Society, Mental Health and Relationships

I think we have quite a few people who voted for Barak Hussein Obama because they were very upset. I think that we have a lot of people yelling at town hall meetings because they are very upset. These two groups of people also wanted to change things but they are certainly upset and the emotional baggage is just as important as the ideas andvalues that they would like to see expressed.

We also live in a world where increasingly large numbers of people take medicines to relieve symptoms of emotional discomfort if they have access to them. I do not object to people taking medicines that relieve emotional symptoms and I also am able to accept the expression of emotion in politics.  However, I think we as a human race have a need for emotional bonding in communities and families. I think we have a need to be able to call on emotional reserves to sacrifice in our striving for greatness in may challenges we face. Sadly but certainly peoples and nations need to have healthy agressive emotions to fight for their defense, integrity and survival.

Because I think that all these energies are important I cannot accept the idea that emotional states are sort of irelevant. Nor do I think that people should be governed simply and purely by their emotions. So as I think about all this I return to a post from last summer. It reminds me that emotional health can be seen as part of a larger social architecture.  

The following post was originaly posted on my page on Facebook on July 12, 2008.

Most of all my life I have had the sense that “things” were generally very bad. I have usually felt that that there was a sort of waking nightmare that had taken over the world. There is no doubt that I also had many dreams come true and many moments of joy. But I was forced to confront both the possibility that I was defectively attuned to bad things going on and also the possibility that the overall tone of things on Earth in my time was not very good.

At a very basic level, there have been many people in human history who have had worse days and seasons than most people reading this note will be having on the day that they first read it. That is almost guaranteed to be true. However, the overall tone of things can be bleak and unpromising and that could still be true.

Let us consider all the things that have been developed to help people make it through the challenge of relating to one another. Obviously we cannot really examine a significant percentage of those methods used for working things out in all cultures throughout the world. Instead we will consider a representative sample of half a dozen technologies for coping with and resolving interpersonal stress.

Lets discuss:
1. Jesus’s directions for dealing with conflict in the Church.
2.Dueling
3. The pracitce of Penance as it existed in the medieval Catholic Church.
4. Freudian Psychoanalysis.
5. That body of disciplines known as Wu Shu, Kung Fu and Tai Chi Chuan.
6. Carnival, Mardi Gras and festivals generally.

While we discuss these six topics in a ridiculously brief note we will also look at some of the other issues and institutions that impinge on our discussion. A sort of main point will be that getting along with other people is a challenge that has often commanded very serious attention. A certain tone of casual informality can be as freakishly wierd as anything else humans have ever done.

1. Jesus’s words are distinctly out of sync with the unbalanced teaching on forgiveness which has dominated much Christian preaching for a long time. In Matthew 18:15-19 is a teaching which is quite in accord with the teaching of Christ Jesus elsewhere during his ministry. The steps are roughly outlined below:
First someone in the church must sin against you. Then you must notice it and decide to act. Then you must confront the Christian privately face-to-face. The person must refuse the remedy you see as just. Then you must select two Christian witnesses (who have also heard a correct doctrine of patience and forgiveness) and tbey must agree to go with you to the offender. Then the three of you must confront the offender. Then the offender must reject the remedy you see as just. Then you as the offended Christian must bring the case before the Church and if the church finds against the offender and he refuses to do the just thing then they shall excommunicate that Christian. This is a very active, formal process which has almost nothing to do with just struggling to internally bear with slings and missiles of outrageous fortune. Forgiveness makes things better because it comes when they are better. Many will not forgive when amends are made, Christians must do so. Very slim evidence in recognized serious Christian thought or Holy Scripture supports a general teaching of the kind of unilateral forgiveness that is preached as the remedy for everything.

2. Skipping right ahead and out of context, there was a vast institution of dueling which made up an enormous force in shaping polite society throughout many countries and during many centuries. Dueling was very common in Louisiana up until the end of the War Between the States, or the the Civil War or the War for Southern Independence or the War of Northern Agression. This custom made it possible for men with large egos and refined sensibilities to get along despite all the evils of a given time and place. It certainly allowed for evils of its own but at its best it was far from a license for wide open bloodletting on a wholesale basis. Some say that in late antebellum Louisiana on in 400 challenges resulted in a homicide. Lots of steps — published challenges, choice of seconds, interviews between seconds, choice of grounds, time and weapons and the hiring of an attending physisican — stood between potentialy mortal offense and mortality. Abolishing duelling has not stopped people killing eachother but it has eliminated a huge and complex infrastructure for working out grievances.

3. While the pracitice of reconciliation as a modern Catholic Christian rite is rooted in our secttion on Jesus’s practice for resolving dispute, and in apostolic words related the “mysterion”, “semaeion” of healing the sickand praying for their healing in the Middle Ages of Europe Penance reached a kind of apogee. It was tied to a culture that understood the Doctrine of the Two Swords. It was tied to well-defined and developed practices of Exorcism and Interdict and it was tied to the rich culture of pilgrimage of which Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales gives us some idea. It was also tied to all the glory, horror and productive dialog of the Crusader and Jihadi. The energy of this vast complex of institutions lagely came from the fact of humans taking offense at the behavior of other humans and taking seriously the need to resolve the conflict and right the wrong.

4. A recent means for dealing with the injuries arising from civilization and its discontents is the psychoanalysis of Freud. This arose from the glorious last gasp of the Hapsburg Empire and its community of elite Jewish intellectuals. Psychoanalysis was often known as “the talking cure” in its early days. Whilre the Austrian, Austro-Hungarian and greater Hapsburg Empires knew many moments of glory in war, exploration, and invention they were a great power built more on diplomacy, marriage and legal procedure. While jews served in the armed forces and had guards they were the largest ethnic group without regimantal status in the Imperial military at any time. Perhaps it is natural that from them should have emerged a man who found talking things out to resolve internal conflict very important. But it must be remembered that Freud sought to free people to live a life more fully in the open and more expressively as themselves. Further his professional, therapeutic and literary edifice built on the sense of human injury was immense.

5. Leaping quickly elsewhere, we come to examine Wu Shu, Kung Fu and Tai Chi Chuan. Internal meditation,physical fitness, religious education, warrior training, and a basis for self-assertion have been developed into a single complex of disciplines in China. From China they have diseminated to the rest of North East Asia ,then evolved and expanded directly from China as well as from Japan and Korea. It seems that this whole complex of knowledge and skill falls neatly into the category of dealing w the interanl causes of conflict and the resolution of actual conflict. A vast amount of very productive effort is spent to gain or create self-mastery and then teach those with self-control to handle the conflicts which arise between them and others. Good health, balance, artistic motion, and deterrent against attack all belong to the practitioner of Kung Fu.

6. Humans have always sort of known that no matter what we do with our serious and formal efforts to organize ourselve and our societies the result will not be totally fair or entirely decent. Therefore wise societies find ways to combine inversion of normal rules and status norms with new kinds of commerce,uninhibited dancing and loosening of moral sensibilities. This behavior occurs at Mardi Gras, carnivals and Festivals. Many people in the modern world seldom experience one of these. Arguably few of us get a reasonable dose of these events. Therefore we live trapped in the full-time observation of our particular social absurdities. I actually am a sincere conservative who values the contribution of the community in Hollywood, New York,  Cinecitta, Ballywood and many other places who bring us carnival like experiences on discs, in film and on the airwaves. Nonetheless, There are values in the mixture of marketing products of hard work to visitors and religious prayer on the one hand with street dancing, sexual naughtiness and  spectacle on the other hand which will never be reproduced on artificial media. The movies and TV can help but festivals and carnivals really do some of the basic work of individual and community healing. Like all these listed techniques there are risks in this one that I may visit in another  post but I do think that this feature of life has real importance. 

What I would say is that lots of folks are miserable because the world they live in is really bad. they are miserable because people feel free to do great harm to them and others all their life without consequence. They are miserable because the means for dealing with problems make them worse and those in charge of normalcy are entirely nuts.

I think it is time for change bigger than most of us can dream of, I really do. But I do not think it likely that I will live to see it. I am not sure it will come at all, only sure that it is needed.

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