Friday, October 30, 2015

Quotes on psychopathy: The absence of love

Robert D. Hare, in his research on psychopaths:

"...a frightful and perplexing theme that runs through the case histories of all psychopaths: a deeply disturbing inability to care about the pain and suffering experienced by others – in short, a complete lack of empathy, the prerequisite for love."

James Gilligan, in his research on prison violence:

"So the person who cannot love cannot have any feelings – pain or joy. * * * But how can one know that others have feelings, or be moved by the feelings of others, if one does not experience any feelings oneself?"

Martha Stout, in her research on psychopaths:

"We have already seen that when someone's mind is not equipped to love, he can have no genuine conscience either, since conscience is an intervening sense of responsibility based in our emotional attachments to others. Now we turn this psychological equation around. The other truth is that should a person have no conscience, he could never truly love. When an imperative sense of responsibility is subtracted from love, all that is left is a thin, tertiary thing – a will to possess, which is not love at all."

Sources

Robert D. Hare. Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us. Atria, 1993. (Released by Guilford Press for Kindle, 2011.)

James Gilligan. Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic. (1996) New York: Vintage Books, 1997. p. 52.

Martha Stout. The Sociopath Next Door. Harmony, 2005. (Released by Random House Digital for Kindle.)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Still waiting for a better answer on 'How to Be Right'

“The idea for this book has been inside me for years, growing, grumbling, developing horns, like a gestational twin with a vestigial tail,” says Greg Gutfeld. His newly released book, How to Be Right: The Art of Being Persuasively Correct, an instructional manual for “conservatives” to feel that they can demolish “liberals” in fifteen-second sound bites, is appropriately horrifying.

While he laments a shift from “fact-based debate” to “fact-free rhetoric,” he also thinks it’s important “to confirm normal, commonsense assumptions” (note that assumptions are not facts, and what counts as normal and commonsense lies in the eye of the beholder), and his book is entirely about rhetorical flourishes, not facts. As he puts it: “The whole point of arguing is to defeat your opponent by looking great, without hurting your knuckles or spilling your mojito.”

He advocates misattributing and twisting people’s beliefs – for example, if someone supports abortion rights in general, you should inform them that they really also specifically support abortion for gender selection in China. (“Replace ‘pro-choice’ with ‘pro-boy’....The next time someone says they’re pro-choice, say, ‘Congrats, you’re also ‘pro-boy.’”)

He says that the subject of using aborted fetal tissue for medical research should be used rhetorically as moral equivalents to using tissue from executed criminals or concentration camp inmates or using an uncle’s skull for a paperweight. On the contrary, these are not exact moral equivalents; anyone with a little philosophical skill or training could quickly enumerate the relevant differences in these scenarios.

One of his nicer rules: “Concede”. He explains: “Demonizing an opponent on all points makes our opinion unrealistic, histrionic, and boring.” He does, nonetheless, refer to “the innate desire of the left to embrace any cause that undermines the foundations of the country. They are termites.” He says that there aren’t any “left-wingers in charge of anything that requires results” while, to their eternal credit, no “right-winger” has ever used the c-word “to describe any liberal woman”.

He perceives liberalism as acts of emoting, wishing, blaming, throwing money at problems and then resorting to putting on bandaids and lipstick, while conservatism raises standards and solves specific problems on the ground with targeted actions. Conservatives fight the wars and maintain the police presence that allow liberals to philosophize. (No word from him on what [liberal] philosophy might be good for – for example, its influence on foreign policy and domestic law that in turn govern the [conservative] military and police.)

Male feminists are dismissed in this fashion: “Women love a man who fights for her rights, even if the fight suggests she can’t fight for herself. And men dig the fight because impressionable undergrads find it cool that he’s so into the war on patriarchy, while leeching off his parents for tuition.” He says that “Women love sexists” based on some information in or interpretation of the erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey.

One of his favorite approaches is to shut down an area of concern by raising a subject of concern that is several orders of magnitude larger. “If you feel strongly about Hobby Lobby denying two kinds of birth control out of dozens,” he says, “how do you feel about sharia law? How do you feel about burkas, or flogging?” (No acknowledgment from him about how he feels or would react when this trick is played on him. For example: If he feels strongly about not wanting to pay for someone else's birth control, how does he expect others to feel about not wanting to fund a war that they believe is damaging and unwinnable?) Another example of this occurs in response to a woman who videotaped herself having “been catcalled more than a hundred times in twelve hours”; he says that, “in the same month, Boko Haram had kidnapped and enslaved dozens of women. So, yeah, catcalls suck. But they don’t rate, compared to true evil.” He also blames that particular woman for walking “where minority men were standing around. She didn’t go to Saks or Equinox.” He thereby reveals his prejudiced expectation that men of color are more likely to make sexist comments that “suck” while he simultaneously implies that the road to civility is paved with luxury department stores and fitness clubs and that the feelings of people who cannot afford these places are not worthy of concern.

He complains that it’s perceived as OK to mock “Republicans, religious types, old farts, white men” but not “liberals, Obama, women, gays, trans”. Trans is not a plural noun, a slip that calls into question his qualifications to opine on anything having to do with transgender people. There are repeated digs against transgender people in the book, including against “the infamous pregnant man” whose existence is notable only because Gutfeld admits to having made a public comment about him for which he was annoyed at being called to task by Barbara Walters and which he does not repeat in the book.

He advocates slamming people who are “consumed by [the subject of] sexual reproductive rights” by simply suggesting to their faces that they aren’t getting laid. His particular complaint is against public funding for birth control pills. He believes that women should be “free to make decisions about their health choices” but that they should have to fund it themselves, because otherwise “the implication is that you cannot be depended on to take care of it yourself,” and he thinks this implication conveys the “sexist” and “paternalistic” idea that you [women] cannot “handle your life...because you’re female” and that “women...need us [men]” to subsidize a range of female health needs. The multi-part rebuttal is, hopefully, obvious. For Gutfeld’s hypothetical woman who is unable to afford birth control, the link between her poverty and her gender is obscure. She has already been defined as asking for help not because of her gender, but because of her finances. Gutfeld manages to find a gender imbalance that offends him only by falsely presuming that male workers contribute all the funding to public health programs for indigent women, as if women do not also work and pay taxes and as if women’s healthcare (including their ability to control when they get pregnant) is not also a benefit to men (in the true sense of the term "public health" in which each person's health contributes to everyone's well being). Later in the book, he undercuts his own argument by complaining about men who want public funding for condoms; there, he doesn’t say that such men are admitting that they cannot handle their own lives as men nor that the cost of their condoms would have to be paid by women. Instead, his argument takes a different tack: “If condoms are a human right that must be paid for by someone else,” he says, “why not your food or clothing?” But I’m pretty sure that any thoughtful person who maintains that sexual health and reproductive control is a human right would also maintain that food and clothing is a human right. Lastly, a person’s poverty doesn’t mean that they cannot take care of themselves. People care for themselves and each other in different ways, and much productive work (such as caring for the young, old, and sick) is financially uncompensated. If there is public or communal funding for birth control and one chooses to avail oneself of that program, that is a way of taking care of oneself and one’s family. Choices like these appear in the context of larger life choices and situations that may also involve taking care of oneself and one’s family and not having large amounts of money because of it, and these larger situations make it necessary or convenient to use whatever health insurance programs have been set up to fill a prescription. If Gutfeld is irritated that specific prescriptions have their cost shared by a large group of people, he really ought to look at different health insurance models and decide if some are more annoying than others, and, from there, he could look at the entire economic system that generates demand for anything like health insurance. Without a fuller context of all the costs that we share as a society, it is hard to seriously consider his moral objection about sharing the cost of one pill through a health insurance model that isn't even defined.

As the purest illustration of tokenization I have seen in a long time, he says that the Republican Party should strategize its growth by doing “the most shallow (but perhaps most important) thing: look like the left. That’s all. Look like them.” By which he means, Republicans should recruit a few people with brown skin. The next time “you’re” – presumably he is addressing the white Republican reader – “trying to make a point at a bar: quote people who look like Democrats.” He must be unaware that he is fighting against his own goal of diversifying the Republican Party by writing in a way that is probably especially irritating to people of color (and their white allies) who might happen to be reading his book. He sings the praises of Mia Love, not because of anything specific she has said or done, but because she is “black, female, Haitian, Mormon. And Republican. All that’s missing is a dorsal fin and an antenna.” I suppose he means that in the spirit of inclusivity and acceptance, but it is hard to feel it. To him, Mia Love’s existence as a “demographic of one” somehow proves that “demographics means nothing.” Not super convincing on his facility with statistics there, adding to his more general failure on how to respectfully acknowledge someone’s race.

He sees some people as being “focused only on their sexual identity, their gender, their race,” and that they should come to “realize that you played no constructive role in this identity you are proud of” since it was not an “accomplishment” but was arrived at merely “by luck or biology.” Not sure how he manages to remain so unaware that people do construct their identities (in part because, all too frequently, they have to labor through their reactions to books like his). His definition of the term “white privilege” is the idea that “every Caucasian is evil,” “any achievement by a white person is based on racism” (whatever that means), and the world itself is “gigantic racist plot”. I could suggest this modification: Privilege includes not having to think about how you construct your identity because the process isn’t painful or challenging. It leads to the false assumption that there isn’t even any such thing as an accomplishment within the realm of identity and that neither you nor anyone else does or can do anything to affect your own self-understanding or presentation.

A very small handful of statements are agreeable.

I think I agree with the motto “Play to win, not for retweets” where it appears suddenly, but then again I am not entirely sure what it or its context means.

I think I agree that “One can love Muslims but hate tenets of Islam that are shitty to women, gays, and nonbelievers,” although I don’t think that this sentence is the most elegant or sensitive expression of that idea.

I think I agree that we should try to avoid “falling into the trap of manufactured stridency, where the condemnation of a pop star over a song is on par with the emotion you might normally reserve for ISIS,” but I think he fails to achieve that very goal in this very book.

Loving others and the need to be loved in return

Krishnamurti said: "If I love you because you love me, that is mere trade, a thing to be bought in the market; it is not love. To love is not to ask anything in return, not even to feel that you are giving something – and it is only such love that can know freedom."

Yet is this realistic? People have needs. Eric Felten:

"The point of love is not simply to possess the objects of our affections, but to be loved in return. We give love in no small part to get love, and it's not a very satisfying deal to give love and, in return, get a painfully honest appraisal of just what one's love was really worth. As novelist Leonard Michaels put it, 'Adultery has less to do with romance and sex than with the discovery of how little we mean to each other.' Or, to recast his observation in a positive way, it is through fidelity that we demonstrate how much someone matters to us."

For the monogamously inclined, to love one person in a romantic or sexual way is to feel exclusively that way about that person. Eric Rohmer:

"If there's one thing I dislike about the Church, it's the whole custom of accounting, which happily is disappearing. So many good marks measured against so many bad ones. Good deeds versus sins. What really matters is your attitude in general. The way you feel that dictates your actions. For instance, when you love one girl, you don't feel like sleeping with another..."

When people are loved, they know it, says Julie Bogart:

"Love comes as inevitably as death. It is the death of selfishness and the resurrection of hope. It doesn't just soothe or appease. It conquers. It gets all the way down inside of us and opens a door. It offers a ride; it ignites a flame. Love does it all. Not love in the abstract, but love that each person recognizes and experiences. You know when you've been loved. You don't have to write sermons about it, you don't have to convince yourself of love. Love conquers – it takes back territory that was unloved and marks it."

Sources

J. Krishnamurti. Think on These Things. ed. by D. Rajagopal. New York: Perennial, 1964. p. 28.

Eric Felten. Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011. p. 141. Quoting Leonard Michaels, Time out of Mind: The Diaries of Leonard Michaels. New York: Riverhead Books, 1999. p. 124.

"My Night at Maud's." Eric Rohmer. Six Moral Tales. New York: Viking, 2006. (Originally published in French under Six contes moraux in 1974. Viking English translation 1980.) p. 94.

"The Coming of Love." Julie Bogart. Printed in Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog. Edited by Raewynne J. Whiteley and Beth Maynard. Cambridge, Mass.: Cowley Publications, 2003. p. 114.

Love as a cycle of gaining and losing, joy and sorrow

We will feel togetherness and separateness. We will gain and lose. This in itself is love, as per Richard Powers: "Love is the feedback cycle of longing, belonging, loss. Anti-Hebbian: the firing links get weaker."

And as per Frank S. Robinson:

"Love is also a feedback loop. You push each other's buttons, doing and saying things that feed the attraction. Sometimes it can even be intensified by indifference or rejection, making the person seem even more desirable. But positive feedback works better. The fact is that, generally, we want to be in love, and given halfway reasonable material to work with, our psyches will try to make it happen."

Or that feedback loop, that cycle, whatever it really is, may be rationalized or explained by love, or called by the name of love, as per Albert Camus: "We have to fall in love if only to provide an alibi for the random despair we were going to feel anyway."

In any case, it is an experience we share in common. H. Jackson Brown, Jr.: "Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something, and has lost something."

On one interpretation, we must earn what is good and important in our lives, as stated by a character in a novel by Gregory David Roberts, and we earn it through love.

"I think that we all, each one of us, we all have to earn our future," she said slowly. I think the future is like anything else that's important. It has to be earned. If we don't earn it, we don't have a future at all. And if we don't earn it, if we don't deserve it, we have to live in the present, more or less forever. Or worse, we have to live in the past. I think that's probably what love is – a way of earning the future."

If this is true, then we cannot be cautious about it. Bertrand Russell: "Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness." And yet, the novelist Iain Pears: "You make her unhappy, then painted her sadness. That was cruel of you. You can love someone and make them unhappy..."

Sources

Richard Powers. Galatea 2.2. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1995. p. 152.

Frank S. Robinson. The Case for Rational Optimism. New Brunswick, N.J. and London: Transaction Publishers, 2009. p. 109.

Albert Camus, quoted in the Prospect (U.K.), quoted in The Week, Aug. 22, 2014, p. 17.

H. Jackson Brown Jr. Quoted on the "Sunbeams" page of The Sun, February 2006, p. 48.

Gregory David Roberts. Shantaram. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2003. p. 91.

Bertrand Russell, quoted in the Associated Press, quoted in The Week, Aug. 29, 2014, p. 17.

The character of Julia, to a painter. Iain Pears. The Dream of Scipio. New York: Riverhead Books, 2002. p 101.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Love is: Choice, Action, Adventure, Truth

Love is a choice. Carter Heyward:

"Love is a choice – not simply, or necessarily, a rational choice, but rather a willingness to be present to others without pretense or guile. Love is a conversation with humanity – a willingness to participate with others in the healing of a broken world and broken lives. Love is a choice to experience life as a member of the human family, a partner in the dance of life."

Love is an action. bell hooks:

"To begin by always thinking of love as an action rather than a feeling is one way in which anyone using the word in this manner automatically assumes accountability and responsibility."

Love is an adventure. Robert Bly:

"Falling in love, as our story suggests, is one of the adventures promised to the soul in return for its agreeing to be born on this planet."

Love is a truth. Thomas Page McBee:

"...we learned we could be both powerful and fragile at once. Love isn't a promise – it's a truth as uncontained as waves and as unmoving as the redwood groves we drove through, holding hands across the gearshift the whole winding way back home."

Sources

Carter Heyward, quoted in White Crane Journal, Issue #57, Summer 2003, p 26.

bell hooks, quoted in Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, Center City, Minn.: Hazelden Publishing, 2010.

Robert Bly, in Robert Bly and Marion Woodman. The Maiden King: The Reunion of Masculine and Feminine. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1998. p. 24.

Thomas Page McBee, Man Alive: A True Story of Violence, Forgiveness and Becoming a Man.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The demands of love

When we are responsible, we have to care about others. Steven Garber wrote:

They are people who "get it" – as in, I wonder why she doesn't "get it." Or, he "gets it," doesn't he? There is something about heart and mind together in that assessment. They are people who are more than smart, because they understand that it is possible to get all A's and still flunk life. In biblical imagery, they are people with ears that hear, and eyes that see. They are people who know that to know – in a deeply biblical sense – means to be responsible, and that to be responsible means to care.

This caring is "difficult, demanding and dangerous," as Nick Shere wrote:

We may need to kill, but – ironic though it sounds – if we kill, we must kill with love, kindness, care and sorrow. And we must never, ever look upon the life of another with hatred or without compassion. Love is not easy, safe or simple. It is difficult, demanding and dangerous. To love is to surrender safety, and safety, just now, is very precious indeed. But this danger does not make love any less necessary, and I would say the risk of becoming what we hate is a far greater one then the risk of universal love.

It is neither guaranteed to us nor is it something we can choose at will. It is "a fundamental condition of our lives" that can increase or decrease, that can be gained or lost, but that we must contend with. Greg Epstein:

Love is not just some voluntary, extracurricular activity that we can pick up and put down when we please. And it's not some set or fixed biological reality totally predetermined by our genes to make us miserable or blissful, or both at the same time. The degree to which we have love is a fundamental condition of our lives, like the degree to which we have housing, clothing, money, education, or access to crude oil fields.

Just like any of the other fundamental conditions of life, if we don't have love, we may be able to get it with hard work – and if we do have it, we shouldn't get too haughty about it, because we can lose it at any moment.

Love is not essentially or always self-sacrificial, but it may be called upon to sacrifice. Wendell Berry wrote: "Love is not, by its own desire, heroic. It is heroic only when compelled to be. It exists by its willingness to be anonymous, humble, and unrewarded." Ford Madox Ford wrote: "I am not going to be so American as to say that all true love demands some sacrifice. It doesn’t. But I think that love will be truer and more permanent in which self-sacrifice has been exacted." Thus, Elizabeth Gilbert: “...every intimacy carries, secreted somewhere below its initial lovely surfaces, the ever-coiled makings of complete catastrophe.”

Sources

"To See What You See: On Liturgy & Learning & Life." Steven Garber. Printed in Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog. Edited by Raewynne J. Whiteley and Beth Maynard. Cambridge, Mass.: Cowley Publications, 2003. p. 10.

Nick Shere, "Love must guide us on our path to justice and action," Brown Daily Herald, Monday, September 24, 2001.

Greg Epstein. Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe. William Morrow, 2009. p. 81.

Wendell Berry. "Word and Flesh" in What are People For? San Francisco: North Point Press, 1990. p. 200. Quoted in "A Wedding Sermon for Nathan and Sandie" by Steven Garber, printed in Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog. Edited by Raewynne J. Whiteley and Beth Maynard. Cambridge, Mass.: Cowley Publications, 2003. p. 119.

Ford Madox Ford. The Good Soldier. Originally 1915. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1995. p 80.

Elizabeth Gilbert. Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage. New York: Viking, 2010. p. 5.

Evil is the shadow: Spotting evil within us and without

When we do not recognize evil as our own shadow and see it only as an external enemy, we cannot defeat it. It grows within us. James Weldon Johnson said, "We light upon one evil and hit it with all the might of our civilization, but only succeed in scattering it into a dozen of other forms."

Sometimes we present evil as complex, yet still mostly external to ourselves, as Barry Holstun Lopez wrote of the wolf:

The human mind entertains itself with such symbols and metaphors, sorting out the universe in an internal monologue, and I think it delights in wolves. The wolf is a sometime symbol of evil, and the mind dotes on distinctions between good and evil. He is a symbol of the warrior, and we are privately concerned with our own courage and nobility. The wolf's is also a terrifying image, and the human mind likes to frighten itself.

That evil is in ourselves, too, is probably one reason why self-sacrifice seems to be an effective form of transformation. When we allow ourselves, as M. Scott Peck put it, "to be pierced by the evil of others," we may "survive and not succumb." Their evil kills our evil. By identifying it in them and letting it in, we identify it in ourselves and let it out. Peck:

The healing of evil – scientifically or otherwise – can be accomplished only by the love of individuals. A willing sacrifice is required. The individual healer must allow his or her own soul to become the battleground. He or she must sacrificially absorb the evil.

Then what prevents the destruction of that soul? If one takes the evil itself into one's heart, like a spear, how can one's goodness still survive? Even if the evil is vanquished thereby, will not the good be also? What will have been achieved beyond some meaningless trade-off?

I cannot answer this in language other than mystical. I can say only that there is a mysterious alchemy whereby the victim becomes the victor. As C. S. Lewis wrote: "When a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards."

I do not know how this occurs. But I know that it does. I know that good people can deliberately allow themselves to be pierced by the evil of others – to be broken thereby yet somehow not broken – to even be killed in some sense and yet still survive and not succumb. Whenever this happens there is a slight shift in the balance of power in the world.

Sources

Author and activist James Weldon Johnson, quoted in The Wall Street Journal. The Week, March 21, 2014. p. 17.

Barry Holstun Lopez. Of Wolves and Men. New York, Simon and Shuster, 1978; first Touchstone edition, 1995. p 226.

M. Scott Peck, M.D. People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil. (1983) New York: Touchstone, 1998. p. 269. Quoting C. S. Lewis. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. (Collier/Macmillan, 1970), p. 160.

Taking a stand for peace: Inside or outside the tribe?

Community is important, but there is a risk of being subsumed into a collectivity in a way that diminishes one's ability to see the humanity of others outside it. Jeremy Driscoll:

It is possible to say we in a mistaken and dangerous way. This would be the we of a nation or any group that is said at the expense of the individual subject, the individual I, such that there are no Is in the we; their only identity is their we. Sometimes people are forced into such a we, as in totalitarian governments; other times they choose it, as in a radical and mindless belonging to a group. When there is this kind of we, it is possible to look at others as only a they...

One can stand outside all tribes to defend an ideology of peace, but then, belonging to none, one receives the scorn from all. Alan Watts:

It is both dangerous and absurd for our world to be a group of communions mutually excommunicate. This is especially true of the great cultures of the East and the West, where the potentialities of communication are the richest, and the dangers of failure to communicate the worst. ... On the one hand, it is necessary to be sympathetic and to experiment personally with the way of life to the limit of one's possibilities. On the other hand, one must resist every temptation to "join the organization," to become involved with its institutional commitments. In this friendly neutral position one is apt to be disowned by both sides.


But even when disowned by people, one may have the company of one's ideals. Balzac in The Inventor’s Suffering refers to "moral aloneness," which Erich Fromm describes as the thing that monks and political prisoners lack – they are not alone because they have the company of their convictions.

To practice peace is to have the ability to see suffering others – when it really counts, when one can do something about it – as part of one human family, regardless of tribe. Michael Lerner:

Imagine that you lived in a family in which there were five children. One of those children had been given 40 percent of the resources of the family, a second had 32 percent, a third had 20 percent, a fourth was struggling with 6 percent of the resources, and one was starving to death with only 2 percent of the resources. Surely you would reject the argument of the richest child who praised the arrangements and pointed to the way that it was good for the family because a majority of the children were thriving. You’d say: “No, it is unacceptable to see one of these children starving and another struggling so hard to survive. This is a crazy and immoral arrangement, and it must immediately be changed. I will not be part of any arrangement that has these consequences.” The only reason we don’t say that about the world we live in today is because we refuse to acknowledge these others as actually part of our family.

Sources

Jeremy Driscoll, O.S.B. A Monk's Alphabet: Moments of Stillness in a Turning World. Boston: New Seeds, 2006. p. 196.

Alan Watts. The Way of Zen. Originally 1957. Vintage Spiritual Classics Edition 1999. p xi-xii.

Erich Fromm. Escape from Freedom. New York: Avon, 1941. pp. 34-35.

Michael Lerner. The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right. HarperSanFrancisco, 2006. p. 341-342.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Quotes on the nature/nurture theories of growth

Natalie Angier mentioned David S. Moore's book The Dependent Gene which explores the meaning of genetic determination. "No matter how seemingly hard-wired a trait...the outside finds its way in, and the inside responds."

2003 marked the 50th anniversary of James D. Watson and Francis Crick's discovery of DNA. As Angier put it, "The molecule that for so long exemplified youthful bravado, vast promise and vaster self-regard has become another aging, pot-bellied baby boomer." She interviewed many scientists who agreed that we are created by a combination of our environment and our genes. After all, "DNA, on its own, does nothing." It contains instructions for making special proteins, but it needs to be surrounded by proteins who can carry out the instructions.

Barbara J. King wrote:
But we do not inherit a gene "for" shyness" or a gene "for" depression or a gene "for" spirituality; at most, we may inherit a tendency to express shy qualities or aspects of depression or spiritual yearnings when the environmental context – including the expression of belongingness in our lives – is ripe for that expression.

Stephen Jay Gould wrote: "If innate only means possible, or likely in certain environments, then everything we do is innate and the word has no meaning." Rollo May wrote: "Everyone who has observed his own development with wonder will be aware that there is both nature and nurture in every step of this actualization of his potentialities."

Paulo Coelho wrote:

"What's the world's greatest lie?" the boy asked, completely surprised.

"It's this: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what's happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That's the world's greatest lie."

Jennifer Finney Boylan wrote:

"Well, when I [Jenny Boylan] was a man, it was something I decided I'd do. It was something that I woke up every morning and convinced myself I could do, that it was something that I had to do." * * * Barbara looked alarmed. "You mean you [Richard Russo, her husband] could have decided to be anybody?" "Not anybody, but the person I became. I think we are who we are because consciously, or unconsciously, we choose ourselves." * * * The conversation we had about how and whether people 'choose' to be themselves has stayed with me, though – and it is interesting how you spoke of deciding consciously to become yourself. It was interesting that Barb said she couldn't imagine this, and that the idea of choosing fate like that was strange to her. It gave me the helpful insight that I really did 'choose' to be Jim every single day, but that once I put my sword down I haven't chosen Jenny at all; I simply wake up and here I am.

Amos Oz wrote:

"Let me teach you that Man does not walk by chance. Moreover, Man does not walk."

"What do you mean, Man does not walk?"

"Simply this: Man does not walk except to where he is led. And he is not led except to where his heart desires, and his heart does not desire unless the desire be from the depths of his soul."

Sources

"Not Just Genes: Moving Beyond Nature vs. Nurture" by Natalie Angier. www.nytimes.com Feb. 25, 2003.

Barbara J. King. Evolving God: A Provocative View on the Origins of Religion. New York: Doubleday, 2007. p. 199.

Stephen Jay Gould. The Mismeasure of Man. New York: W. W. Norton and Co, 1981. p. 330.

Rollo May, Power and Innocence: A Search for the Sources of Violence, New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1972. p 122.

Paulo Coelho. The Alchemist: A Fable About Following Your Dream. (1988) Translated by Alan R. Clarke. (1993) New York: HarperCollins, 1998. p 20.

Jennifer Finney Boylan. She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders. New York: Broadway Books, 2003. p 161-2, 180.

Amos Oz. In the Land of Israel. (1983) Translated by Maurie Goldberg-Bartura. USA: Harcourt, Inc., 1993. pp. 14-15.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Quotes on our embodiment and our language

Our physical gestures may be part of our speech, an ability that is surely culturally conditioned but that may also be innate, one that we cannot help but express. Marco Iacoboni:

"...even though we know the gestures can't be seen, we all tend to gesture when we speak over the phone. Indeed, we gesture when we talk to the blind, and the congenitally blind also gesture when they talk, even though they have never seen people gesturing.

"Bizarre? Not really. In his book Hand and Mind, David McNeill argues that 'gestures and language are one system,' that 'gestures are an integral part of language as much as are words, phrase, and sentences.' ...if her hand moves under the left side of the [mathematical] equation, then stops, then moves again under the right side of the equation, the movement reveals that her mind is starting to grasp the concept that an equation has two sides that are separate but somehow related. ...her hand may form a narrow C to indicate the skinny glass and a wider C to indicate the wider dish. While her words focus only on the difference in height between glass and dish, her hands emphasize the compensatory greater width of the dish, compared with the glass. With her hands, she's catching on, and the words will soon follow."

This may be due in large part to the things that we think about and discuss. Many of the topics we verbalize have a physical reality. Ray Kurzweil:

"Now consider: How many of Molly's [diary] entries would make sense if she didn't have a body? Most of Molly's mental activities are directed toward her body and its survival, security, nutrition, image, not to mention related issues of affection, sexuality, and reproduction. But Molly is not unique in this regard. I invite my other readers to look at their own diaries. And if you don't have one, consider what you would write in it if you did. How many of your entries would make sense if you didn't have a body?"


Our bodily awareness comes to us at a young age before we are capable of other abstract thought. Rollo May:

"This also means that we need to recover our awareness of our bodies. An infant gets part of his early sense of personal identity through awareness of his body. 'We may call the body as experienced by the infant,' says Gardner Murphy, 'The first core of the self.' ... Since such [physical sensations, sexual and otherwise] are a way of identifying himself, the taboo would clearly imply, 'Your image of yourself is dirty.' This undoubtedly is one important part of the origin of the tendency to despise the self in our society."


Sources

Marco Iacoboni. Mirroring People: The New Science of How We Connect With Others. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008. pp. 79-81.

Ray Kurzweil, The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence. New York: Penguin Group, 1999. p. 134.

Rollo May, Man's Search for Himself, New York: W.W.Norton & Co., Inc., 1953. p 106.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Quotes on infatuation

Nicholas Fearn:

In the summer of 1999, Cornell University published research purporting to show that love really is a drug. To be precise, it is a cocktail of dopamine, phenylethylamine and oxytocin in the bloodstream that produces the sensation we call infatuation. Love, the researchers argued, was in fact a chemically induced form of insanity. This condition lasts until the body builds up an immunity to the substances involved, which is usually just long enough to meet, mate and raise a child to early infancy.

I no longer see early attachment as a distinctly newborn emotion, separate from our adult feeling. The experience – the qualia – of grown-up love is shaped by a thousand memories flashing through your head as the emotion washes over you: memories of past loves, romantic poetry, Audrey Hepburn movies, and most of all memories of the person who triggers the feeling in you. Newborn children haven’t lived long enough to assemble all those memories, and they don’t have a memory system developed enough to record or play back that remembered complexity. But grown-up love is also a chemical feeling, one that has effects on our memory systems, but also one that possesses a life of its own. We don’t know the exact ingredients of the cocktail, and no doubt the proportions of its ingredients differ from person to person. But some mix of oxytocin and endorphins is likely pivotal to the feeling.

I believe it’s this chemistry that we share with our children, even children in their first days of life. When our son switches from tantrums to giggles at the sight of his mother entering a room, he’s doing so because the sight of her face has released a host of chemicals in his head – the same chemicals flooding his mother’s brain as she gazes back at him. Infants don’t have words for the feeling, and it isn’t accompanied by the rich tapestry of memories invoked by grown-up attachment. But some essential part of the feeling is mirrored in those two brains. It’s nice to think that each of us has unique ways of feeling love, but there are times when the shared experience is more moving. At some point in your first days of life, your brain began sending signals to you saying: you’re safe with this person; keep close to her. Decades later, you’re still getting the same message.

Emerald Robinson says on the Daily Orbit video:

Mother Nature’s Love Potion #9 may have a darker side. New research says that the hormone oxytocin, or the love hormone known to produce those warm, fuzzy feelings of love, is also responsible for intense emotional pain. Um yeah, have they not heard love hurts? Researchers say the hormone strengthens social memory, so if you have a negative or stressful experience, the hormone activates a part of your brain that intensifies the memory. But, on the flip side, it does the same for good experiences, therefore increasing feelings of well-being. Oxytocin has been tested as an anti-anxiety drug and researchers say by understanding its dual role in triggering or reducing anxiety, depending on the social context, they can optimize oxytocin treatments. Well, hurt me once shame on you, hurt me twice – shame on my oxytocin for not helping me remember the first time.

Elizabeth Gilbert:

The problem with infatuation, of course, is that it's a mirage, a trick of the eye – indeed, a trick of the endocrine system. Infatuation is not quite the same thing as love; it's more like love's shady second cousin who's always borrowing money and can't hold down a job. When you become infatuated with somebody, you're not really looking at that person; you're just captivated by your own reflection, intoxicated by a dream of completion that you have projected on a virtual stranger. We tend, in such a state, to decide all sorts of spectacular things about our lovers that may or may not be true. We perceive something almost divine in our beloved, even if our friends and family might not get it. One man's Venus is another man's bimbo, after all, and somebody else might easily consider your personal Adonis to be a flat-out boring little loser.

* * *

So, yes, my love affair with Felipe had a wonderful element of romance to it, which I will always cherish. But it was not an infatuation, and here's how I can tell: because I did not demand that he become my Great Emancipator or my Source of All Life, nor did I immediately vanish into that man's chest cavity like a twisted, unrecognizable, parasitical homunculus. During our long period of courtship, I remained intact within my own personality, and I allowed myself to meet Felipe for who he was.

Alan Watts:

The gist of [Denis de Rougemont's] thesis [in Love in the Western World] is that mature sexual love is total devotion to the entirety of another human being – as distinct from bodily lust or passion, which he describes as being in love with being in love, passion in particular being an infatuation with the subjective feelings aroused by postponing sexual intercourse with an idealized woman.
Gerard Donovan: "Love may indeed be all sweet chemicals and nothing to do with divine intervention or a cherub with a bow and arrow. But let your heart enjoy it."

Sources

Nicholas Fearn, How to Think Like a Philosopher. New York: Grove Press, 2001. p 1.

“The Brain in Love.” Steven Johnson ’90. Brown Alumni Monthly. July/August 2004. p. 43.

"Oxytocin Has A Darker Side." Emerald Robinson, The Daily Orbit July 24, 2013.

Elizabeth Gilbert, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage. New York: Viking, 2010. pp. 101, 105-106.

Alan Watts, Nature, Man, and Woman (1958). New York: Vintage Books, 1991. p 174

Gerard Donovan. Schopenhauer's Telescope: A Novel. New York: Counterpoint, 2003. p 299.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Connecting to others while maintaining a sense of self

Rainer Maria Rilke: "Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue to exist, a wonderful living side by side can grow up, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky."

Alan Watts: "Profound love reveals what other people really are: beings in relation, not in isolation." One such relation is union. Erich Fromm: "Love is union with somebody, or something, outside oneself, under the condition of retaining the separateness and integrity of one's own self." This self-integrity is essential. Maria Lugones: "Love is seen not as fusion and erasure of difference but as incompatible with them [fusion and erasure of difference]." Connection leads to love, and love indicates this connection. James Redfield: "I consider love a barometer for my own connection." This is the thing that must be done: Fritz Buri: "The task of theology is not to prove that God is love but to show that love constitutes the fulfillment of human existence."

This can be found and it can be lived: given and received.

Charlie Morris:

"It is important to know though, primarily, that unconditional love isn’t rare. It is just that it is, as of yet, something that humans are rarely able to experience and share with one another. Unconditional love is the basis of all reality. Existence is love itself. But when you can’t experience this first hand, and something in you aches for it...and you are still not sure what it is that you are searching for...you will find yourself in the 'depression'. And thank God for that. Thank God for the knowing that something isn’t quite right with the world. Without the depression, you would never try to climb out and into a new way of living. And if you never fall into the depression, you are either on the side of not knowing you cannot love...or trying really hard to receive love from people who are not capable of offering it."

Catullus: "sis in amore potens" (may you be capable of love).

Sources

Rainer Maria Rilke, "Letters," quoted by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are, p 255.

Alan Watts, Nature, Man, and Woman, p 199.

Erich Fromm, The Sane Society, 1955. Quoted in Ray Billington. Religion Without God. Routledge: New York, 2002. p 106.

Maria Lugones, "Playfulness, 'World-Travelling,' and Loving Perception," Hypatia 2, no 2 (Summer 1987):3. Quoted in "The Power and the Promise of Ecological Feminism," by Karen J. Warren, in Ecological Feminist Philosophies edited by Karen J. Warren. Indiana University Press, 1996.

James Redfield, quoted in "The Evolution Revolution." Interview by Anne A. Simpkinson. Copyright (c) 2002 Beliefnet, Inc.

Fritz Buri. How Can We Still Speak Responsibly of God? Translated by Chary D. Hardwick. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1968. p 40.

"'Depression'—Revised." Charlie Morris. Feb. 10, 2012. Accessed Feb. 11, 2012.

Catullus, Poem C

Monday, October 5, 2015

'Our whole eunuch civilisation': The horse in 'St. Mawr' by D. H. Lawrence (1925)

Louise is a married woman who calls herself "the harem type" insofar as she is given to relaxation, "only I never want the men inside the lattice." One day, she spies the stallion St. Mawr, an animal intended to be used as a stud but who reportedly didn't "seem to fancy the mares for some reason," and, "already half in love," she wants to buy him for her husband Rico.

"He was of such a lovely red-gold colour, and a dark, invisible fire seemed to come out of him. But in his big black eyes there was a lurking afterthought. Something told her that the horse was not quite happy: that somewhere deep in his animal consciousness lived a dangerous, half-revealed resentment, a diffused sense of hostility. She realised that he was sensitive, in spite of his flaming, healthy strength, and nervous with a touchy uneasiness that might make him vindictive."

A man warns her:

"...every horse is temperamental, when you come down to it. But this one, it is as if he was a trifle raw somewhere. Touch this raw spot, and there's no answering for him. ... If he was a human being, you'd say something had gone wrong in his life. But with a horse it's not that, exactly. A high-bred animal like St. Mawr needs understanding, and I don't know as anybody has quite got the hang of him. I confess I haven't myself."

Lou sees it:

"Not any raw spot at all. A battle between two worlds. She realised that St. Mawr drew his hot breaths in another world from Rico's, from our world. Perhaps the old Greek horses had lived in St. Mawr's world. And the old Greek heroes, even Hippolytus, had known it.

"With their strangely naked equine heads, and something of a snake in their way of looking round, and lifting their sensitive, dangerous muzzles, they moved in a prehistoric twilight where all things loomed phantasmagoric, all on one plane, sudden presences suddenly jutting out of the matrix. It was another world, an older, heavily potent world. And in this world the horse was swift and fierce and supreme, undominated and unsurpassed.–"Meet him half-way," Lewis said. But half-way across from our human world to that terrific equine twilight was not a small step. It was a step, she knew, that Rico could never take. She knew it. But she was prepared to sacrifice Rico."

Lou swears that she doesn't want "intimacy," that she is "too tired of it all."

"I love St. Mawr because he isn't intimate. He stands where one can't get at him. And he burns with life. And where does his life come from, to him? That's the mystery. That great burning life in him, which never is dead. Most men have a deadness in them, that frightens me so, because of my own deadness. Why can't men get their life straight, like St. Mawr, and then think?"

She says: "I want the wonder back again, or I shall die."

St. Mawr becomes a tragic figure. A character named Phoenix reports hearing someone say "cut him – else shoot him. Think they cut him – and if he die, he die." St. Mawr is too old to geld. Lou cannot believe it.

"Do you think it is true?" she asked. "Lewis? Do you think they would try to geld St. Mawr – to make him a gelding?" Lewis looked up at her. There was a faint deadly glimmer of contempt on his face.

"Very likely, Mam," he said.

She was afraid of his cold, uncanny pale eyes, with their uneasy grey dawn of contempt. These two men, with their silent, deadly inner purpose, were not like other men. They seemed like two silent enemies of all the other men she knew. Enemies in the great white camp, disguised as servants, waiting the incalculable opportunity. What the opportunity might be, none knew.

Lou resisted the news: "You know, I can't believe it. I can't believe Sir Henry would want to have St. Mawr mutilated. I believe he'd rather shoot him." The horse's buyer, a Miss Manby, reportedly asked – in Lewis's words – about gelding the difficult animal to "make a horse of him."

Lou watches the horse:

She could see St. Mawr himself, alone as usual, standing with his head up, looking across the fences. He was streaked dark with rain. Beautiful, with his poised head and massive neck and his supple hindquarters. He was neighing to Poppy. Clear on the wet wind came the sound of his bell-like, stallion's calling, that Mrs. Vyner called cruel. It was a strange noise, with a splendour that belonged to another world age. The mean cruelty of Mrs. Vyner's humanitarianism, the barren cruelty of Flora Manby, the eunuch cruelty of Rico. Our whole eunuch civilisation, nasty-minded as eunuchs are, with their kind of sneaking, sterilising cruelty.

Yet even she herself, seeing St. Mawr's conceited march along the fence, could not help addressing him:

'Yes, my boy! If you knew what Miss Flora Manby was preparing for you! She'll sharpen a knife that will settle you.'

Not only the animal and human world, but the plants as well, suffer from this enervation.

"The very apples on the trees looked so shut in, it was impossible to imagine any speck of 'Knowledge' lurking inside them. Good to eat, good to cook, good even for show. But the wild sap of untameable and inexhaustible knowledge – no! Bred out of them. Geldings, even the apples."

She imagines telling Miss Manby:

"...you may have my husband, but not my horse. My husband won't need emasculating, and my horse I won't have you meddle with. I'll preserve one last male thing in the museum of this world, if I can."

She thinks of Lewis:

"In spite of the fact that in actual life, in her world, he was only a groom, almost chétif, with his legs a little bit horsy and bowed; and of no education, saying 'Yes, Mam!' and 'No, Mam!' and accomplishing nothing, simply nothing at all on the face of the earth. Strictly a nonentity."

And yet she has also seen that Lewis inhabits "another world, silent, where each creature is alone in its own aura of silence, the mystery of power: as Lewis had power with St. Mawr, and even with Phoenix."

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Quotes about loving the stranger and the 'other'

Nick Shere:

"Terrorist action is only possible for someone who can look at another person, or think of another person, and say honestly, 'This is a person I do not love. This is a person I do not care about. This is someone whose existence in the world does not matter to me.' And, likewise, I would say that it is impossible for someone to act as a terrorist toward someone they can say honestly, 'This is a person I love. This is a person I care about. This is someone whose existence in the world matters to me.' ... Love is our defense against the terrorist within, and a necessary prerequisite for our struggle against the terrorist among us."

Zenju Earthlyn Marselean Manuel:

"Most of our hatred is directed toward strangers. 'I hate that stranger because of this or that.' The funny thing is, strangers, people you have never met, are recognized as being a part of your life when you spend time hating them. The recognition itself comes from your nature of being love. Many years ago, while waiting for a commute train, I once heard a young teen yell out, 'I hate fat people.' I looked around because she was loud. And when her eyes glared at me, I realize she was directing her hatred towards me. And that's how I found out that some people saw me as fat at that time. Of course in the moment of the incident I began to hate the young teen because she was loud and rude. But mostly because she had hurt my feelings, she had tapped into this deep psychic wound I had at that time in my life. And yet, that encounter was an example that in our hating we recognize other living beings as part of our life. The recognition is love itself, but a love that is buried beneath the suffering. Mind you, I am not saying that the words of the young teen were an expression of love. Quite the contrary, her words were a distortion of the love she could not feel for herself. She had to hate me to feel love for herself – even though it was not the deep loving nature of her heart. It was a distortion, twisting in her mind, from her own struggle to remain 'thin,' erasing any kindness towards herself and others."

Daniel Condron:

"Love is an excellent word to receive insight about during meditation. Meditating upon love is the key to a person fulfilling desires of the Self. Love removes the selfishness, the greed, and the taking thoughts and attitudes from a person. In their place, love offers free giving, free and open receiving, caring, concern, friendliness, joy, happiness, abundance, and prosperity. When one is giving freely, without restriction, then the mind and Self are free to receive from the bounties of the Universe. The Universe has no limitations."

Sources

Nick Shere, "Love must guide us on our path to justice and action," Brown Daily Herald, Monday, September 24, 2001.

Zenju Earthlyn Marselean Manuel. Be Love: An Exploration of Our Deepest Desire. Smashwords, 2012.

Daniel Condron, Superconscious Meditation: Kundalini and the Understanding of the Whole Mind. Windyville, Missouri: SOM Publishing, 1998. pp. 4-5.