Category: Psychology

Interlitq U.S. General Editor Neil Langdon Inglis Announces Recent Republication, by White Crow Books, of “The Power of Dr...

 

17/07/2020

A VISIONARY DOCUMENT ASKS THE QUESTION:

HOW SHALL WE UNLOCK OUR INNERMOST RESOURCES?

U.S. General Editor Neil Langdon Inglis wishes to announce the recent republication, by White Crow Books, of “The Power of Dreams” (originally published by HarperCollins Ltd in 1987).[i] In it, the Irish journalist and historian Brian Inglis (1916-1993)[ii] reviews the literature on dreams as well as their precognitive, inspirational, and creative functions. His survey extends from laboratory research into REM sleep to reports of personal experiences by intellectuals of the past and members of the general public from the present day. In his personal quest to spread the word about the supernatural (for him, the major underreported news story of his era), Brian Inglis launched his own personal investigations in the 1970s with a primary interest in a handful of supermen and superwomen supposedly endowed with extraordinary gifts accessible to a select few. This odyssey led Inglis, as the years progressed, to a more nuanced conclusion—reflective of our common humanity—namely, that supernatural powers remain a force inside us all, an insufficiently tapped resource affording boundless opportunities.

The U.K. has a rich tradition of scholarly non-academic historians (Roy Jenkins, Winston Churchill, Paul Johnson): Inglis is worthy of admission to this pantheon. In his forthcoming article—the latest in an exclusive series for Interlitq.org—Neil Langdon Inglis ponders his father’s complex legacy.

 

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[i] http://whitecrowbooks.com/books/page/the_power_of_dreams.
[ii] Best known for presenting the Granada TV weekly documentary “All Our Yesterdays” in the 1960s.

“The Weakness of Strength,” an article by David Garyan

July 3rd, 2020
Ravenna, Italy

 

The Weakness of Strength

In Ancient Chinese philosophy the ever-recognizable symbol of yin and yang is both appealing from an aesthetic point of view and also from the perspective of its simple philosophy—the nature of opposites.

However, are things really that straightforward in the end? Is it only about the interconnectedness between fire and water, male and female, earth and sky, and so on? In other words, when we consider these opposites, why do we categorize them as such to begin with? Surely, fire and water couldn’t be any more different in terms of their chemical compositions, but if we look at their capacity to cause destruction, they really are very similar in the end. A flood can destroy a city just as quickly as a fire can; in this sense, their properties are almost identical.

The same can be said for men and women. There’s a biological and chemical difference even (testosterone, body type, and other factors), but in their actual desires, men and women—if once again we look at it from the perspective of destruction—have almost similar capacities to wreak havoc on themselves and on others; in the same vein, the capability and desire for love is pretty much equal in both sexes (for those who think women are generally more empathetic, I highly urge you to familiarize yourself with Stanley Milgram’s electroshock experiment). For our purposes, however, let us grant that men and women are the same when it comes to their ability to cause destruction and their capabilities for love. What purpose does the yin and yang serve, then, if we look at fire and water—or women and men, for that matter—from the perspective of love and destruction?

I would like to make the same argument for strength and weakness; biologically, a bodybuilder might be stronger than your average man and the best female bodybuilder will always be weaker than her male counterpart—granted. If we look at strength and weakness from the perspective of destruction and love, however, things move beyond the traditional yin and yang conception—the black and white becomes one thing, grey.

The great philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, in his book The Anti-Christ, wrote the following: “What is good? Everything that heightens the feeling of power in man, the will to power, power itself. What is bad? Everything that is born of weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power is growing, that resistance is overcome.” Nietzsche, in this sense, believed that it was both natural and noble for people to display their strength, for that meant the complete realization of the individual—the final transformation of a person as he or she attained a total agency over their will with which they could maximize their own powers, in a sense becoming divine to an extent, even godlike, perhaps. “God is dead,” Nietzsche famously uttered, and he must be replaced with something—the individual and his will to power.

In the most poetic sense, however, Nietzsche died at the age of 55, completely in the care of his family, having lost whatever powers (whether creative or physical) he had. Nevertheless, the strength of the thought he produced—despite the later debilitation that affected his body—remains as powerful as ever. The question hence becomes: Was Nietzsche a weak man? It’s a difficult question to answer. Certainly, he was a hypocrite because he didn’t have the strength to kill himself before becoming the less-than-ideal human being that people should be according to his view.

The same can be said for Ayn Rand, who, throughout her younger years, denounced those who took advantage of social services as parasites and moochers, only to suffer a debilitating illness later in life which gave her no other choice but to collect social security—something she chose to do under a different name. Today, Atlas Shrugged remains one of the most powerful books ever written. Like Nietzsche, what do we make of this?

I have neither the intention nor desire to defend or criticize Nietzsche or Rand—it’s not my place to judge. I would, however, like to resume the discussion of strength and weakness. Strength, and by extension the power it produces, has given us many positive things. Firefighters carrying people out of burning buildings, laborers who built great monuments like the pyramids, and, in the psychological sense, resilient individuals we can depend on are also a product of strength. In the same sense, however, strength has also given people the ability to build walls, to push others away, and to harm the environment; with respect to building walls (whether physical or psychological), the strength which allows for this is actually based on weakness—an obsession from protecting one’s self from threats real or imagined and in that sense the act represents a fundamental characteristic not of power, but of fear. In other words, unlike vulnerability, strength plays it safe by installing barriers to keep danger away, knowing perhaps that it might not be powerful enough to deal with whatever problem life may produce.

Weakness, and by extension vulnerability, does not have the luxury of this aforementioned protection; it must deal with whatever arises (whether it’s physical or psychological) in a direct manner. Paradoxically, also, by refusing to close itself off, to shut itself away from the world, vulnerability takes more chances; it opens itself up to new experiences, people, places, and opportunities—even when it has been hurt before. Vulnerability is a testament to the human spirit. It represents the highest essence of humanity. Some authors like Ursula K. Le Guin have even argued that the suffering which comes from being vulnerable is purer than love. In her novel, The Dispossessed, she writes the following, worth quoting at length: “It is our suffering that brings us together. It is not love. Love does not obey the mind, and turns to hate when forced. The bond that binds us is beyond choice. We are brothers. We are brothers in what we share. In pain, which each of us must suffer alone, in hunger, in poverty, in hope, we know our brotherhood. We know it, because we have had to learn it. We know that there is no help for us but from one another, that no hand will save us if we do not reach out our hand. And the hand that you reach out is empty, as mine is. You have nothing. You possess nothing. You own nothing. You are free. All you have is what you are, and what you give.” The ability to suffer, to be vulnerable is, thus, the greatest human strength—many are capable of doing it stoically while some need drugs or different forms of escape and others yet can’t endure this pain at all.

Even more interesting to our discussion is the fact that strong people who use their power to build physical and psychological walls around themselves have even less chance of finding happiness and joy. They may be comforted by the momentary security which they do receive in their dungeons, but sooner or later the person must step out in search of food for the body and nourishment for the soul, which represents the happiness we all seek. Le Guin is, likewise, aware of this fact: “If you evade suffering you also evade the chance of joy. Pleasure you may get, or pleasures, but you will not be fulfilled. You will not know what it is to come home.” The age-old cliché of leaving the comfort zone to succeed even reaches as far as Sicily: Cu nesci arrinesci; this is one of the first things I learned in Italy that I had already known for a long time, just not in the Sicilian language. It must be said that I’ve taken a very positive interpretation of the aforementioned proverb; according to a very good Sicilian friend I met here, the phrase is largely construed negatively on the island—young people abandoning Sicily to seek fortune elsewhere, but there’s nevertheless something to be said about moving on and away from your comfort zone to find success, to make a change, to see things differently.

Frankly, in that respect, I’ve always had a rather negative outlook on weakness and vulnerability—being a man made it “necessary” to conform with certain gender standards imposed by society and this didn’t help my perspective either. It was only at the University of Bologna at the end of Professor Annalisa Furia’s course, Political Power Beyond State Boundaries: Migration, Development and Human Rights, that I began to change my mind about this topic. In one of her concluding lecture slides, she had written the following about reevaluating vulnerability: “even though it is produced as the condition of certain categories, it is our common condition.” Once again, a simple piece of logic on the surface but the fact that she had chosen to highlight “common condition” made me start thinking deeper about the issue. Whereas before I had championed Nietzsche’s idea of the will to power, I now denounce it as the weakest pursuit humans can have. In fact, much of what constitutes power is based on paranoia and pathological fear. Seattle University professor and psychologist George Kunz, who passed away recently, in his book, The Paradox of Power and Weakness, argues exactly that: “When we are psychologically captured and driven by our own power, we know that our bondage is, first, our addiction to the sweet taste of power itself; second, our addiction to the stuff that power can purchase; third, our habitual blindness to the needs of others; and, finally, our fear of losing the power to exercise more power. Obsessive fear, compulsive needs and fear of others’ taking our power drive us into ourselves and away from others. The power of power can be self-destructive. It tends to burrow into and cling to the heart, rather than expose itself to the needy claims of others.” On a personal level, Kunz’s statement fascinates me because I experienced something exactly like what he describes for myself.

Again, as I’ve said before, it’s not my place to judge anyone here; thus, I will simply describe the situation in the most neutral way possible. About seven months ago, I got to know a person (let’s call this individual Alex and use “they” in the interest of privacy). Although I still think Alex is a great person, they fit Dr. Kunz’s description perfectly, which made it very hard to spend time with them. Due to the walls they built, any attempt to go beyond the surface with this person was met with resistance; at the same time, interaction was quite cordial and warm when Alex could stay within clearly delineated comfort zones and things also went especially well at parties when everyone was drunk and there was no need—or the capability, for that matter—to discuss something more meaningful. Alex enjoyed the attention of everyone, so long as others didn’t dig below the surface and come out on the other side of the wall; on repeated occasions, nevertheless, this very person described themselves as “strong,” and tried to project an image of fierce independence—all of this, however, was an illusion, because, in reality, Alex was and continues to be an individual who neither possesses much mental resilience, nor independence; their strength and independence, in fact, is produced by deriving great pleasure from their ability to manipulate people and using them for whatever purposes any given situation requires—at will. I have really not seen what Alex is like when there’s no one to impress or manipulate, all I know is that their self-purported strength turned out to be hollow in the end because they repeatedly refused to behave in a manner beyond surface-level interaction (one of the characteristics of mental fortitude) despite showing great interest and warmth towards me in their comfort zone, where the chance of being vulnerable was very low.

It’s always discouraging when people don’t turn out to be who you thought they were, especially when they don’t live up to the very labels they make for themselves. My idea of strong men and women lies in their ability to be vulnerable, to take risks, to give other people a chance, especially when these very individuals only want the best for you. As I said, I neither blame Alex, nor do I think they’re a bad person—it’s just a psychological burden to be around them, and that’s why I decided to distance myself. They’re too “strong” and they themselves push people away.

In the end, I don’t think life is really long enough for us to be powerful. We spend many of our years helpless and weak, from the moment we’re born until we become adults; and in old age we require the care and attention of others. The prime of our life is perhaps ten or twenty years at best. I’m always reminded of this when I listen to Bob Seger‘s song Fire Inside. My favorite part is quite pertinent to the discussion:

I think we all have problems and we all need help in certain respects—I’m probably the person who’s in need of the most guidance in this respect, but when someone claims to be “strong” just to push people away, all because they don’t want to experience vulnerability, well, then, like Le Guin said, they don’t have a good chance of finding the spiritual nourishment that produces happiness—something which exists outside of their caves. No person can help another person who’s hanging from a cliff but refuses to take someone’s hand because they trust in their own strength to pull themselves up.

On the concluding slide of her lecture, Professor Furia posted the following quote by Giovanni Testori: “Healing is possible only if you accept the wound.” Life will break everyone—even the so-called “strong.” The question, hence, becomes: How will you get up and what will you do afterwards?

 

Addition: After reading my article, Alex got the suspicion that I was writing about them. As I predicted, they sent me an insulting message accusing me of all sorts of things: It was my fault that I tried to seek a closer connection with them; it was my fault for trying to be a good friend. It can’t be denied that I did misjudge the nature of this friendship; on my part, I take full responsibility for that, but the anger coming from this person was totally unwarranted; it confirmed to me everything that I’ve written—Alex is obsessed by the power which comes from their own self-described strong personality and my refusal to be controlled any longer meant they had lost the ability to manipulate someone, which is all they really wanted to begin with. As I again predicted, instead of talking to me, asking if the article was about them (maybe it is and maybe it isn’t—I never implicated them; it could be about anyone, really), and attempting to resolve the situation in a way where we could both walk away from this like mature adults, they continued using their weakness of strength to build bigger walls and push me further away, unfriending me on Facebook and blocking me on WhatsApp—indeed, very powerful, independent, and mature, which is exactly what I expected from this “strong” person. Had they been stronger, however, more courageous even, and attempted to speak with me like I’m a human being instead of a punching bag, I may have gone the extra mile myself and agreed to take down the article, but not any longer, because, like I said, Alex’s actions confirmed all the arguments I made within it. To the insulting message I received, I sent the nicest possible response, stating that despite their disparaging remarks, I still respected them and wished them the best. Why let something good that happened in the past turn bad from my side? On this Independence Day, I can say that I’m free and that I’ve finally moved on from this.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with a full collection, (DISS)INFORMATION, with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.

“Desde la Trinchera”, escuchemos a los psicoanalistas, con Luciano Lutereau, por Yamila Musa


(Luciano Lutereau)

13/05/2020

Entrevistado por Yamila Musa

“Desde la Trinchera”, escuchemos a los psicoanalistas, con Luciano Lutereau

¿Cómo vivís estos días de aislamiento social? 

Al principio me afectó el encierro. Me inquietó el ambiente social, la paranoia colectiva, el malestar que, en mi caso, no se jugó tanto en relación con el contagio, sino respecto de la hostilidad circundante. Me dan miedo la insensibilidad y la deshumanización. Por suerte hoy creo que la situación es otra, que hay más conciencia de cuidado y esto da la chance de bajar las defensas, ser más hospitalarios, recuperar el sentido común.

Frente a esta situación de incertidumbre y #YoMeQuedoEnCasa ¿pensás que estamos perdiendo nuestros  derechos individuales?

No. En realidad no pienso en esos términos. Quizá por defecto profesional, ya que mi eje de análisis está en el psiquismo. En todo caso, desde este punto de vista puedo decirte que me asustó la moral de sometimiento que se implementó, no por los efectos de la consigna, sino por el modo en que se interpretó: literalmente, sin tener cuenta los matices y las variaciones que tiene el cumplimiento de una norma. Es comprensible, cuando el miedo cala hondo, se pregunta hasta lo inaudito, por ejemplo, si me corto un brazo puedo ir a una guardia. Por suerte, como te decía, esa etapa ya pareciera haber pasado, aunque ahora nos tocará pensar cuáles son las consecuencias subjetivas de la cuarentena.

¿Qué opinás de las medidas que está tomando el Gobierno? 

Las comparto en un sentido general, aunque me gustaría que se preste más atención a la salud mental. Entiendo que no es fácil, ya que la salud mental implica tener que pensar en las diferencias, en la singularidad de las subjetividades; pero tampoco me gusta mucho cuando escucho a un infectólogo hablando de sexo virtual. Es un caso aislado, ya sé, ¿qué otra cosa podía contar el tipo más que su fantasía? Pero si ahora estamos en un tiempo de la cuarentena en que surgió la pregunta por el erotismo, que tomen la palabra quienes trabajan con eso, es momento entonces de escuchar a los psicoanalistas. No porque sepan de sexualidad, sino porque pueden escuchar eso que justamente es singular y no se puede reconducir a una norma, eso que no se deja domesticar con una moral.

En estos momentos ¿pensaste más de lo habitual sobre la posibilidad de tu mortalidad?

No más que otras veces. No es un tema que no me preocupe, pero respecto lo que pienso no es muy distinto a lo que empecé a pensar con la paternidad. De la misma forma que cada vez que me entero de la enfermedad de un amigo, o de lo que puede pasar con el coronavirus, es en función de los hijos.

La sociedad se está comportando con mucho frenesí y paranoia ¿considerás que los medios y las grandes corporaciones se aprovechan de esta situación para sus fines personales? 

¿Por qué no lo harían? Pero no soy paranoico, entiendo que es la parte que les toca en el juego. Como dice un amigo, cualquiera que saque las conclusiones de lo que implica vivir en un mundo capitalista, ¿necesita tramar conspiraciones? El capitalismo es la única conspiración, la mayor de todas.

¿Tenés alguna anécdota que hayas vivenciado en estos días y que te interese compartir?

Tuve muchas anécdotas en estos días, pero voy a elegir una más neutra y relatable. Con la costumbre de aplaudir a las 21.00 hs, uno de mis vecinos empezó a salir a su balcón y simulaba conducir un programa de televisión. Presentaba a la mujer cantante de ópera del edificio de enfrente, pedía aplausos y mandaba a la tanda, mostraba su vestuario y hasta simulamos un sorteo. Finalmente el otro día lo vi como panelista en un programa de la noche. Parece que un productor descubrió su talento. Así que, que nadie se deje estar, porque de acuerdo con la señora de los almuerzos: como te ven te tratan y si te ven bien, te contratan.

 

BIOGRAFÍA – Luciano Lutereau

Luciano Lutereau, es psicoanalista, Doctor en Psicología y en Filosofía por la UBA, Institución en la que se desempeña como docente e investigador. Coordina la Licenciatura en Filosofía de UCES, es miembro del Foro Analítico del Río de la Plata y autor de numerosos artículos. Publicó varios libros, entre ellos: Histeria y obsesión. Introducción a la clínica de las neurosis; Ya no hay hombres. Ensayos sobre la destitución masculina; Edipo y Violencia. Por qué los hombres odian a las mujeres.

 

Yamila Musa

BIOGRAFÍA 

Yamila Musa nació en Villa María, ciudad de la provincia de Córdoba. Con sólo tres años, comenzó su formación en Declamación y Arte Escénico. Esto la llevó a proyectarse en la comunicación integral, por lo cual concretó sus estudios de Licenciada en Comunicación en la Universidad Nacional de Córdoba. Al finalizar su carrera universitaria se trasladó a la Capital Federal en búsqueda de nuevas oportunidades. Realizó diversos trabajos relacionados al sector de la cultura, entre ellos como Directora de Producción de la Película “La Invención de Borges” del Director francés Nicolás Azalbert. Actualmente es Periodista & editora de la revista The International Literary Quarterly,  y colaboradora de la Fundación Cineteca Vida.

 

 

“Quarantine Diaries,” by David Garyan (Day 28)

Quarantine Diaries – Day 28
April 11th, 2020

Trento, Italy

 

Hedonic Treadmill

What more to say, really? Italy has extended the lockdown until May 3rd, which means these entries will reach at least fifty or so—that’s if I stay sane, no less. There’s both much to talk about and not much, in fact. Life, at its core, really is monotonous, even before pandemics made it dangerous and exciting to go grocery shopping.

When the fridge is full, you wake up, have breakfast, go to work (in my case, you don’t), have lunch at work (in my case, at home), come home, eat again, argue with your wife (whom I don’t have), go to sleep, and repeat everything all over. Life really is miserable—anyone who says otherwise probably had something good happen to them today and dopamine highs don’t count; they’re just the body’s natural drugs. Talk to me about life a month after graduation, a month after your wedding, a month after the birth of your child, a month after that big promotion, and then we’ll see how wonderful everything really is. Maybe Roy Hawkins was already right in back 1951 when he sang “The Thrill is Gone,” which of course became a major hit for BB King in 1970, and thus everyone forgot about poor Roy—I guess Hawkins was right.

In a New York Times article, Harvard educated psychologist, Tal Ben-Shahar, said the following about big accomplishments: “The problem is that achievement doesn’t equal happiness—at least not over the long term.” Ben-Shahar calls this phenomenon “arrival fallacy,” and it has been discussed by other experts as well. Suzanne Gelb, writing for Psychology Today, talks about how her own experience of achieving something great strangely made her feel emptier than before. Gelb states how chasing merely accomplishments isn’t a reliable way to achieve lasting happiness because it’s based on external validation.

When people achieve something, they want people to recognize the work, and such recognition doesn’t last long. Winning a World Cup, for example, is an effort that takes months; receiving the medal for it, however, and celebrating the victory with a parade takes less than a day; after that, therapists say people return to baseline very quickly and in Gelb’s words, such achievements “make us feel great for a while, but ultimately they’re not filling or satisfying.” Psychologists have commented extensively on unhappy achievers—people for whom no amount of success is ever enough; they’re chasing the dopamine high, in other words.

Something similar to this phenomenon has been observed by management consultants George Parsons and Richard Pascale; they call it “Summit Syndrome.” In a 2007 Harvard Business Review article, the authors describe how this problem negatively affects over-achievers. A curve is used to illustrate how extremely goal-driven people—upon reaching the peak of accomplishment—simply lose the desire to perform at the high level that made them initially successful. Years and years of chasing the adrenaline rush associated with success causes them to burn out, in a sense, and when they attempt to resolve the situation, to put their lives back together, they enter a state of total confusion and realize that “life’s grand purpose has somehow been lost.” Ah, yes, always a good amount of depression to start the day.

Already in the late 40’s, psychologists like Viktor Frankl were starting to realize that the desire for success alone couldn’t bring happiness. In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, he writes: “Don’t aim at success—the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself, or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.” I’m starting to realize Frankl’s statement is true. I can’t wait to graduate with my third master’s, but when that day comes I know it’ll be just as unfulfilling three weeks after leaving school as the two other masters have been; they no longer make me happy and getting this one won’t bring everlasting joy either.

The reason why big accomplishments only make people content for very short periods of time is because every person has what’s called a happiness set point, better known as baseline. When big changes (whether positive or negative) occur in people’s lives, the overwhelming emotions that accompany them are indeed powerful, but psychologists have found that people return to their baseline state rather quickly, a phenomenon which is known as hedonic treadmill. Alex Lickerman comments on the phenomenon in Psychology Today: “Our level of happiness may change transiently in response to life events, but then almost always returns to its baseline level as we habituate to those events and their consequences over time.” How comforting it all really sounds: To know that somewhere out there is a cocaine-addicted attorney with a degree from Harvard whose happiness no longer derives from the fact that he has an Ivy League education and is just looking for the next dopamine high. Dave Kleinfeld from Carlito’s Way, anyone? Although I don’t know where this good lawyer got his degree.

Call them unhappy achievers; use poetic metaphors like hedonic treadmill to make your point; be a philosopher and label it arrival fallacy; give it a medical name like Summit Syndrome—I don’t care. How do you escape from all those things? The problem is recognized by many, but solutions are few.

People have been reaching for the heights ever since humanity came into existence, one might argue; whether these heights are real or metaphorical is the only distinction to be made here. Today, my brother and I decided to reach once more for the tangible limits; in the case of actual mountains, the proponents of Summit Syndrome are wrong. When you reach their peaks and look down on all the ants below, it’s easier to go down and face these inconsequential beings who believe they’re important, but in the greater sense, their lives mean nothing. I guess that’s what I’m thinking here.

To some extent, I agree with all the impersonal psychology bullshit I’ve just spewed out onto these pages. I’m rarely happy weeks after the publication of a poem, for example. In the midst of writing a piece, I can’t wait to finish it. What else but the first draft is the ultimate happiness? When it’s time to edit, I can’t wait to complete that task. When the poem is ready to publish, I promise to finally be happy when it’s found a home. When the magazine accepts my work, I’ll finally be so happy when people read it. When people have read it and congratulated me, there’s nothing more the poem can do, and it’s time to repeat the process.

I’m a drug addict addicted to the drugs of the body. I love speedballing dopamine and success so much that it’s harming my ability to develop close relationships with people—to really open up and feel vulnerable around them. I wish the friends I have could trust in my failure to be more human. I wish the girl I like in Ravenna would believe what I said, but I know that she doesn’t and that’s okay too. Maybe she knows that her name is hidden in one of my poems and maybe she doesn’t, and who really cares about that? My whole life, I’ve been an expert at not meeting people’s expectations and surpassing my own. I truly am a dopamine chaser.

Before climbing our mountain today, I took this picture of the goal we wanted to reach. We did reach it and afterwards there was nothing more to expect from nature.

I don’t know if life can ever be lived in any other way now or ever. I don’t know if the past was any different than it is now. What am I but a different section of a never-ending wall built by the newly arrived bricklayers? Every generation adds their uniqueness to the stretch, but ultimately the purpose of the wall remains the same. The things we build, thus, while very impressive in and of themselves, don’t have very redeeming purposes. All the sophisticated war-machines, for example, which are supposed to help us achieve some “final” goal—to take territory that will be lost anyways in ten, twenty, or a hundred years is an example of this “wall” to our progress. Each generation improves this machinery, but its purpose, like the wall, remains. Hence, even if we achieve our ultimate goals, what long-lasting happiness will that bring?

Neither the conquest of people nor the domination of land will bring humanity any positive results. In his poem, “My Age,” Osip Mandelstam wrote: “this age of the infant earth / Is like a baby’s tender cartilage, / And once again the cranium of life / Has been sacrificed like a lamb.” Speaking of his own generation and to some extent also about Russia, Mandelstam’s message of the earth being young of course contradicts geology, but what he really means is that the world hasn’t lost its innocence despite having become older—it hasn’t changed much since the emergence of civilization but our ability to cause it harm has increased exponentially. According to Mandelstam, we must redirect our efforts from building captivity to creating freedom:

If we read this stanza as an allusion to the Orpheus myth, humanity must, unlike Apollo’s son, have faith and not look back when rescuing our own love (which is humanity) from the grips of death. Orpheus’s struggle occurred in the underworld, but our own challenge occurs on the earth itself; we must keep the snake from biting our love and sending it into the underworld.

That’s how I feel when I read the poem and perhaps tomorrow I’ll feel differently about it when I won’t read what others have said on the subject. What’s an opinion if it’s shaped by another opinion? I no longer know and nor do I care. All I really have to offer are great views—and this time I’ll treat you with a video.

All the way from quarantined Italy: I may seem crazy now, but in a month everyone here will be no different.

Until next time.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with a full collection, (DISS)INFORMATION, with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.

“Quarantine Diaries,” by David Garyan (Day 11)

Quarantine Diaries – Day 11
March 25th, 2020

Trento, Italy

 

Deviance

It’s becoming harder and harder to follow this quarantine. What else did you expect? My brother and I were already stopped once for walking at night—at 11:30 pm, no less. Even the darkness, for God’s sake, no longer offers any refuge. What law are you breaking if there’s no one outside anyways?

I guess it all comes down to that age old philosophy first postulated in the Pliocene by Immanuel Kant—whose extraordinarily incomprehensible masterpiece, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, ushered in a new age of OG philosophy. This portrait was painted just after he was told that the quarantine would last another month.

Although Kant wasn’t happy about the news, he still knew that OGs don’t trip; they spit sick philosophy in the face of adversity, so he did exactly that: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” This categorical imperative has since taken the world by storm to such an extent that it’s been translated into just one language—that of parenting: “If everyone threw trash on the ground, what would the world look like?” Amazing, isn’t it?

This philosophical structure is capable of adopting many diverse forms of argument, such as: “If everyone went walking at night during a quarantine, what would a quarantine look like?”

Yes, many moments of childhood just flashed in front of my eyes. Although neither my father nor my mother had ever read Kant, I distinctively remember being scolded for throwing rubbish on the ground—on the grounds of Kant’s categorical imperative which my parents, as I’ve already stated, had, and probably to this day have never heard of—“If everyone were to do what you did, what would happen?” For God’s sake, God help me. Many philosophers no one’s ever read or even heard of have challenged Kant; however, that’s exactly the problem: I’ve never read them and I’ve never heard of them either.

If I was Mr. Woland, I could have breakfast with Mr. Kant and show him the seventh proof about why quarantines are bullshit, but I can neither be Mr. Woland and nor do I want to be him.

Let’s move on to something new that we’ve already discussed. Ah, yes, it doesn’t really make much sense—why are the police punishing people for walking in the dead of night when no one’s out? The answer, of course, has to do with Kant. There’s no one outside because everyone who’s staying at home is assuming that no one’s going out, but if they see two people breaking the law, of course they’ll say: “What would an Italian quarantine look like if everyone took midnight walks?” For the last time (not), to hell with it all.

I’ve only read the title of Michael Robin’s article “The Fallacy of ‘What Would Happen if Everybody Did That?’” but what I did manage to read impressed me very much.

I’ve also read the entire title of Elijah Millgram’s less convincing article, “Does the Categorical Imperative Give Rise to a Contradiction in the Will?” After reading the whole title very closely, I must say that Millgram’s argument is true. Kant’s categorical imperative is bullshit because it gives rise to a contradiction in the will.

There’s a quarantine and even though I myself know what it would look if everyone went outside at 12 am, I still can’t bring myself to stay inside because I’m a forsaken human being and I need movement. I’m not a 95 year old philosopher who’s still fully perceptive and still fully immobile.

To hell with Kant and my parents’ understanding of Kant. Unlike me, who has read at least the entire titles of the articles he’s quoting, my parents haven’t even read the good philosopher’s name.

No, I’m going outside because I’ve done my research. “If everyone went outside—” yeah, well, no one is outside except us, so what the hell does it matter? If the US passport ends up not working magic (which it won’t), I’ll just pull out more official documentation: “I, the undersigned Immanuel Kant, hereby declare that my distant cousin David can’t stay home. With this philosophical degree and also decree, I grant him full mobility, along with total immunity from any charges he may encounter hereafter.” If this doesn’t do it, I don’t know what will.

From the strictest philosophical perspective, the walk my brother and I took occured today—we left the house on March 25th, 2020 at 12:01 am to make the experience of breaking quarantine laws eligible for this diary entry; in the colloquial sense, however, we went out last night. Take it any way you want, dear reader; you can either have the complex, challenging, and philosophical way or choose the normal path. I’ll give you some time … not too long, though.

Ah, I knew you would make the right decision. It’s always nice to know that people care about unnecessarily complicated things. Anyways, since I have your attention again, let’s move on.

We left the house, I admit, a little bit afraid that we would be fined; as the walk commenced, however, the fear didn’t go away but the possibility of being penalized began to matter less and less until the fear itself eventually wore off as well.

By the end we were so confident that my brother even managed to convince his mind to make it convince his body that it should strike a pose like this. It’s very Louis XIV, except there’s no sun outside.

No, I couldn’t let my brother’s courage go unpunished—I, too, wanted a picture. Unfortunately, my pose wasn’t very royal at all; it smacks of “Let’s get out of here before the cops show up.”

Thinking about it now: Maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to take pictures at a roundabout. I hope we won’t repeat the mistake of taking needless pictures here again. What do they say about history, however? Something about it being circular, or am I wrong? After the photoshoot, we went back on the street and enjoyed the silence for a second—it was dead quiet.

Another great opportunity to have a photoshoot soon presented itself not far from the original location. As you can tell, I’m much more confident and manly when there’s no chance for the police to see me; indeed, the tunnel provided some great cover to reveal my full testosterone levels that would’ve otherwise not revealed themselves if I was in plain sight.

After the second photoshoot, we finished our walk and returned home satisfied—for two reasons: The first was that we felt human again and the second was that we weren’t stopped. As my brother said: “It was good to clear the cobwebs of the mind.” I can really see how happy he is in this picture and I don’t blame him.

What is it that makes people feel so alive when they do something they shouldn’t? There have been many psychological studies which have noticed the correlation between higher levels of intelligence and an increased propensity for deviant behaviors. For example, The Atlantic wrote about a study conducted by British scientists which reached the conclusion that “High childhood IQ may increase the risk of illegal drug use in adolescence and adulthood.” Interesting, this might come in useful later, and it’s convenient to know that such claims are also supported by Psychology Today.

Another study demonstrated that intelligent people gravitate towards unnatural preferences and values that are novel in human evolution, meaning they have predispositions and tastes that ordinary humans don’t have and our ancestors didn’t possess. In other words, a greater intelligence gives people more agency to arrange their preferences and values independently of society’s obligations and demands.

Since people are greatly influenced by communal forces, those with lower intelligence levels are more likely to go along with the “wave” because they don’t have the necessary intellectual tools to see beyond the hypocrisy of society.

The oft-repeated argument is that we’re prisoners of our genes, so to say; however, the authors of the article state that the ability to have preferences can exist independently of genetic influence: “Similarly, genetic influences and constraints do not preclude individual acquisition and espousal of values and preferences. Individuals can still choose certain values and preferences even in the face of genetic predisposition.” This is good stuff; exactly what I needed to hear.

In all fairness, however, it should be noted that it’s higher intelligence who are more likely to develop preferences in contrast to their genetic predisposition and the influences of society, which is why, according to the authors, “more intelligent individuals are more likely to be nocturnal than less intelligent individuals,” which is just one of the novel preferences and values that more intelligent people may hold.

There, see? Psychologists have given more intelligent people the right to break quarantine. I joke, of course, high-functioning people have always needed to contend with restlessness.

Boredom and intelligence have never been married for too long, especially when the marriage is an arranged one that the government is forcing upon someone in the interest of the greater good.

I know. I know; this epidemic is serious, but sometimes the personal good needs to have fun as well; otherwise, it starts coming up with creative ideas like this—don’t take it too seriously; it’s just a new shadow play about Brutus killing Julius Caesar.

All the way from quarantined Italy: I may seem crazy now, but in a month everyone here will be no different.

Until next time.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with a full collection, (DISS)INFORMATION, with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.