On the occasion of the unthinkable

From a letter to Thom Donovan, 03 16 2017: I am grateful for your sustained discussion with me of the unclear and yet also lucid topic of ‘going crazy’ in the name of integrity and socially realistic and fluid realization of the power of discourse to make more sense than logic or ‘common sense’ will allow. (That, anyhow, is how I can momentarily phrase the topic we have shunted back and forth, or caroomed on through in this dialogue.)

The final words of the paragraph you offer resonate for me, now as I read them again, months after I first read them and had to let them wait a while before finding psychic elbow room to respond in good faith.

I guess this is what matters in going crazy–stepping far enough outside of common sense that one would appear crazy (and/or dangerous) to those for whom the world is structured. Or, that by assuming the common sense of those whose lives have never had value or power–whose common sense has in other words never constituted the commons–you risk the sensual certainties of the world as it has been given to you. Perhaps this is all the craziness of which I speak entails: these structures of hate becoming clear and the instability psychically and otherwise which results from this…

The concept of ‘common sense,’ like that of ‘normal,’ has become increasingly infuriating and impatience-provoking to me, such that I rail against them regularly in psychotherapy sessions and elsewhere. Either is what it says it is merely in the eyes of a beholder, and different to each when actually articulated, and those of any supposed authority who assume and reassure others of consensus on such matters are virtually (or would-be) brainwashing, if perhaps more inept in reaching their goals. Thus, I am glad for each opportunity I encounter to turn a position against common sense or the seeming positive or negative value attributed to ostensible normality, in whatever assumption or projection it appears, and whether my position is articulated formally, logically, flamboyantly, or manneristically, I can see it as rather wild, though not close to insane from my point of view.

Others who don’t identify ‘common sense’ and allegations of normality in some trait, achievement, or ideation as conceptually and linguistically insane might well see my own positions as insane. Such indeed seems to be the nature of our social discourse, among the body politic, to a greater extent than ever, in the age of Drumpf. It seems to be now supremely difficult for homo sapiens americanus to dialogue and perform active listening exercises with one another across the enormous divide between belief systems as identified by George Lakoff and others. I have hopes of diverse individuated crossings over from right to left as the nation itself goes down the drain and millions are sacrificed to the god of Mammon. I fear now as ludicrous my personal wishes that such conversions occur soon enough, nonviolently, and effectively to a degree that may allow subsequent generations in this and other regions of the planet to live with adequate water, food, energy, peaceable intertribal relations, and felicitous climatic conditions for survival and perhaps even exercises of imagination and reflection. At this point, it seems presumptuous and absurd to anticipate such supposedly ‘normal’ conditions half a century from now.

Given the US government’s and populace’s functionally ‘insane’ two-step of acceptance and avoidance around the patent evidence and awareness of climate change over the past 30 years since folks like you and me began to take it quite seriously, as well as how the same ambivalent but seemingly effortless dance step has played out in relation to nuclear proliferation and class and race relations in this country, it is hard not to presume that the erratic and clumsy strategies and tactics with which Drumpf plainly hopes to collapse his nation and his planet into a disaster capitalism windfall will be largely taken by the routinized public as embarrassing but tolerable foibles along the path toward some city on some hill, while imagining his hidden better nature soon or somehow emerging to reconcile the balance between catastrophe and supremacy in some unformulatable constellation of adroit adjustments — of a sort neither he nor others in our government have demonstrated competency in devising, beyond the rhetoric of promises. “Believe me” has become the bottom line of our minority president’s appeal to his electorate’s judgment and reason.


written in Facebook, 03 19 2017, after linking to Steven Reisner’s 03 15 2017 article in Slate on whether Drumpf has a mental illness:

The minority president tends to bait and provoke fights with others of any standing, authority, or power, whenever he is not idealizing and fawning over them. He is restless and competitive and not done twisting truth and seeking power and contesting all challenges to his integrity and reality. He has filled key cabinet and advisory posts that are usually taken by civilians with former combat generals, when not with corporate bosses and financial sharks. As he gradually antagonizes and argues down his own chosen crew, turns all but the diehards in the electorate against him, and wrecks or sacrifices all but the most venal international alliances on principle, won’t he decide the enemy is us (the US)? I anticipate his deliberate and triumphant turn against the people (except whoever continues to pile glory on him)?Will he begin to feel out his team’s readiness to stage a military coup? Might his military advisors and their cronies react to all that too-muchness by launching one against him (and us)? If not, why not?

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Coordination was the Nazi-era term for normalization

I have less and less confidence in our national checks and balances’ capability to cope with disturbances in our political system’s functions that are deeply prepared, procedurally, ideologically, and unconsciously. Climate change could be a simple test case for our system: has the interaction of the 3 branches of government, with their typical swaying from L to R to L between two parties (which we may see as radical right and centrist-enabling) managed to do its share to ward off global warming responsibly to its own citizens and to the peoples of the world whose basic rights it vows to protect? I find there is little grounds for trust or confidence, and much for shock and awe.

Coordination, within our consumer culture, is easily done by passively standing by, noting the authorities’ current statements, behaviors, and undertakings, and commenting with more or less vehemence than one might show while watching NFL play-offs. Shock, disdain, worrying, and lamentation among diverse fragments of the population are readily enfolded within the capacities of large-scale national coordination in service to a centralized regime supported by large corporate sponsors.

The alternative, as I understand it, is not just to criticize but to actively and visibly participate in alternatively oriented statements, behaviors, and undertakings. Food distribution nonprofits. Nonviolence direct action trainings. Public documentary film screenings concerned with peace, justice, and deepening awareness of interpersonal challenges. Petitions and donations on line.

Commentary is not enough. Conjoint participation in a meaningful activity with others is vital. This working group on the study of authoritarianism is, however, an active agency of contesting misuses of power and of allegiance, which requires concerted energy to sustain its function and may result in increased strength in a community’s will to resist radical disempowerment and to envision realistic and inspiring options for the near and distant future.

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24 hours, 09 10-11 2016

There exists, there remains, some possibility of rain, incipient, pregnant, pausing,
about to be realized.
As it said in the guidebook, if the road is muddy,
you may not like it.
I’m surprised, given ostensibly extraordinary lack of rainfall,
that the road is wet and muddy in places.
Even though I don’t like it, it’s not bad,
it’s still walkable, and my feet are not sinking into anything, though it’s slippery,
a little slippery.
It’s wet in the atmosphere too, as I have been told is characteristic
of Nova Scotia and of Cape Breton.
I walk along the River Denys Mountain Road.
I did not expect to come across it so soon, nor to walk down it so soon.
I found it
because the sign pointed it out.
I was looking more for signs for the roads across the street preceding it,
which I did not notice, but maybe I was distracted,
thinking about your text to me, thinking about what the environment meant to me,
thinking about the present.
My idea was, whatever is present is what I can comment on.
I can’t say much else. There’s a sign by the side of this mountain road,
this dirty mountain road,
This reminds me of the guidebook again, a guidebook I do not have, did not bring,
looked at only yesterday and not for long, choosing this road
as a trail for a relaxing and convenient walk on my way into Cape Breton today,
and maybe it will be, so. I want to stay attentive to the present
because I don’t trust my knowledge of anything else.
I don’t trust my anticipation of theft, mugging, conspiracy, surveillance.
I do believe that I see puddles of water, reflecting, in brown, the sky,
as seen between tree limbs and branches and tree trunks. I do believe
that I parked my car, back there, on a piece of earth recently moved so as to create
a place to park or turn one’s car around.
It serves, though unfortunately to my mind
it appears to have resulted in some breakage and movement of some tree limbs and trunks towards the slope down to the river, which is not visible from here.
I don’t even know if I can hear it.
I only suppose that I am walking parallel to it
and may soon, at some time, catch sight of it again and hear it more clearly.
When Bob and I walked through the ovens we recorded the sound of water
sluicing up the channel between severely sharp tilts of rockage into the caverns, tubular, lengthy at times, and grotesquely dangerous to any potential swimmer or boat that might be washed in as the waves thundered proudly and indignantly triumphantly demanding and confirming their domain temporarily as they hit the air inside and the rocks and the water and whatever flotsam and muck they had stirred up and pushed toward the back end of the cavern, the oven, the tube, to where rock creates or sustains a limit, and rushed faster and faster back to crash against another oncoming wave, from the ocean.


As a travelogue this may be the best I can do. I present a travelogue concerning a transit of Cape Breton. I’m not sure how to pronounce it. I’m walking uphill. Rocks are embedded in the road, or the road was created out of dirt that existed and was put down and around among many rocks, some of which were pushed away, no doubt, and many of which remain, barely visible, at the surface. As the roadway curves, it goes up. On the drive here, I listened, from the area of Lunenberg, to the area of Agrichamonte, no, that’s not the name of it, but it’s a city that starts with A-g-r-i in which a Catholic university exists. Most of that duration I listened to the first disc recorded as a reading of The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, whose fiction I am not personally familiar with, aside from reading Ethan Fromm in high school. I know that her other books are not much like that, or so I think. Anyway, I observed, through the English accent of the man reading the novel, that there exists or is sustained, evidently, quite a bit of complacency among the key characters and their associates, despite change taking place. Not only will a new opera house be built that will alter the census and divisions of their milieu, but they realize that getting engaged to be married changes things, at least a little, and maybe a lot, despite well-worn passages of expectations awaiting any newly engaged couple, and furthermore, that the return of an errant cousin, fetchingly beautiful and ostensibly more than available for intimacy and inquisition, will disrupt many expectations and perhaps derail life plans for her and others, if they have any. Some have plans primarily to keep things pretty well the same, but she, being a woman who has absconded from a marriage that appears to have been contrary to her needs, in another country, to return home under the shadow of an unfortunately scandalous reputation, may have no plans for normalcy other than perhaps that which she recalls from her childhood and adolescence, when her expectations, however barren, appeared in the context of an ostensible normalcy for her class and its local customs. The voice I heard there affects my speaking voice in this travelogue, as does a different male voice I listened to in the previous hour or so, reading aloud another novel, this one by Alan Furst, another one of whose World War Two espionage novels I have read on the page, perhaps ten years ago. And the traveler at the moment at the crux of this tale, moving alone between holiday, work, and home, work, appears increasingly anxious, and I suspect realistically so, that he will be arrested and stalled, detained and questioned, and, whereas he expects this will lead to beatings, torture, and death by firing squad or other mode of secretive state execution, I suspect he will be flipped or turned, as the expression may be, to become an agent for the opposing forces, namely, in this instance, the Third Reich. Therefore, his status and what people understand of it will be brutally different, even though no one may realize that he has indeed flipped, turned, been so recruited. Looking down the embankment, which now is very steep, as I have been walking uphill since the point at which I mentioned the roadway turning and curving, I see a very large blue can on its side in the woods, which mostly are pristine new growth, where what they were like a year or ten years or fifty years ago, I cannot say. The can might be a can used to hold paint that such as house paint or car paint that awaits sale from its manufacturer or a retail outlet. None of those is available for questioning here, but I do spot another piece of trash at my feet. This seems to be the top end of a Budweiser can, or, no maybe it’s Coca-Cola, I’m not sure. The script on one side reminds me of Budweiser, and they talk about the wood aging produces, and on the other side I see red with some blank angled lines in it, which reminds me of Coke, but then again it could be that funny logo at the top of a beer can that might be Budweiser. It’s a long time since I’ve looked at a Budweiser can, and so it is almost facetious, no, I think it is facetious for me to attempt to attribute this fragment of a can, flattened by many vehicle tires passing over it, heavy with the weight of vehicles and their contents— I’m not sure what it is, other than feeling sure that it is the ripped-apart top end of a can in which some sort of a drink, probably beer—and how can one be sure of a probably?—was once held, sustained, kept under some pressure, readied for sale at a retail outlet, to persons visiting or residing in these parts of lower Cape Breton.


Twenty or thirty paces further, I see a box
left over from a double six-pack of Budweiser in trees which are on their sides
broken off close to the road, downhill,
beneath them many elements of garbage including other
six-pack or twelve-pack containers
and metal cabinets and something I would think of
as a homeless person’s tent shelter if I weren’t so sure that
no homeless person would want to live amid quite such a mess as that
in quite such a distance from other resources of transportation
or assistance when needed. More sky
appears available soon, around a bend.
I’m developing a coating of perspiration around my trunk, as I continue to walk uphill without much difficulty, aside from the difficulty of speaking, while doing so without inordinate panting registering, probably again, without my knowing for sure, in the recording.
If the road had gone straight, I would soon, I suspect, be at a clearing,
with much sky available overhead to consider
the cloudy overcast gloom of,
but the road’s bend seems to be intent upon maintaining its trajectory through woods, and now, further, and further, from the river,
from which it draws its name. And more, and more
in favor of achieving some heights on the surface of the mountain
from which it draws its name.


Time holds many mysteries it does not disclose or explain here in the mountains, at least along my trajectory upward along some side of some mountain here. I can see
by my trusty reliable wristwatch that I have walked about half an hour already
since leaving the car behind me, and yet it feels much shorter.
I’ve perhaps been in a transcendent flight of fancy as a creative agent.
I’ve been enchanted, not by the sound of my own voice, which I barely care to listen to at all, but by the actions of producing it, which in fact are fully astonishing to me.
How can I possibly, how can I possibly produce a voice, with sounds emanating from my body, toward the pick-up, if you’ll pardon the expression, of an electronic device, which later, perhaps coupled with another such as earbuds or my personal computer, may reward my ears with a moderately accurate and reliable re-presentation of the sound, without my needing then to move my mouth or even comprehend the words at all. It will not translate them into Russian. It will not twist them around so that they are presented backwards. It will not undermine their integrity as human utterances to present to me the sound of a barking dog. I will instead hear them about the same time and rate and speed and emphasis and tone of voice and syntactical arrangement as I deliver them right now. How to understand this I cannot say except to accept that it is customary to do so, or to accept that the unthinkable is happening even now, right now, as usual, for me, as it can and has and will, for many others.


To speak, as I have been doing, off and on, much of the time I have been walking here, on the River Denys Mountain Road, has a salubratory—salubrious?—effect, namely, as I speak I am extremely unlikely to clench or grind my teeth. Therefore, my teeth are less likely to become increasingly loose and wobbly in my mouth or rubbed awkwardly against each other, destroying parts of the enamel thereon. Otherwise, I’m not sure of the point of walking further on this trail and therefore am turning around, in full recognition that I have no reason to suspect it will create a loop and little reason to imagine I will attain a viewpoint of anything beyond the foliage immediately adjoining the pathway or dirt road I’m on at any particular moment in the near future. It might take another hour or two, which I could spare, and yet I find that I’m exercising my legs and sweat glands more than adequately on the basis of this walk up and back. So I allow myself this relatively easeful and gentle downhill walk, which I hope will terminate in my discovery of my locked vehicle, my ability to enter it, and my success in driving it out of this dirt roadway onto a highway leading to my hostel of the evening, where I might set up my bedding and assess the options for supper and an evening’s quiet, complacent recreation.


I drove into Baddeck and parked, so that I could go into Tom’s Pizza. It’s called Tom’s Pizza, quote, The Best Pizza Anyway You Slice It, enquote. And, I don’t know, it seems like a cheap place to eat something good. I wonder if they have a liquor license. I might need to go to a bar before or after. I don’t know. I’m outdoors, but I’m in the car. There’s a lot of people around here. The eaters, the walkers. I’m going to go for a walk. Talk to you later.


Cape Breton. Tenth September, eleven fifty-five a.m., Cape Breton time.
In Cape Breton, all that which is ordinary is increasingly ordinary as I continue to explore further and deeper, farther and wider, and all that is extraordinary, special, unusual, remarkable, and amazing, becomes more amazing as I proceed. At times these are one and the same, for example, a young woman walking down the highway, into Ingersoll something, between Ingersoll Beach and Ingersoll proper, at a point where there are cottages, and no place to stop for photography that is not awkward. I do not photograph her but what she may see as she walks.


Back a little further, chasing this siren to the other side of Swamp Road, I come to the Periwinkle Café, another quarry of the last half hour having been café latte or at least a coffee, I stop there and photograph her across the dashboard, as she walks further past down toward Ingersoll Beach. Inside, I find a jewel-maker’s station, followed by, in the middle of the building, a café counter, with fresh-baked goods of diverse sorts, hearty, strengthening, and sweet, and attractive, with a man with a long beard and thin hair and body, and two young women—all three young, actually—serving espresso drinks and lemonade, and whatever else you might wish, next to a precise oil reproduction of a Wayne Thiebaud painting of slices of chocolate cake, their frosting almost shining, despite indirect lighting.


Today is wonderful for being here, because it’s cool, breezy, sunny, and cloudy. A bad day for a swim at the inland lake, but marvelous for standing and staring into space, towards whatever’s on the other side, since it’s constantly changing. The same landscape sustains viewing for as long as one has the patience to continue to discover new things in it, small things, sensitive things. The air is magnificently clear, and easy to look through.


Green Gove, thick with striated red rocks. Pink, white, granite, nice, with crystals glinting. Waves crashing. Rocks tumbled and coalesced into platforms surfaces mounds. Encounters of landscape.


It was said of Ellen, when she was a child, she was so beautiful that she really ought to be painted. Her parents were wanderers. They died. She took up with her aunt, for the rest of her childhood, who also was a wonderer and tried to settle down in New York, the setting of this novel. To paint a painting of the landscape is to settle it down, to fix it, to keep it, to take it and put it inside, inside one’s home, or the bank, the museum, the restaurant. Without that, it is a flux of memory, it is uncertain, it is unfocused, and out of focus it stays transmutative. But once fixed in a painting or a photograph, it becomes a thing that may be held in propriety, owned upon a wall, kept in sight, and under the protection of those who would have it always.


Like that of the coast of Maine, as it proceeds further north, the geology of Cape Breton must be something amazing, unusual, remarkable to study. Adjectives well up inside me, based on my enthusiasm. I don’t know what to think. Driving further toward Meat Cove, I don’t know how far I will get. I can only say every mile is more valuable than the last, so there is no mistake in coming this way.


Meat Cove is the northern-most community in Cape Breton, and here I don’t drive down to the beach, because that road looks too rugged. Instead, I pull over on a narrow shoulder, alongside the entrance to what is posted as Mountain Trail, in order to hoist myself above the crevasse that opens into becoming the community, However, what I find is, the trail doesn’t really go anywhere and is quite overgrown. If anything it’s a matter of a small loop from one edge of the road to the next. Or just walking over a rise. Perhaps all the trails posted in Meat Cove are a sort of prank or hoax to intrigue the visitors with the quaint and curious manners of its entrepreneurial initiative.


Between St. Margaret and Capstick I eat my lunch at the foot of a river, I believe it’s the Salmon River, and under a bridge, fighting down over pink granite mixed with all sorts of rock, to the edge of the water and back up the other side of the bridge. Anyway, I head back now, through St. Margaret, and the Bay Road Valley, Sugarloaf, Espe Bay, to Cape North, and then down through Sunrise and Big Intervale, until I reach a trail called Lone Shieling, where I might say, be able to see some three-hundred-and-fifty-year-old sugar maple trees. I think I’d like that.


The woods at North Shieling are beautiful, fresh, refreshing, relaxing. Remarkable. Birches, maples, old, deep, near the creek. But why am I taking so many pictures? Okay, I don’t see another woods like this, anywhere else. Here I see it.
Why do I take so many pictures? Someone else will surely have taken these pictures, or ones about like it, I could find on line, through my electronic devices.
Instead I take my own, with my own handheld electronic device, the cell,
which makes it seem like one in a skedillion of cells that together comprise an organism of intelligence. Anyway, if I take the pictures, I am holding the experience, and if I take the pictures, I am mitigating some of the passion, the awe, the longing, the loneliness, the overwhelm, the ecstasy, and the loss that are involved in witnessing, beholding, such a place, such an experience of my own.
It’s a way of holding it at a distance, keeping myself halfway here and halfway in the memory of being here and halfway in the futurity of regarding it again to share, to show, to tell about, to remember, in another incarnation, as I will have changed and become somebody else or someplace else.


If one were to record the sound of water moving against earth, especially I think of stones and rocks and other water, as I did today. I recorded water breaking against rocks at the edge of the ocean, I recorded water coursing down under a bridge in the brook, and I recorded water beneath and of a waterfall at Macintosh Brook. To do this supports my attention to listening to the sound of the water, appreciating their distinct qualities, rhythms, differences, tonalities, prosody. I am only partly listening to them. Would I listen to them more if I were not recording? More openly, more fully, as when, if I take off my sunglasses and walk through the woods, I see more fully, I am more fully within and a part of the world that is in my field of vision, than when I find frames around it, between the in focus and the out of focus, between the filtered and the unfiltered light, reflecting from it. Good question. I think that I might actually listen more when I am recording even though still my listening will be quite partial. That is to say, I partially listen, but I fix my attention to the idea of listening, now and in the future, so that I may be listening for what I might listen for in the future, or listen to, or be surprised to hear in the future, or be complacent and matter of fact about hearing in the future, but I’m not thinking a lot about such future attitudes and perceptions. I’m mostly thinking about what I would want to preserve, and how much of it, and what it sounds like now, and I hope it will sound like that in the recording, later, but I know it might not. And, meanwhile, I think that later I will hear it again, also partially, with many distractions, reframes, other ideas coming and going, ideas about what I’m listening to, and the fact that I’m listening to it, as well as other ideas, that are in the way, crowding around and into my consciousness at that time. I’ve been thinking about what it might mean to cease use of alcohol for a person whose use is chronic and dependent, who finds it difficult or impossible presently to stop using alcohol, who finds the need or the expectation, the hope and anticipation of use of alcohol is a pregnant and persistent and typical theme of the day, again and again and again, rather than feeling, “Okay, well, I’ll wait and do it later. Oh, I know when I’ll do it, I’ll have one, that’ll be good, that’ll be fine,” which to me seems preferable. However, for some people, that may not be do-able, especially if a more intensive and chronic use of alcohol across the day has been established as a practice and custom and a presumptive need. Then, I thought one would feel happier, I believe, if one didn’t have that difficulty with a need that one knows is debilitating one’s wellness, precipitating depression and inflammation and therefore many other illnesses, psychological and physiological. So a person might prefer not to have that chronic use and need of alcohol, and instead, a person might be more willing and happy to consume more fruits and vegetables and grains and nuts, if not so dependent on alcohol. A person might be more capable of willing and enjoying exercise of a moderate and even intensive quality, if not so chronically dependent on alcohol. What occurred to me was that to choose some inspirational readings, including primarily those that have nothing to do with alcohol, that do not remind one of one’s interest in alcohol or one’s habits of having used alcohol, but that simply are encouraging, inspirational or philosophically inspiring texts, such that one might, again and again, read a paragraph or two at a time, when one feels that strong urge to drink, and instead of taking a drink, one might feel that that’s good enough, that that’s satisfactory, that that’s comfortable, and read another paragraph after that later, when one feels that urge or need or the frustration and aggravation, the annoyance and ill temper that might come in the first weeks of not drinking. So it would help to always have a volume or two handy to be able to read a fragment of again. I thought that might well succeed. It would depend also on no alcohol being available. If one
in such a situation were around others who were drinking alcohol or talking about their interest in soon drinking alcohol or making alcohol available to sight, that would be a difficult provocation to resist, and preferably no experiences like that would be present for the first month or three of someone’s trying to give up alcohol. It might even be permanently required, but I would think usually not.


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Thinking, or responding, as a psychologist, to hate crimes/mass killings, like in Orlando

How do we distinguish a phobia (such as homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia) from hatred, given that they are bound to overlap among many? We can theorize, e.g., that such phobias underlie hatred, often. However, sometimes such phobias have taken the form of wanting not to know, not to associate with, or not to understand a given population. I don’t know that we can assume that hatred is at the root of such phobias or identical with them.

Some political and religious groups and individuals have encouraged a fear-based demonization or dehumanization of large demographics like LGBTQI, alien, Afro-American, immigrant, Islamic, Armenian, Roma, and Jewish, among others. I suspect that a homophobia that may have been wide-spread already has often been encouraged and augmented by such ambitious powers and, in so doing, leveraged to increase blame-throwing, hostilities, disempowerment, persecution, diminishment of rights, and massacres.

I believe we cannot be certain which of these guided this Orlando killer’s behaviors, or whether it was even more primarily sheer self-hatred or misplaced zealotry (e.g., seeking a magically luxurious afterlife).

Even his background in domestic violence may not be clearly explained as based in fear or rage or hatred, as I am given to the general theory (but not quite the blanket assumption) that domestic violence and efforts to control partners’ behaviors are borne of deep insecurity and consequent anxiety.

I don’t mean to question or undermine our grief, outrage, concern, and compassionate struggle to reduce or stop such emotionally reactive and terribly catastrophic violence. I only mean to express concern and hope for our clarity in using our skills as psychologists to address it.

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Psychosocial trauma and militarization, an invitation

With interest, in Ken Pope’s listserv, which notifies subscribers of all sorts of articles he thinks might somehow matter to psychologists and related persons, I came across the announcement of a new article on psycho-social traumatization getting published now in the APA journal, American Psychologist, vol. 71, no.3. I will reproduce Pope’s notice, in full (as he requests this always be done), below my message here.

Not being an APA member anymore, having quit a decade ago over the enhanced interrogation illegal detention ethical and intellectual arrest of the organization, I do not have a subscription, so I wrote to Dr. Blanco at the address indicated in Pope’s notice, and quickly received a full copy of the article, as formatted for publication in the journal.

I was unfamiliar with Martin-Baro’s work, which constitutes the basis and underpinning of its arguments, even while it cites numerous other studies, data and ideas to develop its arguments. Clearly, this martyred visionary has much to share about how militarism develops within a society and a culture and with its effects, seen by himself primarily through an embedded practice of service in his adopted country of El Salvador. He was committed to a bottom-up practice of psychotherapeutic research and development, from the oppressed rather than for the oppressed, as well as research based in knowing the people of his culture. He was committed to working for a de-ideologicalized reality and psychology, rather than an individually-based and supposedly neutral, objective science. In this article, he is identified with the idea that militarization of a culture can set the conditions for psychosocial trauma to unfold, can result from the fraying and destruction of the social order due to psychosocial trauma, and can become embedded in everyday life as well as social structures and lead to “a progressive militarization of the mind,” a terrifying if fascinating concept. As you might suppose, he was killed, along with his teenage daughter, his housekeeper, and five other Jesuits, by a Salvadoran death squad one night in 1969.

I gather that the primary means to read his work in English may be a 1996 anthology of his writings from Harvard, described at http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674962477. The Madrid-based authors of the paper published now by the APA journal will have utilized his writings in Spanish.

I sought to read this paper partly in order to test out in my own apprehension an immediate supposition that the APA’s seduction into collusion with the Department of Defense in torture and illegal detention of foreign citizens may have been partly predicated on its membership’s and leadership’s processing of the collective violent social trauma within the USA of the 9/11 attacks, precipitating as they did not just trauma, depression, and fear, but also high levels of emotional reactivity, bias, negative stereotyping, militarized mentality, mistrust, and division within US cultures and society. These of course led not only to anxiety about further terrorist attacks “at home” but to our launching first one and then another dubious but allegedly necessary war of prevailment in oil-rich nations of the Middle East. (Both Bushes and Obama have announced that “prevailing” is the goal of our incursions in the Middle East. Don’t ask me what they mean by that.)

Although the authors do not make this point, they do remark more than once on the 9/11 attacks as a powerful incidence in one nation of the sorts of “interpersonal and collective intentional violence” they are referring to as generative of complex social disorder (as well as re-ordering, which they note often includes a strengthening of in-group bonds that is coordinated with an empowering and enforcement of out-group demonization).

As a useful support on considering how and why militarization develops within a culture and developing our own applications of such knowledge and theoretical understandings, I recommend reading this article,
which you too can readily acquire by writing to the primary author or through the American Psychologist itself.

– – – –

full quotation of list serve post by Ken Pope, in better days, well before 9/11, chief of the APA’s ethics office:

Ken Pope

Apr 9 (1 day ago)

to Ken

The new issue of *American Psychologist* includes an article: “Social (dis)order and psychosocial trauma: Look earlier, look outside, and look beyond the persons.”

PLEASE NOTE: As usual, I’ll include both the author’s email address (for requesting electronic reprints) and a link to the complete article at the end below.

The authors are Amalio Blanco, Ruben Blanco, & Dario Diaz.

Here’s how it opens: “A recent paper reported the earliest evidence of injuries to human skulls (cranial depression traumas in frontal region) in the Middle Pleistocene (between 700,000 and 130,000 years ago) due to an act of interpersonal violence clearly intended to kill (Sala et al., 2015, p. 8). No wonder, then, that the outstanding political scientist, Hannah Arendt, underlined the ‘enormous role’ violence has always played in human affairs and in social and political undertakings (Arendt, 1969). These acts of extreme interpersonal violence become collective when they are intentionally driven by hostility against people in terms of a salient group or categorical boundary (e.g., Gould, 1999; Tilly, 2003) in which, by identifying themselves as members of a group, individuals fight against each other in order to achieve political, economic, or social objectives (World Health Organization [WHO], 2002, p. 215). These authors, and many others, agree that the collective expression of violence is much more rooted in the macro (even international) or micro social atmospheres (social order) in which the intergroup relationships take place than in personal traits. Civil war in El Salvador, for instance, was the result of a social (dis)order based on extreme poverty, political repression, social polarization, and institutionalized lying, shaping the “enabling context” of violence. This context used to be ideologically grounded in a framework of cultural values, beliefs, and formal and informal norms that rely on violence as a preferential means to deal with interpersonal and intergroup conflicts (Martin-Baro, 2003, pp 87-93) and to justify the system and his supporting sociocultural power structure (see Jost, Banaji & Nosek, 2004, for a review).”

Here’s the abstract: “The most common and extreme suffering humankind has ever experienced comes from interpersonal and collective intentional violence. In dealing with traumatic outcomes psychology must overcome the mutually constitutive interaction between the (dis)order of a given macro or microsocial context and the mental health of the persons living in it. Social psychologist Ignacio Martin-Baro addressed in a preferential way the study of civil war in El Salvador in terms of intergroup hostility and polarization. He also approached the aftereffects of war by means of a theoretical core assumption: that traumatic experience rooted in collective violence (a human-made stressor) should be understood bearing in mind its social roots (pretraumatic situation), its personal and collective harm (collective injury), and the destruction of the social fabric. These are the arguments for his conceptualization of psychosocial trauma. Twenty-six years after the violent murder of Martin-Baro, along with 5 Jesuit priests, a housekeeper, and his teenage daughter, the current authors have adopted his general framework. Based on new theoretical insights and supporting data, the authors propose an expanded 4-dimension theoretical argument on psychosocial trauma: (a) pretrauma conditions based on social distress, (b) shared network of fear leading to breakdown of core social assumptions, (c) the outgroup as a target of negative emotions, and (d) destruction of family ties and community networks.”

Here’s how it concludes: “The theoretical argument of psychosocial trauma goes back to a core psychological assumption that has a Lewinian taste: As any human action, collective violence can only be rightly understood by taking into account the surrounding social (dis)order. As such, collective violence is a distressing shared experience that besides its widely documented personal impact has also a psychosocial side damaging the primary support and protective networks of victims, their social and cultural identity, their cognitive and emotional patterns of interpersonal and intergroup relationships, and so on. Martin-Baro, a socially engaged social psychologist, suggested a close relationship between the socially “ordered disorder” leading to collective violence (pretrauma conditions), the aftermath of collective suffering, and the wrecking of the social fabric. Nowadays, the psychosocial trauma argument has gained enough empirical and theoretical support in the four dimensions previously described. However, when dealing with trauma, it is still too obvious that the DSM-5 dispenses with the more structural roots of violence, and therefore of trauma when (a) putting together, for instance, motor vehicle accidents and terrorism (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p. 276) or low intelligence and ethnic status (p. 277); (b) reducing the social distress in the definition of mental disorder to social activities (person’s behavior; p. 20); (c) narrowly conceiving gender differences (a group boundary) as the mere result of biological sex and individual self-presentation (p. 16), and thus neglecting the power structure, the ideologically rooted differences, and the cultural role played by men and women; (d) neglecting the group boundaries (religious and political affiliation, for instance) as a pretraumatic risk and prognostic factor; and (e) avoiding any reference to social suffering or human rights and providing a very sparse one to the breakdown of the primary support networks. Therefore, DSM-5 does not purport to understand that some intense and severe traumatic experiences are normal reactions to abnormal contexts or circumstances and for theoretically unresolved reasons seems to throw into oblivion the vast majority of victims. In our view, it is imperative to change this state of affairs if psychology really aims to ameliorate the suffering all human beings, regardless of their gender, race, religion, socioeconomic status, nationality, or birthplace. This will be one of its coming challenges.”

REPRINTS: Amalio Blanco, Department of Social Psychology and Methodology, Faculty of Psychology, Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, C/Ivan Paulov, 6, 28049 Madrid, Spain. E-mail: [email protected]

The article is online at:

Ken Pope

Professional ethics protect the public against abuse of professional power, expertise, and practice, and hold members accountable to values beyond self-interest. Guild ethics place members’ interests above public interest, edge away from accountability, and tend to masquerade as professional ethics. A decade later, in 2002, APA revised the code again, reflecting an even more extreme commitment to guild ethics. It has disseminated, taught, and enforced that code of guild ethics for the last quarter of a century.

“Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both.”
–C. Wright Mills (1916-1962)

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Additional notes on ‘Views of Communist China’

Anna Hartmann [who asked, an hour or more into the event, what actually was my view of communist China] was not a ringer. I didn’t expect things to go so far afield in the gradually overwhelming comments-and-questions that developed. I had thought I would simply talk everyone through an informal walking tour of my apartment, as it had been [very partially] planted inside Francie and Bob’s loft, eventually to perform the final dialogue/monologue with Bob’s help, cuing him on it, when I felt done with touring.

The ‘talks series’ was not yet established enough to bring me to expect so much interaction during my presentation, nor were methods and precedents of mine for such intensive interaction, in presenting ideas or work. I was dismayed and tried to stay hospitable and wonder as we talked whether things were going badly amiss and what this ever might be good for. I had no idea I would create a transcript, at the time, but Bob was taping these talks, and I decided to make myself a transcript to help myself understand, follow, trace, reconcile what had actually occurred, which felt at once so confusing and thick and ephemeral. Then while and after I typed it carefully up, I was really impressed with the entire paradoxical drama/inquiry of it and made 50 copies, I think, with covers I designed using John Harryman’s photos, to give to friends.

Anna was someone I barely knew, someone I thought of at the time as more dry and left-political than artistic; today she is still alive today and making artwork. Anyhow, her remark, from a perch by a window where she was sitting fairly still, was spontaneous and unexpected, although fully justified by the very minimal advance publicity offered for this talk, and I had not prepared a response, though I felt that I ought to have. I feel that what I said in reply reflects almost helplessly both what I’d had to say and how I was experiencing the event itself, as well as my rather sketchy and humble sense of what life in China and anyone’s views of it might entail.

I don’t know that I’ve been a committed radical leftist, but I do seem to have tended to assume positions that our society references as radical and left more often than not. If my sense of continuity and resolve on such stances constitutes commitment, then the word may fit me; I don’t feel I’ve been activist enough to suggest militancy or a deliberate behavioral or career-long focus on realizing radical change in society, much as I may admire those who do undertake this meaningfully. If I felt more gifted in that kind of aptitude and skill set, I might have been more actively committed in such ways.

Structurally, I intended to do the tour of my apartment (rather as Jackie Kennedy and Grace Kelly, I think, had lately offered home tours), framed by the two vignettes (texts having been memorized, Bob having been primed to do his bit) almost as an afterthought. Thus, there was a process/journey, and a frame around it (like putting a scroll painting inside a frame). Anna’s question, like all the others, was fundamentally not anticipated or thought through. You will notice, I didn’t invite questions, or if I did, it was to allow for them once I realized they were under way and felt that to block them would be a deliberate move, one that I preferred (ethically or politically) not to exercise.

From my point of view, the esthetic value of the work was virtually destroyed (or blown apart) by the organizing intentions’ unravelling as it proceeded. Anna’s question and my thinking to answer it, as well as I could at the moment, and follow immediately with the closing coda, seemed at least possibly to begin to redeem the talk as an aesthetic project (this talk could hardly be thought to be a sharing of erudition or critical analysis, as most other talks [but not Carla’s, which had been very first in the series] rather seemed to be, at least generically, if not in their actual experience).

Thus, your premise gives me more credit for predicting the interaction of aesthetic structure and social relations than I commanded at the time, and perhaps less credit than may be warranted for my improvisational performance aptitude and self-permission. The themes that emerged during the performance were perhaps obviously latent in the gambit I proposed to undertake, but I don’t believe I had consciously formulated them. I just looked forward to doing what I’d planned to do — two dramatic monologues bracketing a detailed personal tour of my apartment occupying most of the time and attention. I hardly ever plan anything in terms of theme or issues to address. I thought people would probably enjoy it, while feeling somewhat bemused and puzzled.

The risk of ‘orientalizing’ [that is, by enacting monologues by native Chinese that I’d transcribed from sinologist Orville Schell’s narrative journalism] was one I certainly recognized and tried not to lean toward. I did not assume anything purporting to be a Chinese accent (I think — check the recording!) or add makeup to change my face. I simply sat fairly erect and still, as though respectful and assuming a modest kind of authority, when talking the monologues in a slow deliberate clear tone that might suggest they were canned, whether out of deference to the Communist Party in China or out of the challenge of memorizing and delivering them without any sense of how best to inflect them. This they presented a variant sort of ‘talk’ in the talk series. That the speaker was patently not myself, as the apartment I was guiding people through was patently not my home, was more critical than that he was Chinese. However, I’d started out with the title, which began to get publicized, before I had decided actually what I would try to do that evening (either of these parts). I believe I decided on a tour and read Schell’s New Yorker article as research after I had announced the title and felt I must not turn back.

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02282016 Cuba blog #1

With twenty other USAmericans I had never met or heard of, I went to Havana and Pinales, Cuba, on a Witness for Peace delegation in early February, 2016. We stayed nights in the clean, rough dormitory setting of the Martin Luther King Junior Center in the working-class neighborhood of Marianao, except two nights in the Pinar del Rio region of western Cuba, where we stayed in a handful of homes set up like airB&Bs to provide guest accommodations. We met with artists, educators, farmers, a journalist, a Parliament member, an historian, and other speakers, sometimes at the Center and often in locations that reflected their vigorous commitments. Every such event was a surprise as it turned out, as even a book fair or a terrace tavern turned out to afford a capacious new corner of Cuban cultural and civic life and spirit.

Since returning from my ten-day delegation in Cuba, about ten days ago, I have noticed relative lapses in remembering to take my most essential orienting equipment (cell phone, appointment book) to work in the mornings. I have noticed myself more resistant to and strategically avoidant of multi-tasking. And I have noticed how a cyber-friendly cultural environment can be demanding of multi-tasking, even in rural Maine, where most of my workplace communications are in person or by telephone. Waiting for a slow-thinking laptop is difficult. I stop watching the spinning rainbow and walk away. I have noticed myself more willing to take a walk, to allow flowers into my home and office, to realize I’m pushing too hard or moving too fast and change that almost immediately.

In Havana’s various neighborhoods, occasionally I saw a fading stenciled or painted image of Jose Marti, of Che Guevera, or of the Cuban flag, on concrete or plaster walls of homes and other buildings. Never Fidel or Raul. I almost never saw a poster advertising anything. Do people learn where to buy something, what special events are happening, all by word of mouth? Perhaps they listen to the radio. I never noticed any posters or posted notices even for the Havana International Book Fair, which I saw was clearly attractive to a great many citizens of every age, few of them carrying any purchases around. To see merchandise may have been part of the charm, as well as a warm sunny afternoon in a 350-year-old fort on a peninsula reaching out from the city into the sea.

In a society and culture with free universal health care, there seems to be no need to purchase health insurance or negotiate claims for repayment, saving its citizens many hours a year to relax and enjoy one another as time passes. To me, the appearance of physical, behavioral and psychological wellness among Cubans was remarkable for its absence of scarcity. For instance, I hardly ever observed obesity, worrisome behaviors, tacit threats of aggression, or looks suggestive of anger, numbness or despair.

I didn’t notice any attitudes of servility or assumptions of pressure among Cubans. Self-acceptance and patient attention to circumstances as they are seemed to be common, perhaps universal. I might say, now, with hindsight, nearly two weeks later, that I spent ten days among a people with a steady commitment to survival and community, which they manage in daily life with a unstudied, unstated and resilient sense of equanimity.

I am sure I missed a lot, and I didn’t initiate many conversations with Cubans I passed or paused near on the street. When my Spanish is more fluent and my ear better adapted to Cuban usage, I may learn more from this and that person whether my observations are accurate from their points of view and how they feel about things themselves. My learning, outside the meetings and conversations of our delegation’s copiously and wisely scheduled activities, was primarily nonverbal, as I preferred it, allowing me time to observe, daydream, explore, snap photographs, and wonder at whatever I noticed without drawing any particular conclusions.

On a before-breakfast walk very near the end of my stray at the Martin Luther King Junior Center, I went behind a building I’d passed with curiosity walking back to the Center on the exhaust-filled 51st Street at night a few days earlier. Combinado Deportivo Jesus Menendez was signed across its block-wide blue-and-white-striped facade. I peered through dirty ceiling high windows into huge rooms nearly empty inside, walls coated with painted murals, some formally abstract, others casually anecdotal. Out back, I saw basketball courts missing a net and backboard, an empty swimming pool whose diving board looked unlikely to get replaced, the metal walls screening it tangled on the ground, and unsecured, undisturbed, rumpled and rusting steel screens covering concrete steps leading underground. A few men were playing racquetball in an open court with tall concrete walls, paint peeling amid the graffiti, and a boy parked his bicycle at a bench to change into his soccer team outfit before teammates and coach arrived. Other people ran or walked around a large track. A woman walked into a small set of stable steel installations to do stretches and chin-ups. It was Sunday morning, and people were using their local exercise park to start a sunny day well.

The building at Jose Marti International Airport that we used for our charter flights in and out of the island was remarkable for its calm. There were no TV screens. No loudspeakers played us music or barked announcements about security and boarding orders. There were more than enough molded plastic chairs for five times the occupants of the room to sit on, facing one another in comfortably spaced rows. The only café was tucked into a corner such that I scarcely noticed it. In another corner a bookstand was set up for government publications clearly aimed at the tourist market, featuring romanticized accounts of famous women of the Revolution and wildly overpriced maps – the kind I’d expected to see offered for free at the unoccupied information stand near the parking lot. Anyone who’s been through a major US airport in recent years can imagine the contrast with Miami International.

There was nothing I needed to buy throughout my ten days on the island, my meals being well-provided for at the center, my backpack of snacks an ample supplement. I didn’t need to see goods advertised. I knew markets were likely to have much narrower choices than back in the States. I didn’t mind, for myself. I didn’t much think about my not having to think about such things, alternatives and opportunities to indulge in luxuries not immediately present. I didn’t much think about my general impression that the people of the city knew what to expect and how to take advantage of the unexpected without doing one another harm. To be just me walking in the city, or in the country, was to be anyone, so long as he was plainly a foreigner here, as anyone could see.

I cannot but think that these observations are related to the Revolution and to the US-imposed blockade on Cuban commerce. What will change as the embargo is, somehow, gradually reduced or suddenly expires, I don’t pretend to know. Some who may know how to read the government’s will and strategy told us enough to lead me to think no corporation will be allowed to outweigh the government in any key decisions or stakeholding. So it will be interesting, not necessarily just more of the same. Meanwhile, change is universal, constant, inevitable. What will remain about the same, I am particularly curious about.

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From correspondence regarding the potential efficacy of going crazy to promote social and ideological reorganization

01 01 2016

Rather than diagnose or label Hannah Weiner’s writing or person as schizophrenic, it seems more useful to take a both/and approach, particularly since as I remember her personally and as I read her writings, I see her as both demonstrably and symptomatically schizophrenic and also as sane and rational, connective and compassionate. This fullness of resources and her use of them was part of the powerful nature of Hannah’s personality and of her written work.

I do not question the aptness of such a diagnosis, but like a lot of analytically oriented psychotherapists today, I question the overriding definitive authority of any diagnosis to delimit our attention to and appreciation for the life and processes of another person. (Meanwhile, we should remember that all diagnoses are culturally determined constructions of categories into which folks deemed reasonably subject to behavioral pathologies are lumped together, hopefully in competent conformity with consistent critera, and largely for purposes of managing the economy of healthcare. Meanwhile, many clinicians and researchers question various diagnostic categories’ meaningfulness and utility, while some of them and others may also question diagnosis more generally.)

We might consider that any of us may have buried, denied, or latent paranoid-schizophrenic and psychotic pockets or elements of cognition and perception and processing, which typically appear and disappear easily enough to be occluded and cause us and others no apparently lasting harm or acute suffering. They may, of course, also offer us an opening, as might an acid trip or a near-death experience, to acknowledging and living through truths that we might otherwise be or have been oblivious to or discounting of.

Not only might Hannah as writer “become” others for whom she feels compassion or with whom she feels common cause, but so may the reader who brings any identificatory attention (rather than only a clinically distancing one) to reading her work. The neuropsychology of identification and involuntary sympathetic imitation is increasingly well researched and documented. When we read, hear, or see emotionally or proprioceptively informed expressiveness, our nervous system replicates it within ourselves. I am the hunter throwing the spear. I am the antelope dropping from the penetrating wound.

As we read The Fast, for instance, we to some degree intuitively and involuntarily share in her experience; we don’t remain only voyeurs and analysts, though parts of us (or our synthetic, creatively reading processes) will likely be doing those things too. Dissociative processes (i.e., occlusion of the here-and-now) are inherent in reading any written document, while synthetic, associative and sympathetic processes are also deeply engaged.

My preference almost always for both/and (rather than either/or) reflections on how things are may be seen not only as a protest against dualistic processing and forced choices, but also as a means of staying (partly) sane while experiencing (partial) madness. I think as humans we need to do this, and we do do this, more or less willingly and consciously.

I agree that Hannah in her writing “produces a radical relational field in which she might embody the conflicts and antagonisms of marginalized social groups.” I feel that actually everyone does this, but typically we are not noticing or trying to figure out how to account for such experiences or to turn them usefully to account (e.g., to make ourselves rich, or to support the human rights of others whom we feel such an inherent human sympathetic identification with). We embody them both as sharing in oppression and in subjection to oppression. I would explain this as follows: Male privilege embodies the subjection of women; heterosexual normalizing enacts the marginalization and oppression of sexual minorities and differences; et cetera – most any of us unreflectingly enacts, embodies, or assumes such stances frequently, even if we wish not to. That we feel implicitly and tacitly the identifications with what we may be used to thinking of as “other” will be hard for many people to accept; I would suggest that our culturally reinforced racism, patriarchal mindsets, and so on are primarily defensive against the dilemma of facing the problem of how to include and value those whom we haven’t yet learned how to accept and negotiate with or reconcile to. If a bunch of Syrians are trying to escape with their lives from the wars of terrors that we unleashed 14 years ago in their part of the world, but we don’t speak their language or share their religions or know how to integrate them into our contemporary and rather insecure social and economic models, we quickly learn that we can simply refer to them as dangerous and as potential terrorists or collateral damage, and so keep them and our sympathy for them at arms’ length while we prepare for retaliation to a hypothetical assault – a retaliation that we know from history (if we notice history) has often been premature and preemptive in its actual occasions.

I agree with and like your thought that through a kind of ‘going crazy’ “we might come into contact with more of the “unthought thoughts” of our culture’s history,” and that we might achieve this by staging or reenacting trauma, however this is done, but presumably with some transparency to indicate the references within the metaphorical, so that an intolerable or nearly unbearable truth may become apparent to the readers, viewers, audiences. This seems to me an activist role, whether it’s artistic or not, though it is not the only kind of activism. Ai Weiwei’s instagram interpersonal selfies on Lesbos seem to me more like a ‘going sane’ than manifesting ‘craziness,’ but of course they also represent a choice with which most world citizens would find themselves feeling they were going crazy, were they to enact it as he does, embedded even for a few days with the reception of exhausted, starving, grieving, traumatized refugees from the boats there. Discovering and exploring and developing ways to stage or enact historical (past or present) trauma that engages those who have not yet been able to come to terms with its reality is a valuable and difficult challenge.

I think among other things of the Holocaust museum my kids and I went to in DC this fall, of Laura Poitras’s film on Edward Snowden, of Reznikoff’s Testimony, yet these are not evidently performed by someone feeling or acting crazy, and their form or style doesn’t appear to enact craziness. How this enactment of ‘crazy’ can/might happen and yield results in conscious reorganization of ideological or situational assessments of reality by persons as yet not strongly motivated to act on their evidence or information, I’m not so sure. Hannah’s work may make some poets more attentive to Native American concerns and our government’s betrayal of them, but I don’t know that we will see any consequent disruption or reorganization of business as usual. Maybe you have noticed other examples of a kind of efficacy here. I tend to think that imaginative and decisive citizen activism, prominently including civil disobedience by those brave and willing enough to combine such ‘crazy’ but nonviolent decisions with ideological values based on questioning as well as understanding, may be the most powerful course for such development, independently of whether artistic significance is apparently involved or not.

I think some kind of sensation of going crazy must come with learning and acknowledging horrific truths about our heritage, our legacy, and our current affairs. Suspending a presumptive requirement that we make sure that everything we know “fits” together may be essential to our capability to learn ‘the news’ and also to reconsider received opinions and reassuring attitudes that we have been brought up on and felt reinforced through our cultural connections over time. To witness anyone sticking her neck out for others she doesn’t (for her own family’s survival) need to risk her privileges over, may often lead well-intentioned people to think she is a bit nuts – rather than just brave and sensible – perhaps because her behavior takes demonstrative and potentially frightening risks at the same time as it violates accepted norms of behavior, framing, authority, and so on.

I agree that art may be “at best a regulation of this craziness, an acceptable way of acting crazy.” The line between ‘regulation’ and ‘containment’ is porous and indefinite. The artist’s attention, judgment and choices are always ‘policing’ her own processes and products-in-the-making. We are always both sane and crazy, both implicated and observing, both connecting and disconnecting, or so it seems to me. If we push the angle of acting out as crazy, suggesting a focus on our personal derangement and/or behavioral exceptionalism, we are allowing ourselves to become acceptable as the artist (a romanticized or extraordinary self-status), somewhat as the “village idiot” may have been acceptable within the community, prior to the enforcement and containment of policing psychiatric authorities over interpersonally unmanageable and eonomically non-utilitarian differences within cultures. The village idiot may not typically have been accepted in the community even as a teacher of some sort of wisdom or consciousness. Even the Fool in King Lear appears to teach to little effect until his royal pupil is at least half-mad, and the King’s deracination as a qualifying effect is one that the Fool doesn’t seem in any way responsible for.

Black Lives Matter has recently enacted, as did Occupy Wall Street, an interruption or disruption of business as usual, both symbolically and effectively, as its constituents grabbed microphones and shouted pointedly while taking up otherwise organized public spaces. Such crazy-not-crazy behaviors have made a difference, as did white people sitting at black lunch counters in the 50s and college kids burning draft cards in the 70s. How much difference is hard to assess reliably. That difficulty contributes, I think, to most ‘sane’ people’s reluctance to go out of their way to look ‘crazy’ or ‘impulsive’ through similarly demonstrative actions, even while we can easily know that the more such actions are taken by more people, the more difference they will make in how powers deploy themselves (whether they remain nominally and functionally in the same hands or not – the effort to affect established powers and power structures to react is in itself something of a reorganization of power, if only very temporarily).

So I guess, at the moment, to answer your question, I think that actions that facilitate the largest possible involvement, especially of ‘boots on the [locally frozen winter, globally melting and softening] ground,’ will most effectively generate meaning and impact to inspire social change of significant magnitude, both on established powers and also on the reflections of other people who learn of such actions. And I would suggest that such actions might be seen as crazy if taken up by one private person acting alone without framing publicity, and pretty crazy if taken up by a handful of people with little or no publicity mobilized, but less and less crazy the more people are engaged in actual bodily present actions, whether they control the publicity much or not.


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Militarism going forward

Militarism and its virtually sacred, officially unquestionable manifestations, in its most “efficient” and extreme forms such as JSOC, reinforces the authority, persistence, and dominance of the American mythos, since its relationship to civilian lives is substantially unreported and enigmatic to the American public, while “plausibly deniable” to the world at large. Military force provides the critical mass that keeps up US momentum in the exploitation and pacification of the third world (not to mention the perpetually renewed incentives to oppressed populations to spawn insurgencies, a.k.a. “terrorist groups”), while holding on to a premise of US as having presumptive and enhanced “rights” in its relational posture toward “the developed world.”

This is what “civilization” has come to for the United States. Militarism is the net we are tightrope-walking above. It will catch us when we fall: the US is set to become a palpably military state. (We are already what is called a “fiscal-military state.” Defined at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiscal-military_state)

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News coverage of APA convention vote on psychologists’ participation in interrogation processes within national security settings

An email I sent at 11:30 today, Saturday August 8, 2015, to the list serv of the Maine Psychological Association:

Remarkably, the NYTimes’ James Risen covered the vote that was held this Friday in Toronto. His story was relegated to the lower half of page 11 of today’s edition, underneath a story about the Obamas’ vacation in Massachusetts. I can’t find it either in my daily email of NYTimes headlines nor in the page at nytimes.com that offers an extensive summary of all stories of the paper today.

[In the email, I here explained I was sending a copy of the complete article as an addendum, with my highlighting. Those interested can find it at the Times’ website, through a search for “Psychologists Approve Ban on Role in National Security Interrogations By JAMES RISEN  AUG. 7, 2015”]

The Wall Street Journal did not mention the vote or convention at all in today’s paper. (I was at my local library searching through the print editions of these two papers, rather than on line, to be able to make these observations.) The Journal does however carry a small lower page story about a report from the human rights committee of the OAS accusing the Obama administration of dragging its feet on clearing uncharged and evidently not dangerous detainees out of Guantanamo. Another news story, easier to find in the mainstream, identifies the Obama administration’s efforts to step up the pace of detainee delegation to other nations, which may be happening largely in anticipation of the APA vote and the OAS report. See http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2015/08/07/world/asia/07reuters-usa-guantanamo.html.

The paucity of coverage of the APA Council’s nearly unanimous vote (and the Times’ relegation of it to near-oblivion) is remarkable in light of the strategic role of the participation of psychologists in the enhanced interrogation of detainees who are typically held without known charges and all without rights of habeas corpus while subject to the ongoing torture (according to international human rights authorities) of forced feeding if they decide to join in a wide-spread hunger strike, while they are secured in a highly classified, secretive installation off our national borders.

Without having secured the green light for psychologists to participate, the Department of Defense, the CIA and the FBI might have very reasonably failed to sustain the kinds of interrogation and forced feeding practices that they have, early and late in the Guantanamo/black-sites period, a loss that might have led to more such detainees being held for interrogation under the auspices of other nations’ detention facilities, with interested covert visits from American security interrogators. Whether that scenario would have been preferable or more horrible for those detained is open to question, while it might serve primarily to support a NIMBY defensiveness of plausible deniability for the US. The mess that our “war on terror” has spawned and continues to augment is not going away easily at this point. And clearly the administration’s policy is to prosecute it, come hell or high water, leading to assassinations by drone or JSOC forces on other nations’ territories with or without their permission. We have “boots on the ground” anywhere on earth that the administration decides to put them at the moment, as a matter of clearly developed national security policy.

Mainstream news sources like The Times or the US government will not be found offering statistics about the number of hunger strikers currently active or the number of prisoners currently force-fed in Guantanamo, even in an article like that at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/08/us/guantanamo-hunger-strikers-petition-divides-officials.html?_r=0, about a detainee currently litigating (at 75 pounds and counting) for release 13 years after he was found “along the Afghan border, and . . . accused of having gone to the region to fight with the Taliban and of having received some weapons training.” The wrong place at the wrong time, as they say.

The article implies that his hunger strike is an isolated occurrence and that letting him leave Guantanamo might signal the efficacy of hunger striking as a tactic for other detainees to resort to, in order to manipulate the system and secure release. Nevertheless, you can see some numbers referenced in a recent Huffington Post story on a major ethical stand taken by a nurse at Guantanamo. He refused to participate in a forced feeding there and consequently found charges made against him by military authorities and his duties downgraded, although since then the case has been dropped (without explanation, evidently). In that article you will find reference to an internal military document at http://www.scribd.com/doc/254035173/Forcefeeding that explains that forced feeding of a mentally competent person is never acceptable to “international law and certain medical ethical standards”. Have psychologists been involved in advising or observing these feedings? Who can say? If not, why not? If so, how do we parse the ethics of their toleration of this practice?

Yesterday’s Democracy Now! radio/TV program featured excerpts from the Town Hall Meeting held Thursday under the auspices of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, for those interested in checking out some of the speakers there. Risen is also interviewed for several minutes. The producers of the program considered covering this issue important enough to base the show’s production in Toronto this Friday, rather than NYCity. You can see, hear, or read the show or segments of it, as you prefer, by checking at http://www.democracynow.org/



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