Playing the Indian Card

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Wild in the Streets

Antifa member fights "Fascist." 

I used to follow Warren Kinsella’s blog. He has recently tweeted something remarkably dumb, or sinister:

“’Antifa’ is short for anti-fascist. The only ones who should oppose antifa are fascists.”

There is an exact historical parallel:

“The Fascists are anti-Bolshevik. Nobody should oppose them except Bolsheviks.”

And that is exactly how Hitler and Mussolini got into power.

First they came for the Communists. But I was not Communist...

Whether he knows it or is just naive, Kinsella’s advice serves Fascist objectives perfectly.

Is he that naive? Does he really believe that simply saying something is so makes it so?

Yes, I think. I think this comes from a chain of prior assumptions, common on the left.

1. There is no objective reality

2. We each, therefore, have the right to “construct” our own reality.

It follows from this that, if I say a thing is so, it is so. It is my reality.

So if I say I am “anti-Fascist,” I am necessarily “anti-Fascist.” This cannot be questioned.

If you question it, this is an act of aggression against me. You are violating my rights to define myself. Similarly, if I say I am a woman, this cannot be questioned. If you will not use the pronoun I specify, you are committing an act of aggression against me.

This immediately means that free speech is no longer possible. Anything said can count as an “aggression.” Now to say something upsetting to someone is just as troublesome as punching them in the nose. And it is up to the listener to decide: there can be no objective standard for this. If I say I feel offended, the case is made. You have committed a violation of my rights.

We are all criminals now. Anyone can be declared an enemy of the people. Perhaps, for example, a disliked minority. Hearing Jews speak in their own behalf offends me. Or hearing straight white males.

But that is only the beginning of our problem. It is necessarily true that, if we each get to invent our own reality, these realities will quickly and regularly come into conflict. In your mind, you are a woman. In my mind, you are a man. If I refer to you as “he,” I am aggressing on your reality. But, equally, if you require me to refer to you as “she,” you are aggressing on my reality.

So whose rights prevail?

You might say, relying on that old distinction we used when we believed in an objective reality, that your rights end where my body begins. But that does not work when there is no agreed reality. That would include bodies, or selves. I could choose to say your body is not separate; it is just a “clump of tissues.” And it is in my way. I could choose to believe that your body is not there, or you are not. I could decide to believe you are not human in the same sense I am.

The only option left at this point is “might makes right”; and this point is inherent and inevitable in the initial premise. Whoever has power, in sum, gets to do whatever they want to whoever does not have power.

This is what we now see on the streets of America.

One side defines itself as “Anti-Fascist.” This justifies any action whatsoever against “Fascists.” But this side also reserves to itself the absolute right to declare who is Fascist and who is not.

Along with “Fascist,” you see the term “white supremacist” a lot recently. Its common usage is interesting, because in fact, there is probably no group anywhere in the US today who would call themselves “white supremacist.” At most, they would say that are “white nationalists.” Perhaps one or two small bodies, granted, would accept the term “Fascist” or “National Socialist.”

If they are not objectively correct, if they are lying, you would need to make the argument. You would have to demonstrate from things they say that they are in fact calling for the legislated superiority of people with pale skin.

Nobody seems to be doing this. Why?

Because whether or not they are objectively telling the truth is irrelevant. There is no truth. In my reality, they are white supremacists. Case closed. Lock and load.

But wait. If there is no objective truth, don’t they have the same right you do to define their own reality? If I say I am a woman, I am a woman. So if they say they are not white supremacists, they are not white supremacists, right?

Of course not, you fool. White supremacists have no rights.

In other words, might makes right. Each one of us is now, by this logic, in a struggle to the death to impose our will on everyone else. By any means necessary: by violence, by fake news (as if there were some objective standard!), by shouting opponents down, by falsely characterising their views, whatever.

And here we are.

So far, the right has been handicapped by feeling itself bound by all the old rules. This has given the left an immense tactical advantage. One thinks of poor Chamberlain and Daladier at Munich—naively thinking that everyone wanted peace, compromise was possible, and treaties meant something.

But where must this inevitably lead?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Nothing Odd About These Bedfellows

There is nothing weird at all about the fact that white nationalists have often made common cause with black nationalists.

They want the same thing: separation between whites and blacks.

Their ideology is the same ideology.

In just the same way, Hitler, although a German nationalist, had no trouble forming alliances with Japan, or Italy, or the Soviet Union, or Franco, or any other nationalist, totalitarian regime, when it suited him.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Anatomy of Melancholy

I have tried to demonstrate that Freud and his psychiatric successors were dead wrong in their claims of the origins of depression. By the apparent report of depressives themselves, so far as we can tell, and according to myth and literature when they deal with the subject, depression has nothing to do with an Oedipus Complex, and nothing to do with a child resenting, coveting, or feeling rivalry with a parent. It comes from a traumatic childhood, caused in most cases by a parent abusing a child.

But the most likely objection today to the claim that depression is caused by childhood abuse is not Freudian, that it is caused by an unresolved Oedipus complex. Instead, frozen in the popular mind is the notion that depression is about a “chemical imbalance.” It is this purely materialist explanation that is most regularly heard.

Let us clarify what is meant. Showing that certain chemicals are in different proportions in the brains of the depressed by itself proves nothing, for it cannot show causation. Does a lack of serotonin cause glum thoughts, or do glum thoughts produce a lack of serotonin? Proof for the “chemical imbalance” theory would be the discovery of a “depression gene” found in diagnosed “depressives” and not in the general public. That at least would imply causation.

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but with our knowledge of the human genome expanding quickly, it is troubling and telling that all attempts to isolate a “depression gene,” or other “mental illness genes,” have come to naught. Black swans may roost, but each year that passes makes this a less plausible explanation. Statistically, it is true, some psychologists believe they have isolated a genetic component to mental illness: the depressed are statistically a bit more likely to have gene X or gene A than the general population. But note that we would expect that even based on our Dymphna Complex theory: if the unusually beautiful or unusually intelligent or unusually athletic are more prone, due to envy, to be abused, and abuse is the cause of mental illness, we too would expect to find such a statistical genetic link--just so long as there is a genetic factor in physical attractiveness, intelligence, or athletic ability.

The “chemical imbalance” theory also grows harder to defend as the statistics show depression becoming year by year a more common ailment. The National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS) finds that the number of people diagnosed with depression in the US has increased by 450% just since 1987. The WHO warns that, worldwide, “By 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of world disability and by 2030 it is expected to be the largest contributor to disease burden” (World Federation for Mental Health, “Depression: A Global Crisis,” 2012).

One does not see epidemics of genetic diseases.

It is possible to argue that this apparent pandemic is due to “better detection” and so more common treatment for depression. But if so, the actual suicide rate should be going down, as more people get treated. Instead, it too is rising. “From 1999 to 2010, the suicide rate among Americans ages 35 to 64 rose by nearly 30 percent” (Tara Parker, “Suicide Rates Rise Sharply in U.S.” NY Times, May 2, 2013). The US Center for Disease Control reports the overall suicide rate increased from 11.3 suicides per 100,000 people in 2007 to 12.6 suicides per 100,000 people in 2013 (Janet Singer, “Increase in Suicide Rates and Teen Depression,” PsychCentral).

Accordingly, the “chemical imbalance” explanation does not seem to fit. Is it something in our diet?

And it is not given much credence, it seems, at least currently, in the medical community. Both WebMD and Medicine Net cite the most common cause of depression as child abuse, not genetic factors, although there may also be some hereditary component.

Yet “chemical imbalance” persists as the preferred explanation in the popular mind.

To some, perhaps, because it is purely and grossly materialist, it seems more “scientific.”

Yet it is plainly not scientific or based on any evidence. It is at best a hypothesis, in conflict with the available evidence. And it has been with us for a very long time; longer than has science itself.

Hero legends were not the only pre-modern studies of depression and mental illness. More familiar to most, in fact, is the theory of the four humours. You might have heard of them in a non-medical context: humours are the traditional characters of comedy. They are “humourous.”

This humour theory held that all illnesses are indeed caused by a “chemical imbalance.” This is why surgeons used to let blood: to get the toxic humours out.

Melancholy, specifically, “black bile,” caused what we now call depression, and, if the imbalance was great, other mental illnesses: hypochondria, schizophrenia, mania.

The human body, in this conceptualization, contains four vital fluids: blood, phlegm, bile or choler, and melancholy or “black bile.” Too much of one, and not enough of another, causes all illness. But they also have mental effects. If blood dominates, you are “sanguine” - contented and optimistic. If phlegm dominates, you are “phlegmatic” - unemotional, calm. If bile dominates, you are “choleric” - quick to anger. If black bile dominates, you are “melancholic” - sad and anxious.

We know now that this is all unscientific. But did anyone ever seriously think that it was scientific?

Why, for example, four humours, not five, or three, or seventeen? Why are some plainly visible bolidy liquids not included? Where, for example, is saliva? Sweat? Tears?

What determines a “balance”? Isn’t that a purely philosophical concept?

How can this same factor explain both temperament and illness? Should not everyone of the same temperament suffer from the same illnesses?

It is, at best, this “chemical imbalance” idea, philosophical rather than scientific in its origins. And probably metaphorical.

When it is applied on the stage, in comedy, it produces notably unrealistic results. The stock characters or “humours” of comedy, while funny, are utterly two-dimensional. They are not like real people at all. They are like the phlegmatic Wimpy in the old Popeye comic strips. They are little automatons.

Some writers may well have taken this system literally and scientifically. It is hard to tell. Until recently, medical thinkers and natural philosophers (they would not have used the word “scientists”) did not write literally. For example, chemical texts of the same time mostly concerned themselves with turning lead into gold, and achieving personal immortality, through something called the “Philosopher’s Stone.”

Surely this, too, was transparently a metaphor: a philosophical, not a physical, stone.

In the pre-Modern, pre-science world, it was common practice for such natural philosophers to write in parables, expressly so that the ignorant would not understand—on the model of the parables of Jesus. They were “mages” or “magicians.” A magician does not reveal his tricks. The rubes, most folks probably always being instinctively materialists, were expected not to understand. This was funny; it was entertaining; and it preserved the livelihood and authority of the cognizant few.

If this humoural theory became a standard explanation, then, it was not on any physical evidence. It was show business. It was an effective marketing ploy.

Robert Burton’s celebrated and exhaustingly exhaustive 1621 treatise The Anatomy of Melancholy is the classic study of the theory in English. It usefully compiles essentially all that had been written on “melancholy” and its effects to that time. Despite the title, however, it actually gives little prominence to the humoural theory: it is just one cited among many, tucked into a chapter titled “Particular Symptoms from the influence of Stars, parts of the Body, and Humours.” And Burton’s account reveals that the theory was never consistent or consistently held. When he comes to discuss the “matter” of melancholy as a humour, Burton finds it pretty much up in the air. “What this humour is, or whence it proceeds, how it is engendered in the body, neither Galen, nor any old writer, hath sufficiently discussed…. Montanus, in his Consultations, holds melancholy to be material or immaterial; and so doth Arculanus” (p. 229). “Paracelsus wholly rejects and derides this division of four humours and complexions” (p. 230).

It was always something fixed more in the popular imagination than in the actual medical texts.

Whatever unscientific considerations made the theory of the humours popular in the pre-Modern world, also support the modern claims of chemical imbalance. There is something about the theory that most people must find satisfying, pleasing, or reassuring.

And it is not at all hard to see what it is—beyond, that is, the theory’s pure materialism. The theory of the humours, as well as the modern chemical concept, absolve us of moral blame. If we are all just bags of chemicals, that decide what we think and feel, we are not responsible for our acts. We are compelled to them without choices. We are “born this way.”

That is reassuring, if we want to do something morally bad. It is more reassuring if we have already done something morally bad. We can say,

“I am not bad tempered. Don’t blame me for destroying our TV with the baseball bat. I’m choleric by nature.”

“I am not lazy. Don’t blame me for not contributing to the rent. I’m phlegmatic by nature.”

This is exactly the selling point used by the modern “chemical imbalance” corps. The theory is presented as an enlightened advance, because it remove any guilt over mental illness. It is not their fault they are depressed. They are sick. It is a chemical imbalance.

This might even be superficially attractive to some of the depressed. After all, they are characteristically, like Oedipus or Heracles, wracked with guilt. But it is a poisoned chalice.

It is perverse if the cause of depression and mental illness is what we say it is. Would it really help the victims of the Holocaust to be reassured that it was all really no one’s fault? We are not removing blame from the mentally ill. We are conveniently removing blame from the people who went after their egos with a baseball bat long ago.

This might seem progressive to some. It is hardly helpful to the mentally ill.

One common symptom of real depression, we see in all the stories, is a fierce dedication to justice and the right. Accordingly, this “no blame” approach is never going to work over the long run. It will only make the innate outrage—the depression—worse. It adds insult to injury. It grabs away from the depressed hero, given the chance, his or her one remaining raison d’├ętre.

Peter Breggin, in Toxic Psychiatry, argues that the credibility given to this “chemical imbalance” theory in modern times is based entirely on political considerations. You will recall that Freud saw plainly in his early patients that neurosis had roots in some form of childhood abuse. Then he retracted the claim, without public explanation, and substituted one that seems intrinsically less plausible: the Oedipus Complex.

Something similar happened again in the 1950s. Again, in clinical practice, some psychiatrists working with autistic children had concluded that child abuse—or rather, more specifically, neglect by the mother—as a critical factor in the development of mental illness. Silvano Arieti, for example, noticed that autistic children often speak of themselves as “you” and not infrequently of the mother as “I” (Wikipedia).

This theory is often now described as “discredited”; yet, Breggin points out, it does not seem ever to have been discredited by any sort of clinical or scientific evidence. Rather, what happened is that the parents of autistic children and schizophrenics lobbied fiercely that they were being unfairly blamed. Some of them were psychiatrists.

There are two awkward considerations here: first, the hero legends, Aristotle, and others, suggest that especially prominent families, such as the families of kings, are especially prone to having depressed or mentally ill kids. Accordingly, any suggestion that parents are responsible for mental illness is going to involve an implicit condemnation of a healthy selection of the rich and powerful. Especially if they are ruthless and selfish, they are not going to take this lying down. Second, as Alice Miller’s example suggests, the sort of people who are inclined to be abusive parents are naturally inclined to become analysts; they can get their sadistic jollies in both situations. A lot of foxes have probably been put in charge of henhouses here.

This makes the reality of childhood abuse as the cause for depression and mental illness, even if it is obvious, a hard sell.

And so the “chemical imbalance” explanation was embraced as a blameless alternative. Probably not for the first time.

But political convenience, in modern or in Medieval times, does not make it any more likely to be true.

If maternal neglect causes autism, on the other hand, that would easily explain why rates of autism have been rising sharply in recent decades: more mothers have left full-time child care and entered the workforce.

Burton, the great authority for the theory of the humours, does not seem himself to have taken the theory very seriously. He gives every evidence of putting himself at an ironic distance from it all—indeed, from all theories regarding his subject. He openly reserves the right at the beginning of his book to withhold information from the reader: “I am a free man born, and may choose whether I will tell; who can compel me?” And he does not put his own name on the book, a typical and natural expression of detachment. He uses the pen name “Democritus Junior,” on the grounds, he says in a book-length introduction, that he was continuing a study of melancholy that Democritus himself, a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, left unfinished.

In making this assertion, Burton is relying on an apocryphal tale of Democritus and Hippocrates, featured by La Fontaine. And this fable, like most fables, is meant to teach a lesson, not to report historic fact. It is narrative as objective correlative.

Hippocrates interviews Democritus in his garden

La Fontaine’s story is odd in several ways. First, there is no record in Democritus’s surviving writings that he was interested in melancholia. If one wanted to take an ancient philosopher as representative of melancholy, the obvious choices would be Theophrastus or Heraclitus. “Theophrastus, the philosopher who was the first to write a whole book on melancholy, ... said of Heraclitus that owing to melancholy he left most of his work unfinished or lost himself in contradictions” (Klibansky, Panofsky, and Saxl, Saturn and Melancholy, London: Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd., 1964, p. 41).

Sad Heraclitus and cheerful Democritus

In fact, conventionally, Democritus is contrasted to Heraclitus as uncommonly cheerful. The two are shown paired like the comic and tragic masks of Greek drama. Heraclitus was the “weeping philosopher”; Democritus was the “laughing philosopher.” Montaigne wrote, for example, “Democritus and Heraclitus were two philosophers, of whom the first, finding the condition of man vain and ridiculous, never went out in public but with a mocking and laughing face; whereas Heraclitus, having pity and compassion on this same condition of ours, wore a face perpetually sad, and eyes filled with tears.”

So Democritus, portrayed in the fable as a melancholic, was the traditional image of the opposite.

This is the implicit context, surely, of La Fontaine’s fable. We are being advised that we are reading a joke. If some don’t get it, that is part of the joke.

According to the story, Democritus (and oddly not Heraclitus) decided to get to the bottom of the issue of depression, aka melancholy, and so began carving up animals in search of this “black bile.” His neighbours decided he had gone mad in his solitude, and summoned Hippocrates, the great physician, to find out what was wrong. Hippocrates came upon Democritus in his garden outside the city, surrounded by animal carcasses. He saw that Democritus (and oddly not himself, the famous physician) was engaged in legitimate medical research, and concluded that the neighbours were wrong.

As Burton retells the tale,

“Coming to visit him one day, he [Hippocrates] found Democritus in his garden at Abdera, in the suburbs, under a shady bower, with a book on his knees, busy at his study, sometimes writing, sometimes walking. The subject of his book was melancholy and madness; about him lay the carcases of many several beasts, newly by him cut up and anatomised; not that he did contemn God’s creatures, as he told Hippocrates, but to find out the seat of this atra bilis, or melancholy, whence it proceeds, and how it was engendered in men's bodies, to the intent he might better cure it in himself, and by his writings and observation teach others how to prevent and avoid it. Which good intent of his, Hippocrates highly commended: Democritus Junior [Burton himself] is therefore bold to imitate, and because he left it imperfect, and it is now lost, quasi succenturiator Democriti, to revive again, prosecute, and finish in this treatise” (Burton, “Democritus Junior to the Reader”).

The conventional moral of La Fontaine’s tale is that the great mass of the people can often be wrong. They cannot understand the motivations, movements, and interests of a great mind.

“The little tale suffices to show that we may rightly take exception to the judgments of the mob. That being so, in what sense is it true, as I have read in a certain passage, that the voice of the people is the voice of God?” (The Original Fables of La Fontaine, trans. F. C. Tilney; Book VII, No. 26)
Well and good, and true enough: but this is a red flag up the pole alerting readers that the common or superficial reading of Burton’s own book, and of the nature of melancholy, is likely to be mistaken.

To hammer the point home, Burton devotes the rest of his long introduction to pointing out step by step, in ever-widening circles, that all we think we know is folly. The reality is usually the opposite of what it seems, skim milk masquerades as cream, and we keep getting it all upside down.

Now (for alas! how foolish the world has become),
A thousand Heraclitus’, a thousand Democritus’ are required.
Now (so much does madness prevail), all the world must be 
Sent to Anticyra, to graze on Hellebore.

La Fontaine argues in his moral that the common people are commonly wrong. Burton argues that everyone is. Quite possibly including Hippocrates and Democritus.

There is an interesting and obvious fact about melancholy, the substance, “black bile.” Nobody has ever seen it. We have seen blood; we have seen phlegm, if the thing we now call phlegm is the substance meant. We sometimes see bile. But nobody has ever seen black bile. Nobody has ever seen the fluid called “melancholy.”

Not even Democritus, surrounded by the corpses of dissected animals in his garden. As Burton says, “he left his research unfinished.”

Burton, it appears, is pointing out that black bile is not a part of the physical world. If there were such a physical substance, Democritus, hundreds of years BC, would have found it in these dissections. If not he, others would have found it in the thousands of years since. Even in the days of Democritus, it was perfectly apparent to anyone that there was no such substance.

Let us see plainly, then, that the humours are objective correlatives. They are physical metaphors for the emotional experiences they describe rather than physical causes for them.

If they are objective correlatives, what does this image of “black bile” suggest about depression and mental illness generally?

Black, as a reference to sadness and fear, is obvious enough. The image of blackness or darkness is almost always used to describe depression. Churchill called it his “black dog.” James Thomson called his long poetic description of depression “The City of Dreadful Night.” It began

“The City is of Night; perchance of Death
 But certainly of Night; for never there
Can come the lucid morning’s fragrant breath
After the dewy dawning’s cold grey air:
The moon and stars may shine with scorn or pity
The sun has never visited that city,
For it dissolveth in the daylight fair.”

As for “bile,” given the metaphoric meaning of “bile,” “anger,” this suggests that depression is somehow a close kin to anger. Sometimes black bile is said to be either blood or bile “putrefied” from being kept too long in the body. Ergo, too much repressed anger or repressed happiness causes depression.

This sounds like a reference to abuse.

Bile is a substance we normally only see if we have thrown up, and thrown up more than once. We get it in the second vomiting, once the contents of our stomach are gone. Imaginatively, if our life situation is one which prompts a spiritual nausea, and yet we cannot vomit it up or expel or get away, if we must keep it all in, we end up riddled with black bile: with melancholy, with mental illness.

Burton says none of this. But that is neither here nor there, given the noted tendencies of pre-modern “scientific” writing. If he did, this would imply that he considers the idea “folly.” By his implied rules, the truth is whatever he doesn’t say.

He does seem to give us something more symbolically in his frontispiece. He draws attention to it, “explaining” its images in a long poem.

Top three panels of Burton's frontispiece

Most striking, and mysterious, are the first three panels. At the top, in the centre, sits Democritus in his garden, surrounded, Burton says, by the corpses of his experimental subjects.

About him hang there many features,
Of Cats, Dogs and such like creatures,
Of which he makes anatomy,
The seat of black choler to see.

Interestingly, the actual picture shows no dissected animals. Perhaps this is another way for Burton to suggest the whole thing is invisible, immaterial, spiritual, not physical.

To the left of Democritus is a panel which Burton tells us depicts jealousy. It shows a semi-wild scene, with various water fowl, and two bulls and two cocks fighting.

To the left a landscape of Jealousy,
Presents itself unto thine eye.
A Kingfisher, a Swan, an Hern,
Two fighting-cocks you may discern,
Two roaring Bulls each other hie,
To assault concerning venery.
Symbols are these; I say no more,
Conceive the rest by that’s afore.

Among other things, he is surely drawing attention to the use of symbols in his work. Here water, liquid, as with the humours, perhaps represent emotion generally. Waters “rage”; we “pour out our hearts.”

To the right of Democritus is a panel which Burton says depicts solitude. It too shows a wild scene, a “desert” (that is, a place men have deserted). Oddly, this desert includes domestic animals: a dog and a cat, sleeping.

The next of solitariness,
A portraiture doth well express,
By sleeping dog, cat: Buck and Doe,
Hares, Conies in the desert go:
Bats, Owls the shady bowers over,
In melancholy darkness hover.
Mark well: If’t be not as’t should be,
Blame the bad Cutter, and not me.

“Solitude,”or the experience of the interior, spiritual world, is something represented equally well by wild nature and by dreaming sleep.

Other panels seem more straightforward and not symbolic: below are the images of a melancholy unrequited lover, a hypochondriac, a religious devotee (an apparent example of “religious melancholy”) and a lunatic. These we can see as simpler illustrations of the book’s topic, relating directly to topics discussed the text.

But the top three panels do not. In the book, Burton does not discuss jealousy or solitude in any comprehensive way, or as something especially germane to the study of melancholy.

Above Democritus’s head, in the sky of the central panel, we see the astrological sign of Saturn. This is, plainly and literally, a symbol. And although not visually prominent, it is in fact given pride of place: top and centre.

Burton explains in his rhyme that Saturn is “Lord of Melancholy.”

“Over his head appears the sky,
And Saturn Lord of melancholy.”

This, then, is Burton’s ruling symbol.

What do we know of Saturn?

There are not that many myths about him, not that many traditions.

We know that he, cognate with the Greek Cronus, was the father of all the gods. That is the prime fact about Saturn.

The second is that he ate his children.

Cronus snacking

And there we have, again, surely, the Dymphna myth.

For all the centuries the humoural system was in existence, there was a parallel or concurrent tradition that the melancholic were “children of Saturn.” Klibansky, et al, write, “Nearly all the writers of the later Middle Ages and the Renaissance considered it an incontestable fact that melancholy, whether morbid or natural, stood in some special relationship to Saturn, and that the latter was really to blame for the melancholic’s unfortunate character and destiny” (Saturn and Melancholy, p. 127).

Given Saturn’s relationship with his children, this seems significant.

The two side panels perhaps hint at the rest of the story. The parent is jealous of the child. He or she, like Saturn, imagines they will be supplanted by a new generation. Hence the “jealousy” reference; the panel on the left.

And the panel to the right is our “green world.” It is the exile of the melancholic; either effect or cure of the panel to the left.

Burton explains his book as being the antidote to his own melancholy. “I write of melancholy, by being busy to avoid melancholy.” He himself, whatever else he says in the book, has chosen the cure of solitude, of solitary study.

Burton nowhere hints in the book itself that the cause of melancholy might be parental abuse. Perhaps he foresaw and understood what happened to Freud’s original seduction theory, or to the theory of “refrigerator mothering.” The rich and powerful you shall have always with you. He hints that melancholy might in some cases have to do with experiences of “evil attendance, negligence, and many gross inconveniences,” in childhood, but refers only, and oddly, to teachers and nursemaids. One subsection is titled “Non-necessary, remote, outward, adventitious, or accidental causes: as first from the Nurse.”

This seems safe enough; nurses are generally taken from the poorer classes.

However, as a rare exception, Burton delicately adds that it is even possible that a good nurse might be preferable to a birth mother:

“And if such a nurse may be found out, that will be diligent and careful withal, let Phavorinus and M. Aurelius plead how they can against it, I had rather accept of her in some cases than the mother herself, … Some nurses are much to be preferred to some mothers. For why may not the mother be naught, a peevish drunken flirt, a waspish choleric slut, a crazed piece, a fool (as many mothers are), unsound as soon as the nurse? There is more choice of nurses than mothers; and therefore except the mother be most virtuous, staid, a woman of excellent good parts, and of a sound complexion, I would have all children in such cases committed to discreet strangers. ... This is an excellent remedy, if good choice be made of such a nurse.”

It looks like an afterthought; but strictly speaking, by this logic, more children must in fact be harmed by bad mothers than by nurses (“there is more choice of nurses than of mothers”), and would be better off with a nurse. The issue is not bad nurses: it is bad nursing, or, put more plainly, bad mothering.

Similarly, instead of directly blaming the father, Burton titles the next subsection “Education a Cause of Melancholy,” and focuses on bad teachers; “for if a man escape a bad nurse, he may be undone by evil bringing up.”

Surely he is being coy: who is most involved in the raising of a child? His third grade teacher? Burton makes the role of the parents here more obvious by its odd omission.

But these are only brief mentions buried in a long book. Burton seems superficially to be simply a compiler of all the published wisdom of the doctors and philosophers on the causes, symptoms, and possible cures of melancholy.

Yet this very compilation, and the size of this compilation, produces an odd effect. Repeatedly, Burton reports authorities saying the opposite of one another. The natural conclusion, after over 900 pages, is that everything can cause melancholy, anything can be a symptom, and anything that might cure it might also cause it. One is reminded of—and Burton more than once refers to—the Book of Ecclesiastes: “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”

Where does that leave us?

Laughing, with Democritus. All is folly. Pointlessness is Burton’s point.

It is all an elaborate joke. The cure has been right in front of us all along: right in front of our noses. It is “the Work,” as the alchemists used to say. It is in the mental exercise, the retreat into the mental universe, involved in a book. Go thou, ye melancholic, and do likewise.

Of the proposed effect of reading the book, Burton writes in a prefatory poem,

From twitch of care thy pleasant vein may save,
May laughter cause or wisdom give perchance.

Gain sense from precept, laughter from our whim.

It is, and is meant to be, whimsical.

And so, regardless of the cause, Burton’s prescription for melancholy is, aside from solitude, the obvious one of laughter.

His great book was understood in this terms, it seems, by many of its greatest fans. Charles Lamb wrote, “His manner is to shroud and carry off his feelings under a cloud of learned words.” Samuel Johnson advised Boswell, if melancholy thoughts kept him up at night, to “compose himself to rest” by reading from this “valuable work.”

That said, we must not take much else that Burton says too seriously.

Humours are humorous. That’s about it.

Foxhunt News Network

Rumours are percolating of a new news network being formed in the US. Some say Steve Bannon is not simply going back to Breitbart, but that he has backing to launch a Breitbart News Network. Gavin McInnis, in leaving Rebel Media, says he will soon be able to announce something big, somethingh multimedia, “including television.”

I would be surprised in these rumours are not true. There is a huge business opportunity for someone here, and someone with money, surely, is smart enough to take it.

Fox News has demonstrated that there is a huge otherwise unmet appetite for news coverage and commentary on the right. They have been able to regularly dominate all other channels in viewership.

But recently, Fox has left themselves hugely vulnerable to competition on their right. Concerned about losing advertisers, they have been tacking left and dropping some of their most popular TV faces and most experienced executives.

Leaving them free agents for anyone else to scoop up who wants to challenge Fox for their audience.

In management, aside from Bannon, they could grab Bill Shine. Dropped by Fox May 1.

Bill O’Reilly, the network’s top star, is available. They dropped him over claims of sexual harassment. I suspect his fan base is still there. It was the advertisers who dropped him. Taking him on despite the allegations would, to a certain audience, cement the new network’s bona fides as the voice of the right. Bob Beckel is similarly free, for similar reasons. Sean Hannity has said on air that he was not sure he could stat with Fox if they fired Bill Shine. They fired Bill Shine. Judge Andrew Napolitano has reason to feel the network has not been loyal to him; they pulled him off the air.

Were a new network to snag all of these, they would immediately set themselves up as the “new Fox,” and probably snag a huge proportion of the established network’s viewership.

It seems reasonable to assume that, given the viewers, sooner or later the advertisers would follow.

There are also a lot of female stars that Fox has let go. But there the new network probably faces a choice: if they go with O’Reilly, they probably forfeit the female stars, who generally say they left because of a climate of sexual harassment.

Leaving aside the rights and wrongs, O’Reilly is far more valuable.

Up north, the recent troubles of The Rebel have shaken free some figures with appeal below the border. Gavin McInnis most notably: he was The Rebel’s star attraction. But aside from him, there are a couple of female stars shaken loose from the firmament who could well supply this need to emulate Fox: Lauren Southern and Faith Goldy are also free agents. They have the sort of visual appeal, shall we say, that worked so well for Fox for years.

Glenn Beck was dropped long ago, but was wildly popular when he left. He has been running his own little media empire, The Blaze, but it seems to have had its problems recently. He might be persuaded to climb aboard. I think he has a huge constituency on the religious right.

Mark Steyn is all set up with a studio, and has been using it freelance. Perhaps that is what he prefers. But he could make a huge addition.

There is also, of course, Milo Yiannopoulos. He is a big draw, and he, like Bannon, is vaguely associated with the alt-right. They were old colleagues at Breitbart. He could be the poster boy for the proposition that this new network spoke to a constituency that considered Fox too hidebound and establishmentarian.

Granted, he was too hot for even Breitbart to handle when he left a few months ago. But that was a Bretibart without Bannon; his view may differ. Yiannopoulos has apologized for what seems to have been a slip. I could see him working out for them, so long as they kept him cordoned off from the rest of the lineup.

There are a huge number of lesser-known figures who have made a mark on YouTube, and so have built up a constituency, which they could now bring to such a new network. Pewdiepie, most notably. He is not a political figure, but he nevertheless was pilloried in the media and fired by Disney for political reasons. He is the number one most popular YouTuber, and has cause now to want to join a new network to take his persecutors down. And then there are a batch of YouTube commentators: Steve Crowder, Sargon of Akkad, Stefan Molyneaux, and so forth. These are the folks the alt-right, and, more broadly, younger conservatives, listen to. Bringing on board a selection of them in addition to Yiannopoulos could establish the new network as the up and coming thing, and tar Fox with being old and sclerotic by comparison.

Surely someone is smart enough to seize the opportunity.

Nothing necessarily political about it. It would just be good business.

Even this is just the beginning of the opportunity. What Fox News has demonstrated to be true of television is also true of almost every other medium. Book publishing, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, are all vulnerable at the moment to being quickly destroyed by new competition building from a customer base on the political right. New ventures in each of these fields could be built out from the TV venture.

Multimedia indeed.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Sheep and the Goats

If I were to write that there are fundamentally two kinds of people in the world, good people and bad people, you would probably condemn me for being un-Christian.

There are two kinds of people in the world: good and evil.

What? We are supposed to love the sinner, we say, even if we despise the sin. We are not to judge. The line between good and evil, we often say, runs through the hearts of every one of us. Real life is not about white hats and black hats: there is moral ambiguity everywhere. Most of that is true enough.

But not the moral ambiguity part. Nor any notion that everyone might be saved eventually. Origen, among others, suggested this in the early Church, and it was soon seen to be a heresy.

That is not what Jesus says; that is not what the Gospel says.

He tells us to love our neighbour. But then, when asked, “who is your neighbour?” he does not say “everyone.” He tells the story of the Good Samaritan.

In the consecration at mass, the English version used to say “shed for all.” This has now been corrected. The original Latin of the Vulgate says “for many.” Not for all.

Indeed, it is implicit in the doctrine of hell.

“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. Before him all the nations will be gathered, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.” (Matthew 25-31).

So there it is. There are two kinds of people.

The existence of hell presupposes that, even given an infinite amount of time, some people will never repent. Goats are goats, sheep are sheep.

The same point is pretty clear in Luke’s version of the Beatitudes; and almost as clear in Matthew’s. They are half of a parallel construction, defining the good and the bad people.

Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22 Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.

23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

24 “But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.”

There it is again. There are two kinds of people: the sheep and the goats; the pharisees and the salt of the earth.

John’s Gospel seems to include the same point:

“The gatekeeper opens the gate ..., and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”

Not sheep and goats here, but sheep who belong to the flock of Jesus, and those who simply do not.

In case there is any confusion, John’s Jesus quickly makes the point that this is not a matter of subscribing to this or that doctrine, this or that faith. The parable of the Good Samaritan, of course, makes the same point. Simply saying you are Catholic does nothing at all.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”

Nominally Catholic or not, nominally Christian or not, some people are of good heart, and some people are not. Those who are of good heart follow the shepherd as soon as they hear his voice. Those of bad heart do not.

But, you will say, what about the need to follow Jesus specifically? Isn’t this religious indifferentism?

No; the need is to follow Christ. Christ is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” This does not refer to a particular Latinized Hebrew name. This refers to following “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Anyone who makes the pursuit of the good, the truth, and the beautiful above self is following Christ, the Logos, regardless of the word they use. Anyone who does not pursue the good, the truth, and the beautiful above self is not following Christ, the Logos, regardless of the word they use.

Again, in John’s third chapter:

“Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”

That seems like a pretty clear division. We all sin, but some of us—most of us, if the Bible is to be taken in its plain meaning—are dedicated followers of evil.

To these people, Jesus does not seem even to make the offer of salvation.

Matthew 3: 7:

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?”

Matthew 13: 10-15:

The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”

He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
15 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’”

Given that God is infinite in his mercy, this must mean—and the doctrine of Hell must mean—that some people have taken a basic, foundational position that means they are never going to repent, no matter what. Otherwise it would be a failure of mercy for God/Jesus to withhold the chance of salvation from them.

They are, in a word, evil. Evil to the core.

And they must have chosen to be evil. I see no room here for the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, in which you are born this way, and there is nothing you can do about it. That is a convenient alibi. There is nothing the Bible so clear about as the concept of free will. See the Garden of Eden story in Genesis. Rather, it is that there is some fundamental choice that some people make—that, indeed, Satan too made, in the story of the fallen angels—which then precludes repentance.

What might that be?

Jesus calls these irredeemables “goats.” What then is the apparent difference between goats and sheep?

It is that goats are not herd animals. Sheep stay with the shepherd and the flock, while goats strike out on their own.

This looks, at first glance, like a condemnation of individualism, eccentricity, or of thinking for yourself. But this is not a possible interpretation. We are misled by our metaphoric use of “sheep” to mean conformists. It would not be compatible with Jesus’s saying

Matthew 7:14:

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

This suggests that it is precisely conformists, conformists in the eyes of the world, who are going to hell. Jesus himself was anything but obedient and a conformist in this sense. And the same is true of the apostles, or John the Baptist.

Being a sheep and not a goat means being obedient to the voice of the shepherd, and to the needs of all, instead of to egotism and one’s personal desires. Jesus gave the two prime commandments as “love God, and love your neighbour as yourself.” That could be given pictorially as “follow the shepherd and keep with the flock.”

In John’s gospel, Jesus uses the metaphor of darkness and light. Once one has done something wrong, one immediately faces a critical choice: admit it, repent, and get back on the narrow path, or deny it. Everyone stumbles. Everyone sometimes gives in to a selfish urge, or an immediate desire. Make the second choice, and you have turned away from the path itself, and begun down a road from which there is in principle no turning: you then start to shun the light itself. You will soon come to deny the very concept of truth, of God, of right and wrong, of beauty, rather than admit you have done this thing, or that it is wrong to have done this thing. That is the road to hell, and it is fairly clear in daily life that many people are always taking it.

This distinction is the distinction between a mortal and a venial sin. A mortal sin is a turning away from God, and implies the death of the soul.

But, in principle, no sin you repent remains mortal.

All of this means that, while it is true that the struggle between good and evil runs through the heart of each one of us who is still on the path, it is also a real dividing line in human society as a whole. At any time or place, there is a faction on the side of evil, and a faction of the side of God.

This means, in turn, that it is not enough to mind our prayer life in solitude. For some, that might be wise, but everyone cannot. There is a war on. There really are good guys and bad guys, and they are always fighting.

Consider any group or ideology that holds that there is no God, there is no objective truth, there is no such thing as objective beauty, or some obvious sin is good.

There are a lot of them, aren’t there? Postmodernism, Marxism, atheism, abortion, many feminists.

Any group or ideology that holds one of these tenets is, pretty much necessarily, on the side of Satan. They have made their bargain with the devil, and at this point there is probably no turning back.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Human Urge to Destroy

Calvinist "iconoclastic" riot, 1566

Foreigners get noticed in a homogenous place like Korea.

Once, visiting a temple in winter, full of weekend visitors from the town nearby, I saw an exquisite tiny snow sculpture on the temple platform. Someone, out of sheer love of beuty, had created this wonderful thing that soon would melt away. I had to get a picture. Unfortunately, the film in my camera had run out. I had to step away for a minute to reload.

When I had returned, someone had smashed the snow sculpture.


For the same reason people are suddenly in a fever to destroy statues and memorials of the past everywhere.

I think they noticed the foreigner admiring it, and, because they had not built it, found this intolerable.

This has happened before, many times before.

It famously happened in the seventh century, from whence we get the term “iconoclasm.” Priceless art was destroyed throughout the Byzantine Empire. It happened in the Reformation, with the looting of churches and smashing of images. It happened in the French Revolution, the Mexican Revolution, the Spanish Revolution. It happened in the Cultural Revolution. The Taliban did it in Afghanistan, and Isis is doing it now in Syria and Iraq: going into museums and destroying everything they can.

It is one of the great dangers, perhaps the greatest danger, that civilization faces.

Obviously, there is some basic human instinct at work here.

There is a simple and pretty much absolute principle involved: Creation good. Destruction bad.

This is pure evil. It is the same drive that leads, in most of the same upheavals, to mass murders.

It is also the instinct that prompts assassinations. It is the same instinct that killed Gandhi, Martin Luther King, the Kennedys, Lincoln, or John Lennon.

A victim of European Reformation iconoclasm.

This instinct is most properly referred to as “envy.” See the story of Cain and Abel for the classic example.

Creating something significant or beautiful or good is hard work. Few can do it. Destroying something, or killing someone, on the other hand, is dead easy. Anyone can do it. And by doing it to something or someone good, significant, or beautiful, one takes to oneself, in a perverse way, some of the fame of the original creator.

Take down a statue of Robert E. Lee, and you are declaring to the world, if not proving to anyone but yourself, that you are a better and a greater man than that snivelling little Robert E. Lee. And better than the artist who created the statue as well, or the people who organized and supported its creation, I suppose.

All else is alibi.

An interviewer once went to prison to interview Sirhan Sirhan, the murderer of Bobby Kennedy. Sirhan had been working out. When the reporter appeared, he struck a bodybuilder pose, flexed his muscles, and said “So now what do you think of Sirhan Sirhan?”

That, I think, is a window on the soul of an assassin. 

Bamiyan Buddha, destroyed by Taliban.

They want to be someone important. They want to do something big, and they think tearing down something big is their main chance.

God help us, but we are at a time in history when the assassins are being given free rein. There are a lot of them around, given a chance. Hitler had no problem finding willing executioners. They are constrained at most times only by legal sanction.

Quickly, more quickly than many might have imagined, the call to tear down all traces of Confederate memorials in the US is metastasizing, feeding on this basic and base instinct like a fire on gasoline. The oldest American memorial to Columbus has just been destroyed by some vandals in Baltimore. A city in Ohio has banned celebration of Columbus Day.

This could be awkward. If we now have to remove all references to Columbus, we will need, for starters, to rename British Columbia, the nation of Colombia, Columbia University, and Columbus Ohio. And God help us if they twig to Amerigo Vespucci being a colonizer. We will have to rename the USA, plus two continents. But that is the direction we are heading, at warp speed.

In Canada, among the victims so far are poor defenseless Hector Langevin, Egerton Ryerson, Lord Cornwallis, and Sir John A. Macdonald. The teachers of Ontario—teachers!--have just demanded that any schools named after Macdonald be renamed.

But they had better be careful what new name they choose. There is no telling who or what is next. In Ghana, a university has just removed a statue of the racist Mahatma Gandhi.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Holocaust of the Heart

A good friend told me recently that my stuff on the Dymphna Complex was over his head. He has now, perhaps, told me why.

He asked me what my evidence was.

Which seemed odd, since I thought I had laid it all out pretty systematically.

So I repeated the list, as given by Freud and Otto Rank (with my own female additions, as arising from their list):


His response was that he had only ever heard of one person on that list, Moses, “but never read his work.”

This, I think, says something important.

This is not a man off the street. This is a guy with two degrees, a college instructor. A college English instructor, an instructor in the Humanities. How much worse the case must be for the average Canadian or American.

Moses, of course, wrote the Bible. Or at least the first five books of it.

Moses rescued from the rushes--Dura-Europos

In sum, we have stopped educating our rising generations in any meaningful sense. These stories and texts used to be the entirety of our education, in terms of its content.

For good reason. These stories told us what we most needed to know.

There is no way to talk about non-physical experiences of any sort without using either metaphor or narrative or both—an “objective correlative.” Like these stories. Yet ALL of our experiences are non-physical. All of them.

Without this common language of symbol and myth, we can no longer communicate with each another, on anything other than a caveman level. “Gimme meat.” “Sex now.” We can talk only about physical wants.

No wonder modern life feels increasingly empty and meaningless. No wonder there is a “spiritual catastrophe” going on, as Leonard Cohen called it. No wonder the statistics for depression and for mental illness generally are skyrocketing in exactly the way global warming isn’t. No wonder America, Europe, “Western civilization,” and civilization generally (it is a mirage to suppose there is any intact civilization outside the West that might take over. They all fell earlier.) seem to be coming apart. No wonder we can no longer talk to one another, but only swing our fists. Even in the bedroom, between men and women.

This is where it began.

People have sold grounds, of course, for thinking studying literature, myth, religion, philosophy, and history is a waste of time. There are no jobs to be had there.

But this is tautological: there are no jobs there, any more, because nobody any longer values myth, literature, religion, philosophy, and history. There is not even any riddle here about the chicken and the egg: the devaluing had to come first, and then there were no jobs.

Granted, these stories may not give you much practical help in the current world in finding or even doing a job. But a job is not much good when everything else is falling apart; especially if you are psychotic, drug addicted, and completely alone. You may not be coming in for work anyway.

And those jobs that need have nothing to do with the Humanities are exactly those jobs that are easily replaced by a machine. And that is already happening, swiftly.

I am not talking here of the “Western canon.” “Western” is a red herring. We might do as well to study the Vedas, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Confucian classics and those two literatures. (I do not speak here of the Quran and Muslim literature, because it is already a part of the larger West). In fact, we really should study them all. But the same myth motifs and plots tend to be found all over the world. So do the same philosophical issues, and the same philosophical positions.

Dragons appear in folk tales everywhere.

Besides giving us a common language of narrative, allusion, and metaphor, so that we can communicate our own thoughts to one another, necessarily, most of the best thoughts of the past ten thousand years or more have been expressed in this language of myth and story. If we do not know or understand it, all that is lost.

This is, taken together, the rock upon which all civilization is built. It is what our passage through the cosmos on this strange round rock has been about, as sentient beings.

You don’t think anyone figured out anything important or useful in those thousands of years?

You think it is better to smash all the statues, ignore it all and start again from scratch?

Clearly, many people do.

These are what is properly known as bad people.

And this impulse seems to be deep within the culture now. My friend’s protest that he could not understand in the end still seems odd. He did not really need to know any of these characters or their stories. I had not been relying on allusion: I think I had given the relevant details when I referred to them.

It was as if he saw a myth or a word from literature or history, and a light in his mind at once went off.

There is worse. When I noted that the typical fairy tale involved a wicked parent or step-parent, my friend queried this. He said he could think of only one example, Cinderella.

I would have thought that Disney had preserved at least a selection of the traditional fairy tales. Perhaps, however, they pass over us in flickers of light and are forgotten, as the typical movie seems to be. It is only a few hours entertainment, and in most cases we cannot remember much about them a few days later. Eye candy, but leaving nothing to think about.

Fairy tales do not belong in that medium. They were orally transmitted for unknown generations. This means they were composed to be memorized, contemplated, thought about in our solitude and leisure.

Here is the list I offered him, more or less off the top of my head, of familiar fairy tales that seem to include some version of the theme of a wicked parent.

Briar Rose

How many of them do you know well enough that you could retell the basic story to your child? This, after all, is the medium, memory and oral transmission and retelling, for which they were intended.

Snow White
Hansel and Gretel
Little Red Riding Hood
Cupid and Psyche
Puss in Boots
The Ugly Duckling
Dick Whittington and his Cat
The Gingerbread Man
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The Little Match Girl
The Musicians of Bremen
Sleeping Beauty (Disney version of Briar Rose)
Briar Rose (Grimm version)
Beauty and the Beast

Perhaps it was here, in the nursery, where the holocaust began. This is when and how we began seeing ourselves and other people as objects.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Roses are Red, Butterflies Are Blue

Would that look better in blue?

Try, as I just did, typing the following string into Google’s search bar:

blue butterfly face painting toxic masculinity

I come up with pages of results, all referring to one story, now circulating in media social and conventional.

It is about a kid who asked to have a blue butterfly painted on his face at some local carnival affair, and his parents refused to allow it. They had the clown paint a skull and crossbones instead.

This seemingly trivial matter has been assigned a cosmic significance. It demonstrates where “toxic masculinity” comes from. It accounts for “male violence.” All because of a painted butterfly.

Isn’t this chaos theory or something?

I think the parents might have been too controlling in refusing the blue butterfly. But I can see where they are coming from. And it has nothing to do with inculcating in small boys a love of violence. That is pure fantasy.

True, their preferred image, the pirate’s skull and crossbones, seems to imply violence. But I doubt that is the message that would be taken by a young child. The immediate associations are freedom from restraints and adventure. See the opening scene of Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life.”

Too violent for boys?

Sure, elements of a pirate’s, or a cowboy’s, life involve violence. But then again, you can get violence out of a butterfly’s life too, if you know anything about Darwinian theory. A toss up, from either the kid’s or the parents’ point of view, on that score.

I find it hard to believe in any case that any parents anywhere would actually want their kids to be violent. For one thing, it would be obviously against the parents’ own interest.

Nor was the problem of the butterfly that it suggested the child was sensitive to beauty. It might be, given a certain kind of parent, but this has nothing in particular to do with sex roles. Few parents would really begrudge their son a butterfly collection, for example. An appreciation of beauty is actually built or inculcated into boys and men more than it is in women. After all, men are more likely to be attracted to beauty in a mate than are women.

No, the problem was in putting it on his face. In wanting to have the butterfly painted on his face, the boy seemed to draw attention to himself and present himself as beautiful.

Not cool. This is a privilege allowed only to girls. Girls growing up are told they are beautiful princesses; their egos are constantly stroked. Boys are not told they are handsome princes. The thought is nauseating. Describe it being done with a boy, and you assume he is being spoiled into becoming a monster.

The reality is, we are a lot tougher on boys than on girls, growing up. (And in adulthood, for that matter.) The discrimination is all on that side.

But then, there is something to be said for learning the difference between good and evil, success and failure, where your rights end and the rights of the other begin. This dos not come from constant praise.

Boys are raised to be moral.

Girls are raised to be violent if they do not get their way.

This has been socially acceptable in the past because, by the time a girl, being physically weaker, was old enough to really be a problem, she was generally someone else’s problem.

It is that attitude that should probably change.

Monday, August 21, 2017

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No Statues of Traitors?

Statue of Louis Riel in front of the Manitoba legislature.

I have now seen a new justification for tearing down Civil War memorials.

A commentator on CNN argued against the statues of Lee and other Confederate figures on the grounds that they took up arms against the US. So why on earth is public money being spend on memorials to traitors? Treason should not be commemorated.

It sounds reasonable—but. By that standard, consider what other statues must come down. In Canada, no commemorating Louis Riel, William Lyon Mackenzie, or Louis-Joseph Papineau, all of whom are honoured and mostly revered. Mackenzie’s house in Toronto is a public museum, and the tone is entirely laudatory. No memorials or commemoration of Sitting Bull, Pontiac, Crazy Horse, Chief Joseph, Geronimo, and many other Indian leaders. Sound good? Also, no John Brown commemorations. He was hanged for treason.

Statue of Crazy Horse in progress.

And, then too, the only difference between Lee and Washington is that Washington's treason succeeded. Washington wanted independence from the home government in London. Lee wanted independence from the home government in Washington. Washington won; Lee lost. The only difference between Robert E. Lee and Sam Houston is that Houston won, in separating Texas from Mexico, and Lee lost, in separating Virginia from the U.S.

Is that really enough to claim such absolute moral high ground?

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.