“The Architecture of Belief | Jordan Peterson and Stefan Molyneux”

Sex role evolution, love, and neuroticism — an excerpt from Otto Rank’s “Beyond Psychology”

Today I’ll be transcribing a portion of Otto Rank’s book Beyond Psychology (1941), beginning on page 181:

Herein is anchored the true democratic ideology of Christianity, promising every man equality before God, that is, in his own self, whereas our political democracy, praiseworthy as it may be, always remains an unattainable ideal of the heavenly kingdom on earth. Interestingly enough, early Christianity proves to be more realistic in that respect than later periods of social planning. By proclaiming that man is not fundamentally bad, Christian doctrine simultaneously claimed that things were bad and had to be changed. While the Jew was constantly blaming himself for not meeting the ideal requirements of his God, the early Christians with Paul as their leader were keenly aware of the need for a change of order.

This change of order, which finally precipitated the collapse of the ancient world, was, however, brought about first by the change of the type of man through the new idea of love. This new ideology, purely conceived of as being loved by God with the meaning of accepting one’s own self as fundamentally good, was bound to be misunderstood, misinterpreted and misused in the course of time until we find it in our day thwarted and twisted in the neurotic type who is either fighting it willfully or giving in to it too “masochistically.” But, in one way or another, this genuine need of the human being to be loved became the strongest motive for the molding and building of personality-types. Yet, while the curse of the evil was overcome by being loved, meaning, being good, the trouble with this humanized love-ideology was that not being loved made the individual bad. In a word, the moral integrity of the personality became so utterly dependent upon the other person’s love that the individual either had to deny it willfully or submit to the insecurity of a personal God.

This humanization of the spiritual love-principle reached its climax in an era known as the Romantic period, which left its imprint on modern relationship in an ideology called Romanticism. This eighteenth century philosophy of love was prepared for in the Renaissance, which, as a cultural movement, evolved a new conception of love entirely original and quite different from that of the Middle Ages. While the ancients considered love a pleasure whereby human beauty was accepted as a mere aspect of nature’s beauty, for the Middle Ages it had been sin, and feminine beauty was looked upon as a temptation by man who no longer saw woman as a means of pleasure but as a cause of perdition. During the Renaissance, however, feminine beauty as its all-powerful stimulus became, together with a new conception of love, the object of philosophic speculation and the admitted source of poetic inspiration. In the synthesis, not entirely heathen and not fully Christian, which Renaissance culture represents, love was considered sensuous as well as spiritual, and woman was looked upon as fully equal to man, that is, endowed with gifts of mind as well as body. Contrary to the thought of the Middle Ages, love was no longer considered subordinate to virtue, or beauty denounced as a source of peril. In a word, the conception of original sin changed to the conception of original love. Love, that is to say, was appreciated not because it was a means of becoming good, but because it was good, which means not only pleasurable but beautiful, that is, part of nature.

In the Romantic period which flourished in Germany, this free philosophy of love could not be accepted. There it was not the beautiful woman who was appreciated and thus loved; it was woman as a group or class who became idealized. The leading intellects of that period, shaken in their fundamental selves by the repercussions of the French Revolution, saw in fully developed womanhood the perfect, that is, emotional expression of the true self. In a period of collectivistic ideologies glorifying folk-traditions, folk-lore and folk-art, woman became, so to speak, collectivized as the carrier of racial continuity. The challenge to love no longer appears epitomized in sheer beauty but in an abstract notion called the “beautiful soul.” Although this idea was taken over from Plato’s “Banquet,” the actual love-life of the poets in the Romantic period was anything but “platonic.” In fact, Wieland, to whom is credited the romantic conception of the “beautiful soul,” indulges in erotic phantasies bordering on the pornographic; whereas his English predecessors, the philosopher Shaftsbury and the novelist Richardson, had given the “beautiful soul” a moral connotation.1

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[Corresponding footnote:] 1Schiller, in his famous poem, “Anmut und Wuerde” (1793), defined the beautiful soul as the perfect balance between moral feeling and physical emotion.

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In his idealization of woman we recognize a reaction against her moralization brought about in the Middle Ages by the Church, which, in the obsession of witchcraft, had identified her with the evil symbol of mortality—sex. Through this about-face of romanticism man suddenly lifted woman into the role of representing the immortal soul-principle hitherto usurped by him. This role of the soul-bearer, in primitive conception, had been ascribed to her religiously in the soul-belief of totemism and socially in the institution of matriarchy. There, the man could still preserve his personal immortality in his belief of self-perpetuation, whereas in the romantic conception of the woman-soul he actually renounced his better self to her. She became the beautiful soul of the man, his eternal, immutable, immortal side as against the mutability and transitoriness of his individual self. This we saw struggling during that same period with the bad, condemned ego epitomized in the persecuting double.

Thus, in romantic love, the Christian love-ideology, as applying alike to both sexes, became divided up between the two sexes and thereby created a confusion under which we still labor in our sexual psychology. While during the Middle Ages man had made woman the symbol of evil, now by virtue of representing the beautiful soul she was supposed to make him good by allowing him to love her. This reversal of the moral evaluation had two far-reaching results. Through the collective ideology of the beautiful soul applied to her, the woman became, so to speak, “collective,” that is, promiscuous, as borne out by the not so “romantic” but highly sensual relationships among the leaders of the romantic movement, who may be said to have introduced the modern divorce vogue into our sex life. Secondly, this promiscuity, together with the freedom of emotional expression permitted her, gave women a decidedly masculine appearance, which basically was determined by her having been made the bearer of man’s soul-ideology.

As the woman was allowed so much freedom and encouraged to play the role of soul-saver for the man, he soon felt too dependent upon her; she threatened to dominate his whole life and even the hereafter. Thus in his eyes she became bad again. This change of attitude found expression in literary fashions and types, such as “The Fatal Woman,” or “La Belle Dame sans Merci,” which can be traced right to our own times in the writings of Oscar Wilde, André Gide and Gabriele D’Annunzio. In those man-made literary fashions which were instrumental in creating corresponding types in life, the woman not only appears unwomanly but hard and cruel in a masculine manner. Here we first meet the types of sadistic-masculine woman and masochistic-feminine man, who, although in their time they were accepted, indeed, highly estimated types, in our day have been diagnosed as “neurotic.” Their strange behavior started the first psychological speculations about the basic difference of the two sexes.1 Just as this difference, in view of nature’s bisexuality, does not imply any clear-cut distinction, so is there no sharp line to be drawn between sensual pleasure and pain as we find those sensations coupled in romantic sado-masochism. While this sexual terminology has actually been derived from two outspoken perverts, the psychological relation between pleasure and pain expresses a deep-rooted bond based on the duality of the life-principle itself. As sex naturally implies death in the surrender of the individual to the collective life-principle, we meet in romantic love a moralization of this very life-principle whereby man became submissive and created the picture of the fatal, cruel, in a word, sadistic woman. Side by side with this type, we encounter as a reaction to it, the satanic and diabolical man in the literature of the same period. This type is epitomized in the notorious Marquis de Sade and his “sadistic” writings, which influenced all modern writers up to the rank of such authors as Flaubert, Baudelaire and Swinburne.

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[Corresponding footnote:] 1On this subject, one of the most famous scientists of that period, Wilhelm von Humboldt, wrote an essay, “Ueber den Geschlechtsunterschied,” 1795.

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For the “beyond” of psychology it is particularly important to realize the order in which those types surviving in our sexual psychology appear in romantic literature: first, the masochistic man in bondage to the merciless woman, and only afterwards the sadistic man in an attempt to liberate himself from this self-imposed submission. The sadistic type, the creation of a decadent male, has produced another artifice of our psychological wax-cabinet—the masochistic woman. This invention followed when the man had again to divest the woman of the masculine characteristics he had bestowed on her. By making her “masochistic,” that is, completely submissive to him, he had to picture and thus make her womanly in an extreme fashion. True, this submissiveness is her basic self, but submitting to nature, not to the man. Such natural “sacrifice,” in fully accepting her biological role, is different from the woman’s artificially “sacrificing herself” for the man, which she can do only in true “masochistic” fashion. This sacrificial tendency, which might be conceived of as an exaggerated form of Agape, is deeply rooted in woman’s nature and not just a masochistic perversion in the sense of our psychology. As long as it satisfies the individual’s desire for happiness, we have no right to stigmatize it as “neurotic” or “perverse” just because we are not capable of understanding its vital significance. The Christian martyr can be as little explained by being labeled “masochistic” as, for example, can the Japanese soldier for whom sacrifice and self-sacrifice represents one of the highest virtues. The Freudian concept of “self-punishment,” derived from his masochistic interpretation of sacrificial tendencies, has been erroneously explained as the neurotic’s perversion to gain pleasure from pain. The pleasure derived from suffering has to be ascribed to the triumph of the individual will over pain, which thus ceases to be inflicted and becomes self-willed.

The masochistic submissiveness of modern woman reveals itself in the light of those moralistic ideologies as less neurotic than the narrowing psychoanalytic viewpoint makes it appear. Basically, such submissive attitude is an essential part of woman’s biological nature; its exaggeration and subsequent exploitation, however, is man-made and betrays the influence of man’s ideologies on woman “psychology.” Not a few women act masochistically, i.e. as if they derived pleasure from pain, for two admitted reasons: first, from a desire to give the man they love pleasure, if he is insecure enough to need their masochism to boost his ego; secondly, in order to be changed, that is, to be made submissive to their own nature, which has been distorted by masculine ideologies. Those classical cases of masochism which have been described not only in fiction but even in textbooks, belong to the same kind of romantic literature which produced the original type. In reality, those women were “masochistic” only once in their lives, i.e., in relation to one person; at other times they can be quite will-ful and resistive. Their “masochism” represents a period in their lives when they permit themselves to submit to one particular person so completely that only their volition to do so makes it possible. In this sense, their “masochism” becomes a will-ful, instead of a natural, acceptance of their feminine submissiveness. It is here, in this area of non-acceptance of the self, where the neuroticism of this type lies, and not in masochism, which merely represents an attempt to counteract its original selfish nature. The only justification I can see in labeling the masochistic woman “neurotic,” is in the unreality of the type itself.

All our neurotic terminology and ideology, in fact, originated from the unreality of personality behaviour and patterns, the reality of which has been lost. For example, the outstanding women of the Romantic epoch, which produced this type, were not considered neurotic but just strong personalities, at least, stronger than woman had formerly been allowed to be; sufficiently strong, at any rate, to scare the man into his sadistic psychology. This sado-masochistic ideology of the male, which still confuses psychoanalysts, sprang from an attempt on the part of the romantic type to extricate himself from his own conflict between dominance and surrender. The solution he found by dividing the two kinds of love—represented in Eros and Agape—between the two sexes led to our sexual psychology created from man’s need to justify himself and uphold his age-old prejudices.

The first prejudice, namely, that the sexual act is necessarily pleasurable, is obviously contradicted by nature herself. We have only to look at the animal kingdom to be convinced that as a rule it is a painful struggle, to be avoided, if possible; one which the human being had to idealize in order to accept it at all. Closely related to this widespread illusion is another assumption taken too much for granted, that every human being wants to live as long as possible, or for that matter wants to live at all. To risk death, or even to seek it, is not necessarily an unbiological gesture. There are people who want to die, without justifiably being diagnosed as “suicidal.” Especially when death comes suddenly and painlessly, it need not represent an escape but can be real deliverance, particularly when one’s life has been fulfilled or is to be fulfilled by dying. Last, but not least, is the prejudice which includes all others, namely, that everyone’s happiness is the same. For this assumption causes us to designate as “neurotic” any other whose ideas of happiness do not coincide with ours. Herein lies the greatest sin of psychology: that it sets up absolute standards derived from a rational interpretation of one prevailing type by which to judge not only our fellow men but also to interpret personalities and behaviour of the past.

In the realm of our own discussion we have only to take one of the greatest saints, Catherine of Siena, in order to illustrate the difference between psychological reality and unreality. In spite of her amazing asceticism, we could not call her “masochistic,” nor, despite her single-handed fight against the mighty Pope, could she be classified as a megalomaniac. In his recent study of Catherine, Joh. Jorgensen points out that her vast assumption of authority is the very reverse of egotism, springing as it does from complete self-surrender. The core of Catherine’s teaching is the need for absolute renunciation of self: it is St. Francis’ doctrine of poverty under a transcendental aspect. Here again is shown how man’s and woman’s nature and behaviour differ—even where saintliness is concerned. Being a woman, Catherine was able to completely identify her will with the will of the Church, which, representing the Bride of Christ, made Catherine the same through the mystical marriage. Thus she could become the conscience of Christendom, not because she was so presumptuous as to aspire to it but because she had emptied herself so completely of self-will that she felt the divine conscience working through her.

Experiences like this, and others in the past, could manifest themselves as powerful realities just because they were spiritually real. Not that these personalities were “neurotic,” but that they had, besides their neurosis, something else which enabled them to be creative in spite of it; in truth, they experienced really in themselves what we may only allow to remain a shadow or sham experience, that is, a neurotic one. In other words, it is not what the individual experiences, but how he does it, which makes our true conception of neurosis independent of any content, i.e., a matter of attitude. In this sense, the woman is not neurotic because she is “masochistic,” but is neurotic, one might almost say, because she is not really submissive and wants to make believe that she is.

The same holds good for the masculine counterpart, sadism, which we characterized as a self-assertive reaction against the presumable dominance of the woman. From a human study of the Marquis de Sade, the father of sadism, it clearly follows that it is not an original perversion exaggerated to pathological proportions by a neurotic personality. It is no sexual problem at all, in fact, but a problem of the man’s ego, thwarted by his hatred of women and mankind in general. He was as full of hate for the whole world as Catherine was full of love for God, but with both of them it was a real experience. The “psychology” of de Sade can only be understood from his fundamental hatred, which means it is at bottom a moral problem of good and evil, not merely a sexual aberration. As a matter of fact, the problem of love itself cannot be fully comprehended without the phenomenon of hatred. The simple observation that love so frequently changes into hatred when the individual feels disappointed or hurt indicates a deep-seated relation between the two emotions. Of course, love does not simply “change” into hatred, but both are manifestations of two opposite life-forces: the tendencies toward unification and separation respectively, that is, toward likeness and difference. This explains why hatred appears not infrequently as the result of a heightened love-emotion which carries the individual too far away from his own self to an over-identification with the other.

[All emphasis his. Footnotes omitted except the two cited.]

Stopping on page 190.

This whole book has provided a great deal of food for thought stretching back through human history. I hope to transcribe further portions of it going forward.

Otto Rank was an Austrian psychoanalyst who, for a couple decades, had been a close friend of Sigmund Freud before branching off to go his own unique way in trying to make sense out of human life.

How do I, as a former escort, live with myself, he asks?

Thinking about what was written to me yesterday (as was showcased in my last post)…

When someone asks me something like “how did you live with yourself?” for working as an escort in my 20s, it’s a bit perplexing. It causes me to wonder how others can be so blind to human nature (as well as animal nature) that they view our sexuality as some sort of unique sin within human life. It’s really not about money specifically so much as an exchange of resources and companionship, yet others try to make it out to be so ugly and dirty and with their words strip it down into something it needn’t be. That innocence they all claim to care about is tainted by their own imaginations and words oftentimes more so than the reality of the situation itself. It doesn’t help that most people out in the public get their education about sex work from HBO or the bible.

Human sexuality can be very complicated, but it also can be very simple. When someone looks at sex work as the opposite of anything having to do with love, I think it depends entirely on the situation and the persons involved. It’s not automatically the opposite of a labor of love. Work in general can and does itself go either way depending on the situation and the people involved. I happened to like my job and most of the people I chose to spend time with while in it. Many of my clients were very sweet and accommodating, as I tried to be toward them as well. Bonds developed between some of us that lasted years. True friendships even developed in some cases, a couple even that transcended sex work and continue on to this day even when the offer of sex was taken off the table years ago.

Involving money doesn’t automatically preclude genuine care and concern. And money isn’t sufficient all unto itself to make a person debase herself. Just because money is offered didn’t mean I had to take up any and every offer, and it didn’t mean I felt obligated to do anything and everything somebody wanted. No. Nor did I. I was very selective about my clients, and rightfully so.

What people seem to envision is so far from the reality most of the time. We’d typically meet and then go to dinner, sometimes at very fine places I otherwise might never have had access to on my own. And we’d talk and get to know one another, with the emphasis placed on me getting to know them, working toward getting the man to feel comfortable in my presence. We might enjoy a couple glasses of wine, but that’d be it — rarely more than that since it’s important to stay on track and focused. Then we’d go back to the hotel room and lounge and chat until it came time for me to slip into a gown and light the candles and turn on some music. We tended to like to rub and massage one another. We kissed and embraced. And cuddling was a big part of our time together oftentimes. A date lasted several hours, sex being only one aspect of it. I used to say that sex might be 10% of a date overall, albeit a very important 10% of it. But still…just 10%. The rest of the time was spent talking and petting and snuggling. So it’s not uncommon that bonds could arise, even if they didn’t rise to the level of love the way some think sexual encounters properly should. But there was affection and intrigue and compassion…which people out in the public prefer to ignore or dismiss when they discuss sex work.

My goal was to make the experience as mutually enjoyable as possible. Though I was there to tend to their needs primarily, since that was my job — to make these men feel better for a while. To give them someone to talk to who wouldn’t betray their trust, and I’ve kept my end of the bargain ever since.

The money was exchanged not just for sexual access but to establish boundaries. An important boundary was for me to let them go back to their lives without further interruption until we met again. And admittedly, providing for people in such a way can prove a bit draining on one’s soul over time, because life can be lonely and that sort of arrangement can underscore that feeling. It’s not exactly easy pouring your care into someone for a temporary amount of time, only to release them and then to go back to one’s own empty apartment. And it’s not easy when members of the general public deride you as a whore for doing what you do and say god-awful things to try to make you feel cheap and disposable. They know not what they speak. They just stand in judgment, unable to comprehend that there are people out there who appreciate you for taking up time with them in such a way and making them feel special for an evening.

Not everyone can or wishes to go out to bars or to play the dating game or to risk forming major attachments that may interfere with their jobs or lifestyles. Some men are married and are dealing with the passion fading in their marriages after having raised a family. Some men are nearing retirement age and just wanted to enjoy the company of a lady a good bit younger than themselves whom they learned about and interacted with online and found interesting. Some men are disabled and ashamed of their disabilities and have therefore had no success in the dating circuit. Some men are reclusive and going through hard times and just wanted someone to sit with them and hug them and breathe some playfulness back into their lives. Some men work long hours and didn’t have the time or energy to devote to an ongoing love affair with anybody. Some men were depressed after divorces and just wanted a no-hassle encounter where the conditions were understood upfront.

And I enjoyed providing that to them, so long as they were kind to me. Those who weren’t kind I walked away from, because no amount of money is worth scarring one’s psyche. Those wounds linger, so I was very careful to protect my interests as well as theirs. And a lot of us had fun. Enough so that many of the same men came back to see me again and again over the years, sometimes setting up regular arrangements from month to month.

I kept my fees very reasonable (comparably speaking in terms of the length of the date), because I understood the external costs the man bore for the evening, like the hotel room and dinner and perhaps also his travel expenses if he was from out of area. Because I preferred lengthier dates that allowed enough time for us to relax and feel comfortable with one another, I set it up that way and let it be known on my site. Because I wanted to be choosy too, I didn’t vie for top dollar for overnight dates (even when encouraged to do so). I strove to be reasonable and fair there, which allowed for more selection to choose from and made the dates affordable enough to where a man could visit me regularly. But it was enough that I got by just fine and was free to book usually only about 7-8 dates per month (a number of them being repeat clients, as mentioned already). This allowed me to focus the majority of my time on my school studies and reduced the sense of burnout that tends to come with a profession like that.

We had some really nice times. Lots of worthwhile memories. But then the naysayers on the outside looking in, plus my own sense of loneliness, eventually got to me…

What do people really want from you? They want everything. Too much. Sometimes clients get overly attached. Too often supposed friends and members of the public cast harsh judgments. But I learned long before ever becoming an escort that people are fickle and that they judge and condemn without much provocation or warrant. People like to call someone out of their name for anything and everything — for doing what they want or for not doing what they want or for doing with someone else what they themselves wanted. Or simply for entertainment, it seemed in some cases. And by this I’m referring to my teenage years too when it’s all-too-common for others (peers and adults alike) to harshly judge budding female sexuality — just automatically, without even anything to go off of other than perhaps their own sexual interest in you. I’ve listened to being called a “whore” since I was 13 or 14 years old, loooong before anyone could justifiably say such things about me. My initial crime was hitting puberty and attracting male attention.

We like to think that words do no harm, but they can get into a person’s psyche and become embedded. That’s proven true for me — the so-called whore. I’ve tried to embrace the term to lessen its stigma, but it always burns. Because it says to me that no matter what I do I cannot escape this word, this designation. Not unless I lived a life up on a shelf or perhaps if I proved to be tomboyish enough to erase my femininity (in which case they like to denounce you as a lesbian, so you can’t win for losing). But that is not who I am, and I always reveled in the exploration of my sexuality.

Intimacy is a beautiful thing — like a bird that has to remain free to land where it so chooses. You try to cage it, and there will be unforeseen consequences. You cannot trap and contain all of nature, much as people try. You have to let the spirit be free to interact and connect as it needs to. Love is the same way. You cannot force it, cannot coerce it — it is spontaneous in origin. Money cannot buy it, but nor does money automatically eradicate the possibility of it blooming. Humans do not seem to understand this.

I don’t know what my purpose in this life is. But I never regretted my time working as an escort and actually for a while there felt connected to something beyond myself in catering to my people. It felt right and undeserving of the cruel lashings the outside world likes to put upon it. It felt very much more innocent than half of anything that ever arises from the bar-scene, that much is for certain. By and large, it felt like human beings finding one another and taking comfort in each other’s presence. We each were searching for something and took refuge together when our paths crossed.

Not all clients were like that. Some came in with more mechanical interests. Some watched too much porn and thereby hindered their own abilities to experience intimacy in a mutually fulfilling way. Some clients belonged among online “hobbyist” groups where they bonded with other men over the sharing of (typically trumped-up) stories of their sexual exploits. Those clients wore me down and turned me off. I dealt with them as little as possible. Our agendas did not align. I had (and have) no love for so-called “hobbyists.”

And there were risks. It’s a risky profession. You take chances, even when you screen someone properly. I was very fortunate overall though. But there are some men who will hold you down and take what they want without concern for you or your comfort and safety. My experience has shown me you can meet those types of men anywhere, and through screening I rarely dealt with them during my time working as an escort. Much more likely to run across them at a bar or tavern, IME. I found that it was “civie” men (in other words, non-clients) who found out I worked as an escort who’d try to give me the hardest time, because they thought they could get away with it. They tried devaluing me far more than my clients ever did or would have dreamt of. Because in their twisted minds, that’s what I was there for. But no. That’s not what I was put here for, to be treated in an inhumane fashion by some stranger with a chip on his shoulder. No. And I continue to resent those memories. But they were not the fault of the industry and, as stated before, debuted in my life before I ever became an escort. Because that’s how some men are — always seeking a reason to see someone else as a toy they can use and abuse and discard. That points to something contained within human nature that is conveniently blamed off on the so-called whore because such men refuse to stand accountable for their own actions and choices and because they lack any real moral compass and only care about what they might legally get away with.

My disdain for men who act like that is a bottomless pit. They have earned my wrath, not only from what I know of them but also what I hear my loved ones suffered being put through by these types as well. If one wants to talk about evil, look there. They are the possessors and the controllers and the destroyers of innocence, because they care not. And yet they aim to conflate their dehumanizing ambitions with all of sex and all of love and all of intimacy that anyone else might be capable of experiencing. That‘s sick. It really is. But there it is, plain as day for anyone who cares to look at it.

I take issue with what we like to refer to as evil for this reason in particular, especially if the offense is done against a child. And it is this sort of shit that led me into studying the dark side of human nature and social dynamics, which I’ve spent the last decade or more learning about. As recommended before, the books of Erich Fromm help illuminate what I am pointing to here.

Some people are incapable of experiencing love, for whatever reasons, and yet they speak as though they are experts. And they denigrate the experiences of others by trying to make them out to appear pathetic and unworthy, when they themselves wouldn’t know a damned thing about something truly worthy. They live in their egos and are not interested in seeking truth. Reality appears to terrify them, for whatever reasons, so they try to construct their own. And they then preach from their pulpits to others, trying to poison the minds of the young and naive and downtrodden so that they too might turn out as miserable and thereby help validate the sick preacher’s distorted worldview.

I want nothing to do with that other than to study it.  But I am familiar and it’s THAT which ever made me feel dirty and low.

So, how do I live with myself? By walking on, placing one foot in front of the other, like so many out here. I’ve been living and learning. There are moral concerns with attaching “price tags” to sexual encounters, I would not dispute that. And there are moral concerns when it comes to dealing with married men, especially considering how popular it is in society to blame the “other” woman. I carry the weight of those concerns and have for over a decade. They undoubtedly will accompany me to my grave someday. I am not perfect and I never claimed to be a saint. Life is tricky and there is no purity here, not among adults. Everything’s a tradeoff. Pain and pleasure are not wholly separated. Love can be complex, and monogamy is much harder for some to stick with than others. And now we live in the era of full-blown decadence and temptation, which only further compounds these matters. Morality at this stage of the game is an interesting inquiry and one I take up a lot of time pondering in recent years. But I won’t claim to have the answers, especially not some universal answer applicable to all others.

Life tosses opportunities your way and you do with them what you can. All in all, when I look back, I am not ashamed of those life choices. It was a very human and humane occupation. Why must I regret that? Why have so many people pressured me to regret that? I cannot and I will not. It provided me with useful perspective on a lot of things, plenty of which might not even seem directly correlated in any way. We have this one life to live, and to spend it tucked safely away and above all scrutiny from others was never my ambition. I preferred to live my life and to do so on terms I established. If that’s wrong, then I apparently am incapable of being right in accordance with the ideals of others.

Thoughts to be continued another time…

[Updated the next day for greater clarity and to correct typos.]

On the dual strivings of human nature and power — an excerpt from “The Heart of Man” by Erich Fromm

I’m still in the mood to reflect back on Erich Fromm’s writings, so I’ll continue on with transcribing, this time picking up his book The Heart of Man: Its Genius For Good and Evil (1964), beginning on page 7:

Man—Wolf or Sheep?

There are many who believe that men are sheep; there are others who believe that men are wolves. Both sides can muster good arguments for their positions. Those who propose that men are sheep have only to point to the fact that men are easily influenced to do what they are told, even if it is harmful to themselves; that they have followed their leaders into wars which brought them nothing but destruction; that they have believed any kind of nonsense if it was only presented with sufficient vigor and supported by power—from the harsh threats of priests and kings to the soft voices of the hidden and not-so-hidden persuaders. It seems that the majority of men are suggestible, half-awake children, willing to surrender their will to anyone who speaks with a voice that is threatening or sweet enough to sway them. Indeed, he who has a conviction strong enough to withstand the opposition of the crowd is the exception rather than the rule, an exception often admired centuries later, mostly laughed at by his contemporaries.

It is on this assumption—that men are sheep—that the Great Inquisitors and the dictators have built their systems. More than that, this very belief that men are sheep and hence need leaders to make the decisions for them, has often given the leaders the sincere conviction that they were fulfilling a moral duty—even though a tragic one—if they gave man what he wanted: if they were leaders who took away from him the burden of responsibility and freedom.

But if most men have been sheep, why is it that man’s life is so different from that of sheep? His history has been written in blood; it is a history of continuous violence, in which almost invariably force has been used to bend his will. Did Talaat Pasha alone exterminate millions of Armenians? Did Hitler alone exterminate millions of Jews? Did Stalin alone exterminate millions of political enemies? These men were not alone; they had thousands of men who killed for them, tortured for them, and who did so not only willingly but with pleasure. Do we not see man’s inhumanity to man everywhere—in ruthless warfare, in murder and rape, in the ruthless exploitation of the weaker by the stronger, and in the fact that the sighs of the tortured and suffering creature have so often fallen on deaf ears and hardened hearts? All these facts have led thinkers like Hobbes to the conclusion that homo homini lupus (man is a wolf to his fellow man); they have led many of us today to the assumption that man is vicious and destructive by nature, that he is a killer who can be restrained from his favorite pastime only by fear of more powerful killers.

Yet the arguments of both sides leave us puzzled. It is true that we may personally know some potential or manifest killers and sadists as ruthless as Stalin and Hitler were; yet these are the exceptions rather than the rule. Should we assume that you and I and most average men are wolves in sheep’s clothing, and that our “true nature” will become apparent once we rid ourselves of those inhibitions which until now have prevented us from acting like beasts? This assumption is hard to disprove, yet it is not entirely convincing. There are numerous opportunities for cruelty and sadism in everyday life in which people could indulge without fear of retaliation; yet many do not do so; in fact, many react with a certain sense of revulsion when they meet cruelty and sadism.

Is there, then, another and perhaps better explanation for the puzzling contradiction we deal with here? Should we assume that the simple answer is that there is a minority of wolves living side by side with a majority of sheep? The wolves want to kill; the sheep want to follow. Hence the wolves get the sheep to kill, to murder, and to strangle, and the sheep comply not only because they enjoy it, but because they want to follow; and even then the killers have to invent stories about the nobility if their cause, about defense against the threat to freedom, about revenge for bayoneted children, raped women, and violated honor, to get the majority of the sheep to act like wolves. This answer sounds plausible, but it still leaves many doubts. Does it not imply that there are two human races, as it were—that of wolves and that of sheep? Furthermore, how is it that sheep can be so easily persuaded to act like wolves if it is not in their nature to do so, even providing that violence is presented to them as a sacred duty? Our assumptions regarding wolves and sheep may not be tenable; is it perhaps true after all that the wolves represent the essential quality of human nature, only more overtly than the majority show it? Or, after all, maybe the entire alternative is erroneous. Maybe man is both wolf and sheep—or neither wolf nor sheep?

The answer to these questions is of crucial importance today, when nations contemplate the use of the most destructive forces for the extinction of their “enemies,” and seem not to be deterred even by the possibility that they themselves may be extinguished in the holocaust. If we are convinced that human nature is inherently prone to destroy, that the need to use force and violence is rooted in it, then our resistance to ever increasing brutalization will become weaker and weaker. Why resist the wolves when we are all wolves, although some more so than others?

The question whether man is wolf or sheep is only a special formulation of a question which, in its wider and more general aspects, has been one of the most basic problems of Western theological and philosophical thought: Is man basically evil and corrupt, or is he basically good and perfectable? The Old Testament does not take the position of man’s fundamental corruption. Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God are not called sin; nowhere is there a hint that this disobedience has corrupted man. On the contrary, the disobedience is the condition for man’s self-awareness, for his capacity to choose, and thus in the last analysis this first act of disobedience is man’s first step toward freedom. It seems that their disobedience was even within God’s plan; for, according to prophetic thoughts, man just because he was expelled from Paradise is able to make his own history, to develop his human powers, and to attain a new harmony with man and nature as a fully developed individual instead of the former harmony in which he was not yet an individual. The Messianic concept of the prophets certainly implies that man is not fundamentally corrupt and that he can be saved without any special act of God’s grace. But it does not imply that this potential for good will necessarily win. If man does evil he becomes more evil. Thus, Pharaoh’s heart “hardens” because he keeps on doing evil; it hardens to a point where no more change or repentance is possible. The Old Testament offers at least as many examples of evil-doing as of right-doing, and does not exempt even exalted figures like King David from the list of evil doers. The Old Testament view is that man has both capacities—that of good and that of evil—and that man must choose between good and evil, blessing and curse, life and death. Even God does not interfere in his choice; he helps by sending his messengers, the prophets, to teach the norms which lead to the realization of goodness, to identify the evil, and to warn and to protest. But this being done, man is left alone with his “two strivings,” that for good and that for evil, and the decision is his alone.

The Christian development was different. In the course of the development of the Christian Church, Adam’s disobedience was conceived as sin. In fact, as a sin so severe that it corrupted his nature and with it that of all of his descendants, and thus man by his own effort could never rid himself of this corruption. Only God’s own act of grace, the appearance of Christ, who died for man, could extinguish man’s corruption and offer salvation for those who accepted Christ.

But the dogma of original sin was by no means unopposed in the Church. Pelagius assailed it but was defeated. The Renaissance humanists within the Church tended to weaken it, even though they could not directly assail or deny it, while many heretics did just that. Luther had, if anything, an even more radical view of man’s innate evilness and corruption, while thinkers of the Renaissance and later of the Enlightenment took a drastic step in the opposite direction. The latter claimed that all evil in man was nothing but the result of circumstances, hence that men did not really have to choose. Change the circumstances that produce evil, so they thought, and man’s original goodness will come forth almost automatically. This view also colored the thinking of Marx and his successors. The belief in man’s goodness was the result of man’s new self-confidence, gained as a result of the tremendous economic and political progress which started with the Renaissance. Conversely, the moral bankruptcy of the West which began with the First World War and led beyond Hitler and Stalin, Coventry and Hiroshima to the present preparation for universal extinction, brought forth again the traditional emphasis on man’s propensity for evil. The new emphasis was a healthy antidote to the underestimation of the inherent potential of evil in man—but too often it served to ridicule those who had not lost their faith in man, sometimes by misunderstanding and even distorting their position.

As one whose views have often been misrepresented as underestimating the potential of evil within man, I want to emphasize that such sentimental optimism is not the mood of my thought. It would be difficult indeed for anyone who has had a long clinical experience as a psychoanalyst to belittle the destructive forces within men. In severely sick patients, he sees these forces at work and experiences the enormous difficulty of stopping them or of channeling their energy into constructive directions. It would be equally difficult for any person who has witnessed the explosive outburst of evil and destructiveness since the beginning of the First World War not to see the power and intensity of human destructiveness. Yet there exists the danger that the sense of powerlessness which grips people today—intellectuals as well as the average man—with ever increasing force, may lead them to accept a new version of corruption and original sin which serves as a rationalization for the defeatist view that war cannot be avoided because it is the result of the destructiveness of human nature. Such a view, which sometimes prides itself on its exquisite realism, is unrealistic on two grounds. First, the intensity of destructive strivings by no means implies that they are invincible or even dominant. The second fallacy in this view lies in the premise that wars are primarily the result of psychological forces. It is hardly necessary to dwell long on this fallacy of “psychologism” in the understanding of social and political phenomena. Wars are the result of the decision of political, military, and business leaders to wage war for the sake of gaining territory, natural resources, advantages in trade; for defense against real or alleged threats to their country’s security by another power; or for reason for the enhancement of their own personal prestige and glory. These men are not different from the average man: they are selfish, with little capacity to renounce personal advantage for the sake of others; but they are neither cruel nor vicious. When such men—who in ordinary life probably would do more good than harm—get into positions of power where they can command millions of people and control the most destructive weapons, they can cause immense harm. In civilian life they might have destroyed a competitor; in our world of powerful and sovereign states (“sovereign” means not subject to any moral law which restricts the action of the sovereign state), they may destroy the human race. The ordinary man with extraordinary power is the chief danger for mankind—not the fiend or the sadist. […]

[Bold emphases mine]

Stopping on page 14.

[Edited for typos on Dec. 11th, 2014. Apologies for the delay in re-proofreading.]

The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil

The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil – a 2007 talk by Philip G. Zimbardo, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Stanford University:

Zimbardo’s latest book, The Lucifer Effect, attempts to understand how good people do evil deeds. His talk outlines his involvement as expert witness for the defense team of one of the military police officers responsible at Abu Ghraib, and also provides a rich history of psychological research into the kind of behavior transformations evident in Iraq. First, Zimbardo presents a slideshow of Abu Ghraib abominations, including some digital photos that were not widely distributed by the media. Then he digs deep into the archives for a horrifically illustrated tour of experiments that make a persuasive case that certain, predictable situations corrupt people into wielding power in a destructive way.

He describes Stanley Milgram’s 1963 Yale-based research demonstrating that people will behave sadistically when confronted by “an authority in a lab coat.” A vast majority of the subjects delivered what they were told were dangerous electric shocks to a learner in another room, to the point of apparently killing the other person. Researchers skeptical of his results replicated them. This time, professors demanded that students shock real puppies standing on electrified grills. Zimbardo’s own prison experiment turned an ordinary group of young men into power-hungry “guards,” humiliating equally ordinary “prisoners” in the basement of Stanford’s psychology building. The descent into barbarity was so rapid that Zimbardo had to cancel the experiment after a few days.

The recipe for behavior change isn’t complicated. “All evil begins with a big lie,” says Zimbardo, whether it’s a claim to be following the word of God, or the need to stamp out political opposition. A seemingly insignificant step follows, with successive small actions, presented as essential by an apparently just authority figure. The situation presents others complying with the same rules, perhaps protesting, but following along all the same. If the victims are anonymous or dehumanized somehow, all the better. And exiting the situation is extremely difficult.

Abu Ghraib fit this type of situation to a T, says Zimbardo. The guards, never trained for their work helping military interrogators, worked 12-hour shifts, 40 days without a break, in chaotic, filthy conditions, facing 1,000 foreign prisoners, and hostile fire from the neighborhood. They operated in extreme stress, under orders to impose fear on their prisoners. Zimbardo believes the outcome was perfectly predictable, and while never absolving these soldiers of personal responsibility, believes justice won’t be done until “the people who created the situation go on trial as well: George Tenet, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and George Bush.”

Flow: For Love of Water

“Flow: How Did a Handful of Corporations Steal Our Water?”:

More information on this film can be found on its official site.

Touching on the subject of evil

For days I’ve wanted to write on here but haven’t known where to pick up and begin. So much has been on my mind in recent times. Three days ago a young man killed his mother before walking into an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut and shot and killed 26 people, 20 of whom were young children, before allegedly turning his gun on himself. I’m told there was a shooting at a mall up in Oregon as well. A friend mentioned a shooting in Las Vegas also.

Tonight I came across the unbelievable story of Jaycee Lee Dugard, a woman about my age who was kidnapped by Phillip and Nancy Garrido back in 1991 when she was only 11 years old, holding her captive in their backyard for 18 years. During that time she birthed and raised two daughters fathered by Phillip Garrido, a convicted sexual predator on parole who repeatedly managed to get away with this crime despite 60 visits to his residency over those years by parole officers.

What do all of these crimes, and so many others, share in common? They all point toward that which we call “evil.” Leaving aside for the time being any religious claims on the subject, how might we understand evil in the hearts of people and within our culture? How might we grapple with this concept in the 21st century?

That’s been a question on my mind for a long time now. I’ve read a good deal on the topic, and one author whose words and ideas have had a great influence on my thinking is the late psychoanalyst Erich Fromm. He is reported to have been an early member of the “Frankfurt School,” a loosely associated group of dissident neo-Marxist theorists involved in a unique interdisciplinary approach to social theory. I’ve read all of his books that I could get my hands on, including The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, Man For Himself: An Inquiry Into the Psychology of Ethics, Escape From Freedom, The Sane Society, Psychoanalysis and Religion, The Heart of Man: Its Genius For Good and Evil, The Art of Loving, and The Art of Being. Going forward I intend to transcribe excerpts from his books to illuminate his teachings for others who may be interested.