Tag Archives: history

Why The Second World War was Fought

JFC Fuller was an interesting man. Did you know that he was a member of the British Fascist Party? Wikipedia told me that. Pretty neat, huh. Bet you didn’t even know there was a British Fascist Party. Bet you didn’t even know a man named JFC Fuller existed. I know of him. That makes me better than you.

That’s how internet debate works, no? It’s all about being the better man. Man A presents a thesis, the force of which doubtless reflected in the multitude of grammatical errors present. Man B counters with insult, vitriol, or at best a fact or series of facts followed by insult or vitriol. Sometimes Man C comes along to ask a snide question, or Man D blasts everyone with something entirely different but (more likely than not) of equal condescension. Knowledge in this context leads to arrogance, not understanding.

I’ve heard this state of debate lamented, as if it were unique; or at least as if the recent past could be held up as a better time, a Golden Age. Funny thing about golden ages: they’re bullshit. Hesiod was a bullshit artist, a storyteller. Like all men, he weaved a narrative that befit his view of things as he thought they ought to be. Everything fit just so. The world was made comfortable.

Obviously I am doing the same thing.

My narrative is thus: people fight, debate is a verbal extension of that combativeness, and when words fail, we resort to warfare. Generally speaking, by the time words fail, we’ve forgotten what it was we were originally arguing about. Read any YouTube comments section and you’ll likely find this to be the case. The original point of contention has been buried in heaps of bile, phlegm, all that is humorous in the human mind.

Think of World War Two as a giant YouTube comments thread. No one could remember, let alone agree upon, what was at stake, but everyone wanted to fight about it. Memories were conveniently short, erratic, inconsiderate. Germany invaded Poland to regain part of what was lost when she lost World War One, and as a first step towards Lebensraum. France and Britain came to Poland’s defense as an act of desperation following the fiasco of Austria and Czechoslovakia. Then followed a year of nothing from the Allies, nothing but movement and conquest on the part of the Germans. Then Germany invaded France, hoping to knock her out and preclude a second front festering her planned invasion of Russia. Italy entered the war hoping for the easy loot she failed to obtain during the last conflict.

France fell, leaving Britain alone. Churchill came to power and turned what had been a political war for the Allies into a religious one, a war of Freedom versus Nazism. Germany turned away from Britain, having no means of crossing the English Channel, and began her long war with Russia. She had already forgotten her fear of a two-front war. Britain joined with the USSR, already forgetting the fundamentals of her crusade. She convinced herself that in fighting German tyranny and hegemony, she could readily ally herself with a different tyrant and hegemon. Spain allied with Germany only insofar as her Catholicism wanted to crush the atheistic Soviets.

Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, hoping for a limited war to secure her economic interests against an America that has shown nothing but hostility towards an Asiatic power conquering her neighbors like a good European. In response, the US declared war on Japan, Germany declared war on the US, Japan struck at the British and the Dutch, and the Allies and the Axis solidified at last.

Then came the Atlantic Charter, wherein the Allies affirmed the principles of Freedom against those of tyranny. Britain and America had already forgotten the purges and famines of Stalin and his USSR. Soon thereafter, Unconditional Surrender was made the only mode by which victory might be attained. Poland, Pearl Harbor, politics itself were forgotten amidst the ardor of this crusade against Evil.

As the tide turned against Germany, she spoke less of her new Empire and instead propagandized once more about the evils of Communism. Nostalgia for the 1930s, when Nazism was seen as a bulwark against Communist aggression, could not stem the tide of Allied hatred. Germany was to be obliterated.

The comments thread ran deeper. Strategic bombing campaigns against Germany and later Japan came to fruition, allowing the Allies to butcher as many civilians as their Cause would allow. They had already forgotten the atrocities against which they fought. Hundreds of thousands were butchered, burned, rendered mute against the blast waves of a million tons of TNT. Technology being what it was, and the doctrines of aerial warfare being what they were, it was both far easier to bomb a city rather than a facility, and seen as far more effective, hitting both the economic and moral heart of the Enemy. The atomic bomb was the thousand-sunned climax of this strategy. Morality was forgotten in the rubble of expediency.

The war ended in more ruin than any other endeavor that has come down to us through the gory pages of recorded history. Germany, Japan, Italy lay in smoking ruin. Eastern and Central Europe bore the scars of the largest battles ever fought, and of the most mechanically deliberate extermination ever attempted. Britain, though bloodied, received but a fraction of the civilian destruction she inflicted upon her enemies. America had to sustain more discomfort from her own government than from her foes. Western Russia was the mass grave of nationalism and national socialism.

Why was the war fought? The reasons changed with the context. First Lebensraum and Poland; then Freedom and Justice; national  or economic survival; to fight the scourge of Communism, because winning is always better than losing…By 1945, the only country with a clear political objective was Russia, and that objective was achieved, namely that of carving its own empire out of the little corpses that dotted the map of Eastern Europe. The threat of German dominance was replaced by the reality of Russian.

But that is not to say that the Crusade against Evil was a failure. It was, but not because Russia came out at the top of the political heap. Stalin was a shrewder statesman than any of his peers, matching his guile, patience, and foresight against Hitler’s religiously confident audacity, Churchill’s skill with words, and Roosevelt’s knack for democratic politics. Stalin had a clear, realizable objective and he obtained it. That is the point of war. It is argument by other means. The eradication of evil is not a realistic objective, because that evil resides within the human heart itself. Only nuclear holocaust would gain us that objective.

The Crusade against Evil was lost the moment it was conceived, because that is not the purview of war. Now, as it happens, this unrealistic war did have one moral consequence the import of which cannot be forgotten. It stopped the Holocaust. It is tempting to think that, once Greater Germania had been liquidated of undesirables,  this mechanized butchery would have ceased. Perhaps. Then again, perhaps, with the economic strength of a united Europe and the sense of destiny born of a hundred stupendous victories, the successors of Hitler, raised on Goebbels’ propaganda, would have tried far worse. It seems better, at least given the limited time with which he have been able to judge the result, to have weathered the iron curtain than it might have been had Europe had to endure the brick oven.

Short of annihilation, how might humans eradicate evil from their hearts? I doubt it can be done. Emotion is the stuff of life, for better and for worse. Without love, life would seem to be pointless. Of course I am biased. The flip side, however, is hatred. It does not seem possible to have one without the other, our emotions being so intricately tied together. As long as we are individual, we will have points of view; as long as we emote, we will want to defend those points of view beyond the bounds of dry logic; as long as we wish to defend even that which might be incorrect to the “objective observer,” should such a vantage exist, we will eventually come to blows. And whether those blows come in the form of internet sass or Zyclon B, it will be the product of the human psyche.

And I still know who JFC Fuller was.

On the Romantic Erasure of Jewish Identity, and Other Erotic Sundries

I read an article today by a Jewish woman lambasting a work of romantic fiction written by a Christian woman. The gist of the reviled book is that a Jewish girl is taken under the wing of a concentration camp commandant, they fall in love, and in the end they convert to Christianity and save Jews from the Nazi maw. Something like that.

The reviewer in question was utterly outraged, first that a non-Jew was even writing from the perspective of a Jewish woman; second that any redemption could be had by any Nazi but especially the commander of a concentration camp; three that such dross has a right to be published at all. I disagree, albeit respectfully, with each of these concerns.

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My first and paramount disagreement is that an outsider cannot, ought not write about the perspective of another–in this case, and it is an extreme case, about the seminal tragedy of the Jewish people: the Holocaust. Emotionally, this subject is notable for several reasons, its close proximity to the present day, its enormity, the methodicalness with which it was carried out, the unparalleled historical evidence for its breadth, sadism, and efficiency…No event in recorded history can match the Holocaust in pints of blood or reams of paper. Controversy is inevitable.

That a Jew is insulted, enraged, baffled, betrayed at the sight of a romance set during this time is understandable. I as an outsider in every way, when I put my mind to it, can imagine the intellectual outrage, create my own sense of emotional distress, work up an appetite for blood. Are my emotions a mere echo, a mimicry, a farce of the genuine article? There is no objective way to know. I suspect that the immediacy of my recreation soon wears off, while her emotions linger. I suspect that her reaction is stronger than mine, more concentrated. I suspect that both are personal, although in differing ways. Both are real, in the sense of being experienced, although clearly hers are the more intense. It is a matter of degrees, I think, and not of validity.

And regardless of degree, both require honesty. She needs to be honest in the use of her memory, a tricky device and prone to error, exaggeration, and outright fabrication. I, experiencing second hand, need to be honest in my humility and genuine in my attempt to research and grapple with something outside my immediate sensory experience. Both have their flaws and limitations. Both are acts of constructing order out of chaotic data.

Her criticism strikes at the very heart of what I believe the point of writing is. I approach fiction much like I approach history, as a process by which empathy is had for my fellow man. Rousseau was not wrong in surmising that pitie is a natural part of the human mind, but it dulls in the face of competition, rivalry, jealousy. Sometimes it disappears altogether, at least functionally.

Great fiction (and history in this sense is fiction because the historical narrative is a product of the imagination), effective fiction, is empathetic. It is the author’s admission that his is not the only perspective, that even through his own prejudices and limitations (necessary to the creative process as they are) he can see that there are other stories than his own, other perspectives than the one he assumes to be correct on a daily basis, other modes of thought and being than the ones that he finds comfortable and natural.

It is an imperfect process to be sure. I can never know what it was like to be in the Holocaust, either as guard or as condemned, ditto for growing up in a Jewish family in the wake of that cataclysm. But I can imagine. I can surmise. And I can honestly put myself into the shoes of another, doing my best to see what she sees, breath what she breathes, think what she thinks. In doing so, I will never be able to recreate the objective reality of the past. Fiction cannot do that; history cannot either (nor memory, if we’re being honest). I can, however, recreate at least a semblance of the subjectivity of the human creature.

When done in good faith (and careful research is a prerequisite to this fidelity), fiction is a way for the subjective to bend, expand, look upon itself. In this way our common humanity is better understood–and our differences (in opinion, in custom, in disposition) are made rational, are made understandable to the outsider.

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Now, what of redemption? I should first mention that the Christian idea of redemption makes sense in this context. All can be saved if they only embrace the Truth that is Jesus Christ. In so doing, they shed their pride and thus deserve (earn, are given–depending on your theology) salvation. A counter-intuitive notion, to be sure, and one that Christians have trouble putting into practice (witness the hatred felt towards child molesters, as an example), but an ideal of many Christian denominations it certainly is.

So, that a Christian author would find the idea that a Nazi could be redeemed plausible and indeed quite compelling as an exemplar for the power of God to forgive all his creations, is not an irrational turn of events. Nor is it strange that a Jew would take umbrage at this. The Jewish God is not so loving as the Christian, and the tone of His interaction with the world shifts radically from the Old to the New Testament. The two perspectives are so radically different as to make compromise practically impossible.

Theology aside, I believe that all people deserve redemption in the historical sense of that word. What I mean is, as a historian, it is my duty to throw my imagination into the perspective of anyone that becomes my subject of study, regardless of their thoughts or actions. It is the closest thing I can do to allowing my subject the objectivity–the lack of unconscious or irrationally strong bias–that makes for genuine, honest history, that is to say history done in good faith.

It is in this way that we lose the temptation to grind axes, vomit polemics, or pass vitriol off as scholarship. In this way we judiciously, carefully weave our prejudices into the fabric of the work, balancing them as best we can against whatever facts we unearth. No bias can be totally erased, but it can be tempered. In that equilibrium resides an honest picture of the past–not complete, but a valiant effort in that direction.

Historical redemption is also a humanizing activity. It reminds us, by forcing us to look at the motivations behind what we presently consider the most heinous acts, that it is not a monster we are studying. It is not a demon that has attracted our historical curiosity, who begs for our historical judgment. Our subject is nothing as special as all that. It is merely a man, with a man’s strengths, a man’s motivations, a man’s imperfections.

Morally, it whispers into our presently arrogant ear that we, as humans like once they were, have the same potential for good and for ill, that the actions that we take will have consequences–intended or no–just as theirs did, that the future will judge our actions with as much narrowness of perspective as we now judge our progenitors.

Whatever their reasons were, the Nazis perpetrated the worst slaughter that recorded history has preserved. This should sober us, terrify us to the reality of human motivation: that given enough energy, we can justify anything. Being reminded of that, we of the present should show the caution and restraint so seldom seen by those whom we claim to have bettered. We are our past. Those people were and are us. Their mistakes were ours, the mistakes of the race. Only when we own up to them, our wrong-doings, can we internalize them, learn from them, possibly outgrow them. History is a laboratory experiment 1000 generations running. We are as much lab rats today as in the days of Hammurabi. After so much trial and error, will we ever escape this maze?

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My final quibble is with the idea that such a work as this, being insensitive to a minority community, being historically ignorant, being racist in its erasure of Jewish identity by a Christian one, ought not have the right to be published at all. My gut reaction to such a statement is horror. After all, the first amendment is what allows me to write whatever I want without fear of recourse. It has its limits, libel for instance, but realistically my speech seems freer than at any other time or place in recorded history. The majority will always find ways to silence the minority, but the official response is so ridiculously weak that I have no fear of having the hammer of the law smite me for what I put to print.

The question becomes is that a good thing? The outraged author to whom I am responding says that such fiction as this is dangerous in its ability to nullify the identity of another. She is rightfully concerned that free speech is dangerous. It certainly is. Freedom is fraught with danger. Do the benefits outweigh these?

I am inclined to say yes.

Philosophically, or perhaps politically, a free exchange of ideas seems of genuine practical value, for it–hopefully–results in a weeding out of the less-well-thought-out stuff, and through the continual editorial process of criticism and response, would yield something better. But this seems hard to quantify, or to prove.

I will say that the potential allotted to a people possessed of free speech seems more fraught with peril, but also so much higher, than a people trammeled with the safety of a controlled mind. Strife breeds necessity, and necessity creativity. And there is no place where creativity is more necessary than in the products of the human imagination.

So there it is, a respectful disagreement. Can the internet handle such a thing? …And there I am being self-righteous. We can all breath a collective sigh of relief.

A Critical Analysis of Psychiatry as it is Practiced in America Today

The following is a rather long essay I wrote a while back. Although edited since then, it is imperfect. Nevertheless, upon reading it over more than six months after the fact, the vast majority struck me as substantially true. And my qualms with the rest were small enough as to warrant no immediate remedy. All in all, I think its length makes up for at least 2 months’ worth of missing posts…

The Definition of Disease

Psychiatry resides within the realm of medicine. Medical professionals try to make people healthy, which means the treatment of disease. Psychiatrists, by extension, treat the mental version of that, namely mental illness. How do we define disease; and how mental illness? I define disease as a biological entity foreign (in some sense) to the human body or to its homeostasis, which has these two common characteristics:

  1. A loss of functionality in the region affected, ie it is harmful
  2. A predictable course of events leading up to and including the loss of said functionality.

Thus, something like Ebola is a disease, as it causes loss of functionality (read: death) in something like 90 percent of those afflicted, and does so in a manner predictable by doctors who observe its consistent course through the human body.

As it is commonly used, mental illness encompasses a host of entities seen as various diseases, disorders, syndromes, all of which afflict the mental life of an individual in some detrimental way. It is inexact, indeed utterly incorrect, to lump such things together under the medical umbrella. Their only common characteristic is a similar pattern of behavior of varying severity. This is why schizophrenia, major depression, dementia, and bipolar disorder are lumped together with Asperger’s, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, habitual addiction, and bulimia. The former group are diseases of the brain, as they seem to affect the physical workings of the brain (its chemicals and so forth) and in so doing tyrannize human behavior.  They are, more or less, diseases in the medical sense because they fit the criteria mentioned above: they impair biological functionality and do so in a predictable manner.

The latter are not diseases at all. It is clear that they impair functionality in varying degrees, but their diagnosis is subjective, their course variable, their outcome, should treatment be forsaken, is not known with any kind of certainty.

Medically, biologically the afflictions lumped together under the metaphorical term “mental illness” share nothing in common: some are diseases, some are not. What they have in common is social in nature and has been mentioned already, namely similar patterns of behavior. The one thing that the mentally ill have in common with each other is that their behavior is considered by Society to be, in one way or another, unacceptable. So we have declared the paranoia of the schizophrenic, the psychosis of the cocaine addict, the inactivity and suicidality of the majorly depressed, the manic energy of the bipolar, the eating habits of the bulimic, the defiance of the ODD, the dominating proclivities of the habitual addict to be against the accepted norms of our culture. Psychiatry, indeed, does not subscribe to cultural relativism. No, these patterns of behavior, many having nothing to do with medical disease in the least, are thought to be objectively bad, unhealthy, and by implication evil. The majority has deemed such deviant behavior to be in need of rectification. And the current trend is for the course of correction to fall under the direction of medicine. Unpopular behavior is therefore a sickness that must be cured.

That many of these activities are harmful to the doer is obvious. Endorsing suicidal thoughts might presage an end to the endorser’s life. We cannot predict the outcome. Nor do suicidal thoughts necessarily inhibit functionality. I myself “endorse passive suicidal ideations” from time to time. Huh, I wonder what it would be like to just veer into oncoming traffic… Yet somehow I manage to go to work, love my wife, and read voraciously. Such thoughts, in and of themselves, mean little, except that the mind is constantly bubbling with weird, sometimes uncomfortable, always unconscious activities that now and again rise to the surface of consciousness. That is part of being human, and not in and of itself indicative of anything harmful, unhealthy, or demonic.

That many of these activities are harmful to others, which is to say metaphorically contagious, is another matter all together. It will be dealt with elsewhere, but suffice it to say, most “deviants,” most mentally ill pose little actual threat to those around them. Their behavior makes others uncomfortable; that discomfort leads to fear; and that fear produces in the imagination of the many the impression of imminent danger. Forceful, even violent intervention is then seen as necessary.

Psychiatrists have, therefore, accepted for themselves a two-pronged role in society. On the one hand, they purport to treat illness, accepting, diagnosing, and attempting to treat things like schizophrenia or bipolar. On the other, they police social mores, deeming certain sets of social behaviors as deviant from an established, accepted, and sought after Norm, and thus in need of corrective action. Because they confuse their dual role, and indeed are oft ignorant of it, the very notion of what makes an acceptable psychiatric patient, let alone what constitutes effective treatment, has fallen under a cloak of mystery, mysticism even. Psychiatrists have taken on the role of priests–for better or worse.

Brain Diseases

The first thing we must establish, then, is what the psychiatrist ought to be doing with himself. It is my contention that he does little in the way of medical healing, but in fact spends most of his time policing deviant social behaviors that are not linked to biological disease. This is because brain disease, when rigorously diagnosed, is uncommon; whereas deviant social behavior can be found wherever the subjective eye decides to look.

Let us flesh out the biological, diagnostic difference between these two classes of ailments, one actual the other metaphoric. First let us examine the mental illnesses that are actual, biological diseases. For the sake of accuracy, I will refer to these as diseases of the brain, as in some fashion (often a mystery to us) the brain is afflicted in such a way as to produce extreme and antisocial behavior on the part of the patient. To my mind, these include the following (subject to amendment):

  1. Major Depression
  2. Dementia
  3. Schizophrenia
  4. Bipolar
  5. Psychosis

All five of these diseases, once diagnosed, meet our two criteria for disease. They are states that are foreign to the body that:

  1. impair functionality and;
  2. do so in a way that is predictable on the part of the clinician.

Thus major depression saps the patient of all drive and energy, leaving them a motionless lump often afflicted with symptomatic thoughts of hopelessness, purposelessness, and suicide. Major depression is the result of some abnormality in the brain, and has nothing to do with the outside social or relational world of the patient. Hence, “bouts of depression” brought about by the death of a loved one, or some other trauma, have no place here. They come and go with or without medical intervention. Major depression, conversely, responds consistently to medical treatment, ie medication or ECT. It has a consistent course and thus responds predictably to intervention on the part of the practitioner.

Dementia is the most tragic of this list. Psychiatrists seem able to diagnose with relative consistency the onset of dementia, especially in the elderly. This is because the criteria for it are stringent and less susceptible to interpretation. This consistency is rendered moot, however, by the complete lack of effective medical interventions. Thus, while doctors can identify dementia, they can but watch its progress in passive silence.

Schizophrenia manifests itself, at the latest, in the early 20s of the patient, and produces within his mind a web of delusion, paranoia, and fantasy from which some recover, in which some remain, and into which some plummet further. It is too little understood to respond vigorously or consistently to treatment, but it is probably a brain disease, as evidenced by its seemingly consistent and accurate diagnosis. Such accuracy has fallen by the wayside of late, as parameters have gotten looser and looser. This is why when Thorazine was introduced fifty years ago, many schizophrenics who were treated with it were almost miraculously healed by it. Whereas now, far fewer people diagnosed “schizophrenic” respond strongly to treatment. The problem is, at least in part, one of mislabeling, miscategorizing, misdiagnosing.

Bipolar, what was once more accurately referred to as manic-depression, consists of alternating states of complete lethargy and dangerously high levels of energy. The pendulum of the mind swings with reckless abandon, impairing functionality and doing so in a predictable manner. It responds consistently to treatment when it is correctly diagnosed. Here again we run into serious diagnostic issues. Unobservant psychiatrists often see a similar pattern of behavior in someone who is simply energetic, sad, hopeless, angry, or temperamental; and in their haste to diagnose, overreach themselves, labeling someone bipolar when they are nothing of the sort. Here we have an instance of the danger of associating similar patterns of behavior with each other under the general term “mental illness,” as the diagnostic criteria become so vague as to fit almost any situation, should the prejudices of the psychiatrist deem it so.

Psychosis is thought to be the result of a chemical imbalance within the brain. We think this because psychotic symptoms consistently accompany heavy cocaine usage, and cocaine affects certain chemical balances in the brain. However that may be, psychosis sometimes has a predictable pathology and can respond to treatment. But here again, the problem of diagnosis rears its ugly head. And what one psychiatrist might term psychosis, another might diagnose as schizo-affective disorder. It seems clear that cocaine affects the chemical balance of the brain in some way, producing unreasonable and sometimes violent behavior. This pattern of behavior, however, is too easily confused with others to be consistently diagnosed. There is enough of a physical cause, however, for us to put psychosis on the list while at the same time reminding ourselves that it is an imperfect label. Indeed, the word psychotic is used to describe a great deal of behaviors, including paranoia, delusions, hallucinations, and violent, to us unreasonable aggression. This constellation is loose enough as to invite misnaming; so that what one astronomer might name Orion another might call Taurus. The illness is increasingly in the eye of the beholder–each starry grouping tied together by a different mythology.

As the list goes on, we can clearly see a decreasing level of diagnostic certainty. This is because psychiatrists diagnose based on behavioral patterns that share too much in common to be useful in many cases. The extreme ones, however, like the long term and seemingly random lethargy of major depression, are rare enough as to be consistently identified. That is something worth reiterating: brain disease is rare, and so are the extreme behaviors that accompany it.

We would do well to note that the issue of misdiagnosis is not a problem in psychiatry alone. Medical doctors fall prey to it not infrequently, as many diseases share common symptoms. One symptom check on WebMD makes that abundantly clear. We cannot, all of us, be afflicted with cancers alone! The difference is that while medical doctors can often verify the veracity of a given diagnosis, whether through means of tests like an MRI or via the success or failure of a given treatment, often times psychiatric patients are assigned a diagnosis without the possibility of change. Objective tests like those that are used to identify cancer hardly exist in the realm of psychiatry; at the same time, the failure of a given line of treatment rarely results in a different diagnosis. The only time that consistently happens is when a patient is seen by a different psychiatrist. Then the pattern of behavior is evaluated by a different set of subjective eyes, and a new (often arbitrary) label is assigned. Neither medicine proper nor psychiatry is perfectly consistent, but the latter’s consistency is so lacking as to call into question the whole diagnostic enterprise.

Psychiatrists and Psychologists

But let us leave these more or less medical diseases for the moment and focus upon psychiatry’s primary role, that of social police. This has been medicalized more and more over the past two centuries, resulting in a pitiful ignorance on the part of psychiatrists. They talk of medicine and disease, but they deal chiefly with problems of social organization. Most of what psychiatrists “treat” is not the extreme anti-social behavior of the brain diseased; no, it is the social misbehavior of the personality disordered.

What is personality disorder? Here, I define it exactly as its constituent parts dictate. Personality is that web of interests, skills, proclivities, temperaments, emotions, experiences, phobias, hopes, and beliefs that constitute the mental life of a person. If they dictate a person’s behavior in such a way that society sees them as consistently troublesome, then they can be said to have a disordered personality. In psychiatry as it is currently practiced, all kinds of ailments fall under personality disorder so defined; ADD, ODD, ADHD, habitual addiction, eating disorders, ASDs, the DSM 5 is dominated by such things, all of which share common patterns of behavior, habits of action, that are seen by those observing them to be a problem requiring a solution. In psychiatry, these are social problems addressed by medical solutions.

Personality disorder is an inability to function in society, not owing to biological factors alone (God only knows how biological mechanisms and the resultant pattern-maker/breaker we call the mind interact). This is generally manifested in an unreasonable obstinacy or inflexibility when confronted with something a person does not like. Alas, society is a continuing convergence of conflicting ideals and desires; men must be able to compromise if they are to live peaceably with their neighbors. What is needed, therefore, is something of a school of diplomacy. Compromise, after all, is the essence of effective diplomacy, as it is the essence of effective social involvement. Psychiatry does not provide this. Instead, it seeks to medicate the problem. It works under the false assumption that such medical, chemical, biological means are suitable answers to questions of a predominantly social, habitual nature.

The long misstep American psychiatry has taken over the last 60 years and five incarnations of the DSM is, more than anything else, a medicalization of these misbehaviors. Now, a difficulty emerges here wherein it can be justifiably argued that legitimate cases of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), to name but one example, are legitimate ailments (read: diseases of the brain) requiring some sort of medical intervention. This I do not dispute. What I question is the diagnostic criteria used to label someone as afflicted by such a disorder. Remember, using patterns of behavior as your sole means of diagnosis is very problematic. Saying that a child has ASD simply because he has six (or is it seven, five, three?) of a list of behaviors is dangerously arbitrary and subjective, to the point where it loses all utility–the defining characteristic of any scientific endeavor. Notice that ASD contains within it so many behaviors, so many facets, and such loose boundaries as to void most of its practical value as a set of diagnostic criteria. And that is the solution we are after here, practicality. The problem is one of functionality.

It is likely, to my mind, that legitimate ASD is the manifestation of a disease we know nothing about, some ailment of the brain itself, that we are miscategorizing as something which it is not because of our ignorance. Please keep in mind, our knowledge of the human body is haphazard, incomplete, and grossly inadequate compared to our perception of that knowledge. Indeed, most of the great medical breakthroughs of the 20th century were happened upon by pure accident or coincidence. Need we rehash the miraculous discovery of penicillin? The hand of God, we might say, has had far more to do with our medical advances than the billions pumped into systematic research each year.

So, psychiatry has medicalized personality disorder, and in so doing inherited the optimism and then the arrogance of modern medicine. It has lumped together the sick-nonfunctioning with the unsick-nonfunctioning and so mangled the meaning of the word treatment as to fail to heal the sick or police the miscreant.

Let us resurrect and clarify a distinction, that of the psychiatrist and the psychologist. The psychiatrist’s domain is that of the brain and the diseases thereof. His therapy, his treatment is that of medicine, for he is trying to fix biological problems with biological solutions, realigning unbalanced chemicals with more chemicals, faulty electric signals with jolts of his own design, etc. Psychologists, on the other hand, would be those professionals who specialize in persons who, while not medically ill, have abnormal difficulty functioning within society. They help disordered personalities, those who are so inflexible that they fail to mix with the great globs of people around them.

So, let us leave the medical diseases of the brain with the psychiatrists, or whatever set of professionals best have the biological knowledge and expertise to identify, diagnose, and treat things like major depression; and cast our eyes upon those who we would have deal with personality disorders. There is, in fact, an imperfect precedent for the profession of psychology as I envision it, one that dates back to the early twentieth century.

Freud and Psychoanalysis

Freud founded the modern movement of psychoanalysis, its basic goal being the unearthing of the unconscious workings, motivations, desires of people such that they might better be able to live in society. He referred to personality disorder as neurosis; whilst brain disease he called psychosis. He never used his methods on the sick as I have defined them, and indeed pleaded with his disciples that psychoanalysis not become the handmaiden of psychiatry. Laymen, he said, could be psychoanalysts, if only they had the proper training. A medical degree was not necessary. He did make the mistake (in my hindsight) of describing neuroses as pathologies. We may smile at the metaphor and more accurately describe them as disorders, but he, as a neurologist, clung to the pseudo-medical nature of the anti-social behavior which he attempted to treat (read: correct).

At any rate, Freud saw before him behavioral patterns that cried out for correction. Their defect was their anti-sociality. The neurotic was narcissistic, selfish, destructive, childish, mean, vindictive, paranoid, incestuous, violent–in a word, they were nonfunctional with regards to society. He thought he discovered the source of their behaviors within their childhood development. The chief structure of Freudian childhood was the Oedipus Complex, whereby the child sees the mother as its source of protection and as the object of its affection; simultaneously, it sees the father as a source of love in his own right. The ensuing struggle within the infant has him first desirous of supplanting the father as the cohort of the mother, then of pleasing the father so as to gain his patriarchal love and ward off castration (the baby’s autoerotic tendencies being met with such parental reactions as “do that again and I’ll cut it off!”).

This abozzo is highly condensed and doubtless inaccurate, but the point is that Freud saw within a child a relatively regular series of developments viz-a-viz its relationship with its parents and the world at large. The infant’s sexual experiences and complexes subside with time, only to reappear later in life at the onset of puberty. This has to do with the advent of neuroses because of what Freud called repression, wherein a person’s regular journey through the vicissitudes of its Oedipus Complex is somehow abnormal, thus causing it psychological trauma which it then seeks to forget in the oblivion of time. In order to do so, it represses such memories away from the conscious gaze of its Ego (the self, consciousness). They are not removed, however, but continue to reside, albeit in an often mutilated form, within the child’s Id (the unconscious swirling of instincts and drives with which the Super-Ego (conscience) is in constant antagonism). Repression, therefore, is incomplete, and its imperfection manifests itself after puberty via the behavioral patterns Freud referred to as neuroses–the ineffective balancing of the overzealous desires of the Id with the unreasonable expectations of the Super-Ego. We here refer to this unbalanced inward battle as personality disorder.

Freud built an entire scheme upon the foundations of Oedipus and the importance of childhood development, and in so doing devised a method of treatment that he thought would be able to unearth the repressed trauma, throw the light of day upon it, and allow the neurotic to carry himself once more into the current of society. This he called the psychoanalytic method. The basic idea was to talk with the patient, get an intimate history of their lives, collect their most bizarre and nonsensical dreams; then, interpret that information using knowledge of the unconscious drives of human behavior. After that, the source of a given neurosis could be unearthed, like a slow archeological dig, then brought into the light of the present–where we are to hope the patient learns to cope with his new-found self-knowledge.

Above all else, I must commend Freud’s attempt to enter into a dialogue with his patients. Despite his mislabeling them as sick, he very much wanted to get to the bottom of their lives, as his theory of neurosis depended upon an in depth knowledge of his patient’s personal history. Hitherto, psychiatrists sought only to observe the “mentally ill” within the confines of an asylum or hospital. For perhaps the first time in modern history, someone actually sat down and systematically talked with people society had deemed insane. He seems to have quickly realized that his methods would not work on what I have referred to as the brain diseased. Conversations with a schizophrenic patient are not conducive to introspection, nor of slow and patient analysis. They are too explosive, too paranoid, too sick to dialogue with, at least on the Freudian model. Keep in mind, he sat with his patients for hours a week. These were long, drawn out, very thorough sessions. Keep in mind also that for a person to have a legitimate brain disease, the capacity for such long and engrossing conversations would surely be lacking. Here again, Freud did not treat sick people. He treated those with disordered personalities.

So, Freud is to be commended for his attempt at dialogue. We must also praise him for his understanding that what he was doing was helping civilization against the extreme narcissism of the individual. He recognized in his psychological theories a series of implications for the formation and maintenance of society and civilization which he elaborated upon late in his career. Of paramount importance here is the idea that:

  1. Civilization developed as a way for humans to combat nature.
  2. Individuals, when they are not united in this fight, strife against each other, as they both loath the work necessary to maintain society and cannot argue past one another’s passions.
  3. Civilization is thus in a constant battle against its own constituents, who are led more by their instincts than their reason. Hence the necessity of laws and governments.

The objective of psychoanalysis is therefore the defense of civilization against those especially asocial, selfish, and narcissistic minds by way of dialogue, self-discovery, and cathartic return to more social behavior. Anti-social behavior is thus policed into acceptable modes; and human community is in some small measure maintained.

This is important for our purposes because it is so unmedical in its objectives. Or rather, the two fields of medicine and psychoanalysis are as cousins. Both seek to maintain human civilization. Whereas medicine seeks to perpetuate and extend the trenches of humanity against nature, psychoanalysis seeks to correct the soldiers who go AWOL.

Psychoanalysis and American Psychiatry

Psychoanalysis, despite its nonmedical objective, was presented by its founder as a science, specifically a medical one. It is excusable, therefore, that American psychiatry latched onto it in the first half of the twentieth century. It is even excusable that in the latter half of that same century, with the advent of psychiatric drugs and different kinds of therapeutic techniques,  medicine discarded any conscious adoption of psychoanalytic method but opted to continue the treatment of the neurotic under the umbrella term of “mental illness.”

American doctors did this because it was their belief that people with disordered personalities were sick in the same way as those with diseased brains. Their treatments, then, reflected this idea of behavioral pattern as sickness, and so entailed nursing measures, medications, hospitalizations, outpatient therapies, and insurance companies. It has been my experience, however, that such methods work so inconsistently as to call into question their efficacy.

Psychiatrists persist in their belief, despite the evidence all around them, that their methods work–if only the patient would listen to them, take their meds, live by the psychiatrist’s creed! No doubt there are occasions where the psychiatrist’s plea is justified, as when the schizophrenic patient does not take their medication for six months, becomes unhinged enough to maybe be a danger to himself or others, and ends up in the hospital once more. Most of the time, however, we are dealing with personality patients. Since they are not medically ill, medical intervention such as the psychiatrist wishes to impose upon them are ill suited to the problem at hand. And yet the psychiatrist persists…and meddles…and pleads…

What problems are we talking about when we talk about personality disorders? Look through the DSM 5 and take your pick. Kids who are obstinate in the face of authority, women who eat too little or too much, children who are anti-social in the extreme, men who rise to anger at seemingly little provocation, the lack of any reasonable attention span…all of these behaviors, and the patterns that surround them, fall under the purview of personality disorder. It is these things the psychoanalyst tried to treat; that the medical psychiatrist fails to treat; and that the psychologist must needs find a way to deal with.

An Historical Analogue to the Methods of American Psychiatry

Before we even try to grapple with an answer to the question “how do we deal with personality disorder?” I must stop and comment upon the certainty with which psychiatrists approach their patients. The faith they possess regarding the accuracy of their diagnoses–and the efficacy of their treatments–is simply astounding; indeed, it is inexplicable except when we compare it to the behavior of the religious. Faith, after all, is in part a persistence in a belief despite physical evidence to the contrary.

This smacks, in my mind, of the practices of the Catholic Inquisition. I do not wish to demonize the priests in charge of that endeavor, any more than I wish to do so with psychiatrists. We are, all of us, only human. I would like to point out, however, a few similarities between the inquisitors and American psychiatrists, between those who honestly defended a religious creed and those who claim scientific skepticism.

Both proceed from a position of certainty. The inquisitors approached their subjects with the notion that they had in their possession the Truth, divinely revealed and elaborated upon by a church, the organization of which was divinely ordained and sustained. It made sense, then, for them to take issue with those who by word or by deed went against established doctrine. To do so struck them as lunacy. If God knows all, and has bequeathed that knowledge to man in the form of the Bible, and established the Church as the human interpreter of that Truth, then how could a man go against their dogmas and still be considered in his right mind? Given a certain set of beliefs, the position of the inquisitor makes perfect sense.

In order to combat this tendency towards error, the Church established the Inquisition in various countries, the object of which was to collect testimony regarding potential heretics, assess the validity of such accusations, test them in court if they found the evidence substantial enough, and issue judgments and sentences to convicted heretics. In the English speaking world, the Inquisition in Spain is the most infamous; and apparently it was the most active and vigorous incarnation of that institution. In actuality, it was far less bloody than popular imagination has hitherto supposed. Nevertheless, as an institution it shares with American psychiatry the utter certainty that what is being done is infallibly correct.

For psychiatrists, too, approach their field from a position of certainty. This was excusable for the inquisitors of the middle ages, since they were acting within the confines of a religion. To do so under the auspices of modern science is grotesque in its dishonesty. Scientific inquiry is based on the presumption that we don’t know everything. Indeed, a hypothesis ought to be proffered only after observations have been made, not the other way around. Psychiatrists do not do this. When a patient enters the ward, they are assumed insane until proven otherwise. The hypothesis is asserted before observation is made. By the same token, psychiatrists show a remarkable inability to adjust their diagnoses in the face of new, often contradictory evidence. Related to this, they often cherry pick what the patient does or says to substantiate claims of mental illness. Examples in the notorious study entitled “Being Sane in Insane Places” abound. Several people with no psychiatric history got themselves admitted to seven different hospitals by lying about hearing “voices,” acted as normal and polite as they were able upon admission, and were, to a man, labeled as sick (most as schizophrenic). The seven were left to their own devices as to getting discharged. They had to convince the staff that they were stable enough to leave. The shortest stay was nine days, the longest fifty-five.

A good scientist seeks to disprove his hypothesis. A good theologian seeks to prove an axiom he already holds to be true. The one approaches his task with skepticism, the other with faith. They both use human reason, but from different starting points.

This certainty in psychiatric diagnosis bespeaks a faith that is not justified. This faith is most spectacularly apparent in the universal and unquestioning adoption, in the clinical setting at least, of the DSM and its various installments. Yes, it is prefaced by a brief caution to the user. It mumbles something about the vague idea of normalcy, the subjective nature of many of their diagnoses, etc. But these are as the whisper of the careful scholastic theologian against the roar of the lay preacher. Indeed, the DSM is treated as something of a Bible amongst many in the psychiatric field. Its verdicts are final. Certain. Divinely inspired. And billable to your insurance.

Around this faith has been erected, over the course of the last few decades, a system that is certain of its pronouncements, confident in its treatments, and eager to reap the financial rewards for another soul saved. Time after time I have seen patients beset with disordered personalities float in and out of the psych hospital at which I was employed. Again and again they came, heard the gospel, partook of the Eucharist (are not medications miraculous things?), and went on their way in a week or so, their stays covered by insurance that, often enough, was applied for at our hospital! Does that strike no one else as a conflict of interest?

This reeks of the ignorant simony that ran rampant (although not to the extent that later Protestants would like us to believe) among the clergy of the Catholic Church of the Renaissance. There were well meaning priests then, and there are well meaning psychiatrists now; but then as now an uncomfortable emphasis on money reigns. Hence the giving of money for the reduction of the sentence of purgation, and hence the readjustment of a patient’s medication so that their insurance company will continue to fund their stay.

There was a tendency within the Inquisition to think itself infallible. Hence the Inquisitors would never accuse themselves of error or heresy. In exactly the same way, modern American psychiatrists possess the same self-imposed infallibility. This is why the psychiatrist sees the behavior of the Other as sick, while his own problems are “understandable given the circumstances”; the patient is depressed and in need of medication; the doctor is sad and just needs some cheering up; the patient has an unfounded fear of the government; the doctor is rightly concerned about the overreach of the NSA.

Once he has made a decision, the psychiatrist rarely recants, especially if it goes against established psychiatric dogma. This is why a patient can be documented as not suicidal and then discharged; only to be readmitted twenty-four hours later for suicidality–and no one admits that they either  made a mistake in discharging too early; or  admitted a person who was not even “sick” in the first place. The possibility that the person’s suicidal thoughts (if actual) were the result not of illness but of social situation, that no medical intervention would change that situation, that she would be returned to that selfsame situation upon discharge never occurs to the psychiatrist. Why would it? Social components have little to do with medicine. And medicine is all the psychiatrist wants to talk about. He is a technician, and has little time for the subtleties other lives are possessed of.

Psychiatry pays lip service to such things via the labors of the social worker, but she works under the same medicinal chains as that of the therapist. Her advice, her aide, her often miraculous ability to find housing or what have you for the patients under her care are rendered moot by the simple fact that their social problems are buried under medical jargon, only to be unearthed once hospitalization has ended. Thus does the patient leave, look at the same shattered life she left, and return to the hospital once more. It is a vicious cycle that leads only to dependence on the part of the patient, dominance and contempt on the part of the medical staff.

This infallibility is especially dangerous with regards to psychiatry because it has the unintended consequence of dehumanizing the patients psychiatrists say they are trying to help. Everything they say is twisted, everything they do is documented, to provide evidence of their insanity. If a patient asserts he is not sick, it is a symptom of his illness and his “lack of insight.” If he refuses medication, he is “non-compliant with meds.” If he paces the halls, he is considered “anxious” or “paranoid.” Conversely, if he agrees that he is sick, then he gets to stay for treatment. If he comes back again and again, the staff suspect he is milking the system or a drug addict–and admit/treat him with an air of condescension. If he is too eager for his medicine, he is thought to be “med-seeking.” If he stays in his room, he is “isolative to self.” Literally everything he says or does is refracted through the psychiatrist’s infallible prejudice towards illness to be proof of some kind of disorder or sickness. Never does the legitimate possibility of health ever come up. What other kind of doctor brooks so vigorously towards nay saying?

The inquisitor found heresy practically wherever he looked. The Spanish found every recently converted Jew suspect; other inquisitions found multitudes of heretics, witches, and the simply misguided. It should be noted that few were killed, more imprisoned, some made to endure years of monastic life, and some freed entirely. Many inquisitors were judicious, careful, pious. Many were corrupt or careless. None doubted that heretics were a very real threat. Outside of the Spanish Inquisition, few doubted that witches were numerous (and even the Inquisition in Spain did not doubt the existence of witches). Looking back, it seems clear that many supposed heretics were the victims of observation bias, extortion, or betrayal at the hands of a neighbor. In the same way, psychiatrists, in their infallibility, find sickness wherever they look. Everyone is compulsive, addicted, bipolar, possessed of a deficient attention span, suffering from the stress of trauma after the fact…And men, then as now, are understandably susceptible to the allure of money, to the temptation to lock an enemy up where they will not soon be let out.

How We Might Proceed

Let us tie together some of these divergent strings and then proceed on to what might be done by way of remedy or alternative. I have tried to show that:

Disease, in its medical context, is an ailment foreign to the natural state of the human body, either in the form of an alien organism or in that of an alien configuration of the human body itself; and that it must meet the following two criteria:

it must disrupt the functionality of the human body in some way;

it must possess a predictable pathology or course of events.

Mental illness is a metaphor turned illusion. It seeks to couple together medical diseases that affect the brain with disorders in a person’s personality–the web of beliefs, proclivities, passions, and the like that make up one’s mental life.

The former are the result of a biological system thrown into turmoil by other biological forces; and, with varying degrees of success and consistency, are treatable by medical means, usually, but not always, in the form of psychiatric drugs. They are properly called brain diseases and are the purview of the doctor or psychiatrist.

Diagnosis is not perfect. Medical diseases, however, have these two defenses against misdiagnosis:

Objective tests to determine the biological dysfunction (which             with regards to brain diseases is still in its infancy);

Submission to the outcome of a given treatment as the final                   arbiter of the accuracy of a diagnosis.

The latter are the result of a bio-social organism’s inability to interact functionally with the society in which it resides. Such disordered personalities are so inflexible in their desires as to be unable to get along with those around them. They cannot compromise. They are as the obstinent Hitler compared to the diplomatic Metternich. Such disorders, whatever their nomenclature, are the domain of the psychologist.

Freud referred to personality disorder as neurosis. He looked to childhood development for its cause, and thought he found it within the interruption of its normal course of sexual growth.

He made the mistake of calling neurotics ill, but tried to treat them through dialogue, such that he might help them to uncover their repressed traumas and correct their deviated course of development; the end result hopefully being a degree of reintegration into a society threatened by the dysfunctional selfishness of the neurotic’s pattern of behavior.

Despite Freud’s arguments to the contrary, psychoanalysis became the handmaiden of psychiatry in America.

With the advent of antipsychotic drugs, psychoanalysis fell into disuse; but American psychiatry continued to treat the neurotic (personality disordered) as well as the psychotic (brain diseased). It kept the medical outlook that was Freud’s chief error, whilst discarding the dialogue he used as his means of treatment in favor of more medical avenues of treatment.

American psychiatry has persisted in this medical treatment of personality disorder in spite of the inconsistent results of their treatment methods, meaning medication does not treat personality disorder. It is not a chemical problem. It is a social one.

This lack of efficacy bespeaks a level of certainty unbecoming of a scientific effort but uncomfortably like that of religious faith.

Indeed, there are disturbing similarities between American psychiatry and the Inquisition of the Catholic Church. They are:

Axiomatic certainty, the idea that an assertion is made and then proof found. This is the opposite of the scientific method.

Faith in the unassailable assertions of the psychiatrist and his staff, evinced chiefly by the use of the DSM as the Bible of psychiatry–as an unquestioned and seemingly divinely inspired document of Truth.

The uncomfortable emphasis on money found both in the Catholic Church of the Renaissance and in the American psychiatry of today.

The infallibility of both the inquisitors on the one hand, and the psychiatrist and his staff on the other. The accusation of the heretic and the diagnosis of the mentally ill both evince a domination of an Other and a complete lack of introspection, restraint, or humility on the part of the Institution.

Having reiterated all that, what is psychiatry left to do? Let me preface these remarks with an admonition for skepticism and debate. I do not pretend to divine revelation, either explicitly in thought or implicitly in action. My reflections are only those of someone who has experienced American psychiatry within the confines of a single hospital over but two years and five months, and who has read perhaps ten books directly concerning the topics currently under discussion. Let this not be the final word on the matter; let thought be stimulated and discussion provoked.

First, psychiatry must discard the medical pretense. Let physicians treat the diseases of the brain, major depression, dementia, bipolar, and the like. Too often patients are admitted to the ward with physical ailments that affect their behavior: urinary tract infections, unbalanced electrolytes, brain tumors, syphilis, etc. These are or by right ought to be the realm of the physician.

Second, the psychiatrist must embrace his role as a social policeman, of psychologist. He must admit that the personality disorders he is desirous of treating are not diseases as such, but only by way of metaphor, that they are patterns of behavior society has deemed unacceptable and in need of correction.

Note: I am suspicious that psychiatrists would necessarily make good psychologists. Freud’s admonition that medical licenses are not necessary for psychotherapy rings true in my ear. Doctors are technicians. Everything is or ought to be cut and dry with them (sometimes literally). Psychologists, however, are dealing with human personality, which is irritatingly and beautifully subject to individual differences and contextual variation; it seems to defy the natural laws of development we seek to impose upon it.. Even Freud had to entertain the notion, as his career twilighted, that the Oedipus Complex was not the only mode of development for a child’s sexuality. Let us make use of scientific skepticism and methodology whilst at the same time forgoing the construction of objective laws of behavior. Society is too flowing to be confined within the iron grids of Science. Let it run its course within the arbors of Art. Let the psychologist be more artist than scientist, being flexible, personable, and empathetic. He is the subjective studying subjectivity itself. He must never forget that.

Third, he must follow the spirit of Freud, if not the letter. His single greatest contribution to the normal’s interaction with the abnormal was the initiation of consensual dialogue. We might disagree with the theory of mind underpinning psychoanalysis, but surely there is something to be said for talking with those we seek to help! (In the study “Being Sane in Insane Places” the average length of time a psychiatrist spent talking with his patients was recorded as mere minutes per day. That was in the 1970s. The hospital wherein I worked was no improvement.)

Fourth, having established the object of our endeavor, and something of a rough means, it remains for us to determine the desired end goal of our New Psychology. In simple terms, we desire to turn disorder into order, dysfunction into function. Personality disorder is an inability to function in society, not owing to biological factors alone. This is generally manifested in an unreasonable obstinacy or inflexibility when confronted with something a person does not like. Alas, society is a continued convergence of conflicting ideals and desires; men must be able to compromise if they are to live peaceably with their neighbors. Psychology, therefore, is something of a school of diplomacy. Compromise, after all, is the essence of effective diplomacy, as it is the essence of effective social involvement.

Fifth, we must do away with the current criteria for involuntary commitment. Currently, at least in Pennsylvania, a person can be incarcerated in a mental hospital if:

  1. They have recently tried to commit suicide.
  2. They are a credible danger to themselves or others.
  3. They are unable to care for themselves such that death might ensue within the next 30 days if commitment is not carried out.

These criteria are too broad, and lead to the destruction of individual liberty. Yes, we are trying to serve the public good; but the spiritedness, skepticism, and self-criticism that comes from individualism seems worth the effort to balance against the needs of the collective. Sometimes private vices does equal public virtue.

Again, Freud provides an alternative. A paramount law of psychoanalysis, at least as Freud practiced it, was the voluntary nature of the therapy. A serious problem with incarcerating neurotic people is that, really for no justifiable reason, they are having their rights trampled. To my mind, the only justifiable cause for involuntary commitment is the clear and present danger one man posses to his fellows, not some nebulous notion of the imagination where no hard proof is forthcoming.

A Criminal Digression

This brings us to a subject that has been simmering under the surface of our discussion of personality disorder: criminality. Recall that Freud understood the laws of society to be one part of its protection against the extreme narcissism of the individual. This makes a great deal of sense to me. I, however, have perhaps something of a different political outlook than did Freud, being an American (he loathed America). To my mind, one is breaking the spirit of American law when he tramples upon the rights of others. What are our rights? In the broadest of terms, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Let the lawyers determine the specifics. Should an individual strip you of one of them, intervention on the part of the majority (read: the government, the majority in action) becomes necessary.

What does this have to do with psychology as we have so defined it? Such behavior, like murder, rape, censorship, things of that nature, I define as criminal, as they break the spirit of the law. This kind of criminality requires the action of the policing arm of the legal system. I said earlier that psychologists are something of a social police force. They deal with neurotic behavior, disordered personalities, inflexibly dysfunctional members of the community. One has a right to ask if that includes criminals. After all, such unlawful behavior fits the bill of asociality. Things like murder are so zealously selfish, narcissistic, and anti-social as to warrant psychological intervention, no?

This, however, brings up another issue (will this never end?), namely the objective of the prison system. Take a look even at the names we use in the prison system: departments of correction, correctional officers, penitentiaries, detention centers, penal system–notice anything strange about them? Their meanings are all different, even contradictory. Are our prisons meant to be places of correction, whatever that might mean? Are they places where offenders do penance, to whomever we might say penance is owed? Are they places where the criminal are separated from society, confined for the protection of the majority? Or are they merely places of punishment, to where the crime is justly fitted? We must needs ask ourselves what we are trying to accomplish with our philosophically justified and practically necessary incarcerations before we can find a fitting place for the psychologist. Perhaps he might aid in correction. Perhaps he might guide penance. Perhaps he might make the punishment meaningful for the punished. We cannot know, because we do not know what prisons are really for, beyond separating a deviant minority from an offended majority.

Still, if behavior is anti-social to the point of infringing upon another’s rights, separation from the community would seem to be necessary. If such behavior is the result of a chemical imbalance, then the individual would need to be locked in a psychiatric ward for treatment. If it be the result of a narcissistic, what we might call sociopathic personality type, then the individual would belong in jail. For the most part, it has been my observation that those with disordered personalities do not behave criminally. They may break the letter of the law and incur the wrath of the injustice system, but they hardly infringe on the rights of others, thus leaving the spirit of the law intact. There are those who do break the spirit of the law, and perhaps they are more numerous than I imagine them to be. That would make some sense, as inflexibility often has violence as its only recourse.

The objective of the psychologist might, then, be two-fold. Outside prison, he would voluntarily dialogue with those people who seek out his help, who want to get along better in society. Within prisons, he might serve a similar, albeit state-mandated function. This latter scenario strikes me as difficult, however, since the criminal is hardly likely to trust someone assigned to “coach” him into a lifestyle he has little willingness to adopt. Again, though, until we as a society decide what, exactly, our prison systems are for, until we repeal those laws which serve only the moralizing, meddling impulses of the few rather than protecting the rights of the many, the psychologist might better spend his time outside the gridiron.

A Return to Reformation

Back to involuntary commitment: the criteria is only that of harm, not harm to the self (which falls under a man’s right to do what he pleases with himself without infringing upon others), but only the harm of others. Does this include the potential for harm, or actual violence alone? Is actual violence on the part of the majority ever necessary in the face of potential violence on the part of the individual? Remember, incarceration is a violation by the majority of the individual’s rights. To do such a thing requires stringent trammels, lest abuse run rampant. Let us, then, remain cautious, even to the point of allowing harm to come to some.

We can only justify action if an individual has committed a crime. Potentiality is not enough, as all of us have that potential within us. Thus, even those with diseased brains ought not to be forcibly hospitalized–imprisoned, if we are being honest–unless they have done violence to others. Without actual violence, the only way a schizophrenic or majorly depressed individual would be able to receive treatment is as the vast majority of diseased persons: voluntarily. The actual violence of the schizophrenic is like a car accident where both parties are injured. In the former case, one individual does violence, is incarcerated, identified as sick, and treated against his will but to the best of our abilities. In the latter, two parties come together violently, are rushed to the hospital (if they are in critical condition they are unable to give consent for treatment), where they are healed as best as can be. The point is that under extreme conditions, like when a person is not physically able to give their consent, even medicine treats involuntarily. Here again, the emphasis is on extremes. Medicine only treats involuntarily those in a condition too critical to say otherwise. By the same token, the branch of medicine we call psychiatry (that treats diseased brains) can only treat involuntarily those who are at the extremity of illness, meaning their diseased brains have caused them to act in such a way as to infringe upon the basic rights of a fellow citizen.

Sixth, let us curtail the meddling impulse. The goal of psychology is to defend society against the asocial, specifically by helping such people as have disordered personalities to live independently but in an integrated manner within our civilization. To that end, we must be willing to talk and listen and on occasion advise those who seek our council; but at the same time, we must caution ourselves against living vicariously through others. Psychologists are human too, and like all men are better at giving advice than taking it. We would do well to remember our fallibility in the face of neurotics who so obviously would live better lives if only they would take our advice. In the long run, it does the client better if we dialogue with them and allow them to take an active part in the discovery of solutions, rather than simply play the part of the passive listener. Let them enrage us with a dissenting opinion, force us to bolster or reconsider our point, and we will find that both parties come out stronger for the effort.

A Final, Personal Digression

I have said that personality disorder is characterized as inflexibility, by an inability to live effectively within the confines of society. Besides criminality, which is perhaps the extreme end of that concept, is there not another difficulty that I have yet to address? Namely, how useful is this label, this category? It certainly should not be used as a diagnosis. People are not neurotic or psychotic merely, with perhaps those on the fence referred to as “borderlines” thrown in for good measure. Behavior is not split nicely between abnormal unreasonableness due to biological illness or abnormal inflexibility due to mental illness. As I have tried to show, such inflexibility that has a social origin merely is not a sickness, does not brook diagnosis, and requires the mending of dysfunctional interpersonal relationships, not medical intervention. Such problems in living, such dysfunctional relationships, are not abnormal. People spend their whole lives grappling with relationships that are far from ideal. We get the impression that the majority have adapted in such a way as to make do with these imperfect relationships. Some, however, seem unable to get along with others in a functional way. They are constantly involved with the police, the lawyer, the judge, or (God help them) the psychiatrist. These are the people whose personalities might be accurately described as disordered, who would benefit from voluntarily walking into the office of the psychologist, learning habits with which they might make their relations to the rest of the world more sociable, and in so doing lead, at the very least, more tranquil lives.

I have tried to use the term to differentiate that great mass of people that are unsick from those few that are, but who are one and all treated or mistreated within the confines of medical psychiatry. It has been my experience that a large portion of these myriad unsick have the same problems that many of us have–problems in living, meaning poor interpersonal relationships. Others wrestle with issues resulting from their perceived or actual minority status within society, things like addiction, sexual queerness, or poverty. Society puts them down for their troubles and they happen upon psychiatry as a means of help or escape (it’s hard for problems to bother you when you’re high on Seraquil). Many of them deal with trauma, but that is nothing special. Humans all must cope, must grapple with traumatic events, starting with being born. It is my earnest hope that the patient, detached (not objective) dialogue had between psychologist and client, when done in an atmosphere of consent and mutual respect, might yield for these normally (not abnormally) troubled souls a bit of perspective, advice, maybe even the possibility of self-improvement.

Seventh, we would do well to keep, if not an open mind, then at least one with a reasonable immigration policy. Having dragged psychiatry from its scholastic undeath, and having separated it into medical psychiatry and personal psychology, let it not fall back into the cobwebs of complacency and dogma.

On Motivation

Why do we do the things that we do? Because we are motivated to do so. But what motivates us? What makes us move? There are, it seems, two possible alternatives to this question. 1. Reasons 2. Mechanisms. The relationship between the two is confusing, at least to me.

Let us start with an example of an explanational schema. Let us start with Freud, because he is on my mind and people don’t talk about him as much as his legacy deserves. He is not popular, therefore I like him.

Freud was something of a biological determinist. He looked to bodily drives and impulses, to instincts and passions, for his explanations of human action. Hence the universality of his Oedipal complex, of penis envy, and the like. These were not constructs merely; they were concrete phases of human development, differing shapes the mind took in reaction to the near universal stimulants presented to it through its early development.

Where does that leave motivation? Well, if the biological motivations of human action are universal, Freud would have to explain our differing rationales for similar actions. He did so through the method of free association, whereby the analyst prompted a few questions, let the analysand talk and talk, gradually pealing back the layers of rationalization (a term coined by a psychoanalyst), ultimately revealing the true man under the armor of the Super Ego.

Freud’s answer, then, was that our explanations are not accurate in fact, but geared towards the expectations society places upon us, those we think society places upon us, and those we place upon ourselves. Ultimately, however, the reason we give for doing things is a veil, masking raw biological fact.

In his treatise on religion, Freud hits these same marks, postulating that religion, that myth is a comfort against the unexplainable. It makes the mysterious less frightening by imbuing it with human characteristics that we can understand, predict, control, or rebel against. It gives us hope. It gives us community. It keeps the uncontrolled Id at bay.

Is Freud right? What motivates us? As a student of history, I have been asking myself this question without coming to any kind of satisfactory answer.

Why did Herclius sail all the way from Spain, usurp the Byzantine throne, fight his way to the gates of the Persian capital as Constantinople lay besieged, vanquish Byzantium’s foes, and then do almost nothing when, at the end of his reign, the Muslims attacked? Historically, analysis has focused on perhaps his Roman patriotism, his religious fervor, his youthful zest compared to the atrophy of an old age gained in the wake of victory. Couple this with the youthful Islam against the fractured Christianity of the East, and you get your historical narrative.

But what does that really explain? Why did Heraclius do what he did? Because of his religious motivation. What caused that? His upbringing, maybe the Christian creed meshing with his mental constitution. What constitutes a mentality, and how do the words of others interact with that?

It is easy to say that rational causes rest on a foundation of biological processes. I write because I want to. I want to because the act of writing causes chemical X to react with chemical Y and yield outcome Z. But how does one interplay with the other? When I write even when it does not yield a positive chemical response, why do I write? Because of some repressed desire to punish myself? Does that come from a different chemical?

To ask how motivation splits into reason and mechanism and how those parts interact is, I suspect, the same as asking how man splits into mind and body, and then asking how one interacts with the other. Perhaps it is the wrong question to ask. Perhaps it is a false dichotomy.

Humans like to explain things. They do not like to have their explanations questioned or dissected. Or doubted. Freud faced much criticism manfully, honestly even, but psychoanalysis was still his baby, and not infrequently his rebuttals were witty but unable fully to grapple with the issue at hand. He has been criticized much too harshly for this. He was a much more astute methodologist than some give him credit for. Still, he had a worldview and brooking naysayers was not his natural bent.

How do we explain his defensiveness? With an assertion: humans like to explain things. And a corollary: they do not like to have their explanations criticized. What evidence do I have to support this? Experience. Anecdote. The authority of a blog. What caused this facet of human behavior? Evolution. Isn’t evolution just a long term manifestation of genetic change? Then how do genes motivate people? They imbue proclivities. How?

Magic. People do things because Magic.

Happy Easter.

 

Gone With the Wind, a Commentary

Introduction

Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind is an American epic, a novel of psychological depth, grand scope, and historical ignorance. It is colloquial in its outlook, national in its effect, and now devoid of its prominence. It is full of tragedy, sacrifice, justice, and profundity of character. And yet it is hardly read in classrooms, hardly talked about in terms of “great American literature.” This, we might reasonably surmise, might have to do with its gargantuan length, but Moby Dick is a long book and its professors abound. No, I suspect the dismissal of Gone With the Wind has to do with its very problematic viewpoint, antithetical to so much that many academics or intellectuals would consider comfortable or inoffensive. It strikes me, however, that great books are not for the faint of heart. They should not be as opium for life’s hardships; they ought to rouse the reader to cope with philosophies he does not espouse, questions he would prefer not to ask; great books should make the reader uncomfortable in their attempt to grapple with life, and, in the end, comfort him that others, too, share in his struggle. In this way, great books shatter the conventions of nationality or race, and remind us of our common humanity. Let us delve into this offensive, uncomfortable, but thoroughly fantastic work of American fiction.

Analysis

Several themes pervade the book: the lost cause of the noble Confederacy; the world fought for, shattered, and annihilated amidst the permutations of history; the ability of the most tenacious, ruthless, practical people to survive regardless of circumstance; the importance of what we today would call genetic predisposition in the makeup of one’s character; the conflict between honor and pragmatism, as well as that between the mask and the real person; the advance of woman’s equality; the misrepresentation of Southern slavery by Northern propaganda; the solipsism of men’s minds…We shall delve into a few choice ones, and leave the reader free to agree, disagree, or abstain–so long as he forms his opinion based on a firsthand sampling of the work, rather than on the Wikipedia article alone.

The first half of the book is dedicated to the prelude and duration of the American Civil War, a conflict that saw the largest number of American dead of any of our wars to date, the vast expansion of Federal power at the expense of the individual states, the ideals of the Declaration of Independence trumping the letters of the Constitution, and–as the focus of this book–the ruination of the Southern Way of Life. Plantations were razed, families traumatized, and an entire economic system was thrown into the void. The fighting itself is mostly relegated to expositional dumps, but it is at least dimly present, if only via juxtaposition, throughout Scarlett’s social machinations.

As the title makes plain, this book is more than a chronicle of the death of the South. It is a lamentation of a social system cast away forever. The characters of the book come to the painful realization that despite their best efforts, their former way of life is dead. They must adapt to a new world, an industrial world, a world of racial equality. Some, like Rhett and Scarlett, adapt ruthlessly and successfully. Others, take Ashley and Frank for example, fail utterly, living their lives as shadows waiting to dissipate or dying in futile attempts to regain a world now lost. This is in large part a story about change and adaptation, about the human desire for things to stand still when they are perceived as pristine (even though this lack of motion always leads to stagnation). It should also be noted that such desire often only comes in hindsight. Scarlett, annoyingly but not without purpose, spends much of her ignorant pre-Reconstruction existence complaining about what we know to be irrelevancies–lacking new dresses, having to care for her child, etc. Indeed, she only comes to realize her love for Tara (her ancestral home) when it is nearly at the furnace’s door.

The impact of nature on a man’s personality plays some psychological role as well. Blacks are generalized as child-like, simple, but also loyal and hard-working. The Irish are considered hot-tempered and good-natured or drunk and foreign, by turns. Southerners consider their pedigree a mite bit superior to their northern counterparts, and that is without mentioning the gradation of perceived quality found in their own rigid socio-economic hierarchy. Men and women, too, have their specific, iron-clad roles to play. All of these characteristics take no regard for a man’s development. They adhere to him at birth. One chief conflict of Scarlett’s life, therefore, is her natural inclinations towards temper, indignation, narcissism, and practicality clashing with the roles and duties thought natural to her class and gender. There is the additional struggle, in her case, between trying to be the daughter her mother raised and falling into the daughter her father sired purely by genetic accident. Her mother counseled kindness and tact; her father acted on impulse and courage. In the end, Scarlett chooses, or falls into, the latter mold. She is more interesting, and more frustrating, for it.

The fall of the Confederacy is enacted in miniature within each character in the book. Scarlett has her external universe ripped from her before the book is half finished; but she is far more devastated by the destruction of her internal cosmos. The disintegration of her mental sun, Ashley, nearly throws her into cosmic chaos, and it is only by gravitating towards the familiar–the pursuit of another man–that she maintains any kind of cohesion. In Rhett as well, we see the collapse of a mental universe, personified in the death of his beloved Bonnie and again in Scarlett’s broken ribs. Unlike his wife, however, Rhett recognizes the finality of the termination and attempts to move on to something else. Ashley thought that his world revolved around Scarlett, and it took the death of Melanie (his wife) for him to realize the warmth he felt was not from Scarlett but from the star of his wife; her death leaves him aimless and dependent upon Scarlett simply through lack of resolve. Finally, it is in Melanie that we see the ideal, a woman who throughout the book maintains her world, right to the end. No doubt is entertained, no misgiving communicated, no dishonestly recognized. In her undoubt, often so contrary to external reality, her internal world finds an undying center of gravity, holding everything in place until her planet withers and dies of its own accord, its natural cycle having come to a close. She is the Confederacy idealized and personified.

Criticism

Like any book of such length (easily stretching to over 1000 pages), Gone with the Wind is possessed both of great strengths and profound weaknesses. Let us do charity to the courageous author and cover the strengths first.

The author has a lot to say, as our thematic analysis ought to have demonstrated. Art need not have a point, but great art must needs be grappled with; and an opponent must have a point of view, so as to provoke a fight from him. This book certainly does. The South is the great protagonist, and the characters–well-formed, realistic, and psychologically profound–take us on a tragic journey through the destruction of that nation. It is the Iliad from the perspective of the Trojans. It thus appeals to that (often and increasingly hypocritical) American sense of rooting for the little guy in the face of overwhelming odds. And the book does not shirk from reminding the reader of the inevitability of the Confederacy’s defeat, noble though their cause was (or thought to be).

The book shines brightest when the author’s themes are voiced by the characters themselves, or through narration that clearly bespeaks the perspective of a single psychology. When Scarlett thinks upon the ruination of Tara and its vibrant, red soil; when Rhett bemoans the idiocy of Southern honor only to spend the last eight months of the war fighting for the Confederacy; when Melanie talks of national honor and the will to persevere, the reader cannot help but find himself at least compelled, if not outright enthralled, by their earnestness, their depth of soul, the reality of their convictions and perspectives.

But because the author has something to say, she sometimes takes it too far, other times loses her balance. After hundreds and hundreds of pages, the reader finds himself fatigued at the repetitious pastoral depictions, the characters reminding us again and again of their various motivations, the minutiae of the lumber business in post-war Georgia… We humbly submit that Mitchell could have done with a vigorous, if understanding, editor, and cut at least a fifth of the work from its final form.

More important than the long-windedness of Gone with the Wind is the historically unbalanced portrayal of Reconstruction and the Southern way of life generally. The book is predominantly concerned with the wealthiest members of Southern society. Therefore, its characters are particularly affected by the defeat of the Confederacy. And when the characters themselves speak of this catastrophe, few problems arise. When, however, the narration takes a step back from the characters and enters a more general tone that fairly can be ascribed to the author herself, the unmerited representations of the North, the ignorance of the dark underbelly of the South, and the polemical attacks upon the Yankee occupation all leave a bad taste in the mouth of one who knows better.

Obviously Reconstruction was imperfect, and obviously both sides acted with less than Christian charity, kindness, or love; but the black and white narration of the author is less easy to stomach when not from the mouth of a character who would have little interest in historical objectivity–and indeed little access to such information as was available in the first decades of the twentieth century. Mitchell spent more than a decade writing this book. It would not have been too much to ask for her to have researched the topic with such thoroughness as to at least lighten the bias against the North. It was still too soon to have expected a positive revision of Reconstruction, but Mitchell’s insight into the depth of her characters’ minds failed her when she turned her attention to men who actually lived, who actually acted, and who actually failed.

This flaw proves nearly fatal to the work when it comes to the depiction of black people. Not that blacks have no representation in the book; several prominent, if secondary, characters are black. The problem is that the book goes to great lengths to make slavery seem the preferable option to emancipation. We never meet a black person happy to have his freedom. The only blacks with sustained speaking roles are “house slaves,” who would have been comfortable enough on a plantation with “decent” white folks overseeing it. We never really get a psychologically deep or honest portrayal of what the house slaves refer to as a “field nigger,” one who broke his back picking cotton, tending crops, doing all the work that, halfway through the narrative, the main characters find themselves (despite their social status) forced to do.

Indeed, the “free-issue” blacks are generally depicted as unreliable, lazy, brutal. And if they are not looked upon with scorn, it is with pity, as political pawns of the nefarious and money-grubbing scalawags and Republicans. Again, when a character speaks of free-issues or Republicans with scorn, derision, or pity, little issue can be found. Of course they would feel that way. But the fact that over the course of 1000 pages the author found no room for even a hint at the brutalities of slavery, or of the benefits of emancipation; that she never addresses the hypocrisy of a society that fights for “freedom” on the backs of the unfree; that she commits all her important black characters to unquestioning loyalty to the social system destroyed by the Civil War…these are not mere literary flaws of structure, pacing, or characterization. They are historically disingenuous, morally repugnant, deeply unsettling sins from an author who clearly researched her subject matter.

Most damning of all, her portrayal of blacks perpetuates conventional barriers between supposedly superior and supposedly inferior branches of humanity. The most fully formed black characters, Mammy for instance, show a depth of understanding and a preternatural loyalty to their masters. But at the same time, the white characters never come to the realization that they are the equals of the blacks. Their darker counterparts are loyal, yes, but ever childlike. They are strong to be sure, but only in the way a horse is strong. The loyalty and strength of the blacks is not equivalent to the white examples of those characteristics. The white characters are conveniently discriminating in their praise and defamation of the black characters, and the detached narrator falls prey to this discrimination when she admits of no free black who even suggests that he is equal to his former masters, nor of a single white character who even whispers the possibility. That she was so thoughtful in every other respect, concerning the history and psychology of her characters, as to completely overlook this severing of man from man, so blatant and so cruel, is strange indeed. It bespeaks the enfeebling power of mental prejudice, that wellspring from which our ideas flow, and by which they  are channeled.

Finally, one must ask the question: did the Old Guard of the South really suffer irrevocable defeat at the hands of the invading North? When the Republicans ran out of steam by the 1870s, the Democrats regained supreme control of their states. Blacks were at first hampered and then later all but completely barred from the political process. Indeed, even in the 1930s, when the book was published, blacks–especially in the South–were anything but equal to their white counterparts. And we should all be well aware of the vastly improved, but still irritatingly imperfect, status of blacks in America today. A foreign observer would have noticed large differences between 1860 and 1870 to be sure, but to say that the social hierarchy that ruled the antebellum South was annihilated never to return seems something of an overstatement, one that men like Booker T. Washington certainly would have taken issue with.

Conclusion

The skill of Mitchell’s writing, the depth of her characterizations, the variety of her settings, the sweeping scope of her narrative ultimately overcome these shortcomings. And we are left with a deeply troubling but deeply profound piece of American literature. It is the supreme accomplishment of the Southern Mind, a work as grandiose and hypocritical, as passionate and loyal, as delusional and bitter as the people from whence it came. While we of the North might with justice criticize the particular faults of our Southern compatriots, we would do well to remember that we share the same blood, the same common humanity. Their flaws are our flaws, their strengths our strengths. The manifestations change; the people remain remarkably alike.

It is a pity, then, that this challenging work seems thoroughly unrepresented in literary circles. In some respects this is not surprising. Consider the movement to extirpate each instance of “nigger” from Huck Finn, for example, and one quickly realizes that challenging literature is not popular. No, society seems to prefer literature that pretends to challenge, that deals with issues that the majority is comfortable talking about. Such literature deals in platitudes, not in profundity.

The Liberation Narrative: Django: Unchained and Spartacus Compared

Django: Unchained has been criticized, not without merit, as being more a white man’s black vengeance movie, rather than simply a black vengeance movie. The black characters require the white characters in order to gain their freedom. They require them in order to reap vengeance for the wrongs and injustices committed against blacks by whites. In a word, it is less a movie about black empowerment and more a movie about white guilt. Whites perpetrated the injustice of slavery, and whites therefore are required in order to achieve rectification.

Having seen it for the first time since it was in theaters, I got to thinking; how accurate is this claim? what does that say about American slavery and how it is viewed today? Indeed, is such a criticism really something we ought to be critical about at all? To answer these questions, I decided to come at it indirectly by first looking at another movie centered around a narrative of slavery and liberation: Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus.

Spartacus is a Greek slave brought up in bondage, trained as a gladiator, and who, for a few short years, led an army of liberated slaves through a series of astounding, if ultimately futile, victories against not a few Roman legions. It is a classic story and a classic film. One man, fueled by a zealous desire to claim his birthright, leads rabble against professionals, comes to grips with them manfully and successfully, almost outwits his opponents–only to be betrayed at the last moment. Trapped in southern Italy, he and his men are cut down by the combined arms of several Roman legions. He is captured, although his identity is never established with certitude. He is crucified with the survivors of his rebellion, one of thousands of broken exemplars, warnings to Rome’s myriads of enchained subjects of the terrible price to be paid for insurrection. He is a martyr for the cause of liberty, and his sweeping narrative is both suitably tragic and inspiring.

Django, on the other hand, is very much a personal narrative, not something on the grand scale. There is no talk of the end of slavery, there is no mass rebellion against the established Order; there is only one black man, his burning desire to free his enslaved wife, and a German bounty hunter. This German, Dr. King Shultz, gives Django the ability to fulfill his lover’s quest by freeing him, training him in the art of killing, and setting in motion a chain of events that leads to the eventual freedom of the two chief black characters–at the expense of his own Teutonic existence, alas.

So the whole of Spartacus is a sprawling historical epic pontificating, nay yearning for the death and burial of a most brutal human institution (“2000 years before it finally would die” as the opening narrator puts it). It allows a slave to drag himself up from slavery by the brawn of his own lashed back. Django, so this comparison suggests, is a narrow romance set in the Antebellum South, wherein a helpless black man is plucked by his white angel in the dead of winter, warmed by his thirst for vengeance, his love for his wife; and sharpened to a ferocious point by the tutelage of his Germanic liberator. The former film treats the slave as an equal albiet subjugated person, able to grasp at his freedom with his own hands, to fight for it with his own strength and ingenuity. The latter film sees the slave as perhaps equal philosophically, but certainly unable to make any use of his possible freedom without the aid of a charitable white character, deigning to get his hands dirty in the aid of those less fortunate.

(How nice of him.)

And yet, what is most striking to me is that Spartacus loses. Indeed, the status quo is restored, the slaves remain as such, and that’s pretty much the end of it. Historically, slavery was never seriously questioned until the late 18th century. It was taken as a given, a necessary economic brutality, or most grotesquely (from our perspective) as a fact of Nature. Look up Aristotle’s defense of slavery. It is difficult to stomach. The film admits this sad fact from the beginning. The narrator, as mentioned, laments that the true death of slavery would have to wait two millennia. From the onset, then, Spartacus is a tale of defeat. Spartacus, like Troy’s Hector, is the man we root for and the man fated to lose.

So, Spartacus loses. Does Django do any better? Within the bounds of the narrative, yes. He gets the girl, kills pretty much every evildoer in site, and the movie ends in triumph. But in a larger sense, he still exists in a world very much in a hostile disposition towards his race. The events of Django happen a half decade before the Civil War. How fruitful will his New Life be, even with papers authenticating both his and his wife’s freedom? Consider. In the North there is no slavery, but there is still a social stigma attached to being of African descent. Emancipation is nearly ten years off; Jim Crow a generation or two from casting blacks again into the role of helot and outcast; and Civil Rights a century from bursting forth at long last. So does not Django really end on the same downer as that of Spartacus? Is not the status quo in both films equally unassailable?

I am compelled to answer in the definitely negative. The rebellion of Spartacus was overwhelmed by a world that did not even consider the possibility of slavery being an evil. Go ahead and watch that movie again; I don’t think there is a single Roman character that actually sides with Spartacus on moral grounds. A few help him out of practical or political reasons, but no one seems interested in the gospel of equality. Rousseau is not even a sparkle on the horizon. Historically, again, no one questioned the institution of slavery until very recently. Enter Django’s German liberator: Dr. King Schultz. He begins by purchasing Django, purely for the benefit of the slave’s knowledge of a few wanted men the bounty hunter is pursuing. He expresses no love of slavery but of necessity must keep Django in bondage, he says, so as to guarantee the latter’s aid. When the deed is done and the bounties are dead, Schultz frees Django and partners up with him, “Killin’ white folks for money.” Upon hearing Django’s story of his lost wife Broomhilda (not Brunhilda), the Doctor is compelled (what German would pass an opportunity to aid a real life Siegfried?) to help Django get his lady love back. He meets his end when he opts to shoot in the chest the sadistic planter who owns Broomhilda, rather than shake hands with him. “I could not resist,” he says, smiling, before he himself is cut in half.

Embodied in this German is the idea of Hope, and indeed of Progress. Yes, Django is a “white man’s black vengeance” flick, but in the American context it could not, and indeed ought not be any other way. Schultz is a white man, part (whether he likes it or not) of the established social order. This white man, however, recognizes the evils inherent in the institution of slavery, and does everything in his power to help a single individual rise to take on the burden of liberty manfully, and who dies for what he now professes to be the Truth of things. He is the domineering majority’s shame at its hypocrisy and brutality; he is it looking inwards at itself, realizing that something must needs be done; he is the first inklings of that Action, that Progress. He is the Hope that America might, one day, earn its birthright of freedom by allowing equal opportunity and equality under the law to all its citizens.

Embodying those noble things, he makes Django a quintessentially American narrative of slave liberation. America is in a somewhat unique position viz. slavery. It was founded as a nation upon the soil of liberty, and yet sowed stones in that fertile field by retaining the antique (but industrially vicious) institution of slavery. Much of its economy relied upon cheap, reliable slave labor. And many of its leaders owned dozens if not hundreds of these unfree men. This led to moral outrage on the part of some–for the first time in history. It also led to painfully concocted scientific theories of racial hierarchy on the part of those seeking to defend slavery in the wake of Equality’s philosophic victory. Civil war, decades of black inequality despite their liberation, the Civil Rights movement, and our current climate of white guilt followed in their turn.

The point is, America criticized itself for owning slaves. It fought itself over that issue, cloaked as it was in the language of union and states rights. It freed its slaves in law, but kept them in social chains. And so, with stops and trammels that are shameful in their own way, it slowly integrated its slave population into the often unwilling majority. That is something that to my knowledge is without historical precedent. Egypt did not free its slaves. Sparta did not free its helots. Rome did not break down the institution of Latifundia, its great landed estates that relied on the labor of the unfree. Spain continued to reap the benefits of slave labor in Latin America until those colonies liberated themselves.

It is true that France abolished slavery in its Caribbean possessions, then reinstated it, then abolished it, then reinstated it, again and again as its government shifted hands. It is also true that England outlawed the slave trade in 1807 and backed its words with the guns of its uncontested navy. But these laws affected the colonies of these two great empires, rather than their national soil. Slavery as an institution never took root in the patria of either France or England. Only in America were slaves an integral part of domestic life. Only in America was that institution for the first time seriously questioned, weakened, and ultimately, after the slow triumph of the Civil Rights movement, abolished. Other counties went through, or are still reeling from, similar social processes, notably Brazil; but it was in the United States of America that, without precedent, such a process of liberation began.

Django embodies that American historical development. Schultz is the majority trying to make amends for its sins against Equality. Django is the minority taking the reins of its destiny into its own hands after it has first been taught how to be free. After all, it seems reasonable to assert that being brought up a slave habituates a man to a different mode of thinking and action than does a liberal upbringing. This must be broken and replaced. This education is the responsibility of the liberators, so as to make good and equal citizens of those it once held in chains. That is integration. Blacks need not “act like whites,” whatever that really means, but they should have the same economic, intellectual, legal opportunities as their former masters. We all must be educated so as to be responsible citizens.

So, Django is a more heartening slave narrative because it is a success. It is a success because someone within the machinery of enslavement actually realizes the evil of the institution and tries to do something about it. And in doing something about it, that white “liberator” embodies the American experiment in the enfranchisement and integration of its former slave population, a process fraught with difficulty, with setback, with brutality, with inhumanity, but ultimately, with a degree of kindness, of duty, of self-appraisal that is almost without historical precedent.

Would that Livy could have been so critical of Rome as Lincoln was of America!

The Nature of Victory

Conan achieved victory over his foes, crushing them mightily. But what does victory really mean? Is it ever complete? Ought it be?

Men bicker,

Battles fought,

And histories written about them.

By common consent the victors

Pen these bloody tomes,

Confident in their paragraphs,

That their compatriots’ exploits,

Hard-won,

Were worthy of posterity,

Worthy of the cost.

Counted in coin

In men

In time.

A problem emerges,

One of definition.

How does one assign victory?

Did Sparta dismantle Athens;

Or gain imperial doom?

Did Rome subjugate the Greeks;

Or sow declining seeds?

Did the North federate the South;

Or submit to cotton politics?

How often do the Victors

Find themselves enmeshed, subsumed,

Consumed even

By those they suppose to have conquered?

Spartan culture collapsed entirely

In the face of empire and dominion.

Roman culture fled in the face

Of Greek vitality.

And what of the North?

 Too close to home, perhaps,

So who can say…

Or of wars betwixt not nations, armies, generals,

But of majority against minority,

Of, say, sane against insane?

What do we think of Victors,

In the war against the Mad?

Patients are confined,

Imprisoned,

Medicated,

And maligned.

And great books are written

Detailing the grotesque

Their oddities, disorders,

Sicknesses, and perversions;

Are catalogued, collated,

And assigned treatment,

All planned out in advance.

What of these triumphant psychiatrists?

What have they really won?

The mad-consigned,

They gaze,

Thru bleary eyes,

At these medical men

Stripped bare

White coats with nothing

Underneath.

The mad are imprisoned,

The sane…

Are prisoners of the

Aimless,

Purposeless,

They go thru the motions,

Unthinking,

Unbeing,

Utterly unaware,

As perhaps the mad are,

Of the tragedy of it all

And the grim humor,

That they walk in circles

Circumferenced by Victor’s reality.

The sane are guards on the prison walls,

But prisoners too,

Confined all the same,

The seeds of their doom sown

With the first steps of psychology,

Like Rome at Cynoscephalae.

Let us hope the mad

Infect their caretakers

As Rome

Was encultured by Greece.

Concerning Inquiry

Which is to be more lauded, conclusions drawn from deductive reasoning, or those induced? Philosophical discourse until the “Age of Reason” preferred the former, much to the chagrin of those philosophes and scientists who were to inherit the intellectual organs of western thought in the Modern Era.

Moderns criticized the ancients and medievals for relying upon a priori reasoning, which is to say conclusions logically deduced from an assumption, the foundation upon which many a philosophic citadel has been constructed. The most obvious example is building a System based on the assumption that God exists. The scholastic philosophers of the Middle Ages were especially lampooned for this methodology, which resulted in labyrinths of terms, logics, and deductions, unintelligible to all and thus of no practical value to anyone.

In contradistinction to this deductive approach, modern scientists and philosophes relied upon an inductive method, inducing conclusions a posteriori, based  not upon some foundational assumption, but rather upon empirical data collected and analyzed. The benefit of this method, so the argument ran and runs even still, is that it precludes drawing conclusions until the preponderance of evidence leans one way or another; while at the same time allowing for practical application. An example would be rather than philosophizing upon the various humors of the body as expounded by ancient authorities like Galen, a scientist would induce based upon dissection of the human body the inner workings of that machine, thus allowing medicine to advance beyond the counterproductive cure-alls like blood letting.

Inductive reasoning, solidified in the scientific method of today, triumphed over the deductive alternative chiefly because it yielded results, stupendous results. Scientific experimentation has allowed for the systematic collation, study, and analysis of every facet of the physical world, thus producing technological miracles undreamed of even 200 years ago.

Why bother bringing this little historical narrative up at all? Because it is false. Yes, there was an obvious shift in methodology in and around the 16th century. The primacy of Aristotle crumbled amidst the realization that many, terrifyingly many, of his empirical observations were wrong, and what’s more, they were easily corrected by the simple expedient of, well, actually looking at the things themselves. To give but one example: Aristotle asserted–or a student of his school asserted, it’s sometimes hard to know for sure, what with he having died more than 2000 years ago–that the semen of the Ethiopian was dark like his skin. Now, while the verification of this assertion might carry with it some awkwardness, it is something that can be checked. Egregious, and to us obvious, mistakes like this eroded Aristotle’s credibility, so unassailable (so far as natural science was concerned) during the Middle Ages.

This extended to other ancient authors as well, the eminent physician Galen coming immediately to mind. In short, scholars turned from books (as in the Renaissance) towards the objects about which the books concerned themselves. Thus scholars made the transition to scientists, theses were not taken seriously unless they be backed up with “scientific” evidence and exposition, and the Renaissance gave way to the Enlightenment.

That basic conceit being admitted, what could the issue be? To my mind, it is the following. The scientist’s criticism of the scholastic was and remains the latter’s reliance upon an assumption, upon which a logical argument is then constructed. The scientist, however, relies upon his own basic assumption, one that defies any attempt at empirical justification. Experiments, as mentioned, rely upon a preponderance of evidence, not so much to prove anything, but to indicate an ever-increasing likelihood of the truth of a given hypothesis. Technically, empirical data never proves anything as such; it simply pushes the conclusion in a more likely direction. (This, by the way, seems a point often dismissed, as any headline beginning with “Study Shows,” “Science Proves,” etc, etc).

Based on this preponderance of evidence, scientists then formulate what are referred to as laws, which are objective, generally applicable principles by which the natural world is said to function. They are objective because they remain the same regardless of the vantage point of observation; they care not for the subjective nature of human observation. Here, belatedly, is the problem: these laws rely on the assumption, a priori, that a phenomenon having been observed repeatedly will repeat itself under the same conditions ad infinitum. Thus an apple will always fall from a tree, a man will always die if his heart be removed, the three laws of motion will remain in effect– regardless of the theory of relativity, which is simply another set of laws that makes allowance for a universe very much more complicated that Newton supposed.

The problem is that there is no logical reason why this should be so. Just because an apple, once dislodged from a branch, is observed falling to the ground 10, 100, 1000, even 1,000,000,000 times does not necessitate that it do so the 1,000,000,001st time. To point to the laws of gravity, induced from such empirical observations, is to appeal to circular logic, since such laws were derived from empirical observations that need not perpetuate themselves.

What about mathematical proofs for natural laws? I must confess my almost total lack of understanding of that language. Nevertheless, I am vaguely aware that certain geometric proofs are based upon first postulates that must be assumed before anything else can be done. Perhaps my mathematical ignorance allows some skeptical bliss; it is a subject that is on my short list for further study.

An even stronger case can be made for the mutability, nay the unreliability of our own sense organs. How often do we mistake one thing for another, misremember things, fill in the gaps of our perception subconsciously with fragments of other half-seen things? It is sobering to consider how flawed our empirical observations really are. This scientists have striven to overcome through peer review, complex experiments, mathematical proofs, and now no doubt computer technology. Still, it is up to human being to interpret the data provided by these methods; and so we will always see the objective through the lens of the subjective.

From a philosophical perspective, inductive and deductive reasoning are in fact the same thing. They both rely upon assumptions. And even all the ingenuity and creativity of the scientist cannot overcome our own perspectival nature.

At the very least, this discourse ought caution the scientist. Even if he disagrees, and asserts the omnipotence of natural law, he must needs admit that his theories are ever-changing, bending and reforming based not, he hopes, upon his own prejudices but on what the data say. I do not think that to be the case. Prejudices are the colored glasses through which we view the world; and without them we are blind. Subjectivity makes up the very essence of personhood, and thus cannot be overcome. Nevertheless, for the ardent scientist, theories bend themselves to fact, and simultaneously, theories can never be proven, only rejected as contrary to what is observed. To prove something is to achieve certainty. Science, if it is to adhere to its own dogma, must remember this. If it is going to chastise philosophers, religious people, indeed the whole vulgar, non-scientific bulk of the population for adhering to various faiths, then it must above all else refrain from the same killer certitude that it (and here I specifically refer to the New Atheist branch of the scientific community) blames for the wars of religion, nationalism, and ideology that are loathed as tribal atavisms.

Science ought not brook certainty. To do so is to adhere to a creed, a faith, a dogma that its core beliefs cannot abide. And yet it is that very core of beliefs (their faith) that necessitates a rejection of belief. And so it goes, the circle of contradiction, the inconsistency that hobgoblins our little minds, one and all.

Reformation’s Zeal

Paper

Kindled, fire

Begun, heat rising

With the smoke. Burnt

Tastes the air; and so

Too shall I be, and black

As pillared smoke. What brought me here,

To this, hell’s anteroom, where men scream and

Cough amidst certitude’s cackle? Pity smothered in cheers and

Moans, by turns; mere soot beneath chronicler’s jackboot, stamping out

Humanity,

Of the

Executed or executioner,

As his faith dictates.

And mine as well, opinionated

In my beliefs, mine action’s dictator

Idyllic Caesar to the vulgar of my

Body. This, my faith, brought me here, in

Clash against the belief of others, whose passion burns

As deeply as mine, their skin as readily, should politics

Demand,

For indeed,

What dictates my

Actions does not sway

The Machiavellian, sitting on gilded

Siege, his fortress mind invested by

The engines and armies of power, conquering

His morals, and taking hostage such beliefs as

He hitherto held. Now a puppet he is, ambition’s

Toy, and faith but a toy of his, zealots strung

Along

For government’s

Gain, not God’s.

Between taut strings and

Power’s pluck, and below the

Ambitious, struggle and strangle the genuine,

Certain of more than regal corruption, but

Dead-set upon the perfect things and their nature;

And eager to surmount the piled heretic, charred and

Headless, on the road towards heaven’s promise, princely pawn. Are

Crusades

Always the

Tool of the

Clever, fashioned to tug

The hopeful along, to ruin

In the bickering of narcissism? Would

It make such blackened stakes, cooling evidence

Of life snuffed out, any more palatable? Is

Violence a suitable means if the blood flows from

Sword held in the glittering gauntlet of autocrat’s true belief?

A Vacation Post

[The following is an excerpt from a unpublished travel log written by an anonymous Pennsylvania man. Its historical value, as a documentary exemplar of the times, ought to be self evident.]

…and already we’d abandoned the familiar hills and dales, the pleasant faces of those we knew and loved. We entered the little, and yet somehow vastly unknown, state of Mary Land before the sun’s zenith had been reached. It was a strange principality, filled with weird place names, road markers, and no people. Nary a soul was to be seen by either myself or my traveling companion, on this road and life’s turnpike. Perhaps, as some of my fellow Keystonians theorized, the origin of the Mary Lander’s reticence at the sight of strangers is a result of the great Civil War that raged here in the distant, but still felt, past. You can see the marks of that great human cataclysm everywhere. The terrain vibrates before you, as if in the throes of combat. The sky, grayed as if in furled brow, finds no succor in the deadly panorama wrathing below it. You can see forests and hills that must have been the scene of many a combat, many a bloody deed. The hills do not roll into each other in smooth transitions; no, they heave abruptly out of the dark earth, in struggle’s breath, gasping for oxygen amidst the memories of explosions and shrapnel bursts.

Whatever the reason, we passed through this tiny section of the map without serious incident.

West Virginia we crossed into with the sun at highest beam. Like its neighbor, it was a dark, foreboding place, carrying no doubt its own battle scars. We made camp for a spell at one of their highway stops. and there admired for the first time natives of a region not our own. In skin color they are not unlike Pennsylvanians, which is to say light. Many were tanned with the work of the farm, the work site, or the Martian field; although I confess that I know too little of their foreign affairs to know if they are engaged in any current wars, except to say that our two states are at peace. They looked to be of hearty stock, broad of shoulder and sloped of brow, fit to till rather than to rule. No wonder after their secession from Virginia during the Civil War they amounted to little, especially in comparison to the might of our own nation.

I must say, and my companion noticed this even before me, the wind seemed as violent as the history here. It howled, screamed even, personifying the frustrations of a state that has hardly amounted to any glory in the centuries since its independence; and perhaps also expressing a jealous hatred at a pair of innocent foreigners whose birthright is an example of that lost national dream.

Of interest, I should think, is the very real, and quite steady, decent in the quality of the roads as we moved farther and farther afield. One should not expect less mighty and prosperous states to be possessed of roads on par with those of Pennsylvania. We have been blessed, as you well know, by a hearty and loyal population, a wealth of resources deserving of a body politic willing to dig, till, and build, and an abnormally efficient and just government. As a result, we have the most extensive highway system in the inhabited world, excepting of course those mythical turnpikes made real only by the storyteller’s predication (California being the setting au courant of such fables).

At any rate, while Mary Land made an admirable attempt to emulate the engineering marvels of her northern better, I am compelled to report that Western Virginia, true to form, connects its little towns and settlements with a primitive, if technically functional, series of byways. Turned away from the wisdom of tolled roads by some misguided leader, council, or animal’s augury, they instead rely, I have little doubt, on the donation of the foolish, or the pillage of the weak (as is the custom of the less civilized) to fund their roadways. Indeed, they lack anything more than the most basic of provision centers along the side of these roads. When we made camp, my companion and I fully expected the availability of fuel; reality disappointed us with little more than latrines. It is a wonder they were divided between genders, a practice I am given to understand originated in our fair state. If only we had the time and resources to proselytize other innovations of our vigorous civilization!

After another hour on these roads the pangs of hunger proved too staunch a foe. We took our caravan off the main route and stopped at a local village, intent upon the local cuisine. I admit to a level of trepidation at the thought of eating the native fare. Who could fault me this? Every educated man knows that a strange dish is as likely to prove disastrous to the digestion as not. This, so far as my medical knowledge permits me to judge, is the result not only of our more polished methods of food preparation; this acts in tandem with the human body’s proclivity towards adaptation in times of hardship, and the solidification of habits in times of stability. My digestion, used to the food of its home, would likely adapt to foreign agents soon enough, provided I lived through the experience. It is probably also fair to say that if a barbarian were to sample the food of Pennsylvania, he would find it just as upsetting to his constitution as I his. Uncivilization has its price–and a fearful one at that.

As luck would have it, a vendor of foods found in my land was close to hand, busy spreading our enlightened diet to the foreigner. We dined there and ate heartily. Reinvigorated, we set ourselves upon the road once more.

Despite my nay saying, there is evidence of progress in this land. Several road markers indicated learning centers of some sort. I very much doubt students of the Keystone State would find much to gawk at, but these facilities probably suffice for the simpler needs of a simpler people. One cannot begrudge education; it is a universal, if unevenly distributed, boon.

There was also evidence of religion, that great upholder of social order. As a patriot, I am a vocal proponent of my state’s brand of Godhead, but my more worldly compatriots inform me that the religions of these outer regions do not differ substantially from our own. They have within them the same common core, even if the ritual surrounding might strike me as ungainly. To wit: we passed a church on our foraging expedition. It did not have the grandeur, nor the durability of our own churches. At the same time, its local color bespoke a level of community sorely lacking in some of our own congregations. I will refrain, unlike Tacitus, from lionizing the virtues of others as a method of highlighting areas of improvement (as he did in writing about Germany for the benefit of Rome); I would only point out that every culture has its bright spots, however dim; and even the most advanced and prosperous peoples are not without their faults.

At length, we emerged from the wilderness that dominated Western Virginia, and came finally into Kentucky, our destination. I must say, with all due candor, it was a land full to the brim with breathtaking vistas, vigorous terrain, and majestic skies. Heretofore, my companion had been charged with navigating our way through the unknown. Succumbing at last to just fatigue, we exchanged position, thus putting me in direct control of our fate.

What struck me more than any other single feature about this state was its supreme sense of history. Alas, we in Pennsylvania, enamored of our modern success and power, have too little sense of the achievements of our forefathers. Not so Kentucky. Her highways overflowed with museums, monuments, and sundry historic sites. If memory serves, this makes a great deal of sense, as Kentucky was the unhappy home of some of the most crimson days of the Civil War. It would not be an exaggeration to say that for a generation the majesty of this state’s blue grass was stained red in the face of that failed amputation.

I observed, through travelling several hundred miles through this land, only a single police unit patrolling their many highways. This I found quite extraordinary, as in both Pennsylvania and Mary Land the vehicles of the police abounded. Indeed, in traversing Mary Land, police seemed hidden behind every rock, around every corner. This robust police presence in our home state is the result of vigorous legislation, preemptive in nature. In Mary Land, it is my understanding the police are the active, albeit belated government reaction to the terrible brigandage that plagues that land. Western Virginia, it must be said, had little in the way of police; however I attribute this less to moral virtue and more to demographic reality: it has too few people to require a large police force. Kentucky alone had a large population and little in the way of highway police. Why might this be? I can offer little in the way of explanation. It serves simply as an example of those anthropological mysteries that one is not unlikely to encounter during foreign adventures.

Through many an uncrowded road we traveled, pleasantly enjoying the setting sun. I made good time, taking full advantage of the lack of comtravellers. At long last, after half a day’s time, we came to the last stretch of our journey. Signs pointed towards the little town towards which we drove. The sun at this point was hide amidst ominously darkening clouds. Several cars began to gain on us a sudden….

[It is at this point that the document breaks off. The first editors to come across this text assumed it was written more or less simultaneously with the details it describes, and blame native interference for the sudden silence. The academic community is currently divided on the issue.]