Friday, September 21, 2018

No More Peanut Galleries

The Peanut Gallery c. 1949
Remember chronic fatigue syndrome? It's a well documented condition but there was a time when everyone seemed to be suffering from it. You don't hear about it as much these days. And then there was the whole repressed memory fiasco culminating in the McMartin preschool case. No one had apparently ever heard of the seduction theory or the fact that Freud famously repudiated it. Of course there are people who suffer from fatigue that is the result of everything from depression to mononucleosis. And there are people who have suffered all manner of childhood sexual abuse and suggesting it hasn't happened can be as much a form of indoctrination as suggesting it has. But there are times when the epidemic of suggestion appears to be both viral and epidemic. It turns out to be a myth ulcers were caused by stress. Saying that symptoms contain an element of fantasy is not the equivalent of Holocaust denial. Lately, there are many airlines who will not serve peanuts or even allow them on the plane, in the event that someone has an allergy that will produce an anaphylactic reaction. No one is disputing the reality of the symptoms or the need for people who suffer from such conditions to carry epipens. But why has this suddenly burst on the scene as a point of alarm? Baby Boomers will remember a TV show called Howdy Doody with its famous “peanut gallery”—a venue that would be off limits to kids today. One theory has it that the phobia about peanuts is such that it creates a situation where adults who haven’t been exposed to peanuts as children will develop reactions. Bipolar is the psychiatric disorder du jour and people leap on the diagnosis, possibly because it provides a label that explains symptoms and potentially offers a cure—by way of medication. In fact, the human mind is a complex thing and the proud declaration of bipolarity, while it may confer membership in a support group comprised of other suffers, may be more useful for providing a DSM code for insurers than anything else. There’s probably a new and insidious threat on the horizon, some undreamt of ailment, that will enrich the pharmaceutical industry while providing patients an explanation for their misery. People sometimes cheer themselves on for having found membership in a minority whose suffering and victimhood is attributable to a cause, without sometimes examining the dubiety of the evidence.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Are You Depressed or Merely Crying "Wolf?"

One of the definitions of depression is “a sunken or hollow place on a surface.” In meteorological terms, a depression is a low pressure area. In economic terms, a depression is a sustained or severe downturn in jobs, markets and other indicators of growth. You thus have a tropical depression which can lead to bad weather or a depression similar to what happened in the wake of the stock market crash of l929. Psychological depression is, of course, the elephant in the room. Numerous writers have attempted to describe their depressions. Familial, existential and physiological factors are often brought to bear in discussing these conditions, but it’s rare that sufferers from depression use geological, meteorological or economic metaphors to describe their states. One can’t help but feel wistful about a time, say in the world of a 50’s sitcom like The Life of Riley, when if someone said they were depressed they might be told to “cheer up.” Today, an expression of depression elicits those meaningful looks that can kill. In addition so many people complain of being depressed (bipolarity and suicidal ideation have almost become badges of honor in certain quarters) that it’s hard to determine who’s really depressed and who’s just crying “wolf.”

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Why All Homo Sapiens Are "As If" Personalities

Humans create a wonderful defense against their demise, a self-serving narcissistic fortress, in which their impending importance actually throws a shadow over a clear perception of reality. Of course the truth is that whether the end is tomorrow or ten years later, the only effect the ending of their life will have will likely be 
on the one or two people who are dependent on them. For these select few the loss will be catastrophic. The others will mourn and then go on with their lives. While you may feel you'll never get over the passing away of a friend, mourning will likely turn to nostalgia and then eventually into the kind of sublimity that Wordsworth describes in “Tintern Abbey” in the wistful recollection of the lost soul’s “unremembered, acts/Of kindness and love.” The walls consciousness creates around mortality are impregnable and only pierced by death itself. If Heidegger said that it’s impossible to lead an authentic life without an awareness of death then literally all of humanity are “as if” personalities.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018


drawing (McGeddon)
Have you ever considered the possibility that you could lose your job for remembering somebody in an obit or even offering your condolences? These are parlous times and you never know who is what and most importantly what will be triggering. You’re probably not going to talk about the body parts of a recently deceased person so that’s one area that can be discounted. You're unlikely to say that a recently deceased man or woman had a nice ass. But people lead complex lives. Let’s say someone underwent SRS surgery so they could marry Christ and become a nun. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Some people will go to any lengths to realize their dream, but they don’t necessarily want these lengths to be part of the mourning process. You might get home from the funeral and find a little pink slip in e-mail form awaiting you from HR. By the time you’re done you'll wish the deceased person would drop dead. No good deed goes unpunished and here you’re innocently reminiscing about someone and having to pay for unconscious fantasies that may have inadvertently seeped out in a eulogy, if indeed you’d been asked to be a speaker. Remember the game of hangman? Give a person enough rope and they’ll hang themselves. 

Monday, September 17, 2018


What better demonstration of conatus, the will to live, then when you try to kill an insect. It's generally assumed that insects don’t think (though it might not be surprising to find out that some enterprising neuroscientist has endeavored to place ants, roaches and water bugs in miniature FMRIs). However, if you’ve ever pulled your shoulder in swatting a fly or injured your hand in trying to snuff out a termite, you'll feel the power of conatus, a term that appears prominently in the work of Spinoza and other philosophers. How can a creature run when it doesn’t experience the emotion of fear? When a dog barks at you, even when its tethered by a leash, you instinctually avoid its path, but that's because a complex series of events takes place, some of which occur in the conscious mind and some in the pre-cortical limbic areas where emotion resides. It's here, in the realm of emotion, that men have something in common with animals. No matter how small the brain of the creature, they will run from giants, just like the Lilliputians were frightened by Gulliver. A larger threatening being is a big dark cloud that unites humanity with the animal world. This irrational and inexplicable desire to go on living, what George Bernard Shaw termed “the life force” is one illustration of the wholeness and interconnectedness of all forms of organic life. It’s always tempting to hold to the notion that consciousness makes all the difference, particularly when you’re about to devour a so-called lower form, but if cats and mice could verbalize their feelings in a focus group, wouldn’t it be likely that they would both share some scary stories?

Friday, September 14, 2018

Is God a Narcissist?

Baruch de Spinoza
To some extent man is ultimately a limited creature who can only conjure himself. Religions try to offer alternatives, but remember for instance the idea from Genesis that God made man in his image. That’s an interesting form of narcissism that borders on idolatry. You do see the legacy of varying epigones who populated the landscape with statues in their own images, but they're not the kind of people you normally look up to. In other words man’s conception of God is man, rather than something which could never be imagined. In terms of crowd control this makes sense. You read varying religious texts like the Bible for direction which means positing a prime mover and first cause who can somehow be embodied. Buddhists talk about giving up worldly wishes and desires, but the statues of the Buddha are everywhere in countries where that religion is practiced. Let’s say there's a God. Who is to say that it, she or he plays any role in human affairs or the creation of humans who are only a minuscule part of he universe? Who is to say that God is some kind of celestial 911 operator fielding emergency calls for help? Prayer is a wonderful respite from self, but who's to say that God and prayer even go together. Perhaps praying is one thing and God is something else that it's not in the province of humans to understand. 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Is God a Determinist?

"The Creation of Adam" by Michelangelo
In short periods of time, major life-changing events can occur. Of course determinists will say that it was all in the works, including the seemingly fortuitous meeting of two souls who will become interlocked, or something as minor as the fender bender in the parking lot. Those who believe in a prime mover and order and purpose in the universe would say that it’s all part of some grand mosaic. Everything is as it's supposed to be, including the parking space you find after you have exchanged insurance cards with the driver of the other vehicle in the accident. In other words nothing is an accident.There are no coincidences. Here is where religion and science actually converge. But from a qualitative point of view it’s remarkable how hours, days, weeks can pass with seemingly nothing occurring. Then within a split second one’s life can be changed forever. And when it rains it generally seems to pour. The dominos all start toppling or that shot of energy that comes from who knows where awakens sleeping giants. When a dramatist or playwright writes or stages a play he or she's attempting to deal with the phenomenon of change on which say tragedy or comedy hinges, unless of course the name of the writer is Samuel Beckett and the idea is to deal with what happens in the interstices. Waiting for Godot was titled En attendant Godot in French and the literal meaning is While Waiting For Godot.