October 16th and 18th

Now Reading — I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me, by Jerold J. Kleiman & Hal Straus

BPD is the only medical diagnosis partially defined by self-injuring behavior. Self-mutilation—except when clearly associated with psychosis—is a hallmark of BPD. This behavior may take the form of self-inflicted wounds to the genitals, limbs, or torso. For these borderline patients, the body becomes a road map highlighted with a lifetime tour of self-inflicted scars.

The self-inflicted pain may reflect the need to feel, to escape an encapsulating numbness.

Ideological-prejudiced energy foolishness

The world will regret not having gone nuclear and still not being willing to.

At least they found it

Hate crimes is the leftist equivalent to the rightist defense of morality and tradition. Both are a powerful instrument to squash dissent and personal freedom. Kudos to the new left for having come up with such terrific construct —your average totalitarian’s dream made true.

It makes sense

‘En Mallorca, robar un coche no sale a cuenta; otra cosa es que me digas Madrid o Barcelona”.

[Overheard at that particular café in Son Castelló where disreputable-looking people peacefully gather around street tables with upholstered chairs while having some hot beverage or another].

Now Reading — Why We Are Restless, by Benjamin and Jenna Silber Storey

As Blaise Pascal pointed out long ago, even the fortunate can be unhappy. And their unhappiness can be particularly persistent, for when people seem to have solid reasons for feeling better than they do, they often believe themselves obliged to let their unhappiness go unexamined.

La razón para meditar

Escribe Alan Watts:

El arte de la meditación es una manera de ponerse en contacto con la realidad. Y la razón para meditar es que la mayoría de las personas civilizadas han perdido el contacto con la realidad. Confunden el mundo tal como es con el mundo tal como ellos lo piensan, tal como hablan de él y lo describen. Porque por una parte está el mundo real y por otra hay todo un sistema de símbolos —referentes a ese mundo— que llevamos en nuestra mente. Son símbolos muy, muy útiles; toda la civilización depende de ellos. Pero, como todas las cosas buenas, tienen sus desventajas, y la principal desventaja de los símbolos es que los confundimos con la realidad, de la misma manera que confundimos el dinero con la auténtica riqueza y nuestro nombre, la idea y la imagen que tenemos de nosotros mismos, con nosotros.

Nueve meditaciones.

El verdadero problema surge cuando no solo confundo el mundo con mi descripción del mismo, sino también con mi prescripción del mismo, y tengo poder para imponer tal prescripción; entonces no solo me pierdo yo mismo, sino que llevo a los otros a la perdición —me he convertido en un autoritario iluminado (o iluminada).

What is like to be depressed

I reaped a bitter harvest from my own refusal to take lithium on a consistent basis. A floridly psychotic mania was followed, inevitably, by a long and lacerating, black, suicidal depression; it lasted more than a year and a half. From the time I woke up in the morning until the time I went to bed at night, I was unbearably miserable and seemingly incapable of any kind of joy or enthusiasm. Everything—every thought, word, movement—was an effort. Everything that once was sparkling now was flat. I seemed to myself to be dull, boring, inadequate, thick brained, unlit, unresponsive, chill skinned, bloodless, and sparrow drab. I doubted, completely, my ability to do anything well. It seemed as though my mind had slowed down and burned out to the point of being virtually useless. The wretched, convoluted, and pathetically confused mass of gray worked only well enough to torment me with a dreary litany of my inadequacies and shortcomings in character, and to taunt me with the total, the desperate, hopelessness of it all. What is the point in going on like this? I would ask myself. Others would say to me, “It is only temporary, it will pass, you will get over it,” but of course they had no idea how I felt, although they were certain that they did. Over and over and over I would say to myself, If I can’t feel, if I can’t move, if I can’t think, and I can’t care, then what conceivable point is there in living?

The morbidity of my mind was astonishing: Death and its kin were constant companions. I saw Death everywhere, and I saw winding sheets and toe tags and body bags in my mind’s eye. Everything was a reminder that everything ended at the charnel house. My memory always took the black line of the mind’s underground system; thoughts would go from one tormented moment of my past to the next. Each stop along the way was worse than the preceding one. And, always, everything was an effort. Washing my hair took hours to do, and it drained me for hours afterward; filling the ice-cube tray was beyond my capacity, and I occasionally slept in the same clothes I had worn during the day because I was too exhausted to undress.

During this time I was seeing my psychiatrist two or three times a week and, finally, again taking lithium on a regular basis. His notes, in addition to keeping track of the medications I was taking—I had briefly taken antidepressants, for example, but they had only made me more dangerously agitated—also recorded the unrelenting, day-in and day-out, week-in and week-out, despair, hopelessness, and shame that the depression was causing: “Patient intermittently suicidal. Wishes to jump from the top of hospital stairwell”; “Patient continues to be a significant suicide risk. Hospitalization is totally unacceptable to her and in my view she cannot be held under LPS [the California commitment law]”; “Despairs for the future; fears recurrence and fears having to deal with the fact that she has felt what she has felt”; “Patient feels very embarrassed about feelings she has and takes attitude that regardless of the course of her depression she ‘won’t put up with it’ ”; “Patient reluctant to be with people when depressed because she feels her depression is such an intolerable burden on others”; “Afraid to leave my office. Hasn’t slept in days. Desperate.” At this point there was a brief lull in my depression, only to be followed by its seemingly inevitable, dreadful return: “Patient feels as if she has cracked. Hopeless that depressed feelings have returned.”

At the time, nothing seemed to be working, despite excellent medical care, and I simply wanted to die and be done with it. I resolved to kill myself. I was cold-bloodedly determined not to give any indication of my plans or the state of my mind; I was successful. The only note made by my psychiatrist on the day before I attempted suicide was: “Severely depressed. Very quiet”.

An Unquiet Mind, by Kay Redfield Jamison.

Into the Sun

I was standing with my head back, one pigtail caught between my teeth, listening to the jet overhead. The noise was loud, unusually so, which meant that it was close. My elementary school was near Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington; many of us were pilots’ kids, so the sound was a matter of routine. Being routine, however, didn’t take away from the magic, and I instinctively looked up from the playground to wave. I knew, of course, that the pilot couldn’t see me—I always knew that—just as I knew that even if he could see me the odds were that it wasn’t actually my father. But it was one of those things one did, and anyway I loved any and all excuses just to stare up into the skies. My father, a career Air Force officer, was first and foremost a scientist and only secondarily a pilot. But he loved to fly, and, because he was a meteorologist, both his mind and his soul ended up being in the skies. Like my father, I looked up rather more than I looked out.

When I would say to him that the Navy and the Army were so much older than the Air Force, had so much more tradition and legend, he would say, Yes, that’s true, but the Air Force is the future. Then he would always add: And—we can fly. This statement of creed would occasionally be followed by an enthusiastic rendering of the Air Force song, fragments of which remain with me to this day, nested together, somewhat improbably, with phrases from Christmas carols, early poems, and bits and pieces of the Book of Common Prayer: all having great mood and meaning from childhood, and all still retaining the power to quicken the pulses.

So I would listen and believe and, when I would hear the words “Off we go into the wild blue yonder,” I would think that “wild” and “yonder” were among the most wonderful words I had ever heard; likewise, I would feel the total exhilaration of the phrase “Climbing high, into the sun” and know instinctively that I was a part of those who loved the vastness of the sky.

The noise of the jet had become louder, and I saw the other children in my second-grade class suddenly dart their heads upward. The plane was coming in very low, then it streaked past us, scarcely missing the playground. As we stood there clumped together and absolutely terrified, it flew into the trees, exploding directly in front of us. The ferocity of the crash could be felt and heard in the plane’s awful impact; it also could be seen in the frightening yet terrible lingering loveliness of the flames that followed. Within minutes, it seemed, mothers were pouring onto the playground to reassure children that it was not their fathers; fortunately for my brother and sister and myself, it was not ours either. Over the next few days it became clear, from the release of the young pilot’s final message to the control tower before he died, that he knew he could save his own life by bailing out. He also knew, however, that by doing so he risked that his unaccompanied plane would fall onto the playground and kill those of us who were there.

The dead pilot became a hero, transformed into a scorchingly vivid, completely impossible ideal for what was meant by the concept of duty. It was an impossible ideal, but all the more compelling and haunting because of its very unobtainability. The memory of the crash came back to me many times over the years, as a reminder both of how one aspires after and needs such ideals, and of how killingly difficult it is to achieve them. I never again looked at the sky and saw only vastness and beauty. From that afternoon on I saw that death was also and always there.

Un Unquiet Mind, by Kay Redfield Jamison

Trolling the conquistadores

And serendipity in action:

Y entonces —cuenta Oviedo— se divulgó aquella fábula de la fuente que hacía rejovenecer o tornar mancebos los hombres viejos: esto fue el año de mili é quinientos y doce. E fue esto tan divulgado é certificado por indios de aquellas partes, que anduvieron el capitán Johan Ponce y su gente y carabelas perdidos y con mucho trabajo más de seis meses, por entre aquellas islas, á buscar esta fuente: lo cual fue muy gran burla decirlo los indios, y mayor desvarío creerlo los cristianos é gastar tiempo en buscar tal fuente. Pero tuvo noticia de la Tierra-Firme é vídola é puso nombre á una parte della que entra en la mar, como una manga, por espacio de cien leguas de longitud, é bien cincuenta de latitud, y llamóla la Florida».

Historia General y Natural de las Indias, Islas y Tierra Firme del Mar Océano, por el Capitán Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés, Primer Cronista del Nuevo Mundo, cited in Hernán Cortés, by Salvador de Madariaga.

Why not say what happened?

Within a month of signing my appointment papers to become an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, I was well on my way to madness; it was 1974, and I was twenty-eight years old. Within three months I was manic beyond recognition and just beginning a long, costly personal war against a medication that I would, in a few years’ time, be strongly encouraging others to take. My illness, and my struggles against the drug that ultimately saved my life and restored my sanity, had been years in the making.

For as long as I can remember I was frighteningly, although often wonderfully, beholden to moods. Intensely emotional as a child, mercurial as a young girl, first severely depressed as an adolescent, and then unrelentingly caught up in the cycles of manic-depressive illness by the time I began my professional life, I became, both by necessity and intellectual inclination, a student of moods. It has been the only way I know to understand, indeed to accept, the illness I have; it also has been the only way I know to try and make a difference in the lives of others who also suffer from mood disorders. The disease that has, on several occasions, nearly killed me does kill tens of thousands of people every year: most are young, most die unnecessarily, and many are among the most imaginative and gifted that we as a society have.

The Chinese believe that before you can conquer a beast you first must make it beautiful. In some strange way, I have tried to do that with manic-depressive illness. It has been a fascinating, albeit deadly, enemy and companion; I have found it to be seductively complicated, a distillation both of what is finest in our natures, and of what is most dangerous. In order to contend with it, I first had to know it in all of its moods and infinite disguises, understand its real and imagined powers. Because my illness seemed at first simply to be an extension of myself—that is to say, of my ordinarily changeable moods, energies, and enthusiasms—I perhaps gave it at times too much quarter. And, because I thought I ought to be able to handle my increasingly violent mood swings by myself, for the first ten years I did not seek any kind of treatment. Even after my condition became a medical emergency, I still intermittently resisted the medications that both my training and clinical research expertise told me were the only sensible way to deal with the illness I had.

My manias, at least in their early and mild forms, were absolutely intoxicating states that gave rise to great personal pleasure, an incomparable flow of thoughts, and a ceaseless energy that allowed the translation of new ideas into papers and projects. Medications not only cut into these fast-flowing, high-flying times, they also brought with them seemingly intolerable side effects. It took me far too long to realize that lost years and relationships cannot be recovered, that damage done to oneself and others cannot always be put right again, and that freedom from the control imposed by medication loses its meaning when the only alternatives are death and insanity.

The war that I waged against myself is not an uncommon one. The major clinical problem in treating manic-depressive illness is not that there are not effective medications—there are—but that patients so often refuse to take them. Worse yet, because of a lack of information, poor medical advice, stigma, or fear of personal and professional reprisals, they do not seek treatment at all. Manic-depression distorts moods and thoughts, incites dreadful behaviors, destroys the basis of rational thought, and too often erodes the desire and will to live. It is an illness that is biological in its origins, yet one that feels psychological in the experience of it; an illness that is unique in conferring advantage and pleasure, yet one that brings in its wake almost unendurable suffering and, not infrequently, suicide.

I am fortunate that I have not died from my illness, fortunate in having received the best medical care available, and fortunate in having the friends, colleagues, and family that I do. Because of this, I have in turn tried, as best I could, to use my own experiences of the disease to inform my research, teaching, clinical practice, and advocacy work. Through writing and teaching I have hoped to persuade my colleagues of the paradoxical core of this quicksilver illness that can both kill and create; and, along with many others, have tried to change public attitudes about psychiatric illnesses in general and manic-depressive illness in particular. It has been difficult at times to weave together the scientific discipline of my intellectual field with the more compelling realities of my own emotional experiences. And yet it has been from this binding of raw emotion to the more distanced eye of clinical science that I feel I have obtained the freedom to live the kind of life I want, and the human experiences necessary to try and make a difference in public awareness and clinical practice.

I have had many concerns about writing a book that so explicitly describes my own attacks of mania, depression, and psychosis, as well as my problems acknowledging the need for ongoing medication. Clinicians have been, for obvious reasons of licensing and hospital privileges, reluctant to make their psychiatric problems known to others. These concerns are often well warranted. I have no idea what the long-term effects of discussing such issues so openly will be on my personal and professional life, but, whatever the consequences, they are bound to be better than continuing to be silent. I am tired of hiding, tired of misspent and knotted energies, tired of the hypocrisy, and tired of acting as though I have something to hide. One is what one is, and the dishonesty of hiding behind a degree, or a title, or any manner and collection of words, is still exactly that: dishonest. Necessary, perhaps, but dishonest. I continue to have concerns about my decision to be public about my illness, but one of the advantages of having had manic-depressive illness for more than thirty years is that very little seems insurmountably difficult. Much like crossing the Bay Bridge when there is a storm over the Chesapeake, one may be terrified to go forward, but there is no question of going back. I find myself somewhat inevitably taking a certain solace in Robert Lowell’s essential question, Yet why not say what happened?

Prologue to Un Unquiet Mind: a Memoir of Moods and Madness, by Professor Kay Redfield Jamison

It was a low budget, low profile film, All the Bright Places, by Brett Haley (Netflix available) that draw my interest in the maniac-depressive condition and allowed me to understand it better. Quite a film, by the way — blunt, truthful, sad.

There is a truth, whether you like it or not

In his essay Is there a God?, when discussing the various arguments traditionally offered to justify the existence of God, Bertrand Russell says:

There is a moralistic argument for belief in God, which was popularized by William James. According to this argument, we ought to believe in God because, if we do not, we shall not behave well.

Upon which he argues:

The first and greatest objection to this argument is that, at its best, it cannot prove that there is a God but only that politicians and educators ought to try to make people think there is one. Whether this ought to be done or not is not a theological question but a political one.

Since we are not concerned with politics we might consider this sufficient refutation of the moralistic argument, but it is perhaps worthwhile to pursue this a little further. It is, in the first place, very doubtful whether belief in God has all the beneficial moral effects that are attributed to it.

I’m not interested now in the question of God —just let me say I’m not that impressed with Russell’s reasoning. I’m interested in what he says next (my emphasis):

However that may be, it is always disastrous when governments set to work to uphold opinions for their utility rather than for their truth. As soon as this is done it becomes necessary to have a censorship to suppress adverse arguments, and it is thought wise to discourage thinking among the young for fear of encouraging “dangerous thoughts.” Freedom of thought and the habit of giving weight to evidence are matters of far greater moral import than the belief in this or that theological dogma. On all these grounds it cannot be maintained that theological beliefs should be upheld for their usefulness without regard to their truth.

Add private corporations and twitter mobs to governments, replace the old dogmas with the newer ones, and here we are —Totalitarian’s Paradise.

The Calibre Project

[randomly reading] is proving fun.

Julio César era calvo, y no podía ocultarlo con todos sus laureles. Ése fue siempre, tanto moral como físicamente, su lado descubierto. Sus enemigos podían decirle:

—Has conquistado la Galia, pero eres calvo. Has hecho frente a Pompeyo con las armas y a Cicerón con la palabra, pero, aun con todo eso, eres calvo.

Y él lo sentía así, yo creo, porque era un hombre vano: la cabeza de Julio César era como el talón de Aquiles.

G.K. Chesterton, LOS LIBROS Y LA LOCURA, Y OTROS ENSAYOS.

Politics is about getting and keeping political power. It is not about the general welfare of “We, the people.” When addressing politics, we must accustom ourselves to think and speak about the actions and interests of specific, named leaders rather than thinking and talking about fuzzy ideas like the national interest, the common good, and the general welfare. Once we think about what helps leaders come to and stay in power, we will also begin to see how to fix politics. Politics, like all of life, is about individuals, each motivated to do what is good for them, not what is good for others.

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita & Alastair Smith, THE DICTATOR’S HANDBOOK: WHY BAD BEHAVIOR IS ALMOST ALWAYS GOOD POLITICS.

Psicopolítica, by Bjung-Chul Han: “Todo dispositivo, toda técnica de dominación, genera objetos de devoción que se introducen con el fin de someter. La dominación aumenta su eficacia al delegar en cada uno la vigilancia. El me gusta es el amén digital. Cuando hacemos clic en el botón de ‘me gusta’ nos sometemos a un entramado de dominación.”

La Guerra de los Seis Días, by A.J. Baker:

“A las seis y media de la tarde, cuando entró en vigor el alto el fuego, los israelíes dominaban por completo las alturas del Golán y conducían sus vehículos en torno a las desiertas orillas orientales del mar de Galilea como si se hallaran en la avenida Dizengoff, en el corazón de Tel Aviv. La carretera de Damasco estaba abierta. La guerra había terminado”.

Of course, I don’t have any plan for surviving four years on one year of food. But one thing at a time here. For now, I’m well fed and have a purpose: fix the damn radio.

Andy Weir, THE MARTIAN.

Capitalism, as an institutional arrangement, has been singularly devoid of plausible myths; by contrast, socialism, its major alternative under modern conditions, has been singularly blessed with myth-generating potency.

Peter L. Berger, THE CAPITALIST REVOLUTION.

What about fiscal paradises in the XV century?

Aunque, en principio, unas mismas leyes tributarias regían para todo el territorio castellano, la distribución arbitraria de las cantidades que correspondían a cada región o lugar, la circunstancia de estar o no encabezadas las rentas reales, la posesión, por usurpación o justo título de muchas de ellas, por los señores territoriales, la índole de los arrendadores y exactores, unas veces ávidos y tiránicos, otras dispuestos a complacencias y rebajas por humanidad o por propio interés bien entendido, la existencia de tributos especiales a ciertas comarcas y villas, mientras otras disfrutaban de privilegios e inmunidades, creaban tal cúmulo de desigualdades que daban a la Hacienda castellana la imagen de un auténtico caos. A veces, bastaba desplazarse al pueblo inmediato para pagar la mitad o la cuarta parte que en su punto de origen, lo que debía determinar, como hemos notado en otra ocasión, continuas migraciones de la población rural y el abandono de las localidades menos favorecidas, transformadas en los centenares de despoblados cuyas ruinas aún salpican tantas de nuestras regiones.

INSTITUCIONES Y SOCIEDAD EN LA ESPAÑA DE LOS AUSTRIAS, by Antonio Domínguez Ortiz.

Regarding Cicero, Stefan Zweig writes

Per fi, el professor de la justícia terrenal ha après l’amarg secret que qualsevol home dedicat als afers públics al capdavall acaba sabent: que, a la llarga, no es pot defensar la llibertat de les masses, sinó només la pròpia, la llibertat interior.

MOMENTS ESTEL·LARS DE LA HUMANITAT.

Till next round, have a good time!

The Straussian Way

In a considerable number of countries which, for about a hundred years, have enjoyed a practically complete freedom of public discussion, that freedom is now suppressed and replaced by a compulsion to coordinate speech with such views as the government believes to be expedient, or holds in all seriousness. It may be worth our while to consider briefly the effect of that compulsion, or persecution, on thoughts as well as actions.

First paragraph of Leo Strauss’s essay Persecution and the Art of Writing. More needed than ever. Time has come to again speak, write, film, act innuendo-ish and listen, read, watch, understand beyond words, scripts, behaviors. Outspoken opposition is no longer possible nor advisable. Time to go deep and subvert, the Straussian way.

Bugs, preachers, lovers

My name’s Sedgwick,” he said. “I’m traveling through this country looking for bugs.” “I bet you found plenty,” July said. “What do you do with bugs?” Joe asked, feeling that the man was the strangest he had ever met. “I study them,” the man said. Joe hardly knew what to say. What was there to study about a bug? Either it bit you or it didn’t.

Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove.

“Yo lo vi a Lazarus Morell en el púlpito —anota el dueño de una casa de juego en Baton Rouge, Luisiana—, y escuché sus palabras edificantes y vi las lágrimas acudir a sus ojos. Yo sabía que era un adúltero, un ladrón de negros y un asesino en la faz del Señor, pero también mis ojos lloraron.”

Jorge Luis Borges, Historia universal de la infamia.

In reality, there are rarely squabbles over “nothing” in Rabih and Kirsten’s marriage. The small issues are really just large ones that haven’t been accorded the requisite attention. Their everyday disputes are the loose threads that catch on fundamental contrasts in their personalities.

Alain de Botton, The Course of Love.