The Clare Spark Blog

November 10, 2013

The pursuit of happiness, co-counseling, and reality-testing

happinessTimeThe following links are relevant to this blog. I especially recommend the song “A Sunny Disposish” available on YouTube, lyric by Ira Gershwin.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/10/fashion/After-a-Parents-Death-a-Rush-of-Change-modern-love.html?_r&_r=0.

http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2146449,00.html

http://historypsychiatry.com/2013/11/10/the-geography-of-depression/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/11/07/a-stunning-map-of-depression-rates-around-the-world/?tid=pm_world_pop

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Co-counselling

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJEWLnblbzc  (“A Sunny Disposish”)

Why do you suppose that the ever popular Over the Rainbow was nearly dropped from The Wizard of Oz? Could some mean-spirited Republican have sensed that Yip Harburg the lyricist was a Red, pushing utopias? Or could the song have contradicted the major message of the film: that rural life on the farm was filled with attachments that surpassed those of the Emerald City? Why, after all, did Judy Garland want to get away and pursue happiness elsewhere? (See comment below that argues I am wrong, that she always wanted to get home. But the lyrics betray a yearning for something else: some earthly or heavenly utopia? Maybe that is why it was nearly dropped, assuming that my facts are correct.)

I could ask the same question of the song I’m Always Chasing Rainbows, a Vaudeville song from 1918 suggesting disillusion with the promise of American life. (See lyrics here: https://clarespark.com/2011/04/27/james-m-cains-gorgon-gals-2/ retitled Film Noir, decoded.) The bluebird of happiness motif is reproduced in the Harburg-Lane hit song, first heard in the Depression year of 1939.

The Declaration of Independence built its polemical foundation on “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” but never guaranteed that such an outcome of universal happiness would be the case for everyone. Hence, the popular culture emphasis on romantic yearning, laments for lost loves, or admonitions to be happy, lest you lose the regard of your friends and family, not to speak of success in “the community.”

Life is hard, attachments are fraught with ambivalence, and frequent sadness should not be diagnosed as a personality disorder. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dysthymia.  Or perhaps I am mistaken and am really a neurotic (formerly called a melancholic), in danger of sinking into a serious depression that could fill my horizon with utter darkness.

Anyone can play.

Anyone can play.

I don’t mean this to be a long blog, so let me end with this anecdote from my two years as a volunteer faculty member at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, where I spent a lot of time after my divorce in the early 1970s. It was rather a hippie outfit, very counter-culture with revolution in the air, along with marijuana smoke, faculty sanctioned jerking off, critical theory, and Kierkegaard. “Co-Counseling” was all the rage. The idea was to cut out professionals, and engage each member of the dyad (male-female pair only) with another suffering person. You would hold hands, gaze into each other’s eyes, and take turns in talking about earlier traumas to your partner. Then after an hour of spewing forth painful memories, the partner got a turn dredging up the past and you had to focus on what you were hearing. This was considered to be revolutionary and a substitute for “the talking cure.”

Several faculty marriages broke up during that time, while a few partners in co-counseling married each other. My theory: no one had ever listened (or pretended to listen) to the co-counselors for such an extended period before, and without interruptions or otherwise cutting them short, changing the subject, or falling asleep. The partners (supposedly) never lost focus, or at least that was how they were perceived.

I told this story to my son-in-law and he laughed his head off. It is so true. Changing the subject is what we do and what we experience evermore as a result of the internet, mass media, and the Progressive imperative to be optimistic, to maintain “a sunny disposish” at all times, lest we found ourselves “All Alone” like those hapless Americans who have had their health insurance cancelled by Federal fiat.

Bless you, Irving Berlin and every other songwriter who reminded us to “Remember.”

For more on this subject see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/03/eros-and-the-problem-of-solidarity/, and https://clarespark.com/2013/05/10/losing-focus-and-mass-media/.

positive state

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January 15, 2012

Prometheus Bound, but good

Rubens's Prometheus BoundThis blog responds to a heated interchange this last week over whether Republicans or Democrats were more “anti-science.” I complained bitterly about the foolish framing of the question, but since few non-scientists may understand my own indignation, I thought I had better explain.

There is no such thing as a “science” that encompasses all the worldly, materialist efforts to grasp the facts of life and death, thence to intervene to enhance life and forestall death. What the electorate is debating is the power of ultraconservative evangelical Protestants and Catholics to roll back the achievements (or, in their views, atrocities) of the modern world, a modernity that is held responsible for decadence and mass death, owing to the mistaken notions of progress and “enlightenment;” a secular wasteland that is gleefully responsible for “the death of God,” or, failing that, banishing Christian symbols from public space. Such a dive into the muck betrays “life” itself.  In other words, the question regarding “anti-science” serves culture warriors in both political parties and is intrinsic to the current polarization.

Scientism versus science.   In my book Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival, I made a distinction between the Radical and Conservative Enlightenments. The Radical Enlightenment (a 16th century development that educated and raised the morale of “the lower orders”) was co-opted by anxious elites fearing the leveling tendencies of science and its alleged worship of the Goddess of Reason. These “moderate conservative” elites formed the progressive movement, and used “scientific management” to forestall servile revolts, arguing that free markets, left unregulated, would generate mobs who would abolish private property tout court. Similarly, social psychology was harnessed to the New Deal, using statistics and other scientistic (i.e., pretending to scientific method) strategies to get a consensus behind the ever more powerful federal government and the authority of the presidency.  I call this co-opting of “science” the Conservative Enlightenment. The social bonds it advocates are based on mystical bonds between leaders and the led, not upon the convergence of real interests within groups. Such are the methods espoused by the troops of the allegedly “pro-science” Democratic Party.

Science versus Magic. Scientific method, i.e., relying on material evidence and following facts wherever they lead, does not come naturally to a growing child. As an infant and toddler, and even into adolescence, magical thinking will dominate the psyche. Seeing “things as they are” may be fraught with fear, pain, and conflict. In my own examination of Herman Melville’s writing, I have seen the anguish with which the idealizations of childhood are relinquished. His kaleidoscopic imagination, that constantly reconfigures the world we think we see, so apparent to readers who have gone that route themselves, is generally suppressed in the scholarship, or dismissed as “incoherence,” or as a pre-Freudianism that is easily dismissed as bogus, carnal, and hence “Jewish.” Melville himself never resolved his inner war between science and religion, at times demonizing his “dark” Promethean characters, including “Margoth” an apostate secular Jew, who bears comparison with Twain’s Yankee.

Dialectical materialism versus materialism. Realism and naturalism in the arts have gotten a bad rap because of their association with the marxiste notion of dialectical materialism. The latter is a form of Hegelianism that banishes the real world in favor of an unalterable march toward communism/the reign of Spirit, a march supposedly led by the politically-conscious working class, but in practice, guided by intellectuals. These same intellectuals decry (undialectical) “materialism” as atomization and hyper-individualism of the most hateful “bourgeois” variety. I have been called that atomic bomb by more than one Leninist. As culture critics, they purportedly espouse “realism,” which for them consists of unveiling the mystifications of the bourgeoisie, pulling back the curtain to expose exploited masses and wily magicians in the urbanized land of Oz. Where these mystical anti-mystics go wrong is in their condemnation of the Promethean bourgeoisie, a class that relies on science and technology to improve the world and the life chances of its inhabitants.

Science is not dogma, and is constantly self-correcting in the collective criticism of the community of scientists (unless they are bought off by patronage). But that is not the view of those relativists who now study the history of science in order to discredit is as “essentially, a swindle.” (See https://clarespark.com/2010/02/10/a-brooding-meditation-on-intimacy-and-distance/ or https://clarespark.com/2010/01/03/this-witch-is-not-for-burning-science-as-magic/.)

In the world of true science, quacks are driven out, and commonly held beliefs subject to alteration in the face of new evidence. Would that our political culture were as discriminating in extruding frauds.

    

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