On war, sex, violence, and cultural rot

The following are excerpts from Chris Hedges’ book War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, beginning on pages 74-75:

The effectiveness of the myths peddled in war is powerful. We often come to doubt our own perceptions. We hide these doubts, like troubled believers, sure that no one else feels them. We feel guilty. The myths have determined not only how we should speak but how we should think. The doubts we carry, the scenes we see that do not conform to the myth are hazy, difficult to express, unsettling. And as the atrocities mount, as civil liberties are stripped away (something, with the “War on Terror,” already happening to hundreds of thousands of immigrants in the United States), we struggle uncomfortably with the jargon and clichés. But we have trouble expressing our discomfort because the collective shout has made it hard for us to give words to our thoughts.

This self-doubt is aided by the monstrosity of war. We gape and wonder at the collapsing towers of the World Trade Center. They crumble before us, and yet we cannot quite comprehend it. What, really, did we see? In wartime an attack on a village where women and children are killed, an attach that does not conform to the myth peddled by our side, is hard to fathom and articulate. We live in wartime with a permanent discomfort, for in wartime we see things so grotesque and fantastic that they seem beyond human comprehension. War turns human reality into a bizarre carnival that does not seem part of our experience. It knocks us off balance.

On a chilly, rainy day in March 1998 I was in a small Albanian village in Kosovo, twenty-five miles west of the provincial capital of Pristina. I was waiting with a few thousand Kosovar Albanian mourners for a red Mercedes truck to rumble down the dirt road and unload a cargo of fourteen bodies. A group of distraught women, seated on wooden planks set up on concrete blocks, was in the dirt yard.

When the truck pulled into the yard I climbed into the back. Before each corpse, wrapped in bloodstained blankets and rugs, was lifted out for washing and burial I checked to see if the body was mutilated. I pulled back the cloth to uncover the faces. The gouged-out eyes, the shattered skulls, the gaping rows of broken teeth, and the sinewy strands of flayed flesh greeted me. When I could not see clearly in the fading light I flicked on my Maglite. I jotted each disfigurement in my notebook.

The bodies were passed silently out of the truck. They were laid on crude wooden coffin lids placed on the floor of the shed. The corpses were wound in white shrouds by a Muslim cleric in a red turban. The shed was lit by a lone kerosene lamp. It threw out a ghastly, uneven, yellowish light. In the hasty effort to confer some dignity on the dead, family members, often weeping, tried to wash away the bloodstains from the faces. Most could not do it and had to be helped away.

It was not an uncommon event for me. I have seen many such dead. Several weeks later it would be worse. I would be in a warehouse with fifty-one bodies, including children, even infants, women, and the elderly from the town of Prekaz. I had spent time with many of them. I stared into their lifeless faces. I was again in the twilight zone of war. I could not wholly believe what I saw in front of me.

In the book, Chris Hedges writes a good deal about his time in Bosnia and Yugoslavia during the 1990s. The next portion stood out to me, following a tale of a Muslim child shot and killed for throwing stones at Lebanese fighters taunting the community in a Jeep with mounted loudspeakers. This part deals with the carnal relations in war. Picking up again on page 98:

The violent breakup of Yugoslavia, which was preceded by economic collapse, began in 1991. It was the same year that the government decided to permit hard-core sex films to be broadcast on public stations and that the first locally made pornographic film was produced. While the old Communist Yugoslavia did not censor love scenes in its state-run film industry, it condemned pornography as the exploitation of women and banned its production. The first graphic pictures of mutilated and dead from the war, along with the racial diatribes against Muslims and Croats, hit the airwaves at the same time Yugoslavs were allowed to watch porno films. The war was, like the sex films, about the lifting of taboos, about new forms of entertainment to mask the economic and political collapse of Yugoslavia. War and sex were the stimulants to divert a society that was collapsing.

The world, as it is in war, had been turned upside down. Those who had worked hard all their lives, put their meager savings into banks, and struggled to live on pensions or salaries, lost everything. The unscrupulous, who had massive debts, never had to repay them, lived off the black market or crime, used force to get what they wanted, and became fabulously rich and powerful. The moral universe disintegrated. There was a new code.

The criminal class, many of whom had made their fortunes by plundering the possessions of ethnic Croats and Muslims who were expelled from their homes or killed in Bosnia during the war, had rented apartments where they sold stolen clothes from Italy. Huge outdoor fairs were held where you could buy stolen cars complete with fake registrations. Drugs, protection rackets, prostitution, not to speak of duty-free cigarettes (smuggled into Italy with speedboats from the Montenegrin coast), became the country’s major businesses as state-run factories folded. In Belgrade, at the war’s height, there were seventy escort services, three adult cinemas, and twenty pornographic magazines. After midnight the public television channels ran hard-core porno films.

Hedonism and perversion spiraled out of control as inflation ate away at the local currency. Those who had worked hard all their lives were now reviled as dupes and fools. They haunted the soup kitchens. The loyalty they had expressed to the state of the institutions they worked for had left them beggars. They held worthless war bonds. They collected pensions, when they were paid, that amounted to a few dollars. They sold rugs, tea sets, china, paintings, anything they could dig out of their apartments at huge open-air flea markets. Their children, no matter how well educated, worked in menial jobs abroad so they could mail back enough for their parents to buy food. Distraught teachers said they struggled to cope with children as young as eleven who had been exposed to scenes of graphic sadomasochism on television and copied the sexual acts they witnessed. Domestic violence, often by men who were out of work or had not received their small salaries for months, was widespread.

The ancient Greeks linked war and love. Aphrodite, the goddess of love and the wife of Hephaestos, the lame blacksmith who forged the weapons and armor for the gods, became the mistress of Ares, the god of war. It was an illicit affair. Ares, impetuous, quarrelsome, and often drunk, was hated among the gods. He loved battle for its own sake. His sister, Eris, spread rumor and jealousy to whip up the winds of war. Ares never favored one city or party against another. He frequently switched loyalties, abandoning those he had once helped. He delighted only in slaughter. It was only Eris and Aphrodite, who had a perverse passion for him, who loved him. Hades honored him because of the legions of slain young men he dispatched to the underworld.

There is in wartime a nearly universal preoccupation with sexual liaisons. There is a kind of breathless abandon in wartime, and those who in peacetime would lead conservative and sheltered lives give themselves over to wanton carnal relationships. Men, and especially soldiers, are preoccupied with little else. With power reduced to such a raw level an the currency of life and death cheap, eroticism races through all relationships. There is in these encounters a frenetic lust that seeks, on some level, to replicate or augment the drug of war. It is certainly not about love, indeed love itself in wartime is hard to sustain or establish.

Casual encounters are charged with a raw, high-voltage sexual energy that smacks of the self-destructive lust of war itself. The erotic in war is like the rush of battle. It overwhelms the participants. Women who might not otherwise be hailed as beauties are endowed with the charms of Helen. Men endowed with little more than the power to kill are lionized and desired. Bodies, just as they lie scattered and immobile a few hundred yards away, become tools, objects to an end. The fleeting sexual encounters, intense, overpowering, and largely anonymous, deflate with tremendous speed and leave behind guilt, even disgust, and a void that expands into a swamp of loneliness. Stay long enough in war and real love, tenderness and connection, becomes nearly impossible. Sex in war is another variant of the drug of war.

“If we are honest,” the philosopher J. Glenn Gray wrote in The Warrior, “most of us who were civilian soldiers in recent wars will confess that we spent incomparably more time in the service of Eros during our military careers than ever before or again in our lives. When we were in uniform almost any girl who was faintly attractive had an erotic appeal for us. For their part, millions of women find a strong sexual attraction in the military uniform, particularly in time of war.”

Skipping a few paragraphs, continuing on page 102:

Those relationships that appear to extend beyond the erotic, however, are also hollow. Many liaisons in wartime look and feel like love, but they too have more to do with projection than reality. Soldiers fall in love with women across a vast cultural divide, although the linguistic barrier makes communication difficult. Here too war perverts the relationship. For in the soldier lies absolute power, protection, and possibly escape. The women’s appeal lies in the gentleness that is absent in war. Each finds in the other attributes that war wipes out–tenderness or security. But few of these liaisons last once the conflict ends.

The young are drawn to those who wield violence and power. Why study to be a doctor or a lawyer when such academic toil was not rewarded, indeed often considered worthless? Why uphold a common morality, including hard work, when the outcome was destitution? Why have any personal or moral standards when these standards were irrelevant?

The killers and warlords became the object of sexual fantasy. The paramilitary leader Željko Ražnatović, known as Arkan, was, according to Serbian opinion polls, one of the most desired men in the country.

War turned Belgrade, along with every other capital caught up in conflict, into Caligula’s Rome. There was a moral lassitude in the air, bred of hopelessness and apathy. The city’s best-known gangsters, sometimes in the company of Milošević’s son Marko, who threatened bar patrons with automatic weapons, cruised the streets in BMWs and Mercedes. They filled the nightclubs of Belgrade, dressed in their expensive black Italian suits and leather jackets.

At the Lotus, one such club in the downtown area of the city, pulsating music thumped through the blue haze of cigarette smoke and strobe lights. Scantily clad strippers spun around poles and leapt into two huge floodlit animal cages with men and women from the dance floor. The young couples began to peel off their shirts and simulate sex with the dancers.

“Stay a little longer,” a patron shouted at me. “The simulation is just the beginning.”

Under a spotlight a stripper known as Nina, a star of Belgrade’s violent and frenetic nightlife, descended a spiral staircase into the mayhem. Her lover and bodyguard, a stocky woman with closely cropped hair and a German Luger tucked in her belt, followed her menacingly from the shadows. Nina moved seductively around the dance floor bathed in light. She nuzzled up to the patrons.

War breaks down long-established prohibitions against violence, destruction, and murder. And with this often comes the crumbling of sexual, social, and political norms as the domination and brutality of the battlefield is carried into personal life. Rape, mutilation, abuse, and theft are the natural outcome of a world in which force rules, in which human beings are objects. The infection is pervasive. Society in wartime becomes atomized. It rewards personal survival skills and very often leaves those with decency and compassion trampled under the rush. The pride one feels in a life devoted to the nation or to an institution or a career or an ideal is often replaced by shame and guilt. Those who have lived upright, socially productive lives are punished for their gullibility in the new social order.

The wars in the Balkans saw the rise of the rape camps, places where women were kept under guard and repeatedly abused by Serbian paramilitary forces. When this became boring–for perverse sex, like killing, must constantly entail the new and bizarre–the women were mutilated and killed, reportedly on video. Women were also held in very similar conditions, and later murdered, in Argentina during the Dirty War. Sexual slaves in Argentina were used and then discarded like waste, their drugged bodies at times dumped from helicopters into the sea.

Disturbing stuff to think about, especially when you consider the parallels visible in American society. We may not broadcast porn on public television stations, but we don’t have to—we have the Internet now. And we all know parental controls are largely a joke, primarily because parents won’t consistently use them. No shocker there.

What’s disturbing to me is how the sort of decadence described by Chris Hedges doesn’t appear restricted to war-ravaged nations. The U.S. is waging wars elsewhere on the planet, and while none of that touches our streets, the decadence and sex obsession absolutely has. I wonder why that is. Is it the mindset that accompanies a sense of superiority ushered in during wartime, though not necessarily resulting from it? Like maybe war and this form of decadent living are both symptoms of a larger societal ailment?

That’s enough of that for now.

“…from now on, all resistance is local.”

Been a busy week. In the few minutes I have this morning before heading to work I’d like to share this short excerpt from a speech by Chris Hedges on inverted totalitarianism:

Chris Hedges is the author of several books, a number of which I’ve read and greatly appreciate, including War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, Losing Moses on the Freeway, I Don’t Believe in Atheists, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, among others.

Why I’m No Longer a Feminist

Now, let me back up to the month of November 2012 when I posted a video titled “Why I’m No Longer a Feminist”:

Probably would help if I added a bit of background information on who I am and what my experience with feminism involved. I originally became aware of feminism’s existence during teenagehood, though I had no direct exposure to it back then aside from television programs and talk in glossy magazines marketed to girls (like Cosmo and Glamour). During my freshman year in college (1999-2000), I purchased my first computer and discovered feminism in greater detail online. Now, I was attending school at Mississippi State University and wasn’t all that sociable with others, so at that time delving into feminism was pretty much strictly limited to the internet, though my husband (now ex) considered himself a feminist and we did discuss topics pertaining to that movement. We both come up with and embraced a libertarian spirit (as products of the same small county), which then dovetailed into supporting women’s rights to do with their own bodies as they see fit.

I remember becoming aware of NARAL and NOW online back when they were offering free kits to anyone who asked that included pro-choice literature and posters to put up around campus, but like I said we lived in Mississippi and my husband staunchly put his foot down on this due to the likelihood of this leading me to be targeted and given hell. This was at a time when there were no abortion clinics in the state, though I am told there now is one.

So I contented myself with learning and reading online, which is when I first came up against a band of feminists who really threw their weight around and ridiculed me and let it be clearly understood that I was naive and ignorant and should sit back and listen and read rather than speak up and interfere. That would’ve been when I was 19. So for a while that’s what I did. I read and listened and a couple years went by.

I moved up to the Midwest once again when I was 21 after my husband and I decided to split. As a young woman single once again, the world appeared to be my oyster, and I went about earning a living and picking back up on continuing my education. Continued reading and listening and then jumped back into the feminist arguments, again mostly online despite living in a much larger, more open-minded city. The reason for that probably has a lot to do with me not knowing a lot of women in person, and those I do know and get along with don’t consider themselves feminists necessarily and aren’t too interested in discussing those sorts of topics. The feminists I did run up against in academia or out in society didn’t seem to have much patience with me or my questions, so not much in-person dialogue took place that I can remember. Wasn’t involved in any local groups and didn’t attend any rallies. Most of my friends tend to be male, and we did and still do discuss feminism from time to time, but the breadth of their understanding of it was that it pertained to women’s reproductive rights, which they all pretty much support. Mostly I tell them what I’ve learned and they take it in. When I’ve asked how feminism has affected their lives, most stated that they don’t see really how it has, aside from being reared to be respectful toward women (as was the norm long before feminism came into existence). So, not much drama occurred there. Had a few verbal bar feuds, as to be expected when we drunks get to running our mouths.

But when I went back online and decided to really get into what all was being said and to speak my piece, I found out just how unpopular my beliefs were. One major source of contention between myself and many feminists I interacted with online revolved around the question of sexual agency. While on one hand they argued that we women have so much power, on the other and at the same time they spoke a great deal about us being victims to violence men can and do inflict upon us, particularly rape. Now, I don’t feel like going into much detail here on my experiences in dealing with men or what life has taught me, but I will say that I’ve always been a strong advocate for women arming themselves and becoming well-acquainted with their weapon of choice so as to be properly able and willing to use it if needed. Seems to me that cuts down significantly on worrying about being victimized when you are in possession of an equalizer. Doesn’t even have to be a gun; tasers and stun guns work too, as do knives and brass knuckles and whatever else happens to be handy. Well, you wouldn’t believe how unpopular of a position that apparently is in some feminist circles. Holy cow.

Now, combine that with my hesitation in accepting the notion that women should walk around scantily clad and expect no repercussions at all (that’s not to say we deserve to be attacked, not at all, but cat-calling is predictable) and you might imagine where those fights led. I still struggle to see their logic, because to me, if I’m out walking around in public half-naked I’d expect back then to have to deal with men’s come-ons. And because I’m no fool when it comes to understanding how some men will treat you when you appear young, dumb, and defenseless, I did make an effort to protect myself. Hell, even a canned air horn is something to consider to draw attention from others if you’re afraid and being confronted by a strange person. My point was that there are options, though I also certainly know that walking around scantily clad isn’t the only way to wind up receiving unwanted male attention. But the issue made over the right to self-defense really stuck in my craw when dealing with a lot of feminists because they were arguing in favor of gun control, which to me seems completely antithetical to their professed goal of remaining safe and secure. If a woman wants to remain safe, why not take power into your hands and do what you can to ensure it? That was my primary argument there. But many of them had jumped on the liberal bandwagon and the Democratic Party pushes for gun control, so they then followed in suit, and I don’t feel very many critically considered what they were advocating there. Because basically that’s arguing in favor of a situation where you have to rely on police protection, and one thing I do know is cops can’t be everywhere all at once. Depending on what neighborhood you live in, they might not even show up after being called. Besides, police are part of a retributive justice system, which is to say they seek out people who have already committed a crime. And my experience dealing with police has shown me that their response can be a mixed bag. Sometimes they care. Sometimes they don’t. Depends on which officer is on duty that day, I suppose. And they surely don’t want to receive a call every time someone feels creeped out by someone else who has not yet perpetrated a crime.

From there we went on to argue about prostitution and pornography and women’s agency in regard to being involved in those forms of employment. There’s lots of disagreement within feminism in relation to the sex industry, though many feminists appeared to take the position that women cannot freely engage in such work because they are being exploited, and even to desire to do such work is a sign of past psychological damage within the woman in question. So, if she wants to earn money engaging in sexual acts, she’s sick or seriously misguided and therefore lacks the agency to decide that for herself, but if she wants to “ho around” for free, that’s perfectly acceptable and nobody better talk bad about it. Okay. That makes no sense whatsoever.

The minority of feminists in support of sex work, those today referred to as “sex positive” feminists (which is a weird label, IMO), argued from the position that sex work somehow leveled the playing field between men and women, as if that were the preferable arrangement for any two people interested in seeking out sex. Some bolstered this with economic arguments, stating that the money is good so therefore that makes it worthwhile to pursue — basically benjamins speak and they listen. And let me say that plenty of the so-called “sex positive” feminists strike me as a bit kooky in their defense of sluttiness. And I don’t mean that to be mean necessarily, just an honest observation, because I see there as being more sides to the argument than feminists were bringing up. Either they’re victims in a male-dominated society or they’re empowered, money-making freak hos doing nothing of greater consequence than businessmen — no in between, no third or fourth possibilities, no deeper thought given to the intricacies of how using one’s body in so intimate a way affects the participants involved in such a transaction. And that’s about where I’d had enough and began backing toward the door. That would’ve been about 2007.

But there were many discussions throughout those years, such as women’s roles in the military, women’s advancement in businesses (with lots of griping and complaining that there aren’t more female CEOs), discussions among ethnic women about how mainstream feminism caters primarily to middle-class white women’s interests (which I do believe was true originally, though ethnic middle-class, college-educated women are being actively brought into the fold nowadays), socioeconomic class divisions with lots of talk on how to allot resources to the poor, the perceived imbalance of educational choices, and, of course, the ongoing debate about whether a stay-at-home mom supported by her husband’s income can even consider herself to be a feminist. I read a lot of people’s opinions, followed countless links and tried to make sense of an untold number of academic journal articles written by self-described feminists. The jargon employed within their movement got to where it turned me off, because patriarchy is a central tenet that you can’t get past, can’t deny, and can’t resolve to virtually anyone’s satisfaction.

What is patriarchy? I’ve come to see it as the old way, meaning the several-thousand-year period marked by societies and cultures being shaped, in part, by special attention paid to patrilineal lineage. That era only recently began to dissolve (100+ years back), something commonly attributed to the first wave of feminists in their securing for women the right to vote, though I tend to believe it was waning prior to that. Why? I don’t know. Probably because religions were already beginning to slowly die out, Abrahamic religions having provided the great narrative for patriarchal societies. With the lessening of that stronghold, cultures become more flexible and paradigms begin to shift. But with change comes chaos, so the trade-off brings with it growing pains.

What we’re left with today is a weird hodge-podge constructed in a past that no longer seems as relevant, updated and retooled again and again since the 1940s by men and women with new objectives, and no one seems to know where to steer this ship. Generally speaking, feminists place what I consider an unwarranted amount of faith in the State and centralized power to realize their dreams and to provide for their protection. Many men seem unsure of what their role is supposed to be anymore, and I can sympathize with their confusion and feelings of being left out of a meaningful position in the new narrative others are busily constructing for the future of society. I feel left out too, but in a different way. I feel like once all the talk about rights settles down, we’ll be left to realize we dropped the ball on our responsibilities to one another, especially a lot of women who believed the horrible Disney-fied lie that they could have it all (a committed partner, children, a demanding career, a healthy sex life, an active social life, exotic vacations, a fulfilling existence and time to enjoy it). They’re being run ragged by their own selves, and it shows. More than that, it affects everyone around them. When locked up in an echo chamber one comes to believe they’re on the right path, but what is it a path to? A fantasy is all it is. And not even that great of one when you really stop and think about it.

When I first took up interest in feminism, it was because I believed in my right to do with my own body as I see fit, and I still feel that way as much, if not more, today. What I discovered I didn’t want to sign up for or take part in was this great lie, this massive experiment in social distortion supposedly in favor of women but in the end appearing to not be truly in favor of hardly anyone. Men are not automatically our enemies, though specific individuals may prove to be, and the same holds true vice versa. Most men are no more guilty of upholding “patriarchy” than are most women, even self-professed feminists. The problem isn’t in men universally, it’s in people, all of us. History swings back and forth over time, favoring some more than others in any given period, but we were all simply born into it and none of us are responsible for having created the past. All we can do now is move forward, and I think that’s a discussion that needs to be brought out to include everyone, not just this sex or that one. This group or movement or that one doesn’t get to decide the fate of all going forward. No. That’s ludicrous. That, in itself, is bigoted, because it pretends that members belonging to one affiliation or another are necessarily more “enlightened” and therefore in the best position to decide for everyone. But plenty of us are deeply unhappy with the options being handed to us and we reject this queer “utopia” others seem intent on striving toward and dragging everyone else along in tow.

There’s plenty more I can say on the topic of feminism, but it will have to wait until another night.

Disputing legal reproductive rights

Okay. Think I’m finally ready to start broaching the topic of gender/sex on here. It’s not what I consider my primary focus, but gender relations are a significant concern today, me speaking as an American. Can’t deny it, can’t get around it, so might as well confront and dissect it and see what sense can be made.

To start with, I offer up a video from JohntheOther titled “Reproductive Rights” where he advocates on behalf of men saying that they deserve the right to decide whether or not to be parents, and if men choose not to they ought to have the right to refuse parental involvement and child support expectations. An argument he puts forth is that abandoning live offspring financially and legally is the male equivalent of a woman opting for an abortion, claiming the two situations are “parallel.”

I actually can understand, to a degree, where JohntheOther is coming from in terms of men gaining legal reproductive rights. He’s right that women have an option to terminate or prevent pregnancies, though I argue that men do also have power to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies occurring. Because men currently lack as many options as women does not negate that truth.  Pregnancy can be and often is imposed on both parents without that result intentionally being sought. Women have more options for avoiding pregnancy, but men do have options and that should not be ignored or trivialized.  Because women are now granted self-determination in terms of legal reproductive rights does not imply men have no such legal self-determination themselves. Abstinence is a choice too, as is undergoing a vasectomy, as is the decision to engage in sex with women who for whatever reasons are unable to become pregnant.  Those are choices men do possess, and let’s not reduce that down as if it ceases to matter. Unequal rights under the law, yes, but still both sexes do confront choices and options that can determine their fate.

In a society where women have to take abortion into serious consideration as an option when men are no longer held legally or financially responsible for providing for an unwanted child’s care, I imagine that will lead to women retreating back to past standards of conduct when abortion wasn’t an option. Meaning this legal shift will likely result in women becoming much more selective when it comes to partners they engage in sex with, assuming that many women continue to have moral qualms with undergoing abortions. Otherwise abortions will become the norm, and both sexes will have to cope with that (which I don’t think people will be able to without more resentment and disrespect coming between us). Perhaps a shift in attitudes where more caution returns to women when it comes to our sexual choices wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Feminists and others have declared for decades that women’s right to choose should be respected, and now that choice has come home to roost it appears. If women do have a choice, shouldn’t prospective fathers also be provided a choice?

My primary concern here is with children’s need to be cared for and loved and not wind up warded to the state by parents who bring them into this world and then abandon them. That is my moral qualm, which has been touched on in a video I posted on YT and will be expanded on here in a future post.

But let’s focus here on the dialogue going on back and forth between JohntheOther and Friendough. Friendough’s original video is viewable here.

JohntheOther’s analogy involving a gay couple where one opts to buy a boat compared with a man and woman determining care for a child are so completely separate and different that it strikes me as insulting. A child is not a piece of property, not an inanimate object. A child requires significant care provided to him or her that extends far beyond financial concerns. This is a question of how to manage bringing new human beings into the world and determining who ought to be held responsible for their upbringing — caring for our young being an extremely serious matter that extends also beyond legal concerns. It’s the creation of a new generation of people, and the quality of their upbringing has a significant impact on who they become as they grow up. Neglect and abuse them and you may psychologically destroy those individuals. Leave them warded to the State and let them be transitioned from foster home to foster home, where the chances of being sexually violated is 30% higher than in regular society, and I assure you that many will come to resent us all.

We are not simply determining legal responsibility here; we are actively deciding how to  fashion the future. We are determining what sort of existence future generations may face, and that is a heavy burden to consider. We must step outside of our own wants and desires long enough to take in the hefty implications of what is being proposed by both feminists and MRAs in agreement with JohntheOther. They are proving alike in their pushing for each respective sex to have the right to terminate care and/or walk away and leave living beings to be cared for by others or possibly institutions. I am arguing for a third way, perhaps viewed as more traditional in some aspects, though one of my major arguments is that it would be seriously useful at this point if more people paused and deeply considered how little reason there is to bring so many new beings into existence at this point in history. An argument to be expanded on as time rolls on.

And here’s Friendough’s response to JohntheOther:

The consequences of pregnancy do indeed occur whether or not we want this. We can do what we’re able to prevent it, but sometimes it does happen anyway. That is a fact of life.

But that does flip us back to women’s options to terminate pregnancies or abandon newborns. Personally, I take serious issue with women being granted the legal right to “surrender” their children (within a certain amount of time and depending on state laws) to so-called “safe havens.” That’s a bad law, IMO, and it complicates this entire situation by neglecting the interests of the child. I am aware of why these laws came into being, but because some women choose to criminally commit infanticide is not a good enough reason to make it legal for women to abandon their babies in a society where abortions are pretty much freely available during the first and at least part of the second trimester of pregnancy.

Life comes with all kinds of consequences and responsibilities, chosen or not, and that applies to both women and men.

There is a TREMENDOUS difference between abortion and abandonment, that I do completely agree with. Abortion terminates a life, whereas abandonment involves a human brought into full existence. I see abortion as clearly preferable to abandonment in nearly all conceivable cases.

I get the notion that women reserve the right to terminate pregnancies, whereas men lose control once conception occurs, and this leads me back to what I said up above about perhaps this leaving us little option but for women to return to being more discriminating with sexual partners and to become dedicated in their use of available birth control options if they wish to avoid undergoing abortions, or else get used to undergoing abortions if casual, unprotected sex is to persist. Apparently this is where we stand today.

That we devote this much time and energy debating the legality of these matters is what I’ve come to see as folly. Where is the moral consideration in people’s arguments? Has that dimension ceased to be important to some people, perhaps because we live within such a diverse social climate that morality seems too subjective to bring up in public debate?

Ethics After Certainty

I have just finished rereading the paper titled “Alone Again: Ethics After Certainty” written by philosopher Zygmunt Bauman.

Very, very good piece. On pages 40-41, he goes into the option to either engage or disengage, and while I understand the point he was making, I will argue that disengagement on a higher level can become the best option once voicing critical concerns and exhausting legal channels have proven insufficient for rectifying our problems. And this form of disengagement I’m referring to is for communities, provinces, willfully-determined groups of citizens, clans and tribes that choose to no longer partake in being subjected to the corruption of this government, thereby making the determination to go sovereign. It is a right citizens do possess, and most certainly not a trivial one at that. I won’t pretend to know how communities might secede in this fashion, though I would suspect having several do so simultaneously will prove too difficult for the government to effectively thwart.

That is indeed an extreme measure. I’d personally rather we thoroughly seek redress through our political channels, demanding that our representatives cater to the people over their major financial contributors, backed by our willingness to impeach and replace them if they refuse to comply. But who do we replace with? It is my opinion that average people would do a better job than these so-called “Washington insiders” and “professionals,” but then that all depends on the integrity we expect and the values we choose to embrace and uphold.

In a society with a toxic culture, we’ve all been fed lies and fantasies, dangerous ones at that. How does one come to see and think outside of the common indoctrinated lens? It’s a struggle and it requires time alone, away from television, with quality books full of ideas, remaining open yet critical, allowing deep introspection while examining the world outside of our own selves.

Thoughts will be expanded on as time rolls on. Time to finish dinner. Partner is sick with a cold, so I whipped up spaghetti bake with sides of whole green beans and Texas toast.  Happy

Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change

Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change

A speech by: Neil Postman

Good morning your Eminences and Excellencies, ladies, and gentlemen.

The theme of this conference, “The New Technologies and the Human Person: Communicating the Faith in the New Millennium,” suggests, of course, that you are concerned about what might happen to faith in the new millennium, as well you should be. In addition to our computers, which are close to having a nervous breakdown in anticipation of the year 2000, there is a great deal of frantic talk about the 21st century and how it will pose for us unique problems of which we know very little but for which, nonetheless, we are supposed to carefully prepare. Everyone seems to worry about this–business people, politicians, educators, as well as theologians.

At the risk of sounding patronizing, may I try to put everyone’s mind at ease? I doubt that the 21st century will pose for us problems that are more stunning, disorienting or complex than those we faced in this century, or the 19th, 18th, 17th, or for that matter, many of the centuries before that. But for those who are excessively nervous about the new millennium, I can provide, right at the start, some good advice about how to confront it. The advice comes from people whom we can trust, and whose thoughtfulness, it’s safe to say, exceeds that of President Clinton, Newt Gingrich, or even Bill Gates. Here is what Henry David Thoreau told us: “All our inventions are but improved means to an unimproved end.” Here is what Goethe told us: “One should, each day, try to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words.” Socrates told us: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Rabbi Hillel told us: “What is hateful to thee, do not do to another.” And here is the prophet Micah: “What does the Lord require of thee but to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God.” And I could say, if we had the time, (although you know it well enough) what Jesus, Isaiah, Mohammad, Spinoza, and Shakespeare told us. It is all the same: There is no escaping from ourselves. The human dilemma is as it has always been, and it is a delusion to believe that the technological changes of our era have rendered irrelevant the wisdom of the ages and the sages.

Nonetheless, having said this, I know perfectly well that because we do live in a technological age, we have some special problems that Jesus, Hillel, Socrates, and Micah did not and could not speak of. I do not have the wisdom to say what we ought to do about such problems, and so my contribution must confine itself to some things we need to know in order to address the problems. I call my talk Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change. I base these ideas on my thirty years of studying the history of technological change but I do not think these are academic or esoteric ideas. They are to the sort of things everyone who is concerned with cultural stability and balance should know and I offer them to you in the hope that you will find them useful in thinking about the effects of technology on religious faith.

First Idea

The first idea is that all technological change is a trade-off. I like to call it a Faustian bargain. Technology giveth and technology taketh away. This means that for every advantage a new technology offers, there is always a corresponding disadvantage. The disadvantage may exceed in importance the advantage, or the advantage may well be worth the cost. Now, this may seem to be a rather obvious idea, but you would be surprised at how many people believe that new technologies are unmixed blessings. You need only think of the enthusiasms with which most people approach their understanding of computers. Ask anyone who knows something about computers to talk about them, and you will find that they will, unabashedly and relentlessly, extol the wonders of computers. You will also find that in most cases they will completely neglect to mention any of the liabilities of computers. This is a dangerous imbalance, since the greater the wonders of a technology, the greater will be its negative consequences.

Think of the automobile, which for all of its obvious advantages, has poisoned our air, choked our cities, and degraded the beauty of our natural landscape. Or you might reflect on the paradox of medical technology which brings wondrous cures but is, at the same time, a demonstrable cause of certain diseases and disabilities, and has played a significant role in reducing the diagnostic skills of physicians. It is also well to recall that for all of the intellectual and social benefits provided by the printing press, its costs were equally monumental. The printing press gave the Western world prose, but it made poetry into an exotic and elitist form of communication. It gave us inductive science, but it reduced religious sensibility to a form of fanciful superstition. Printing gave us the modern conception of nationhood, but in so doing turned patriotism into a sordid if not lethal emotion. We might even say that the printing of the Bible in vernacular languages introduced the impression that God was an Englishman or a German or a Frenchman–that is to say, printing reduced God to the dimensions of a local potentate.

Perhaps the best way I can express this idea is to say that the question, “What will a new technology do?” is no more important than the question, “What will a new technology undo?” Indeed, the latter question is more important, precisely because it is asked so infrequently. One might say, then, that a sophisticated perspective on technological change includes one’s being skeptical of Utopian and Messianic visions drawn by those who have no sense of history or of the precarious balances on which culture depends. In fact, if it were up to me, I would forbid anyone from talking about the new information technologies unless the person can demonstrate that he or she knows something about the social and psychic effects of the alphabet, the mechanical clock, the printing press, and telegraphy. In other words, knows something about the costs of great technologies.

Idea Number One, then, is that culture always pays a price for technology.

Second Idea

This leads to the second idea, which is that the advantages and disadvantages of new technologies are never distributed evenly among the population. This means that every new technology benefits some and harms others. There are even some who are not affected at all. Consider again the case of the printing press in the 16th century, of which Martin Luther said it was “God’s highest and extremest act of grace, whereby the business of the gospel is driven forward.” By placing the word of God on every Christian’s kitchen table, the mass-produced book undermined the authority of the church hierarchy, and hastened the breakup of the Holy Roman See. The Protestants of that time cheered this development. The Catholics were enraged and distraught. Since I am a Jew, had I lived at that time, I probably wouldn’t have given a damn one way or another, since it would make no difference whether a pogrom was inspired by Martin Luther or Pope Leo X. Some gain, some lose, a few remain as they were.

Let us take as another example, television, although here I should add at once that in the case of television there are very few indeed who are not affected in one way or another. In America, where television has taken hold more deeply than anywhere else, there are many people who find it a blessing, not least those who have achieved high-paying, gratifying careers in television as executives, technicians, directors, newscasters and entertainers. On the other hand, and in the long run, television may bring an end to the careers of school teachers since school was an invention of the printing press and must stand or fall on the issue of how much importance the printed word will have in the future. There is no chance, of course, that television will go away but school teachers who are enthusiastic about its presence always call to my mind an image of some turn-of-the-century blacksmith who not only is singing the praises of the automobile but who also believes that his business will be enhanced by it. We know now that his business was not enhanced by it; it was rendered obsolete by it, as perhaps an intelligent blacksmith would have known.

The questions, then, that are never far from the mind of a person who is knowledgeable about technological change are these: Who specifically benefits from the development of a new technology? Which groups, what type of person, what kind of industry will be favored? And, of course, which groups of people will thereby be harmed?

These questions should certainly be on our minds when we think about computer technology. There is no doubt that the computer has been and will continue to be advantageous to large-scale organizations like the military or airline companies or banks or tax collecting institutions. And it is equally clear that the computer is now indispensable to high-level researchers in physics and other natural sciences. But to what extent has computer technology been an advantage to the masses of people? To steel workers, vegetable store owners, automobile mechanics, musicians, bakers, bricklayers, dentists, yes, theologians, and most of the rest into whose lives the computer now intrudes? These people have had their private matters made more accessible to powerful institutions. They are more easily tracked and controlled; they are subjected to more examinations, and are increasingly mystified by the decisions made about them. They are more than ever reduced to mere numerical objects. They are being buried by junk mail. They are easy targets for advertising agencies and political institutions.

In a word, these people are losers in the great computer revolution. The winners, which include among others computer companies, multi-national corporations and the nation state, will, of course, encourage the losers to be enthusiastic about computer technology. That is the way of winners, and so in the beginning they told the losers that with personal computers the average person can balance a checkbook more neatly, keep better track of recipes, and make more logical shopping lists. Then they told them that computers will make it possible to vote at home, shop at home, get all the entertainment they wish at home, and thus make community life unnecessary. And now, of course, the winners speak constantly of the Age of Information, always implying that the more information we have, the better we will be in solving significant problems–not only personal ones but large-scale social problems, as well. But how true is this? If there are children starving in the world–and there are–it is not because of insufficient information. We have known for a long time how to produce enough food to feed every child on the planet. How is it that we let so many of them starve? If there is violence on our streets, it is not because we have insufficient information. If women are abused, if divorce and pornography and mental illness are increasing, none of it has anything to do with insufficient information. I dare say it is because something else is missing, and I don’t think I have to tell this audience what it is. Who knows? This age of information may turn out to be a curse if we are blinded by it so that we cannot see truly where our problems lie. That is why it is always necessary for us to ask of those who speak enthusiastically of computer technology, why do you do this? What interests do you represent? To whom are you hoping to give power? From whom will you be withholding power?

I do not mean to attribute unsavory, let alone sinister motives to anyone. I say only that since technology favors some people and harms others, these are questions that must always be asked. And so, that there are always winners and losers in technological change is the second idea.

Third Idea

Here is the third. Embedded in every technology there is a powerful idea, sometimes two or three powerful ideas. These ideas are often hidden from our view because they are of a somewhat abstract nature. But this should not be taken to mean that they do not have practical consequences.

Perhaps you are familiar with the old adage that says: To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. We may extend that truism: To a person with a pencil, everything looks like a sentence. To a person with a TV camera, everything looks like an image. To a person with a computer, everything looks like data. I do not think we need to take these aphorisms literally. But what they call to our attention is that every technology has a prejudice. Like language itself, it predisposes us to favor and value certain perspectives and accomplishments. In a culture without writing, human memory is of the greatest importance, as are the proverbs, sayings and songs which contain the accumulated oral wisdom of centuries. That is why Solomon was thought to be the wisest of men. In Kings I we are told he knew 3,000 proverbs. But in a culture with writing, such feats of memory are considered a waste of time, and proverbs are merely irrelevant fancies. The writing person favors logical organization and systematic analysis, not proverbs. The telegraphic person values speed, not introspection. The television person values immediacy, not history. And computer people, what shall we say of them? Perhaps we can say that the computer person values information, not knowledge, certainly not wisdom. Indeed, in the computer age, the concept of wisdom may vanish altogether.

The third idea, then, is that every technology has a philosophy which is given expression in how the technology makes people use their minds, in what it makes us do with our bodies, in how it codifies the world, in which of our senses it amplifies, in which of our emotional and intellectual tendencies it disregards. This idea is the sum and substance of what the great Catholic prophet, Marshall McLuhan meant when he coined the famous sentence, “The medium is the message.”

Fourth Idea

Here is the fourth idea: Technological change is not additive; it is ecological. I can explain this best by an analogy. What happens if we place a drop of red dye into a beaker of clear water? Do we have clear water plus a spot of red dye? Obviously not. We have a new coloration to every molecule of water. That is what I mean by ecological change. A new medium does not add something; it changes everything. In the year 1500, after the printing press was invented, you did not have old Europe plus the printing press. You had a different Europe. After television, America was not America plus television. Television gave a new coloration to every political campaign, to every home, to every school, to every church, to every industry, and so on.

That is why we must be cautious about technological innovation. The consequences of technological change are always vast, often unpredictable and largely irreversible. That is also why we must be suspicious of capitalists. Capitalists are by definition not only personal risk takers but, more to the point, cultural risk takers. The most creative and daring of them hope to exploit new technologies to the fullest, and do not much care what traditions are overthrown in the process or whether or not a culture is prepared to function without such traditions. Capitalists are, in a word, radicals. In America, our most significant radicals have always been capitalists–men like Bell, Edison, Ford, Carnegie, Sarnoff, Goldwyn. These men obliterated the 19th century, and created the 20th, which is why it is a mystery to me that capitalists are thought to be conservative. Perhaps it is because they are inclined to wear dark suits and grey ties.

I trust you understand that in saying all this, I am making no argument for socialism. I say only that capitalists need to be carefully watched and disciplined. To be sure, they talk of family, marriage, piety, and honor but if allowed to exploit new technology to its fullest economic potential, they may undo the institutions that make such ideas possible. And here I might just give two examples of this point, taken from the American encounter with technology. The first concerns education. Who, we may ask, has had the greatest impact on American education in this century? If you are thinking of John Dewey or any other education philosopher, I must say you are quite wrong. The greatest impact has been made by quiet men in grey suits in a suburb of New York City called Princeton, New Jersey. There, they developed and promoted the technology known as the standardized test, such as IQ tests, the SATs and the GREs. Their tests redefined what we mean by learning, and have resulted in our reorganizing the curriculum to accommodate the tests.

A second example concerns our politics. It is clear by now that the people who have had the most radical effect on American politics in our time are not political ideologues or student protesters with long hair and copies of Karl Marx under their arms. The radicals who have changed the nature of politics in America are entrepreneurs in dark suits and grey ties who manage the large television industry in America. They did not mean to turn political discourse into a form of entertainment. They did not mean to make it impossible for an overweight person to run for high political office. They did not mean to reduce political campaigning to a 30-second TV commercial. All they were trying to do is to make television into a vast and unsleeping money machine. That they destroyed substantive political discourse in the process does not concern them.

Fifth Idea

I come now to the fifth and final idea, which is that media tend to become mythic. I use this word in the sense in which it was used by the French literary critic, Roland Barthes. He used the word “myth” to refer to a common tendency to think of our technological creations as if they were God-given, as if they were a part of the natural order of things. I have on occasion asked my students if they know when the alphabet was invented. The question astonishes them. It is as if I asked them when clouds and trees were invented. The alphabet, they believe, was not something that was invented. It just is. It is this way with many products of human culture but with none more consistently than technology. Cars, planes, TV, movies, newspapers–they have achieved mythic status because they are perceived as gifts of nature, not as artifacts produced in a specific political and historical context.

When a technology become mythic, it is always dangerous because it is then accepted as it is, and is therefore not easily susceptible to modification or control. If you should propose to the average American that television broadcasting should not begin until 5 PM and should cease at 11 PM, or propose that there should be no television commercials, he will think the idea ridiculous. But not because he disagrees with your cultural agenda. He will think it ridiculous because he assumes you are proposing that something in nature be changed; as if you are suggesting that the sun should rise at 10 AM instead of at 6.

Whenever I think about the capacity of technology to become mythic, I call to mind the remark made by Pope John Paul II. He said, “Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes.”

What I am saying is that our enthusiasm for technology can turn into a form of idolatry and our belief in its beneficence can be a false absolute. The best way to view technology is as a strange intruder, to remember that technology is not part of God’s plan but a product of human creativity and hubris, and that its capacity for good or evil rests entirely on human awareness of what it does for us and to us.

Conclusion

And so, these are my five ideas about technological change. First, that we always pay a price for technology; the greater the technology, the greater the price. Second, that there are always winners and losers, and that the winners always try to persuade the losers that they are really winners. Third, that there is embedded in every great technology an epistemological, political or social prejudice. Sometimes that bias is greatly to our advantage. Sometimes it is not. The printing press annihilated the oral tradition; telegraphy annihilated space; television has humiliated the word; the computer, perhaps, will degrade community life. And so on. Fourth, technological change is not additive; it is ecological, which means, it changes everything and is, therefore, too important to be left entirely in the hands of Bill Gates. And fifth, technology tends to become mythic; that is, perceived as part of the natural order of things, and therefore tends to control more of our lives than is good for us.

If we had more time, I could supply some additional important things about technological change but I will stand by these for the moment, and will close with this thought. In the past, we experienced technological change in the manner of sleep-walkers. Our unspoken slogan has been “technology über alles,” and we have been willing to shape our lives to fit the requirements of technology, not the requirements of culture. This is a form of stupidity, especially in an age of vast technological change. We need to proceed with our eyes wide open so that we many use technology rather than be used by it.

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This article was copied from the following page: https://www.student.cs.uwaterloo.ca/~cs492/papers/neil-postman–five-things.html

On Defective Individuals and Sick Societies — an excerpt from Erich Fromm’s book “The Sane Society”

Tonight I will be transcribing from Erich Fromm’s book The Sane Society (1955), beginning with Chapter 2, titled “Can a Society Be Sick?—The Pathology of Normalcy,” beginning on page 21:

To speak of a whole society as lacking in mental health implies a controversial assumption contrary to the position of sociological relativism held by most social scientists today. They postulate that each society is normal inasmuch as it functions, and that pathology can be defined only in terms of the individual’s lack of adjustment to the ways of life in his society.

To speak of a “sane society” implies a premise different from sociological relativism. It makes sense only if we assume that there can be a society which is not sane, and this assumption, in turn, implies that there are universal criteria for mental health which are valid for the human race as such, and according to which the state of health of each society can be judged. This position of normative humanism is based on a few fundamental premises.

The species “man” can be defined not only in anatomical and physiological terms; its members share basic psychic qualities, the laws which govern their mental and emotional functioning, and the aims for a satisfactory solution of the problem of human existence. It is true that our knowledge of man is still so incomplete that we cannot yet give a satisfactory definition of man in a psychological sense. It is the task of the “science of man” to arrive eventually at a correct description of what deserves to be called human nature. What has often been called “human nature” is but one of its many manifestations—and often a pathological one—and the function of such mistaken definition usually has been to defend a particular type of society as being the necessary outcome of man’s mental constitution.

Against such reactionary use of the concept of human nature, the Liberals, since the eighteenth century, have stressed the malleability of human nature and the decisive influence of environmental factors. True and important as such emphasis is, it has led many social scientists to an assumption that man’s mental constitution is a blank piece of paper, on which society and culture write their text, and which has no intrinsic quality of its own. This assumption is just as untenable and just as destructive of social progress as the opposite view was. The real problem is to infer the core common to the whole human race from the innumerable manifestations of human nature, the normal as well as the pathological ones, as we  can observe them in different individuals and cultures. The task is furthermore to recognize the laws inherent in human nature and the inherent goals for its development and unfolding.

This concept of human nature is different from the way the term “human nature” is used conventionally. Just as man transforms the world around him, so he transforms himself in the process of history. He is his own creation, as it were. But just as he can only transform and modify the natural materials around him according to their nature, so he can only transform and modify himself according to his own nature. What man does in the process of history is to develop this potential, and to transform it according to its own possibilities. The point of view taken here is neither a “biological” nor a “sociological” one if that would mean separating these two aspects from each other. It is rather one transcending such dichotomy by the assumption that the main passions and drives in man result from the total existence of man, that they are definite and ascertainable, some of them conducive to health and happiness, others to sickness and unhappiness. Any given social order does not create these fundamental strivings but it determines which of the limited number of potential passions are to become manifest or dominant. Man as he appears in any given culture is always a manifestation of human nature, a manifestation, however, which in its specific outcome is determined by the social arrangements under which he lives. Just as the infant is born with all human potentialities which are to develop under favorable social and cultural conditions, so the human race, in the process of history, develops into what it potentially is.

The approach of normative humanism is based on the assumption that, as in any other problem, there are right and wrong, satisfactory and unsatisfactory solutions to the problem of human existence. Mental health is achieved if man develops into full maturity according to the characteristics and laws of human nature. Mental illness consists in the failure of such development. From this premise the criterion of mental health is not one of individual adjustment to a given social order, but a universal one, valid for all men, of giving a satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence.

What is so deceptive about the state of mind of the members of a society is the “consensual validation” of their concepts. It is naively assumed that the fact that the majority of people share certain ideas or feelings proves the validity of these ideas and feelings. Nothing is further from the truth. Consensual validation as such has no bearing whatsoever on reason or mental health. Just as there is a “folie à deux” there is a “folie à millions.” The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues, the fact that they share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths, and the fact that millions of people share the same forms of mental pathology does not make these people sane.

There is, however, an important difference between individual and social mental illness, which suggests a differentiation between two concepts: that of defect, and that of neurosis. If a person fails to attain freedom, spontaneity, a genuine expression of self, he may be considered to have a severe defect, provided we assume that freedom and spontaneity are the objective goals to be attained by every human being. If such a goal is not attained by the majority of members of any given society, we deal with the phenomenon of socially patterned defect. The individual shares it with many others; he is not aware of it as a defect, and his security is not threatened by the experience of being different, of being an outcast, as it were. What he may have lost in richness and in a genuine feeling of happiness, is made up by the security of fitting in with the rest of mankind—as he knows them. As a matter of fact, his very defect may have been raised to a virtue by his culture, and thus may give him an enhanced feeling of achievement.

An illustration is the feeling of guilt and anxiety which Calvin’s doctrines aroused in men. It may be said that the person who is overwhelmed by a feeling of his own powerlessness and unworthiness, by unceasing doubt as to whether he is saved or condemned to eternal punishment, who is hardly capable of genuine joy, suffers from a severe defect. Yet this very defect was culturally patterned; it was looked upon as particularly valuable, and the individual was thus protected from the neurosis which he would have acquired in a culture where the same defect gave him a feeling of profound inadequacy and isolation.

Spinoza formulated the problem of the socially patterned defect very clearly. He says: “Many people are seized by one and the same affect with great consistency. All his senses are so strongly affected by one object that he believes this object to be present even if it is not. If this happens while the person is awake, the person is believed to be insane. . . . But if the greedy person thinks only of money and possessions, the ambitious one only of fame, one does not think of them as being insane, but only as annoying; generally one has contempt for them. But factually greediness, ambition, and so forth are forms of insanity, although usually one does not think of them as illness.”

These words were written a few hundred years ago; they still hold true, although the defects have been culturally patterned to such an extent now that they are not even generally thought any more to be annoying or contemptible. Today we come across a person who acts and feels like an automaton; who never experiences anything which is really his; who experiences himself entirely as the person he thinks he is supposed to be; whose artificial smile has replaced genuine laughter; whose meaningless chatter has replaced communicative speech; whose dulled despair has taken the place of genuine pain. Two statements can be made about this person. One is that he suffers from a defect of spontaneity and individuality which may seem incurable. At the same time, it may be said that he does not differ essentially from millions of others who are in the same position. For most of them, the culture provides patterns which enable them to live with a defect without becoming ill. It is as if each culture provided the remedy against the outbreak of manifest neurotic symptoms which would result from the defect produced by it.

Suppose that in our Western culture movies, radios, television, sports events and newspapers ceased to function for only four weeks. With these main avenues of escape closed, what would be the consequences for people thrown back upon their own resources? I have no doubt that even in this short time thousands of nervous breakdowns would occur, and many more thousands of people would be thrown into a state of acute anxiety, not different from the picture which is diagnosed clinically as “neurosis.” If the opiate against the socially patterned defect were withdrawn, the manifest illness would make its appearance.

For a minority, the pattern provided by the culture does not work. They are often those whose individual defect is more severe than that of the average person, so that the culturally offered remedies are not sufficient to prevent the outbreak of manifest illness. (A case in point is the person whose aim in life is to attain power and fame. While this aim is, in itself, a pathological one, there is nevertheless a difference between the person who uses his powers to attain this aim realistically, and the more severely sick one who has so little emerged from his infantile grandiosity that he does not do anything toward the attainment of his goal but waits for a miracle to happen and, thus feeling more and more powerless, ends up in a feeling of futility and bitterness.) But there are also those whose character structure, and hence whose conflicts, differ from those of the majority, so that the remedies which are effective for most of their fellow men are of no help to them. Among this group we sometimes find people of greater integrity and sensitivity than the majority, who for this very reason are incapable of accepting the cultural opiate, while at the same time they are not strong and healthy enough to live soundly “against the stream.”

The foregoing discussion on the difference between neurosis and the socially patterned defect may give the impression that if society only provides the remedies against the outbreak of manifest symptoms, all goes well, and it can continue to function smoothly, however great the defects created by it. History shows us, however, that this is not the case.

It is true indeed that man, in contrast to the animal, shows an almost infinite malleability; just as he can eat almost anything, live under practically any kind of climate and adjust himself to it, there is hardly any psychic condition which he cannot endure, and under which he cannot carry on. He can live free, and as a slave. Rich and in luxury, and under conditions of half-starvation. He can live as a warrior, and peaceably; as an exploiter and robber, and as a member of a co-operating and loving fellowship. There is hardly a psychic state in which man cannot live, and hardly anything which cannot be done with him, and for which he cannot be used. All these considerations seem to justify the assumption that there is no such thing as a nature common to all men, and that would mean in fact that there is no such thing as a species “man,” except in a physiological and anatomical sense.

Yet, in spite of all this evidence. the history of man shows that we have omitted one fact. Despots and ruling cliques can succeed in dominating and exploiting their fellow man, but they cannot prevent reactions to this inhuman treatment. Their subjects become frightened, suspicious, lonely and, if not due to external reasons, their systems collapse at some point because fears, suspicions and loneliness eventually incapacitate the majority to function effectively and intelligently. Whole nations, or social groups within them, can be subjugated and exploited for a long time, but they react. They react with apathy or such impairment of intelligence, initiative and skills that they gradually fail to perform the functions which should serve their rulers. Or they react by the accumulation of such hate and destructiveness as to bring about an end to themselves, their rulers and their system. Again their reaction may create such independence and longing for freedom that a better society is built upon their creative impulses. Which reaction occurs, depends on many factors: on economic and political ones, and on the spiritual climate in which people live. But whatever the reactions are, the statement that man can live under almost any condition is only half true; it must be supplemented by the other statement, that if he lives under conditions which are contrary to his nature and to the basic requirements for human growth and sanity, he cannot help reacting; he must either deteriorate and perish, or bring about conditions which are more in accordance with his needs.

That human nature and society can have conflicting demands, and hence that a whole society can be sick, is an assumption which was made very explicitly by Freud, most extensively in his Civilizations and Its Discontents.

[Italicized emphases his; bolded emphases mine.]

That’s enough typing for one evening, leaving off on page 27.  (The rest of the chapter was transcribed later on and can be found here.)

Love = Respect, Care, Responsibility, Knowledge

Following is one of my favorite excerpts transcribed from Erich Fromm’s book The Art of Loving (1956).  Beginning on page 24:

It is hardly necessary to stress the fact that the ability to love as an act of giving depends on the character development of the person.  It presupposes the attainment of a predominantly productive orientation; in this orientation the person has overcome dependency, narcissistic omnipotence, the wish to exploit others, or to hoard, and has acquired faith in his own human powers, courage to rely on his powers in the attainment of his goals. To the degree that these qualities are lacking, he is afraid of giving himself—hence of loving.

Beyond the element of giving, the active character of love becomes evident in the fact that it always implies certain basic elements, common to all forms of love.  These are care, responsibility, respect and knowledge.

That love implies care is most evident in a mother’s love for her child.  No assurance of her love would strike us as sincere if we saw her lacking in care for the infant, if she neglected to feed it, to bathe it, to give it physical comfort; and we are impressed by her love if we see her caring for the child.  It is not different even with the love for animals or flowers.  If a woman told us that she loved flowers, and we saw that she forgot to water them, we would not believe in her “love” for flowers.  Love is the active concern for the life and the growth of that which we love.  Where this active concern is lacking, there is no love. This element of love has been beautifully described in the book of Jonah.  God has told Jonah to go to Nineveh to warn its inhabitants that they will be punished unless they mend their evil ways.  Jonah runs away from his mission because he is afraid that the people of Nineveh will repent and that God will forgive them.  He is a man with a strong sense of order and law, but without love.  However, in his attempt to escape, he finds himself in the belly of a whale, symbolizing the state of isolation and imprisonment which his lack of love and solidarity has brought upon him. God saves him, and Jonah goes to Nineveh.  He preaches to the inhabitants as God has told him, and the very thing he was afraid of happens.  The men of Nineveh repent their sins, mend their ways, and God forgives them and decides not to destroy the city.  Jonah is intensely angry and disappointed; he wanted “justice” to be done, not mercy.  At last he finds some comfort in the shade of a tree which God has made to grow for him to protect him from the sun.  But when God makes the tree wilt, Jonah is depressed and angrily complains to God.  God answers: “Thou hast had pity on the gourd for the which thou hast not labored neither madest grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night.  And should I not spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand people that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?”  God’s answer to Jonah is to be understood symbolically.  God explains to Jonah that the essence of love is to “labor” for something and “to make something grow,” that love and labors are inseparable.  One loves that for which one labors, and one labors for that which one loves.

Care and concern imply another aspect of love; that of responsibility.  Today responsibility is often meant to denote duty, something imposed upon one from the outside.  But responsibility, in its true sense, is an entirely voluntary act; it is my response to the needs, expressed or unexpressed, of another human being.  To be “responsible” means to be able and ready to “respond.”  Jonah did not feel responsible to the inhabitants of Nineveh.  He, like Cain, could ask: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  The loving person responds.  The life of his brother is not his brother’s business alone, but his own.  He feels responsible for his fellow men, as he feels responsible for himself.  This responsibility, in the case of the mother and her infant, refers mainly to the care for physical needs.  In the love between adults it refers mainly to the psychic needs of the other person.

Responsibility could easily deteriorate into domination and possessiveness, were it not for a third component of love, respect.  Respect is not fear and awe; it denotes, in accordance with the root of the word (respicere = to look at), the ability to see a person as he is, to be aware of his unique individuality.  Respect means the concern that the other person should grow and unfold as he is.  Respect, thus, implies the absence of exploitation.  I want the loved person to grow and unfold for his own sake, and in his own ways, and not for the purpose of serving me.  If I love the other person, I feel one with him or her, but with him as he is, not as I need him to be as an object for my use.  It is clear that respect is possible only if I have achieved independence; if I can stand and walk without needing crutches, without having to dominate and exploit anyone else.  Respect exists only on the basis of freedom: “l’amour est l’enfant de la liberté” as an old French song says; love is the child of freedom, never that of domination.

To respect a person is not possible without knowing him; care and responsibility would be blind if they were not guided by knowledge.  Knowledge would be empty if it were not motivated by concern.  There are many layers of knowledge; the knowledge which is an aspect of love is one which does not stay at the periphery, but penetrates to the core.  It is possible only when I can transcend the concern for myself and see the other person in his own terms.  I may know, for instance, that a person is angry, even if he does not show it overtly; but I may know him more deeply than that; then I know that he is anxious, and worried; that he feels lonely, that he feels guilty.  Then I know that his anger is only the manifestation of something deeper, and I see him as anxious and embarrassed, that is, as the suffering person, rather than as the angry one.

Knowledge has one more, and a more fundamental, relation to the problem of love.  The basic need to fuse with another person so as to transcend the prison of one’s separateness is closely related to another specifically human desire, that to know the “secret of man.”  While life in its merely biological aspects is a miracle and a secret, man in his human aspects is an unfathomable secret to himself—and to his fellow man.  We know ourselves, and yet even with all the efforts we may make, we do not know ourselves.  We know our fellow man, and yet we do not know him, because we are not a thing, and our fellow man is not a thing.  The further we reach into the depth of our being, or someone else’s being, the more the goal of knowledge eludes us.  Yet we cannot help desiring to penetrate into the secret of man’s soul, into the innermost nucleus which is “he.”

There is one way, a desperate one, to know the secret: it is that of complete power over another person; the power which makes him do what we want, feel what we want, think what we want; which transforms him into a thing, our thing, our possession.  The ultimate degree of this attempt to know lies in the extremes of sadism, the desire and ability to make a human being suffer; to torture him, to force him to betray man’s secret in his suffering.  In this craving for penetrating man’s secret, his and hence our own, lies an essential motivation for the depth and intensity of cruelty and destructiveness.  In a very succinct way this idea has been expressed by Isaac Babel.  He quotes a fellow officer in the Russian civil war, who has just stamped his former master to death, as saying: “With shooting—I’ll put it this way—with shooting you only get rid of a chap. . . . With shooting you’ll never get at the soul, to where it is in a fellow and how it shows itself.  But I don’t spare myself, and I’ve more than once trampled an enemy for over an hour.  You see, I want to get to know what life really is, what life’s like down our way.”

In children we often see this path to knowledge quite overtly.  The child takes something apart, breaks it up in order to know it; or it takes an animal apart; cruelly tears off the wings of a butterfly in order to know it, to force its secret.  The cruelty itself is motivated by something deeper: the wish to know the secret of things and of life.

The other path to knowing “the secret” is love.  Love is active penetration of the other person, in which my desire to know know is stilled by union.  In the act of fusion I know you, I know myself, I know everybody—and I “know” nothing.  I know in the only way knowledge of that which is alive is possible for man—by experience of union—not by any knowledge our thought can give.  Sadism is motivated by the wish to know the secret, yet I remain as ignorant as I was before.  I have torn the other being apart limb from limb, yet all I have done is to destroy him.  Love is the only way of knowledge, which in the act of union answers my quest.  In the other person, I find myself, I discover myself, I discover us both, I discover man.

The longing to know ourselves and to know our fellow man has been expressed in the Delphic motto “Know thyself.”  It is the mainspring of all psychology.  But inasmuch as the desire is to know all of man, his innermost secret, the desire can never be fulfilled in knowledge of the ordinary kind, in knowledge only by thought.  Even if we knew a thousand times more of ourselves, we would never reach bottom.  We would still remain an enigma to ourselves, as our fellow man would remain an enigma to us.  The only way of full knowledge lies in the act of love: this act transcends thought, it transcends words.  It is the daring plunge into the experience of union.  However, knowledge in thought, that is psychological knowledge, is a necessary condition for full knowledge in the act of love.  I have to know the other person and myself objectively, in order to be able to see his reality, or rather, to overcome the illusions, the irrationally distorted picture I have of him.  Only if I know a human being objectively can I know him in his ultimate essence, in the act of love.

The problem of knowing man is parallel to the religious problem of knowing God.  In conventional Western theology the attempt is made to know God by thought, to make statements about God.  It is assumed that I can know God in my thought.  In mysticism, which is the consequent outcome of monotheism (as I shall try to show later on), the attempt is given up to know God by thought, and it is replaced by the experience of union with God in which there is no more room—and no need—for knowledge about God.

The experience of union, with man, or religiously speaking, with God, is by no means irrational.  On the contrary, it is as Albert Schweitzer has pointed out, the consequence of rationalism, its most daring and radical consequence.  It is based on our knowledge of the fundamental, and not accidental, limitations of our knowledge.  It is the knowledge that we shall never “grasp” the secret of man and of the universe, but that we can know, nevertheless, in the act of love.  Psychology as a science has its limitations, and, as the logical consequence of theology is mysticism, so the ultimate consequence of psychology is love.

Care, responsibility, respect and knowledge are mutually interdependent.  They are a syndrome of attitudes which are to be found in the mature person; that is, in the person who develops his own powers productively, who only wants to have that which he has worked for, who has given up narcissistic dreams of omniscience and omnipotence, who has acquired humility based on the inner strength which only genuine productivity can give.

[Bold emphasis mine.]

Stopping on page 30.

Feels important for me to return to this passage and re-read it from time to time.