— Jason (@Vision365) February 14, 2015
Last week social media jumped on the story of a woman who supposedly decided to have a late-term abortion specifically because she found out she was having a boy. Based on a near-anonymous comment posted on an Internet forum, the story is highly questionable at best. Nevertheless, both pro- and anti-abortion advocates pounced on the missive. The dialogue generated took on a life of its own, inspiring the following comment from feminist site Jezebel:
“The virality of this story is sort of a nice reminder about confirmation bias: when something fits our preferred narrative just a little too snugly, it’s probably time for skepticism,” wrote Jezebel’s Anna Merlan.
How, exactly, does gendercide “fit our narrative” in the West, especially in relation to boys?
I am on an email list and received a link to an article in Newsweek called “The Trouble with Men: Why Men Kill Themselves.” Naturally the title has to have a troubling or negative title, it’s about men. The article is about the high suicide rate in the UK and states: “Suicides of men aged 45-59 have risen by 40% in a decade, and account for a quarter of all suicides in the UK.”
There is a graph pointing out that a majority of men (and a number of women) in the UK die by suffocation or hanging: 58% of male suicides and 36% of female suicides use this method. We always hear that it is the proliferation of guns that causes much of the male suicide in the U.S. — but if the guns are the problem, why is there also a high incidence of male suicide in the UK but the method is just different?
This year you could spend your Valentine’s Day in a theater full of middle-aged women oozing over a hot-bodied twenty-something whipping his blindfolded secretary to the point of striking blood in the name of “love.” Daytime television loves to play up to the Soccer Mom demographic (a title first dubbed to describe Clinton fans, ironically) seeking fantasy fulfillment in the form of sexual fiction. It was corny enough when shirtless Fabios graced the covers. Now that the most popular sex trilogy focuses on a woman who willingly allows herself to be sexually abused, is pop culture humoring those bored housewives too much?
While the majority of Fifty Shades fans are typical middle-aged marrieds dissatisfied with their partners (or even themselves), anywhere from 5-25% of Americans “show affinity” for BDSM (Bondage/Domination-Discipline/Sadism/Masochism) in the bedroom. On an issue that poses a particular sexual threat to women, feminists are split 50-50 between being against sexual abuse and for a narcissistic “if it feels good, do it” sexual ethos. Hence, a pervert who trolls Fanfiction.net (the original home of Hobbit-inspired Elvish/Dwarf porn) can turn her twisted sexual fantasies into an overnight sensation. After all, it’s all about love in the end. Or is it?
Interesting article in The Economist (thanks Terry) on suicide:
BEING depressed is like having a terrible headache, says one Atlanta businessman. Except that a few days of rest do not stop the pain: “You’re just expected to keep going.” Trying to “man up”, he sought little help for his condition, choosing to hide it instead. “It all gets so debilitating that you don’t want to go on,” he explains.
He tried to kill himself more than once; fortunately, his attempts came to nothing. But the same cannot be said for a growing share of Americans. The suicide rate has risen from 11 per 100,000 people in 2005 to 13 seven years later. In the time it takes you to read this article, six Americans will try to kill themselves; in another ten minutes one will succeed.
Over 40,000 Americans took their own lives in 2012—more than died in car crashes—says the American Association of Suicidology. Mondays in May see the most incidents. The rates are highest in Wyoming and Montana, perhaps because guns—which are more effective than pills—are so common there (see chart). Nationally, guns are used in half of all successful suicides….
Activists say the government does too little to prevent suicide. Christine Moutier of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention complains that only $40m of federal funding will go to anti-suicide programmes this year. This does not include the billions the government spends on mental-health problems more broadly.
I think the following comment to the article is probably on target about the lack of focus on suicide:
“If suicide doesn’t get enough attention, it’s because it’s mostly men committing it.”
The article points out that women are more willing to ask for help. Could it be that the help available for men is not exactly the most welcoming kind? When the counseling programs focus their courses on “diversity” in grad schools, men’s issues should be a top priority. Not the kind of PC crap that these programs often focus on in men’s studies, such as how to relieve men of their masculinity and make them more like defective girls, but rather training real professionals to deal with, and address, the true discrimination and problems that men face today with regards to work (or lack thereof), marriage, relationships and other male topics. Maybe that would be a start.
image illustration via shutterstock / Piotr Marcinski
1 in 3 on Disability Have Mental Disorder; 42.9% in D.C. From the article:
CNSNews.com) – One in three, or 35.2 percent, of people getting federal disability insurance benefits have been diagnosed with a mental disorder, according to the latest data from the Social Security Administration (SSA).
Washington, D.C., the seat of the federal government, ranked in the top-ten list of states where disabled beneficiaries were diagnosed with mental problems.
In 2013, the latest data from SSA show there were 10,228,364 disabled beneficiaries, up 139,625 from 2012 when there were 10,088,739 disabled beneficiaries.
Disabled beneficiaries have increased 49.7 percent from a decade ago in 2003 when there were 6,830,714 beneficiaries; and the number is up 14.3 percent from the 8,945,376 beneficiaries in 2009, the year President Obama took office.
From the description:
Whether an aggressor is a seasoned predator or an irate individual, hostility is almost always preceded by warning signs–if we know what to look for. Surviving Aggressive People dissects the psychology of aggression. It exposes the subtle cues of impending violence and offers timeless methods for transforming a potential disaster into a peaceful victory. Using time-tested methods for conflict management and crisis intervention, this book offers persuasion and peacemaking skills that historically have been reserved for law enforcement, psychologists, and other professionals working the front lines of emotionally charged situations. In today’s world, these skills are a must for everyone. Newly updated, with a special appendix for healthcare workers, the enduring knowledge in Surviving Aggressive People can help deter hostility before it spins out of control. It might even save your life.
The book has some good advice that I have used myself on occasion. For example, the golden rule of violence prevention is “an adversary is less dangerous when he perceives you as similar to himself.” Smith gives some tips on how to reduce this “psychological distance”: Use humor, and employ politeness as a preemptive strike. When I used to see clients for disability claims, some would be angry and distrustful when they walked through the door. I stocked the fridge with Pepsi, Mountain Dew and other drinks that people seemed to like and when someone got upset, I would say, “Would you like a Pepsi or Mountain Dew? Then we can talk about your concerns.” It made people feel welcome and as if they were in a safe environment. I guess the caffeine wasn’t always the best idea but “would you like bottled water or caffeine-free herbal tea?” didn’t have the same ring to it and sounded haughty.
Anyway, you get the idea. The book is full of these helpful hints that may help you to reduce your chance of being a victim of violence and provides a framework for how to avoid it. I recommend the sections for healthcare workers on how to respond to neuro-behavioral aggression. It is surprising how few of them get training on how to respond when a patient gets aggressive. This book will help.
Cross-posted from Dr. Helen
The New Republic magazine celebrates its 100th anniversary with a special section called “100 Years, 100 Thinkers.”
Unfortunately, the categories into which these “minds who’ve defined our century” are helpfully slotted are almost parodically First World, elite-uptown-liberal:
“Architecture.” “Environmentalism.” “Songwriting.” “Diplomacy.”
And of course, “American Civil Rights.” (Zzzzzzzz….)
Unless you count “Medicine,” no hard sciences were deemed worthy of consideration.
An alien browsing this section would be forgiven for assuming that man never set foot on the moon.
But who cares when someone named Alice Waters “made (local) lettuce sexy!”
(And besides, The New Republic assures us that “Martians need only watch one of [Richard Pryor's] concert films to best understand the human species in the shortest amount of time.”)
Naturally, there’s a “Sex” section, and Alfred Kinsey comes out on top (as it were.)
In one of his most memorable roles, as the eponymous character of Tim Burton’s 1990 film Edward Scissorhands, Johnny Depp plays a semi-human manboy with shears for fingers, stuck in eternal youth as those around him wither. I thought of this film last week, as I watched a fifty-something Depp, drunk and clad in his usual get-up of randomly placed crosses and scarves, stumble to the microphone at a televised awards show and deliver a slurred “speech” in which he giggled, cursed, rocked, and swayed his way through a painful two minutes. Here was another manboy on display, albeit one lacking the charm and innocence of Burton’s creation.
It was a shame to see Depp, a genuinely talented and by most accounts kind and gentle man, reduce himself to this display. He is well into middle age—not that any age is an appropriate time for public drunkenness. I suspect his career won’t be dented much, if at all, by the episode. This is not just because he is a celebrity. One can’t imagine, say, Morgan Freeman stumbling onto the stage, delivering a gin-soaked introduction, and walking away with his career totally intact. No, it is Depp’s enduring “bad boy” image that affords him the extra latitude. Those crosses and scarves go a long way. If you can set yourself up as some kind of outsider, those on the inside will start to think they’re caged animals and become desperate for your kind of freedom. The bad boy’s appeal comes from nonchalantly scuffing the social rulebook with his cowboy boots and daring us not to like him because of it.
On November 9, 2006, as the free world celebrated the seventeenth anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s demise, an 83-year-old man died in a peaceful slumber at his home in the German capital city. The man was Markus Wolf, who during the Cold War led the foreign-intelligence section of East Germany’s secret-police apparatus: the Ministry for State Security (Ministerium fuer Staatssicherheit), known colloquially as “the Stasi.” The Stasi’s most renowned spymaster, he controlled thousands of agents, whose purpose was to infiltrate important Western institutions and government positions. Often mistaken as the inspiration for John le Carre’s shadowy Karla character, Wolf for years remained a mystery to Western intelligence services, who didn’t even have a picture of him until the late 1970s—several decades into his career. Historians have marveled at his success in leading the Stasi’s foreign wing, known as the HVA, or Hauptverwaltung Aufklaerung. Perhaps his most well known accomplishment is having one of his agents, Gunter Guillaume, become a trusted aide to Willy Brandt, the West German chancellor.
Seven years after Wolf’s death and twenty-five years after the Wall’s, the West still doesn’t appreciate the breadth and depth of the Stasi’s brutality. (The KGB still reigns in the popular imagination as the ultimate secret-police force.) Formed after the Second World War in the Soviet occupation zone of Germany, the Stasi grew to become the most potently effective Eastern bloc intelligence organization. They possessed a more impressive informant network than even the KGB. When East Germany crumbled, the Stasi employed upwards of 190,000 unofficial informants. By 1989, approximately one out of every 90 East German citizens was a Stasi informant. Referred to as inoffizielle Mitarbeiter (“unofficial collaborators”), most were simply ordinary German citizens, tasked with reporting everything they could about possible (real or imagined) anti-regime activity, as well as details about family and friends. Even children were involved in spying on their parents.
Denny Burk, professor of biblical studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, recently addressed the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission on the subject of transgender.
Saying that the gay marriage battle is all but over, Burk believes “sexual revolutionaries are turning their attention to the ‘T’ in LGBT” which will lead to significant cultural changes.
Burk, author of What Is the Meaning of Sex?, said,
At the heart of the transgender revolution is the notion that psychological identity trumps bodily identity. In this way of thinking, a person is whatever they think themselves to be. If a girl perceives herself to be a boy, then she is one even if her biology says otherwise. If a boy perceives himself to be a girl, then he is one even if his biology says otherwise. Gender is self-determined, not determined by the sexual differences that the Creator has embedded into every cell in our bodies.
He doubts that most Americans have thought through the implications of accepting without question that psychological identity should trump biological identity when there is a conflict.
Burk gave the example of a man named John who was featured on Fox News a few years ago. He felt like he was a one-legged man trapped in the body of a man with two legs. “When I see an amputee — when I imagine the amputee — there is this inner pull that says ‘why can’t I be like that?’” the man asked. It wasn’t until after 42 years of marriage that he revealed this “secret” to his wife. He suffers from what psychiatrists call “body integrity identity disorder.” The only known cure is amputation of the offending body part.
“The primary ethical question is whether a man in John’s position would be right to amputate an otherwise healthy limb,” Burk said. “Would it be right for a doctor to remove his leg so that John can feel whole? If John feels himself to be a one-legged man inside a two-legged man’s body, why not encourage him to have his leg amputated? At a gut level, most people recoil at the suggestion. Nevertheless, this is the implication of the view that psychological identity trumps bodily identity,” he said.
Typically, individuals who suffer from such a disorder cannot find physicians to accommodate their requests for amputations, and they are not encouraged to amputate otherwise healthy limbs. Most people would say the individual’s thinking needs to be altered rather than taking drastic steps to alter the body.
Those with long memories will recall that Wes Craven’s Scream, which came out way back in 1996, was praised for its hip “self-awareness,” coming as it did in a particularly “meta” era of ’90s postmodernism, full of overrated cult fare like Pulp Fiction and Clerks. The film’s edginess consisted in banging on the fourth wall without quite breaking it. In one scene, for instance, a horror-movie fanatic and video-store clerk (remember: 1996) played by Jamie Kennedy tells his fellow teenagers about the “rules” of surviving a slasher film.
One of these “rules,” which is now common knowledge, is that in order to survive one mustn’t practice the carnal arts. Those who do it always get it. What the less eloquent might call “c*ckblocking” is an established horror-movie tradition. In the first Halloween film, Michael Myers ruins one couple’s tryst by stabbing the guy and then assaulting his teenage girlfriend—which might sound like a standard Friday evening at Roman Polanski’s house, but for an audience of 1970s suburban teens it was genuinely frightening. Come to think of it, every horror movie has a boyfriend character, football letter jacket and all, who gets his head caved in while fetching a few beers from the fridge. Each series has its own tropes. The Friday the 13th movies rely on the obligatory sex-in-the-woods scene: two camp counselors set up a tent, and before long Jason shows up with his machete for an especially kinky threesome.
Editor’s note: this is part 3 in an ongoing series exploring the history of dictators and their evil ideologies. See the previous installments: Part 1:”Why It’s OK to Be Intrigued by Evil Dictators“ and Part 2: “Does Everybody Want Freedom?” Have ideas for who you’d like to see Robert explore next? Get in touch on Twitter: @RobertWargas and @DaveSwindle
Celebrating its centennial, The New Republic recently mined its archive and republished an intriguing piece from its February 27, 1965, issue: an exclusive interview with Mao Zedong by the American journalist Edgar Snow. As TNR correctly notes, as far as interviews go this would be analogous to a Western journalist today being granted exclusive access to Kim Jong Un. The sit-down took place almost seven years before Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger arrived in Peking to re-establish relations with China.
Though the interview has value as a journalistic artifact, it isn’t the most satisfying piece of reportage when it comes to Mao the man. Snow, who was not exactly Red China’s greatest critic, wasn’t allowed to quote the Great Helmsman directly, and most of the discussion concerns issues of policy and military strategy. These are big subjects, and big subjects always make for big answers laden with propaganda.
Mao comes across as intensely theoretical; he seems genuinely infatuated with Marxist theory and its rigorous application to world affairs. When asked about the Vietnam War, for instance, Snow writes that Mao “repeatedly thanked foreign invaders for speeding up the Chinese revolution and for bestowing similar favors in Southeast Asia today.” He ”observed that the more American weapons and troops brought into Saigon, the faster the South Vietnamese liberation forces would become armed and educated to win victory.”
Inevitably, Robin Williams’ suicide saw the “raising awareness about mental health issues” camp fighting it out online with the “he was a selfish git” crowd.
When the latter reject the “disease model” of addiction and mental illness — people like Theodore Dalrymple — they do so prompted by a laudable instinct:
They think depressed people or addicts use the “disease” model to avoid taking responsibility for their actions.
This is a bit like the New Atheists’ concept of “God,” as “an old man in the sky.” They proudly and loudly reject that concept, seemingly unaware (despite their alleged sophistication and superior education) that so do most actual believers.
Likewise, few addicts who accept the disease model (and not all do) use it as a “get out of jail free” card.
It’s called “How It Works” not “How It Lounges on the Couch Eating Cheetos and Watching Judge Judy.”
“Some of us thought we could find an easier, softer way, but we could not…”
Making amends, taking inventory, doing service and even prayer and meditation are exercises in responsibility and action.
Robin Williams apparently did all those things and stayed clean and sober for 20 years.
Then he “went out” in 2006 and was never the same.
Or, as Catholics like to say when they can’t explain something: “It’s a mystery…”
(If you say it in a somber enough voice, and include the “…”, it sounds satisfyingly deep.)
“You need to have a good mood. Good family, good children, good work, and then you’ll be happy,” he added. “You need to be a sociable person. I love and respect all people. After what happened to me, I don’t only value my own life more, but I deeply value the lives of all human beings. It’s very important to have good company and good friends. I view everything with optimism, it’s very important.”
As a grandchild of a survivor, I’ve always had a special interest in Holocaust studies. I have read many memoirs and attended numerous classes on the subject. But, from the very first class in a small Israeli school in the suburbs of Afula, to the courses I attended in a large North American university — I had always felt that something I had learned from my Grandfather was missing from these lectures.
For years, I had trouble pinning down that missing piece. It frightens me that my grandfather’s gift may have been lost all together: No one would have known that there once lived a man named Srulik Ackerman, who challenged our understanding of human nature, and with that, could bring hope in even the darkest of times.
…after just a few minutes with my Grandpa you would see the mystery that had perplexed me for so many years. The first thing that would strike you would be his wide, welcoming smile. Grandpa smiled and laughed more than anyone I knew. He took every opportunity to tell jokes and bring joy to others. Without a doubt, Grandpa was the happiest person that I had ever met.
How was that possible? I spent two years writing his memoir, hoping to discover his secret. But, even after the book was complete, I still had no idea what gave him such unparalleled resilience.
So, I decided to ask him directly. “How do stay happy on a daily basis?” I asked during one of our conversations.
Do yourself and your kids a favor: Get to know a Holocaust survivor so you, too, and your children can understand how a human being can survive and thrive in the face of death. There aren’t many survivors left, but there are countless resources through which you can interact with their thoughts and experiences. Tomorrow, the United States Holocaust Museum is sponsoring a Google+ Hangout with Holocaust survivors specifically geared towards school-aged children. Take advantage of this opportunity to get to know the real “secret” to happiness.
And don’t forget to thank them for sharing it.
Last week here at PJ Lifestyle, we saw a lively debate over the difference between altruism and giving out of love — particularly in a Judeo-Christian context. My colleagues Walter Hudson and Susan L. M. Goldberg eloquently shared their thoughts on the nature of altruism in a series of compelling posts:
April 8: Altruism In Religion’s Free Market
April 9: Love And Altruism Prove Opposite
Walter, Susan, our editor David Swindle, and I continued the discussion on Facebook, which morphed into a bigger exploration of faith and religion. At one point, Susan brought up the notion we often hear from secularists that “God doesn’t want us to be happy.” I replied:
I don’t think God wants us to be happy, either. He wants us to be filled with joy. Happiness is temporal and circumstantial, while joy is sustained.
There’s a clear difference between happiness and joy. Circumstances and relationships determine our happiness. An ice cream cone can make you happy. A great comedy can make you happy. An upbeat song (even that ubiquitous Pharrell Williams tune) can make you happy. But happiness is transitory and momentary — and ultimately external. Psychologist Sandra A. Brown writes (particularly in the context of relationships):
Happiness is external. It’s based on situations, events, people, places, things, and thoughts. Happiness is connected to your hope for a relationship or your hope for a future with someone….
Happiness is future oriented and it puts all its eggs in someone else’s basket. It is dependent on outside situations, people, or events to align with your expectations so that the end result is your happiness.
And happiness can disappear as quickly as it comes. The same people who make us happy one moment can hurt us or let us down the next. That great meal you ate can give you unbearable heartburn. You can grow tired of the songs, films, and shows you once loved. A storm can ruin that perfect trip to the beach. The happiness we seek can often disappear without warning.
Do you have a highly intelligent child who struggles with writing and spelling? A child who, despite good scores on standardized tests, is performing below his “potential”? If so, you may be the parent of a “stealth dyslexic.” According to learning experts, dyslexia manifests itself in a variety of ways beyond the most common form where individuals reverse letters and have difficulty learning to read. Indeed, stealth dyslexics often learn to read quite easily because of their outstanding memories and ability to compensate for their deficits. But because of this, their learning disability is often not detected until later in life.
According to school psychologist Jim Forgan, ”These highly intelligent or gifted children compensate for their dyslexia because they learn to rely upon their outstanding memory, keen intuition, and general smarts to work around their reading weaknesses.” Stealth dyslexia often goes undetected until the child is in third grade or older. “Your child may have stealth dyslexia if they are very smart and can read but don’t enjoy reading and rarely read for pleasure. Many of these children don’t read for pleasure because it’s laborious and mentally exhausting,” says Forgan.
Teachers often think that these obviously smart kids are lazy, inattentive or “not applying themselves” because they have precocious verbal skills and many, in fact, have high verbal IQs. According to the Davidson Institute, there is often a huge gap between the child’s verbal skills and the ability to read and write, especially as the student progresses to more difficult assignments in the middle school years. The Davidson Institute says that children with stealth dyslexia tend to exhibit some of the following characteristics:
1. Difficulties with word processing and written output.
2. Reading skills that appear to fall within the normal or even superior range for children their age, at least on silent reading comprehension.
3. Difficulty remembering how to form individual letters (resulting in oddly formed letters, reversals, inversions, and irregular spacing.
4. Difficulty remembering the sequence of letters or even sounds in a word.
5. Difficulties with sensory-motor dyspraxia, or motor coordination problems resulting in handwriting problems.
6. An enormous gap between oral and written expression.
7. Spelling errors in children’s written output that are far out of character with their general language, working memory, or attention skills.
8. Persistent difficulties with word-for-word reading skills, resulting in subtle word substitutions or word skips; which can result in significant functional problems, especially on tests. This occurs despite the appearance of age-appropriate reading comprehension on classroom assignments or standardized tests.
Since the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust, researchers have struggled to figure out what factors drive ordinary people to commit acts like those in Nazi Germany. Were the Germans of that era inherently evil, or did they simply fall in line with the orders of charismatic leaders like Hitler? Did William Calley’s defense of “just following orders” absolve him of his responsibility for the My Lai Massacre? Psychologists have spent years trying to figure out what’s behind obedience to authority.
In the early 1960s, psychologist Stanley Milgram embarked on a series of controversial experiments in which he set out to discover what factors lead regular people to commit atrocities. Milgram’s experiments involved subjects administering electric shocks to participants who, unbeknownst to the subjects, were actors involved with the experiments. Though many believed his experiments skirted the boundaries of ethics, Milgram concluded that people in general would obey orders regardless of the harm those orders may cause.
Author Gina Perry’s excellent 2013 book Behind The Shock Machine (which I recently read) recounts the experiments, and Perry discounts Milgram’s findings. She concludes that Milgram manipulated his results and that the experiments were as much about the theatrics as they were about getting to the bottom of the issue.
Today’s researchers are still trying to figure out the real motivation behind atrocities. In a recent Pacific Standard article, Bettina Chang recounts a more recent finding:
Sophie Richardot, a social psychologist at Université de Picardie, France, sought to answer this question. She first became interested in the subject in relation to Milgram’s famed obedience experiment. Milgram showed the disturbing extent to which normal people are willing to inflict pain on people in the name of obeying authority. Richardot says that Milgram’s orders were not coercive, but they were explicit.
From what she knew about the Holocaust and other mass war crimes, however, the orders were more coded and ambiguous. So she set about categorizing the orders given to commit war crimes and looking for patterns.
Attention, the Creative Community: does this make any sense to you? One of my pet peeves on Facebook — and you may friend me there simply by looking up “David Kahane” and finding the avatar for Rules for Radical Conservatives — is this kind of list, which purports to impart wisdom but usually just makes your brain ache. Are “creative people” “easily bored”? Do they “think with their heart”? Do they “hate the rules”? No, no, and Hell No, says I.
As the author of six novels (with a new one on the way), one produced script and another heading into production, plus half a dozen sold scripts and four or five projects in various states of fruition (i.e., producer and director attachments), let me say as a member in good standing of the creative community that this list strikes me as better describing a civilian’s idea of “creativity.” For one thing, creative people are not easily bored. From conception through publication of my novel, And All the Saints (winner of the 2004 American Book Award and soon to be available in a spiffy new Kindle and other platforms e-edition), the time elapsed was seven full years. Seven years to think it up, internalize it, decide on the voice (first-person) and the tone, research it on location in New York City and Hot Springs, Ark., write it, get it edited, proofread the galleys and at last hold the finished book in my hand. Was I bored? Not a single time, never, to quote another famous resident of Hot Springs and, as it turned out, a protege of my narrator, the great Irish-American gangster Owney Madden. When the work is going well it’s not work, it’s fun.
Another false meme is that creative folks hate the rules. On the contrary, we love the rules. We internalize the rules. We master the rules. And we continue to love and use the rules even when we are breaking them — which of course we could not do had we not learned them well in the first place. Rules are not arbitrary edicts, but standards that evolve over time based on what works. Only amateurs break them without knowing them — and it shows. The creation of any work of art requires a knowledge of structure, which is why writers and other artists — such as architects — learn how to build from the ground up. They don’t think with their hearts, they think with their heads. After all, the heart can only beat when it’s encased in a solid structure first.
Even “work independently” is not quite right. True, the super-glamorous profession of novelist or screenwriter takes place for long stretches of time with the writer sitting alone in a small room, typing. But nothing exists in a vacuum: writers have agents and editors, screenwriters have agents and producers and directors and studio suits and a horde of other colleagues once the film is actually being made. We interact constantly and symbiotically, and benefit both emotionally and (some of the time, anyway) financially.
One thing that’s true: we do make lots of mistakes, with the bones of countless false starts, misdirections and even whole drafts buried in our back yards. And it’s also true that we change our mind(s) “alot.” A. Lot. We also learn how to spell. Meanwhile, back on the home front:
Love it or hate it, The AMC channel hit series The Walking Dead is a mirror of our culture. The show is nominally an apocalyptic zombie series but it is really about how people deal with a total societal collapse.
The answer is: Badly. Usually very badly.
Episode #14 of season 4, “The Grove,” is a thoughtful and tragic examination of what a society should or can do with a psychopath. (Spoilers!) Set in the woodlands of the American south after a zombie apocalypse, in this episode a group of five refugees find a cabin to stop and rest for a few days. There, disturbed young Lizzie goes homicidal. She stabs another little girl to death. Her mother-figure, Carol, then asks her to “look at the flowers” while she prepares to execute her, the only solution possible in their terrible new world.
The clues were all there, laid out carefully in past episodes. The girl had an obsession with capturing and cutting up live rats. She had sudden outbreaks of violent rage and anger. She was fascinated with zombies and couldn’t distinguish between the living and the dead.
The clues are all here in the real world as well, and we are no better at preventing the slaughter when a mentally disturbed person decides to kill. The Sandy Hook killer, the Aurora theater killer, the murderer at Virginia Tech, the killers at Columbine High School, all exhibited distinct indicators of violence and psychosis. All of these killers were under psychiatric care and on medically prescribed drugs. Each of them showed signs like little Lizzie on The Walking Dead, and her path ended the same as theirs, in blood.
In “The Grove,” just as in America today, we wait until a disturbed person becomes a killer and only then do we do something about them. Only then do they receive the confines of a cell or a grave. We can do better than this. Unlike Carol on The Walking Dead, we have options.
In the heartbreaking and frightening essay “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” the mother of a mentally disturbed boy explains how she cannot find care for him. “With state-run treatment centers and hospitals shuttered, prison is now the last resort for the mentally ill.” This mother doesn’t want to put her innocent (but violent and disturbed) twelve-year-old boy in prison. Would you like to live in a world where people are jailed for crimes they might commit? Instead, we need to re-build our mental health care system in this country and that includes treatment centers and hospitals. If we don’t, we will continue to endure the slaughter of innocents at the hands of the mentally ill.
City folk have always looked on their country neighbors with superstition. According to John Podhoretz at the Weekly Standard, this suspicion has carried a clearly political bent since the days of W. His evidence: Scary white dudes, like Walter White (Breaking Bad) and Bill Henrickson (Big Love) from middle America invading your TVs.
“In Difficult Men, Brett Martin’s book about the remarkable writer-producers who brought television to new cultural heights, Martin notes that there was something explicitly political at work in the early days of what he calls television’s “Third Golden Age.” Americans “on the losing side” of the 2000 election, Martin writes, “were left groping to come to terms with the Beast lurking in their own body politic.” As it happened, “that side happened to track very closely with the viewerships of networks like AMC, FX, and HBO: coastal, liberal, educated, ‘blue state.’ And what the Third Golden Age brought them was a humanized red state. . . . This was the ascendant Right being presented to the disempowered Left—as if to reassure it that those in charge were still recognizably human.”
…It’s the depiction of the worlds in which they live that is so striking, even more so in the series that have come along since the body politic’s shift to the left, beginning in 2006. The canvas on which these characters are brought to three-dimensional life isn’t a “humanized red state” at all, but rather the red state of liberal horror fantasy.”
Podhoretz concludes: “Still, rich Hollywood folk making mincemeat out of poor rural folk is another element of the ongoing American culture war that should not go unremarked.”
Fair enough, although any critical studies grad could tell you that whitey from the sticks, especially them man-folks, have been derided for a long time among the educated liberal elites who fill television’s coveted writers’ rooms. Educated liberal elites, mind you, who are primarily white dudes.
Have you ever gazed into the eyes of a newborn? Could you feel the pull of your soul into hers?
Hold your answer. We’ll get back to that.
At the sincere behest of a respected reader, I’ve begun a new series; the exploration into the works of Ernest Becker. Our introduction to Becker begins with Birth and Death of Meaning: An Interdisciplinary Perspective on the Problem of Man.
At first blush his point seems overly simplistic.
“[D]ualism of experience–the fact that all objects have both an inside and an outside…It is one of the great mysteries of the universe, that has intrigued man since remotest times. It is the basis of the belief in souls and spirits. Man discovered it and elaborated it because of his own self-reflexivity, the real and apparent contradiction between the inside of his body–his thoughts and feelings, and the outside…These are hardly new or startling thoughts, but they help us to introduce the problem of man’s distinctive interiority…”
Becker goes on to explain that this reality “presents a poignant problem that dogs us all our life.” I would suggest that not only does it “dog us” it also imprisons or sets us free. How we view the “inside” of man, is directly related not only to our own value and happiness but our right to pursue that happiness.
Sometime in the 6th century (see “About Dates” below) not far south of the Himalayan mountains on the Indian subcontinent, a man laid out a simple idea: people are unhappy, lack peace of mind, because they cling to their illusions and fantasies about the world instead of seeing things as they are.
Traditional accounts agree his personal name was Siddhartha, “the successful one” or “the one who achieves”, which was a popular name then and is popular today. His gotra family name was Gautama, and he was born into a clan called the Shakya, of the Kshatriya or “warrior” class. His father was named Suddhodana, and his mother was named Mayadevi. Suddhodana is usually called a “king” but he was an elected ruler, and the Shakya’s government was something more or less like a republic.
The traditions say he was born prematurely, and unexpectedly, under a tree in a place called Lumbini, and recent archeological discoveries show that there was indeed a tree-shrine at the location the tradition identifies. Mayadevi died shortly after Siddhartha’s birth.
Siddhartha was raised as a rich princeling, but he left this life of wealth to become a renunciate, and eventually became known as a teacher called “the one who woke up” — the Buddha.
The first written records we have, however, are from at least a century after his death, and most of the written texts describing his life and teaching were first written down more than 500 years after he died. Many of these stories are fantastic, magical — and, as they say, they probably grew in the telling.
Can we look into these stories, the sutras, and see more clearly what this man’s original teachings were? What he taught before the sutras were written down?
What can we learn from the Undocumented Buddha?
We’ve all seen the type, or maybe we’ve been it at one time or another. You know the one — the teenager who spends hours in front of video games, seeming to alienate himself from the real world for hours on end. Now imagine if you or your teen lived that lifestyle for many years, refusing all contact with the outside world, dependent on parents for everything. Welcome to the world of the hikikomori.
Over the last couple of decades, a new phenomenon has emerged in Japan — the emergence of the hikikomori (“withdrawn”). Psychiatrist Tamaki Saito discovered the phenomenon in the early 1990s, and he has pioneered treatment of these young men.
[Saito] was struck by the number of parents who sought his help with children who had quit school and hidden themselves away for months and sometimes years at a time. These young people were often from middle-class families, they were almost always male, and the average age for their withdrawal was 15.
It might sound like straightforward teenage laziness. Why not stay in your room while your parents wait on you? But Saito says sufferers are paralyzed by profound social fears.
“They are tormented in the mind,” he says. “They want to go out in the world, they want to make friends or lovers, but they can’t.”
The Japanese government has estimated the number of hikikomori at between 200,000 and 700,000, but Saito believe the number could exceed one million. What makes these teens and young men withdraw from society?
The trigger for a boy retreating to his bedroom might be comparatively slight – poor grades or a broken heart, for example – but the withdrawal itself can become a source of trauma. And powerful social forces can conspire to keep him there.
One such force is sekentei, a person’s reputation in the community and the pressure he or she feels to impress others. The longer hikikomori remain apart from society, the more aware they become of their social failure…
A second social factor is the amae - dependence – that characterizes Japanese family relationships.
Hikikomori are different from another Japanese subgroup — the otaku (“geeks” or “nerds”). Otaku, like many American teens, immerse themselves in video games or cartoons/anime, but they associate with peers outside the home. Hikikomori remain reclusive for months or years.