Simplify

Wee hours.

I couldn’t get much sleep for some reason. I’m both depressed and anxious at once, and my thoughts are all dark and confused. If people could be content with science facts alone, then they wouldn’t need a personal reason why things happen as they do. But instead, we always cry why me, or why do bad things happen to good people, and so on ad nauseam. The error of this consists in the values of good and bad. These are man made ideas based on what gives us pleasure or pain, but religion raises them to spiritual absolutes, totally fictitious and despotic. Life is not as dramatic as we make it out to be. We are very vain creatures, thinking the world orbits around our interests. The word for this is anthropocentric. It is only human beings who say that they are made in the image of God. We deny our relatedness to the animal kingdom, as we always have since the time of Charles Darwin. We believe we are exempt from evolution. We and modern apes are not descended from a common ancestor, according to public opinion. Still, the law of parsimony suggests that the simplest answer is the one that science has given. Everything else thrown into the picture only muddies what ought to be crystal clear. There’s nothing else besides cause and effect. No good and no bad, so theodicy makes no sense. Thus the drama is greatly minimized and the paranoia goes away along with the idea of praise and blame— of being judged and condemned. 

Poet and Antipoet

Quarter of eight.

Not in a hurry to leave the house this morning. I finished the pistachio ice cream during the wee hours and gave a bite to Aesop. Then we retired to bed for another four hours. Right now I don’t have anything metaphysical to write about, being skeptical of that sort of thing. I remember how Robert Frost mistrusted science and technological progress, though I think he was quite silly to dig in his heels and try to deny the reality of life around him. Perhaps some of us still feel the way he did, embracing poetry and disregarding science facts. I once wrote a line when I was young:

Although it has been done, no one can land on the moon.

I guess I’m a bit ambivalent or undecided on the matter… I ought to call my sister this morning. But as before, no big hurry. The color of the sky combines amber with lead. Today is the Ides of March, of which Shakespeare told us to beware in Julius Caesar. Probably it’s just another day for you and me. To what extent do we want to trust imagination for guidance in everyday life? Evidence is more accurate than intuition— but less entertaining and sugarcoated. Do we have to stop believing in Santa Claus? 

Quandary

Eight thirty five.

I feel better this morning, even though my sleep was filled with nightmares. Generally they were about the clash of poetry and empiricism, and where do I stand, and what am I supposed to do? If we don’t take science seriously, then we will pollute ourselves to extinction. Poetry is good entertainment, but it won’t reverse things like climate change or develop a cure for schizophrenia. At some point people have to be responsible for the future and pull their heads out of the sand, or else suffer the same fate as the dinosaur and the dodo. Someday the trail of cheeseburgers and fries will come to an end. Human beings are mostly selfish and vain, thinking the world revolves around them. Does the sun go round the earth or the other way around? Is the moon made of cheese? If it doesn’t profit humans somehow, we’re not interested in it. What’s the Amazon Rain Forest to us if we can’t cut it down? Who cares how many African elephants are left when their ivory is so valuable? We perceive everything with dollar signs in our eyes. All the time I hear conservatives argue that there should be a “balance” between ecology and economics, but this is only a way of excluding the environment.

Nine thirty. Something made me think of a CD by Sonic Youth: Bad Moon Rising. I borrowed it from a friend long ago and listened to it only once. For me, the experience of hearing it was terrifying, even though in a way it was well done. The music went to dark spiritual places that triggered my psychosis. A quality of this morning, perhaps the fog and the cold, suggested to me autumn many years back. Bonnie Rose smiled and waved from her black truck as she was returning from the coffee shack. Suk, covering for Michelle, was very nice. I kind of enjoy this nostalgia for old friends and music, even Sonic Youth. The feeling of October in February gives me the urge to read “Sleepy Hollow” again and creep myself out a little. And by the way, I located the Joseph Campbell book I feared was lost.

Splitting of the Mind

Midnight. 

My letter to S— this evening was pretty good; it became a discussion of William James quite out of the blue. He sidesteps reason altogether and looks instead at the practical consequences of any belief an individual holds. This method may be the best way to save metaphysics from the logical positivists. And maybe this was the reasoning of the movers and shakers two decades ago when my mother died and the real world blindsided me. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing bogus quantum mechanics or faith in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the intelligence of water crystals, Intelligent Design Theory, and discovering a Boeing 747 on Mars. The rationale for all of this became the figure of William James, especially his Pragmatism and The Will to Believe. As late as winter 2010, his philosophy was resurrected to sort of usher out the crazy millennium, or perhaps give it another last gasp. In August 2002, I had an assessment for addiction issues at an agency downtown. I told N— what my beliefs were, and was there anything wrong with that. She replied, “It depends on how you use it.” This was a statement of Pragmatism very early in the game, which would drag on for another ten years. I first heard about Cognitive Therapy the following year, but it wasn’t available here until spring 2006. It ran contrary to Jamesian philosophy by being evidence based, almost too little too late. Simultaneously there were these two competing ideas, Pragmatism and something more akin to science: enough to split anybody’s brain into halves at war with each other.

One twenty five. So what is the solution to this pandemic of schizophrenia, which literally means “splitting of the mind?” Because ultimately it comes down to the nature of the human brain, with its two cerebral hemispheres, each with its own mentality. They communicate with each other by means of the corpus callosum and the cerebral commissures, bridging the gap between them. They inform one another. Some people are more dominant on one side than the other. And some people fiercely deny the truth of hemispheric lateralization, that is, the specialization of each half of the brain. My brother and I got into an ugly argument over it twelve years ago, before he retired from his career as a professor. He told his students that hemispheric lateralization was a myth after our disagreement. But he wasn’t aware of the studies done with split brain epileptic patients, where the results suggested a recognizable difference between the left and right brain… Whether you accept lateralization or not, the solution is to improve communication of one side with the other— and to educate people about psycho physiology. 

A Mini Lesson

The summer of 2020 was not just a fluke. We can expect summers to get a lot worse from year to year. I say this because I believe what scientists tell us about climate change. When we reject this information, it’s because people are too vain and selfish to accept the truth of modern science. We don’t want to believe that we belong to the animal kingdom and that Darwin was absolutely right. It may take forever for people to be disabused of their religious ideas and the fluff built into their languages. This stubbornness partly explains why some people still support the president in denial and delusion. Our policy on the ecology has always been that of the ostrich.

During Victorian times, Tennyson wrote a poem that grapples with the problem of being “descended from the brutes.” He had a hard time countenancing the implications of Darwin’s ideas. Unfortunately, we in the 21st Century are not much closer to acceptance than he was. We’ll never feel the full force of the ecology and our participation in it until we acknowledge what Darwin had to say a century and a half ago. And since his time, there’s been the whole field of biological anthropology and paleo anthropology, which deals with our hominid ancestors and the lines of the hominids that became extinct. But first we have to accept evolution for a fact in this country, and not just an idle theory. And yes, human beings are subject to evolution as well as every other species on earth. It’s time to stop exempting ourselves from nature and the biosphere on the pretext of flattering old traditions. 

Non judgment

Three o’clock in the morning.

I felt uncomfortable lying in bed trying to sleep, so I got up. It’s another very long night, and the rhythm of the rain keeps me company. Rain is one more “R” word. As for the psychology of addiction, I think you either kick it or you don’t. Maybe it’s as simple as the desire to stop drinking; if you want it, then it will happen. A counselor told me I’d be a rich man if I could solve the mystery of why some addicts quit and others don’t. It seems to be independent of all the psychology and religion that professionals throw at it. It has to be a biological mechanism, but no one has figured it out yet. But observe the distinction between not quitting and the inability to quit, or the disinclination to quit drinking. Simply not drinking carries no moral baggage. When we say a person can’t or won’t stop, we apply a moral label of either weakness or willfulness, respectively. Not surprisingly, the science of psychology derived from ethics, the whole field of prescriptive statements. The hard sciences are only descriptive. There is no should or ought about behavior. Things just happen, like the random rainfall on the roof. 

Postscript (William James)

Quarter after four. I got exasperated reading part of Pragmatism and put it away. It goes against the grain of science and logical analysis, verification, and sense experience; in a word, it’s non empirical. The way James defines truth is unscientific. How can one say that the “truth” of an idea depends on its practical consequences? As he already admits, this method is non rational, so I guess it’s take it or leave it. I’ve always been one of the rational critics. According to James, my belief that the moon is made of cheese is “true” if the belief gets good results. I used to beat my head against the wall ten years ago when there were so many Pragmatists running around. Who needed facts? Also, the existence of reason and rational people was actually denounced by psychologists who reduced reason to a tool for excusing bad behavior. We couldn’t win. Science was regarded as evil. But luckily, around the same time, evidence based therapy was also on the climb, though it was slow and never quite as popular as the Jamesian fluff. I can’t imagine what the next big thing will be… 

The Christian Left

Five forty.

Aesop stayed in bed while I got up to look for an email from my friend. My mind hovers on the precipice of pluses and zeros. God or no God. Four hours ago I speculated that the truths of religion are built into the English language. But it feels to me like the miraculous is very far away. The thought that helped me sleep was of a friend I know who has an autistic daughter and two schizophrenic sons. It reinforced for me the validity of psychiatry and the biological perspective. Maybe I should find another psychiatrist? And yet they only prescribe medications. I can’t believe I fired a psychiatrist and gravitated towards the Church and psychology, but that’s exactly what I did. I must have been desperate for a cure for alcoholism. In Les Miserables, I’ve left Jean Valjean and Cosette in the relative safety of a Benedictine convent, and that is sort of like my life currently.

Seven o’clock. It also explains why I’m stuck on the song “Sanctuary.” But is the sanctuary really safe for me? As the general red shifts to blue, my own color changes as well. I will be a blue person in a blue context, and who knows where the reds will go? It’s a rather scary situation for everyone. Like being caught behind enemy lines in the wrong color shirt. Eventually it will get sorted out, but it takes a while. I’d never heard of the Christian Left, but I suppose it exists. Our Redeemer is a Democratic church, so I could be in the right place. I don’t feel comfortable with the Christian Right, however. The times are very confusing. I’m beginning to see where I’ve placed myself as political shades turn from red to blue. Very strange. 

Recapitulation

Three twenty five. During my friendship with Kate, I drank a lot of alcohol. The fact is that I never met her in person, so it was kind of like a dream, something that didn’t happen in reality. Somehow I have to ground myself again. Put my feet back on the earth. Every day seven years ago I was higher than a kite and couldn’t use good judgment. It’s extremely painful to remember those times now. I very easily could have died of my addiction. Dr Fitzharris said I looked like I wouldn’t live much longer. I had edema in my ankles because my liver was malfunctioning. I had iron overload for the same reason. I had gastritis a number of times. And then I had DTs and neuropathy and other neurological issues. What was fun about that?… I can’t figure out how I fell into such a cycle of addiction. If I could, then I would write a book about it to help other people who still struggle. My sister saw it happening to me from the outside and felt helpless to intervene. The edema started in the summer of 2013, I think. Joann the nurse caught it, but I never did anything about it… I’m three years sober and now I wonder how I ever got so addicted. Was it because I wanted my brother to approve of me? He always said I should drink even more. I finally cut the cord with him almost two years ago. Now I don’t think of him very much. When I joined the church in 2017, my brother made fun of me, but I should have the last laugh. I know now that religion is simply another perspective on human life, and not necessarily the opposite of science. I did the things I did for good reasons, and Kate was another person I left behind… Today, there is still this terrible ambivalence between religion and skepticism. I don’t know how it will resolve itself. But, I know that my sister is honest and ethical while my brother just isn’t. And then there are my friends on WordPress… 

Awareness

Noon thirty. I just finished reading Oedipus the King. It makes me wonder about compliance with gods and higher powers, and how human pride can interfere with justice. And again I consider the example of Mr T—, this unaccountable “narcissist.” Maybe life is supposed to have a certain flow to it, in conformity with the will of the gods, proportionate and rational. This would be the Greek way. Any excess, anything immoderate, is a pollution that throws off the balance. Pastor is planning a big Christmas whingding to usher out this “crazy” year, but I don’t think this is the answer. I’m quite a dissident to this idea. Rather than participate in church, I’d like to stay home and keep quiet until January.

Four thirty in the morning. I was just considering the implications of my post, “Where Have All the Schizos Gone?” A cabbie declared to me that the incumbent is “mentally ill,” and I replied that he may have a personality disorder. If this is true, then the time is propitious to take psychiatry seriously again, but do it with compassion and expertise. I also maintain that religion is ineffectual in treating people with mental illness, so that science in general needs a revival for the common good. Personally, I’m sick of the Church. People scratch their heads and call the incumbent “crazy,” but the clinical truth will be more specific and more fair. I’m no diagnostician myself, but I think Mr T— can be helped.