A comparative look into the history of the mental health field — excerpts from Dr. Thomas Szasz’s book “The Manufacture of Madness”

Following are transcribed tidbits from a book by Dr. Thomas Szasz titled The Manufacture of Madness: A Comparative Study of the Inquisition and the Mental Health Movement (1970), beginning with pages 13-15:

With the decline of the power of the Church and of the religious world view, in the seventeenth century, the inquisitor-witch complex disappeared and in its place there arose the alienist-madman complex.

In the new—secular and “scientific”—cultural climate, as in any other, there were still the disadvantaged, the disaffected, and the men who thought and criticized too much. Conformity was still demanded. The nonconformist, the objector, in short, all who denied or refused to affirm society’s dominant values, were still the enemies of society. To be sure, the proper ordering of this new society was no longer conceptualized in terms of Divine Grace; instead, it was viewed in terms of Public Health. Its internal enemies were thus seen as mad, and Institutional Psychiatry came into being, as had the Inquisition earlier, to protect the group from this threat.

The origins of the mental health hospital system bear out these generalizations. “The great confinement of the insane,” as Michel Foucault aptly calls it, began in the seventeenth century: “A date can serve as a landmark: 1656, the decree that founded, in Paris, the Hôpital Général.” The decree founding this establishment, and others throughout France, was issued by the king, Louis XIII: “We choose to be guardian and protector of said Hôpital Général as being of royal founding . . . which is to be totally exempt from the direction, visitation, and jurisdiction of the officers of the General Reform . . . and from all others to whom we forbid all knowledge and jurisdiction in any fashion or manner whatsoever.”

The original, seventeenth-century definition of madness—as the condition justifying confinement in the asylum—conformed to the requirements for which it was fashioned. To be considered mad, it was enough to be abandoned, destitute, poor, unwanted by parents or society. The regulations governing admission to the Bicêtre and the Salpêtrière—the two Parisian mental hospitals destined to become world famous—put into effect on April 20, 1680, provided that “children of artisans and other poor inhabitants of Paris up to the age of twenty-five, who used their parents badly or who refused to work through laziness, or, in the case of girls, who were debauched or in evident danger of being debauched, should be shut up, the boys in the Bicêtre, the girls in the Salpêtrière. This action was to be taken on the complaint of the parents, or, if these were dead, of near relatives, or the parish priest. The wayward children were to be kept as long as the directors deemed wise and were to be released only on written order by four directors.” In addition to these persons “prostitutes and women who ran bawdy houses” were to be incarcerated in a special section of the Salpêtrière.

The consequences of these “medical” practices are described by a French observer after the Salpêtrière had been in operation for a century:

In 1778, the Salpêtrière is the largest hospital in Paris and possibly in Europe: this hospital is both a house for women and a prison. It receives pregnant women and girls, wet nurses and their nurselings; male children from the age of seven or eight months to four or five years of age; young girls of all ages; aged married men and women; raving lunatics, imbeciles, epileptics, paralytics, blind persons, cripples, people suffering from ringworm, incurables of all sorts, children afflicted with scrofula, and so on and so forth. At the center of this hospital is a house of detention for women, comprising four different prisons: le commun, for the most dissolute girls; la correction, for those who are not considered hopelessly depraved; la prison, reserved for persons held by order of the king; and la grande force, for women branded by order of the courts.

Surveying this scene, George Rosen bluntly states that “the individual was committed not primarily to receive medical care but rather to protect society and to prevent the disintegration of its institutions.”

As recently as 1860, it was not necessary to be mentally ill to be incarcerated in an American mental institution; it was enough to be a married woman. When the celebrated Mrs. Packard was hospitalized in the Jacksonville State Insane Asylum for disagreeing with her minister-husband, the commitment laws of the state of Illinois explicitly proclaimed that “Married women . . . may be entered or detained in the hospital at the request of the husband of the woman or the guardian . . . without the evidence of insanity required in other cases.”

In short, it is only a relatively recent rationalization in the history of psychiatry that a person must “suffer” from a “mental disease”—like schizophrenia or senile psychosis—to justify his commitment. Being an unemployed young man, a prostitute, or a destitute old person used to suffice. “We must not forget,” remarks Foucault, “that a few years after its foundation [in 1656], the hôpital général of Paris alone contained six thousand persons, or around one percent of the population.” As a means of social control and of the ritualized affirmation of the dominant social ethic, Institutional Psychiatry immediately showed itself to be a worthy successor to the Inquisition. Its subsequent record, as we shall see, has been equally distinguished.

The French hôpital général, the German Irrenhaus, and the English insane asylum thus become the abodes of persons called mad. Are they considered mad, and therefore confined in these institutions? Or are they confined because they are poor, physically ill, or dangerous, and therefore considered mad? For three hundred years, psychiatrists have labored to obscure rather than clarify this simple problem. Perhaps it could not have been otherwise. As happens also in other professions—especially in those pertaining to the regulation of social affairs—psychiatrists have been largely responsible for creating the problems they have ostensibly tried to solve. But then, like other men, psychiatrists cannot be expected to act systematically against their own economic and professional self-interests.

Picking back up on pages 51-53:

We would like our hospitals . . . to be looked upon as treatment centers for sick people, and we want to be, of course, considered as doctors and not jailers. . . . It is well known that there are legal safeguards against what is commonly called railroading people into mental hospitals, and we contend that people are well protected in all of the States. I have never in 30 years of constant living with this problem seen anyone whom I thought was being railroaded. . . . The opposite is true, however. People are railroaded out of mental hospitals before they should be, because these institutions are so crowded . . .

. . . I wish to point out that the basic purpose [of commitment] is to make sure that sick human beings get the care that is appropriate to their needs . . .

We, as doctors, want our psychiatric hospitals . . . to be looked upon as treatment centers for sick people in the same sense that general hospitals are so viewed.

If psychiatrists really wanted these things, all they would have to do is to unlock the doors of mental hospitals, abolish commitment, and treat only those persons who, like in nonpsychiatric hospitals, want to be treated. This is exactly what I have been advocating for the past fifteen years.

Lea describes the social function of the Inquisition thus: “The object of the Inquisition is the destruction of heresy. Heresy cannot be destroyed unless heretics are destroyed. . . . [T]his is effected in two ways, viz., when they are converted to the true Catholic faith, or when, on being abandoned to the secular arm, they are corporally burned.” This statement is readily converted into a description of the social function of the Mental Health Movement: “The object of Psychiatry is the eradication of mental illness. Mental illness cannot be eradicated unless the mentally ill are eradicated. . . . [T]his is effected in two ways, viz., when they are restored to mental health, or when, on being confined in state mental hospitals, they prove incurably sick and are therefore removed from contact with healthy society.”

Perhaps more than anything else, the claim of a helping role by the prosecutors and the judge made the witch trial a vicious affair. “The accused was,” Lea tells us, “prejudged. He was assumed to be guilty, or he would not have been put on trial, and virtually his only mode of escape was by confessing the charges made against him, abjuring heresy, and accepting whatever punishment might be imposed on him in the shape of penance. Persistent denial of guilt and assertion of orthodoxy . . . rendered him an impenitent, obstinate heretic, to be abandoned to the secular arm and consigned to the stake.”

The assumption of a therapeutic posture by the institutional psychiatrist leads to the same heartless consequences. Like the accused heretic, the accused mental patient commits the most deadly sin when he denies his illness and insists that his deviant state is healthy. Accordingly, the most denigrating diagnostic labels of psychiatry are reserved for those individuals who, although declared insane by the experts, and confined in madhouses, stubbornly persist in claiming to be sane. They are said to be “completely lacking in insight,” or described as “having broken with reality,” and are usually diagnosed as “paranoid” or “schizophrenic.” The Spanish inquisitors also had a demeaning name for such persons: they called them “negativos.” “The negativo,” Lea explains, “who persistently denied his guilt, in the face of competent testimony, was universally held to be a pertinacious impenitent heretic, for whom there was no alternative save burning alive, although . . . he might protest a thousand times that he was a Catholic and wished to live and die in the faith. This was the inevitable logic of the situation. . . .”

One of the important differences between a person accused of crime and one accused of mental illness is that the former is often allowed bail, whereas the latter never is.

Moving along to page 58:

The conduct of a society’s business, as that of an individual’s, may be likened to playing a game. The religions, laws, and mores of society constitute the rules by which people must play—or else they will be penalized, one way or another. Obviously, the simpler the games and the fewer in number, the easier it is to play them. This is why open societies and the freedoms they offer represent an onerous burden to many people. As individuals find it difficult and taxing to play more than a single game, or at most a few, at any one time, so societies find it difficult and taxing to tolerate the existence of a plurality of games, each competing for the attention and loyalty of the citizens. Every group—and this includes societies—is organized and held together by a few ideas, values, and practices which cannot be questioned or challenged without causing its disruption, or at least a fear of its disruption. This is why independent thought often undermines group solidarity, and group solidarity often inhibits independent thought. “We belong to a group,” says Karl Mannheim, “not only because we are born into it, not merely because we profess to belong to it, nor finally because we give it our loyalty and allegiance, but primarily because we see the world and certain things in the world the way it does . . .” To see the world differently than our group does thus threatens us with ostracism. Hypocrisy, then, is the homage intellect pays to custom.

[Italicized emphasis his — bold emphasis mine]

Dr. Thomas Szasz really helped me flesh out my understanding on the subject of mental health, along with the writings of psychoanalyst Erich Fromm. Both I highly recommend others to check out. Because these are extremely important dots needing to be connected in the minds of people today who naively assume the field of psychiatry, along with the biopharmacology industry, to be looking out for people’s best interests. No, they are agents of something outside of us, namely 1.) the State and 2.) the economy. Even when well-intending people join its professional ranks, this does little to undermine its overarching agenda to press for a new kind of conformity among the masses.

Independent thought is indeed being pushed to the fringes, particularly if it demonstrates no economic value or seeks to undermine the status quo on any level.

Middle of the night thoughts on power, enslavement, domestication, and what isn’t working

I created this blog project as a space to share info and ideas I’m picking up along the way. Here’s one such video deserving to be promoted:

There’s tons of stuff I’d like to share, from videos to documentaries to book excerpts to links of interest. For several years I kept another blog to store stuff like that, and the goal was (and occasionally still is) to mine through that and pull what strikes me as particularly relevant or interesting out and drag it here. Little by little I am doing so.

But … part of me just isn’t sure how much it gives a damn anymore. Rather, let me say this. It’s not that I don’t care tremendously about what’s happening to my country and also around the world, what’s going on with us socially and psychologically, how laws are being turned against us as instruments of oppression, how the habitats we’ve created are proving toxic and our species is completely out of balance with the rest of nature. All of that matters to me. But I don’t know what to do.

Arguing for the sake of arguing winds up sounding like chatter piled on chatter. So I’m taking time to look within and see if I can gel these things together into a more cohesive and coherent narrative for my own self. Because these aren’t matters that can be tackled purely through legal means. The problem appears to boil down to slavery and humans’ propensity for winding up in it ever since the dawn of civilizations. We as a species can’t seem to maintain the reins for directing our own lives. We’re prone to follow leaders claiming to know the best way forward. We’re prone to get into frenzies and lose sight of what we’re actually aiming for and what we’re trying to support. We fall in the same traps again and again, highly predictably, hence how a few have risen to power — they study us and then exploit our weaknesses and proclivities.

What’s worse is we like to help them, particularly when it comes to policing one another in accordance with standards handed down by the few. We utilize the laws already working against us all to compete with and attempt to dominate one another. We allow fear-mongerers to pander to our insecurities without questioning what underlying motives may be at work.

We, aggregately, are not critical or skeptical enough toward the reality human beings have helped construct. We speak as though the laws of man are no more malleable than the laws of nature, as if taxation is as unavoidable as death. But what are we being taxed for? Who or what ultimately benefits the most from collecting portions of our income? Us? No. We know this, and yet we act as if it’s impolite to bring it up. Might unsettle someone. Might stimulate an argument. Might disrupt our antidepressant-riddled lives.

And that’s about the point where I started giving less of a damn. Because most folks don’t seem to care all that much. So long as they have clean stores and restaurants to frequent and relatively reliable cars to drive and comfortable homes to retreat to, whadda they care? See, it appears most folks are content with being domesticated to the point of resembling housepets — well-groomed, well-fed, worried with getting enough physical exercise, settled into daily routines. That’s what a lot of people want. And I’ve been thinking on this long and hard.

Who am I to obstruct people from doing what it is they want? Even if their idealized paradise looks to me like hell on earth, what could I do to change their minds? Work to shove another law down their throats (which they’ll only attempt to counter)? Arguing with them incessantly and getting tripped up continuously on what amounts to trivial details has grown old with me. Been there and done that. What now? Stand around holding up signs that get ignored? Keep sending letters to congresspeople who aren’t responsive, especially when you represent what appears to them a tiny minority interest? Keep voting and praying?

I don’t know. Seems like we need a better strategy, and that likely involves learning to live without expecting a whole lot of positive change in the foreseeable future. Because, as a nation-state,we’re in big trouble, and that’s not going to turn around anytime soon. And as a people, we are lost. What some see as order, I experience as chaos. The whole deal looks topsy-turvy from where I sit. And for many years I’ve been angry and seriously unhappy with the developments.

So what can we do? What power does any one of us possess? We have the power to resist through our lifestyles and choices. We have the right to fight back where able. We have the power to continue trying to engage with one another in an effort to relate and hopefully establish more common ground. We can vote, however much that matters anymore. We can study and read and turn off our televisions and learn to think more for our own selves. We can work toward providing incentives for others to want to work with us, namely by not unfairly attacking and insulting one another (difficult as that sometimes is). We can work to become better than this modern-day slavery is trying to twist us into.

But can we resist following our own base natures? I ask this as someone who struggles with my own. And I don’t yet know the answer. It’s an ongoing ‘spiritual’ conundrum and crisis in will, and none of us are alone in confronting this. Age-old problem of living as a human being. Because unlike the housepets, we comprehend far more about our world and exert great influence in altering it. We are not trapped indoors, thwarted by our lack of opposable thumbs, rendered at the mercy of someone else to provide for our needs, dependent on appeals to emotion in an effort to manipulate to get what we want — we are men and women, and as such we are co-creators of shared realities. We are not powerless, though so many of us feel that we are. We’re currently trapped in a cage of illusions.

Influential men in my life

Contributions from important men in my life:

My Papa (maternal grandfather):

  • He genuinely loved me, as his first-born grandchild whom he helped raise.
  • Scolded it into my brain to always look over my shoulder before switching lanes while driving. Good to check the mirrors too, but people like to coast in blind spots. A life lesson that’s on an infinite loop in my mind and likely saved my tail on many occasions.
  • Always made certain my vehicles were properly checked out when I visited and insisted on me toting around various tools, jumper cables, tie-downs, tarps, flashlights, and supplies in my vehicle in the event of an emergency.
  • From a young age let me help when he worked on vehicles in doing tasks I could manage, like pumping the brakes or holding the flashlight steady. That let me be involved so I could learn a little without getting in the way.
  • Demonstrated the damage alcoholism can do to a family. He quit drinking in 1990, but this also taught the lesson that changes made later in life can’t always rectify what was previously broken.
  • Used to say to me, “Sugar, I don’t know what’s wrong with people or the world.” And I heard the pain in his voice, yet witnessed how he was unable to leave the outside world alone, socially-extroverted as he couldn’t help but be (like me).
  • He showed that he would protect me, and I appreciated that so very much, because I was young and misguided. He couldn’t protect me much of the time, but when he could, he tried in his own way. And that was a blessing.
  • He was the reason I took up smoking, him being the only smoker around me. I wanted to be like my Papa, so I began stealing cigarettes from him the summer before I turned 14. He caught on and one day came in and tossed a carton of Marlboro reds at me (back when they were $16 a carton) and yelled “Now, don’t steal from me anymore!” I can see both the folly and the value in that lesson. I quit stealing.
  • Took me fishing many times, though I probably annoyed the hell out of him by chattering too much, but those memories will be cherished forever.
  • Took me out to shoot guns in the sandpit.
  • Drove my dogs and me out to the local springs to play in the summer months, allowing us to ride in the back of his pick-up there and back.
  • I tear up nearly every time I hear Otis Redding’s song “Sitting on the Dock (of the Bay),” because we’d listen to it on cassette in his little Toyota truck while driving around. That and Jeff Foxworthy’s “You Might Be a Redneck If…” comedy. Those were the two cassettes we could both agree on listening to together.
  • When I was little, he took me everywhere. He was proud to show me off. He would say “Come on if you wanna go with,” inviting me to ramble around town with him while he conducted his errands. I felt proud sitting beside my Papa in his little truck, playing on his CB radio.
  • As an adult, he respected my decisions and left alone the subject of my lifestyle. That allowed us to become close again after the tumultuous teen years.
  • He showed restraint throughout my life. There were occasions where he stepped over the line, but overall he did a good job of checking what I know were strong impulses inside him. I was a difficult teenager who obeyed no one.
  • Put up with my (ex-)husband.
  • Tolerated my gay friends, despite acting weird and uncomfortable in their presence. That was very kind of him to try to be open-minded.
  • Aided people and church groups in cleaning out houses on the Mississippi coastline after Hurricane Katrina hit. I personally met one family afterward and witnessed their gratitude toward my Papa. It’s heartwarming that he got to experience that. He deserved to feel good about himself.
  • Papa showed me what someone who’s grown up pained can look like. We share a bit of a bond in common due to our mothers, but he had a much more severe and heart-wrenching upbringing. Much more. And it left a permanent scar all over him. Not just his mother, but his father and his stepmother beat him and rejected him and turned him into a slave, all while keeping him from his own loving grandpa. They damn near broke him. I met him in his 40s and observed him until the day he lost the battle with cancer at age 71. I will forever miss him so much. He was the closest person to a daddy I ever knew.

This is an emotional blog entry. It can’t be helped. My Papa was a major star in my sky. He was by no means perfect, but he was ultimately a man who wanted to be decent, to help people, to improve his ways. And unfortunately in a number of ways he served as an example of what I really ought not do. Papa and I shared a lot of parallels, despite most of the rest of our immediate families being a bunch of teetotalers.

Papa had an undeniable impact, but others did as well. Typically completely opposed to the example Papa set. For instance, my Stepdad:

  • Finally succeeded in drilling into my head that the economy is amoral. If anything is to be moral, it is we people, we consumers, we employees. But no law or regulation can force the economy to behave morally. Very true. It eventually sunk in, though he argued that from more of a neocon-type perspective, which tripped me up from the start.
  • Invited me and my husband to stay with him temporarily when we were in a financial bind toward the end of our short marriage. I was able to stay on for a few more months after my then-husband moved away. Living without rent is helpful sometimes, especially for a 21 year old.
  • Offered me challenging feedback and criticisms of my stated views. Frustrating as that has been at times, our email correspondences over the last decade have proven very valuable overall to me.
  • Books that he’s recommended or mailed to me. He generally has good taste in what will maintain one’s attention. Fiction or non-fiction.
  • Was my earliest introduction to the science fiction realm.
  • Exposed me early on to Weird Al Yankovic’s tunes.
  • Provided my first real taste of classic rock music, hearing it blare out of his basement office occasionally, learning it was contained in the CD-changer I was only free to touch when he wasn’t around.
  • Pushed math as a subject, though unfortunately turned it into a chore when assigned as punishment for violating curfew or whatever. When I was really young he’d tote me along with him to his boring-ass office at the university to be made to sit at a desk and complete math problems he assigned. I remember being maybe 7, sitting there whining about not knowing how to do multiplication and division that he expected me to figure out. But I did learn and excelled for a few years. (Until returning to Mississippi, back before placement tests were allowed—I know, seriously, right?—and I wound up trapped way back for 2 years and gave up on caring about the subject.)
  • Introduced me to aquaria, which I turned out to love.
  • Appreciated my writing skills.
  • Took my brother and me to museums.
  • Played boardgames with us regularly.

Father’s Day is coming up, so we’ll just stay focused on the positive.

My ex-Husband:

  • Exposed me to the psychology of someone raised up in a strict, Christian-fundamentalist-type household.
  • Taught me more about the bible (for critical purposes) than I knew back then.
  • Strongly introduced the notion of libertarianism into my life.
  • Engaged me intellectually, at least when we weren’t bickering.
  • Showed me the reality someone living with juvenile-onset diabetes faces.
  • Opened me up to music, particularly old country tunes.
  • Advocated feminism (which turned out to be both good and bad for me).

And now the night must come to an end. Bedtime. I’ll try to finish this list tomorrow.

Enjoying a stormy night in June with tunes

On the agenda for tonight is sipping a little brew and listening to music while the lightning flashes through the blinds. Glad to be done with driving for the evening, but I have an early morning, so making the best of what remains of a Friday night.

Lindsey Buckingham performing “Big Love” on acoustic guitar:

That man razzles and dazzles me.

Fleetwood Mac’s awesome performance of “I’m So Afraid”:

One of my favorite songs by Tom Petty:

But all of his songs are good.

You truly don’t know how it feels to be me, and I don’t know how it feels to be anyone else. Such is life for all of us.

Switching gears a bit:

“Why You Wanna Trip On Me” came on over the headphones earlier today, and it’s a good song to listen to from time to time.

Michael Jackson’s 1988 performance of “The Way You Make Me Feel” and “Man in the Mirror”:

I’m gonna make a change

For once in my life

It’s gonna feel real good

Gonna make a difference

Gonna make it right


As I turned up the collar on

A favorite winter coat

This wind is blowing my mind

I see the kids in the street

With not enough to eat

Who am I to be blind?

Pretending not to see their needs


A summer’s disregard

A broken bottle top

And a one man’s soul

They follow each other

On the wind ya’ know

Cause they got nowhere to go

That’s why I want you to know:



I’m starting with the man in the mirror

I’m asking him to change his ways

And no message could have been any clearer

If you wanna make the world a better place

Take a look at yourself and then make a change, yey

Na na na, na na na, na na na na oh ho


I’ve been a victim of

A selfish kind of love

It’s time that I realize

There are some with no home

Not a nickel to loan

Could it be really pretending that they’re not alone


A willow deeply scarred

Somebody’s broken heart

And a washed out dream

They follow the pattern of the wind ya’ see

Cause they got no place to be

That’s why I’m starting with me




Take a look at yourself and then make the change

You gotta get it right, while you got the time

Cause when you close your heart

Then you close your mind


Make that change!

I have to admit, when I watch videos that show his fans freaking out and fainting, it weirds me smooth out. But…I also must say that some of his songs truly are transcendent in spirit. Realizing this won’t make sense to some folks, Michael Jackson did possess a certain kind of power in his songs and in his way of being. All allegations against him set aside for a moment (and yes, they continue to trouble me), the man struck a chord in people. Quite nearly religiously. And I can understand the almost-gospel quality of many of his songs.  It’s not the sort of thing words do much to help explain to those who can’t comprehend it already. His song “Man in the Mirror” strikes me deep, and I just have to say that. Always has. Not because he’s Michael Jackson but because of the song itself, the lyrics, the message, the beat, the pleading to oneself to realize change begins with ourselves. It must. It can be no other way. I struggle with getting myself to fully accept this truth.

When people refer to Michael Jackson as a gift from God, I do grasp what they mean. As I said before, child molestation accusations aside. To be quite frank, they turned me off on him for many years, because I assumed they were likely true. The man appeared (in the media) to be a freak. The man invites children to stay in his house and at least one he admit slept in his bed. But you know what? Since his death, and also after reading Chris Hedges’ scathing denunciation of Michael Jackson and his funeral in the book Empire of Illusions, I can’t help but wonder if the man wasn’t framed and if it all wasn’t an attempt to sabotage his immense popularity. Why? Look at how people (over)reacted to him. Look at how overwhelmed they were by his messages. He impacted people, and he spoke out against the pains and problems of modern life, including our government and police brutality, in a simple, straightforward lyrical fashion.

The man, through his lyrics, was pointing people toward loving one another, toward giving one another a chance, toward questioning powers-that-be, and toward looking at ourselves honestly. His music was merely a vehicle, encouraging us to care about one another, particularly those in need. Who might that upset? And who in the past has been murdered or dragged down for attempting similar feats? Not claiming he was intentionally killed, however. I’m just sayin’. Gotta keep an open mind when it comes to Michael.

Remember back when we still figured Michael to be a normal heterosexual man? Hahaha. It deserved to be said:

That song accompanied with the video is so funny. “There’s something about you, baby … I don’t know, I don’t know…”  And that was our first clue he apparently wasn’t as “normally heterosexual” as originally assumed. Seriously, dude? It’s Naomi Campbell gyrating. Were you mad, man?? How can you NOT know what that something is, and then remain conflicted about giving in when Naomi Campbell is all up in your video saying she wants a secret hot tryst? LOL

And that “ahhh” he whimpers after she whispers something to him, hehe. For some reason it reminds me a little of Beavis. But a man’s shyness can be very cute too.

Michael undeniably possessed a feminine streak, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Just sayin’. He’s not a man I’d be interested in sexually, and it’s a little perplexing to me how so many women found him sexy. Michael Jackson was an amazing performer with a unique voice and style, and I adore much of his music, but the thought of having sex with him does nothing for me. And maybe other folks are just confusing their awe of him with sexual excitement, who knows? Different strokes for different folks.

That video serves the dual purpose of being Michael’s own coming out of the closet moment. Not as a homosexual, mind you, but as something different than people expected. He bopped to the beat of his own little drummer.

Video aside, my most favorite and routinely and randomly remembered lyrics from that song:

Touch me there

Make the move

Cast your spell

Hot. Sizzle, sizzle.

If I weren’t such a lazy bum these days maybe I’d add content of greater value on this blog. lol  drinking

Rick Roderick on the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche

Having gotten halfway through the collection The Portable Nietzsche, I look forward to picking it back up in weeks or months to come. Just haven’t felt up to reading as much over the past year.

In the interim, I’ve stumbled across this lecture series (circa 1991) from professor Rick Roderick of Duke University on the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche:

On Nietzsche as Myth & Myth-maker:

On Truth & Lie:

On Nietzsche as Master of Suspicion & Immoralist:

On the Death of God:

On Nietzsche and the Eternal Recurrence:

On Nietzsche and the Will to Power:

On Nietzsche as Artist:

On Nietzsche’s Progeny:

Today’s life thoughts — June 5th, 2013

History never really goes away.

Love hurts. Effective communication’s hard. Each person is unique in their own way. Being a malcontent contrarian doesn’t help matters. Not all of us come from similar backgrounds, and some of us have parts in our histories we can’t seem to fully get over. Been griped at enough about that, so save it.  Regional differences alone are amazing, mind-blowing, tough to adjust to even after years of hanging around. People are strange when you’re a stranger.

Some people aim to live easier lives, even if that means tuning out the whole world, and others just aren’t able to do that. Some are really sensitive and easily pained, while some are gruff and abrupt and distant. Some are both. Others are oblivious.

Some play their cards well; others don’t. Some folks seem to have all the luck. Some have dumb luck. Some have straight-up bad luck. We’re operating with lots of variables in this universe.

Some put on a convincing show for the outside world. Wins them friends and influences people. Some are bad actors. Some are unavoidably stupid. Most think they know more than they actually do. Plenty open their mouths and prove what asses they really are. Others carefully concoct each move they make. A few can afford to hire people to plot all of that for them.

Some live recklessly, take chances, carry on with a devil-may-care attitude. Some are serious, consumed, live inside their own heads. Some turn to television and/or the internet to consume them, keep them entertained. Some look to one another, expecting to be entertained. Some prefer to be alone. Some are better off alone.

Bad days come and go. But the existential “crisis” remains a constant. The funk that keeps on giving.

First excerpt from the book “The Power of Myth”

Tonight let’s transcribe an excerpt from the book The Power of Myth (1988) by Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers, beginning on the bottom of page 7 of their interview:

MOYERS: You’re saying that marriage is not just a social arrangement, it’s a spiritual exercise.

CAMPBELL: It’s primarily a spiritual exercise, and the society is supposed to help us have the realization. Man should not be in the service of society, society should be in the service of man. When man is in the service of society, you have a monster state, and that’s what is threatening the world at this minute.

MOYERS: What happens when a society no longer embraces a powerful mythology?

CAMPBELL: What we’ve got on our hands. If you want to find out what it means to have a society without any rituals, read the New York Times.

MOYERS: And you’d find?

CAMPBELL: The news of the day, including destructive and violent acts by young people who don’t know how to behave in a civilized society.

MOYERS: Society has provided them no rituals by which they become members of the tribe, of the community. All children need to be twice born, to learn to function rationally in the present world, leaving childhood behind. I think of that passage in the first book of Corinthians: “When I was a child, I spake as a child. I understood as a child. I thought as a child, but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

CAMPBELL: That’s exactly it. That’s the significance of the puberty rites. In primal societies, there are teeth knocked out, there are scarifications, there are circumcisions, there are all kinds of things done. So you don’t have your little baby body anymore, you’re something else entirely.

When I was a kid, we wore short trousers, you know, knee pants. And then there was a great moment when you put on long pants. Boys now don’t get that. I see even five-year-olds walking around with long trousers. When are they going to know that they’re now men and must put aside childish things?

MOYERS: Where do the kids growing up in the city—on 125th and Broadway, for example—where do these kids get their myths today?

CAMPBELL: They make them up themselves. This is why we have graffiti all over the city. These kids have their own gangs and their own initiations and their own morality, and they’re doing the best they can. But they’re dangerous because their own laws are not those of the city. They have not been initiated into our society.

MOYERS: Rollo May says that there is so much violence in American society today because there are no more great myths to help young men and women relate to the world or to understand that world beyond what is seen.

CAMPBELL: Yes, but another reason for the high level of violence here is that America has no ethos.

MOYERS: Explain.

CAMPBELL: In American football, for example, the rules are very strict and complex. If you were to go to England, however, you would find that the rugby rules are not that strict. When I was a student back in the twenties, there were a couple of young men who constituted a marvelous forward-passing pair. They went to Oxford on scholarship and joined the rugby team and one day they introduced the forward pass. And the English players said, “Well, we have no rules for this, so please don’t. We don’t play that way.”

Now, in a culture that has been homogenous for some time, there are a number of understood, unwritten rules by which people live. There is an ethos there, there is a mode, an understanding that “we don’t do it that way.”

MOYERS: A mythology.

CAMPBELL: An unstated mythology, you might say. This is the way we use a fork and knife, this is the way we deal with people, and so forth. It’s not all written down in books. But in America we have people from all kinds of backgrounds, all in a cluster, together, and consequently law has become very important in this country. Lawyers and law are what hold us together. There is no ethos. Do you see what I mean?

MOYERS: Yes. It’s what De Tocqueville described when he first arrived here a hundred and sixty years ago to discover “a tumult of anarchy.”

CAMPBELL: What we have today is a demythologized world. And, as a result, the students I meet are very much interested in mythology because myths bring them messages. Now, I can’t tell you what the messages are that the study of mythology is bringing to young people today. I know what it did for me. But it is doing something for them. When I go to lecture at any college, the room is bursting with students who have come to hear what I have to say. The faculty very often assigns me to a room that’s a little small—smaller than it should have been because they didn’t know how much excitement there was going to be in the student body.

MOYERS: Take a guess. What do you think the mythology, the stories they’re going to hear from you, do for them?

CAMPBELL: They’re stories about the wisdom of life, they really are. What we’re learning in our schools is not the wisdom of life. We’re learning technologies, we’re getting information. There’s a curious reluctance on the part of faculties to indicate the life values of their subjects. In our sciences today—and this includes anthropology, linguistics, the study of religions, and so forth—there is a tendency to specialization. And when you know how much a specialist scholar has to know in order to be a competent specialist, you can understand this tendency. To study Buddhism, for instance, you have to be able to handle not only all the European languages in which the discussions of the Oriental come, particularly French, German, English, and Italian, but also Sanskrit, Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan, and several other languages. Now, this is a tremendous task. Such a specialist can’t also be wondering about the difference between the Iroquois and Algonquin.

Specialization tends to limit the field of the problems that the specialist is concerned with. Now, the person who isn’t a specialist, but a generalist like myself, sees something over here that he has learned from one specialist, something over there that he has learned from another specialist—and neither of them has considered the problem of why this occurs here and also there. So the generalist—and that’s a derogatory term, by the way, for academics—gets into a range of other problems that are more genuinely human, you might say, than specifically cultural.

MOYERS: Then along comes the journalist who has a license to explain things he doesn’t understand.

CAMPBELL: That is not only a license but something that is put upon him—he has an obligation to educate himself in public. Now, I remember when I was a young man going to hear Heinrich Zimmer lecture. He was the first man I know of to speak about myths as though they had messages that were valid for life, not just interesting things for scholars to fool around with. And that confirmed me in a feeling I had had ever since boyhood.

MOYERS: Do you remember the first time you discovered a myth? The first time a story came alive in you?

CAMPBELL: I was brought up as a Roman Catholic. Now, one of the great advantages of being brought up a Roman Catholic is that you’re taught to take myth seriously and to let it operate on your life and to live in terms of these mythic motifs. I was brought up in terms of the seasonal relationships to the cycle of Christ’s coming into the world, teaching in the world, dying, resurrecting, and returning to heaven. The ceremonies all through the year keep you in mind of the eternal core of all that changes in time. Sin is simply getting out of touch with that harmony.

And then I fell in love with American Indians because Buffalo Bill used to come to Madison Square Garden every year with his marvelous Wild West Show. And I wanted to know more about Indians. My father and mother were very generous parents and found what books were being written for boys about Indians at that time. So I began to read American Indian myths, and it wasn’t long before I found the same motifs in the American Indian stories that I was being taught by the nuns at the school.

MOYERS: Creation—

CAMPBELL: —creation, death and resurrection, ascension to heaven, virgin births—I didn’t know what it was, but I recognized the vocabulary. One after another.

MOYERS: And what happened?

CAMPBELL: I was excited. That was the beginning of my interest in comparative mythology.

MOYERS: Did you begin by asking, “Why does it say it this way while the Bible says it that way?”

CAMPBELL: No, I didn’t start the comparative analysis until many years later.

MOYERS: What appealed to you about the Indian stories?

CAMPBELL: In those days there was still American Indian lore in the air. Indians were still around. Even now, when I deal with myths from all parts of the world, I find the American Indian tales and narratives to be very rich, very well developed.

And then my parents had a place out in the woods where the Delaware Indians had lived, and the Iroquois had come down and fought them. There was a big ledge where we could dig for Indian arrowheads and things like that. And the very animals that play the role in the Indian stories were there in the woods around me. It was a grand introduction to this material.

MOYERS: Did these stories begin to collide with your Catholic faith?

CAMPBELL: No, there was no collision. The collision with my religion came much later in relation to scientific studies and things of that kind. Later I became interested in Hinduism, and there were the same stories again. And in my graduate work I was dealing with the Arthurian medieval material, and there were the same stories again. So you can’t tell me that they’re not the same stories. I’ve been with them all my life.

MOYERS: They come from every culture but with timeless themes.

CAMPBELL: These themes are timeless, and the inflection is to the culture.

MOYERS: So the stories may take the same universal theme but apply it slightly differently, depending upon the accent of the people who are speaking?

CAMPBELL: Oh, yes. If you were not alert to the parallel themes, you perhaps would think they were quite different stories, but they’re not.

MOYERS: You taught mythology for thirty-eight years at Sarah Lawrence. How did you get these young women, coming to college from their middle-class backgrounds, from their orthodox religions—how did you get them interested in myths?

CAMPBELL: Young people just grab this stuff. Mythology teaches you what’s behind literature and the arts, it teaches you about your own life. It’s a great, exciting, life-nourishing subject. Mythology has a great deal to do with the stages of life, the initiation ceremonies as you move from childhood to adult responsibilities, from the unmarried state into the married state. All of those rituals are mythological rites. They have to do with your recognition of the new role that you’re in, the process of throwing off the old one and coming out in the new, and entering into a responsible profession.

When a judge walks into the room, and everybody stands up, you’re not standing up to that guy, you’re standing up to the robe that he’s wearing and the role that he’s going to play. What makes him worthy of that role is his integrity, as a representative of the principles of that role, and not some group of prejudices of his own. So what you’re standing up to is a mythological character. I imagine some kings and queens are the most stupid, absurd, banal people you could run into, probably interested only in horses and women, you know. But you’re not responding to them as personalities, you’re responding to them in their mythological roles. When someone becomes a judge, or President of the United States, the man is no longer that man, he’s the representative of an eternal office; he has to sacrifice his personal desires and even life possibilities to the role that he now signifies.

MOYERS: So there are mythological rituals at work in our society. The ceremony of marriage is one. The ceremony of the inauguration of a President or judge is another. What are some of the other rituals that are important to society today?

CAMPBELL: Joining the army, putting on a uniform, is another. You’re giving up your personal life and accepting a socially determined manner of life in the service of the society of which you are a member. This is why I think it is obscene to judge people in terms of civil law for performances that they rendered in time of war. They were acting not as individuals, they were acting as agents of something above them and to which they had by dedication given themselves. To judge them as though they were individual human beings is totally improper.

MOYERS: You’ve seen what happens when primitive societies are unsettled by white man’s civilization. They go to pieces, they disintegrate, they become diseased. Hasn’t the same thing been happening to us since our myths began to disappear?

CAMPBELL: Absolutely, it has.

MOYERS: Isn’t that why conservative religions today are calling for the old-religion?

CAMPBELL: Yes, and they’re making a terrible mistake. They are going back to something that is vestigial, that doesn’t serve life.

MOYERS: But didn’t it serve us?

CAMPBELL: Sure it did.

MOYERS: I understand the yearning. In my youth I had fixed stars. They comforted me with their permanence. They gave me a known horizon. And they told me there was a loving, kind, and just father out there looking down on me, ready to receive me, thinking of my concerns all the time. Now, Saul Bellow says that science has made a housecleaning of beliefs. But there was value in these things for me. I am today what I am because of those beliefs. I wonder what happens to children who don’t have those fixed stars, that known horizon—those myths?

CAMPBELL: Well, as I said, all you have to do is read the newspaper. It’s a mess. On this immediate level of life and structure, myths offer life models. But the models have to be appropriate to the time in which you are living, and our time has changed so fast that what was proper fifty years ago is not proper today. The virtues of the past are the vices of today. And many of what were thought to be the vices of the past are the necessities of today. The moral order has to catch up with the moral necessities of actual life in time, here and now. And that is what we are not doing. The old-time religion belongs to another age, another people, another set of human values, another universe. By going back you throw yourself out of sync with history. Our kids lose their faith in the religions that were taught to them, and they go inside.

MOYERS: Often with the help of a drug.

CAMPBELL: Yes. The mechanically induced mystical experience is what you have there. I have attended a number of psychological conferences dealing with this whole problem of the difference between the mystical experience and the psychological crack-up. The difference is that the one who cracks up is drowning in the water in which the mystic swims. You have to be prepared for this experience.

MOYERS: You talk about this peyote culture emerging and becoming dominant among Indians as a consequence of the loss of the buffalo and their earlier way of life.

CAMPBELL: Yes. Ours is one of the worst histories in relation to the native peoples of any civilized nation. They are nonpersons. They are not even reckoned in the statistics of the voting population of the United States. There was a moment shortly after the American Revolution when there were a number of distinguished Indians who actually participated in American government and life. George Washington said that Indians should be incorporated as members of our culture. But instead, they were turned into vestiges of the past. In the nineteenth century, all the Indians of the southeast were put into wagons and shipped under military guard out to what was then called Indian Territory, which was given to the Indians in perpetuity as their own world—then a couple of years later was taken away from them.

Recently, anthropologists studied a group of Indians in northwestern Mexico who live within a few miles of a major area for the natural growth of peyote. Peyote is their animal—that is to say, they associate it with the deer. And they have very special missions to go collect peyote and bring it back.

These missions are mystical journeys with all of the details of the typical mystical journey. First, there is disengagement from secular life. Everybody who is going to go on this expedition has to make a complete confession of all the faults of his or her recent living. And if they don’t, the magic is not going to work. Then they start on the journey. They even speak a special language, a negative language. Instead of saying yes, for example, they say no, or instead of saying, “We are going,” they say, “We are coming.” They are in another world.

Then they come to the threshold of the adventure. There are special shrines that represent stages of mental transformation on the way. And then comes the great business of collecting the peyote. The peyote is killed as though it were a deer. They sneak up on it, shoot a little arrow at it, and then perform the ritual of collecting the peyote.

The whole thing is a complete duplication of the kind of experience that is associated with the inward journey, when you leave the outer world and come into the realm of spiritual beings. They identify each little stage as a spiritual transformation. They are in a sacred place all the way.

MOYERS: Why do they make such an intricate process out of it?

CAMPBELL: Well, it has to do with the peyote being not simply a biological, mechanical, chemical effect but one of spiritual transformation. If you undergo a spiritual transformation and have not had preparation for it, you do not know how to evaluate what has happened to you, and you get the terrible experiences of a bad trip, as they used to call it with LSD. If you know where you are going, you won’t have a bad trip.

MOYERS: So this is why it is a psychological crisis if you are drowning in the water where—

CAMPBELL: —where you ought to be able to swim, but you weren’t prepared. That is true of the spiritual life, anyhow. It is a terrifying experience to have your consciousness transformed.

MOYERS: You talk a lot about consciousness.


MOYERS: What do you mean by it?

CAMPBELL: It is a part of the Cartesian mode to think of consciousness as being something peculiar to the head, that the head is the organ originating consciousness. It isn’t. The head is an organ that inflects consciousness in a certain direction, or to a certain set of purposes. But there is consciousness here in the body. The whole living world is informed by consciousness.

I have a feeling that consciousness and energy are the same thing somehow. Where you really see life energy, there’s consciousness. Certainly the vegetable world is conscious. And when you live in the woods, as I did as a kid, you can see all these different consciousnesses relating to themselves. There is a plant consciousness and there is an animal consciousness, and we share both these things. You eat certain foods, and the bile knows whether there’s something there for it to go to work on. The whole process is consciousness. Trying to interpret it in simply mechanistic terms won’t work.

MOYERS: How do we transform our consciousness?

CAMPBELL: That’s a matter of what you are disposed to think about. And that’s what meditation is for. All of life is a meditation, most of it unintentional. A lot of people spend most of life in meditating on where their money is coming from and where it’s going to. If you have a family to bring up, you’re concerned for the family. These are all very important concerns, but they have to do with physical conditions, mostly. But how are you going to communicate spiritual consciousness to the children if you don’t have it yourself? How do you get that? What the myths are for is to bring us into a level of consciousness that is spiritual.

Just for example: I walk off Fifty-first Street and Fifth Avenue into St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I’ve left a very busy city and one of the most economically inspired cities on the planet. I walk into that cathedral, and everything around me speaks of spiritual mysteries. The mystery of the cross, what’s that all about there? The stained glass windows, which bring another atmosphere in. My consciousness has been brought up onto another level altogether, and I am on a different platform. And then I walk out, and I’m back on the level of the street again. Now, can I hold something from the cathedral consciousness? Certain prayers or meditations are designed to hold your consciousness on that level instead of letting it drop down here all the way. And then what you can finally do is to recognize that this is simply a lower level of that higher consciousness. The mystery that is expressed there is operating in the field of your money, for example. All money is congealed energy. I think that that’s the clue to how to transform your consciousness.

MOYERS: Don’t you sometimes think, as you consider these stories, that you are drowning in other people’s dreams?

CAMPBELL: I don’t listen to other people’s dreams.

MOYERS: But all of these myths are other people’s dreams.

CAMPBELL: Oh, no, they’re not. They are the world’s dreams. They are archetypal dreams and deal with great human problems. I know when I come to one of these thresholds now. The myth tells me about it, how to respond to certain crises of disappointment or delight or failure or success. The myths tell me where I am.

Stopping for now on page 15. This book in itself is a transcription from their filmed in-person discussion, much of which is viewable in a video by the same name, available on Netflix.