Preface. Part: 1 | 2 || Bibliography |
Guilt in an Age of Psychopathy
Guilt: A big topic. We can take little nibbles. We can be little fish taking little nibbles. We understand that everything we say is partial. To say one thing, we leave another out. But in addition to things we know but do not say, there is more that we do not know, that we are not yet able to think, things that have not yet swum into view, that have not yet crossed the thought horizon. Thus we speak humbly in face of the future, grateful to search for the little bit we can give. Saying this, you will understand that if I speak boldly, it is born of a pride of speech that is really a modest portion of the immensity that touches us.
We are all killers. Thus we are all guilty. We are all guilty killers. There is no way around it. We can not get out of it. We kill to live. We kill each other to live.
Killing is part of living. It is built into life. But like light refracts into so many colors, aliveness is alive with many tendencies and counter-tendencies, many emotional colors. We kill but are not just killers. We love, we are curious, we wonder, we explore, we drink life fully, we appreciate ourselves and each other, we appreciate the world. We care about life. We want to do life justice.
We are thus given a range of possibilities, including emotional possibilities. Isaac Baashevis Singer said, 'God gave us so many emotions and such strong ones. Every human being, even if he is an idiot, is a millionaire in emotions.' In a way, then, emotion is a light we have, that refracts into many colors.
Psychoanalysis is often satirized as a kind of licentiousness. It tries to make people feel less guilty for sexuality, self-assertion, self-affirmation. Less guilty for living. Does it try to make people feel less guilty for killing? Does it try to help people be better murderers, to murder in a healthier or more productive way? To be less self-destructive killers? To be better at being bad? Does it try to help people feel guilty in more productive ways? To ignore or push past their guilt?
We are appalled by excesses of guilt, penitential guilt, extremes of masochism, self-immolation, self-suppression. We see too much guilt as pathology: neurotic or psychotic guilt. We seek to lessen the stranglehold of excessive guilt, guilt for crimes we did not commit, guilt that inhibits self, deforms, prevents or even stops living. Guilt as a kind of suicide, a suicide substitute, which sometimes passes over into the real thing. In such extreme forms one sees the link between guilt and murder, whether murder of other or murder of oneself.
At the same time, guilt has a useful social function. It helps bind people together. It puts the brakes on murder. It is part of learning to get along with each other. It signals we have gone too far, or are about to go to far. It is part of the way we sense each other, mold to each other, help each other. It helps modulate the way we treat each other. We would be worse without it. We have a number of modulating emotions that contribute to inhibiting aggression: shame, guilt and anxiety among them. This is a kind of practical, evolutionary, survival view of guilt, a guilty realism.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are people who feel too little guilt. People who are guiltless when they should be guilty. I remember many years ago hearing the behaviorist, O. Hobart Mower talk about his time as a patient in a mental hospital. While there, he formed small 'honesty groups', 'confession' groups. Patients came together to confess their sins, speak truth to each other, including whatever they felt guilty about, the bad they have done. These groups helped him immensely. He felt they played an important part in his recovery. He spoke about psychosis as a wound that fails to heal. In contrast, psychopaths were all scar tissue. He quipped wryly, 'Some people just don't have the common decency to go crazy.'
Today it appears my country is run by insufficiently guilty people, people who fail to feel the horrible aspects of their actions, who keep their eyes glued to what they call self-interest, idealized as plutocratic democratic freedom. People who kill but do not feel the effect of killing.
Perhaps they will turn out to be right. Perhaps the reality that power creates will take good turns. I can not foresee the future. I do feel the pain of people maimed and dying in what appears to me to be an unnecessary war, an invasion as a show of might and ego, for purposes I fear to guess about. I do feel the pain of a country that may not have a successful anti-ballistic missile shield, but is walled off and suffocated by impenetrable lies. An ancient lesson of history, that guilt can be put out of play or manipulated by lying. And yet, I believe, somewhere in our psycho-social-spiritual beings, we feel mutely guilty for living a lie. A guilt that in the long run has consequences.
I suspect our time is not simply or mainly an Age of Madness but an Age of Psychopathy. More precisely: I think a keynote of our age is the psychopathic manipulation of psychotic anxieties. Apocalyptic annihilation and other catastrophic dreads are played and preyed upon. They have weapons of mass destruction. They are going to inflict great destruction on us. They are dangerous, predatory, evil. We are good. We represent freedom. We represent morality. I won't go through the list of lies and self-deceptions that led up to our invading Iraq and the way we have handled this invasion. It is an attitude that goes beyond present ghastly events. Our leaders are not the only ones who manipulate psychotic dreads to get what they want. It is a strong tendency of our economic age, among the haves and the have nots, and among those who profess great morality, hyper-morality.
The four page letter found in the luggage of Mohamed Atta, one of the World Trade Center bombers, is a wonderful evocation of the goodness of destruction. To be obliterated for a godly cause is a thing of beauty and glory. Here the United States is the evil one, the plane hijackers God's helpers. The mentor instructs Atta that soon all his disturbances will be consecrated, even his fear is holy, peace is near. Guilt is not even mentioned. It is wiped away by righteousness. The sense of being good obliterates guilt. There is no room for doubt or hesitation in the visionary approach of oneness, the marriage with God in heaven. The longed for disturbance free state is at hand.
Shakespeare repeatedly tried to depict guilt free evil intentionality, but invariably portrayed disturbance, e.g., Richard III's twisted mind-body; Iago as a viral parasite burrowing deep into psyche; Lady Macbeth, given to a life of murderous power, wiping bloody hands in her sleep. There are hardened murderers who feel no guilt while awake yet are attacked by guilt in nightmares. Even psychopaths place guilt somewhere, whether out of waking consciousness into dreams, or out of self into other. Shakespeare explores guilt free murder but ends by portraying tormented minds. It is precisely the fact of tormenting disturbance that drives his tragic plays.
Al Pacino's recent portrayal of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice shocks us into awareness of the gap between Shakespeare's time and ours. Shakespeare meant Shylock to be a clown, a spectacle, a comic villain. Today he appears more a tragic villain, linking victim with victimizer.
One can speculate about what in Shakespeare forced him to find the words he put in Shylock's mouth, words which undo the play's official self-conception. Words that teach the equality of all humans before God, affirm the value of every living soul, the universal franchise of mercy. And in virtually the next breath, words that kill, murderous, vengeful words. The victim becomes victimizer and is victimized in turn, a cycle of humiliation in which humanity is trapped.
Near the beginning of the movie we see Shylock spat at by a righteous Christian. Far from being an aberrant gesture, it was almost a Christian duty, Jewish abjection the norm. Near the end of the movie, we see Shylock groveling in the dirt, having to express enforced gratitude for abundant Christian righteous mercy that spared his life. The 'wholesome' Christians in Arden give one chills today, oblivious of the injury their top of the world self-satisfaction causes others. Shylock becomes a symbol of abjection and humiliation everywhere. The ruling Christians are branded by their presumption of superiority, the casual sense that others are worse than they are, or worse, that the pain of others somehow doesn't really count. The easygoing, triumphal happiness of the self-assured is profoundly discordant with the facts of life. As if power grants innocence.
Today the 'happy' ending horrifies us. Shylock's murderous desire is placed in a larger context of indignity, injustice, and enormous, fathomless wounds. The pressure good Christians put on Shylock to convert mocks the faith they elevate and condemns a self-satisfaction that thrives on the pain of others. Shylock shows us the underside that supports Christian prosperity. The latter looks so rich and clean as Shylock drops to the dirt in agony. This victory of Christian mercy today seems cruel and mercurial.
If we take entitlement for granted, if we kill for power, to win, to get what we want, we leave a trail of abjection in our wake, an abjection that may seek justice whatever ways it can, including the sick compensation of revenge.
It is part of the growth of sensitivity that abjection anywhere horrifies us, in ourselves or others. We are enjoined to make life better for all humanity. Our sense of guilt is part of caring. Radical guilt, radical caring. Guilt disturbs us and we may try to play it down, moderate it, but we ought not pretend we can get rid of it. Obliteration of guilt over injuring another is dehumanizing.
We excuse ourselves by pointing to an enemy. We say, and with good reason, 'Look - they are murdering at us. Why should we help them kill us?' Get them before they get us. Get them after they get us. Save ourselves, build ourselves up at others' expense. Why should we feel guilty? They hurt us, why shouldn't we hurt them? Or in a lethal variant: 'If we don't hurt them, they'll hurt us.'
These are not questions that have immediate answers. They are appeals to evolve, appeals to all of us, the human group
I wish to swerve now, take a somewhat different direction. I want to point to something more that guilt can do for us, another function, long known in religion but often miss-channeled and poorly used. I would like to say a little about the transforming value of guilt. Guilt not as a way out, not an escape, but a way in. A way into contact with ourselves and the depths of others. A way into a deeper sense of life.
At the end of Toxic Nourishment I call attention to cases in which trauma opens alternate paths of development. It can be awful, but there are instances in which 'deep lines cut by trauma provide access to depths that are otherwise unreachable. In such instances, nourishment follows trauma to new places. We wish things could be otherwise…easier. But we have little choice when illumination shines through injury.'
Guilt as torment, as a disturbing force, can puncture the psyche, creating apertures for new kinds of experiencing. It is an amazing fact, for some people, some of the time, that intense torment perforates walls of the psyche, opens the soul to awesome, delicate feelings, psychic sensations and awarenesses, impalpable, ineffable regions of being that leave one breathless, at once elusively tantalizing, uplifting, and sweet. If one follows the ark of this movement far enough, aesthetic responsiveness touches ethical responsiveness, perhaps a touch of what Keats saw when he brought truth and beauty together in poetic vision. What opens, deepens, challenges us, is a filling out of sensitivity, not only to touch, color, sound , line, or space, but to self and other. A spontaneously meaningful urge to do well by oneself and others, to do justice to life, insofar as one can. A guilt that gets absorbed by caring.
I would like to take a somewhat deranged detour, using Ludwig Wittgenstein, not exactly as a case, but as an example, a testimony of the power of guilt as a kind of psycho-spiritual wormhole one enters, then finds oneself emerging somewhere else, far from where one started, in places one knew by hearsay or did not know at all. We could pathologize his journey but I want to bring out something more. Wittgenstein had three brothers who killed themselves and a sister whom he sent to Freud - you can imagine the forces he had to deal with in order to survive. Not only survive but to thrive as a thinker, to enjoy his talent as an architect, to live and have a share of loving.
As a young man, Wittgenstein went through a period in which he felt compelled to confess his sins to people he knew. He had to say everything bad he felt himself to be. I suspect he imagined that if he could only say enough, communicate his guilt fully enough, that he could be free of it, reborn, fresh, a new being. I think he imagined that he could get rid of sin by talking about it.
Confession certainly has its values, as does talking oneself out, revealing to others what festers in inner abscesses. Speaking from the place of hidden infections can help. But the infection of self does not go away. One does not end evil by talking about it. Shakespeare and William Blake tell us repeatedly about a canker, a worm within that will not go away. But there are better and worse responses to it. Perhaps our biggest job of all, our greatest calling, is to discover, to seek, to find better responses to ourselves.
Wittgenstein's interest in religion was not merely academic. It had to do with living, how to live life, something that came from within. Wittgenstein spoke of three kinds of experience that might be termed religious, or that religious life draws on. One is wonder that the world exists, an experience of the miracle of existence. Another is a deep sense of safety, 'the calm bottom of the sea at its deepest point, which remains calm however high the waves on the surface may be.' The third is 'absolute guilt.' This last is associated with God's judgment, a judgment that runs through us with regard to how we feel and act towards each other, a shudder of disgust we have at things we and others do. Feeling absolutely guilty is a ganglia with many filaments. It moves in many directions, opens many channels.
One filament or channel is Wittgenstein's sense that 'only religion would have the power to destroy vanity and penetrate all nooks and crannies.' A sense that there is some psychical, spiritual something that has to do with goodness, that penetrates all nooks and crannies. Human beings have sensed hidden nooks and crannies for a long, long time. In the psalms, God searches secret spots, intricate invaginations of our being. We ache for this search, for this knowing because we are hidden from ourselves. We long to be known, to be felt, to be experienced. That God permeates us is scary, even terrible, but it is a grace, a source of love as well as fear. Through this permeating grace, we feel a sense of infinite, intrinsic value through and through.
To be penetrated this way, like a lamp lighting paths in a complicated mine, ignites struggle. One gets glimpses of who one is, the sediment, the nastiness, the vanity, the love. If one cares enough for the other, one struggles with oneself. One holds back, tempers one's temper so as not to injure. For feelings can injure and be injured. People are injured. Psychoanalysis has been criticized for dwelling too much on injury, but we still are far from integrating our sense of being wounded-wounding creatures into the social body.
A few years ago, I heard a good politician who lost a campaign say that he severed his nerve endings a long time ago. He was inured to injury. He severed his sensitivity to pain in order to function as a politician. At least he had some awareness of a price he paid for the life he chose.
Today my country has a head of state who feels he must look strong at all times. He must not show weakness, admit error, and certainly not feel or show guilt. Politicians long have known they must choose between injuries and take the injuries that seem the better course. Guilt is secondary to the exercise of power. You can not win if you feel too guilty about what you have to do to win. We have enormous capacity to maximize and minimize guilt, depending on complex contexts.
Wittgenstein tended to maximize guilt. This does not mean he never split guilt off, played it down, ignored it. There certainly were times that his wishes and drives pushed past guilt. But he was not inured, not immune. He wrestled with guilt. He acknowledged guilt's claims. He acknowledged the fact that guilt carries important messages about the self, about how one lives, and who one is or should be or can be.
Some may think he overdid it and that may be so. He turned down positions and publication offers out of a misplaced sense of integrity. But when we think of the philosophical and psychological junk foods that pollute our psycho-sphere, the flood of stuff that comes at us for economic and egocentric gain, we may view his misgivings with a more kindly eye, even with nostalgia.
We know that guilt can be cancerous, stifling. Guilt infuses pseudo-morality, moral tyranny, murderous superego. It is, as so much is, Janus-like, depressing life, opening possibility. Guilt is cruel, persecutory, inhumane, pitiless, demoralizing. Yet it can be humanizing, allied with sensitive caring. It contracts us, narrows us, pierces through our heart, brings us to deeper places.
Now, at this moment of history, I would like to say a positive word for certain aspects of guilty torment and self-doubt. There are ways that tormenting guilt and self-doubt can be friends and helpers, goads for growth, signals of horror. For example, parents who rage and discover they are damaging their children. Raging parents who become horrified at what they do to their children and recoil in self-doubt and grief. Few things injure a child more than parental rage.
I have worked with many parents who love their children but rage at the drop of a hat. Almost always they feel right or righteous. The child is wrong about something, misbehaved, broke a rule, tested a control or boundary. Rage comes in a blinding flash, yet there are micro-steps that lead up to it. Rage has preparatory signals, much as an epileptic seizure does. One 'knows' one is going to blow up and there are a number of choice points along the way that are ignored. The feeling mounts like an angry orgasm and one fails to exert force against it.
Many parents feel ashamed and guilty afterwards, as one might after masturbating. Many keep justifying themselves, pushing counter-feelings away. Some even justify raging at infants, parents who scream in exasperated fury at a screaming infant. Rage tries to shut the other up, stifle the screams of others. Perhaps one tries to scream loud enough to drown out the appeal, demand, or distress of the other, even if the other is a baby.
Therapists are privileged to learn what happens in micro-moments. In my book, Psychic Deadness, I write about a man who recalls a moment when he died, i.e., when his feelings numbed, froze. It was after an unexpected paternal rage, a capricious rage at dinner over something trivial, something that had no value except in the parent's imagination. The patient recalls shock, momentary trembling, then a spreading psychic anesthesia which never fully went away. He lived on the other side of this frozen state ever since.
Someone might say, 'Get over it, get on with it. Why dwell on things like that?' My patient became a successful man, lived a full enough life on the other side of the freeze. But he came for help to reclaim himself, to thaw out. In a secret, important way he felt he was a corpse who wanted to live. We all die, to some extent, in order to live, to survive. Psychic deadness is part of life. But perhaps some of us die more than we have to, in worse ways than necessary. Some of us hope that with help we might find more life.
There are many intimate connections between rage and guilt. Rage can obliterate guilt. Guilt sometimes tries to stifle rage and sometimes succeeds but often fails. The rager refuses to be imprisoned by guilt. There is a boundlessness in rage that carries special satisfaction. Few experiences feel more total than all out rage.
Guilt adds seasoning to lesser rages, akin to an alcoholic feeling guilty and ashamed after a binge, swearing he or she will never do it again. The addiction is too strong, the build-up too compelling. In such a case, guilt adds flavor to the brew but fails to hold the storm back. In some instances, rage inflames itself in order to obliterate guilty whispers. Someone may rage in order to have something to feel guilty about. Very often the rager expects the one raged at to feel guilty, a common division of labor. The rager tries make the one raged at feel bad, intimidates the one raged at to be the carrier of guilt.
In therapy, it is often not enough for the rager to gain understanding of his or her condition. At some point, after enough empathic understanding and assuaging of injury, the rager has to struggle with him or herself. The rager has to see and feel the injury he or she is mediating, to see and feel that he or she is a traumatized traumatizer. The parent has to feel the impact she has on the child she loves.
It is very difficult to hold oneself back in face of a flood of feelings. Often one fears one will damage oneself by holding back the storm. Some fear they will be destroyed by inner whirlpools. I have heard many people say, 'I'm afraid the feelings I hold in are damaging my insides.' Some feel helpless in face of guilt, or fear sinking into the latter, convinced that giving in to guilt will cause them harm. Little by little, therapy supports the still, small voice that says, there has to be a better way.
It is important to learn that there are ways of gripping oneself, holding oneself tightly, pulverizing oneself, that open new pathways of experience. There is suffering and guilt that may diminish existence, but there is suffering and guilt that leads to greater life. Guilt varies in its function. In the case of many ragers, guilt needs all the support it can get. Guilt and sometimes fear: one needs to be afraid of what one can do to others. Like porcupines, we need to learn to modulate our quills when we are close.
I fear we are living in a time when the consequences of our actions are not keenly felt. We don't want to feel them, lest they slow us down and make us wait and become uncertain. If we slow down too much, someone else will beat us to the goal.
To drown in guilt is one pole, to be monstrously guiltless another. In human life, there is no contradiction between loving music and children, and sending the latter to the beat of the former to die in the name of the fatherland and motherland. A fused pair,
the indignity of trauma and vanity of power.
Wittgenstein is not afraid of trying to put torment to good use. Of course, he blunts it, escapes it like everyone else. After trying to engage an area of thought or being in a class, his exhausted, drained state leaves him good for little except staring blankly at a movie. But he affirms the value of guilty torment in principle and lives it to the extent he can. He sees through the idea of a super-race, entitled group, or an idealization that places the condescension of health and wealth above those who suffer. Compassion is for equals. A fraternity of sinners is grounded in empathy. We are equals in guilt toward one another. The heart of the other calls for a caring gesture, but we have a habit of looking the other way. To help another is costly, but not to help is more costly.
Absolute guilt never tires of calling for a response. It is a guilt we share, that obligates us to one another, a challenge requiring the use of all we are and have. It brings us to places we could not have imagined had we asked less of ourselves. Guilt sticks to us, pressures us towards a loving heart, intensifies appreciation of self and other, and heightens awareness of our preciousness. Guilt calls us to live more fully, to wed other with self, self with other. A wedding nourished by the profundity of difference.
Sometimes, when I read Wittgenstein on guilt, torment and suffering, I think of Flannery O'Connor's portrayal of Hazel Motes in Wise Blood, an erstwhile 'saint' who wore barbed wire under his coat, a barbed wire inside us. A torment more part of the human than many would like to believe. For Hazel Motes, suffering contracts to a point of light, vanishing in the infinitesimal infinite. For Wittgenstein, suffering, if related to rightly, calls us out of disappearance, awakens us, moves us to be of use.
For Wittgenstein, too, there is a gravitational pull from guilt to God. There is, of course, plenty of meaningless suffering in the world. That is not what is at stake here. Wittgenstein locates and tries to share something that happens through suffering guilt fully. He bears witness to an experience: intense guilt can lead to God. Intense suffering can lead to God. Of course, intense suffering can make us loathe God, deny God, render God irrelevant. But it also can link us to each other and to God.
Wittgenstein: 'Life can educate one to a belief in God. And experiences …are what bring this about; but I don't mean visions and other forms of sense experience which show us the "existence of this being," but, e.g., sufferings of various sorts.'
Experiences, sufferings of various sorts force God on us. In this context, we are not debating whether or not God exists, or about particular details about his nature or our relationship to him. We are not asking what is possible. We are expressing what is.
We express God a little like we express pain. We might have less doubt about pain. But when suffering brings us to God, doubt is not what we are about. Nor are we about bludgeoning others with God, forcing our God on others. We are with God with our suffering. Not teaching a class, fighting a war, or making conversions.
A result of reaching God through suffering is renewed struggle with self. Suffering shows us something wrong with ourselves, a way of being, a propensity we are guilty about. We are suffering, in part, because we are guilty about our way of life. We live from a place where there is a connection between suffering and ethics. An ethics of caring, not phony morality to get one's way. It is precisely the latter that is one of the things we struggle with.
Two people moving a filled-to-tipping wheelbarrow across a bumpy terrain rely on mutual sensing to get from here to there. It is not something one thinks out. An implicit intelligence gets the feel of the load, terrain, and partner, modulates subtle movements to shifting factors as one goes along. Guilt plays a modulating role in getting along together as a relationship moves from here to there. It is part of a larger field of social sensing, self-to-self sensing, spontaneously adjusting volume, intensity, affect coloring as we move along.
Therapy is one kind of wheelbarrow, marriage another. People bring marriages to therapy when the movement goes awry and teamwork fails. A man in his fifties, after spending much of his adult life in therapy, finally was able to marry, only to discover that his wife would not be bullied. He got away with being a bully in his marriage for awhile, as he did most of his life. One wonders what happened in all the therapy he had.
He was helped to make a go of it, to become successful and not be impeded by guilt and anxiety. Therapy enabled him to push past guilt and anxiety on his rise up, but he was not very much helped to live intimately with another human being. Work substituted for intimacy. Life permitted him to skip around very real emotional disability. He came to see me for help with his marriage, which I soon realized meant helping him manage his wife. The idea of working on himself, struggling with himself, was a foreign notion, unless it meant figuring out how to achieve a goal. He imagined marriage would fall into line like a business problem.
He filled the room, shining with success, confident I would help him with his wife in no time at all. His time sense baffled me. He spent years in therapy. He must know that it is anything but instantaneous. He is a good business man. Surely he must know something about timing. He smiled at me and made reassuring hand gestures, which made me feel he was nervous but couldn't say so. Clearly, he was a man used to getting his way.
He painted a picture of his wife. She was depressed, moody, irritable, a workaholic like he was, except that he was steady as a rock, imperturbable. What is wrong with her: she gets upset too easily. He pointed his finger as if she were sitting there and said several times, 'Something is wrong with her.'
Recently she has gotten moodier, bursting into rages, criticizing him, distancing herself, withdrawing into her study. 'I don't like being with you,' she'd say.
'She must need different medication,' he decided. His worked, why didn't hers?
I once wrote half a book (Reshaping the Self) about a business man who approached therapy like a financial project. Over time, he learned to switch gears to give the psyche its due. To sense what is happening of emotional importance is a capacity that is hard for many people to contact. One gets used to ignoring it for the sake of other gains. In his case, realization of how his children, as well as himself, were injured by his way of life got through to him.
The high powered man who came to see me to fix his marriage was used to putting his wife down. He did not even know he was doing it most of the time. It took less than ten minutes of his first visit for me to learn that he made all the major decisions in their lives. He expected her to fall in line and appreciate the great life they led. His wife increasingly reacted against a depreciating, humiliating attitude he took for granted. Speaking to him didn't work. He didn't listen. She stood up to him in the only way she could, by being difficult, moody and nasty. Her feelings broke through the medication.
His seeing me was an attempt to maintain control. She wanted them to go to couples therapy and he refused. He feared the therapist would side with her and call him to task for his bully nature. For him, it was a simple fact that he felt best on top, a boss. A position of dominance worked for him. Couples therapy was too threatening. He was used to making believe his marriage was better than it was. It became nearly constant war, though they still loved each other.
He was short-tempered with his children as well. He expected to be listened to, even though he didn't spend enough time with them to develop a relationship. He thought his position as a father was enough. He did not have a painful enough sense of what he was missing, although he knew he was missing something. At first, he did not relate his children's problems to the atmosphere at home, but soon developed at least a vague sense that there was some connection between his life and theirs.
There was little or no guilt involved in his capitalist notion of family life. As if it were up to each person to fend for him- or herself, without sufficient provision of interconnected support. He had not yet gotten to the real struggle with himself. He was light years away from that kind of pain, although there were glimmers. I felt it a victory when he finally agreed to go to couples therapy and risk exposure. He had a dawning inkling that capacities he needed to be with another person, a wife, a marriage, a family, had not developed or took a negative turn. To admit that he feared exposure as emotionally illiterate was a start. His marriage and behavior needed airing out, a fresh look, a caring, objective presence. Going to a couples counselor might be like opening a window. And it would be listening to something his wife wanted.
'Where was the guilt?' I wondered. Vanished in entitlement? Vanished in the trauma and humiliation that others carry for him? Did he make others feel guilty and ashamed for not being strong enough, good enough, able enough, happy enough for him? Was he a kind of predator who preyed on others' insufficiencies, intensifying and manipulating their weak spots? Was there a murderous hole where guilt should be, a marauder's sense that life should not resist him? Perhaps there was no place for effective guilt in his life, because there was no developed way for him to appreciate the reality of his affect on others. Perhaps there were ways in which other people were not fully real, except as ways to get things. To treat another as an end itself, a precious subject in her own right, was not what he was about. The threat of his marriage breaking up and his children not caring about him, the disturbance they and his wife were making, showed signs of breaking through.
To begin to notice that things were worse than he thought and that he lacked ability to respond as others needed was, at least, a preliminary gesture towards self-confrontation. It would take quite a difficult gestation before he realized that a response he could not give was pressing to be born. For most of his life, he had not even known that such a pressure exists. To help shepherd this pressure is partly a function of positive, creative guilt, a personal expression of the realization that in the realm of intimacy, no one can substitute for what we, and only we, do for each other. To what extent this 'big' man, this 'winner' can achieve such a realization remains to be seen. It is a problem important for our larger society, as those who exert control over the economic course of things have telling effects, the attitudinal context of their lives not the least of their impact.
Another individual, an artist, who felt himself to be a 'loser,' had grandiose expectations that partly fueled his art. As a child, he felt admired, cared for, supported. He frequently complained in therapy, 'My childhood was too easy. It gave me a false picture of life.' Perhaps his sense of childhood ease was semi-idealized. He always felt different. To be set off from others because of talent is a source of praise and admiration, but also makes one sort of freaky. He once said, 'When I was a kid and saw trapeze artists at a circus, I thought, that's me. Up there, colorful, everyone staring, eyes upward as I take risks, fly from ring to ring, color to color, subject to falling at any moment. Wonderful, yes, but set off from everyone except other trapeze artists. And, as you know, artists are mainly preoccupied with themselves.
Life tempered his grandiosity. He met with moderate success, was respected, made a decent living. Not the great star high above. He had to content himself with digging in and working his work as one among many who felt different as artists. It may be that we live in a time when everyone who is not a big executive or big artist feels a little like a loser. One is overshadowed by those above, the ones who really have it. Life throws the success of others in one's face and one has to settle, make do, find something that works well enough. Artists stake claims to special territories that differentiate them from other artists, only to discover that different is not so different after all. One has to scale down and give oneself more and more fully to what one can do, to stay with the work, and keep on staying with it because it is there, because it is what one does , and it is more than enough to make life feel worthwhile.
There is a subtle, underlying guilt in all this. The guilt of being different, but not being different enough. Do artists feel guilty for being artists? Do they funnel into art a more generic guilt attached to being human? To feel anxious or guilty as an artist can deflect one from more general difficulties one can not grasp.
It is a credit to my patient that he persisted in his work in spite of what life had in store for him. In his teens, his father died, followed by his mother's permanent hospitalization for psychotic illness. Art held him together, albeit shakily for many years. He suffered breakdowns periodically much of his adult life. He broke down after his first child was born, after an affair with a favorite model, after his first grandchild was born. He came to see me because he meant to kill himself and felt enormous guilt over letting down his children and grandchildren.
Some might say that the guilt itself helped to provoke suicidal impulses, but it also played a role in keeping him alive. Nothing lit him up like his grandchildren. He pictured what they would feel if he killed himself. He owed them more than that. He owed his children more.
He felt guilty for letting his children down as they were growing up. He was preoccupied with his work and did not give them the support they needed. His wife was a rager and traumatized them on a daily basis. The smallest, stupidest things would throw her in an uproar and he would go on working in his studio. He ignored the crying, the screams, shut his ears, persevered. He had all he could do to keep himself together. He felt guilty and the guilt mounted but there was nothing he could do about it.
He told me over and over, 'I'm a bad person. I'm bad.' He meant by this sins he dare not reveal, bad things he did that he lived with, that haunted him, scarred him, drove him mad. One thing was putting his penis in a baby's mouth. It is difficult to say why he did such a thing. Was he trying to feel clean, hoping that contact with freshness would make him fresh? Was he trying to corrupt innocence, to spoil something good, create a drama to see whether good or evil would win? Was he trying to heal himself? Was he trying to feel big? Was he trying to be a god? Was he trying to reverse trauma, to do to a baby what was in some way done to him? Was he trying to feel as important as a nursing nipple, a source of life? Was he identifying with a baby being traumatized by an insensitive, invasive other who stuffs unwanted life down its throat?
He has been expiating these acts ever since. Madness and suicide as partial expiation. Perhaps there was guilt beneath his childhood he did not know about, part of the parental atmosphere. Not exactly secrets parents kept from him, although that also was the case. He knew his father suffered persecution in Europe before coming to the United States, and endured horrors he would not talk about. Guilt threads through personality, guilt for who one is and fails to become, for what one does and what survival forces one to do, aches over transgressions one doesn't even know about, plus opaquely sensed remorse one keeps tucked away. One can never catch up with and lay bare all that one feels guilty about, or should feel guilty about. There are times one feels guilty for not feeling guilty about bad things life forced one to do. Rich and poor amalgams of guilt and shame and pride.
Old formulations say we are born into guilt and suffer each other into being, as if guilt antedates us, awaits us and we find ways to oblige, to supply it with subjects and objects and give it narrative form. My guilty story, your guilty story. When my patient says he put his penis in a baby's mouth so he could have something concrete to feel guilty about, I suspect he is not entirely wrong. It is a vicious circle, since his action scarred him for the rest of his life, gave him something he will never stop feeling guilty about. At the same time, he gave a more formless sense of being bad a local habitation and a name. To be bad for this or that reason seems better than just being bad. Nevertheless, crimes against the self do not do the trick. The sense of badness persists.
A profound self-hate in personality is a central part of what we work with. In Turtles can Fly, a movie by the Iranian director, Bahman Ghobadi, about children in Kurdistan on the eve of the American invasion, the protagonist, a resourceful boy, nicknamed Satellite, falls in love or is fascinated with a winsome girl, who a Jungian might feel is an aspect of his anima. Satellite tells her hopefully, 'I've been waiting for you for years.'
As the movie unfolds, we see that she and her brother care for a young boy left parentless by war and we see a flashback in which Sadam Hussein's solders raped her repeatedly. She fears the boy will be stigmatized as a bastard when he gets older, and her own stained status as a rape victim will haunt her life. To say she is angry with her fate would be an understatement. A mixture of pride, anger, despair, shame, guilt, hopeless beauty - the weight of the way society works or fails to work, war, blindness, helpless power, children without parents living in caves and abandoned vehicles, a life too hard and impossible. I suspect Satellite's forward looking hope excited her greater despair and she killed the child and herself. Life symbol becomes death symbol. The best and worst go on simultaneously.
Ghobadi is portraying a version of something real: awful living conditions, social ignorance, social pressures, sick biases of the human mind and body, rape, a sense of banishment, humiliation, caring, the pain of what we do to each other, building lives. All this in a most beautiful mountain setting, encompassing human spoilage. I want to turn or twist this movie for my purposes, lift the girl's spin into death out of context, because I think it is something very real inside us, something more universal than we tend to grant. It is a spin into death, a suicidal impulse or gradient or impulse or urge. Freud called it death drive and made it quasi-biological, a move that gets discredited.
And yet it is there, this spin downward, whether in blue moods, crashes, depressive tendencies, energy loss, or the need to space out. Often it is part of recovery, a dying out preparatory to coming back and regaining impetus. We have an unconscious urge to kill ourselves, attack ourselves, cut ourselves to pieces, to pulverize everything inside, an urge partly mediated by guilt. I sometimes get an image of banging spices in a mortar and pestle, pulverizing our ingredients so that they recombine into something better or different or simply another taste. We are curious about all the ways we can taste ourselves and may go to extremes of self-grinding in order to squeeze out another possibility.
Satellite was a resourceful, productive aspect of personality, organizing homeless children in the service of survival, on the side of work and love. The girl who killed the child. and herself (she reminds me of the heroine in the old movie, Black Orpheus, whom death follows and inhabits) is something more resourceless in us, something that goes under in face of life, that, finally, succumbs to trauma and a sense of impossibility. She drowned the child and jumped off a beautiful cliff. To go under, to fall, to never stop going under, drowning, falling - this is a soul movement with no end in sight. A soul movement power exploits, occludes, debases. We need to make room for it.
Binaries of those above, those below, victims and victimizers, exploiters and exploited are played up or played down by social structures and policies, and need to be addressed on a societal plane. But such structures are constituted by us, by human beings trying our hand at living. Our psyches have something to do with the kinds of social forms that evolve. There is no society without psychic forces and we will not learn to work with ourselves better without taking the kinds of beings we are into account. Society is dependent on psyche as well as molds it. No matter how good we are to each other, there will still be a murderous impulse in our midst, and with murder, guilt. If we want to better the way we live, we have to work on many planes at once.
There are at least two main modes of relating to feelings, two attitudes. We can relate to our feelings in a caring way. I can care about what you and I feel, whether we are together or apart. We can also use feelings as signals for manipulation. I can try to manipulate your feelings for my own schemes and aims, to get what I want at your expense, for dominance, control, to win. At one extreme is cold psychopathy: relentless, remorseless use of affective cunning for gain, for power. Another extreme is the saint who puts the welfare of others first. We are a sneaky, cruel and caring group. Both tendencies intertwine, double helixes of the psyche. Guilt can function to bring us closer, to steer us towards each other and bring caring to new places. It is a positive quality, part of a tendency to help, to nourish, to give. We have learned a lot about how hypocritical we are, all the ways we use so-called good qualities as screens for cunning, as propaganda tools. But this does not mean that goodness is not good. Our wish to help is not always or mainly hostility or servility in disguise. At the same time, it would be jejune to underestimate our callous natures and positive and negative aspects of the will to power.
Our need to help, to nourish is a profound and vital part of our nature. But not the only part. We would not be here today if we were not so variant. It is difficult to cognize our vast discordance, what Pascal pointed to as our disproportion with ourselves. That we are cruel killers. That we are caring lovers. That we nourish and destroy. That we are guilty, that we are guiltless. It sometimes seems that we hurt each other so that we can help each other. Is there such a thing as nourishing gestures free of wounding components? Is that, in part, what we mean by grace?
When I was young I would find alternating blends and colors of light compelling. They sent chills of beauty up and down my spine. That experience has evolved and deepened into a sense of interweaving of alternate attitudes, marked not just by thrilling beauty, but something more horribly dumbfounding and bloodcurdling. Multiple affective currents, simultaneously co-present and alternating, span many domains. Our alternating, mixed affective attitudinal field is one of our greatest evolutionary challenges.
What kinds of partners with our capacities can we become? We can't keep up with what we do. But the way, the tone and spirit in which we lag behind or get ahead of ourselves is important. We need to grow in capacity to work with disproportion.
We face pockets of undefined immensity and much destructive gluttony. The latter seems to be part of aliveness. A focus of psychoanalysis is how destructive we are to ourselves and each other. Freud spoke of a force against recovery. Melanie Klein spoke of a destructive force within. Wilfred Bion spoke of a force that goes on working after it destroys time, space, existence, personality. We have grown to the point, some of us, some of the time, of recognizing the grip destructive tendencies have. A lot of components go into destructive urges. We know very little about their make-up or what to do with them.
Biblical injunctions to give to the poor and weak and needy recognize realities of power. Biblical stories locate the difficulties not just in social structures but in each one of us. For if none of the current dominance structures existed, we would create them or something like them. They grow from our own natures, our psychosocial tendencies. The will to power has its own impetus. But so does a caring consciousness, a will to help where help is possible. A need to tug at the boundaries of we can do.
We can try to imagine a person who does not help another all life long. We are fascinated by such demonic portrayals in literature. We imagine people who willfully try to extirpate all vestiges and signs of altruism as a matter of principle. We depict a cold indifferent ruthlessness that is an aspect of our beings. From such an attitude, helping another is anathema or, at best, an acquired taste. One has to push oneself to get out of oneself, to extend a helping hand. Patients coming from such a place may dream of corpses coming to life when feelings begin to thaw. But there are, too, many of us who would starve inside, if we could not feed another.
We may not know what to do with our caring, cruel beings, but it's our turn to try. We should feel guilty if we don't try to do a little something, to push an edge or nibble at a boundary, or let a creaky hand reach out.
Hallucination and Psychopathy
Hallucination and Psychopathy
Terror creates terror. Inflammation draws us to it. We can rationalize this tendency away and tear our rationalizations down. We seek infinite inflammation because we conceive infinity. Inflammation attracts us. We do not tire of it for long. We have psychic magnifiers and blow
That the President of the USA can say he and his advisors had no idea levees in New Orleans would be breached by hurricane Katrina is not simply fantasy or mendacity (it may be both) but a testimony to the ubiquitous presence of something approaching hallucination in the human condition. Hallucinatory awareness long predates official definitions by clinical psychiatry. Since ancient times, humans have voiced a sense that there is something hallucinatory about consciousness.
Psychoanalysis focuses on unconscious hallucination, Freud emphasizing wish-fulfillment in his dream book - hallucinating something better than it is, in more radical terms, hallucinating beatific in face of horrific, hallucinating disturbance away. W. R. Bion supplemented this position by emphasizing the possibility of a more ubiquitous dream-work, implicit hallucinatory processes part of cognition and perception. Unconscious hallucinatory work permeates judgment, tones perception, and plays a role in how one frames experience, one's slant on things.
The idea that we can step out of hallucinatory processes and be free of them is illusory. Hallucination is part of mental activity and plays a role in its own apprehension and criticism. Imaginative reflection makes use of hallucinatory elements. It is dangerous to overly separate conscious and unconscious activity. Hallucination touches both.
Why hallucination? Isn't it a term associated with psychotic experience? Yet we commonly call the human race mad, or God mad, or life mad. I don't think such poetic license is empty. Psychoanalysis has gone some way in delineating mad aspects of our lives. My guess is that its portrayal of the madness of the human condition is what most scares and attracts people, more than sex. For some time, it seemed to postulate a sane island of consciousness in face of a vast sea of insanity, a kind of Cartesian extremism. But as one wades into it, lines between extreme states grow fuzzy. Wars between the pride of the sane and the pride of the insane show no respect for boundaries.
Reality disasters have a certain hallucinatory quality because consciousness or, more broadly, psychic reality is tinged with hallucinatory capacity ready for work. What we are learning, little by little, or wanting to learn, is how to better use or work with our multi-faceted psyche, which includes hallucinatory input. We need to become partners with our capacities, including the arc that covers hallucination, imagination, fantasy, dream-work. We see how mad sanity is when it posits itself outside hallucination: the levees in New Orleans will not be breached, the war in Iraq will not be costly. Part of sanity's madness is hallucinating that it is hallucination free.
It is not enough to pay lip-service to madness or dismiss the ubiquitous, often silent work of hallucination as a figure of speech. When a president says that he never thought the levees might break, he announces a thought or thoughtless process that needs serious attention. It is not just his brain/mind "thinking" this way. It is a terrifying example of what we human beings are up against vis a vis our own inner workings. Unless the psyche becomes a genuine part of public dialogue, we will keep missing where disasters come from. We are good at spotting external conditions, external disasters, but even there we miss important psychic factors. For example, if we were able to prepare for Katrina with more forethought and care, some of its worse consequences might have been mitigated. Certain attitudes and mental states played a role in a psychic occlusion that hallucinated knowledge, need and ability out of existence.
To speak of hallucination is not to downplay mendacity. There is a long history of lying to get one's way in politics and in life in general. Lying is persistent and pervasive in human life, although it is attacked and critiqued by religion, ethics, and science. it often seems that victory goes to the best liar or bully. What is amazing is how much truthing we do in face of lying's gravitational pull.
Lying plugs into hallucination. Fabrication requires varying degrees of psychic occlusion, putting sectors of inner and outer reality out of play. The Bush administration's repeated use of the term "self-interest" takes on hallucinatory power with disaster in its wake. "Self-interest," meant as conscious, political stratagem, frequently becomes self-wounding.
It was disgusting to see Bush congratulate Michael Brown, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for the good job he was doing in New Orleans, as the city drowned in administrative incompetence or worse. Of course, Bush was trying to put a good face on a blunder linked with an epidemic of "self-interest" appointments made without care for real qualifications and the programs served.
The appointment appeared to be part of a more general effort to weaken government protections that might take money from the wealthy, part of a more tangled, lethal effort to empower a financial elite at the expense of the many. What is dumbfounding is how well the Bush group gets away with it, although in the hurricane Katrina case, difficulties in disaster management threatened to bend the bubble.
I am not downplaying conscious calculation in political strategy. A psychopathic tendency is part of life. What I am concerned to add and keep in focus is that no psychic act is solely conscious. Our conscious stratagems and intentions plug into layers of unconsciousness that include destructive currents that substitute self for other or other for self, currents that do not abide by conscious boundaries. When we aim destruction outward with our little, directed I's, we may have a very inadequate idea of what the forces we are trying to direct can do. Aggression often backfires. Waging war on Iraq to blot out 9/11 requires inflicting injury on ourselves in order to hurt others. Sometimes I wonder if we will bring back our troops when our fatalities reach the number killed in 9/11, doubtless a vain and naive fantasy hope. The human cost already far surpasses wounds of that day.
Psychopathic lying gains power by drawing on hallucinatory processes. Part of the mesmerization and fascination of winning lies involves the spell hallucination adds. Hallucinatory lying galvanizes aspects of the populace until the bubble breaks, again and again, and the pain it coats is felt and understood. The spell of the leader carries a salvific wish which helps his group effect its policies. It is part of the con of leadership to cause harm while promising to make things better. Or, in the current case, to cause harm while it says it is making things better. When the pain of reality breaks in, people, little by little, begin to notice that what they thought was helping worsened matters. It may be we are now in process of waking from a catastrophic dream. If history is guide, we can expect the worst to be horrible but life will continue. Things will change, for better, for worse, and those here must try to work with them.
Something like mass hallucinatory processes has been part of the cotton fuzz that makes for a kind of psycho-social soundproofing, dulling, numbing. Part of the hallucinatory nexus involves a mechanism reaching deep into infancy. In psychoanalytic language: identification with the aggressor or identification with the bad object. That is, trying to master, insulate, deny, dissociate, evade, downplay effects of trauma by identifying with the traumatizing agent. One responds to trauma by taking on some of the traumatizer's characteristics and aspects of his viewpoint. One's own self-feeling is permeated by the self of the other and ways the other sees and feels. The term brainwashing comes close but it is also more like self-washing, often involving whitewashing the other while blackwashing oneself.
In adulthood, one may identify with another to the point of putting one's critical ability out of play or directing it elsewhere. A strong leader or group identification finds alternate pathways for fears, hates, and criticism, often deflected towards a designated enemy. The insight of psychoanalysis works against the common sense of power. Psychoanalysis insists that warding off struggle with oneself by aiming
disowned emotion against others is likely to increase the sum of injury in the world.
Power tells us fear for oneself and hate of the other cements a populace, enabling leadership to channel people along desired lines, including military sacrifice. One reason that suicide bombing is so horrifying (beyond the simple fact that it is horrifying), is that it brings into the open the nauseating brutality inherent in every war: hallucinatory ennobling of suicide and murder.
Identification-idealization freezes criticism. Leadership hallucinates negative consequences of its actions away. The salvific glow of leadership changes the meaning of the pain it causes. However, it is a law that destruction, in the end, is uncontrollable or, at least imperfectly controlled. Aggression boomerangs and is costly in spirit and life. Aggression aimed against the other often turns against the self and vice versa. Destruction does not respect subjects or objects. Destruction escapes boundaries. It has momentum of its own. Once a destructive course is set, one can not predict the outcome. Corrosion of one's own spirit may go undetected but obtrudes over time.
Haven't you been appalled by an entranced populace fuzzed out by an elite that herds them against themselves, mesmerizing them to think they fight common enemies and have the same goals? Does real corporate power also hallucinate itself as it paints the world with slogans, schemes, workrooms, wars, and products? Political mendacity blocks opposition, creating openings for corporate flow. Reality is partly hallucinatory reality. Hallucination feeds the trance, obscuring the pain of the many used to support an inflated top.
I am aware this is an economic age ruled by the profit motive, the will to corporate power, the almighty dollar god. Yet hallucination and reality are not separate categories in life; one doesn't exclude the other. There is a hallucinatory aspect to the profit motive and its will to power. The almighty buck, real as it might be, is also a hallucinated buck, invested by ego, delusion, and vain hopes too great for money to bear. The sanest ego is also mad. Politics and economics are far from free of ego's hallucinatory needs. On the contrary. At the moment, psychopathic hallucination rules.
* * *
Psychopathy has a penumbra of meanings, among them deficiency of conscience. Psychopathic connotes disease, something wrong, abnormal, disease of conscience. When I was in school, psychopathy was associated with superego deficiency. If I were to use terms like ego, superego, id today, I would speak more of a psychopathic ego.
Early psychoanalysis focused on too strict a superego, a tendency to feel overly guilty for instinctual life, as in conflicts between duty and pleasure. It is easy to caricature polarities and play down complexities and difficult to look closely at our makeup and what we do. Freud put his finger on many conflicting and dissociated tendencies of his day, including oddities of the human condition that beset us now. For example, the unevenness of symptoms and psychic work.
Destructive tendencies get distributed in complex ways. A person can castigate himself for trifles, while getting away with murder, hyper-moral one way, immoral or amoral others. Of course, I mean murder figuratively, but not entirely. We try to fool our destructive urge by focusing on trivia, not noticing how we injure those close to us or even hurt ourselves with our own efforts at self-help. People in power intuitively know how to throw small bones for constituents to gnaw, keeping minds occupied, while grander destructive scenarios unfold.
When we take a closer look at the superego we find it is not so moral. It plays favorites, accepts bribes, doublecrosses and double deals, sports lacunae and deformations, substitutes commands for reflection, engorges the psyche with quasi-hallucinatory promises and threats. It talks a good game, plays goodness and badness off against each other, sometimes splitting them and creating wars, sometimes fusing or reversing them and creating wars.
Psyche and infra-structure of society begin to look very much like each other : double and triple agents, moles within moles; governmental crimes; covert drug, weapons and financial traffic supporting unpublicized strategies, law enforcers monitoring and occasionally apprehending the preceding. More devastatingly, selectively allowing (occasionally enabling?) terrorists to create local cataclysms used as excuses for military/economic moves, like creating a war to win an election and feeding corporate power.
At the very tip of the temporal-spiritual scale we find lapses and collapses of the judging function, itself in conflict with itself: the supreme court of the land voting (5 to 4) in the year 2000 not to count election votes, thereby handing the election to the candidate of its choice, ending the charade that the vote count is legitimate. Ending the charade that votes count. Thereby becoming a hallucinated election in which psychopathic maneuvering wins and a lie barrier, a shield of lies is erected as a translucent net encapsulating the land, becoming the air we breathe. A poison lie drip was established in the veins of the country that slowly put the voice of the people out of play.
A hallucinated election. A hallucinated democracy.
The Bible spends a good deal of time asking judges to be just, trying to find ways to protect against corruption. It recognizes difficulties in the way of justice and fair thought and tries to erect systems of safeguards. The Bible is a tale of man's insufficiency in face of his higher aims, the will to do good, the will to be just, the need to care. It tries to scare people into being and doing good, but reward and punishment has its problems. Behavioral solutions are insufficient. The superego can be cruelly severe and sickeningly indulgent, immoral at either extreme. Something we didn't count on: all capacities can be corrupted.
At the very center of the Bible is love of God, a personal relationship with creation, a self-self connection to a mysterious presence that informs existence. We are told to extend this love to others, to strangers, to those close to us, to those in need. The love that we call love of God is in reality a love that supports existence, that makes existence possible. Yet to this moment, the struggle of love is compromised. The struggle of love falls short.
There is a kind of "normal" psychopathy in everyday life. Few get by without cutting corners. Some rationalize almost anything in order to win. Getting away with things is part of life but can become cancerous, spin away, take life over. Phrases like "dirty tricks" are part of our common vocabulary. When you get away with people dying because of your tricks, a devastating line has been crossed. Triumph takes on a life of its own, becoming its own glory, gory glory they rightly say.
To get away with murder. State sanctioned murder. State terrorism. Murder as a way of life, rationalized because death is part of life. Power rationalizes murder. Psychopathic power, lust for power: a gruesome fact, people may do anything to win, to be on top.
Perhaps being on top is equated with survival. But it is more than survival, a surplus, an exaltation of its own, for which many pay.
One pretends to be right, the morality game. Sometimes the immoral underbelly of those loudest about morality shows. To care about winning is not the same as caring about people. Motivations are mixed. To be sincere while lying is part of the basis for taking others in, perhaps taking oneself in as well. To believe one's lies becomes a complicated art form. Formula: moral indignation fused with cold calculation incites passionate attachment. If successful with others, there are rewards for lying to oneself.
One of the big jokes of psychoanalysis is that superego morality is irrational. It structures, rationalizes, provides rules and excuses for satisfying the id in indirect ways. Morality as a mask for pleasure and power, a hypocritical sanity, thinking up reasons to get one's way. To place too great a division between sane and insane or moral and immoral requires large investments of energy. The drive to over-invest in support of these divisions becomes an imperative that assaults reality.
Superego morality is variable, unreliable, prone to corruption, hypocritical, dangerous, cloying, sentimental, menacing, unbending, indulgent. An example of combining indulgence/punishment: tax breaks for the rich, police for the poor. Multiple double attitudes work simultaneously within the social body and within individuals. The lying superego uses truth as raw material, seducing and enticing individuals and groups with something like truth, truthful enough, a tantalizing semblance that binds and bonds.
One of the great tricks of the "moral" superego is to wound the baby soul, twist the sense of innocence, warp the sense of fair play until it means fairness for my side, not for yours. A kind of persecutory morality that terrorizes soul, lulls mind, injures feelings. My seventy years of life on this earth teaches me: we don't know what side we're on when we take sides. The meaning of the sides we take shifts. And underneath antagonisms are factors as yet unknown.
The "moral" superego: a psychopathic force rationalizing the will to power. Hallucinatory morality.
* * *
Hallucination plays a role in the construction of identity.
Werner Herzog's movie, Grizzly Man, portrays a man taking movies of himself constructing and living out a particular identity formation. An eerie part of this documentation-like movie is that the foundational clips in the movie were taken by the subject himself, Timothy Treadwell, who chronicled portions of his life as he invented them. Herzog pieced them together, added his own voiceover together with interviews of others connected with Treadwell's journey.
The movie, which is a piece of semi-realism, has a semi-hallucinatory quality, as we watch a man watching himself fabricate a real existence, which ends with his stationary camera shooting his own (and partner's) death scene, as they are eaten by a bear. This grisly event is not shown by Herzog, although hints of screams are provided. The veil Herzog puts over these final moments is thin enough for the reality to be appreciated - I almost said, hallucinated reality. As the weight and pressure of the movie builds to climax (with its quasi-anti-climactic flat-ish tone), one gets the sense that Treadwell almost hallucinated this ending, planned for it with a semi-hallucinatory feel for life, his life.
Through twists and turns of triumphs and haplessness, bereft drifting and aimlessness, Treadwell's life took hold or shape when he fell in love with bears. He felt a sense of communion with bears in the wild. He unleashed his hate against those he felt did not do them honor, those who hunted them or marred their environment. He lacked the long-range coordination of a political strategist. He gave care to catch on camera his inflamed rants and moods, perhaps a mixture of exhibitionism, truth-sharing, and the need to make himself known, at least up to a point.
What builds as the movie goes on is a kind of fantasy life, actual enough, yet with a pathos of fabrication, not that what Treadwell felt and lived was not real, but that our real is so fantastic. Herzog is uncanny in touching a mad coloration to our real existence.
We learn Timothy Treadwell is a fabricated name. Timothy re-named himself. This in itself has biblical precedents. God gives Abraham, Sarah, Jacob new names for holy reasons. Putting on a new self and name is not unknown in religious experience, as one moves from one plane to another. It is familiar in secular life as well, whether for personal, cosmetic, fanciful or commercial reasons. Tread well, Timothy, wear well, go where few go, determinedly, passionately, lovingly, find reason for being. To find reason for being is to embark on the conquest of fear, which in Treadwell's case, involved a good dose of ignoring what fear tried to tell him. To push past fear may be brave and lead to better things, but also may contain elements of destructive madness.
From Long Island to California to Alaska. The viewer may want to believe in Timothy's journey but his love of bears begins to appear batty. He gives them nicknames, gets as close as he can, toys with touching them, feels communion, affects a familiarity or intimacy that is pathetic. The bears lose their incognito dignity in service of Timothy's needs, but in the end, they claim what is theirs.
I believe moments of connection of some sort happened, moments
of heightened contact from beast to man, man to beast. There are ways beast and man do feel each other and are aware of feeling each other. But for Treadwell such moments became core reference points for his existence, a frame for his life, experiences to mold himself around. For the bear - if and when contact happened - it was passing, a bubbling up of a kind of arousal and contact real in its way, immediate, transient. Treadwell elicited heightened instants of something like contact from the bear but I don't feel the bear reorganized his or her life around it. For the bear, it came and went, arising out of a dark abyss and falling back in, as if it never was. For Timothy it had enduring meaning.
To be sure, we learn the bear that killed him was not one
Timothy knew, an unfamiliar bear, wilder, hungrier, angrier. Indeed, it was an act of anger against the boatman who was to pick up Timothy and his girlfriend that led to his staying longer in less familiar territory. Boundlessness and limits meld capriciously - paranoid fierceness, passionate ideology, caring, somewhat boundless inflation, in this case a recipe for death.
Sometimes Timothy seemed silly. Credit him with catching
many of his moods, letting who he was hang out. Credit him with fabricating a self that hung out, at least partly. A hallucinated identity, a hallucinated life, a hallucinated death, all touchingly real, part of Timothy's narrative.
One imagines some of the people entombed with ancient pharaohs
may have preferred life, although some may have hallucinated life after death. The camera tells us it is unlikely Timothy's girlfriend wanted to die. We get the feeling it was unfair for him to take her with him. But we do not know the inner workings of people, just imaginative glimpses.
Some of the people interviewed felt Timothy's death was inevitable, courted, the way he wanted to go. Perhaps he thought he had immunity, love protected him, his daffy love that made life meaningful. A mystical sense of communion with something other, more, without artifice, sincere.
Perhaps ordinary life with people was too hard, too wounding, too limiting. Was there something mad in feeling safer with bears than with people? Perhaps we need a word that combines both, sanemad. The wilds were exciting, liberating, challenging. He had to exercise himself to the full. Danger was palpable, not just emotional or willful. He tasted transcendent moments in the depths of reality, where surface is depth, depth surface, ever dangerous, ineffably beautiful.
In death did the gap between bear and man melt or did the barrier intensify (the bear ate some of Timothy and left some). To be killed by the object of love: fulfillment or betrayal? I can imagine double tendencies achieving simultaneous satisfaction. When we look around our world or in ourselves, hallucinated identities stare back.
* * *
When I look at Bush's face I see a hallucinated identity. I often see this in politicians who are acting, playing parts. To pretend one knows more than one does, that one is better, more able, that what one does is right - at what point does pretense plug into hallucination? It is an eerie feeling. A lot of things give us this eerie feeling, a signal of something unreal. We learn, the hard way, that the eerie unreal often masks lethal realities.
Picture the American flag with Bush's face on it. Or Carl Rove's. W for win, I suppose, since winning is all. Dubya. Nicknames are dangerous. They play down grisly realities. Treadwell found that out. All the nicknames in the world didn't stop bears from being bears. The forces Bush touches dwarf Treadwell's. How does Bush feel that tens of thousands of Iraquis died for the sake of our good name, our power and glory? We ate humble pie in Vietnam and it looks like we may do so here. The dreadful play of nations and peoples make each other quake.
We're supposed to endure this guilt so that corporations can make money? I don't think guilt goes away. It doesn't vanish because we wish it to or because we act as if it isn't there or shouldn't be there. We may ignore it but it affects our emotional environment like chemical toxins do our physical environment. We push the delete key on it because it is inconvenient and interferes with our plans, but it takes its toll.
Money is real. Power is real. How can they be hallucinatory? Yet
power feeds hallucination, hallucination feeds power. What are we hallucinating? Freud and Aquinas tell us we are trying to realize a beatific state. We imagine being powerful gets us closer to beatitude. Many who know tell us being better off is better, closer to heaven (Jesus is officially wrong about it being harder for the rich to get to heaven).
How can something real be hallucinatory? Treadwell's bears, for example, his life, his self. Is life hallucinatory? Through and through or partly? Is there a point where real and hallucination intersect? Are they separable? Hallucination adds color to life, emotional color. Hallucination is to emotional life what the color spectrum is to visual perception. Usually it blends in, offset by other capacities, its contribution unnoticed.
To imagine victory on the cheap in a country like Iraq. To think this could end the terrorist soul and capacity or even greatly diminish it. That we can wipe disturbance out or vastly minimize it. That we can incapacitate those who hate us by a show of force. What were we thinking? Shock and awe! A video game? Entertainment? Like one of those great old cartoon-like, costumed TV wrestling matches: Fundamentalism versus Fundamentalism? A hallucinatory scenario, if ever there was.
But the cost in lives is real. How do we live with ourselves in face of what we do to others - and ourselves? Put a glad face on the flag.
* * *
Mr. Bush, do you actually believe only those who believe in Christ go to heaven? And the rest of us, who do not accept Jesus as their personal savior?! And liberal, progressive Christians - why did your campaigns treat them like devils?
Do you actually believe you can fool all of the people all of the time?
"They call you the elite. I call you my base." You said this when speaking to a select group of corporate elite in Texas. It is no crime to have powerful men as your base.
Did you actually tell your base you can fool all of the people all of the time? Were you joking with Abraham Lincoln's famous remark, "You can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time."? Did you do honest Abe one better, one-upped him in honesty, admitting the great American flimflam?
I never felt your were elected. I felt the election was stolen, bullied, capped off by the supreme court stopping the vote count. I have not recovered. People disenfranchised, questionable ballot forms, trouble getting to the polls, voting machine problems, doubtful vote count, the list goes on. It adds up to the election not adding up. You actually lost the national vote count. You would have lost Florida if the count had not been stopped. I never accepted you as my legitimate president. With you, everything seems rigged.
Weapons of mass destruction. Misrepresentations, lies, the smell of fraud, conning the American people by waving the flag with your face on it. Or Rove's. Or Project for a New American Century in small letters between the stripes.
An inflated power class, high on unimaginable money in the corporate heights. The Age of Corporate Managers: manager too weak a word, too small for the inflated Macy parade-like balloons, ego balloons, wealth-power balloons. Air feeding air. How can I call this hallucinatory? Isn't it the real of the real?
Before he was Secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld noted that globalization will increase the gap between the financial elite and the masses, especially the poor. Gaps will grow between the have a lots, haves, and have a littles.
The momentum of the very rich accelerates.
Fraud and coercion go into this momentum, although it has a life of its own. Money makes money - but how?
When Russia was breaking down, right wingers (including Cheney and Rumsfeld) claimed this faltering country was planning a weapon's system that would leave us in the dust. A tottering power would bury us if we didn't enrich big business with military spending, always a cataclysm to catch up to. This was in the 1970's. Sound familiar? Spending on health care, education, or infrastructure, like levees in New Orleans, is for sissies unless the right corporations do it for the right price. Anyway, there's more money is weapons.
Why so much for the military at the expense of urban infrastructure and those in need? The military is part of the American seed game, planting corporate pods in the skin of foreign territories. The Iraq war, for example: a vision of seeding the Gulf region with our interests, making the world safe for business.
Mohamed Atta, who crashed a plane into the World Trade Center, thought he was sacrificing himself for Islam but did it for Halliburton. To put it a bit wildly, terrorists are virtual employees of our government, part of our money machine. Syllogism: war is money; terrorists are war; terrorists are money. I'm shocked, awed, devastated, makes my hair stand on end, but that's because I'm chronically naïve.
it's true I thought the World Trade Center demise occurred because the Bush team took their eye off the ball. They were watching another ball, a money ball, obsessed with economic gain. Alaskan oil, the California energy "crises", tax breaks for the rich, lighter environmental standards, corporate self-enrichment, generally ripping off the country and globe. I thought maybe they didn't see the bomb coming, although they had plenty of warning, including intelligence from at least three countries (Israel, Egypt, Pakistan) and local operatives. (Hicks, 2005). Or maybe they saw it coming out of the corner of an eye, like the levees breaking, but were too focused elsewhere to act on tips and cues and urgings. Maybe, subliminally, they half-imagined the wealth that would result from such a monstrous event, a cataclysm made to order. It was no secret that neo-conservatives thought a cataclysm could uncritically unite the country behind their policies.
I did not dare the thought that they knew and allowed it. I could think dots were broken, disconnected. To think they were connected and not acted on, that inaction was the action of choice, that there was governmental compliance, maybe even instigation - this line of thought was for cuckoos. I've steered my course away from the paranoid right and the paranoid left, both perennial tyrannies. But now I wonder if far left and right glom on to each other because they speak the same language and know what each is up to. They share the code for each other's messages.
It took me years to take in the assertion that FDR used or even provoked Pearl Harbor in order to get the American people behind the war. It sure mobilized immense patriotism and resources of all kinds, including vast determination and the will to sacrifice. Although FDR was far from lily white, he was a legitimate president and Hitler a legitimate enemy. Bush's war lacks this kind of credibility.
To exploit a cataclysm is one thing, to aid and abet or even instigate it is something else. There are dreamy realms in between, intimations, vague and shifting cues that float in and out of the margins of awareness, preconscious rather than unconscious or conscious. A kind of quasi-hallucinatory state that sort of knows but bypasses clear knowledge. I can almost subscribe to some such state, if not for what I witnessed in the 2000 election: lies, bullying, shenanigans at all levels of the social order, including the very top of our judicial system. The stealing of an election in broad daylight. A synchrony of calculation, organized and opportunistic foul play. The election's shock and awe as overture, setting the tone for things to come.
To begin an administration smeared with lies sets the tone for a war smeared with lies.
* * *
What makes it possible to believe that what is happening is not happening? Many at the rise of the Nazis in Germany did not realize, fully feel or digest the impact of what was happening in their country. "It can't happen here," is a phrase I heard throughout my childhood. It conveyed a sense of immunity: it could only happen there.
Yet I knew of blacks getting lynched in the south. And in my northern school in the1940's, there were almost no black kids. I understood that "segregation", a sanitized name sounding like a disease, was real. It was not something I spent much time thinking about when I was young, but it made an impression. In high school even the various ethnic white groups stayed with their own, Poles with Poles, Italians with Italians, Irish with Irish, Jews with Jews. Paths crossed in business, music and sports. Was it hard to let in that it was worse for blacks?
To think blacks were slaves in the country I lived in was mind-boggling. Slaves in the USA. That must have been a long time ago, a primitive past. In my little boy's mind, slaves were something the Hebrews were in Egypt very long ago, something in stories and prayers. Hebrews had slaves? And the ancient Greeks, bed of enlightenment? Was there something going on here I wasn't being told about?
Slavery as part of the human condition? From the first day of school, in the classroom or the playground, there was higher and lower. Cliques had bosses and tough kids were like war lords. Not master-slave literally, but surely in spirit and attitude and feelings. Everywhere above and below, yet my heart was moved to hear we were all created equal. The latter contrasted with so much lived pain. Eyes tell one thing, heart another.
I remember doodling with words at my classroom desk: hear, ear, heart, eat, cr-eat-e. Hearing is a kind of eating through the ears that touches the heart, if you let it in. I learned It takes years to let thought and feeling in.
It blew me away to read in class that slavery officially ended in this country less than one hundred years before my learning about it. If I had been born one hundred years earlier, there would be slaves and a ghastly war on the horizon, reaching the spot on which my school house stood. And slavery was still very much part of human life!
Why was I so surprised? Didn't I learn from the Bible that human beings were killers? Didn't I learn from European history that white Christians persecute and kill each other? Stories of religious persecution touched the founding of this country. Our country. Founded on freedom from persecution - a story for schoolchildren? Can such an idea be real? Once it grips the heart, nothing less will do.
Our, an important word. Our last two national elections, 2000 and 2004, show loud and clear that religious Christians persecute each other. Conservatives were true Christians, liberals the fallen ones, so the former would have you believe. What seemed like a war of words was followed by bodies.
It almost seems wherever we tap human life, there are wars of one sort or another. I am not willing to concede war is basic and inevitable. There is much we can do and need to try to do.
And growing up Jewish? My skirmishes with anti-Semitism were minor but real. "I don't like people like you," a remark that would come out of the blue, in a bus, elevator, on the street, a restaurant, a summer house, sometimes with a challenge to fight. "I want to smash your face in." The first times it happened I didn't realize what was meant. A stranger wanting to hurt you because you were Jewish. It didn't sink in there were jobs you couldn't get, places you couldn't live because you were Jewish.
I grew up in an immigrant town, busy people trying to make a go of it. Democracy worked in the daytime. I heard it was not like this everywhere. I knew even in my town Jews were not allowed in the country club. Years later, the one class reunion I went to was in that club. At the reunion I met a high school love who broke up with me because her priest told her to. I with my wife, she with her husband, good people, fruits of prejudice.
If there was a quota system in college, I didn't know about it. The University of Pennsylvania gave me a chance and I took it. Worlds opened. Worlds never stopped opening. I've paid less attention to closed than open doors. I'm aware of ceilings. No Jewish president, for example. And I know that, contrary to myth, Jews don't really run things - the kings of the economy are elsewhere. But there have been more than enough open doors for me, more rooms than I'll ever be able to use. More than enough for a former slave in Egypt. An immigrant's son, happy to be given the chance.
Seared by traumas, personal and world. A special density in childhood: newsreels of Jews in Nazi concentration camps, corpse-like faces, skin and bones, living corpses as they say, real ones piled in mass graves. The unbelieving look of American soldiers, capable of horror and compassion. Too much to see and believe, to take in. It changed me forever. Not just six million Jews, the end of Yiddish culture, Holocaust. The haunted faces that have no end.
When I was older, a German girl touched by head looking for horns. "You're nice," she said surprised. A Jew can be nice for a German girl to touch! In school she learned that Hitler saved Germany from the Jews. She learned about the good he did for Germany. I looked at her and saw corpse-like faces. Nice to touch?
You can't believe that Shakespeare, Wagner, Nietzsche paved the way. That Heidegger could be part of it. That Ezra Pound could be part of it. How can beauty and truth be part of it?
Above all, the haunted faces. The world is afraid of these haunted faces. A taste of which I saw in starving populations of Africa and Bengladesh. Inhumanity as a defining term of the human, a way of life. How do we get past it so easily? Beheadings in front of video cameras. Proud advertisements for destruction in displays of shock and awe.
* * *
The death camps in Poland. My mother's parents came from Poland. Our cleaning woman was Polish. The young woman who took care of me in my first years was Polish. The woman who cared for my mother in her last months was Polish. When I see the Jews and Arabs sharing the same neighborhoods in Brooklyn, I wonder if something parallel happened with Eastern European immigrants in the New World. Some kind of symbiosis of killer-killed. A hallucinated symbiosis perhaps, horrifyingly dangerous. We have a lot to learn about toxic couplings.
* * *
I read that calling off a wedding because of his family's anti-Semitism might have been one factor that helped push Bush's already heavy party drinking "over the edge." (Hatfield, p. 37) I can empathize with how the pain of life twists people out of shape and how, in some cases, the twisting has a propulsive force. The twist of prejudice may be crushing but also propels. My Catholic girlfriend's rejection of me because I was Jewish was crushing, yet jettisoned me out of Passaic into a larger world. Rejection played a role in my prison break.
After college I went out with one gentile girl after another, a little like Portnoy's Complaint. Was I getting revenge, getting my own back, trying to right myself, getting what high school denied me? Cross-cultural stimulation, down with barriers. I grew from sampling tastes of life's rich palette. Could all these riches be happening to me?! Anther form of disbelief: disbelief that life's this good complements disbelief that life's this bad.
* * *
How do we let in the fact that we used the atom bomb?! That we are friends with the people we did this to? They attacked us first. They were brutal. We saved lives by ending the war faster. We made the world afraid of using such weapons in the future. Bombing Japan helped keep peace in the cold war.
We used it because we had it. Because we are human beings and human beings do such things. If the Nazis can inflict a Holocaust, we can inflict the Bomb.
things up inside. Inflammation inflames, inflates, magnifies pain.
We begin blowing up in infancy and the need to blow up remains. Inside there is a baby blowing up. When we are babies we can not hurt too many people. Adults blow up with greater consequences. So much technology supports a desire to blow up. Adults as babies, blowing up with lethal know-how.
* * *
We are told that terrorists want to turn radiation devices against us and are looking for ways to do this. The World Trade Center decimation teaches that they could use our own materials and weapons against us. Terrorists show they are capable of anything. They hate us and don't want us alive. Beheadings on TV symbolize the will to behead our country, to behead all of us. They kill anyone who might help the Iraqi population: medical personnel, UN personnel. They are determined to make our intervention in Iraq fail or, at least, to hurt us as much as possible if we succeed, or partially succeed. They kill their own people to show their will, power and dedication. They kill anyone they think may symbolize or actualize American interests. They turn our lies against us and offer horrible alternatives. Terror inflames terror. American terror « Islamic terror. Who will win? Is the notion of victory still relevant?
* * *
Can we let in that we are economic terrorists? National and global terrorists?
Look at the tactics of the Republican party in the last two elections. Look how many people are appalled at what happened to the voting process, saw with stunned disbelief the stealing of an election. How can Florida officials get away with it? How can the supreme court get away with it? Getting away with it is the name of the game.
Islamic terrorists are saying you can't get away with it but they propagate more of the same, even worse. Would you rather live under the Taliban or Bush? These should not be our alternatives. We must broaden the base of what is possible. But can we?
* * *
"We live under the rule of law. We are spreading democracy. They attack us because they hate our way of life. More democracy exists today than fifty years ago. People want freedom. "
A rule of law the supreme court cancels at will?
The supreme court stopped the vote count in the presidential election of the year 2000. The vote count was going against Bush. Those who controlled the court did not want Gore to win and made sure he didn't.
Judicial terrorism? Turning the law against itself, destructive use of law?
Election rape. Economic rape. Rape of the legal system.
This is what we export?
I prefer Bush to the Taliban. By Bush I mean the whole ugly system he is part of. But, my God, what kind of choice is this?
* * *
"What is the meaning of counting votes or of votes counting?" asks A.
"The 2004 election was legit," answers B.
"You're conceding 2000 wasn't?" asks A.
"The supreme court stopped the count so Democrats wouldn't steal the election," reasons B.
"You mean the election was decided?" asks A. "Bush was elected before the count?"
"It's over," says B. "We did what we did to protect our country. Get on with it, swallow it."
"And 2004? Do we know who won? Voting machines without a paper trace? Funny things in Ohio? Who has faith in the last two elections, the winners? What went on is sickening. Independent media coverage is shrinking. We do not have a legitimately elected government founded on good faith."
"The American people want…" says B.
"The American people…a cynical phrase. Wouldn't we need to know the vote count first?"
* * *
If the theft was done lawfully, the matter is even worse. it means the law does not provide protection against itself. You can use the law to get away with murder. Is the legal system repairable? Not all of it is bad. But the wound the supreme court inflicted on the land when it stopped the vote count in order to elect its favored candidate - this wound is festering, its infection spreading. If the top of the legal scale wounds the law, what trickles down to the rest of society?
* * *
I saw a sign hovering over the halls of congress: "Exporting democracy raises the standard of living in the world, even if globalization exacerbates the gap between the richest and everyone else."
* * *
There was little or no TV news coverage of the march on Washington to protest the Iraq war. No decent coverage of over 100,000 people in Washington, DC who marched all day long. In the newspaper I saw signs like: "Bush Lies, Who Dies" and "Worst President Ever" and a Buddhist sign, "Peaceful Impeachment". Some reports say 250,000 were there. September, 2005. There was coverage on C-Span and scattered mentions, but no major coverage.
The American people want…
WE ARE AMERICAN PEOPLE!
* * *
One day after the big protest march, Cindy Sheehan got herself arrested for loitering, Her strategic arrest received coverage on all the major TV channels, something the protest of hundreds of thousands of marchers failed to do.
Getting arrested to arrest wider attention, a spontaneous strategy cultivated in the 1960''s, is less dramatic than beheading captives on TV, but, I think, a more desirable form of protest.
Media coverage of anti-administration views has shrunk, given that corporations that seed the government own the media.
* * *
Is there something about Bush that adds to the sense of disbelief? Something disarming? Infuriating? A strong man stance that inspires trust in some, disgust in many? The hallucinatory, top gun landing on an aircraft announcing victory a short time after combat started. Three years and over three thousand American deaths later we learn the "war" could go on twenty years or more. It could go on indefinitely. Perpetual war for perpetual peace.
What is it about Bush that is so reassuring to many?
* * *
I read reports that he is charming, people like him. I also read that he is mean, vindictive, rewards loyalty at the expense of competence. He or his strategists know how to get power. He has real talent in making and using connections, including inherited connections. He may have alienated much of the world with the way his group creates and consolidates power. Yet foreign TV coverage calls him with hushed awe and fear, if subtle contempt, "the most powerful man in the world."
What is it he and his group are good at? They are better at abusing power for the good of the few than using power for the public good.
What is it foreign TV means when it calls Bush the most powerful man in the world? Are they worried what spin the dervish will take, what direction military might and money will flow? The word Bush has become synonymous with power, and with it the fear of how power is used. Perhaps he arouses more apprehension than respect, like a grown up baby in a china shop who lacks a sense of disaster a wave of his arms may cause. Only in this case people are the fragile ware and the world the shop.
* * *
The Bush group's response to disasters can be disastrous. Their response to the flooding of New Orleans was disastrous. Their rebuilding of Iraq, damaged by their weaponry, has been horrifying. Reports say oil fields have been permanently damaged by our repair jobs. Many of the moves we've made to help have caused more harm.
They are good at stealing elections, starting wars, and making money for themselves but everything they do takes place in an atmosphere of violation. Violation is part of the tone with which they exercise power.
Many people link their feelings in the wake of the election rape of 200 with feelings after 9/11. Disaster meets and melds with disaster. Rather than 9/11 wiping out election rape 2000, a sense of violation radiates through both. With a pervasive sense that there is more to know about both. We await the play of history to learn more about what happened and what is at stake.
The chills up and down my spine tell me that the underside of our country's bully lies, force and fiat are grotesquely mirrored in miniature by terrorism's brutal face. A synchrony of ugliness and horror.
* * *
One thing Bush has been good at is making money out of companies taking a downturn (Hatsfield, 2004). It is a burgeoning financial art from which many in corporate power benefit. A company does not have to succeed in order to enrich those who run it. Those on top can make a fortune selling stocks before they tailspin and make some more on bailouts. What is successful is not the company, but those who profit from high salaries, well timed stock sales, or astronomical sums fed to the company by buy-outs and mergers. A person can get filthy rich without ever piloting a company to real success. With financial know-how, one can make a killing on a sinking ship.
This is the track record the top administrator of our country brings to his job. A basic principle: it is not necessary for a business to succeed in order for those who run it to succeed. Those on top can win even if the business tanks. It gets even scarier if you apply this basic principle to running the business of the USA. The USA may be the victim of runaway deficit, but the financial elite gets richer. Iraq may go to hell but money is being made on war and reconstruction.
One can tick off data on vital life signs, e.g., our environment. Environmental safeguards give way to corporate profit. The environment is part of our body. What happens to the environment happens to us. But inter-textural thinking loses to the dollar sign. Taken to a ludicrous extreme, business acts as if it is not necessary for the environment to survive in order for companies to profit from it. One would think those well placed in the profit machine would care for the support they need in order to thrive. At the moment, it looks like Earth is becoming another disposable object in the power money mill (hey, why not! Isn't it going to die out billions of years from now anyway or transform with the Rapture?).
Why doesn't it matter to millions of people that someone whose expertise is making money on failure is steering the ship of state? He is terrific at putting a good face on things. He has a way of speaking that is convincing, sincere, measured, condescending, small bites that make truth strange. It sounds true, tastes true, but sugarcoats truth, fabricates and rewrites reality to get one's way.
Getting one's way becomes more important than getting things right. Making things sound good is better than things be good.
Bush has a certain appeal. Some like his religious nature or show of religion. Some feel he is one of them, a plain man, moral, caring, on the right side of things. He will protect them. He is for a strong country, guns for the people, military might. He cares for the country. He is against the liberal craze for gay marriage, abortions, mercy deaths, relativism. He is against liberal spending for free-loaders, looters and parasites on society. He is against misplaced sympathy for terrorists and criminals. It almost sounds as if liberals who want better health care, education, and poverty programs are enemies of Jesus. Liberals who want to think how best to defeat violent extremism are enemies of state.
A rhetoric of inclusion is substituted for inclusion and it works. Word over reality. Word as image. He says he is for small government and national debt soars, deficit spending increases. He cuts taxes and the rich get richer, the poor poorer. But he says things are better, life is improving, and his words somehow soothe and evoke belief. What is it that dulls public uproar? Can it be that things getting better for the very wealthy comforts the populace?
Hallucinated virtue, hallucinated righteousness. One of the most important things in politics, it seems, is to find lies that win, winning lies. Lies that know how to create hallucinated truth. Lies that carry the conviction of truth.
To call lies truth and truth lies.
Propaganda makes it almost seem that we know what we're talking about. But things never are so clear and easy. Reality is not simply what we say about it.
* * *
Our government conveys a sense that it is making things safer, while our children die in war and in birth. Our death rate in infancy is high compared to other advanced countries, but this higher death rate is mainly for poorer people, less important people.
We somehow think we have the best in everything and are amazed to find out this is not so. Something is wrong with our way of life if we keep needing to be convinced that it is better than it is. Is it so hard to take in that not everyone wants to be like us, that we can learn something about life from others?
The Bush administration plays off safety against terror. One day emphasizing the threat of terrorism or flu (he does not have to rely much on threats of illegal drugs or illegal immigration, although they can be ratcheted up as needed), the next the protections his policies offer. Mastery of public relations seems a key to success. To keep saying good things about what he is doing is more important than doing good things. To keep saying that things are as he is depicting them, is more important than the way things really are.
There is an awful sense of inflation, something bloated in the feel of things, something airy in the spirit of the times.
Not bloated bodies floating in waters of New Orleans, but bloated egos drowning in financial steroids. The self-assuredness, self-satisfaction, smugness of some investment advisors and corporate managers I've met frighten me. They have little guilt over hurting people. Their adrenal flow is geared to market hype as they propound "sound" principles based on research and intuition with a tone of infallibility. It's scary. They deal with huge sums of money with only one goal: that they come out on top. They get over losing money for others pretty quickly, as long as they manage to come out OK. You get an almost pure look at the survival ego at work, where taking care of oneself shines in the dark. It's hard to paper this over with public relations skills, but with media help even mass marketing of failure becomes easier.
Occasionally, there are cracks. An investigation of bogus news reports found the Bush administration passed off propaganda that made its educatin policy (misnamed, "no child left behind") look better than it was. That is, it distributed as news, fabricated reports intended to convince people that its policies were working. Its efforts included videos and news releases that made the administration look good rather than report facts. People thought they were getting independent reporting when in fact they were fed a political showcase for the Bush administration and the Republican party. The investigation, made by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office, has no direct legal consequences, although it found the Education Department guilty of illegal misrepresentation of information for the sake of public relations.
This is one example of what amounts to a public relations shield around dismal aspects of Bush/G.O.P policy, a thin shield for corporate benefit. One would think it would be enough to make money in more or less truthful ways, rather than multiply earnings for those running the corporate show by what amounts to a chronic shield of lies. Public relations, admittedly, not only puts the best spin on things, but falsifies reality to create a winning slant or image.
Near the beginning of Bush's rise, contemplating a campaign for governor in Texas, he called himself a media creation. (Hatsfield, p. ) The blend of media image with political cunning has paid off. The same kind of public relations savvy, taking liberties with reality, led us into war. The problem is real bodies, real lives pay the price of public relations victories.
* * *
It may be Bush once described himself as dyslexic. But many dyslexic people do quite well on an action level. They have people skills and enjoy getting out there and in the mix. Bush has a real talent for politics or, at least, the image of politics. He is good at doing what he has to do, creating and feeding an image of himself as someone people can trust. That is, someone some people can trust. From the results of the 2000 popular vote, the 2004 election booth exit poles, and current poles, more people are turned off than turned on by him. Many are violently turned off, hate what he stands for and are disgusted with his pose.
Yet many buy the package, mistaking hype for patriotism, and mistaking "patriotism" for strength, morality and security. He plays to the bleachers (religious and class cards) but delivers to moneyed interests. To pass himself off as one of the folk, a common person, a plain man, is quite an achievement, given his own elitist background and ideology. He is able to tune into and display affective veins that resonate with feelings many people have. That he comes off as a bit of a dufus works to his advantage. He seems almost proud of his lack of cultural interests and knowledge. He is able to mobilize and channel hatred of "liberal intellectualism" and readily plays into other educational, class, race and gender enmities (Frank, 2005). Yet his own neoconservative ideology is informed by intellectual figures and high level think tanks.
It is an odd combination. When he took office he insisted on a business dress code, projecting efficiency, know-how, towing the line. Yet the line towed had less to do with competency than furthering a certain agenda. So much so, that incompetence spread like a contagious disease through sectors of government systems, as demonstrated by the miserable initial response to the New Orleans disaster. Incompetence that resulted from placing political expediency over genuine job ability and public need. It's as if his administration is more interested in scoring points with certain groups than helping the country with what needs helping.
In the array of images he projects, he includes an image of a bungler. This is at once alarming and disarming. As if he communicates: oh well, what did you expect from someone like me, it can't be helped. A certain awkward bungling is part of his sympathetic appeal (to those who are taken in by this appeal).
People even make fun of his verbal gaffs. His gaffs run around the internet and are gathered for publication. At times, he makes fun of himself. Jokes spread about his verbal ability, knowledge, and intellectual functioning. He trips over himself when he least wants to, says astonishingly self-damaging things with casual innocence, as if he feels he is getting you on his side. At times he seems a clown. A lethal clown. At the drop of a hat he can turn against an enemy, real or imagined, take drops of hate from the hat, not a magician's or a clown's but a hunter's, and take dreadful, efficient aim at someone in his way. If he is a front man, he is a good one, clearing paths for his group.
* * *
Now some core people in the Bush-Rove-Cheyney system are being criminally investigated. Progressive critics are pointing to a culture of corruption, a selling out of America to political and business interests (the latter two are virtually one). It remains to be seen how this sordid business gets sorted out.
At the moment, it looks like the group systems that brought Bush and the G.O.P to power have control of the voting infrastructure and it will take an overwhelming display of displeasure from a broad voting public to overcome this stranglehold. What is heartening is that parts of the legal infrastructure are still functioning. While there are networks of interests and power we know little about, some portion of the system still tries to work relatively honestly. Some career workers are trying to do their jobs. Too little, too late perhaps, but still breathing.
To be able to put more than half the country out of play in order to get one's way is no small feat. But the majority of people feel the ugly impact of a mean rule and it is hard to believe they can be put out of play indefinitely. Somewhere along the line, as the quotient of meanness in the soul rises and spreads its poison, something in the human heart will recoil.
* * *
Very often, the numerical difference between majority and minority is slim. The losing vote in a national election is usually huge. We are speaking of millions of people on winning and losing sides. This is made all the more apparent when a president loses the popular vote but finds other ways to win an election. One of the most bizarre and sickening political coups I witnessed in my adult life is Bush seizing the White House and acting as if he had a mandate. Acting as if the majority of people in this country did not exist, did not count (the vote count that never was), and did not matter. What mattered only was his agenda.
Economic novocaine in the nerves of the psyche disguised as patriotism. The economic elite on the top and class hatred near the bottom. That big business saps the strength of small town and middle America is masked by a culture war against evolution, relativism, abortion, stem cell research, and enemies such as liberals, gays and terrorists. Political symbols mask economic hardship and identity threat.
It was almost Rove-like to see gays kissing each other on the front page of major newspapers in the middle of the 2004 election race, the kiss of death for the democrats. Was the outbreak of gay marriages during election season only a spontaneous outpouring of gay pride and freedom, a boiling over of pent-up feeling? Or was there also an obscure destructive force operating from within coupled with deft cunning from without, stirring such a threatening, in your face public display?
Madness of one side doesn't make the other side sane. Our society is made of shared or co-created madness, various social sectors playing their roles. My money is on the side of the gays. They've inspired cultural waves of great import. My bet is they will blow open more psychosocial falsehoods. The gay revolution has warps but the cultural result will be more freedom to explore life without assaulting each other. Is that too much for "democracy" to handle?
What we've seen for two terms of Republican dominance of all branches of government is a victory for the bully in the playground. The bully who thrives on humiliation as a political weapon and as an ego steroid. To capitalize on the abjection of others is to mistake political dominance for wisdom. Winning is one thing, to exercise power wisely another. Failure of the latter has harsh human consequences, no matter how rich one gets.
* * *
Words that don't go away, words that ring include: Enron; Halliburton; power lobbies; oil; energy manipulation; cherry picking (information manipulation and falsification).
Injustices that won't go away: demoting, firing, slandering, humiliating whistle blowers; threats we don't know about to those who speak up; law suits not to win but to ruin people, to shut people up.
A creeping national disgrace, a national epidemic we truly should worry about: media manipulation by selective inattention or misleading slants. Last night, an almost random example, and this is a mild case: possible criminal indictments of people related to the neoconservative agenda were not mentioned by major channel news. Attention was riveted to local crimes and government reassurances that Bush's policies were working. What the public heard across the land was that the war and economy were on the right track.
What has to happen before the wrong of this kind of reality blackout obtrudes into public awareness? Not news as reassurance or politically motivated demolition but investigative concern. An attempt to say what is happening or at least to voice a range of possibilities and own the frightening predicament that interpretation outstrips knowledge.
Where is the news?
* * *
A month after writing the above, an indictment finally became official and coverage momentarily cracked the shell. Cheney's chief of staff, Libby, was indicted for perjury, false statements, and obstruction of justice. This is the tip of the iceberg of a network in which "spin" and fabrication are substituted for reality and become "reality" with deadly consequences.
We will see how long decent coverage can be sustained.
* * *
For many years we heard that tobacco is not bad for you or, if it is bad, not addicting. We got used to lying as a way of life or a way of doing business. Some of us did not get used to it. Many are sickened by it. Lying as a way of life makes us sick.
Seeing people die from addictive lies cracks the lie barrier somewhat.
Beat the war drum, wave the flag, create a hallucinatory shield to blunt the impact of real people dying in a needless war. Or is death itself part of our hallucinatory shield.
The glory of dying for - lies?
In grade school we felt superior to ancient South American natives who supposedly sacrificed humans in rituals. And our death sacrifices - for power? Money? Oil? National interests? A psychopathic democracy? A hallucinated democracy? An assertion of superiority?
* * *
When Bush and Cheney took office we were told that the lies of the Clinton administration would be cleansed by truth. One such "truth":
global warming is liberal propaganda. Big utility vehicles are good for the economy, you get a tax break for polluting. Why worry about conditions that support life when there is money to be made?
Another "truth": Iraq is an imminent threat to our security with its weapons of mass destruction and terrorist ties. The fact that evidence for these claims were cherry picked or made up only intensified the administration's insistence on them.
With aggressive repetition of incantations, assertion was taken as
Attack Iraq before a smoking gun becomes a mushroom cloud.
Fight the war there, so we don't have to fight it here.
We will be greeted with flowers.
A hallucinatory spell was cast upon the country. We have been wounded by our own strategies.
On the one hand, our dread of terrorism was played on. Our dread of terrorism as uncontainable, attacking from nowhere, anytime. On the other hand, we are powerful, invulnerable, capable of beating anyone anywhere. We will show them. Nothing can withstand our great power. We will clean up Iraq in no time with few troops, insufficient armor, inadequate planning and vision.
We can ignore our best military advice and our best intelligence data. We have a political, ideological, economic agenda that trumps data and advice. As for the American people? A sense of righteous wrath fused with complacency, patriotic fury, shock, hubris, contempt. The sleeping giant, aroused, will flick off the midgets of terror.
We are winners.
And truth? Not a marketable commodity? Create slogans you need to market a war.
Mushroom clouds of lies.
* * *
"You need a war to win an election."
"You need a war to get people behind our agenda."
Wars unify. Patriotism unifies.
Nullify dissent. Nullify the impact of dissent. Make dissent irrelevant, impotent. A new era in which dissent is ineffectual.
News reports in papers and TV dispense war propaganda.
A truth-proof shield is erected around minds banging at walls. Hallucinatory shields say what is isn't, what isn't is. Make the world safe for psychopathy.
* * *
Is it coincidence that high government leaders associated with the oil business preside over a time of high oil prices? Is it good for construction companies associated with individuals in high government to oversee reconstruction of a country this same government invaded? Economic root systems and their mythologies are widely tangled.
Dulled not just by propaganda, "education," media, entertainment. Widespread medication! Drugs that manipulate consciousness are good for you if American companies sell them. Medicalization of feelings enrich the economy. And something very subtle and important in addition to corporate enrichment: It's not good to feel bad about what's happening.
But many do feel bad about what's happening.
* * *
We are facing an unbearable state of affairs. It is difficult to believe that those we trust with our protection are ready to harm us for gain. The need to idealize our protectors is deeply rooted. We try our best to whitewash parents who hurt us until reality breaks through or until we are ready to face reality. Denial only goes so far, but that is far enough to mask a lot of damage.
The result of reality breaking our idealizing cocoon can be awful. Harsh disillusionment, cynicism, profound negativism, even nihilism can be a part of what we call education to reality. Another part of this education is a kind of everyday psychopathy, learning to manipulate oneself and others in a winning way. To get ahead, to stay afloat, to survive, and for some, to get to the top.
There are psychopaths on top and bottom and everywhere between. Bottom scrapers and top breakers, alike, set feelings for others aside in order to take care of Numero Uno or one's clan. The crony system under Bush appears more and more to compromise quality of government, inasmuch as the balance between loyalty and competence tips too much toward the former. They are good at taking care of their own but outside their membrane a sense of injury is spreading.
To take care of oneself is a natural tendency. A well known saying by Hillel: If I'm not for myself, who will be for me; if I am only for myself, what am I; if not now, when? Such a saying calls for a good working dynamism of diverse tendencies. Multiple capacities are part of our evolutionary plasticity. Inner and outer diversity is intrinsic to our being. A diversity of tendencies enters many kinds of relations, antagonistic, complementary, symbiotic, parasitic, to name a few. To be for another, to be for oneself, to be for one's group, to be for humanity - to be for oneself and others at the same time - quite a challenge. But we are challenged by nothing less.
One or another tendency can run amok. At present, economic factors are eating up other realities with cancerous momentum. The problem is bigger than the Bush regime, as the latter is a stunning offshoot of the former. Corporate interests sprout candidates who lobby on their behalf and one of the most powerful today is the president of our country.
Self-assertion of corporate interests are pushing aside care for others and our planet. The very very rich are getting very much richer and the price that is paid by earth and water and atmosphere and millions and millions of people is secondary to the economic drive. The term, self-interest, as used by Bush has come to have a cloying ring and toxic sting. It means doing whatever we want for our team and to hell how it affects others. We = unholy alliance between a neoconservative power agenda, aspects of the religious right, and whatever class enmity can be mobilized to further the Great Cause (Great Cause = corporate enrichment, the Rapture, supply side Jesus, American power, Republican/neocon dominance, tyrannical "morality" that kills and injures without scruple.
Traditionally, religion has played some role in attempting to balance self-assertion. It set laws of fair play and fair treatment, mixing fear, guilt and love at different levels of aspiration. Too often, its power drive, fused with an overbearing sense of rightness, obliterates differences between Caesar and God. Religious guilt, too, can become cancerous, exploiting devotional needs to the point of subjection. Tendencies meant to offset excessive self-assertion often produce difficulties of their own.
Any tendency can atrophy or hypertrophy. We are perennial neophytes learning to become partners with our capacities, tentatively exploring, deciphering ourselves. We are learning a lot about the universe but what we do with it depends a lot on what we are able to do with ourselves.
Nothing is more important than creative approaches to the inner and outer diversity we everywhere encounter. As a human group, we need to challenge ourselves with creative morality that grapples with how to use what we find, discover and create. A message that runs through the Bible is that we don't know what we're doing. Respectful, open ethics grows from sensitivity to this unknowing.
One of our greatest enemies is a hallucinated sense of being right. The sense of being right has killed more people than any other state of mind. If anything triggers holocaustal ravages between people, the sense of being right will be a prominent player.
Why hallucinated sense of right? Eventually, the particular hallucinated craze passes and when it passes it is recognized as madness. Often hate driven madness, sprinkled with self-idolization. Ku Klux Klan, Senator McCarthy, Inquisition, Nazis, Bolshevist slaughters, gulags. Now, I fear, a neocon agenda gripped by corporate power, drawing political support from evangelical religion and class/cultural enmities, augmented by media brainwashing. A savage sense of entitlement creating "truth" assemblies to get one's way.
"Truth" becomes a cipher, a medium or material to mold as one needs in order to support one's designs and discount contrary evidential findings and truth claims of others. That is, truth as subservient to power, not truth as power but power as "truth." Lying in the service of power is truth.
It is as if neocon leaders feel they have cracked the truth or power code of the universe and see the way the world must go. A frightening conclusion to one who lived through nearly two/thirds of a century in which some two hundred million people were killed for reasons of power, state, tribe. Many the victims of righteous wrath, many the victims of political calculation. Weddings of hallucination and calculation can be blood-curdling, especially on this scale.
* * *
If a president of the United States of America quips about Jews going to hell because they don't believe in Jesus (Hatsfield, 2001, p. 167), you could say, well, he was joking, playing with stereotypes, look how pro-Israel he is. You've got to wonder about the substratum of such humor.
At the moment, the big joke is on our country. A sense of being right, whether right or wrong, is part of body counts and the economic fleecing of society.
Hallucinations tend to have an invariant, absolute character. They brook no evidential disconfirmation. What they assert must be. A kind of unquestionable ought or demand that feels more real than reality. The universe must be as I say it is, whether or not others see or hear it that way. The I is often embedded in a we, group rightness. My group is right about the nature of life and that is all there is to it. Hallucinatory rightness transfixes, galvanizes groups. Dialogue and argument abort to propaganda, persuasion, force.
We fail to see hallucinated I's/we's embedded in political assertions, partly because we think of psychosis as confined to individuals who need care. We make too great a division between clinical psychosis and psychotic/psychotic-like dynamics in everyday life.
People are fascinated with clinical madness and its specific hallucinations because they touch an intimation of something vaguely sensed as genuine, like dreaming. An elusive x we feel is somehow there, part of our make-up, determinative, meaningful. The madman feeds it to us in frightful ways. As may the artist. Shakespeare would not be Shakespeare without the tantalizing madness his plays portray, overtly and between the lines. A feverish, precious dementia adding dimensionalities of self. Psychoanalysis attracts and repels because it lays bare a certain ground of madness, the fragility of sanity, madness that is part of sanity. Boundaries between mad and sane are not hard and fast and one of the great ways humanity tricks itself is trying to create too great an opposition between them. Madness and sanity often are indistinguishably mixed. Calling something sane or mad doesn't make it so. This is so with individuals and especially in ways we govern ourselves.
Really mad individuals who distinguish themselves from the group are easier to spot than group madness. Group members support and inflame each other. Appreciation of how mad a group can be must come from outside the group, but it is precisely perceptions outside that tend to be devalued.
Some people inside the madness of a group feel that something is off, know there is a warp, a falsehood that is worshipped. While they sense a madness is being played out, they are unable to mobilize active opposition within themselves. Perception collapses, simmers, awaits another day. Artists and writers often are celebrated for expressing truth about the madness of an era. By the time a people begin to shed the skin of one madness, they are already zipping up in another.
Actions that seem sane one moment, prove mad the next. Nazi and Bolshevik death camps, bombing Hiroshima, fundamentalist, exclusionist "morality", brake-less corporate profiteering, state and stateless murder, ripping off the environment, unnecessary war, social and psychic abuse, ripping off our awesome symbolic capacity, pretending feelings do not matter, making believe people don't exist except as ciphers to manipulate, turning self and others into money making machines, turning oneself into a power machine, perverting love of wisdom, converting the need for God into acts of destruction. War as big business and political cement, wounds inflicted by power politics in service of economic megalomania - throw these in the blender and you get an abyss in which madness hallucinates sanity. Hallucinated sanity hardens spirit, hardens the veins of life.
In the depths of pain, many struggle to reach helpful ways to be together. A struggle we dare not give up on.
* * *
Is hallucination part of survival? I believe it is, e.g., as part of visionary activity, emotive color, creativity. Idealization also smuggles it into everyday life, part of parental love, romantic and ideological love, part of hero worship. A hallucinatory element fuses with idolatry and identification in many forms. The Bible is on to hallucinatory elements of idolatry but fails to turn its critical glare on its own processes, although it comes close. False gods are part of growth processes. We move from identification to identification, idealized versions of self and other part of psychic movement. Often idealizations go through phases, from living tissue to dead shell.
As political leaders know, idealization can be negative as well as positive. Hallucinating an enemy as devil mobilizes strong emotions that can be shaped by policy into action. Hate is a strong force in hallucination, enabling will and power to destroy. Today, melding hallucinatory elements with strands of paranoid logic plays an important role in marketing war. Skilled politicians play positive and negative idealizations against each other (us against them, them against us) semi-aware they dip into immense hallucinatory power. They manipulate edges of profound forces to get what they want, with only a shallow sense of the destructive potential they tap.
A shallow sense of consequences is near the core of much contemporary psychopathic hallucinatory activity. To imagine one can get away with it may be the greatest hallucination of all.
* * *
Human beings are good at ignoring evidence that goes against what they need to believe. To the many who wanted to believe our government is good, that our leaders have our best interests at heart, that our leaders wouldn't harm us, that America stands for freedom, democracy, and moral values - for these people, other honest voices, more critical of our actions, go unheeded. Not only unheeded. Those who say our government is not telling the whole story are devalued, debunked, treated as irrelevant, mocked as wrong: hallucinated out of existence.
They are wayward, misled souls who don't share the truth of a positively hallucinated America. Those who are not one with us don't count.
Group hallucinations, like those of individuals, clash. If God tells our leaders one thing, He tells enemy leaders another. A great deal of economic and religious war s draw on wars between hallucinations.
The secrecy concerning government energy dealings, the clouds surrounding 9/11 intelligence, the disregard of negative intelligence concerning Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction, diversion of attention from actual terrorist threats to a paper or dummy threat (from Qaeda to Hussein), weakening rather than strengthening our capacity to fight terrorism: all this and more hallucinated out of existence, deprived of impact by disinformation supported by media and image skills. To hallucinate falsehood, error and tragedy out of existence, to hallucinate something that is there as not there, requires cooperation from many sources.
A purloined letter effect. While those in control slashed, bullied, discredited and attempted to shame people who offered solid critiques, a double hallucination made disgusting acts of the former palatable, while dropping the latter into a space-time warp of irrelevancy. Critics could scream as loudly as they wanted, but they were voices in a vacuum, black holed, nullified.
Except that those outside the hypnotic system heard and feelings mounted.
* * *
From infancy on we blot out impacts of events that are too much for us. We make believe others are better or worse than they are in order to regulate their impact on us. One scenario is to idealize the parents who wound us. We "hallucinate" better or worse parents than we have, better and worse selves than we are. As if there is a magnifying-minifying machine inside that blows things up and tones things down. An infinitizing-infinitesimalizing capacity. It makes monsters, witches, devils, and ineffably beatific presences out of people.
There are times when the difference between hallucinatory presence and person is meaningless and one mistakes one for the other as part of background fluctuations of over/under-estimation of people and events. To mistake presence for person on a consistent or extreme basis, tilts one towards institutional care. Yet this fluidity exists in everyday adult life, contributing to richness of experience and to disaster.
My concern here is the parent who attempts to ward off the child's critical mind, tries to put the child's criticism out of play, a parent who can not bear the child's negative view. This can begin very early, e.g., a parent taking the child's crying or screaming as a negation of parental value. I have worked with people who felt a baby wrong for screaming. The baby's cry was experienced as a personal attack. Some even saw the baby as an annihilating devil. There are baby-parent situations in which each is felt as an existential threat to the other, so much so that demonic qualities come into play.
A toxic variation of this is the parent who pours himself into the child's personality, saturating the space where the child might have been. The parent attempts to replace the child's life with his/her own, filling the child with parental anxieties, concerns, beliefs. The result is a kind of idolatry. The parent needs the child's worship and exploits it. Self-worship scenarios mediating self-hate and exploitation of intimacy are passed on through generations.
Emotional toxins can be so intense that the infant/child is forced to take in poisons to eke out what nourishment it can. Growth becomes a self-poisoning process for the sake of survival, with the hope that better is to come. For some, the poison fades into the background and is normalized. For others, it remains in the foreground and is ceaselessly fought. Fighting becomes a way of life, an unconscious disposition. A lot of what one goes through drops into the background of living but has effect. Emotional toxins blend into one's being, poisoning existence in muted ways. For those in positions of great power, the toxic background may invisibly blend with doctrine and strategies and take a toll which becomes all to visible over time.
It is not unusual for idealization to blot out horrific apprehensions. The child can not deal realistically with awful parenting and may downplay how bad things are in hope of waiting things out and getting past them. Even in extremely bad situations a child may have within herself an image of an ideal parent, better than her own, often confused with the actual parent. This is a way of maintaining hope with repeated heartbreak.
I think some version of this is at work with our government. The child's naïve faith in the goodness of caretakers is exploited. Identification with powerful figures blots out the painful impact misdeeds of the latter have. This ultimately results in a crises of faith. Does goodness exist in this world or is it a matter of power makes right or even wrong makes right.
It is as if the child begins with a positive expectation. Goodness and right belong together. That they are played off against each other in complex power manipulations is something one has to grow into, a distasteful growth to some, welcome to others. I am not simply saying that many of us remain children (although that is true in important ways), that we are incorrigible innocents (also true). I am trying to underline the fact that important psychological operations like identification and idealization - which I believe have a hallucinatory tint - continue all life long and play a role in private and public life. I believe they play an especially important role in the current political scene.
Governments frequently pull the wool over the eyes of a populace. It is nothing new. Governments have always been self-justificatory. Groups promote partisan histories. Balances between self-justification and self-criticism shift. When the former too much swamps the latter, destruction grows.
The media increasingly goes for image over reality, propaganda dispensed as fact or probability. At the moment, the most powerful public media that ever existed, together with government, are increasingly driven by corporate winds. It is as if semi-hallucinatory identification/idealization processes that blur parental realities in childhood are filtered through marketing techniques, so that the downside, ploys, fables, and sins of those wielding great power are washed away by mechanisms similar to those children use to blot out pain.
* * *
For Freud hallucination is a primary psychic operation, protecting the psyche from unbearable pain. A prototypical Freudian scenario is the baby hallucinating the breast when hungry. Whether this actually happens or not we may never know. Nevertheless, the power of the idea is fruitful.
Freud is saying that hallucinatory fantasy plays a basic role in psychic life. Capacities at many levels blend, so that hallucinatory vision and analytic critique join in experience and action. Neither precludes the other. There is such a thing as hallucinatory clarity, hallucinatory logic. Rationality can be hallucinatory. We are often tricked by our reasoning, discovering not only that we were wrong, but deluded. Hoodwinked by our minds.
At the same time, something like hallucinatory vision adds emotive color to events. Even in a baby's feed. It may not just be that an infant hallucinates a good feed when hungry, but that hallucinatory processes go on in the feed itself. Hallucinatory color is part of intense interactions. Something gratifying becomes heavenly, something frustrating becomes hellish.
I am, for the moment, using heaven and hell as shorthand notations for networks of happenings that add surplus intensity and color to experience. The word "added" is misleading because this "excess" is not "in addition to" but intrinsic to. It is part of the way experience manifests itself, constitutes itself. Hallucinatory threads run through our lives, part of the weave of our beings. We encounter hallucinatory awareness as foreign because it usually contributes so seamlessly. But, at times, it works overtime and stands over and against us as menacing. It is hard to realize that the ghastly events coming at us have roots in processes that constitute us.
* * *
Freud's work on hallucinations is, like anything he focused on, complex, too much to do justice here. I am pulling on a thread or two to develop something I need. What I end up with is not Freud's views per se, but my use of some of his visions as stimuli.
In one of his works, Freud depicts psychotic loss of world and self, a world catastrophe in which the object world disintegrates, vanishes and, after a caesura or blackout, returns in a hallucinated key. He advances the touching and searing notion, that hallucination offsets object loss, give us an alternate world to make up for the one we could not have, the one that died or fell apart or was too threatening. He emphasizes a restorative function of hallucination, creating a hallucinated other in face of catastrophic threat to our relational sense. Hallucination is a way of holding on to other when self and other are threatened with psychic disintegration. This applies to self as well, hallucinating self when the latter is undergoing catastrophic destruction.
We do get ourselves into a house of mirrors and house of cards. If hallucination is a thread in self -identity, catastrophic threat to that identity involves threat to hallucinated identity (at least in part). In a way, life takes us through a series of identity collapses, as we trade in one realization of who we are for another. An identity formation that grips us may seem a hallucinated craze when it passes, a process that repeats itself as we grow. Various identity waves assault or uplift us over time. One hallucinated identity replaces an other.
What concerns me here is the absolute certainty hallucination carries in face of disintegration. Self is threatened, hallucinated self shores it up. Hallucinated self is threatened, further hallucinatory work comes to the rescue. Of course, the shoring up, the rescue must be temporary. The catastrophic process goes on. Hallucination is a part of catastrophe as it tries to stem it.
Some hallucinations last a very long time. Certain religious systems and beliefs grip people over millennia, pouring hallucinatory cement into dumbfounded personalities. As if hallucination fills holes and masks lack of development of personal and social structures. However, use of hallucinatory cement is not confined to religions.
What I am screaming about is that it is happening now, in broad daylight, for everyone to see. Hallucinated weapons of mass destruction become an excuse for a very real hallucinated war. Any difference between hallucination and the calculated real breaks down, if they ever were very different. Real people die in shock and awe. Real people die for hallucinated causes.
There is a law: where there is hallucination, there is catastrophe and in psychic life possibly the reverse, catastrophe provokes hallucinatory activity. Hallucinatory work is not confined to catastrophic events (e.g., the role hallucination plays in beatific moments of inexpressible beauty). But for our purpose here, scratch hallucination, get catastrophe. Hallucination hides catastrophe, while it adds to the latter. Hallucinated catastrophe winds around real wounds. In the hands of political cunning, hallucination acts as a diversion, a cover for psychopathic schemes.
I am not the only one screaming. As mentioned earlier, I do not believe Bush was ever legitimately elected to the presidency yet he acts as if he speaks for "the American people." A hallucinated American people. His group has devised ways to make it feel as if the vast numbers of people who voted against him do not effectively exist. This is a kind of negative hallucination, hallucinating something that is there as not there.
The hallucinatory world, like any other, is complicated. Positive hallucination: hallucinating something as existent that is imaginary, e.g., a beatific feed when there is no breast but one is hungry, creating a filling mirage. Negative hallucination: hallucinating something as not there because that something is too agonizing, e.g., hallucinating the self as non-existent if being a person is too horrible. Hallucination can rev up self or object feeling or nullify it. One can feel super-real or not real at all.
In the case of the current administration, it can turn dissent into a cipher, hallucinating disturbance away.
Disagreement, criticism, alternative visions and wishes undergo a kind of blanking out. A hallucinatory shell blots out whatever may disconfirm it. This is part of the sense of helplessness many feel about the way the Bush group works with power and image and word.
Don't count the votes (Election 2000). Use voting machines manufactured by your own group under a veil of secrecy without the possibility of independent checks (Election 2004). Then speak of "the American people".
A hallucinated democracy. A breast that is not there. A vote that is not there. A democracy that is not there.
In the November 6, 2005 New York Times (a sullied, compromised paper, the one I read nearly every day - mixtures of real and hallucinated news, how do you tell the difference?) there is a cartoon by Barry Blitt in which a man rolls white paint over Picasso's Guernica. The whitewashing of atrocity and of the policy that leads to atrocity and to the processes that lead to the policy. It is a good portrayal of something more general in human nature, the attempt to make bad things go away and to make the bad one does nonexistent.
* * *
When the winds of the current hallucinatory power scenarios die down, there will be others. There is today widespread conflict between social conscience and the will to profit. Neither side is without delusion and tyranny but the corporate juggernaut and drive for self-enrichment is developing momentum that is harder and harder to regulate. To treat vast segments of the world population as if they do not exist or exist only as profit pawns can not be the best way to be alive.
There have to be better ways to humanize existence but, at present, our own humanity slips through our fingers. It is as if it is "in" to be "inhuman", to be the only one that counts. The ethical call to help one another, to become hearts of flesh more than stone, seems laughable to our psychopathic bent. To be psychopathic is very much part of the human and to claim we are more than that is to court derision.
But we are more than that.
* * *
Are we hallucinating our wish to be more than psychopathic?
Or does our dedication to psychopathy hallucinate our more away?
* * *
It is very easy to think that an ethical drive is hallucinatory, considering the psychopathic ways it is used. Political power uses "morality" to get what it wants, morality as a phony pawn of power. it was, after all, hypocritical morality that most incensed Jesus.
Hallucinatory morality as a mode of tyranny. Morality as dogma and titillation substitutes for developing the capacity to feel the plight of another and take action to be of use. As importantly, tyrannical morality prevents one from caring for oneself and developing a caring sensitivity to the importance of living.
The current administration seems to have a policy saying they are doing one good thing after another but awful things result. Verbal hallucination whitewashes something ghastly, but sooner or later the latter shows. Hallucination gains its power by containing a certain truth, slanted, distilled, and inside the truth there is a lie. The lie exerts pressure on the truth; the truth exerts pressure on the lie.
* * *
The relief I and others feel at indictments of Tom DeLay or I. Lewis Libby Jr. and the investigations they signify, means that honesty is a real value in life. Whether I can embody it successfully or not, my heart leaps up at indications that it exists, that it is real, that it is possible.
Perhaps there is a crises every human being goes through from infancy on: does truth and caring exist or does might make right, does uncaring power rule the world?
We disagree and fight about what is right and true. We murder each other over our different conceptions of the true. If we could step back, or kneel, or bow and wait and say: we disagree about the true but love truth just the same. The prophet's wish: that we be united in love of truth, not that we reach agreement in all things. As long as one being's truth can exist only if the other's is killed, something is wrong. Truth, too, has emotive color, fans out like a pheasant's tail. No one sees the beginnings or ends of its roots or sprouts.
We have more evolving to do as a human group. We have to create a larger human space where truths that seem mutually annihilative have room to grow. We have to midwife development of our sense of truth. We have to midwife development of our sense of each other.
* * *
Hate is part of hallucinating ourselves # 1, the best, the greatest, the most powerful, the most beautiful, the smartest. Hallucinating ourselves # 1 robs us from ourselves. To be The Best empties us of being. There is no #1, best, most, top of the pile. To think so is illusory, hallucinatory. It robs us of living. Hate drives supremacy. Hatred and fear drive a need to be above all the others, a shaky proposition since hardness of hate wobbles like jelly when fear breaks through.
The idea of #1 is powerful. God is # 1. God is One. We get snared by identifying with the # 1 of God in some way. If the law of hallucination holds, then # 1 is a way of binding catastrophe that leads to catastrophe. To twist oneself into a # 1 identity is to try to be a more unified product than a life can bear. Where there is #1, catastrophic cracks and leaks eventually occur.
Perhaps lawful processes are catching up with lie barriers of the current administration, part of its hallucinatory shell. We will see how real cracks in their bullying are. The relief one feels means laws are not just lies, that our legal system is not only hallucinatory. That truth is not only or mainly mendacious.
No group has a monopoly on lies. Hallucinatory shells and threads are part of the human. We are not above the processes the constitute us, not above lying, not above hallucinating, not above hating, not above striving to be #1 at the expense of others. Still, a goal of cooperation rather than dominance may make a difference.
` A drive to dominate and need to cooperate are parts of our makeup. They constitute a persistent challenge to create a better balance, so that multivalent tendencies work for us rather than against us. The wish to get along, to care for people, to feel oneself and others deeply is a part of our nature that requires emotional growth. The pull towards militarization, money, empire, power pushes cooperative values aside. Caring needs a lot of care.
The wildly careening dominance of a militarized, corporate economy will produce other political servants after the excess of the current group implodes and dribbles away into costly inanity. The human race absorbs all manner of damage. We don't know if life is self-corrective (slim evidence of that), but we do know it doesn't stop trying. Whether the militarized economic vision is capable of correcting course by integrating considerations outside it remains to be seen. At present, it appears gripped by blind momentum and perhaps can modulate only if its self-damage becomes insupportable.
* * *
It is hard to stomach an administration that can not admit error, if error is part of truth. We have to question our need - as people, as an economy - for a government that never does wrong. What kind of self-congratulatory, self-justifying dynamism is it that cannot admit being wrong? What hallucinated strength is afraid of breaking? If history teaches anything, it is that hallucinatory need for power or perfection is linked with disaster.
* * *
The drive to be #1 has its positive elements. As Mr. Rogers says, we are all special. Jewish lore teaches that the universe was made, and continues going on being, for each one of us. The universe was made for me - and for you.
This is part of the foundation of "I am God" jokes, when enacting being God gets one into trouble. For example, when my elephant (psyche, nation, group) and your elephant collide. That I'm God doesn't mean that you aren't. It's the God monopoly we have to outgrow. My enemy and I - both God, parts of the God-field, different doors of the same house.
Collision is inevitable. What happens afterwards is important. Can we turn our difference into something that forces us to grow? Can we extend our permeability, our interactive field, to include all human beings as Number One, someone special, of infinite value? Impossible? That is our evolutionary challenge as living beings towards which psychological, political, economic and religious development must stretch.
* * *
A short time ago, in my run around the park, I came upon a black Muslim group singing at the end of Ramadan. They were in white and colorful robes with a variety of head-dresses, in a semi-circle fanning out from a table with bread wrapped in linen. Singing, humming, chanting, their voices ran through me, lifting me, my soul hungry for what connected us, for what their prayers mediated. Here lived truth that unites, truth we give to each other when we give each other life.
An almost hallucinatory spell. In this case hallucination making life more real, making reality more real. Hallucination in the service of reality, in the service of life, in the service of giving.
Later I thought: We need to become better hallucinators. And make better use of psychopathic tendencies. Capacities don't go away. But we can develop them and develop with them. To channel our gifts, thread them through our sensitivity to ourselves and others. To use our powers to develop better relations with power, including the power to help others as well as ourselves. As the world gets smaller and weaponry horribly lethal, sensitivity to permeability ought to become more of a guide, not just a visionary compass point, but an orienting awareness that is part of daily life.
* * *
It is a real question whether words like truth, democracy, care express something real or are mere abstractions, ciphers to manipulate in a world of power. When I was very young, I learned that adults used words like truth to get their way. Justice, goodness, truth were appealed to as ploys in emotional manipulation. Psychopathic use of hallucinatory truth and love.
I do not think that love and truth are exhausted by psychopathic hallucination ("realism"), although political hypocrisy and calculation go a long way. One dare not underestimate brute facts of power.
Power is a framework for truth. If there is a choice between love and power, the latter often wins. For the average person, love and power and powerlessness mix nearly indistinguishably. But in affairs of state, power trumps.
Such terms - love, truth, power - have many meanings, have different faces in different contexts. They slide around beneath one's imagined intentions. It is often said that the most dishonest schemes use some show of truth to marshal support, truth as hallucinatory lure.
We will see if our ideology of empire backfires. Already our military is stretched thin. In the symbiosis between military and corporate life, it is unclear which drives which. Empires usually over-extend, over-reach. It is possible that economic as well as military diffusion, combined with ideological rigidity, will make it difficult to keep up with changing conditions.
Hallucinating ourselves as #1 because we are powerful may be a factor in self-wounding processes. Self-depletion is the underside of profligacy, whether in empire building or personal mania. As every boxer knows, there comes a time when some one else will beat him. Being the heavy weight champion of the world is no longer an apt model for world citizenship. The drive for supremacy has had its day. That we cling to this conception of power means we are living in the past. At some point, we will notice.
Gorbachev's vision of interdependency comes closer to the facts of life now. It is a long, hard birth process, the realization of world symbiosis, global cooperation rather than dominance. War has been a basic way to settle differences, a motor of growth. We are told war is more profitable than peace. Peace is for sissies.
Win or Wimp. Surely, W does not only mean War!
Even corporations are exploring win-win models as a method of growth. It is a way of thinking that has to reach deeper levels and needs to spread. It is unrealistic to think that if any one loses, we all lose. Life requires winners and losers. Isn't that what evolution, as well as religious and economic fundamentalism teaches?
Yet the prophets say, take care of the losers, minister to the left out, the needy, the injured. Which, psychically, is all of us.
To impose our way of life on others is atavistic. It isn't even smart. There are many in the United States who are disgusted with our triumphal money mania, repulsed by our grandiose self-inflation and the self-degradation that feeds it.
Do I want the enemy to win? No, I don't want groups even more vicious than we are to be the bosses. But there are many groups out there that are neither enemies nor allies, just fellow travelers trying to make a go of it. Groups interested in developing mutually beneficial life forms.
Our attempts to work with each other are crude. Our problem solving abilities leave much to be desired. Hobbes and Machiavelli and Locke and de Tocqueville point to realms of fact. But approaches to fact make new facts. We have a long future ahead discovering ways to work with ourselves and each other.
People ridicule psychotherapy. But whatever its shortcomings and difficulties, it is in process of evolving ways of being together that may prove important for quality of life in the long run, modes of mutual sensing for the sake of growth. It is slow and piecemeal, yet dares to work carefully with mutual permeability, promoting some evolution of sensitivity. Nursing empathic capacities in smaller domains may prove useful, at some point, in the larger, public sphere.
It is silly to advocate psychotherapy between nations, whatever that might mean (is it silly?). But it may be crucial to include some of the capacities that therapy nourishes in the global interweaving of peoples. The sensitivity a mother or father may have towards a baby needs to be tempered and developed but not lost or devalued in adult life.
If life can issue in Bach's music, Rembrandt's paintings, Hafiz's poems, it can create modes of political action that thrill us with mutual discovery. We are not immune to souls who care with skill. But we must train ourselves not to kill them off too quickly. Even Bush pretended to care, to be sensitive, to be respectful of other ways of life. Even Bush pretended to embrace interdependency. Until his group seized power.
* * *
The fact that I and other people object to foul play in politics is not simply a sign of naivete. We know that politics is rough and one does a lot of things to win that are blood curdling. However, to acclimate to the bloodcurdling and call it business as usual is to give up our moral evolution as a species. It is to give up our sensitivity to the bloodcurdling and what our sensitivity to it might accomplish. That psychopathy wins makes us sick of ourselves. The fact that so many of us recoil at the sight of immense foul play signifies a growth of expectancy for something better.
But here we are back to evoking hallucinatory wish-fulfillment when confronted with the base and ugly. To wish for goodness and truth when psychopathy is the truth of the day renders us weaponless. Yet the truth-goodness sense is more than a wish. It is a persistent sense that there is a better way although we have not found it and may not have evolved enough to find it. One thing that presses us towards evolving is that we can't live with ourselves the way we are. There must be more to life than psychopathic victory. Not just an idea must, but deep fact.