“Albert Camus and the Absurd”

Another cool, relatively brief lecture from Dr. Gregory B. Sadler, “Philosophy Core Concepts: Albert Camus and the Absurd”:

Haven’t read anything from Camus yet, but his attitude expressed, from what I’ve gathered so far, sounds pretty similar to my own.

Because somehow, some way, it’s always fundamentally the fault of womankind…

Slept for a few hours and am now back up again. Gonna record a few thoughts here to pass the time until I feel like lying down again.

One thought that perennially bugs me has to do with double standards between the sexes. In this instance, I’m thinking about the double standards a good many males harbor in relation to females and how contradictory they tend to be. An obvious one I’ve grown up hearing and still find floating around online is the notion that females should treat sexuality in a different manner than males commonly are expected to. Some back this with biological claims, others with moral arguments, but always the idea is that we females should rightfully check our own sexual impulses in a way that isn’t typically required among males. To not do so is to be viewed as low in the eyes of plenty.

Another common double standard relates with alcohol consumption and hitting the bar-scene. For some reason this has been viewed as the domain of males and not something females ought to engage in to the same extent, lest that say something horrendous about our moral character. Though this double standard holds less sway over parts of the population nowadays.

What I find interesting about all of this is how the idea seems to be that we females have an obligation to check ourselves so as to provide contrast against male tendencies. But, at the same time, there’s also the belief that we females should rightfully follow where mankind leads. This creates a double-bind where, on one hand, the idea seems to be that we females can and should be held to higher “moral” standards than our male counterparts, though, on the other, we’re denigrated for not possessing more individual initiative to navigate life for ourselves on our own individual terms (i.e., we’re chided for being too prone toward following rather than leading ourselves). But if one leads herself though is influenced by the examples set by males she’s known and grown up around, that’s somehow wrong too. Almost as if when it comes to certain matters there’s this crazy idea that women (generally speaking) should be completely separate and different than males, going so far as to deny our own complex biological, hedonistic, and moral tendencies, in some sort of effort to set ourselves apart from males — presumably for the best for all involved. But is this not asking women to be more human than human as compared to males?

I realize this isn’t coming out as clearly as hoped. It just seems to me sometimes that males can harbor views that almost seek to set females apart as though we were somehow belonging to a separate species. At least to the extent that one idealizes such contrast between the sexes. And what purpose does this serve? Is this linked in with the idea that female nature is somehow supposed to ground and rein in male nature? Is that intended to suggest that when it comes to morality and impulse control, females are meant to lead?

Well, if that was the dream, it couldn’t be maintained, for a variety of reasons. One being that females aren’t raised anymore to see life in such a way, which I see as part of the breakdown of the human domestication project that’s been underway the last few thousands of years. For whatever reasons, that didn’t work out as people once hoped it might, and I don’t think there’s a way to force it back to being any which way. Nature, through the biological differences bestowed upon the sexes, was the original gatekeeper. And now we all live in a complex world of our own (human) creation, attempting to cast off the shackles naturally tethered to us. One could argue that this has led to moral failings for all of us, depending on what moral codes one subscribes to.

But I look back and see where women have tried to act as moral leaders and gatekeepers in contrast to males—as with ushering in the Prohibition Era in the early 20th century—and such attempts have roundly been criticized as overly restrictive and domineering and controlling. Perhaps rightfully so. Females still remain more inclined to follow and become actively involved in religions, and this too is criticized as we head into a secular future. And now we see where “traditional”-minded females are lambasted for accepting stricter and more dichotomous gender roles and viewed as little more than “parasites” leeching off a male host in that regard, even if her sole intent is to help raise a family according to what was once an esteemed social script.

Then we have the so-called “trollops” and “whores” and “bad girls” who buck such conventions and decide to go another way. boo_whoreThere too we see these females given grief for being “loose” of morals, despite there being no shortage of males willing to participate (though some of these same males otherwise like to snidely deride such actions, at least in terms of the female end). I’ve always viewed this as a strange situation. Like people want two contradictory things simultaneously and can’t make up their minds, and so they berate others endlessly no matter which way they might turn or how they might try to navigate in this life.

If you’re a woman with a career of your own and the ability to afford your own lifestyle without outside help, you’re labeled a “feminist” and chided for being in competition with males in the workforce. If you instead decide to play the “traditional” game and become the primary caretaker of children and the home, as mentioned above, you’re viewed as little more than a manipulative snake trying to get some sort of “free ride.” If you revel in your sexuality and aren’t afraid to explore it with others, you’re a “slut” and considered a problem, no matter how you might go about your exploration. However, if you’re into upholding your chastity and choose to be very selective over whom you grant sexual access to, once again you’re given a hard time for being a “cold fish” and “frigid” and a “prude” and basically dismissed as a killjoy (if not also considered a manipulative type who’s derogatorily denounced for being a “sexual gatekeeper”).

Can’t win for losing, so far as I can tell.

I get to thinking that this isn’t so much about females as it is about males and their own views on life and their own internal struggles with moral concepts. The contrast they seek is already naturally occurring, and yet they seem hell-bent on adding an artificial layer on top of that via restrictive gender roles. And yet it’s these very gender roles that they themselves have come to despise as well. They say they don’t want to go back to some sort of traditional setup, and yet they seem extremely uncomfortable with how the future is unfolding. What they seem to want and what they are capable of respecting appear to be in conflict on a fundamental level. And what use are standards projected onto the female that aren’t also embraced by oneself? If she does appear morally righteous in comparison, then he might try to cut her down; and if she is already deemed lower than him according to some standard set, he’s liable to bemoan her failings and treat that as an excuse for his own.

Wherever males lead, there are females who will follow them, whether heading down or up. That’s an obvious given. Simply standing around and projecting standards outwardly onto others doesn’t really change a thing, other than driving females more neurotic over time. We seem to always lose sight of how no human is an island unto ourselves and how our (sub-)cultural setup plays a major role in how we’re each socialized and what roles we wind up having access to and might more easily adopt. Times have changed. Technologies have overhauled all of reality as we humans know it. And yet we still play these strange blame games when it comes to sexual differences and similarities and this notion that it somehow must be kept separated, even after the levee’s already broken.

I don’t have any answers for us on this. Just pondering. We appear to be caught in a mental trap here. Women do not belong to a separate species and will not no matter how much one might wish that could be the case in terms of certain aspects that people wish were strictly divided between the sexes. The only divisions that ever naturally arose did so due to biological limitations and/or advantages, plus psychologies molded by the interplay between body and environment (including one’s culture). All else has been the product of human beings — our social constructs. Yet now we like to rail against these social constructs and our biological heritages, to boot. Well folks, we can’t have it every which way all at once, and a lot of what came before lies behind doors that have since been closed as humans traverse forward into Modern Life.

Maybe it’s a case of the grass always appearing greener on the other side. And maybe when men feel lost they have a tendency to berate women for ultimately being the cause of it (as became popular at least since the rise of Abrahamic religions). People do like to take out what they can on those whom they think they can get away with it. Not that it does any of us much good to stay stuck in the muck, flinging poo at one another and casting blame for a Trajectory everybody alive today was simply born into the latest stages of.

Not sure what to tell people, other than that you’ll likely wind up blamed no matter what you do. So, we each have little choice or reason to act in any way other than how we individually feel driven. But that then leads us back to another paradox where it turns out that following one’s own individual interests doesn’t automatically wind up benefiting the whole group. Guess it depends on one’s priorities, and that unavoidably will divvy up in countless ways across the human spectrum. I don’t honestly know what one could say about any of this going on today that might make a lick of difference to the outcome we’re all “progressing” toward. I see where hostilities are mounting and how aggression plays out as a result, and I recognize that love is an integral part of the answer to what ails us. But I can’t claim to know much beyond that right now.

[Lightly edited on 3/2/2015 for greater clarity]

“Why hierarchy creates a destructive force within the human psyche (by Dr. Robert Sapolsky)”

Another interesting video from Dr. Robert Sapolsky, this time on the topic of the baboons he observed and studied over the course of his career and how their hierarchy was undermined and changed:

Very cool stuff to think about. Are we needing to figure out a way to get the top assholes among humans to go eat from a toxic garbage heap too?  ha

“Robert Sapolsky Interview: Toxoplasmosis” (a.k.a. how cats may influence human evolution)

Fascinating stuff! Gotta love Dr. Robert Sapolsky and the information he brings to the public’s attention.

Had to re-watch this video a second time today. I’ve been saying for a while now that somehow, some way, cats are involved in influencing human evolution. Swear to God. LOL The reason being that I spend a lot of time with animals and have long wondered what is the draw so many of us have toward cats in particular, especially considering how few of them fulfill any useful job (as in the way dogs historically did and some still do) AND at the same time cats are prone toward behaving like assholes toward us. Haha  We know it’s true. How many times have we asked ourselves if we “cat people” are just masochistic underneath it all? Because dealing with enough cats over time truly does lead one to asking themselves this.

Think about how cats are natured and how many of them behave in a very entitled way as if that’s just intrinsic to their being. That tells me they’ve been getting away with a lot in their dealings with humans for a very long time to where expectations have been sown into the arrangement. And those expectations are oftentimes one-sided where we provide for their needs while they snobbishly critique our efforts.  haha  That may sound hilarious, but look into how many books have been written on the subject. This is not simply a product of my own ponderings, and I’m also informed by a lifetime of experiences with countless cats, most especially since I’ve taken up working directly with people’s pets within the last decade.

None of this is to suggest I don’t like cats. Actually I like them quite a bit and have come to prefer their company over dogs’ more and more over time. Nearly always I have a cat living with me, as is the case now as well. From what I gather in observing these animals, both those felines kept indoors as pets and those living outside as ferals, they are remarkably finicky and prone to irritation.  lol  And lately I’ve gotten to thinking that they pity us, by-and-large, and yet they remain tied in due to depending on us to support them. Even strays who can hunt often seek out humans to provide food for them, and if a human regularly does so, it’s not uncommon that the stray will simply cease hunting for themselves. This is where they get a reputation for being notoriously lazy — this along with sleeping 18 hours a day.  lol  And what has allowed for them to have such lazy lifestyles that seem so deeply ingrained in them? Historical reliance on humans appears to be the answer. And yet why do humans put up with furry little critters whose aim is to have their every need and wish provided for them by us, without normally feeling much need to reciprocate except where we mutually benefit (as in letting us pet them, which reduces our stress levels while providing them comfort and pleasure)? That’s the mystery, and that’s why we wonder if we’re masochists.  ha

Do they actually need us? They like to think they don’t, but they gravitate toward us and pull at our heartstrings to share our bounty with them. Let them move in and they begin calling the shots and often refuse training or observance of simple rules like staying off the countertops. Some believe cats are incapable of being trained, though the rare exceptions seem to contradict this or at least give us reason to pause and wonder about their true capacity.

And remember that video that went viral a few months back of a cat attacking a dog who ran over and bit the little boy of the cat’s household? Plenty of us were shocked, and some took it as proof that cats do indeed care about us. I consider it more of a territorial dispute myself. lol  But there was also another video of a lady and her little boy where some sort of glass was broken and the boy began crying, so one of the cats came in and began menacing the mother. What was that about? Who knows? Maybe some cats really do feel protective over us. The majority, though, seem more prone toward responding to protect their own selves or to seek out our protection. Mine is a scaredy cat who high-tails it under the bed anytime she hears anything that spooks her. She’s never shown any protective behavior in that regard. But she has shown jealous and guarded behavior, as when my former partner would stop over for dinner and she’d bite or swipe at me if he was petting her and I moved too close to him.  lol  Even though I purchase all her food, fill her water bowls daily, scoop her litter, and pay rent for apartments that have provided us shelter since the day I brought her home from the humane society, she’s fully willing to forsake me when someone else comes along who’s more fun or interesting to be around.  hahaha  And I’d be willing to bet that’s not uncommon for a lot of cats.

Anyway, now we have a possible reason for why we’re linked with cats the way we are. Toxoplasma in their urine may attract us toward them.  Ha!  And this unique parasite has a way of overriding our senses so that we’ll behave in ways that aren’t truly in our own best interests. Go figure! I knew something like that was bound to be the culprit, especially for those who are obsessed with cats and let them rule their lives (yes, I know of a number of these types of people, both male and female). That’s really interesting when you take time to deeply think about it. We’re aware of human connections with cats since at least the ancient Egyptian era when cats were worshiped, and the joke goes that cats still expect to be worshiped ever since. Maybe, as this video suggests, this biological link has been present all along. In a sense, this has allowed cats themselves to behave parasitically toward humans since so many of us remain enamored with them regardless of what they do to us or our homes.

I’ll admit that I’m not as smitten with cats as some folks obviously are. I’m routinely shocked when I learn of people who tolerate their cats pissing on their beds to express dissatisfaction with something they’ve done or failed to do. The last cat who acted a fool relentlessly toward me had to find a new place to live, and he’s since been residing with my close guyfriend down the street who has far more patience for feline shenanigans. My current kitty is very demanding, albeit schizoid, when it comes to showing her affection, rapidly oscillating between persistently pressing to be petted and then biting once she’s had her fill. It’s annoying as hell, but she’s clean and doesn’t have accidents outside of the litter box, so we make it work. And I hope to continue making it work for her whole life, despite her waking me up repeatedly at night, demanding to be let under the covers, then kicking up a storm when she’s ready to be let out, only to repeat the cycle an hour or so later. ha  She’s a pain in the rear, no question, but she’s better than most, and I do love her despite feeling like her whipping mule and knowing she’d trade me in in a heartbeat if she was offered a sweeter deal.

cat_retard  That’s goofy, isn’t it?  LOL!  We’re nuts. BUT, now we might know WHY that is.

The biological world remains largely a mystery where we’ve uncovered just the tip of that iceberg, particularly when we get down to the micro level and all the chemicals involved. Life is utterly fascinating when we really dig in and examine its complexity. Dr. Sapolsky is right that uncovering information like this does tend to poke a hole in our idea of free will and personal autonomy when we learn how much can and does have an impact on us, whether we realize it or not. And humans have always been impacted to varying degrees by all sorts of plants and animals and elements that had a huge effect on how we’ve developed and evolved. Brings to mind Michael Pollan’s book Botany of Desire (also been made into a film) that focused just on 4 plants, one of which was marijuana and how human brains have developed to be especially receptive to the chemicals present in that plant. This raises the question of who or what actually domesticated whom, and the answers seem to run in both/all directions. Just amazing stuff to ponder and speculate on, all the way around.

On heroism and seeking meaning in life (an excerpt from Ernest Becker’s book “Escape From Evil”)

Another excerpt from Ernest Becker’s book Escape From Evil (1975), beginning on page 149:

So we see that as an organism man is fated to perpetuate himself and as a conscious organism he is fated to identify evil as the threat to that perpetuation. In the same way, he is driven to individuate himself as an organism, to develop his own peculiar talents and personality. And what, then, would be the highest development and use of those talents? To contribute to the struggle against evil, of course. In other words, man is fated, as William James saw, to consider this earth as a theater for heroism, and his life as a vehicle for heroic acts which aim precisely to transcend evil. Each person wants to have his life make a difference in the life of mankind, contribute in some way toward securing and furthering that life, make it in some ways less vulnerable, more durable. To be a true hero is to triumph over disease, want, death. One knows that his life has had vital human meaning if it has been able to bring real benefits to the life of mankind. And so men have always honored their heroes, especially in religion, medicine, science, diplomacy, and war. Here is where heroism has been most easily identifiable. From Constantine and Christ to Churchill and De Gaulle, men have called their heroes “saviors” in the literal sense: those who have delivered them from the evil of the termination of life, either of their own immediate lives or of the duration of their people. Even more, by his own death the hero secures the lives of others, and so the greatest heroic sacrifice, as Frazer taught us, is the sacrifice of the god for his people. We see this in Oedipus at Colonus, in Christ, and today in the embalmed Lenin. The giants died to secure mankind; by their blood we are saved. It is almost pathetically logical how man the supremely vulnerable animal developed the cult of the heroic.

But if we add together the logic of the heroic with the necessary fetishization of evil, we get a formula that is no longer pathetic but terrifying. It explains almost all by itself why man, of all animals, has caused the most devastation on earth—the most real evil. He struggles extra hard to be immune to death because he alone is conscious of it; but by being able to identify and isolate evil arbitrarily, he is capable of lashing out in all directions against imagined dangers of this world. This means that in order to live he is capable of bringing a large part of the world down around his shoulders. History is just such a testimonial to the frightening costs of heroism. The hero is the one who can go out and get added powers by killing an enemy and taking his talismans or his scalp or eating his heart. He becomes a walking repository of accrued powers. Animals can only take in food for power; man can literally take in the trinkets and bodies of his whole world. Furthermore, the hero proves his power by winning in battle; he shows that he is favored by the gods. Also, he can appease the gods by offering to them the sacrifice of the stranger. The hero is, then, the one who accrues power by his acts, and who placates invisible powers by his expiations. He kills those who threaten his group, he incorporates their powers to further protect his group, he sacrifices others to gain immunity for his group. In a word, he becomes a savior through blood. From the head-hunting and charm-hunting of the primitives to the holocausts of Hitler, the dynamic is the same: the heroic victory over evil by a traffic in pure power. And the aim is the same: purity, goodness, righteousness—immunity. Hitler Youth were recruited on the basis of idealism; the nice boy next door is the one who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima; the idealistic communist is the one who sided with Stalin against his former comrades: kill to protect the heroic revolution, to assure the victory over evil. As Dostoevsky saw, killing is sometimes distasteful, but the distaste is swallowed if it is necessary to true heroism: as one of the revolutionaries asked Pyotr Verhovensky in The Possessed, when they were about to kill one of their number, “Are other groups also doing this?” In other words, is it the socially heroic thing to do, or are we being arbitrary about identifying evil? Each person wants his life to be a marker for good as his group identifies it. Men work their programs of heroism according to the standard cultural scenarios, from Pontius Pilate through Eichmann and Calley. It is as Hegel long ago said: men cause evil out of good intentions, not out of wicked ones. Men cause evil by wanting heroically to triumph over it, because man is a frightened animal who tries to triumph, an animal who will not admit his own insignificance, that he cannot perpetuate himself and his group forever, that no one is invulnerable no matter how much of the blood of others is spilled to try to demonstrate it.

Another way of summing up this whole matter is to contrast Hegel’s view of evil out of good intentions with Freud’s view, which was very specifically focused on evil motives. Freud saw evil as a fatality for man, forever locked in the human breast. This is what gave Freud such a dim view of the future of man. Many eyes looked to a man of his greatness for a prophecy on human possibilities, but he refused to pose as the magician-seer and give men the false comfort of prediction. As he put it in a late writing:

I have not the courage to rise up before my fellow-men as a prophet, and I bow to their reproach that I can offer them no consolation. . . .

This is a heavy confession by one of history’s greatest students of men; but I am citing it not for its honesty or humility, but because of the reason for its pathos. The future of man was problematic for Freud because of the instincts that have driven man and will supposedly always drive him. As he put it, right after the above admission and at the very end of his book:

The fateful question for the human species seems to me to be whether and to what extent [it] . . . will succeed in mastering . . . the human instinct of aggression and self-destruction.

The most that men can seem to do is to put a veneer of civilization and reason over this instinct; but the problem of evil is “born afresh with every child,” as Freud wrote three years earlier, in 1927, and it takes the form of precise instinctual wishes—incest, lust for killing, cannibalism. This was man’s repugnant heritage, a heritage that he seems forever destined to work upon the world. Kant’s famous observation on man was now not merely a philosophical aphorism but a scientific judgment: “From the crooked wood of which man is made, nothing quite straight can be built.”

Yet today we know that Freud was wrong about evil. Man is a crooked wood all right, but not in the way that Freud thought. This is a crucial difference because it means that we do not have to follow Freud on the exact grounds of his feelings for the problematic of the human future. If, instead, we follow Rank and the general science of man, we get a quite different picture of the oldest “instinctual wishes.” Incest is an immortality motive, it symbolizes the idea of self-fertilization, as Jung has so well written—the defeat of biology and the fatality of species propagation. For the child in the family it may be an identity motive, a way of immediately becoming an individual and stepping out of the collective role of obedient child by breaking up the family ideology, as Rank so brilliantly argued. Historically, the brother-sister marriage of ancient kings like the Pharaohs must have been a way of preserving and increasing the precious mana power that the king possessed. Cannibalism, it is true, has often been motivated by sheer appetite for meat, the pleasures of incorporation of a purely sensual kind, quite free of any spiritual overtones. But as just noted, much of the time the motive is one of mana power. Which largely explains why cannibalism becomes uniformly repugnant to men when the spirit-power beliefs that sustained it are left behind; if it were a matter of instinctual appetite, it would be more tenacious. And as for the lust of killing, this too, we now know, is largely a psychological problem; it is not primarily a matter of the satisfaction of vicious animal aggression. We know that men often kill with appetite and excitement, as well as real dedication, but this is only logical for animals who are born hunters and who enjoy the feeling of maximizing their organismic powers at the expense of a trapped and helpless prey.

This much evolution and some million years of prehistory may have given us; but to talk about satisfying one’s appetites for purity and heroism with a certain relish and style is not to say that this relish is itself the motive for the appetite. Freud thought it was man’s appetite that undid him, but actually it is his animal limitation as we now understand it. The tragedy of evolution is that it created a limited animal with unlimited horizons. Man is the only animal that is not armed with the natural instinctive mechanisms or programming for shrinking his world down to a size that he can automatically act on. This means that men have to artificially and arbitrarily restrict their intake of experience and focus their output of decisive action. Men have to keep from going mad by biting off small pieces of reality which they can get some command over and some organismic satisfaction from. This means that their noblest passions are played out in the most narrow and unreflective ways, and this is what undoes them. From this point of view the main problematic for the future of man has to be expressed in the following paradox: Man is an animal who must fetishize in order to survive and to have “normal mental health.” But this shrinkage of vision that permits him to survive also at the same time prevents him from having the overall understanding he needs to plan for and control the effects of his shrinkage of experience. A paradox this bitter sends a chill through all reflective men. If Freud’s famous “fateful question for the human species” was not exactly the right one, the paradox is no less fateful. It seems that the experiment of man may well prove to be an evolutionary dead end, an impossible animal—one who, individually, needs for healthy action the very conduct that, on a general level, is destructive to him. It is maddeningly perverse. And even if we bring Freud’s views on evil into line with Hegel’s, there is no way of denying that Freud’s pessimism about the future is just as securely based as if man did actually have evil motives.

But it does influence the whole perspective on history, which I am sketching here. History and its incredible tragedy and drivenness then become a record of understandable folly. It is the career of a frightened animal who must lie in order to live—or, better, in order to live the distinctive style that his nature fits him for. The thing that feeds the great destructiveness of history is that men give their entire allegiance to their own group; and each group is a codified hero system. Which is another way of saying that societies are standardized systems of death denial; they give structure to the formulas for heroic transcendence. History can then be looked at as a succession of immortality ideologies. We can ask about any epoch, What are the social forms of heroism available? And we can take a sweep over history and see how these forms vary and how they animate each epoch. For primitive man, who practiced the ritual renewal of nature, each person could be a cosmic hero of a quite definite kind: he could contribute with his powers and observances to the replenishment of cosmic life. Gradually, as societies became more complex and differentiated into classes, cosmic heroism became the property of special classes like divine kings and the military, who were charged with the renewal of nature and the protection of the group by means of their own special powers. And so the situation developed where men could be heroic only by following orders. Men had given the mandate of power and expiation to their leader-heroes, and so salvation had to be mediated to them by these figures. In a primitive hunting band or a tribe the leader cannot compel anyone to go to war; in the kingship and the state the subjects have no choice. They now serve in warfare heroism for the divine king who provides his own power in victory and bathes the survivors in it. With the rise of money coinage one could be a money hero and privately protect himself and his offspring by the accumulation of visible gold-power. With Christianity something new came into the world: the heroism of renunciation of this world and the satisfactions of this life, which is why the pagans thought Christianity was crazy. It was a sort of antiheroism by an animal who denied life in order to deny evil. Buddhism did the same thing even more extremely, denying all possible worlds. In modern times, with the Enlightenment, began again a new paganism of the exploitation and enjoyment of earthly life, partly as a reaction against Christian renunciation of the world. Now a new type of productive and scientific hero came into prominence, and we are still living this today. More cars produced by Detroit, higher stock-market prices, more profits, more goods moving—all this equals more heroism. And with the French Revolution another type of modern hero was codified: the revolutionary hero who will bring an end to injustice and evil once and for all, by bringing into being a new utopian society perfect in its purity.

Psychology

This is hardly a complete catalogue of culturally codified heroics, but it is a good representation of the ideologies that have taken such a toll of life; in each of the above examples masses of human lives have been piled up in order for the cultural transcendence to be achieved. And there is nothing “perverse” about it because it represents the expression of the fullest expansive life of the heroic animal. We can talk for a century about what causes human aggression; we can try to find the springs in animal instincts, or we can try to find them in bottled-up hatreds due to frustration or in some kind of miscarried experiences of early years, of poor child handling and training. All these would be true, but still trivial because men kill out of joy, in the experience of expansive transcendence over evil. This poses an immense problem for social theory, a problem that we have utterly failed to be clear about. If men kill out of heroic joy, in what direction do we program for improvements in human nature? What are we going to improve if men work evil out of the impulse to righteousness and goodness? What kind of child-rearing programs are we going to promote—with Fromm, Horney, et al.—in order to bring in the humanistic millennium, if men are aggressive in order to expand life, if aggression in the service of life is man’s highest creative act? If we were to be logical, these childhood programs would have to be something that eliminates joy and heroic self-expansion in order to be effective for peace. And how could we ever get controlled child-rearing programs without the most oppressive social regulation?

The cataloguing of maddening dilemmas such as these are, for utopian thought, could probably be continued to fill a whole book; let me add merely a few more. We know that to be human is to be neurotic in some ways and to some degrees; there is no way to become an adult without serious twisting of one’s perceptions of the world. Even more, it is not the especially twisted people who are the most dangerous: coprophiliacs are harmless, rapists do not do the damage to life that idealistic leaders do. Also, leaders are a function of the “normal” urges of the masses to some large extent; this means that even psychically crippled leaders are an expression of the widespread urge to heroic transcendence. Dr. Strangelove was surely a psychic cripple, but he was not an evil genius who moved everyone around him to his will; he was simply one clever computer in a vast idealistic program to guarantee the survival of the “free world.” Today we are living the grotesque spectacle of the poisoning of the earth by the nineteenth-century hero system of unrestrained material production. This is perhaps the greatest and most pervasive evil to have emerged in all of history, and it may even eventually defeat all of mankind. Still there are no “twisted” people whom we can hold responsible for this.

I know all this is more or less obvious, but it puts our discussion on the proper plane; it teaches us one great lesson—a pill that for modern man may be the bitterest of all to swallow—namely, that we seem to be unable to approach the problem of human evil from the side of psychology. Freud, who gave us the ideal of the psychological liberation of man, also gave us many glimpses of its limitations. I am not referring here to his cynicism about what men may accomplish because of the perversity of their natures, but rather to his admission that there is no dependable line between normal and abnormal in affairs of the human world. In the most characteristic human activity—love—we see the most distortion of reality. Talking about the distortions of transference-love, Freud says:

. . . it is to a high degree lacking in regard for reality, is less sensible, less concerned about consequences, more blind in its estimation of the person loved, than we are willing to admit of normal love.

And then he is forced to take most of this back, honest thinker that he is, by concluding that:

We should not forget, however, that it is precisely these departures from the norm that make up the essential element in the condition of being in love.

In other words, transference is the only ideality that man has. It was no news to Freud that the ability to love and to believe is a matter of susceptibility to illusion. He prided himself on being a stoical scientist who had transcended the props of illusion, yet he retained his faith in science—in psychoanalysis—as his particular hero system. Thus us the same as saying that all hero systems are based on illusion except one’s own, which is somehow in a special, privileged place, as if given in nature herself. Rank got right at the heart of Freud’s dilemma:

Just as he himself could so easily confess his agnosticism while he had created for himself a private religion, it seems that, even in his intellectual and rational achievements, he still had to express and assert his irrational needs by at least fighting for and about his rational ideas.

This is perfect. It means that Freud, too, was not exempt from the need to fit himself into a scheme of cosmic heroism, an immortality ideology that had to be taken on faith. This is why Rank saw the need to go “beyond psychology”: it cannot by itself substitute for a hero system unless it is—as it was for Freud—the hero system that guaranteed him immortality. This is the meaning of Rank’s critique of psychology as “self-deception.” It cannot contain the immortality urge characteristic of life. It is just another ideology “which is gradually trying to supplant religious and moral ideology,” but “is only partially qualified to do this, because it is a preponderantly negative and disintegrating ideology.” In other words, all that psychology has really accomplished is to make the inner life the subject matter of science, and in doing this it dissipated the idea of the soul. But it was the soul which once linked man’s inner life to a transcendent scheme of cosmic heroism. Now the individual is stuck with himself and with an inner life that he can only analyze away as a product of social conditioning. Psychological introspection took cosmic heroics and made them self-reflective and isolated. At best it gives the person a new self-acceptance—but this is not what man wants or needs: one cannot generate a self-created hero system unless he is mad. Only pure narcissistic megalomania can banish guilt.

It was on the point of guilt, as Rank saw, that Freud’s system of heroism fell down. He admonishes Freud with the didactic mocking of one who possesses a clearly superior conceptualization:

It is with his therapeutic attempt to remove the guilt by tracing it back “causally” to the individual’s experience in childhood that Freud steps in. How presumptuous, and at the same time, naive, is this idea of simply removing human guilt by explaining it causally as “neurotic.”

Exactly. Guilt is a reflection of the problem of acting in the universe; only partly is it connected to the accidents of one’s birth and early experience. Guilt, as the existentialists put it, is the guilt of being itself. It reflects the self-conscious animal’s bafflement at having emerged from nature, at sticking out too much without knowing what for, at not being able to securely place himself in an eternal meaning system. How presumptuous of psychology to claim to be able to handle a problem of these dimensions. As Progoff has so brilliantly summed up psychology after Freud, it all culminates once again in a recognition of the magnitude of the problem of cosmic heroism.

This is what Adler meant when he summed up in a simplified way a basic insight of his whole life’s work, “All neurosis is vanity.” Neurosis, in other words, reflects the incapacity of the individual to heroically transcend himself; when he tries in one way or another, it is plainly vain. We are back again to a famous fruit of Rank’s work too, his insight that neurosis “is at bottom always only incapacity for illusion.” But we are back to it with a vengeance and with the broadest possible contemporary understanding. Transference represents not only the necessary and inevitable, but the most creative distortion of reality. As Buber said, reality for man is something he must imagine, search out in the eyes of his fellows, with their gleam of passionate dedication. This is also what Jung intimates about the vitality of transference when he calls it “kinship libido.” This means that men join together their individual pulsations in a gamble toward something transcendent. Life imagines its own significance and strains to justify its beliefs. It is as though the life force itself needed illusion in order to further itself. Logically, then, the ideal creativity for man would strain toward the grandest illusion.

The Science of Man

Well, obviously, none of this has been unimpeachable to the critics over the years. Words like “irrationality,” “illusion,” “willful and heroic dedication”—these rub many people the wrong way. They have hardly helped make our world any better, especially in modern times. Erich Fromm, for example, impugned Rank’s whole system of thought by arguing how perfectly suited it was as a philosophy for fascists. The essay in which this was done was not an essay to bring any credit to Fromm as a thinker; but it was animated in part at least by the demonic crisis of the times, by Hitlerism, and in spite of its shabbiness it did convey a truth, the need to be wary of life-enhancing illusions.

It is precisely at this point that the science of man comes in. We know that Nazism was a viable hero system that lived the illusion of the defeat of evil on earth. We know the terrifying dynamic of victimage and scapegoating all across history, and we know what it means—the offering of the other’s body in order to buy off one’s own death, the sadistic formula par excellence: break the bones and spill the blood of the victim in the service of some “higher truth” that the sacrificers alone possess. To treat the body with the same scorn that God seems to treat it is to draw closer to Him. Well, we know these things only too well in our time. The problem is what to do with them. Men cannot abandon the heroic. If we say that the irrational or mythical is part of human groping for transcendence, we do not give it any blanket approval. But groups of men can do what they have always done—argue about heroism, assess the costs of it, show that it is self-defeating, a fantasy, a dangerous illusion and not one that is life-enhancing and ennobling. As Paul Pruyser so well put it, “The great question is: If illusions are needed, how can we have those that are capable of correction, and how can we have those that will not deteriorate into delusions?” If men live in myths and not absolutes, there is nothing we can do or say about that. But we can argue for nondestructive myths; this is the task of what would be a general science of society.

I have argued elsewhere that one very graphic way of looking at mental illness is to see it as the laying onto others of one’s own hyperfears of life and death. From this perspective we can also see that leaders of nations, citizens of so-called democracies, “normal men” are also doing the very same thing all the time: laying their power-expiation immunity trip onto everyone else. Today the whole world is already becoming uncomfortable with the repeated “war games” and hydrogen-bomb tests by nations on power trips, tests that lay their danger onto innocent and powerless neighbors. In a way it is the drama of the family and the Feifferian love affair writ large across the face of the planet, the “family” of nations. There are no particular leaders or special councils of elite to blame in all this, simply because most people identify with the symbols of power and agree to them. The nation offers immortality to all its members. Again, Erich Fromm was wrong to argue that psychically crippled people, what he calls “necrophilic characters,” do evil things by valuing death over life and so lay waste to life because it makes them uncomfortable. Life makes whole nations of normal people uncomfortable, and hence the serene accord and abandon with which men have defeated themselves all through history.

This is the great weakness, as we have now discovered, of Enlightenment rationalism, the easy hope that by the spread of reason men will stand up to their full size and renounce irrationality. The Enlightenment thinkers understood well the dangers of the mass mind, and they thought that by the spread of science and education all this could change. The great Russian sociologist Nikolai Mikhailovsky had already singled out the hero as the enemy of democracy, the one who causes others to yield their wills because of the safety he offers them. The thing that had to be done was to prevent society from turning the individual into a tool for the sake of social efficiency and safety. How could the infringement of individuality be overcome? Mikhailovsky answered in the same vein as modern humanist psychiatrists: by giving the individual the opportunity for harmonious development. At about the same time that other great Enlightenment man, Emerson, made his famous plea for self-reliance, for persons with full and independent insides so that they could have the stability to withstand herd enthusiasms and herd fears.

This whole tradition was brought up to date by Herbert Marcuse in a brilliant essay on the ideology of death. He argued that death has always been used by leaders and elites as an ideology to get the masses to conform and to yield up their autonomy. Leaders win allegiance to the cultural causa sui project because it protects against vulnerability. The polis, the state, god—all these are symbols of infallibility in which the masses willingly embed their fearful freedoms. There we have it: the culmination of the Enlightenment in a proper focus on the fundamental dynamics of mass slavishness. On the highest level of sophistication we know in detail what men fear and how they deny that fear. There is a single line from Emerson through Mikhailovsky up to Fromm and Marcuse.

But wait. We said that Enlightenment rationalism was too easy a creed, and so we would expect to see this weakness in all its thinkers, and Marcuse is no exception when he naively says:

. . . death [is] the ultimate cause of all anxiety, [and] sustains unfreedom. Man is not free as long as death has not become really “his own,” that is, as long as it has not been brought under his autonomy.

Alas, the fact is that men do not have any autonomy under which to bring things. This great and fundamental problem for the whole career of Enlightenment science was posed by Rank:

Whether the individual is at all in a position to grow beyond . . . [some kind of transference justification, some form of moral dependence] and to affirm and accept himself from himself cannot be said. Only in the creative type does this seem possible to some extent. . . .

But it can be said, and Rank says it: even the highest, most individuated creative type can only manage autonomy to some extent. The fact is that men cannot and do not stand on their own powers; therefore they cannot make death “their own.” Moral dependence—guilt—is a natural motive of the human condition and has to be absolved from something beyond oneself. One young revolutionary once admonished me in saying that “guilt is not a motive”; he never saw that his guilt was absorbed by submission to the revolutionary cell. The weakness of the Enlightenment, then, was that it did not understand human nature—and it apparently still does not. […]

[Bolded emphasis mine. Footnotes omitted.]

Stopping for now on page 162.

My last excerpt posted from this book by Ernest Becker: http://waywardblogging.com/2014/10/on-why-we-create-enemies-and-victims-an-excerpt-from-the-book-escape-from-evil/

Also conduct a search on here to find his other excerpts, including those from a previous book titled Denial of Death.

“Joe Rogan Podcast #310 – Neil deGrasse Tyson (Astrophysicist)” (plus my thoughts)

A discussion between Joe Rogan and Neil deGrasse Tyson filmed in 2013:

Really appreciated that conversation.  clap  Wonderful to see Dr. Tyson able to speak casually at length about everything from popular conspiracy theories to environmental change and the possibility of lifeforms out in the universe.

About 1:40:00 into the podcast, I especially liked how Dr. Tyson hit on the probability of life on Earth originally being seeded by matter introduced from without, namely from Mars which appears to have once been Earth-like. Always wondered about that too, if Mars could’ve seeded our planet.

And I found it very fascinating when they were discussing how the universe seems to make nothing solitary, how everything comes in pairs or more, so when we back up further and further, from multiple universes to multiple multiverses and so on, how that basically trails off into infinity. That’s something else I’ve been pondering a while now, and I tie it in with my understanding of string theory and quantum physics and how perspective seems to be key in how we relate to anything and everything. Like when Dr. Tyson was talking about the clouds and how we commonly observe them versus how much is actually going on within them that we couldn’t historically detect. Obviously I’m a total layperson who’s learned more about “hard” and physical sciences outside of college (aside from a course on zoology and half a semester of physics), but this stuff’s always captivated me on some level so I read and comprehend what I can on these and related subjects. Then I mesh it together with what I’ve learned about biological sciences and then social sciences, the latter being my own emphasis. And I just keep seeing all these patterns, from micro to macro and on back to micro depending on perspective taken, and how these “layers” (for lack of a better term) can appear calm from a distance but appear chaotic up-close and personal. And I swear it divides out in SO many ways, from physicalism (to borrow a term from the book War of the Worldviews: Science vs. Spirituality) on down to human social relations and the intricacies of our psychological and social functioning from within an individual and among them, spanning out to mass group dynamics of most-modern times. So many things that are difficult to measure once you get to the social and psychological end of the spectrum of human life, but also in analyzing animal life and its myriad of social formations and trans-species interworkings. Then on down to pondering the energy vibrations that make up matter.

It’s all rather cool to me. Can’t probably speak intelligibly in depth on these sorts of things, but I dig them and look into them and like to let my imagination roll over the possibilities.

Fractals, yes.

And this is partly why I’ve found space exploration somewhat humorous. I’m with Dr. Tyson on considering it folly to strive to terraform Mars since the amount of energy and technology needed for that could very likely be better used in serving our interests here on Earth. Though I’m not one to concern myself greatly with the continuation of our species. Just sayin’. But for as illuminating as I’ve found space exploration to be, I’ve always wondered if eventually—combined with our research into everything on Earth, including exploring lifeforms in the ocean depths and in Earth’s crust—it will all lead us to realize the “sanctity” of the lives we’ve been “blessed” with. Putting those words in quotations since I know people are sensitive to them, but they come to life when we also take into consideration the role of consciousness and our higher development in that arena. Makes me wonder if this will all someday drive us back to appreciating the basics, recognizing we have this life to live and no guarantees beyond that, but that there is a balance to be reached in some sort of way in order to find some amount of peace, recognizing that though we each are so small and seemingly inconsequential, we really are amazing creatures with so much potential who make living interesting. If nothing else, that’s what we are. Gives me a bit of comfort when I arrive back around to that conclusion periodically.  smile  Can’t explain why exactly — just does.

Maybe more of us will learn to love one another in better ways and to appreciate one another’s humanity and significance. Maybe not, but for those who do, I consider them blessed. We have been bestowed a gift and a curse as human beings, but life is what it is and we don’t get to choose the nature of “objective” reality — we can merely work within it with one another.

Dr. Tyson’s talks always refill me with appreciation for humanity. Not sure exactly why. (Not that I don’t expect us to drive our species over a cliff in due time, but still.) Maybe it’s his infectious way of spreading curiosity and encouraging us to explore for ourselves and to not be limited in doing so. All I know is I genuinely appreciate the man and his insights and the information and ideas he shares.

Also becoming a bit of a fan of Joe Rogan, slowly but steadily. Never much was into the Fear Factor show, but then again, I don’t subscribe to cable and so didn’t see it often. Liked most of what I’ve watched from him online thus far.

Sharing some of the works of Reverend Billy Talen (view-worthy post)

First off, it is important to watch the documentary “What Would Jesus Buy?”:

That was the full video available for free. Watch it.

Now as we move into fall and the major holidays are approaching it’s especially important viewing. Muy importante film, IMO. Been a big fan of it for a several years now, viewed many times, and love to share it with others and give it as a stocking stuffer.

Helps to keep an open mind when watching Reverend Billy & The Stop Shopping Choir, recognizing that Reverend Billy is a dramatic performance artist, an actor/activist, and he uses this gift to imitate Christian evangelists as a schtick to spread his critique of consumerism and the destruction of the earth.

For example, Reverend Billy’s Freakstorm: The End Of The World:

Don’t give up on him yet. Here’s him and the choir protesting at Chase Manhattan bank. The man has balls, that’s a given:

His latest reported arrest (September 2014):

Reverend Billy Freakstorm: The Consumers Consumed The Consumer”:

Eye To Eye With Katie Couric: Reverend Billy (CBS News)”:

“Reverend Billy Talen’s Black Friday Message: Sharing, Not Shopping”:

“Reverend Billy Talen preaching about NYC neighborhoods”:

Here’s his TEDx talk:

Yes, he’s a bit of a liberal nut. But I don’t rightly care. His views are largely compatible with my own. Not identical, but at least largely not incompatible from what I’ve seen from him thus far. And I’ve watched quite a lot and visited his blog and even donated to his mission before.

On climate changes and sustaining ourselves:

Let it be understood that I am not a fan of the “climate change movement,” as it’s popularly thought of. Actually highly critical and piss off plenty of people. BUT, if it’s true, we’re screwed. But, if there’s time, it’s a question of how to sustain ourselves in ways that cut out or greatly reduce what we’re relying on currently. There are options available, so it’s a question of what human ingenuity manages to do with them. I’ll be very curious to see what new ideas spring up as we continue forward.

Just a big fan so I had to share his stuff, wacky as it is. His heart is in the right place, that I do honestly believe.

A historical analysis of guilt, pride, and primitive economics (an excerpt from the book “Escape From Evil”)

Today I’m transcribing from Ernest Becker’s book Escape From Evil (1975), beginning on page 28:

How could traders, missionaries, and administrators understand something that often eluded anthropologists themselves: that primitive man did not act out of economic principles, that the process of freely giving and receiving was embedded in a much larger, much more important cosmology, that since the white man had destroyed the old gods and replaced them, he had to give freely just as the gods had done. Primitive life was openly immersed in debt, in obligation to the invisible powers, the ancestors, the dead souls; the group lived partly by drawing its powers from the non-living. Unlike us, primitives knew the truth of man’s relation to nature: nature gives freely of its bounty to man—this was the miracle for which to be grateful and beholden and give to the gods of nature in return. Whatever one received was already a gift, and so to keep things in balance one had to give in return—to one another and, by offerings, to the spirits. The gods existed in order to receive gifts. This helps us understand why primitive society seems so “masochistic” to us in its willing submission to nature and to dead spirits. It had found the perfect formula for keeping things in balance:

In the archaic consciousness the sense of indebtedness exists together with the illusion that the debt is payable; the gods exist to make the debt payable. Hence the archaic economy is embedded in religion, limited by the religious framework, and mitigated by the consolations of religion—above all, removal of indebtedness and guilt.5

And this explains too the thing that has puzzled thinkers since the beginning of the study of man: why weren’t natives content to live in the primitive “paradise,” why couldn’t man simply relax and consume nature’s bounty, why was he driven from the very beginning to develop a surplus beyond basic human needs? The answer is that primitive man created an economic surplus so that he would have something to give to the gods; the giving of the surplus was an offering to the gods who controlled the entire economy of nature in the first place, and so man needed to give precisely in order to keep himself immersed in the cosmology of obligation and expiation. The ceremonial destruction of mountains of precious food was just that: a ceremonial religious act. The painstaking fabrication of charms or the dangerous hunting down of rare objects like whale’s teeth represented the sweat of one’s brow for the most vital motive man knew: to keep the cycle of power moving from the invisible to the visible world. When man gives, “the stream of life continues to flow,” as Van der Leeuw so beautifully summed it up in his classic study of primitive ideas.In order to understand this, we have to abandon our own notions of what a gift is. It is not a bribe by one who is a stranger to you and simply wants to “get in good” with you, or by a loved one who wants to draw close to you or even selflessly give you pleasure.

Economics as Power

In the first place, for the primitive the gift was a part of the stream of nature’s bounty. Many people today think that the primitive saw the world more under the aspect of miracle and awe than we do, and so he appreciated elemental things more than we do. In order to recapture this way of looking at nature, we moderns usually have to experience a breakdown and rebirth into naive perception. So, for example, when Hamann was asked what Christianity meant to him, he said it was a search for the elements of bread and wine. But we don’t need to romanticize about the primitive (whether truly or not) in order to understand his valuation of nature’s bounty. We saw that the main organismic motive was self-perpetuation; it is logical that when self-perpetuation became a conscious problem at the level of man he naturally tended to value those things that gave him the power to endure, those things that incorporated the sun’s energy and that gave warmth and life. Food is a sacred element because it gives the power of life. The original sacrifice is always food because this is what one wants from the gods as the basis for life. “Give us our daily bread. . . .” Furthermore, if food contains power, it is always more than itself, more than a physical thing: it has a mysterious inner essence of spirit. Milk is the essence of the cow, shark’s teeth are the essence of the shark’s vitality and murderousness, etc. So when primitive man gave these things as gifts, he did not give a dead thing, a mere object as it appears to us—but a piece of life, of spirit, even a part of himself because he was immersed in the stream of life. The gifts had mana power, the strength of supernatural life.

This is what made the bond and allowed the stream to flow between giver and receiver: to give and then to counter-give kept the motion going, preserved the cycle of power. This is how we are to understand the potlatch giving and oneupmanship, the destruction of quantities of goods: the eternal flux of power in the broad stream of life was generated by the greatest possible expenditure; when man wanted that stream to flow as bountifully as possible.It then became hard to distinguish who gave and who received, since all were bathed in the power of the movement: everyone participated in the powers that were opened up—the giver, the community, the gods. “I give you power so that you may have power.” The more you give, the more everyone gets.

This feeling of expenditure as power is not strange to us moderns either. We want to keep our goods moving with the same obsessive dedication—cars, refrigerators, homes, money. We feel that there is health and strength in the world if the economy moves, if there is a frenzy of buying and trading on the stock market, activity in the banks; and this is not only because the movement of goods piles up money in the bank, but actually reflects, I think, the sense of trust and security that the magical free-enterprise powers are working for us so long as we continue to buy, sell, and move goods. The Soviets are experiencing the same thing: the sense of exhilaration and self-celebration in the movement of production and consumption of goods. Like the primitive, modern man feels that he can prosper only if he shows that he already has power. Yet of course in its one-dimensionality this is a caricature on the primitive potlatch, as most of modern power ideology is; it has no anchor in the invisible world, in the deference to the gods. Primitive man gave to the gods. Hocart sees this as the origin of trade: the fact that one group made offerings to the gods of their kinsmen and vice versa. This led to the exchange of different stuffs between different groups, and in it we see the direct motive of the creation of a surplus for exchange. The exchange of offerings was always a kind of contest—who could give the most to the gods of their kinsmen. We can see what this did for a person: it gave him a contest in which he could be victorious if his offerings of surplus exceeded those of the other clan. In a word, it gave him cosmic heroism, the distinction of releasing the most power in nature for the benefit of all. He was a hero in the eyes not only of the gods but also of men; he earned social honor, “the right to crow.”8 He was a “big power” man. Thus we can see in gift giving and potlatch the continuation of the triumph of the hunter, but now in the creation and distribution of one’s own fabricated surplus. Róheim very aptly called this state of things “narcissistic capitalism”: the equation of wealth with magic power.9   And so all this seemingly useless surplus, dangerously and painstakingly wrought, yields the highest usage of all in terms of power. Man, the animal who knows he is not safe here, who needs continued affirmation of his powers, is the one animal who is implacably driven to work beyond animal needs precisely because he is not a secure animal. The origin of human drivenness is religious because man experiences creatureliness; the amassing of surplus, then, goes to the very heart of human motivation, the urge to stand out as a hero, to transcend the limitations of the human condition and achieve victory over impotence and finitude.

We see, too, as Brown says, that in the strict utilitarian sense in which we understand the term, primitive “work” cannot be economic; for instance, our “common ownership” and “collective enterprise” in which the person is a “partner” do not do justice to the multidimensionality of the primitive world. Primitive man worked so that he could win a contest in which the offering was made to the gods; he got spiritual merit for his labors. I suppose early Calvinism was an echo of this performance for the eyes of men and the gods, but without the continual giving, the redistribution of the most precious goods. “Big men” in primitive society were those who gave away the most, had nothing for themselves. Sometimes a chief would even offer his own life to appease an injured party in a quarrel; his role was often nothing else than to be a vehicle for the smooth flow of life in the tribe. (The resemblance to historical Calvinism ends abruptly at this kind of performance for spiritual merit.) This reveals a central fact about social life: primitive man immersed himself in a network of social obligations for psychological reasons. Just as Rank said, man has to have a core psychological motive for being in the group in the first place, otherwise he would not be a group-living animal. Or as Brown, who likes to call a spade a spade, put it, “man entered social organization in order to share guilt. Social organization . . . is a structure of shared guilt . . . a symbolic mutual confession of guilt.”10 And so in one sweep we can understand how primitive economics is inexorably sacred, communal, and yet psychologically motivated at the same time.

The Nature of Guilt

But this kind of picture risks putting primitive man even further beyond our comprehension, even though it seems logically to explain what he was doing. The problem is in the key motive, guilt. Unless we have a correct feeling for what guilt is, what the experience of it means, the sacred nature of primitive economics may escape us. We may even prefer our illusionless “economic man” to the “pitiful” primitives—and this result will entirely undo Brown’s thesis. But he himself is in some measure to blame. He draws partly on Nietzsche and Freud, and some of their scorn of guilt as a weakness seems to have rubbed off on him. Even more seriously, by his own admission he does not have any theory of the nature of guilt (“Whatever the ultimate explanation of guilt may be . . . “)11 even though he bases his whole argument on it. When he does offer one explanation, he makes of guilt a simple reflex of the repression of enjoyment—something for which he has already so well castigated Freud in discussing the problem of anality: “The repression of full enjoyment in the present inevitably releases aggression against those ancestors out of love of whom the repression was instituted. Aggression against those simultaneously loved is guilt.”12

This is one explanation of guilt that comes from psychoanalysis: the child in his boundless desires for gratification can’t help feeling love for those who respond to him; at the same time, when they inevitably frustrate him for his own good, he can’t help feeling hate and destructive impulses toward them, which puts him in an impossible bind. The bind is one kind of guilt, but only one aspect of the total bind of life which constitutes the immense burden of guilt on the human psyche.

One of the reasons guilt is so difficult to analyze is that it is itself “dumb.” It is a feeling of being blocked, limited, transcended, without knowing why. It is the peculiar experience of an organism which can apprehend a totality of things and not be able to move in relation to it. Man experiences this uniquely as a feeling of the crushing awesomeness of things and his helplessness in the face of them. This real guilt partly explains man’s willing subordinacy to his culture; after all, the world of men is even more dazzling and miraculous in its richness than the awesomeness of nature. Also, subordinacy comes naturally from man’s basic experiences of being nourished and cared for; it is a logical response to social altruism. Especially when one is sick or injured, he experiences the healing forces as coming from the superordinate cultural system of tools, medicines, and the hard-won skills of persons. An attitude of humble gratitude is a logical one to assume toward the forces that sustain one’s life; we see this very plainly in the learning and development of children.

Another reason that guilt is so diffuse is that it is many different things: there are many different binds in life. One can be in a bind in relation to one’s own development, can feel that one has not achieved all one should have. One can be in a bind in relation to one’s body, which is the guilt of anality: to feel bound and doomed by one’s physical appendages and orifices. Man also experiences guilt because he takes up space and has unintended effects on others—for example, when we hurt others without intending to, just by being what we are or by following our natural desires and appetites, not to mention when we hurt others physically by accident or thoughtlessness. This, of course, is part of the guilt of our bodies, which have effects that we do not intend in our inner selves. To use Rank’s happy phrase, this is the guilt we feel for being a “fate-creating” object.13 We feel guilt in relation to what weighs on us, a weight that we sense is more than we can handle, and so our wives and children are a burden of guilt because we cannot possibly foresee and handle all the accidents, sicknesses, etc., that can happen to them; we feel limited and bowed down, we can’t be as carefree and self-expansive as we would like, the world is too much with us.14

If we feel guilt when we have not developed our potential, we also are put into a bind by developing too much. Our own uniqueness becomes a burden to us; we “stick out” more than we can safely manage. Guilt makes sense in relation to evolution itself. Man is on the “cutting edge” of evolution; he is the animal whose development is not prefigured by instincts, and so he is open to becoming what he can. This means literally that each person is already somewhat “ahead of himself” simply by virtue of being human and not animal. No wonder people have almost universally feared the “evil eye” in traditional society: it expresses a natural and age-old reaction to making oneself too prominent, detaching oneself too much from the background of things. In traditional Jewish culture, for example, each time the speaker made a favorable remark about the health or achievement of someone dear to him, he immediately followed this remark with the invocation “Kein Ayin-Hara” (no evil eye), as if to say “may this good fortune and prominence not be undone by being too conspicuous.” Some individuals achieve an intensity of individuation in which they stick out so far that almost each day is an unbearable exposure. But even the average person in any society is already more of an individual than any animal can be; the testimonial to this is in the human face, which is the most individuated animal expression in nature. Faces fascinate us precisely because they are unique, because they stick out of nature and evolution as the most fully developed expression of the pushing of the life force in the intensity of its self-realization. We don’t understand why the life force is personalizing in this way, what it is trying to achieve; but we flatly know that it is personalizing because we have our heads and faces as empirical testimony, and as a burden of guilt. We might say that the development of life is life’s own burden.

I linger on these ontological thoughts for a very good reason: they tell us what is bothering us deep down. If your face is the most individual part of nature, and if its sticking out is a burden to you because you are an embodiment of the cutting edge of evolution and are no longer safely tucked into the background of nature—if this is so, then it follows that it is dangerous to have a head. And I think mankind has always recognized this implicitly, especially on primitive levels of experience. I believe Levin is right when he says that “it is a crime to own a head” in society; historically societies have not tolerated too much individuation, especially on primitive levels. And Levin may even have something when he adds that this is the simplest explanation of head-hunting.15 Well, there can be no one explanation for the widespread passion for head-hunting;16 but probably the underlying thing that the various forms of head-taking have in common is that the head is prized as a trophy precisely because it is the most personal part, the one that juts most prominently out of nature. In some sense, too, head-hunting may be a way of projecting onto others one’s own guilt for sticking out so much, so that their heads are taken as scapegoats to atone for the guilt. It is as if to say, “This will teach you to stick out so blatantly.” Certainly we feel something of this in societies in which decapitation as punishment was practiced and the heads were publicly displayed. This was a destruction of individuality at its most intensive point, and so a vindication of the pool of faces of the community whose laws had been transgressed. If we extend these thoughts one logical step, we can understand a basic psychoanalytic idea that otherwise seems ridiculous: “in the eyes of culture, to live is a crime.”17 In other words, to live is to stick out, to go beyond safe limits; hence it is to court danger, to be a locus of the possibility of disaster for the group.

If we take all this into view, we should find more palatable to our understanding what Brown meant when he said that social organization was a structure of shared guilt, a symbolic mutual confession of it. Mankind has so many things that put it into a bind that it simply cannot stand them unless it expiates them in some way. Each person cannot stand his own emergence and the many ways in which his organism is dumbly baffled from within and transcended from without. Each person would literally be pulled off his feet and blown away or would gnaw away his own insides with acid anxiety if he did not tuck himself back into something. This is why the main general characteristic of guilt is that it must be shared: man cannot stand alone. And this is precisely what Brown means when he says, “Archaic man gives because he wants to lose; the psychology is . . . self-sacrificial . . . what the giver wants to lose is guilt.”18  Or, metaphorically, “In the gift complex dependence on the mother is acknowledged, and then overcome by mothering others.”19 Society, in other words, is a dramatization of dependence and an exercise in mutual safety by the one animal in evolution who had to figure out a way of appeasing himself as well as nature. We can conclude that primitives were more honest about these things—about guilt and debt—because they were more realistic about man’s desperate situation vis–à–vis nature. Primitive man embedded social life in a sacred matrix not necessarily because he was more fearful or masochistic than men in later epochs, but because he saw reality more clearly in some basic ways.20

Once we acknowledge this, we have to be careful not to make too much of it. I mean that group living through the motive of guilt is not all humble and self-effacing. As we saw in our consideration of gift giving, not only expiation but the blatant affirmation of power is a primary impetus behind it. If guilt is the experience of fear and powerlessness, then immersing oneself in a group is one way of actively defeating it: groups alone can make big surplus, can generate extravagant power in the form of large harvests, the capture of dangerous animals and many of them, the manufacture of splendid and intricate items based on sophisticated techniques, etc. From the beginning of time the group has represented big power, big victory, much life.

Heroism and Repentance: The Two Sides of Man

If we thus look at both sides of the picture of guilt, we can see that primitive man allocated to himself the two things that man needs most: the experience of prestige and power that constitutes man a hero, and the experience of expiation that relieves him of the guilt of being human. The gift complex took care of both these things superlatively. Man worked for economic surplus of some kind in order to have something to give. In other words, he achieved heroism and expiation at the same time, like the dutiful son who brings home his paper-route earnings and puts them in the family coffer. He protruded out of nature and tucked himself in with the very same gesture, a gesture of heroism-expiation. Man needs self-esteem more than anything; he wants to be a cosmic hero, contributing with his energies to nothing less than the greatness and pleasure of the gods themselves. At the same time this risks inflating him to proportions he cannot stand: he becomes too much like the gods themselves, and he must renounce this dangerous power. Not to do so is to be unbalanced, to run the great sin of hubris as the Greeks understood it. Hubris means forgetting where the real source of power lies and imagining that it is in oneself.

Okay, stopping there on page 37.

[All emphases his.]

Interesting stuff to ponder on.

“Splitting the Atom”

Not really in the mood to write much here. So I’ll just post a song:

That was “Splitting the Atom” by Massive Attack.

The lyrics:

The baby was born
Nettles and Ferns
The evening it chokes
The candle it burns
This disguise covers
Bitter lies
Repeating the joke
The meaning, it dies
Pass me a coat
I’m not afraid to leave
I’m letting you know
I know what you need
I’ll turn you around
This beautiful town
And then you’ll believe it when your eyes then deceive you

It’s easy, don’t let it go
It’s easy, don’t let it go
It’s easy, don’t let it go
Don’t Lose It

It’s getting colder outside
Your rented space
They shadow box and they
Paper chase
It never stops
And we’ll never learn
No hope without dope
The jobless return
The bankers have bailed
The mighty retreat
The pleasure it fails
At the end of the week
You take it or leave
Or what you receive
To what you receive
Is eternited leave

It’s easy, don’t let it go
It’s easy, don’t let it go
It’s easy, don’t let it go
Don’t lose it

Incandescent light at doors
In adolescent menopause
In little clicks you got the music stops
The needle sticks and the penny drops
The summer’s gone before you know
The muffled drums of relentless flow
You’re looking at stars that give you vertigo
The sun’s still burning and dust will blow
Honey scars, I’ll keep you near
Our blood is gold nothing to fear
We killed the time and I love you dear
A kiss of wine, we’ll disappear
The last of the last particles
Divisible invisible
The last of the last particles
Divisible invisible

“Honey scars” — that’s an interesting pet name for one’s lover. Quite apt, when you really stop and think about it.

[Btw, can’t vouch for the lyrics since I copied them from elsewhere and not from an official source. Bold emphasis mine.]

Been listening to this song pretty routinely lately. Just strikes some sort of chord in me right now. Clicks…makes sense. Modern times, crazy as they are, still at the end of the day wind up being just another cycle in a countless sea all back throughout history. And it does appear true that we humans never learn, at least not as an aggregate. Just can’t apparently, and I don’t even think I can fault us since it’s just the way it is. Our technologies outpaced our collective ability to manage them wisely. We are all indeed mere apes-of-sorts, animals in our own right, sophisticated as we may be. That’s the tragicomedy of it all — we take ourselves so seriously as we bumble about knowing not what we do. Seems to be what humans are good at.

Best to love the ones we can in what time remains for us. More and more that’s becoming my position in this life. Stand up for those needing to be stood up for, while being mindful of how out-of-control shit’s become all across the board and the unlikelihood of that drastically changing within one or even three generations’ time. We’re living in a spiral, and the best of times have likely already come and gone. That’s just the way it can be sometimes — nobody chooses when they’re born. We must simply work with what we have in whatever amount of time we have, based on what matters most to us as individuals and as cooperative alliances. Might sound far-out to some, but these thoughts strike me as simply getting down to the bare essentials. In my existence, love matters tremendously. I’ve not always done right in proving that, but I firmly know it now.

[Updated 9/13/2014 after listening to this song yet again and to add lyrics and commentary.]