I give you this fact which should be obvious: No one ever does anything that to them, at least in that moment, does not make some sort of sense. We may often have a WTF moment afterward, but that is hindsight talking. So, what are we doing when we say an action is “senseless?” We are saying we need not consider how that action made sense to that person when they did it. We are saying we need not think about how they came to think and feel that way. Most importantly, we are avoiding looking into the mirror they hold up to us. It may be about our politics, our theologies, our educational systems or health care systems, our justice systems, or our economic system, whatever, but the mirror is there, always. Yes, the person may have some mental illness, and that allows us to say he couldn’t possibly be making sense, could not have any message for us other than that he did not get the treatment he needed. But even if the action was driven by hallucinations and/or delusions, even those are saying something and take forms and contents consistent with culture and society. Calling the act “senseless” allows us to dismiss the idea that it could have any deeper meaning, but is, “Just another nut job with a gun, how sad.” Then we do not have to see the roots of the hate, or fear, or rage, or disappointment, or confusion that brought them to that place. Then we can turn away from the mirror. Someone else will come all too soon to hold it up to us again, and again, and again, and again,….and again.
Just to be very clear about reality, the vast majority of people dealing with mental illness are not killing, raping, or blowing things up. They are doing their best to live as well as they can with their conditions and manage their lives. Many are active in forums like this sharing their experience and offering support and encouragement to others. Many are active in their communities in similar ways and advocating for the needs of their peers. They are not lashing out. They are reaching out. Many others are just quietly getting through from day to day in spite of their mood swings, anxieties, intrusive thoughts, voices, or whatever the manifestations of their conditions may be. That is the reality of mental illness.
I’ve been scrounging about in my archives from about 25 years ago when I got into some Usenet news groups, in the early days of The World Wide Web. One of them was on Taoism. This post was in response to someone’s comment that the participants were the blind leading the blind. I had some fun with it and hope you all do too.
The Blind Leading The Blind – YES!
Ah, J______, what a sly one you are. It’s true, we are the blind, but not leading. Having gone to take hold of a piece of the elephant, we gather to share what we have found. As we do so, all gain a greater understanding, a deeper appreciation of the thing-as-a-whole.
More important, perhaps, is another image, that of travelers gathering at an inn along the Way to rest in good company and exchange tales of their journeys.
The Great and Terrible Oz is a bombastic bore. I’d far rather have a conversation with the little man behind the curtain. As Dylan Thomas said, “I enjoy people telling me about their childhoods. But, they had better be quick about it or I’ll be telling them about mine.”
Among my personal quirks, and one I much enjoy, is that when I write I find odd collections of quotes come to mind. The connections among them are not always clear, but somehow related to the context. So, here goes. [Of course, in the original post the quotes were all in plain text. The art is new.]
My, what a long strange trip from what seemed an off-the-wall
comment. [And now, just because its a favourite, one more.]
One thing on which, at some point, all the great teachings agree is that they counsel humility and caution against vanity. In Christian creed vanity is counted one of the seven deadly sins. The rendering of one of the Ten Commandments in English reads, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain,” which, perhaps should read, “in vanity,” which sounds to me as saying one should not presume to be so vain as to think one can speak as if with the voice and authority of God. The voice from the burning bush tells Moses it is nameless, a way of saying to him that its totality is beyond the limits of his finite mind to encompass, as is the prohibition in the Commandment of attempting to make a graven image of it. So too is the question to Job from the voice in the whirlwind, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?” Always, the admonition to know the limits of our understanding.
And, beyond the many gods of the Hindu pantheon there is the Atman which cannot be defined but is the source of all.
Lao Tsu tells us,
He describes the sage as humble and not taking credit.
Over and over we are reminded to be humble in the face of the great mystery at the core of being.
So, I ask this: Is it not a great vanity for someone to say their understanding or opinion of the will of God or their interpretation of some scripture is the only truth and that that with offends them also offends God? Is it not a vanity if they say this love is blessed and that is damned, and that they are commanded by God to allow the one and prevent the other from being acknowledged? Or, that they know when a developing embryo is endowed with a soul? Who do they think they are? Are they not speaking vainly in the name of the Deity?
I got to thinking about “The Stigma.” Where does it originate? I think I see a part of the answer in that ancient saying, “There, but for the Grace go I.” For some of us when we encounter the poor, the afflicted, the addicted, the homeless, the displaced, or the mad, that awareness of how easily we might become or have been born among them moves us to compassion and a desire to be of service in some way. Others know only fear and push the thought of sameness away. They do not want to encounter such people and want them out of sight. They think up ways they are better than those ones, more virtuous, more prudent, more righteous, etc. But the root is fear, not of those people, but of feeling like them, of knowing they are not so different, and the distance between not so great. The stigmatization then arises, at least in part, from the need to deny that fear, to avoid having to imagine oneself standing in those shoes.
If that is so, how to change it? How might those who believe themselves sane come to understand that those they call mad are showing them something important about being human and giving them opportunities to be more fully part of the wholeness of the family themselves? How to free them from that mind killer, fear?
An Intersection of Epistemology
and Self-Organizing Systems
I wrote this somewhere around 20 years ago, maybe only 15. It seems timely now with what has been billed as perhaps the last chance Climate Conference to happen next month.
I am indebted to Gregory Bateson for the story of the Boiled Frog. It goes like this: Put a frog into a pan of cold water. If you heat the water slowly enough the frog will not try to jump out and will eventually be boiled. Why? Because the frog (or any other animal) can only know whether it is in a “too hot” or “too cold” environment by comparing its core body temperature to its skin temperature. Since the frog is cold-blooded, its core temperature can vary greatly. Presumably, there is some threshold of difference between core and skin temperature that will alert the frog to a problem and stimulate it to jump. The trick is to not exceed that difference … without a perceptible difference there is no perception. What the frog cannot percieve, it cannot know and cannot act upon.
We humans appear to be having a similar difficulty. Our environment is, according to some observers, getting warmer. But, it is doing this very slowly, too slowly for our large scale decision making institutions to be able to perceive an immanent threat to their and their constituencies’ survival. As a group we are not seeing a large enough difference fast enough to allow us to achieve a broad consensus (a) that something can and must be done about it, (b) what to do about it, (c) who should do it, or (d) who will bear the cost. We do not understand the planetary climate system well enough to say with consensual certainty how fast or far the process can go, how much difference any given cange in our behavior can make, or even whether or not it may already be too late to make any significant difference before the consequences to our societies and the natural systems on which they depend become catastrophic.
Some Paleoclimatologists are saying this sort of change has happened before, about 10-12,000 years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age. Whatever social memory we might have of that shift is now lost in myth and legend, and unavailable as a guide to what may be happening now. Then, the world climate warmed significantly and rapidly, and settled into the large patterns which our urban civilizations have taken for granted for the last 5,000 years. We have multiplied our numbers and invested generations of effort in settled patterns of distributing that population with the assumption that these climatic patterns were permanent.
OK, here, I’ve gone and done it, started a blog. I named it “Cabbages and Kings” after a line in a poem in Alice Through The Looking Glass.
“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes – and ships – and sealing wax –
Of cabbages – and kings –
And why the sea is boiling hot –
And whether pigs have wings.”
That should leave me sufficient scope for my wandering thoughts and stories.
More to come.