible for a true depressive. It is a way to prolong the torture indefinitely.

Worse, if this is true, it is a way to hogtie precisely those among us who have the most to offer to their fellow man: the natural artists, the natural philosophers, the natural heroes, the saints and lawgivers.

And most of it is done, of course, at government expense.

We may want to rethink this.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

How to Make a Montreal Bagel

I have a feeling that now that the fever of separatism is over, Montreal is poised to resume its rightful place as Canada's metropolis.

Geography argues that it ought to be. Only politics has been holding it back.

Ontario's current government is doing everything it can to help.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Adieu Quebec?

Morning bells are ringing in Quebec, and all the brothers are suddenly awake. It runs out the 2016 census has revealed a significant upswing in Anglophones in the province. The PQ is calling for new, more restrictive language laws, and banning all immigrants who do not speak French.

But here’s the interesting thing: the rise in English speakers is not happening in Montreal, where the immigrants, and the migrants from the rest of Canada, generally come. It is appearing in rural Quebec—and even while the overall population in rural Quebec is declining.

This can really only mean one thing. The same people who identified themselves as Francophone a census ago are now declaring themselves Anglophone. They no longer identify themselves as primarily French-speakers.

This is no doubt a threat to the continues existence of the French-Canadian culture: but new language laws and restrictions on immigration are not likely to fix it.

Indeed, it is a fairly inevitable consequence of globalization. It is often said that, until the 1960s, French Quebec existed in a cocoon, separate from the rest of the modern world. It is perhaps only now that that cocoon is really splitting open. Year by year, it becomes a greater sacrifice to try to live your life entirely in French. There is a world culture now, and its common language is English.

I have seen it myself in my years as an English teacher. When I started, the experiences and thinking of a young Chinese or young Korean were very different from those of a young Canadian. Meeting them as a foreigner, I sometimes felt like a zoo animal on display.

That is all gone now. With chatting, the internet, and so forth, everyone below a certain age hears and sees and knows about all the same things. In any city, there are similar malls selling all the same brand names in the same chain stores. When I was in grad school, in Syracuse, within a hundred miles of the Canadian border, there was absolutely no news available from Canada. No one had any idea what was going on up there. “Was the national anthem still ‘The Maple Leaf Forever?’” someone asked me, trying to show interest. But now, Americans often follow Canadian and British politics rather as though it was the next state over. Canadian commentators like Mark Steyn, Gavin McInnes, Lauren Southern, Jordan Peterson, and so forth become big in the States. While still being identified as Canadian.

I suspect we are beginning to see the end of the truly distinct Quebec culture. For better or for worse—and I feel more than a twinge of regret.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Heroic Depression and Depressive Heroes: Otto Rank

Burne-Jones: Perseus and Andromeda

Neither Sigmund Freud nor Alice Miller, intrepid analysts, as we have seen, are trustworthy in their reports of clinical evidence. So much for clinical evidence: this reveals a fundamental flaw. What we have glimpsed seems to favour the Dymphna legend over Freud’s Oedipus Complex as a paradigm for mental illness. But by their nature, clinical reports are unreliable. They are always at best third hand: reported by patient to analyst, and then by analyst to us. We are lost in a game of Chinese whispers. Try that at home.

Even were the reports first-hand, clinical evidence is little more than anecdotal. Samples are small; there is no control; respondents are self-selected.

We must, therefore, resort to literary evidence. Other than our own experience, it is all we have.

This is what Freud does. Aside from Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex, he refers us to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, as evidence of the Oedipus Complex from literature. Beyond this, he refers us to the work of Otto Rank.

In his Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, Freud writes:

“It is once again an interesting fact that the Oedipus complex, which has been rejected from real life, has been left to imaginative writing, has been placed freely, as it were, at its disposal. Otto Rank has shown in a careful study how the Oedipus complex has provided dramatic authors with a wealth of themes in endless modifications, softenings and disguises” (Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, 1916-1917).

He speaks here of a study Rank issued in 1909, The Myth of the Birth of the Hero. It is to this volume that we now turn, to either substantiate or falsify Freud’s thesis.

But first we must ask, is Freud right in this initial assumption? Do we have just cause to believe these ancient stories are about the workings of the psyche? Perhaps they are just good stories; perhaps they are, as many have thought, allegories of the heavens, of the movements through the seasons and the sky of sun and moon. We have warrant, from long tradition, for the story of Dymphna being about mental illness. We would have such warrant, say, for a legend of “Amor and Psyche”--literally, “Love and the Soul.” Both Oedipus Rex and Hamlet seem to show their protagonists as suffering from the familiar symptoms of depression. But is this so for the hero myths Rank selects?

Rank offers his argument. He calls myths and literature “a dream of the masses of the people” (Myth of the Birth of the Hero, p. 10). Joseph Campbell, writing his Hero With a Thousand Faces almost a half-century later, makes nearly the same claim: “Dream is the personalized myth, myth the depersonalized dream” (The Hero With a Thousand Faces, p. 19). Myths are pure expressions of the content of the human unconscious, then, just as dreams are, assuming dreams are. They are a window on the soul. Rank goes so far as to see myth and literature as essentially insane: “The projection mechanism … necessitates the uniform characterization of the myth as a paranoid structure, in view of its resemblance to peculiar processes in the mechanism of certain psychic disturbances” (The Myth of the Birth of the Hero, p. 78).

This is, fortunately or unfortunately, not true. Myths and literature differ from dreams in one essential matter: their authors are conscious and know what they are doing. They exercise conscious control over their contents. They are therefore literally not “from the subconscious”; unless some particular author resorts to automatic writing, or recording his dreams. Authors like Shakespeare or Sophocles were aware and able to choose what happened next, or what this character’s motivation is. Myths and fiction are no more dreamlike or randomly generated in principle than the writings of Sigmund Freud or Otto Rank. The imagined window on the subconscious slams shut.

There is, however, a second possibility. Even if the original composition of a myth was conscious, what accounts for its preservation and popularity over the years? Surely this is because it speaks to something in the collective subconscious? You could say, “it just makes a good story”: but then, what makes a story a good story? Is it not that it powerfully appeals to our emotions?

Klimt: Danae

And what accounts for the observed similarity of myth motifs everywhere? Both Joseph Campbell and Rank highlight this: "the psychological study of the essence of these myths might help to reveal the source from which has flowed uniformly, at all times and in all places, an identical mythological content" (Rank, op. cit., p. 9). This is true enough: although there are no dragons in nature, everywhere there be dragons in folk tales, in China as much as in England. Every folk tradition seems to recall a universal flood. Unicorns emerge from the forests of China and of France. There is a Korean version of “Cinderella.” In pagan times, Romans had no trouble recognizing gods they met abroad as versions their native Roman gods.

This fact does not, however, make the myth contents unconscious. Surely the popularity of myths, as much as their original invention, is founded on a collection of conscious individual choices. People do not decide to transcribe or retell legends against their will. And, in principle, no quantity or mass of conscious thoughts makes one unconscious thought. If most people cannot or do not say exactly why they love a particular story or fictional character, this does not necessarily mean they are unconscious of it. It may mean they cannot or do not see any point in trying to express the attraction in terms clearer than those of the story itself. For example, it is not necessarily that they do not know why they love Falstaff: it is that the easiest and most complete way to explain why they love Falstaff is by saying he is so like Falstaff, so Falstaffian. Can one say, similarly, adequately, why one loves one’s wife? One does so, perhaps, by recalling a story of some incident that reveals her personality. Like the stories of Falstaff. The human psyche is simply that complex; it cannot be reduced to simple discursive statements. What was it that Heraclitus said?

“One would never discover the limits of psyche, should one traverse every road--so deep a logos does it possess.”
What we can say, therefore, is that myths and legends that manage widespread and longstanding popularity must somehow, for that to be so, represent some universal and important human concern; but not the contents of the unconscious.

Rank is right to point out that this concern cannot be purely to do with the physical world: “the astral theory is not altogether satisfactory and fails to afford an insight into the motives of myth formation” (op. cit., p. 7). It is, for example, a universal experience that the sun rises each morning in the east; but is it a universal concern? Is it not, instead, simply a commonplace? Why would people everywhere spontaneously care enough about it as to marvel at and record and remember stories told about it? To set up little altars to it and offer it sacrifices?

Moreover, a simple physical observation like seeing the sun rise every morning simply does not require a myth or legend to express it. It is sufficient to say “the sun rises every morning.” Why take the trouble of couching such a thing in literary terms? That is unnecessary hard work. Old Occam would go bankrupt were he such an extravagant barber.

When one is speaking of myths, the bar of significance must be particularly high. These are stories of such great human significance that they were commonly felt to merit religious worship. The intrinsic value of their message must approach the ultimate. The mechanics of cloud formation, for example, just would not seem to cut it.

How the psyche (i.e., the soul) functions, what is its purpose and destiny, on the other hand, looks to be one of the few worthy and plausible subjects for such myth or high literature—along with questions about the nature of the cosmos (which is, please note, not the physical universe, but the ordered universe, the logos: matters like beauty, the good, the true, balance, justice, value, the principles of logic and of mathematics, why we are here and what happens when we die).

The experience and workings of the soul, then, would indeed be an experience common to all mankind. This would explain the universal similarity of myth motifs. Two plus two equals four no matter where you are; and sorrow is sorrow, and love is love.

The experience of depression, melancholia, or mental illness, what it is, where it comes from, and what might cure it, would then be a topic likely to be found there somewhere.

Understanding myths as primarily about the workings of the soul, moreover, explains well why they are presented as narratives and in symbolic or allegorical language—a significantly harder thing to do than simply framing declarative sentences. Psychic matters are, by nature and by definition, not directly present to the senses. You cannot taste anger, or smell imagination, or hug justice.

Gilgamesh (modern)

What is visible and tangible is called physis or body; what is not visible or tangible is called spirit or psyche.

The physical world is apparent in detail to all of us; it is visible. I can say “rock,” and if you perhaps do not know what I mean, I point to a rock, and we both understand. This is not true of psychic things: we may both experience love, and may both experience it at the same time, but we cannot clearly point to and confirm our experience as we can with a physical thing. I say “love”: but is it clear to you what I mean by the word? It is not. The experience you call love might be different.

We must resort to metaphor: we might say we have, for example, “the warm fuzzies.”

This is what T.S. Eliot called an “objective correlative.” We are in fact touching nothing either warm or fuzzy; but somehow this image drawn from the physical world manages to convey the essence. It is apparent to both of us what warmth is, and what fuzzy feels like. Love is to the emotions as warmth and fuzziness is to the touch.

There is, in sum, an automatic and absolute need for symbol, metaphor or narrative, as Eliot pointed out, to speak of things psychic. This includes not just emotions, but “abstract” concepts like ego, justice, freedom, imagination, memory, or moral good. Important things: indeed, all our most important concerns. We must either tell a story to illustrate, like Romeo and Juliet, or use an objective correlative, like “my love is like a red, red, rose.”

Hence we make myths and compose literature.

Freud and Rank then are right in looking at myth and literature to validate their ideas of the psyche; but for the wrong reasons. Myth and literature are indeed our best sources on the interior life. However, it is not that myths and literature are spontaneous upwellings of the “subconscious.” It is not that they are the ravings of madmen. It is that they, uniquely, are able to describe interior states. Not referring to them is like trying to talk about mathematics without using numbers. The best and clearest thinking on such matters will be found there.

And so we accept the evidence of literature as valid.

But is Rank right to look specifically at hero legends for examples of neurosis? After all, these are not the only kind of myth, or of literature. What of the comic muse, which has nothing to say about heroes? Even among myths, the classic myth is the story of a god, not a mortal hero.

Rank argues for hero legends as definitive because, he says, the ego is bound to see itself as heroic, and therefore to identify as the hero. “The ego of the child behaves in this respect like the hero of the myth, and as a matter of fact, the hero should always be interpreted merely as a collective ego, which is equipped with all the excellences” (Rank, pp. 72-3). The hero legend is the story of the development of the individual ego. “Myths are ... created by adults, by means of retrograde childhood fantasies, the hero being credited with the myth-maker’s personal infantile history” (p. 84). This seems to have become an accepted principle, endorsed again by Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces. More specifically, Rank explains, “These neurotic children [who write the myths] are mostly those who were punished by the parents to break them of bad sexual habits, and they take their revenge upon their parents by their imaginings” (The Myth of the Birth of the Hero, p. 70). “Daydreams are neurotic and all about sex” (ibid., p. 69).

This fairly obviously cannot be so. Not all egos are egotistical, and therefore prone to see themselves as exceptional--as the hero of a heroic story. Protagonist, perhaps; but this is not the same thing. And even this is simple-minded as a reading of literature: the audience does not necessarily identify with a story’s protagonist.

Some people are humble by nature. Some people are depressed. Depressed egos would be, prima facie, especially disinclined to see themselves as “heroic,” and so unlikely to see themselves portrayed by a hero legend. Neither Hamlet nor Oedipus, indeed, are straightforward examples of the “hero” genre--as would be, say, Heracles, or Beowulf, or Rama. Even if the chorus or audience might hail them as heroes, and others might praise them in their respective plays, Hamlet and Oedipus are themselves strikingly prone to self-criticism. Ergo, Rank’s argument contradicts itself: if Hamlet and Oedipus are accurate reflections of the depressive or neurotic type, hero legends cannot represent this type; or not through the mechanism he proposes.

Yet this is Rank’s assertion: that depressives and neurotics created the hero legends as projections of their own inflated self-image.

Rank’s sampling of hero legends is also skewed in another obvious way. There is such a thing as a heroine in literature; but when we think “hero legend,” the hero of the legend is almost necessarily male—as the name implies. Merriam-Webster gives the meaning of the word as “a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability.” Oxford defines hero as “a person who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.” Courage and strength are traditionally more characteristic of, and more admired in, the male.


And, as a matter of plain fact, all of Rank’s chosen examples are male.

This is odd since most of Freud’s patients, and probably Rank’s too, were female.

Women make up half the human population, and are reputedly about as likely as men to suffer depression. Accordingly, Rank’s selection cannot be giving us a full portrait of depression.

Nevertheless, once again, Rank’s selection may be useful, even if he arrives at it for wrong reasons. It was, in fact, often observed among ancient authors that heroes as a class tended to be melancholic. Gellius called melancholy “a disease of heroes” (Attic Nights, XVIll, 7, 4; R. Klibansjy, E. Panofsky, F. Saxl, Saturn and Melancholy, London: 1964, Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd., p. 16). Aristotle pondered why “the tragic heroes, like Ajax, Heracles and Bellerophon … were melancholics” (Problem XXX; Saturn and Melancholy, p. 17). So, while the story of the hero may or may not be intended as a paradigm of melancholy, it may be understood as an example of it.

To be clear, judging by described symptoms, the ancients meant by “melancholy” largely the same thing we now call “depression.” Hippocrates writes “Constant anxiety and depression are signs of melancholy.” (Aphorismata; Saturn and Melancholy, p. 12). Galen writes, “Hippocrates was right in summing up all melancholy symptoms in the two following: Fear and Depression” (De Locis Affetis, 3, 10; Saturn and Melancholy p. 12).

DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) the official authority in the US for diagnosing mental illnesses, lists the first symptom of depression as “Depressed mood or irritable most of the day, nearly every day, as indicated by either subjective report (e.g., feels sad or empty) or observation made by others (e.g., appears tearful).” Anxiety or fear is not mentioned. The manual prefers objective, physical symptoms like weight gain or trouble sleeping. Officially, the two, anxiety and depression, are now considered separate “disorders.” However, anxiety is actually a common feature of “depression” as experienced. “Nearly one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder,” notes a New Zealand web site. Funny, that. I have even heard it said that it is a more common symptom of “depression” than depressed mood. For DSM 5, the latest version as of this writing, it was proposed to add “irrational worry, preoccupation with unpleasant worries, trouble relaxing, feeling tense, fear that something awful might happen” as an official symptom of depression. But apparently there was resistance to tinkering with such a “popular” diagnosis (; ).

So, why would heroes be depressive? Why would heroes, of all people, have low self-esteem?

We are no longer obliged, like Rank, to assume that self-described heroes wrote their own stories, or that the stories exist because listeners identify with the hero’s heroism. The stories can have been written by others out of admiration. So, without contradiction, the protagonist’s actual actions can be obviously praiseworthy, while he himself thinks they are not. This apparent paradox does, however, confirm something previously noted of Oedipus and Hamlet and neurotics generally: for whatever reason, the disturbance, as Freud put it, rides the strongest horse in the stable. In the examples we have seen, Dymphna, Oedipus, Ophelia, and Hamlet, the depressive tends to be exceptional in general: unusually beautiful, unusually intelligent, unusually athletic. Heroic qualities—great strength and courage—would be further examples of this.

One can also see why “low self-esteem” might well, contrary to modern pop psychology, lead to great accomplishment. If one feels good about oneself, one has that much less reason to prove oneself worthwhile. Simply being Hercules, and enjoying it, is enough. If one feels lousy about oneself, one has motivation to do something exceptional to justify one’s existence: something heroic.

Tristan and Isolde

Aside from seeing only male heroes, Rank’s choice of specific examples looks arbitrary, and he nowhere accounts for his selection. The web site ThoughtCo, “the World’s Largest Educational Resource,” gives a list of the “ten greatest heroes of Greek mythology” ( Heracles, Achilles, Theseus, Odysseus, Perseus, Jason, Bellerophon, Orpheus, Cadmus, Atalanta. Rank’s selection includes only two of them. He omits Ajax and Bellerophon, despite Aristotle having singled them out as examples of depression. He includes the life of Jesus as a hero legend--surely an unconventional choice. Yet, if he wants to use biographies of religious figures as hero legends, where are Muhammed, Zoroaster, the Buddha, Manes, Gandhi? None appear on his list.

One is led to assume that Rank’s selection is of legends he believes best illustrate and reinforce the thesis of a universal Oedipus Complex.

So, do Rank’s examples indeed demonstrate the reality of Freud’s Oedipus Complex? If not, if they fail to show the Oedipus Complex despite all this, surely it is thereby conclusively disproven.

They do not; they do fail to show it. There is a conspicuous lack among them of any visible effort or intent by said heroes to either kill their father or couple sexually with their mother—the two essential elements of Freud’s monomyth. Of Rank’s 15 examples, there are only two or three heroes who kill or try to kill Dad or some other father figure. There are two who marry Mom incestuously—both unintentionally.

Rank’s complete list: Sargon, Moses, Karna, Oedipus, Paris, Telephus, Perseus, Gilgamesh, Cyrus, Tristan, Romulus, Hercules, Jesus, Siegfried, Lohengrin.

Sargon: no and no.

Moses: no and no.

Karna: no and no.

Oedipus: yes and yes; but both are unintentional.

Paris: no and no.

Telephus: no and yes; but the incest is unintentional. Without either knowing the identity of the other, he is given his mother’s hand in marriage. The marriage is not consummated.

Perseus: yes and no. He does not kill his father, but he kills his grandfather unintentionally with a discus thrown at an athletic competition. He also kills Polydectes, who could be considered his step-grandfather--to protect his mother from incest. In other words, like Hamlet, he is portrayed as the opponent of incest.

Gilgamesh: no and no.

Cyrus: no and no.

Tristan: no and no.

Romulus: no and no.

Hercules: no and no. He does kill his tutor, Linos, who may be considered in loco parentis, a substitute for the father.

Jesus: no and no. The very thought seems absurd.

Siegfried: yes and no. He kills his stepfather, but in self-defense.


Lohengrin: no and no.

For comparison, let us see how Rank’s chosen examples accord with the Dymphna complex. Even though, for this purpose, they are purely randomly selected.

Broadly, to review, our “Dymphna Complex” hypothesis argues that the essence of depression is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); and that, in the normal course of things, the most likely source for the trauma is significant and systematic mistreatment during childhood. Such systematic and significant abuse most probably comes from selfish and abusive parenting. This may be most aptly represented in story by the parent, of either sex, either killing the child, trying to kill the child, or coupling with them for their own pleasure. Or, to suggest another obvious possibility, devouring them. These are not the only possible images, but they are the “objective correlatives” we have seen so far.

Let us see:

Sargon: his mother tries to kill him at birth. She is a high priestess; presumably she must rid herself of the inconvenient child because she was supposed to be virginal, and had an illicit affair. Her pleasure and position come first: the kid must die. Yes and yes—attempt to kill, selfish parent.

Moses: his parents try to kill him at birth. However, this does not necessarily signify. They did not want to kill him; the act was by command of the Pharaoh. But then little Moses is fished out and adopted by the Pharaoh’s unwed daughter, putting the Pharaoh in loco parentis. So, retroactively, yes, his step-father did try to kill him, with full intent. Moreover, interestingly, the marriage of his natural parents, innocent of malice as they might be, was also incestuous: Amram and Jochebed, his mother and father, were nephew and aunt (Exodus 6:20). This is a marriage relationship prohibited as incestuous in Leviticus. Pleasure and self trumped family responsibilities.

There is another anomaly in the Moses story that, as such anomalies always do, commands our attention and alerts us to look for further meaning. According to Exodus, the decree of the Pharaoh was to kill all male Hebrew children, but not females (Exodus 1:16). It looks as though this was to prevent these slave people from multiplying and becoming too powerful; this is a concern mentioned earlier in the text (Exodus 1: 9-10). But this cannot be the true explanation. One male can father many children; ask any farmer who keeps cows or chickens. But the number of children per female is more strictly limited. Mothers are the key. The way to prevent the Hebrews from multiplying would be to kill all the female children. As if to reinforce this point, Hebrew descent is traced through the mother.

The infancy of Cyrus

This contradictory detail may be there to alert us delicately that the real unspoken reason for the Pharaoh’s policy was sexual jealousy: kill the sons, and ravish the daughters.

In either case, this would not seem to have the best interests of the Hebrew children at heart. And so, in the case of Moses, we again have yes and yes: the parents attempt to kill the child, and the parents are shown as selfish.

Karna: his mother tries to kill him at birth. This is because she, a princess, is unwed, and an illegitimate child would prevent her from one day becoming a queen. So again yes and yes, wanting to kill the child and putting her own pleasures before her family responsibilities.

Oedipus: as we have seen, both natural parents tried to kill him at birth. One wed him, but without knowing. Or so she claims. Yes and yes.

Paris: his father, Priam, tried to kill him at birth. However, this was not for his own purposes, and with regret; he had been warned that the child would lead to the downfall of Troy. Accordingly, he cannot be accused of selfishness. Paris might himself be charged with indulging illicit sexual desires in abducting Helen; but at least they were not in violation of his family responsibilities. The violation was of Helen’s. This is not, then, a clear example of the Dymphna Complex: yes, he suffered trauma in childhood, but no, it was not due to a selfish parent. And he is, in turn, a dubious example of a hero. Heroes characteristically rescue the polis from danger: they do not cause the danger.

Telephus: his grandfather tries to kill him at birth. The case is complicated by Rank’s refusal to see women as heroes. The original abused child here seems to be Telephus’s mother, Auge; Telephus’s own fate looks like collateral damage, and his own story like an extension of hers. Auge’s father forces her to become a virginal priestess and refuses her her own life—a fine image of possessiveness. When she nevertheless conceives due to rape, the child is exposed, and she is sold into slavery as punishment. Her new master then adopts her, and, again abusively, tries to force her into a marriage—he gives her away as a prize. This marriage is actually, unwittingly, to her son, and so incestuous. Combined, Telephus and Auge seem to be male and female versions of a story of child abuse.

Auge’s father, in trying to prevent her from having her own life and family, and then in selling her into slavery, is surely behaving with extreme selfishness. That the selfishness and the refusal to allow his child to have their own life extends to the third generation accentuates the depth of his depravity. So, yes, and yes; in Telephus’s case, taking his grandfather as in loco parentis.

Romulus and Remus

Perseus: his grandfather tries to kill him at birth. As with Telephus, the story of his mother, Danae, seems to be as important as his own, and as famous. Her father locks her in a bronze tower, making his possession of her complete. Zeus nevertheless manages to impregnate her, appearing as a shower of gold, and so her father tries to kill both mother and child by exposure. In Pindar’s version of the legend, Perseus’s father is not Zeus, but Danae’s paternal uncle, who rapes her—another incestuous near-parent.

Cast on the waters in a sealed casket, Perseus and Danae are rescued by a fisherman; the fisherman’s brother is the local king, Polydectes. Polydectes, now her adoptive father or uncle, takes an illicit fancy to the lovely Danae, and tries to kill Perseus, her protector, to get him out of the way. Because the relationship is not by blood, this might not stand out as incestuous in our modern terms. But, as we have seen, the essence of incest in pre-Mendelian times was a violation of the responsibilities of the family, not blood ties.

According to the legend—and this is commonly the case in these legends—his grandfather wants to kill Perseus and his mother because an oracle has said her child will replace him as king. However, Acrisius, Danae’s father and Perseus’s grandfather, is already advanced in years and has no other children when Perseus is born. Nor, according to the oracle, will he ever have any other children. In other words, Acrisius is deliberately cutting off the royal succession, at great risk to his kingdom as well as the cost of both his children and his grandchildren’s lives, rather than accept the idea of ever dying. It is a mad attempt to remain king forever—an image of supreme self-centredness.

We have here, therefore, an especially clear and complete analysis of the Dymphna/abused child/hero complex, given in both male and female forms, and reiterated. Yes and yes and yes and yes and yes.

Perhaps we also have by now enough evidence to notice a common difference in legends of the heroine and the hero. The hero, male, is generally persecuted at birth, an attempt made on his life when he is still in infancy. For the heroine, female, the first plan seems instead to be to exert total ownership. Which looks like pampering, not persecution. But when the ivory tower is broached, at or after puberty, all hell breaks loose, and an attempt is made to kill her then. We have seen this with Dymphna, Ophelia, Auge, and Danae. We will see it again.

Gilgamesh: according to the Greek telling that Rank cites, his grandfather tried to kill him at birth. Again, that this was the grandfather rather than the father accentuates the selfishness: Gilgamesh was the second oppressed generation. “He [the grandfather] became a second Acrisius [the father of Danae] for his daughter, over whom he watched with the greatest severity,” says Aelian (Animal Stories). When the child is born, he is thrown off the Acropolis, while the mother-daughter is imprisoned. So this fits again with the male and female patterns: the son is killed, the daughter enslaved. Yes and yes.

Cyrus: his grandfather tried to kill him at birth. Here we have another story of two generations of abuse. The king feared his grandchild would replace him, and so forced his daughter into marriage with a foreigner of distinctly lower class, to ensure that her progeny would attain no power. Nevertheless, when he discovers she is pregnant, he decides to kill the child. Yes and yes.


Tristan: both his parents die when he is born. As a result, he might be assumed to have had a difficult, deprived childhood; indeed, he is named “Tristan” because he is said to have been “born in sorrow.” But in this case it is not due to selfish parents. This example supports the idea that depression comes from a traumatic childhood, but demonstrates that this trauma is not always due specifically to a selfish parent. Yes and no: childhood trauma, but not due to the parents.

Romulus: his story is similar to those of Telephus and Perseus. His great uncle forces his mother to become a vestal virgin, to ensure that no third generation could arise to replace him in his dotage—or even after his death. When she nevertheless conceives, the twin children are exposed at birth to kill them. If we accept a great uncle as a substitute for the father, yes and yes.

Hercules: his mother, Alcmene, tries to kill him at birth. He is later rescued and returned to her as a foundling, and raised by her without knowing he is her own son. As he is the illegitimate son of Zeus, Hera, Zeus’s wife, might be considered his stepmother. She tries to kill him repeatedly, and hounds him throughout his life, out of jealousy over the affair. This might not be selfish on her part; unjust, but not necessarily a matter of selfishness. But Zeus as father stands accused, and rightly, of a selfish indulgence in his own pleasures in violation of his family duties; otherwise this persecution would not have happened. Hercules is made to suffer for the sins of his father, as scapegoat or whipping boy. Some versions of the legend say his stepfather, Amphitryon, also tries to kill him in his cradle. In any case, Amphitryon later exiles him from the family home, requiring him to live on his own among cattle. Not a perfect childhood. Yes and maybe.

Jesus: his life is threatened at birth by King Herod. But then, by the same token, if for his sake, so are the lives of many others—the Holy Innocents. Herod is not his father, and not in loco parentis. There is no image of sexual impropriety involving either himself or his parents--a virgin birth suggests the opposite. One might at a stretch argue that he is put to death by his “Father,” God the Father. But this is incoherent in theological terms. To begin with, he is not put to death by the actions of the father, but by mankind. If his father ultimately wills this, it is no more nor less true that he wills it himself: he lays down his own life for his friends. And the son and the father are one in will and substance. No and emphatically no, unless you assume the story is the opposite of the truth.

There are arguably traces of the hero legend here, but the story of Jesus is clearly anomalous in this group. It does not seem to fit either with Freud’s theories; nor with the common features of other hero legends. I suspect Rank includes it only to be provocative, to suggest that our stories of Jesus are myths—which is to say, by his interpretation, insane ravings of the sex-driven subconscious.


Siegfried: Siegfried’s mother is accused by the villainous Count Hartvin of having adulterous relations with a servant. According to the legend, these charges are false; she is innocent. Hartvin accuses her precisely because she has, virtuously, refused his adulterous advances. It is Hartvin, not a relation, who is being abusive and selfish; although Sigismund, Siegfried’s father, can be accused of being a fool and disloyal to his wife in suspecting her. Siegfried is almost killed in his cradle, but by Count Hartvin, not by a parent.

Later, his stepfather, Minir, tries to kill him. Minir summons his brother, Siegfried’s adopted uncle, who is conveniently a dragon, to devour the boy. Siegfried kills him in self-defense.

The Siegfried saga, then, vaguely, but only vaguely, reflects the Dymphna complex: Siegfried has a lousy time of it in childhood, and this is partly due to a step-parent, partly due to another’s selfishness and sexual desires. Yes and partly.

Lohengrin: his childhood is not featured in the classic stories. He is a hero without an origin story. He appears when needed in a boat pulled by swans. Perhaps Rank felt he had to include him because of his stature in the German imagination, thanks especially to the opera by Wagner. Uncertain and unknown.

So, from fifteen samples—for our present purposes, random—we have thirteen traumatic childhoods. There is a plain attempt on the life of the child in thirteen cases. This is by a parent or step parent in eight cases; by a grandparent in four more; and once by great uncle. In six cases, at least one of the hero’s parents seems to have been guilty of a serious sexual impropriety, suggesting an excessive devotion to their own desires. In five cases, a grandfather forbids his daughter, the hero’s mother, any independent sex or family life, surely an expression of extreme selfishness, and reminiscent of the relationship of Polonius and Ophelia in Hamlet. In almost all cases, the stated reason for the oppression of the hero is that he is expected to grow up to replace the parent or grandparent in power. In none does he actually do so, except inadvertently in the case of Oedipus. Rather than showing any malice towards the parent, then, the stories uniformly show parental malice is unjustified.

Long: The Birth of Moses

The stories, in sum, even though hand selected by Rank as the best literary examples of the Freudian thesis, discredit the Freudian thesis. They fit well, on the other hand, with the Dymphna thesis: neurosis (and perhaps heroism) is caused by trauma, and most often by a selfish parent’s hellish abuse in childhood or adolescence.

How does Rank account for the discrepancy?

He does so by invoking a simple but unjustifiable principle of interpretation: that everything in myth and dream means the opposite if what it says. When the stories say the child is being threatened with death by the parent, he is actually being born: death is birth and birth is death. When the parents want to kill him, that means he wants to kill his parents. When the hero’s real father is the king, but he is raised by humble shepherds, it means his real parents are humble shepherds, but he fantasizes being a son of the king; and so on.

This does not, to be fair, apparently work with every detail. Girls are not boys, and boys are not girls; sons are not mothers, the sky is not below, and boats are not always found traversing dry land. It only works, one suspects, when useful for the Oedipal thesis.

Let Rank tell you himself. I am not making this up:

“The fictitious romance is the excuse, as it were, for the hostile feelings which the child harbors against his father, and which in this fiction are projected against the father. The exposure in the myth, therefore, is equivalent to the repudiation or nonrecognition in the romantic fantasy. The child simply gets rid of the father in the neurotic romance, while in the myth the father endeavors to lose the child” (Rank, op. cit., p. 73).
“The highborn parents are the echo, as it were, of the exaggerated notions the child originally harbored concerning his parents” (ibid., p. 82).

This is not a legitimate principle of literary interpretation. Literary works are consciously composed. Accordingly, this is to accuse the authors, if not raving insane, simply of lying. You need to have strong evidence for such a charge; Rank gives none, other than his supposed expertise from clinical observation. It is no more legitimate than to assert without evidence that the writings of Otto Rank or Sigmund Freud always really mean the opposite of what they say. It is, in fact, less legitimate.

Telephus sucked by a doe

If you not going to take the literal meaning of a text, you need some warrant for this: there must be a flag or clue in the source that a metaphor or symbol is intended. That is for any metaphor, let alone for a flat reversal of meaning.

In the case of the hero legends, we have a specific warrant that this is NOT permissible and is NOT the case: we are entreated by all that is good and holy in the stories themselves to read them as meaning what they say. In Shakespeare’s play, for example, it is extremely important to Hamlet that people say just what they mean, and not dissemble. Note his dialogues with Polonius and Osric. To him intent to deceive is anathema. So too with Oedipus’s determination to find the truth in his investigation of Laius’s death, no matter where the hammer of justice may fall. Lying is out of the question. Dymphna, in turn, is a saint of the Catholic church; with all that that implies regarding the Eighthi Commandment.

It would therefore be a violation of the core message, in a hero legend, to lie. There might of course be metaphors or figures of speech; but not lies.

There is however an obvious example at hand of another text which offers us just such a legitimate warrant to assume it may be lying. Ironically, Ranks and Freud’s casual suggestion that other texts can be read this way gives us reason to suspect Rank and Freud consider this fair play. They are thereby expressly reserving the right to do so themselves.

We have a right to suspect, therefore, that they see childhood abuse and the Dymphna Complex plainly enough, as we can, in these literary sources; but choose for their own purposes, whatever they might be, to deny it.

It is hard not to suspect this in, for example, Rank’s insistence that stories of exposing children to die must be purely fictional, while the reality is a desire to kill the father. This is especially hard to credit because we know, and knew when he wrote, that the ancient Greeks and Romans really did commonly expose unwanted children to die; as did most ancient civilizations. Yet parricide or matricide has always been considered a serious crime. So how can one reasonably assume infanticide is imaginary, and parricide the reality?

Elsewhere, Rank rightly observes: “The father who refuses to give his daughter to any of her suitors, or who attaches to the winning of the daughter certain conditions difficult of fulfillment, does this because he really begrudges her to all others, for when all is told he wishes to possess her himself. He locks her up in some inaccessible spot, so as to safeguard her virginity (Perseus, Gilgamesh, Telephus, Romulus), and when his command is disobeyed he pursues the daughter and her offspring with insatiable hatred” (Myth of the Birth of the Hero, p. 80). Exactly. And yet this shows the child’s animus against the parent? Plainly, the legends present a selfish and possessive father.

Sargon of Akkad

Rank surely stretches credulity again when he describes the parent’s attempt to kill the child as the child’s aggressive “desire to enforce his materialization even against the will of the parents” (ibid., p. 76). Can he really expect to be taken seriously?

Point, set, match. Judged by his own chosen evidence, Freud was 180 degrees off kilter. The many generations of sufferers who came to the Shrine of St. Dymphna for her intercession were right. Depression is due to childhood trauma. And the best among us seem to have known this for millennia.

iOr ninth, if you follow the Protestant numbering.