Welp, I did it again. Still a drunkard after all. Some like to say ‘thank God, I’m an alcoholic’. I think that’s bullshit. But to each their own.
Look, I know that this is a blog about addiction and sobriety. Okay?
And I promise that things will go back to normal, soon! I will be discussing addiction in my next post. I promise!
So please enjoy this episode from My Life With Kant, where I discuss evil in ancient literature. Please forgive any spelling and grammatical errors.
If you are no stranger to this podcast, then you should know….that existence is a troubling thing to grapple with. And one of the most troubling aspects of existence, is that it must end. We fight our entire lives for survival, but it’s a battle that we must eventually lose. But our ideas of death…have changed greatly over the last thousand years. I mean, it’s still a terrible thing to think about…but our mystification of it have more or less subsided.
However, I like to think that the realization of death was what kickstarted our path down theological and philosophical. People of ancient and pre-historic times had to come to realize, that no matter how hard you try, death wins in the end. This thought…possibly leading them to ask questions like: “what’s the meaning of life” and “what happens when we die.” There was no understanding, in those times, about the necessity of death. And possibly to ease their fears, ancient thinkers had to look to the gods in order to find solace in life…thus leading us down the long path of imperial dogmatism, that we still find ourselves in today.
And indeed, perhaps the earliest known piece of fiction “The Epic of Gilgamesh” deals with this very problem. Now the version that I have doesn’t mention this….but according to the Great Courses lecture series titled “Why Evil Exists” by Charles Matthews…which is excellent by the way…but he says, and I’m paraphrasing here…the epic actually begins by saying “This is an old story, but one still worth telling”. And that’s a great way for it to begin. It sort of reminds me of Star Wars: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away”. But it goes to show you, that this is a VERY old story….one that was being told long before it was enscribed on clay tablets. So it shows, that humans have been thinking about death for a very long time.
However, this Epic of Gilgamesh is also an example, or I should say an exploration, of evil, as discussed in that lecture series. So Star Wars is not unique in that regard, it’s a simple rehash of stories told before it. As the idea of the good forces of nature versus the dark side, and how those two forces play out in the physical world…has been a literary and philosophical device since….AT LEAST Mesopotamia. Humans have been exploring this subject since the very beginning of intellectual thought. However, in this very early thought, evil was considered an intrical part of the universe, as presented in the Enuma Elish. This myth (The Enuma Elish), can either be seen as an inspiration to, or a rival thought to the later Genesis myth of creation. But myths like these, that brought forth the idea that it was the clash between good and evil that resulted in our physical world. This, of course, contrasts with the account in Genesis, where the universe was made perfect, only to later be perverted into evil.
But the Epic of Gilgamesh begins with our hero (Gilgamesh), not quite living up to the standards of good. He is a half-man/half-god king, that has probably let power get to his head. The gods hear the elders of the kingdom, who want to put a stop to Gilgamesh’s antics. So the instruct the goddess, Aruru, to put a stop to him…So she created Enkidu, half-man/half-beast, to balance out his powers. And the two infamously become friends. Prior to their meeting, Enkidu becomes fully enveloped in his humanness, and comes to dominate Gilgamesh physically, and brought him back to his humanness. It’s through this revalation in his friendship with Enkidu, that Gilgamesh wishes to do great things.
But their adventures together, and their successes, causes them to forget their mortality…but this reality becomes all to real with the death of Enkidu. Gilgamesh is absolutely devastated. Alone, Gilgamesh goes through his own trial and tribulations in seeking immortality, but only comes to learn that it is impossible for him. So in the end, as I have said many times before, it’s what we do between birth and death, that counts. The story of Gilgamesh and his fate, depends on what version you have…since it appears that the epic itself was stapled together over the centuries. But there’s one ending that has the moral being, that it is better to live life itself, rather than dwell in the underworld. And the one according to Charles Matthews is, that you can’t go into the final battle (meaning death) with anger in your heart. But it all ends the same way…Gilgamesh dies, and that’s the end of all of our stories….but we can’t go into that battle with regret, hate, or wanting…because you have fought the good fight, and have reaped its rewards.
Now we can think of the Epic of Gilgamesh as being this big, extraverted, and grandiose story about life and death. And considering that its likely an old tale that was told around the campfire (for hundreds or possibly thousands of years), so you have to hit those high marks of memorability in order to survive and ultimately become one of the first stories committed to the written word. And when we consider a great deal of the literature of the ancient world, they are similar stories of heroism, conquering evil, and man’s folly.
However, one story, goes against all of that. This one is a far more introverted tale of suffering and evil, making it therefore…far more terrifying. This is the Book of Job, which is a story that most of us became aquainted with through the church. But that interpretation, the one we were presented with, grossly undersells the terror and evil we actually face. If we remove all of the baggage that later Christian thinkers attached to this story…what we find is something truly ahead of its time. The Book of Job, I’ve read somewhere, some years ago, could possibly be the oldest book in the Old Testament. I don’t know if that still stands, but if it were true, I think it would further mystify the text for me. Because it would show, that our observations and ponderings about the arbitrariness of evil goes beyond the Abrahamic religions…I don’t know.
But, as a kid, this was the book that horrified me. Body horror, like exorcisms and unwarranted physical suffering, are thoughts that keep me up at night. One dream I had in particular, there was an innocent man in the desert, with the unseen devil inflicting physical pain on him. His rotting flesh was falling off of him, his bones breaking to the point where he was immobile…yet he continued to believe in the goodness of existence. However, with him alone and dying on a hill in an unknown desert…the dream just ends. It’s an awful dream to have as a kid. And I think that that’s what still unnerves me about the Book of Job, and why I think it transcends whatever sort of theological interpretations thrusted upon it. It touches a nerve with all of us, when we consider why bad things happen to seemingly good people.
But Job is a blameless man…whom God takes pride in through his uprightness. However, Satan, God’s rival, believes that if he can reverse Job’s fortunes, he can undo his righteousness. God accepts the challenge. And already, this becomes a scenario, that’s asking questions that are still relevant…Satan believes that Job is good, simply because God has blessed him. If he had never experienced those fortunes, Job wouldn’t be the man he was. To me, this is a radical idea the ancients were exploring…when we consider nature vs. nurture, and free will….the authors of Job (perhaps unintentionally) were engaging in early philosophical and sociological thought…would we be the same people today, had we of faced different fates? Or are our characteristics fundamentally who we are? Satan answering no to the first question, and God answering yes to the latter.
But these two forces of nature, The Good and the evil, and their decision to essentially torture Job…was arbitrary. Satan just so happened to be in God’s domain that day, and the two decided to see what Job was made of. Mind you, it was Satan’s that came up with the idea to begin with, and God allowed it. So, we can say that evil is the instigator, as it is indeed in all of story-telling. Yet we have a choice.
And despite all of the horridness that Job endures, he still choses not to curse God. However, that doesn’t mean that evil doesn’t take its toll. And what we get as a result, is existential despair at its best. His friends believe that he must have done SOMETHING to warrant his suffering. So Job wrestles with the idea of an all-powerful God, that has the power to prevent evil, yet still permits it. Yet unbeknownst to Job and his friends…his suffering is without purpose. So even though this story involves the supernatural…we have a character that is troubled with the meaningless world, that has turned against him.
Yet it becomes clear to Job, that his inward focus on this suffering, by cursing the day he was born, by lashing out at his friends, is just a contributing factor to his ongoing pain. As one of his friends asks, and I’m paraphrasing: “should the earth change for your sake?”. So Job’s self-pity, was in some way, exasperating his own torment…believing himself to be a victim of God’s trap….the circumstance of his existence. Believing HIMSELF to be good, Job falsely took comfort in thinking he would be forever blessed. However, such actions do not exempt one from the doings of evil…just as evil actions don’t exempt one from the doings of good. I wonder what would have happened in reverse…had God wanted to reward someone undeserving…but I suppose that that kind of story is far more common than Job’s situation. But these stories go to show how, the forces of good and evil play out on the human soul.
But Job, as with Gilgamesh, came to realize, that the things THEY THOUGHT they knew…were wrong. The lessons that they received were different…Job came to realize that by ACTING good alone, was not enough to shield him from evil. I guess if the Book of Job took a position on the moral debate…on what makes an action good or evil…it would probably align itself with the intentionality side…where the intentions reflect the REAL character of an individual. But, as everyone knows, Job becomes humbled by these revealations, and God restores his prosperity. This story has a happy ending. But, as with my dream…sometimes the nightmare just…ends. But even in death, there’s a choice. We can go into the final battle with contempt, or we can into it without our hearts buried in anger.
Now the story of Job would go on to be incorporated into the larger Judeo-Christian canon, so perhaps some of its darker implications become muted. But as paganism went on the decline in Europe, competing theologies were taking its place…fighting against, and influencing one another. The religion that ended up winning the battle…Christianity, would slowly begin taking the hearts and minds of thinkers in Europe and the Levant. One such thinker, was St. Augustine of Hippo…who later end up marrying Christian theology with Neo-Platonism. But before he converted, he was a believer of Manicheanism, one of Christianity’s biggest competitors in the early first millennium AD. From the prophet Mani, that from what I gather, was also a follower of Christ, but was teaching it from a different perspective. So it would be interesting to study in what ways Manichaenism influenced mainstream Christianity, by either adopting some of it’s ideas or responding to those ideas.
But for the Manicheans, the material world, and our very own bodies, are encased in the world of evil. In the Book of Job, God allowed Satan to test Job. But perhaps in reality, according to the Manicheans…perhaps He was actually unable to prevent it. This is a very different take on the traditional view of an omnipotent God, which might partially explain why this religion didn’t last. The Good, or God, has to share this power with the prince of darkness. In fact, it was the struggle between Good and Evil, that created this world…beginning with darkness lashing out at the Light. So we see a common theme here…evil as the initiator of the story. Without evil, we would not have this world…just as we would not have a story without an antagonist. And out of this conflict, in addition to the material world, we get the human soul.
This is where the struggle continues….on the battlefield that is the human condition.
But what these old mythologies tell us…from the Enuma Elish to Manicheanism, is that both good and evil are reliant on one another. Manicheanism in particular, places the human soul as the extension of the good…as in, that’s what we essentially think of ourselves. Manicheanism just reinforces that. And the things that we want, or don’t want to want, are acting against our very nature. As the mind distinguishes itself from the rest of the world, the imagination creates the myth…they myth of the self and everything that acts against it. These myths helps us to distinguish the world, they only become a problem once when they are believed. But we are always the hero to our story, it’s the world that’s the villain.
I promise that things will get back to normal soon. Between suffering from writers block and saving my career that’s quickly spiraling out of control, I’ve been working on side project. In the mean time, here’s another writing that comes deep within the archives.
I mention Slavoj Zizek with some regularity, even though this is a blog that’s supposedly about addiction and sobriety.
Because no one’s stopping me. But this is another My Life With Kant episode that I’ve transcribed. Once again, please forgive any spelling or grammatical errors.
Believe it or not, this podcast was one bad day away from being called “My Life with Hegel”…which, by the way, I completely regret naming this show “My Life With Kant”. You know…in hindsight, I probably should have named it “Existential Angst” or “The Arguing with Myself” podcast. But whatever, here I am.
But it was the German Idealists that intrigued me first…Notably GWF Hegel. There’s just something so enigmatic about him…the fact that he influenced so much of 19th Century philosophy…and yet no one understood him. How does that even work? But I’m such an audiophile, that I listen to all kinds of books and podcasts…and Charlton Heston’s reading of, the synopsis of Hegel’s career, contributes so much to the mythos of Hegel the Philosopher…you know, by saying things like: Hegel not remembering what he meant with certain paragraphs, and making it the reader’s responsibility to understand the reading…to the point where he would deliberately make his writing difficult. All of this seems to indicate that Hegel teeters on the border between philosopher and simple madman.
His philosophy can be considered so “out-there” and convoluted, that he has more or less fallen out of favor in modern circles, despite his influence. But not everyone is intimidated by this labyrinth of a philosopher. Slavoj Zizek, the contemporary Slovenian thinker, in his work titled “Less Than Nothing”, calls the decades between the publishing of Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” and the death of Hegel, as some of the most crucial regarding human thought. And it’s a shame that I never got around to exploring German Idealism in its entirety (well, at least not yet), But Zizek says of the big Four within this sub-genre, as echoed by Badiou…quote “Kant relates to Newtonian science, his basic question being what kind of philosophy is adequate to the Newtonian breakthrough; Fichte relates to politics, to the event that is the French Revolution; Schelling relates to (Romantic) art and explicitely subordinates philosophy to art as the highest approach to the Absolute; and Hegel, finally, relates to love; his underlying problem is, from the very beginning of his thought, that of Love.” End quote.
And thankfully from that, I have more ideas for new episodes. But, I guess the project for German Idealism…especially for Kant…is that when seeking philosophical certainty, we needn’t concern ourselves with the objectable “Thing-in-Itself” that we don’t have access to, but instead…with the phenomena of our PERCEPTIONS of the thing-in-itself. This, understandably, is so disconcerning for many thinkers, notably Schopenhauer…who essentially criticized Kant for constructing a barrier, to shield us from the fact that he was, basically defending Christianity.
But Zizek asks the question: “What if there is more truth in the mask, than the face beneath it?”. Therefore Kant missed the biggest point of his gigantic philosophical project. Remember how I was trying to deny reality in the last episode? Well, thanks to Kant and the German Idealists, I can ALMOST do that. Not that I can deny the EXISTANCE of reality, but I can almost deny our INTERPRETATION of reality, as being nothing more than a self-serving device, (Not intended to isolate us from truth, but instead, it is to help us navigate the landmine that is “the thing-in-itself”), and because this a construct of the mind, the perception of the TOTALITY of the “thing-in-itself” can be changed, and is not concrete. Therefore, the real project of philosophy is understand THE MASK, and not the face behind it. So, please invite me back to your parties, I’m not THAT crazy.
But Zizek wants to place Hegel above the other three German thinkers. Because according to him, We ponder and observe the unknowable thing, and because of our frustrations with understanding, this is evidence of Truth.
I should point out though, That Zizek is not without some controversy, and his YouTube videos are a glorious sight to behold. He often flips people’s arguments, and then draws the same conclusions. This can appear insane at best, and downright Evil at worst. I read somewhere, that he thought Nazism failed, not because it was an evil ideaology….but because it didn’t go far enough! If a celebrity said that, there would be a MASSIVE apology tour. I’m pretty fucking far from being a Nazi apologist, but just think about it….what if the Hitler succeeded in his world domination? We don’t even need to do that much thinking, there’s a very good television series on Amazon about this very problem. But if they succeeded in the real world, would that have been a major paradigm shift in our morals? So we appeared to have dodged a bullet. But that’s the kind of road that we have to traverse when we explore Zizek.
And the book “Less than Nothing” is quite an undertaking. Luckily, Zizek seems to road rage his way through philosophers (which is pretty much what I do), so hopefully I’ll be able to make it through this book. We’ll see though.
But I’ve always thought fiction or creative reflections make far better philosophy than typical treatises. And in a Kantian sense, where we are far more concerned with the veil covering ultimate reality, writing and are provides us with a far more accurate picture on the monolith staring back at us. It’s unrestricted from the true themes that affect the heart. Philosophers can attempt to describe these experiences in a clinical sense, but rarely is there any connection to the actual human condition.
What really takes the reader into an alternate world, is reading testimonies of terror and survival. The case in point here, as Zizek explains, is the Holocaust. No amount of words put together in any order, can adequately explain the true horrors of this event. Yet those that did survive, needed to convey to the world what actually happened, even though we are disconnected from those experiences. Zizek explains that survivors returned home, only to find that their family and friends couldn’t comprehend the gravity of those experiences. To cope, or as a way to direct their message to a willing receiver, they told their journey to something called “The Big Other”. Or, in other words, something that will understand, even if it’s not present in a temporal sense. Some writers might direct their angst towards future generations, who might be more understanding of their predicament. But this is not a given.
Some might despair at the thought at not finding an audience, but perhaps the bigger picture is to capture moments between the Idea and the Real…with a capital I and R. Or as he says, quote: “There is more truth in appearances than what may be hidden beneath.” End quote. And that’s some pretty spooky stuff. Leading him to say that the benefit of having a poem about the Holocaust is that it provides the “Idea of the Holocaust”, which forces us to reckon with the terror that it really was. The terminology here, gets a bit wonky for me, but the things that we perceive, often distracts us from the reality of what it really is; sex being an exchange of bodily fluids, food being dead animals and vegitables and such. And the ideas that we receive are not perceptions of the Real, but are actually DISTRACTIONS….or escapes from the REAL, as Zizek says.
So those ideas do not generate on their own power, but are a culmination of the empirical world. Therefore, as the positivists are all too aware of, only the physical world is real. Bringing us to the problem Hegel was trying to answer….the problem of metaphysics. But Zizek explains that the question doesn’t become: “how do we discover truth behind ideas, but how are ideas generated from truth.”
So perhaps this is why I call this thing “My Life with Kant”, because this is essentially Kant’s project. If Zizek is any indication, philosophers today haven’t really moved passed this problem…we form our conceptions of the thing-in-itself based on a priori means, making these means the basis metaphysics, post-Kant. According to this definition, even the analytic philosophers are unwittingly engaging in this metaphysical discussion…namely by focusing on language. Which, we can think of in some ways as being an a prioric tool to understanding the world. I don’t if that’s correct, so don’t get pissy with me, analytic philosophers, I’m just saying it. And Google brought up all kinds of nonsense when I tried to research it, so who knows?
But Zizek places Hegel above Kant, so in actuality, we haven’t moved passed Hegel’s project. And speaking of nonsense, get a load of this. Zizek says, quote: “Appearance is appearance reflected against the background of nothing (or, to put it in terms of quantum physics, all entities arise out of the quantum vacillations). Appearance is nothing in-itself.” End quote. YES!!!! Everyday I get one step closer to rationally denying the real world. But what does this mean?
Just as matter is the filling of the void…as to are the appearances of things. Our perceptions are the fillingness of the nothingness behind it. As I’m saying that, this sounds dangerously close to George Berkeley…as in…”to be is to be perceived”. But as where Berkeley would claim that nothing exists outside of the mind…perhaps Zizek would say that not even the mind exists! So we can quit this whole philosophical discourse, because when it comes to the ultimate question of “why is there something rather than nothing?”, Zizek would say that there is ONLY nothing, OR, “from Nothing, through nothing, to nothing.” So I’m just completely wasting your time. Or, as the great Sammy Hagar would say, this is all “mental masturbation”.
But this nothingness isn’t all gloom and doom. After all, the Buddhist notion of no-self, would lead us to the nothingness, or flame out, which is the path towards Nirvana. But Zizek doesn’t subscribe to this, preferring to see this nothing as just a “pure gap”, ontologically speaking. And its from here where we can bridge off into the mechanics of reality, where the positivists might reduce everything to matter in motion. But it’s also from here, where we can take away the matter, and just leave motion. That is, if I’m understanding this correctly.
Carl Sagan said something similar in “The Cosmos”, during his whole “making a pie” sketch. We’re all dorks here, you know what I’m talking about….that atoms are mostly empty spaces. So the universe is primarily made up of, nothing at all. And if Carl Sagan said it, then it is good enough for me. So the matter that does occupy an atom, is really just energy in motion, causing mass. And when that energy ceases to be in motion, then it reverts back to nothing. What am I talking about? Doesn’t matter because I’m talking about…nothing. But again, we find that positive reality is just a network of interconnectedness. So how do we bring about free will? Or something that can generate an act, independent of this network?
Now for Zizek, we seem to be at a crossroads….we can choose the metaphysical path of Plato (not that I know anything about that). Or we can continue to kick the same materialist/positivists/postmodern can down the road.
One of the things that distinguishes the human mind from others (and why I suppose, a purely Darwinist approach would be insufficient to explain it) is that we are able to willfully deceive ourselves in order to believe fiction…or become infatuated with the veil. If the veil were to be removed, it would reveal the emptiness behind it, and the charade would be over. This is the mechanism of fetishness. The infatuation falls unto the cloth that covers the reality behind it. And if it was taken away, the mythos disappears and we are left with a void…the reality of nothing.
Now I have to spend more time of social media than I like, mostly Twitter because I’m lazy. And you look at the work of fellow starving artists…and what you find is the celebration of awkwardness, or the quote “creepy cuteness”. And those things are fine, a lot of it is very well done. But that’s the infatuation with the veil that I was speaking of. The reality of the perpetually awkward is how socially crippling those situations can be…or that a zombie will eat your mother fucking face off!!! And zombies aren’t even real, they’re a veil over the veil. The dwelling in the so-called “darker” aspects of life, is not the acceptance of the nothingness of life…but only serves to distract you from the terror that REALLY exists.
Not to put words in Zizek’s mouth, but I suppose we can take this grand assumption all the way down…down to the subatomic level…where we see the atoms, and protons, and God-knows what else that makes an atom…but we see them for what they really are…a mask. But what alarms me about this absence of reality is…other than the obvious being, half the horseshit we deal with, day in and day out…but in the age in which we live, how much of our politics are just facades?…Trying to deceive ourselves into believing that our projects are all that important? Like there’s an “end all, be all” solution to our problems. Or would we rather not face the fact that, heh…we are all just making it up as we go? Are the policies which we create just stand-ins for myths…that get categorized for having practical implications for the real world? So is Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the 21st Century” just another mythologizing of mathematics, economics, and politics that we hold dear today? Making it no different than Aesop’s Fables?
Now there’s a shitton more to this book, but it’s longer than War and Peace, I mean like…literally, it’s longer than War and Peace. So, I completely missed Zizek’s larger points, so if you want to learn more…read the damn book yourself. You’re welcome Slavoj Zizek…you just got free publicity.
But what I actually was Hegel…who has alarmingly gone seldom mentioned in this podcast. But look, I don’t know if the idea of nothingness is empirically sound…but, I just hate this world so much, that I’ll believe anything that contradicts it. So instead of talking about Hegel, we got to talk about…nothing at all.
I take solace in the fact that I don’t exist. Well…I do, but the continuity of self is an illusion. Just a product of my imagination. And because it’s an illusion, it can be undone. That’s the path of no-self within Buddhist Tradition.When I consider depression and addiction, it’s these sorts of philosophies that I find comfort in.
Continuing with my writer’s block theme, this is another re-posts from the My Life With Kant days. This was originally an audio recording, and this is the transcription. Please forgive any spelling and grammatical errors. Enjoy!
I’ve bitched and complained before about having to live in modern society. Sure, not having to die in your mid-20’s due to a bear attack is awesome, but you know, if business school has taught me anything, is TINSTAAFL…you know, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Everything comes at a cost.
Although living in a production society for the last thousand years has produced tremendous results. Life expectancy has gone through the roof. We can go into FUCKING SPACE! What other species occupying this planet has done that? Love us or hate us, you gotta admit, humans have done pretty well for themselves despite running around with our wangs hanging out just a few millennia ago.
But like I said, everything comes at a cost. Millions, if not billions, of people had to die as a result of disease, war, and other atrocities in order to get to today. So there’s that cost. But what has it cost the human psyche?
We take for granted today that we have language and personal property and government protection and the billions of people that exist independent of you. It didn’t turn that way over night. At one point, somewhere in time, there had to be the first humans. Mind you, it was a gradual change, but what would have been the thoughts of the first people? Of course, it wouldn’t have been, “holy shit, we’re people, and alive!”. But, I imagine (and I’m more than likely wrong, but just entertain me here for a second), primitive humans wouldn’t have had a sophisticated language system to help them process thoughts. It was probably less of a system and more of a rudimentary local dialect, that would have shared similarities with other groups, but would have varied from group to group. Now there’s probably some language theorist out there somewhere calling me a fucking idiot, but that’s besides the point.
The point that I want to reach is, when did this conception of “I” come to be? Do you see what I’m saying? Now I’m sure that some Marxist out there would like to claim that the transition from hunter-gathers to agrarians would have caused a shift in personal identity, where the individual would have seen themselves as primarily a member of their family or group, or something like that. But I won’t go that far. But there had to come at some point where it finally occurred to someone, “shit, I’m gonna die someday.” I think this sort of existential angst is what sets us apart from other animals. I mean, do dogs wonder around thinking about death and life’s meaning? Maybe they do, I don’t know.
But what you gotta remember is, that back in the cavemen days (which was MOST of human existence by the way), discovering meaning wouldn’t have been much of a problem. There’s the argument that because they had to spend most of their time surviving, there was no time to think of such things. But there’s another thing. What would they have compared their meaning to? If they were just wondering nomads, what would have been their definitions of success? They weren’t searching for monetary wealth or fame, their neighbors probably had the same resources and goods that they had, so what more was there?
Of course, this would have been giving early humans more credit than they probably deserve. There was most absolutely oppressors and oppresses. But was there a conception of personal gain? Of history? Or ‘otherness’? I don’t know. But today, we are self-aware animals. But once upon a time, we were just animals.
Over the course of thousands of years, humanity has shifted the primary concerns of existence away from survival. Very few of us have to fear death from the elements or predators. Now we compete with one another. Questions of the day are no longer “how will I eat today.” Now it is, “will my existence matter?”.
We are no longer in a group of a hundred, where we struggled together for survival. Now we are just one in 9 billion people…forced to live in a world where the individual is just one cog in a greater machine. In a sense, there’s an insecurity that the individual feels, knowing that they are only one person within the multitude. Instead of the connection with others, they turn their focus to the inside…the mechanism of vanity. This is only enabled by our technological advancements. The tale of the 21st Century can be told through social media.
Now, perhaps more than ever, narcissism reigns king.
You know yourself, right? You are you…this finite being. Your appearance might change over time, but you still look behind the same eyes. Despite the tides and turns of time, you still remain you. Does it have to be this way? What if the idea of “you” was just an illusion? Let’s venture out of the comfort of European philosophy, and go east.
The Buddha was concerned with suffering. Suffering is pretty much the story of mankind. That’s pretty much what history is about, right? It’s mostly about how humans have inflicted suffering on each other. And it’s not just physical suffering that ails mankind. Mental anguish paralyzes individuals just as well as its physical counterpart. What are the emotions that you feel when undergoing mental anguish? Guilt, unworthiness, paranoia, and possibly even hate?
In certain Buddhist schools of thought, these emotions find their root in one cause: the idea of the self. You perceive yourself to be the same person one moment to the next. But break down this perception. Time is a flowing stream, and our bodies that house the mind, are no different. In a certain sense, you are literally not the same person that you were 20 years ago. You are growing and changing at every moment. Even our very thoughts are flowing forward in time. There’s not much about you that remains constant.
Yet we pad ourselves with our self-conceptions. Believing that we are among the constants in an ever changing universe.
There might be some relation here with Kantian philosophy. I believe I might have said as much in the first episode, but don’t quote me on that. But in the Buddhist tradition, over-coming the self can lead you towards the path of enlightenment. That sounds pretty Kantian to me. Or we can at least see some parallels between Buddhism and European Enlightenment philosophy. At least I do. The overcoming of self in order to achieve enlightenment sort of reminds me of the unknowable thing-in-itself.
But in the European tradition, at least if you are a follower of Kant, the thing-in-itself cannot be known. No matter how much we try, we have to use the faculties of the mind to understand the world. The mind is finite. We can know that the thing exist, but we can’t know it intimately. All kinds of things are going on around us that we can’t perceive. But our minds are designed in a way to perceive the things that nature created it to perceive. Even the things that you do perceive, probably look different to say…something like a reptile. So no one perceiving THING knows the world as intimitaly as it exist without a mind to perceive it. Your reality, in some way, is shaped by your perception. So perhaps George Berkeley wasn’t completely wrong when he said that a thing doesn’t exist without a mind to perceive it. Which is another callback to an old episode. But he wasn’t completely right either.
I might be going off the rails here. I might be seeing connections where none exist. But so what? I think that both Buddhism and Continental Philosophy see the same thing. You, and me, are the problem. The human mind plays a central role. As where European philosophy largely doesn’t concern itself with evading the mind, and instead I would say that it just wallows in it, Buddhism at least focuses on rising above it.
But perhaps it would be strong of me to insist on the mind being a problem. In a Buddhist light, that is probably not the best way to look at it. However, the mind is a product of nature. And because it is so, it is designed to do certain things. Despite humanity being able to overcome many obstacles throughout its history, the mechanisms that protected our ancestors are still present within us. It is within the mind’s own best interest to exclude itself from its surroundings. To extract itself from nature, rather than seeing itself as another extension of it.
This separation causes the advent of the self. And the self creates the concept of “I”. But your mind, and mine as well, are just creations. The idea of “you” and “me”, are just illusions designed to protect our bodies. The mind controls us, we are encased within it. It’s common to make division between us and the world, but what is the world? Perhaps for expediency, we group other minds in with the world, yet we consider our own to be independent. To take the path towards enlightenment, the being that’s encased within the mind and therefore distinguishes it from the rest of the world, now has to remove that division…To see one self, or better yet, become ones-self, as a stream of the world that moves forward in time.
The European, and less spiritual version of this, we can see as stoicism. Like the Buddhist, the Stoics sees themselves as beings that are a part of a greater whole. Perhaps erroneously, and stereotypically, people tend to associate Stoicism with inaction. And perhaps a few might see Buddhism in the same light. But I have always felt that that was a mistake. I think that what the two schools have in common is their doctrines on time and our relationship towards it. The past is like an unmovable rock, and would therefore be a waste of time trying to move. As Ray Lewis once said “Only fools trip on things behind them”. But the future is like a door. The present is therefore the key towards unlocking that door. So being focused on the here and now keeps us moving forward on our path.
This is a product from my writer’s block. It sucks. It almost sucks as bad as giving up alcohol. Most of the time, things happen for no reason. There’s no meaning behind anything. And that’s what this represents.
All I have is my stream of conscious.
I might be losing my mind. Not that I was ever that psychologically stable to begin with, but I think I’m beginning to see a problem.
I’ve been unemployed for nearly two months. What’s wrong with me? I don’t want to turn this into a pity party, but come on. I’m an educated and experienced dude, with lots of skills. There’s got to be some job out there willing to take me.
By the way, I wasn’t fired. In case you were wondering that. I was just laid off from a major Fortune 5 company. And I’ve been radioactive ever since. No one wants to touch me. But that’s okay. I can forge my own path. But the world often appears Kafka-esque.
When you’re in my situation, you get tossed around from one institution to the next. You get let go from a job, and they don’t care. So you go to the government for some assistance (nothing wrong with that), and they don’t care either. So they run you around in circles until you become insane. And you find yourself acting like Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Now, I’m just reading the writing on the wall. I’m unemployed and trying to remain sober. This might be what you would call a “turning point” in one’s life. Decisions that were made before cannot be repeated. And one of the hardest things to do is find new friends.
It’s been tough. I don’t believe that I’ve been up front with my former crowd. One is certainly concerned for me because he hasn’t heard from me. I’m not quite sure what to say. Another doesn’t care, but I want him to care. I think I might’ve pissed that friendship away.
Look, I’m a messed up person.
I miss my old philosophical self. I posted a couple of transcripts from the My Life With Kant days. It’s no Fredrick Nietzsche, but it was better than I remember it being. I might not have been able to deliver any sort of groundbreaking analysis, but I’m actually proud of some of the things that I said. I mean, I can’t believe that I came up with some of that shit.
And I only wrote that a year ago! Wait…not even that….it was 5 months ago!
That person doesn’t seem like me. The self is truly a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Only that philosophical side was the good side. Now I’m just a shell of whoever that was…a nasty, unemployed, alcoholic.
But the good news is, when you get as low as I am, the only place to go is up. So I have no idea what the future holds. Maybe one can go lower than I am now.
Homelessness doesn’t seem too bad. I had a well-respected professor that took a contrarian view on the homeless. He actually thought that they were the ones that had life figured out. We were the fools because we took on the stress of the modern world. No such concerns for the drifters!
Of course, that makes me wonder why he was choosing to teach rather than living under a bridge somewhere. But it’s good to know that he had that perspective. And the thought does occur to me…I could be homeless.
Isn’t that sad? This is where I am, contemplating homelessness. But I do admire those that don’t need the conveniences of the modern world. Those that are self-sufficient. Perhaps I should join a commune.
My problems aren’t real problems. I live in America. The average person here doesn’t have to worry about warlords or roaming rape gangs. We get our food at the store. We have Wi-Fi. Whatever problems we face, it’s totally just for show.
The mind is made to suffer. We’re supposed to be scanning for predators, gathering around campfires, and making use of the land. Once upon a time, mankind had to worry about mankind. Now we’re concerned with them accepting our friend request.
Which is worse….banding together for survival? Or being imprisoned in a cell of our own undoing? I guess that I can be philosophical after all.
Would you rather be gunned down by an AK-47? Or by a game of Russian Roulette?
We might not have to fight wolves and bears, but maybe we ought to be! Instead we fight vending machines and smartphones. The only prey that’s left rests solely in our heads. We’re cutoff from our primal intellect. It’s been replaced by an artificial one. It tells us that our struggle is real…it tells us to get a job, it tells us to get a mortgage. It tells us to find chemical happiness.
But what happens when the drugs stop working?
Once again, I’m posting something from the My Life With Kant days. Across two episodes, I covered Alcoholics Anonymous and “The Big Book”.
Since the audio recording is of poor quality, I’m only posting the transcripts. So please forgive any spelling or grammatical errors.
We’ve all been down some pretty dark paths before. I’m no exception. And I’ve been giving religion a pretty hard time lately. Some of it is well deserved. However, I think that it’s time to give it the credit that it deserves. Love it or hate it, people have done some pretty insane things in the name of religion. So whether or not those beliefs have any merit, just the belief in religion alone is capable of making individuals do some extraordinary things.
Now mental health awareness is something that I champion. And one of the common symptoms of poor mental health is substance addiction. In the last episode, I covered Aldous Huxley. In the book “Brave New World”, he describes a world that is seemingly addicted to the drug soma. In his other famous work, “The Doors of Perception”, Huxley explains that everyone wants to escape the confines of their consciousness, and the healthiest way to do that, he advocates, is the drug mescaline, that helps open these new doors of perception. However, one of the more unhealthier ways of trying to achieve this is by becoming intoxicated by alcohol.
Now addiction can manifest itself in different ways. Some become addicted to narcotics, others to prescription pills, and even sex. But the objective is all the same…to escape reality. However, one addiction to a certain drug has become perhaps the most common in human history…and that is the addiction to alcohol.
Till this day, despite the increase in opiate addiction, alcoholism has still got to rank up there. And one of the more common paths towards recovery is through AA, or Alcoholics Anonymous. In my experience, there’s a number of folks who criticize AA for being a fake religious cult that spews out religious nonsense. And while there are certainly religious aspects to it, I think that it would be missing the point to look at it from that view. The reality is that there are some that like to mix their religion into it, but that is totally a choice. It is not absolutely necessary. However, AA does take some of the aspects of organized religion and makes it it’s own.
Islam has the Quran, Christianity the Bible, Judaism the Torah, and AA has the Big Book. And Bill Wilson, or Bill W. because this is alcoholics ANONYMOUS, was the primary author of the Big Book, and is the founder of the organization. And apparently he took LSD with Aldous Huxley, so if we want a degree of separation from the last episode, there it is. But don’t believe everything you read off the internet. But anyways, the Big Book can be interpreted as being similar to a biblical-like text, which is both a praise and a complaint of the alcoholics that I’ve been acquainted with. Nevertheless, it is something that is worth your time, and if you’ve ever been a part of these struggles, alcohol or otherwise, there’s a lot there you can identify with.
Now I’ve recently found my own copy that I had during the days of my personal struggles. And I went through the book and highlighted the parts that spoke to me. And even though I’m several years removed from those struggles, I’m still surprised that I can still understand the notes that I was taking. They still resonated with me. And the first notes that I took were in Chapter 2, where it says opinions may vary as to why the alcoholic reacts differently from other non-addicts. And there’s a lot of biological and genetic explainations within that. But from the individual level, there is certainly a lot of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde elements. When you’re sober, you’re one person. Then when you take a drink, you’re a completely different person. Often times waking up and wondering how you got there.
Now I know that there’s that saying “A drunk man’s words are a sober man’s thoughts”. And I guess that’s true to an extent, but I think that that would be missing the point. We all have those demons that are buried deep down. Sometimes we’re aware of them, sometimes we’re not. But that’s just the duality of us humans. We have a side of us that we present to the world, then there’s another side of us that we keep in the basement. And for a good deal of us, we wish that we could do away with the demon that lurks within us.
The state of mental health support is so poor in our current time, that it shouldn’t come as a shock to think about how bad it would have been many years ago. The pain of having personal struggles with oneself can be so strong that people have to reach for readily available drugs, like alcohol or narcotics. However, those things don’t suppress or do away with the demon, but instead you switch places with the demon. And when that happens, you are no longer the master of your drug of choice, but it becomes the master of you.
To overcome this, AA with some controversy, recommends cultivating a spiritual life. Now I won’t go into typical AA orthodoxy, at least not in this episode, but this was an area that I struggled with because I didn’t believe in any such realm. This is probably the part where AA receives the most criticisms, and by the way, there are a LOT of atheist that attend these meetings. Now I live in a red state, and believe me, most of the people in those meetings are in fact atheist or agnostics. So I always found that to be a puzzling criticism. But the mantra that is repeated at the end of each meeting is “keep coming back because it works if you work it”. And those are words to live by. AA won’t necessarily cure you on it’s own, you know, following the Twelve Steps mindlessly won’t do anything for you. But you get what you put into it, so it’s you that has to do the work. Whatever spiritual interpretation that suits you doesn’t save you, only you can save yourself.
I think that the organization gets criticized because, I guess that it overemphasizes the importance of alcohol. So if we want to understand this in a religious context, alcohol is sort of treated like the devil or sin, and sobriety becomes the only means of salvation. Continuing on down this line of thinking, salvation within various religions require you to go through certain rituals, or require you to believe in something in order to save your soul.
So what sort of rituals, or right of passage, does AA use? Now before someone jumps onto me for getting certain things wrong, this is just my own interpretation. If you want, attend an AA meeting and experience these things for yourself. That’s all I’m saying. But anyway the Twelve Step program is the way to achieve sobriety.
But before I get into that, there’s a chapter in the Big Book titled “We Agnostics”. Which, alarmingly, I took almost no notes on during my time with the group. But the chapter addresses the skeptical feelings of agnostics. While I re-read through it recently, I found it’s summary ultimately unsatisfactory, because basically it comes down to asking “who are you to say that there is no God?”, and it’s pretty easy to turn that question around. But I guess the idea should be to not shut your mind down completely regarding a higher authority. And I guess that it makes sense to believe in a God when trying to overcome alcoholism, because when you fear punishment or desire supplemental strength from a higher authority, it certainly makes choices easier because it’s taken out of your hands, so to speak. Nevertheless, a sizeable portion of AA members are in fact atheist, and still find it’s principles to be useful.
So onto the Twelve Steps. Which is something that I imagine a lot of people are familiar with, but here they are, and this is directly from the Big Book:
1. We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol- that are lives have become unmanageable.
Whenever I read this, I’m reminded of my experiences within a certain sect of Christianity that said you had to admit you’re a sinner and accept Jesus as your savior in order to be saved. This is a similar idea. If you want to be cured of your alcoholism, you must first accept that you are, in fact, an alcoholic. Makes sense. It’s hard to cure something that you don’t know you have. So that’s the first step. The second step…
2. Came to believe a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
So I imagine that this is where there’s a great deal of controversy. Much of which, I’ve already discussed. But during my time in this group, a lot of the long-standing members wanted to not get hung-up on this step. There was one example of someone that simply couldn’t move forward because they just couldn’t believe in a higher power. However, their sponsor was also an atheist, and they just advised them to not get caught up in the supernatural aspect behind the notion of “a greater authority”. I wasn’t privy to their conversations, so I can’t get any more specific than that. But that’s an interesting way to look at it, even though I can’t explain that further. But it’s important to note that AA isn’t a religious institution. You’re not going to get kicked out because you didn’t donate enough money or have slightly different beliefs. It’s sole purpose is to get people to stop drinking. So anyways, on to step 3…
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God “as we understand Him.”
Sort of like what I said in the second step. AA isn’t a religious institution, so pick whatever God or spiritual entity that you want. No one’s going to kick you out.
4. Made a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves.
You know, I think that part of the problem with a lot of addicts is that they don’t think of themselves as addicts. They might think of themselves as dependent, but they can certainly quit whenever they want. At least in my view. So there’s a lack of awareness on their part. There might even be a tendency to blame external circumstances on one’s own substance abuse. External factors may in fact be the trigger, but there are underlying causes as well. That’s why it’s important to search yourself when trying to overcome one’s self. You are your own worst enemy. And if Sun Tzu taught us anything, it’s that you should know your enemy.
When I think of people suffering from depression or other mental illnesses, I think that it’s a big mistake to just take the prescription medication and just say “problem solved.” More work has to be done. You have to search yourself and identify your trigger warnings so that you can properly stop them. So step 5…
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
As I’m going through my notes, I strangely highlighted a paragraph that discusses this section. I don’t know why, but it says, quote: “More than most people, the alcoholic leads a double life. He is very much the actor. To the outer world he presents his stage character. This is the one he likes his fellows to see. He wants to enjoy a certain reputation, but he knows in his heart he doesn’t deserve it.” End quote. And I have no idea why I highlighted it, but it’s an interesting quote, and I thought I’d share it.
But I guess to make sense of this step, I’m reminded of someone famous that I can’t recall who was trying to loose weight. He successfully did it by texting his friends his weight, daily or maybe weekly, I can’t remember. But I guess the idea was that it put pressure on him to actually loose that weight because his friends knew exactly how fat he was. I’m not gonna lie, I wasn’t completely sold on this step, I’m not one that typically likes to divulge my inner most secrets. But when trying to correct your flaws, this might be a crucial step. I don’t know. So step six…
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
The Big Book says that when we’re ready to engage this step, our prayer should be something like this, and I’m once again quoting from the book: “My creator, I am willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen.” End quote.
But I guess the important thing here is that you have to be willing to let go. Or perhaps you should be willing to accept help and forgo whatever ego you might have possessed. You should transcend your flaws. Sounds cheesy, but whatever. Step 7…
7. Humbly ask Him (or God) to remove our shortcomings.
Sort of sounds like step 6. So, Step 8….
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
So this is a chance for redemption. And this is actually a very interesting step. It’s just as important to the alcoholic as it is to the person whom forgiveness is being asked. In my experience with alcoholics going through this step, it’s usually something that happened in their head. They didn’t actually harm the person in any meaningful or memorable way, but it was something that stuck out to the alcoholic. So whenever they made amends to that person, it usually wasn’t a big deal, but it was a huge burden lifted off their shoulders. However, this wasn’t the case every time.
Of course, there were those who couldn’t grant forgiveness. The damage was done. But the past can’t be changed. So then it becomes about forgiving one’s self because you can’t change the things that you’ve done. So forgiveness doesn’t have to be granted, but the alcoholic must be willing to make those amends. Unless of course, in step 9…
9. Make direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
So if you slept with someone else’s spouse and then they threatened to kill you if they ever saw you again, perhaps you can let that one slide.
10. Continue to take personal inventory and when wrong, promptly admit it.
So there’s a zen quality that AA is reaching for. As evidenced in the next step.
11. Seek through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understand him, praying only for knowledge of His Will for us and the power to carry that out.
And Finally, Step 12.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and practice these principles in all our affairs.
I think that an important thing within AA is that you have to focus on today. It’s not about quitting drinking forever, it’s about not drinking today. And then about not drinking the following day, and so on. That’s probably the reason why it’s so difficult for alcoholics and addicts in general to stop. And I think that that’s the absolute right way to stop addiction…is to focus on the present moment.
So I think that the secret towards success within Alcoholics Anonymous, and the reason for its controversy is that it mimics religion in many ways. And in my opinion, it shamlessly does that. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but religion is a very powerful thing, whether or not there’s any merit behind it’s beliefs. You can either use it for good or for bad. AA choses to use the religious template for good, because it has been successful throughout human history. Like it or not, the whole quest for philosophical and moral knowledge stems from other-worldly pursuits.
Has AA been successful 100 percent of the time? No. Or even 50 percent of the time. That’s not the point. At the end of each meeting, the chant becomes “keep coming back because it works if you work it.” That’s the point. It’s all about what you put into it. If you truly have a desire to stop drinking, you will do the work, and AA is there to guide you through it. Because it’s pretty damn hard to go through these things alone.
I’m suffering from writer’s block today, so I’m rehashing some of my older material. I once hosted a philosophy podcast titled My Life With Kant. Why? Because I’m a huge Immanuel Kant fan. But anyways, I usually covered many different philosophically-related things. Notably mental health problems.
The recording is godawful, so I’m only releasing the transcript. Please forgive any spelling or grammatical errors. Enjoy!
How much has the human mind changed since we have officially evolved into “homo sapien SAPIENS”, because, apparently there’s a slight distinction between “homo sapiens” and “homo sapien SAPIENS”. If you’ve listened to this podcast before, you’ve heard me ask this question. And from what I gather, apparently it hasn’t really changed at all.
Yeah, like it or not, we’re still that same primate that was simply roaming the land thousands of years ago. We haven’t changed, only the bullshit that we’ve surrounded ourselves with has changed. Thankfully, our forefathers conquered all the beasts and tailored the earth to fit our needs. So I think that this has given us the illusion that we are more evolved or have things more figured out than our ancestors. And maybe we do, we certainly have a better understanding of the universe that we occupy. We can definitely achieve many more things than they ever could. But…what does it matter? I mean, we’re still going to die in the end. Or at least, you probably will. I’m going to live forever.
But I think that there’s this mistake that we all believe, that says, the most optimal time to live is right now. And as the future rolls on, then THAT will be the most optimal time to live. I think I might have also beaten this horse to death as well. But in our modern time, we have exchanged pure survival and minimal existence for material gain and information. Additionally, because we are very social creatures, the increasing population and constant awareness of others have greatly altered what it means to be a human. Does this make sense? So if you’re living in First World Society, there’s a whole NEW set of problems that the mind has to deal with, and isn’t accustomed to dealing with because the human mind and body are adapted for survival, and our social habits are a tool. Now we have to learn to survive in a highly sociable world.
The belief that we have evolved out of animal status, or our methods of living today are superior to those of our ancestors, is an arrogance of modernity. To an extent, we are just trading one set of problems out for another. As much as I hate it, I think to a large degree, the human mind is made to suffer. Instead of having to worry about animals and competing tribes out to kill us, we have exchanged those problems out for more Nietzchien-like struggles. Like how to we bring meaning to what seems to be a meaningless life? So, which problems would you rather face? Immediate survival with your fellow hunter-gatherers, or figuring out your purpose in a world that encapsulates you with its meaningless laws, morals, mythologies?…Probably the latter, I would too.
However, these new sets of problems have created a new set of illnesses. Or at least it has brought awareness to a new set of illnesses. But it’s interesting to consider what causes what…if I’m making sense.
The work I’ll be relying on for this episode is “All We Have to Fear: Psychiatry’s Transformation of Natural Anxieties into Mental Disorders” by Allan Horwitz and Jerome Wakefield. And they start of by saying, quote: “Fears, worries, and apprehensions are painful and ubiquitous aspects of human existence, whether they are common or idiosyncratic, specific, or diffuse, rational or irrational.” End quote. And it is. I think that everyone has suffered from it as some point in their lives. Love it or hate it, it’s a very effective tool that evolution has bestowed upon us. Without fear, who knows where we’d be?….
But Horwitz and Wakefield point out, that in the 1980 edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Health Disoriders, it stated that only 2 to 4% of people would classify as having an anxiety disorder. Now that number reaches to 1 in 5 persons. And to the authors, this calls for an explanation.
Now us philosophically-inclined folk like to think of anxiety as feelings we get when we try to contemplate life’s meaning. Which, to be honest, I don’t really get anxious. Angstful…hell yeah! But let’s sideline that thought for awhile. When most people get anxious, at least in our comfortable first-world existence, it’s over small things like…I don’t know, being late to a meeting or failing to meet deadlines. However, having those small concerns in-themselves, are not enough to meet the criteria of having a mental illness. Unless, of course, these sorts of concerns come to dominate your life. In that case, these feelings can cross the threshold into a disordered anxiety.
Of course, fear itself is not an unreasonable thing. As I said before, fear is in fact, a very useful thing. However, in our modern sterile world, where a lot of these fears have become irrational, the human mind can sometimes find itself out of place, as it tries to grapple with mundane realities using cognative tools that evolution granted us. This can often lead to disproportionate reactions to problems that the individual has no control over. Then fear and anxiety themselves become things to avoid, even if they are natural reactions from the body. Thus new anxieties are developed out of these incontrollable fears.
But we come to define these anxieties in not only biological or neurological terms, but we also look at them through social terms. Which is why the severity of these disorders vary from person to person. Therefore, to the authors, questions arise, like how can we distinguish between normal and abnormal amount of anxiety, should the fears instilled in us through evolution (but seem out of place to us now) be considered a disorder, and what role does psychiatric evaluation have in making this distinction, in addition to the role of medication, among many others.
But the authors contend that by simply looking at the brain, you cannot adequately recognize any mental health problems. Or as they say, quote: “Looking at the intensity of amygdala activity is not a way to “see disorder” in the brain.” End quote. Only in extreme cases, where physical trauma has been enacted on the brain, you won’t be able to determine any abnormalities. Just because someone’s brain waves are exhibiting anxiety or any other forms of natural stress, doesn’t mean that there’s a disorder in place.
Another popular theory is that undesirable responses to stimuli can be a learned trait. For example, when you see someone else respond with fear to something, you echo that response. And some believe that mental illnesses can be considered a social construct. But either way, Wakefield and Horwitz don’t necessarily reject these positions, but they downplay the significance they might have had in the rise of mental health diagnosis’. Instead the authors support a more evolutionary focus on anxiety. They say, quote: “A disorder indicates that something is wrong with some (possibly inferred and as yet unknown) internal mechanism that is biologically designed to do something but is failing to do it-or is designed NOT to do something that it is doing, as in panic attacks when no threat is present.” End quote.
So as I said earlier, fear, panic, anxiety…those are all natural things. And occasionally…very useful things. It’s only when those functions start firing off at the wrong times, or even if they fail to fire off at the RIGHT times, can that be considered a problem…and therefore a disorder. These mechanisms are designed to respond to the world in a particular way. But perhaps the real problem isn’t the brain, it’s that the environment around it has changed, and so our brains are responding to a world that it’s ill-adapted towards.
This is where Wakefield and Horwitz introduce the idea of the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptation, or EEA. Which, to me, sounds similar to Hobbes’s State of Nature. I don’t know if the author’s agree, but that’s what I’m rolling with. And in this environment, is where humans developed their emotional responses, and a number of other adaptations. And this environment was distinctly different from the one we live in today. I’ve discussed before how much of human history really isn’t history at all. It’s just people wondering around as hunter-gatherers. And our psychology evolved to fit those needs. It’s only been within the last few thousand years, where we haven’t had to fight predators and hunt our food. If we brought a newborn baby from 50,000 years ago, raised it in modern times, that person would function normally. Same thing, vice-versa. We haven’t changed, the world has changed, and our psychology might be struggling to adapt.
How many problems are out there, that aren’t really problems? Am I making sense? You have a report that’s due tomorrow…well what would happen if you don’t turn it in? Are you going to die? You think back to those people 50,000 years ago, and I’m sure that there are millions of people living like this today, but their problems had to do with REAL survival. So those stress mechanisms that fire off in us today, were quite valuable to those ancient peoples. It’s what kept them alive. Unluckily for us, those stress mechanisms didn’t evolve away. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the same stressor that kept the ancient peoples alive, start firing off for a much lesser problem. So society, unintentionally for the most part, manipulates those adaptations. That’s why college students stress the fuck out for completely useless reasons, or why I stress out over this podcast. None of it matters, but because society or high demands on oneself dictate that these first-world problems are akin to survival, people will either react in proportionally to the problem, OR truly believe that this means survival. So this modern world is a cruel machine…
Struggle is a normal, and to a large extend, healthy function of life. And as a sports fan, there are all kinds of quotes from athletes and coaches that explain this, but the one I am reminded of (and is perhaps the most applicable) is the one from Michael Vick (I believe, when he is addressing a group of inmates), where he says: “If you don’t struggle, you can’t make changes”. And you know what…I don’t even if he said that, or if anyone said that…but neither here nor there…the point is that struggling is part of the human experience. Ideally, we all want life to be sunshine and roses, but it doesn’t work that way. There’s almost a movement towards Aldous Huxley’s world, where once when we start to feel bad things, we can just pop a soma, and all of our bad thoughts go away…to move into a sterile world….
…but…not to sound too much like Captain Kirk in Star Trek V…but I need my pain. I need my personal struggles. Because that’s what shapes who I am. And who the hell knows where I’d be without it….probably a lot happier. That’s for damn sure.