Monday, November 13, 2006

Lear, Tolstoy, the Fool, Orwell, Shakespeare, Joanna Russ, Jesus, Zen, "humanism," "spirituality" and/or "faith"

...and one or two other things.

This started as a response in a comment thread to a previous post, and quickly evolved into its own post. So, um, here it is.


...Well, first of all, the post in question: a quote from Joanna Russ, which some folks apparently found more cryptic than others. I'll just requote the whole thing:

"Faith is not, contrary to the usual ideas, something that turns out to be right or wrong, like a gambler's bet: it's an act, an intention, a project, something that makes you, in leaping into the future, go so far, far, far ahead that you shoot clean out of time and right into Eternity, which is not the end of time or a whole lot of time or unending time, but timelessness, the old Eternal Now."



When asked for clarification, I took my best guess (I don't know the original context for the quote either, am extrapolating partly from what I know of Russ but mostly my own spin):

I read it as: you don't take a "leap of faith" because you're hoping/calculating it'll land you where you want to go; you do it, not knowing -where- the hell you're going to end up. You maybe do it without even thinking about "ending up" at all; you do it for the sheer sake of leaping; that's what faith -is.-

the zen parable about "eat the strawberry" also is probably related. (You're clinging to the side of a cliff, losing your grip; there's a tiger on the ledge above you and another one waiting at the bottom of the cliff. Next to you is a wild strawberry growing out of the side of the cliff; what do you do? "Eat the strawberry.")


So then, the two comments i started to respond to (and then took off from there):

natasha:

What really struck me is that Joanna Russ is saying that faith doesn't feel like a choice but like a path. This strikes a huge jumbo mega-cathedral chord with me (I'm currently practising in the zen tradition of meditation & mindfulness). That's why the tiger thing isn't about choice either: you don't choose the tiger at the top or choose the tiger at the bottom. Instead, in both cases, the idea seems to be to dwell solidly in the present moment: with the strawberry, or with your Faith, not worrying about the future. The future takes care of itself.


and

rootietoot:


"with the strawberry, or with your Faith, not worrying about the future. The future takes care of itself."

That is a very Christian philosophy.
"So do not worry, saying, 'what shall we eat?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of it's own."
Jesus teaching about worry in Matthew 6:31-34.

The whole bit is long, but it's the famous "consider the lilies" speech He gave when his apostles were fretting about material stuff. "Pagans" are non-believers, not necessarily what 21st century Americans call pagans.



My response(s), or started as:


Natasha: exactly. it's not whether the tiger is or isn't gonna kill you--hey, maybe it won't! well, huzzah, then, that's nice. but really it's about -right now.- a shock to the system (real or imagined) can jolt you back into realizing that: ultimately, there's always a tiger waiting at the end of the day, one way or another.

rt: yep, consider the lilies. I've always wondered how the "gospel of wealth" folks managed to reconcile that one with the basic teachings of their purported Savior. well, along with pretty much every other admonishment to not dwell on the material, the literal, the concrete, and oh yeah, (as one possibility), give away all you have to the poor (i.e. not "punish yourself" or even necessarily "you must be ascetic" but "don't cling/you can't take it with you, and here's what's holding -you- back" is always how I read that one).

and sure, there's no doubt a way in which to reconcile material comfort with the Gospels, (hey, Jesus liked good food and wine as well as the next mortal, or so I understand; and i -guess- you could take the Parable of the Sower literally [too], why not), not to mention the rest of the Bible...but I still cast kind of a jaundiced eye on people who basically seem to believe in "Supply-Side Jesus." more to the point, who have no charity (in the real sense; who cleave to themselves, who clutch, who -grasp.-


and now I'm thinking of this Orwell essay, "Lear, Tolstoy, and the Fool" (I was just rereading or rather reskimming "Lear"), wherein he's commenting on this obscure pamplet Tolstoy wrote. Basically, he's complaining because what's the big deal about Shakespeare? nothing, that's what. and he focuses on Lear, Orwell speculated, because, funnily enough, Lear's story resembles Tolstoy's own rather uncannily, i.e., a bad-tempered man who late in life decided to give away all his lands, and, well, it didn't go so well for him. ...

It's a brilliant essay. Orwell posits that

"However, Tolstoy is not simply trying to rob others of a pleasure he does not share [in turning all his guns on Shakespeare]. He is doing that, but his quarrel with Shakespeare goes further. It is the quarrel between the religious and the humanist attitudes toward life..."

Semantics are an issue, though, maybe; or, well, Orwell the (decidedly secular) humanist has his own feelings about religion, clearly. Yet what he's really talking about here, as he often does, is the difference between the would-be saint (the puritan) and the human who accepts hir humanity in all its flaws. (more on this later). Here he pins down the problem:

"According to Tolstoy, the aim of every human being is happinesss, and happiness can only be attained by doing the will of God. But doing the will of God means casting off all earthly pleasures and ambitions, and living only for others. Ulimately, therefore, Tolstoy renounced the world under the expectation that this would make him happier. But if there is one thing certain about his later years, it is that he was -not- happy. On the contrary, he was driven almost to the edge of madness by the behavior of the people about him, who persecuted him precisely -because- of this renunication. Like Lear, Tolstoy was not humble and not a good judge of character. He was inclined at moments to revert to the attitudes of an artistocrat, in spite of his peasant's blouse, and he even had two children whom he had believed in and who ultimately turned against him...His exaggerated revulsion from sexuality was also distinctly similar to Lear's...And though Tolstoy could not forsee it when he wrote his essay on Shaespeare, even the ending of his life--the sudden unplanned flight across country, accompanied only by a faithful daughter, the death in a cottage in a strange village--seems to have in it a sort of phantom reminiscence of Lear.

...Renouncing power, giving away your lands, was a subject on which he had reason to feel deeply. Probably therefore, he would be more angered and disturbed by the moral that Shaespeare draws than he would be in the case of some other play--Macbeth, for instance--which did not touch so closely on his own life. But what exactly -is- the moral of Lear? Evidently there are two morals, one explicit, the other implied in the story.

Shakespeare starts by assuming that to make yourself powerless in to invite an attack. This does not mean that -everyone- will turn against you (Kent and the Fool stand by Lear from first to last), but in all probability -someone- will...If you turn the other cheek, you will get a harder blow on it than you got on the first one. This does not always happen, but it is to be expected, and you ought not to complain if it does happen. The second blow is, so to speak, part of the act of turning the other cheek. First of all, therefore, there is the vulgar, common-sense moral drawn by the Fool: "Don't reliquish power, don't give away your lands." But there is also another moral. Shakespeare never utters it in so many words, [but] [i]t is contained in the story... It is: "Give away your lands if you want to, but don't expect to gain happiness by doing so. Probably you won't gain happiness. If you live for others, you must live -for others,- and not as a roundabout way of gtting an advantage for yourself."

Obviously neither of these conclusions could have been pleasing to Tolstoy. The first of them expresses the genuine, belly-to-earth selfishness from which he was genuinely trying to escape. The other conflicts with his desire to eat his cake and have it--that is, to destroy his own egoism and by so doing to gain eternal life..."


in other words, (this might make yet more sense in the Buddhist or even Jungian worldview, perhaps), he's trying to destroy his "ego" and cling all the more desperately to it at the same time. Which never works. And, sure enough--it didn't here either.

Orwell continues:

"Of course, Lear is not a sermon in favour of altruism. It merely points out the results of practising self-denial for selfish reasons. Shakespeare had a considerable streak of worldliness in him, and if he had been forced to take sides in how own play, his sympathies probably would have lain with the Fool. But at least he could see the whole issue and treat it at the level of tragedy...

All of [Shakespeare's] tragedies start out with the humanist assumption that life, although full of sorrow, is worth living, and that Man is a noble animal--a belief which Tolstoy in his old age did not share."


and here we come to Orwell's own definition of "sainthood:"

"Tolstoy was not a saint, but he tried very hard to make himself into a saint, and the standards he applied to literature were other-worldly ones. It is important to realize that the difference between a saint and an ordinary human being is a difference of kind and not of degree. That is, the one is not to be regarded as an imperfect form of the other. The saint, at any rate Tolstoy's kind of saint, is not trying to work an improvement in earthly life: he is trying to bring it to an end and put something different in its place. One obvious expression of this is the claim that celibacy is 'higher' than marriage. If only, Tolstoy says in effect, we would stop breeding, fighting, struggling and enjoying, if we could get rid of not only our sins but of everything else that binds us to the surface of the earth--including love, in the ordinary sense of caring more for one human being than another--then the whole painful process would be over and the Kingdom of Heaven would arrive. But a normal human being does not want the Kingdom of Heaven: he wants life on earth to continue. This is not solely because he is 'weak,' 'sinful,' and 'anxious for a good time.' Most people get a fair amount of fun out of their lives, but on balance life is suffering, and only the very young or the very foolish imagine otherwise...The humanist attitude is that the struggle must continue and that death is the price of life..."


I agree with Orwell on all of this.

Here's where I don't. Or, well, I do and I don't:

"Often there is a seeming truce between the humanist and the religious believer, but in fact their attitudes cannot be reconciled: one must choose between this world and the next. And the enormous majority of human beings, if they understood the issue, would choose this world."

...Actually, you know, I do agree with what i would call the spirit of this sentiment, if perhaps not the letter.

Here's the deal: what Orwell calls "the religious," it seems to me, in fact doesn't particularly have to hinge upon "belief" in the "supernatural" or not. It's true that the context he knows, and frankly, that most of us still understand, that is pretty much how it breaks down. This world or the "other world." Either you buy it or you don't.

But in fact, to me the salient point here is not about cosmology per se; it's something moer ineffable. It's what Eric Fromm (who could probably be categorized as a "religious humanist," which to many people on both sides of the aisle, presumably including Orwell, is an oxymoron), riffing off both Freud and Christianity, would call "biophilia," or the "life instinct." In short: the key point is: you're hanging on the cliff. We all are. Ultimately it isn't whether you get eaten by the tiger, cleverly avoid your fate by your own volition or get rescued by a deux ex machima. The point is: you're here, now. On the cliff. In life. What do you do with it? To begin with, says Orwell (among others), you accept that it is a good thing that you have even this fleeting moment, painful though even that fleeting moment might be; that enjoying the strawberry is worthwhile all by itself. Whether you believe that you're on the cliff for a "reason" or it's just sheer blind luck that you ended up here, and whatever you think might happen to you next (if anything)--kind of doesn't matter. The important question is: what are you going to do now?

And, corollary: if there's someone next to you on that cliff, also trembling with terror, how do you respond? Well, whatever you do: with compassion. Because they're you, too, or they may as well be.

And that, it seems to me, is (as rootietoot notes) the message of Jesus; that is the message of the heart of all the major religions; and that, as Orwell posits, is, indeed, the heart of humanism, secular or otherwise.

So, yeah, I guess I am saying: I do believe there can be a truce between the humanist and the religious believer...but it depends. (For one thing: is it about "belief?" Is "belief" a useful term? Is "faith" the same as "belief," much less "religious belief?" I wonder).

And on the flip side: one can go for the world-rejecting position without any particular supernatural beliefs whatsoever. Orwell, I think, would very much agree with this; this is actually one of his main, if not the main theme(s) of all his work: the hollowness of dogma, of doctrine, of orthodoxy, without actual humanity--i.e. giving a crap about your fellow creatures; being connected to them, to the world you live in, to life. As anyone who's at all familiar with his writing knows, one of the greatest subjects of that critique is in fact not "religious" in the sense of "supernaturalism" at all: totalitarianism, as represented by Stalin (among others). Contrary to the wistful (and hilarious) beliefs of a disheartening number of people, this rejection of the travesty some people had made of socialism, his own "faith," did not mean that he was not, in fact, still a socialist; that was his way, his truth, his life, his path. His connection, you might say. What he pits himself against, ultimately, are, as he puts it elsewhere, "all the smelly little orthodoxies...contending for our souls."

And as per those smelly little orthodoxies, while, again, Orwell is best known for his take on a couple of very particular ones (and often his words are used, disingenuously, in the service of someone else's smelly little orthodoxy), clearly they can be and are literally anything, content-wise. As I was just saying not long ago.

and if I'd remembered when writing that earlier post on "thought reform and totalitarianism" I might have added this passage from Orwell here in this piece, as it's quite relevant:

"A sort of doubt has always hung round the character of Tolstoy, as round the character of Gandhi. He was not a vulgar hypocrite, as some people declared him to be, and he would probably have imposed even greater sacrifices on himself than he did, if he had not been interfered with at every step by the people surrounding him...But on the other hand, it is dangerous to take such men as Tolstoy at their disciples' valuation. There is always the possibility--the probability, indeed--that they have done no more than exchange one form of egoism for another. Tolstoy renounced wealth, fame, and privilege; he abjured violence in all its forms and was ready to suffer for doing so; but it is not so easy to believe that he abjured the principle of coercion, or at least the -desire- to coerce others*. There are families in which the father will say to his child, 'You'll get a thick ear if you do that again, while the mother, her eyes brimming over with tears, will take the child in her arms and murmur lovingly, 'Now darling, -is- it kind to Mummy to do that?' And who would maintain that the second method is less tyrannous than the first? The distinction that really matters is not between violence and non-violence, but between having and not having the appetite for power. There are people who are convinced of the wickedness both of armies and of police forces, but who are nevertheless much more intolerant and inquistorial in outlook than the normal person who believes that it is necessary to use violence in certain circumstances. They will not say to somebody else, 'Do this, that and the other or you will go to prison,' but they will, if they can, get inside his brain and dictate his thoughts for him in the minutest particulars...For if you have embraced a creed which appears to be free from the ordinary dirtiness of politics--a creed from which you yourself cannot expect to draw any material advantage--surely that proves that you are in the right? And the more you are in the right, the more natural that everyone else should be bullied into thinking likewise."

(And does that ring any bells for anyone here, Gentle Readers?...)


But it's all too easy to say what one is against, after all; that's perhaps sort of the whole point, here.

What Orwell is for, then, clearly, is what he sees in Shakespeare:

"[H]e loved the surface of the earth and the process of life--which, it should be repeated, is -not- the same thing as wanting to have a good time and stay alive as long as possible."

Key word there: "love."

Orwell goes on to talk about the real reason Tolstoy doesn't "get" Shakespeare, perhaps: Shakespeare's sheer pleasure, his -love- of language for the sheer sound and shape and sake of it, the music of it. Partly of course something is probably lost in the translation from archaic English to Russian; but that's not all of it; Orwell is probably right when he says that "poetry is to be judged by its meaning, and that seductive sounds merely cause false meanings to go unnoticed."

And although the following comes from an entirely different worldview, certainly is authored by a man who's the very epitome of everything Orwell claims to be against, in his framing of the issue as being "this world against the next," I still can't help but think it's on the same page with the real issue here, for a'that and a'that:

1Co 13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity [love], I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

1Co 13:2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

1Co 13:3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.


If you know the words but not the tune. If you have the structure but not the animating force.

Why, then, you're missing something rather key, aren't you.

Whatever you want to call it.

Shakespeare, Orwell posits, had it; whereas Tolstoy did not.

Personally, I'd call that "it" "spirituality," regardless of Shakespeare's actual beliefs (as Orwell notes, we don't really know, but it's hardly an orthodox Christian worldview in his plays; there are streaks of "paganism" as well as plain ol' "worldliness"), or indeed Tolstoy's Christianity, his religiosity. Orwell presumably would not. He calls it "humanism;" I call it that, also, sure.

But ultimately, what's in a name...

70 comments:

Tom Nolan said...

I wonder if it's possible to have a non-religious view of, say, morality? I'm an atheist myself, but my atheism seems soley a matter of the intellect. Like most people, I go round deciding that some things are good, others ill, that I ought to do this and not do that, and such behaviour seems typically human. But how are such judgements even possible without there being something for the words "good" and "ill" to correspond to? Clearly, I don't mean that one deed is good by virtue of its resemblance to some other deed: that would only establish their resemblance, not that either was good. So I'm bound to conclude that I'm referring to something (the Good) which doesn't require reference to anything else (the Good in itself). It won't do to say that morality can rely on the support of others' opinions: it they talk of something being good and there is, in fact, no Good for such affirmations to refer to, then they are just deluded and there can be no moral worth in my conforming my behaviour to their expectations. I know this is a Platonic line of argument, but Plato's thinking in this regard is in fact religious: ethical behaviour has to conform to certain supernatural entities (ideas, but it might as well be a god or gods) of which there is no discernible trace in the universe (not an atom of good or evil) but which morality implies must exist. Even atheists are believers at heart.

Thin Black Duke said...

This is so good, so interesting, I'm thinking about calling in sick to work so that I can write a long comment here and then go to my place and riff on this some more.

But alas...

I look forward to coming home tonight and reading how others respond to this.

More from me later.

belledame222 said...

>I wonder if it's possible to have a non-religious view of, say, morality?

I would certainly say so, yes. In fact I have somewhere a bit from my human development psych book which talks about someone's (non-theistic) theory of stages of morality; that's a separate post in itself, i think. i remember having quibbles with that, too.

but essentially, i would say, morality's ultimately based in empathy, which, however it comes about, is as "natural" as anything else, if not automatically present in each human animal. There's an artificial sort (or however you want to delineate; admittedly it gets blurry) that's primarily about reward and punishment; but i don't see this as the same thing. Yes, ultimately it probably does boil down to "self-interest," but i don't believe that that necessarily boils down to "yes, man [person] IS an island, entire to hirself," and that anything that seems to be "for others" is only a highly abstracted form of fear of punishment or quid pro quo; that's a kind of Social Darwinism 4 Dummies, and it's (imo) crap. That's there, too, yes; but it's not the only thing. The whole point of empathy is that you can feel something happening to someone else as though it were to you; it is a way of being -connected.-

Dan L-K said...

The distinction that really matters is not between violence and non-violence, but between having and not having the appetite for power.

That, I thought, bore repeating.

I was in Lear in college, and one of the themes our (progressive, Catholic) director played with in our production was the idea that Lear's world is pagan foreseeing Christianity, that one of its movements is towards the ideals of genuine sacrifice and charity. Cordelia, the Fool, Kent, and Edgar are all different facets of this, and Lear in his madness dwelling on the poor and beggars is very significant in this regard. (Interestingly, our director also felt that this was a movement away from aggressive, conquering, competitive "masculine" energy towards cooperative, yielding, healing "feminine" energy - which, even if you reject the gender-essentialism of all that, is an illuminating lens through which to look at Christianity.)

This ties in nicely with the place where self-interest meets empathy. One of the very good legacies of Christianity, like Buddhism, is the recognition that "I am you, or I might as well be." What you did to the least of these, and so on; and, from more mystic and apocryphal sources, He who drinks from my mouth will be as I am. All beings are Buddha-beings. Split a piece of wood, and Christ is there.

Rootietoot said...

Tom Nolan said...
I wonder if it's possible to have a non-religious view of, say, morality?

I think it's what "religious"
people call "humanism", or that's my understanding of it. What causes harm to another human is obvious. Murder=bad. Denying food to someone=bad. To some, murdering a person would cause the murderer to gain something, which, to that person, is good, but it violates the foundation of a rule that allows people to function as a collective. One person's rights should *not* supercede the rights of another. When they do, that's where society falters, and you have war,famine, child abuse, all those other festering sores.

"I've always wondered how the "gospel of wealth" folks managed to reconcile that one with the basic teachings of their purported Savior. "

That's one of those irreconcilable differences we try to reconcile. We come up with all sort of excuses from "God's just blessng us with wealth" to "You can't do good if you don't have anything to do good with." We use the example of Lydia, benefactress of Jesus and the Apostles, as our justification for accumulating wealth. Since Christians like to be Republican, and Republicans like to have their cake, we juggle words and bandy excuses and make alot of righteous noise when someone calls us on the whole wealth issue. Then we point at the one person in our church who actually does sacrifice for his faith, and try to pretend that his good work rubs off on us.

Your thinking breaks me out in a sweat...

Sellam said...

Wow, how insanely boring. What this dialogue needs is someone in blackface to start the charges of racism and bigotry flying. Then we can really have a conversation.

belledame222 said...

Oh, are you the entertainment? Can you play "Melancholy Baby?"

belledame222 said...

rt: lately I've been interested in the history of how Christianity and Republicanism got intertwined in this country; 'twasn't always thus, as you probably know. of course, neither Republicans nor Democrats are exactly the same as they were a century ago, as you probably know, particularly in the South, but...yeah, there are a few other factors as well. well specifically evangelism, which used to be a lot more closely aligned with feminism (first wave), along with other ideas that are loosely cateogrized as "liberal" or "progressive" or what have you. i actually went to a conference where a couple of speakers talked about this pretty extensively; i still have my notes somewhere...

Rootietoot said...

BD-I'd love to read your notes. I've wondered the same thing re:Christians and Republicans. It seems to me that Christians are Republicans not because of Republican ideals, but because of the opposition to "Democrat" ideals. I mean, when I realize that Rush Limbaugh is Republican, I want to run screaming in the other direction, because I so TOTALLY don't want to be associated with him. But then, Ted Kennedy is a Democrat, and I don't want to be associated with him, either. SO I look hard at the Scriptures to try and figure out WWJD, and um...well...technically speaking...he's a Communist. *sigh*. So I try to find a political affiliation that happily marries my sense of religious and social liberty with a sense of responsibility to my fellow human and I find myself staring down the barrel of Libertarianism. I firmly believe if Benjamin Franklin were here today he'd be a Libertarian. (hows that for sneaking in a little political indoctrination?)

Now, while I truly believe everyone has the right to find their path, I am equally convinced they need to follow the path I'm on, because it's right. I mean, if it weren't right I wouldn't believe it, would I? I also remember reading somewhere reputable that many of the founding fathers were Unitarians, not Southern Baptists.

Kim said...

Belle: In response to your comment at AntiP's, in response to my post at my somewhat as "SuperSecret" blog which Sitemeter says is not-not-secret-today, (whew!):

"I think it has to do with what's called "sanctuary trauma." It's worse to feel abused somewhere that was supposed to be a -safe space- (and/or by/among "safe people") than it was or would ever be by people you never really trusted in the first place. Particularly when these are the people you were turning to for -help."

You are, ahem, a FUCKING GENIUS!
You've nailed it!

W0W: I never, ever thought of that. Do you know how much BETTER you've made me feel? That explains so much. Thank you!

Can I start sending you $90 per month instead of my therapist? One or two more insightful paragraphs like that and I'll be healed! :)

Tom Nolan said...

Belledame

Thanks for the reply. I'm not sure if I'm getting the tone of these comments right.

Perhaps I should have said "a non-religious experience of morality."

I wouldn't disagree at all with the scientific analysis of morality, which would no doubt be more or less along the lines that societies benefit the individuals that live in them, and that without ethical rules which all must abide by no society would last very long.

The trouble is that that effectively *demoralizes* morality. I don't, of course, make apparently moral choices in the belief that they are necessary to society's well-being and so guarantee a system that benefits me - because, after all, my individual turpitude would be unlikely to seriously weaken the structures which protect me (if I steal somebody's watch I don't perceptibly increase the likelihood that somebody will steal mine). To make a moral choice I have to believe in right and wrong - I really can't do without the delusion - and that, as I say, seems to imply something religious (the existence of Good and Evil, for example). The social scientist and the biologist are right from their perspective, which the rational part of me shares. But the moral part of me can't believe it and goes on saying "ought to" and "that's wrong" etc. without the least recognition of enlightened self interest. It's a conundrum that can't be solved, or at least I've never solved it. I seem to be essentially dual.

Blackamazon said...

I think it has to do with what's called "sanctuary trauma." It's worse to feel abused somewhere that was supposed to be a -safe space- (and/or by/among "safe people") than it was or would ever be by people you never really trusted in the first place. Particularly when these are the people you were turning to for -help."


WOW. I cosign that to the tenth and then to the fiftieth. I think it's something that somany people miss when wondering why peopel get so defense in some cases and not others.

IF you say i can look to you for help and you're not there. That hurts so much more . than if you never said anything AT ALL>

Zan said...

I no longer understand morality based on fear. Well, I understand it but I no longer dwell in it. That vast majority of my life was spent that way and I was not happy. In fact, I was chronically suicidal. There's a direct tie between that and the Southern Baptist faith I was raised in. The emphasis on action, nevermind what you feel inside. Give away all your goods, nevermind if that leaves you so poor you can't take care of yourself or your children. But no one ever really gave it away, did they? They just said to do it, do it and you'll be good only no one does it so no one is good and that would be bad if we didn't constantly torture ourselves with thoughts of how much we're disappointing God and so let's read the Bible for three hours tomorrow and throw away all our non-Chrisitan music so God will know we're sorry for not being able to sacrifice ourselves enough.

You cannot be that kind of selfless unless you are that kind of selfless. You cannot fake your way into it, believing that you'll earn your eternal reward by giving away everything you have here. It doesn't work. You get angry because the reward is taking too long in coming and look, you're sitting in you sackcloth eating ashes while other people are having cocoa and watching Christmas cartoons. If you don't give because you genuinely, truely want to -- with no reward expected -- you're going to make yourself miserable.

And faith is definately a journey, not something you do to gain something else. Well, I should say real faith isn't. It's throwing yourself off the cliff in darkness, not knowing how you're going to make it, but believing that you will. And that belief makes it happen, I think. I've come to think of the Universe as waiting on us, just waiting for us to make up our minds and move. Move without having to be certain of the outcome, move without having to have all the escape routes pre-planned.

Learning to be centered in the Now is so very, very hard. I was raised to be thinking always about the next life, about how I was going to get there, what kind of reward I was going to get. I never stopped and thought about what I was doing NOW.

It sounds so cliche to say this, but if I hadn't gotten sick, I probably would still be stuck in that pattern. But you get real good at measuring success in minutes when you can go from feeling decent to being unable to move in a matter of seconds. It's incredibly freeing to let go of that illusion of control and realize how very little control we actually have. Ironically, it allows you to see how powerful and miraculous you are, just to be breathing and feeling and experiencing -at this moment-.

belledame222 said...

rt: cliff notes, as I recall: while some of the shift was probably "organic" (the redrawing of Democratic and Republican platforms, class and more shifts over time, what all that meant for people in various demographics and areas; and before that, someone had mentioned fallout from the Scopes trial as one dividing line; I need to read up on that), a lot of it was, in fact, very carefully orchestrated as a calculated political move, mainly from the Republican end. there was also someone who talked about how the Southern Baptist convention got the way it did (someone who'd been a part of it and eventually broke off; it's actually a fairly well-known name, but again: i have to dig out my stuff). really interesting. i thought.

the Founding Fathers were Deists, a lot of 'em; I'm not sure the Unitarians as such were around yet? but certainly Deism would've been one of Unitarianism's big influences.

belledame222 said...

>I no longer understand morality based on fear. Well, I understand it but I no longer dwell in it>

That's huge.

I come from a very different background, but I also feel like i'd inherited a legacy of fear--some from the general culture, some from my subculture, some familial. It's still something I'm working out. I did have an...experience not long ago, which was kind of a culmination of just an awful lot of work; and I remember immediately after it I was aware that something had shifted in me at a profound level. And I think it's still true. At the same time: old habits die hard. You know? It's easy to fall back into old patterns sometimes even if at some level you're aware that that's actually not where you're at, simply because it's not -totally- clear what to replace it with.

which is i guess the whole point of what i was trying to get at, as well.

"Physician, heal thyself."

sigh.

belledame222 said...

TN: You're fine, keep talking. I do think we're all or many of us coming from very different places here, with not only different worldviews but different assumptions about the meaning of...certain words, which to be frank i'm never sure are all that adequate anyway. ("morality," "spirituality," "faith.") "Religion" and "humanism" are at least a bit more clear-cut, but...

part of the problem is that, whatever our cosmological framework, in general, I would say Americans in particular are not all that great at introspection (personal or collective); we like everything to -mean- something, to have a goal, you know, even if we're not actually insisting on empirical evidence or airtight logic. Subtleties of feelings and internal experiences, symbols that don't break down to a one-one correspondance: we tend not to do that so well, and thus don't often even have a -language- for this shit, which of course makes it even more difficult...

belledame222 said...

kim: um, sure! :-P

heh. glad to be of help.

BA: yah, it is bewildering, isn't it? especially when said people often get more or less upset according to those principles -themselves-; they just don't or can't or won't make the connection. shrug. what are you gonna do. there are only so many ways and times you can attempt to explain any one thing to any one person...

belledame222 said...

TN: (or anyone) have you ever read "Of Human Bondage"? Somerset Maugham?

belledame222 said...

I should add: different worldviews in terms of raising, culture, beliefs, yadda; but also different ways of looking at the world. am thinking here of, you know, the...fuck.


*spaces*

...Myers-Brigg, Keirsey Temperant, you know: INTP, ESFJ, RUQT (not that last bit).

http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/JTypes2.asp

Joseph Kugelmass said...

Oops, posted my comment on this follow-up to the original quote post instead.

Here's my comment on the discussion so far.

Tom Nolan said...

Sorry, Belledame, haven't read that one. Maugham is one of those writers I'm always meaning to read more of - especially as he was a favourite of Orwell's (I think he lists him as an important influence somewhere). From the short-stories of M's that I've read it's clear that the directness of his style was what must have most appealed to O.

Speaking of O, I was recently accused of having missed "feminism 101". Is that a "1984" reference, do you think? It might be the room they take you to for reindoctrination when you've said something unforgivably heterodox.

Sage said...

First of all, brilliant post, and I'm loving the discussion. But I want to address this a bit:

tom nolan said, "To make a moral choice I have to believe in right and wrong - I really can't do without the delusion - and that, as I say, seems to imply something religious..."

Granted we all have different perspectives and backgrounds, but I don't see this necessary implication at all. Surely right and wrong pre-date religion, and good and evil exist quite apart from religious writings. The ancient greeks used the labels pleasure and pain. What causes pleasure for me without causing pain to anyone is a good thing. What causes pleasure to me, but also causes pain to others is evil. Morality is all about being able to accurately measure these relative pains and pleasures in order to determine what really is the highest good, or Good as the case may be. Typically they conclude that contemplating ideas is pretty innocuous and gives us something to do with ourselves, so it must be good.

On a different note, I think empathy is a matter of wanting to stop the suffering of others because it causes us pain (because of our connection to others which some feel more than others). We really just want to stop our own painful experience of watching, so we change the channel when we can. Once my cat wounded a bird beyond repair, and it pained me so much I killed the bird myself. If channel surfing isn't an option, if you're beside me suffering, my compassion is a means to stop your pain enough to ease my own. But I might be inclined to kill you if I thought I could get away with it, and thereby not have to experience the pain of punishment.

I think if compassion was really other-centered, then we wouldn't be able to change the channel, and I would stop eating chocolate produced with the labour of child slaves.

Rootietoot said...

I'm thinking, sifting through CS Lewis, Brendand Manning, and Oswald Chambers.

CHambers sez:
"Faith never knows where it's being led, but knows and loves the One Who is leading. The root of faith is the knowledge of a Person...
THe final stage in the life of faith is the attainment of character...The life of faith is not a life of mounting up with wings, but a life of walking and not fainting. It is not a question of sanctification, but of something infinitely further on than sanctification, of faith that has been tried and proved and has stood the test."

CS Lewis talks about belief in "Mere Christianity". He makes the point that Christians do not have to believe that all other religions are simply wrong all through. Rather, that some are closer to the truth than others, in their approach to belief in God (or Deity)

I believe this: That my faith exists because I see the Creation, the works of God through people and in myself, and I can't *not* believe. Not because I am somehow forced to believe- I'm not, it's entirely voluntary, but that logic won't allow me to disbelieve. I have felt God move in my life, and I simply cannot deny it.

I have that very self centered desire for other people to experience the same sense of joy and wonder that I do, and I forget that every person perceives differently from every other person.

I still believe that *my* way is the *right* way, but I am attempting to chew and swallow the notion that perhaps it ain't necessarily so.

Dan L-K said...

the Founding Fathers were Deists, a lot of 'em; I'm not sure the Unitarians as such were around yet? but certainly Deism would've been one of Unitarianism's big influences.

Unitarianism as a branch of Christianity had been around for a while at this point (especially in Eastern Europe), and known by that name for about a century; I get the impression that it and Deism were in serious dialogue with each other in New England, so it's not an outrageous idea that the Founders would have had exposure to Unitarian thought. (And in purely technical terms, a Deist is a kind of Unitarian in the sense that they're rejecting the idea of the Trinity, but this risks confusing the issue further than is necessary.)

belledame222 said...

I stand corrected! Thanks, Dan. Interesting.

belledame222 said...

>Speaking of O, I was recently accused of having missed "feminism 101". Is that a "1984" reference, do you think? It might be the room they take you to for reindoctrination when you've said something unforgivably heterodox.>

BWAH!

I did not know that Orwell considered Maugham an influence, but it doesn't surprise me. OHB is by far his best work, I think. I don't know how many times I've reread it. but the reason I mention it is I think its main theme, or at least one of them, is struggling to find a moral code as well as a sense of existential meaning, along with other things that are usually religion's function, after one has "lost one's religion" (which he did). It's kind of a compleat guide to modernism in certain ways, i think. but ultimately he's, yes, very much a humanist; and that book has i think his best and most complex observations of human nature. some of it's filtered through the shibboleths of the time, of course; but it's really amazing how much of it holds up even now, i think.

Sage, actually, there've been some interesting studies coming out wrt the probably physiological origins of empathy, very recently. Something they call "mirror neurons," i think? just grabbing some links:

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn10108-spectrum-of-empathy-found-in-the-brain.html

http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/ramachandran06/ramachandran06_index.html

http://www.livescience.com/humanbiology/050427_mind_readers.html

"
In 1996, three neuroscientists were probing the brain of a macaque monkey when they stumbled across a curious cluster of cells in the premotor cortex, an area of the brain responsible for planning movements. The cluster of cells fired not only when the monkey performed an action, but likewise when the monkey saw the same action performed by someone else. The cells responded the same way whether the monkey reached out to grasp a peanut, or merely watched in envy as another monkey or a human did.

Because the cells reflected the actions that the monkey observed in others, the neuroscientists named them "mirror neurons."

Later experiments confirmed the existence of mirror neurons in humans and revealed another surprise. In addition to mirroring actions, the cells reflected sensations and emotions.

"Mirror neurons suggest that we pretend to be in another person's mental shoes," says Marco Iacoboni, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine. "In fact, with mirror neurons we do not have to pretend, we practically are in another person's mind."

Since their discovery, mirror neurons have been implicated in a broad range of phenomena, including certain mental disorders. Mirror neurons may help cognitive scientists explain how children develop a theory of mind (ToM), which is a child's understanding that others have minds similar to their own. Doing so may help shed light on autism, in which this type of understanding is often missing.

...Natural mind readers

Simulation theory states that we are natural mind readers. We place ourselves in another person’s "mental shoes," and use our own mind as a model for theirs.

Gallese contends that when we interact with someone, we do more than just observe the other person’s behavior. He believes we create internal representations of their actions, sensations and emotions within ourselves, as if we are the ones that are moving, sensing and feeling.

Many scientists believe that mirror neurons embody the predictions of simulation theory. "We share with others not only the way they normally act or subjectively experience emotions and sensations, but also the neural circuits enabling those same actions, emotions and sensations: the mirror neuron systems," Gallese told LiveScience.

Gallese points out, however, that the two theories are not mutually exclusive. If the mirror neuron system is defective or damaged, and our ability to empathize is lost, the observe-and-guess method of theory theory may be the only option left. Some scientists suspect this is what happens in autistic people, whose mental disorder prevents them from understanding the intentions and motives of others."


***

What I am really wondering is: what they'd find with what are called "personality disordered" people, particularly antisocial/narcissists. Obviously there's a huge difference between these people and people on the autistic spectrum, even though a common denominator is lack of empathy. So, though, what's the difference? Is it that (a lot of?) "narcissistic/psychopathic" people have that natural empathy deficit on top of whatever environmental things it is that cause the personality torque? Or is it something else altogether? In other words, what I am wondering is: does "sickness" happen when people who -do- have normally functioning "mirror neurons" artificially suppress or ignore it, somehow?

just groping here; neuroscience is not my field.

belledame222 said...

I mean, obviously there are a lot of people who are "mind-blind" in many ways, and yet they wouldn't dream of murdering someone else; it just makes them kind of, well, clueless, wrt certain social interactions. And you have people like Temple Grandin who obviously have tremendous amounts of compassion, even empathy, wrt animals.

is it then a question of a problem with the "simulation" business? because i also thought i remembered reading somewhere that people with Asperger's/autistic spectrum have something else; it's related to the ability to focus, i think (and thus early problems with connecting facial expressions to verbal responses, that sort of thing), extreme sensitivity to physical stimulation, etc.--all stuff which presumably has nothing to do with empathy per se.

and then you have people who are completely charming, very "socially skilled," even weirdly good at "reading" other people...and are apparently "soulless." These are the murderers or even you know corporate pirates who don't seem to act out of rage, especially, they just don't...get it...at a certain level, the empathy thing. Although they can fake it pretty well, some of them, especially the smarter ones.

-pondering-

belledame222 said...

The other thing is, of course, as with the "gay gene" studies (wrt hypothalumus size and everything), or really anything else--depression, u-name-it--it's still not clear, to me at least, whether these physical differences are -inborn,- or whether in fact (or to what degree) the environmental (i.e. psychological, classic Freud, yadda) stuff affects the brain makeup. I -think- it does go both ways, no?

belledame222 said...

>Surely right and wrong pre-date religion, and good and evil exist quite apart from religious writings. >

I dunno if it's pleasure/pain per se; but you do find this at the heart of most religions, if you scratch:

"What is hateful to you, do not do [to others]; the rest is commentary." (Hillel)

so, yeah. i think it'd be useful at some point to braek down all the functions religion serves: "morality" as such is only one of them, but a key one. but anyway the reason you mostly find such statements in religious contexts is because for so much of human history -everything- is couched in religious terms, pretty much. especially, like i say, these...functions.

the others i'd say are, just quickly, still hashing this out: an existential sense of place in the world; connection to the community; ritual (i need to break that one down more for myself); and a connection to what Jung called the "numinous." Ultimately they all boil down to "connection," I'd say; but i think it does make sense to consider them separate strands.

also "worship" comes in there, but i need to think about that one some more as well. archetypes, you know.

but i think that when people say "everyone needs religion," what they really mean is--or i'd be more willing to accept, okay--most people have the need for at least some of these functions. Not every individual seems to "need" all of them--that sense of the "numinous," i think, for instance, is in some ways like erotic desire: very personal, impossible to explain one's own experience to someone else without shared context; and some people, probably in the minority but still quite legitimately, simply don't "get it" at all, and are quite happy doing without.

but collectively, i think it's worth looking at all of these things as functions that religion has traditionally served -for a reason;- and, more important, if formal religion doesn't do the job, something else will.

for instance: consider "celebrity worship." Rock concerts, fanclubs.

and pop culture fans, particularly certain subcultures (i am thinking say of my own interest in Joss Whedon and his stable of writers, the shows), often argue about the meaning of this or that line with Talmudic subtlety. fanfic writers even call the original scripts "canon."

--oh! duh! of course, that's another important one: the need for -story.- Myth, if you prefer, although that's gotten connotations ("not real"). Narrative.

belledame222 said...

...but yeah, before i got sidetracked there, what I was gonna say wrt pleasure/pain was: I think that's a very modern, scientistic, and (frankly) narrow understanding of "good" and "evil." morality, whatever. I mean, i think it matters, sure; but it isn't everything. actually i think one of the -other- main functions of religion is making sense of suffering, or pain, I suppose (Buddhism makes that distinction, I think). I don't think simply "avoid at all costs" has ever really worked out so well, certainly wrt "pain."

and specifically, obviously, the big one: making sense of death.

Tom Nolan said...

This is a belated reply to everyone who suggested an "empathy" or "sympathy" answer for the legimization of moral choices. I can see that this looks good: it doesn't involve supernatural or metaphysical entities as a guarantor for moral decisions (and such entities are, of course, a huge stumbling block for the rational mind).

The trouble is: sympathy, empathy and compassion can be very bad things indeed. If someone sympathizes with Jack the Ripper rather than his victims, we feel entirely justified in telling him that such sympathy is misplaced, and we wouldn't accept the answer that sympathy is its own justification - which we would be obliged to do if we accepted that it determined right and wrong. The fellow-feeling emotions seem to require moral adjudication in just the same way that other emotions and, indeed, anything that isn't moral in itself does.

Hope this doesn't sound too academic. That would be misleading, because I don't have much of a training in philosphy, and it may well be that I'm missing something obvious here.

Belledame

O's reference to Maugham was in a questionnaire of some kind (it may have been for the BBC or the Paris Review) but I know it's in the Collected Essays and Journalism somewhere.

natasha said...

Sage: What causes pleasure for me without causing pain to anyone is a good thing. What causes pleasure to me, but also causes pain to others is evil. Morality is all about being able to accurately measure these relative pains and pleasures in order to determine what really is the highest good, or Good as the case may be.

Belledame222: actually i think one of the -other- main functions of religion is making sense of suffering, or pain, I suppose (Buddhism makes that distinction, I think)

My understanding is that Buddhist philosophies don't take pleasure as an indicator of what's good. Or, to put it more accurately, cultivating a desire for things that please us can lead us to want to much of a good thing, and then to lurch towards getting more of it. That draws us away from the present moment and all that's already conducive to happiness in the here and now (strawberry, anyone? shame they're out-of-season ;))

I'm taking the word 'pleasure' here to be quite close to the idea of 'desire', which is maybe wrong. If I take 'pleasure' to be 'happiness', then I utterly agree with the idea that Buddhist philosophies are concerned with happiness, and its corollary suffering. An awareness of the two can determine good directions and bad directions, good thoughts/words/deeds, and bad.

Tom Nolan said...

(could be triggering)

In Room Feminism 101

“No” screamed Winston as the rats in the wicker groin-box lurched at his testicles, “Not me, not me! Do it to Bill Gates, do it to Jack Nicholson playing Jack Torrence in The Shining, do it to that repressive father-figure Sylvia Plath goes on about in Daddy but don’t do it to me, not to me”

In the Chestnut Tree Café:

“Sometimes they make you say things, and you tell yourself afterwards that you don’t mean them, but you do. And you just can’t feel the same way about The Patriarchy after that.”

Winston nodded and his eyes filled with tears. He loved Big Sister.

belledame222 said...

dude, that is so totally triggering my own memories of having rats launched at my testicles.

natasha: what i meant was more, the distinction they make between pain and "suffering." Suffering is ID'd as the thing that occurs when you're ruled by the desire to avoid pain and pursue pleasure, and is the thing that is to be overcome. Or so I've understood it; admittedly, not exactly an expert, there.

natasha said...

I get you...

So the strawberry is then quite interesting as the only non-suffering, non-worrying option in the mix.

Does it require faith to eat the strawberry, is, I suppose, the next question...

belledame222 said...

The other thing about that "eat the strawberry" is that it by no means precludes sensual pleasure in the strawberry; in fact, that's sort of the whole point.

i think--my impression is--that a lot of people confuse the Buddhist/be here now approach with a sort of blanded-out ascetism, or something, you know, like the spiritual equivalent of Valium. i've always seen it as more of a kind of radical acceptance. you accept the pain along with the pleasure fully; what you don't want is to stay -stuck.-

natasha said...

that's the way I understand it to: a kind of life-loving easy evenness come rain, come shine. That's the ideal, anyhooo.

The thing is that for me it's worth struggling to cultivate the evenness and avoid the attachment/aversion mindsets, because I trust (have faith?) that it's a path that'll lead to more happiness and more peacefulness for myself and others (because my effect on them will be less harmful). Which is where I also get stuck (!) in the same place as rt:

Now, while I truly believe everyone has the right to find their path, I am equally convinced they need to follow the path I'm on, because it's right. I mean, if it weren't right I wouldn't believe it, would I?

How can there be a moral position that isn't keen for other people to follow that same moral position. Buddhism, as far as I'm aware, says that yes, you can share the teachings, but you mustn't indoctrinate by force or coercion.

(s'cuse me if I'm hijacking this thread and bringing it back to buddhist stuff - I guess it's just what comes to my head on this topic )

prosphoros said...

It seems almost self-evident, but if you don't love life, why are you still here? If you can't sincerely love something, are you really human?

belledame222 said...

Because what's really feared is -change-; and so the fear of death is at least as great as the fear of life, for a lot of people, because that's the biggest unknown at all. Not the being dead part itself so much, that they might welcome; the transition.

also the idea of ego annihilation is terrifying, because they never really quite formed one to begin with.

Donna said...

How can there be a moral position that isn't keen for other people to follow that same moral position. Buddhism, as far as I'm aware, says that yes, you can share the teachings, but you mustn't indoctrinate by force or coercion.

Many native american tribes believe that creator came to each of the peoples in the way they would understand best and that is why there are so many different religions and belief systems. It's also why a real native american spiritual leader wouldn't convert white people for example. It's considered harmful to take them away from the beliefs that work for them.

Autistics can learn empathy. My son is autistic, he just needs an explanation of how what he is doing makes someone else feel and then he understands. In fact he identifies very strongly with his younger brother who is a pain in the ass to him most of the time, but when I get after him (the brat) my autistic son is likely to intercede and tell me that it's not that important. He doesn't like to see his brothers feelings hurt, even after his brother has just hurt his feelings! He also has a very bad habit of sharing everything he has, which isn't good all the time, especially when he comes home hungry because he has given away half or more of his lunch, or without any pencils because he has given those away to his friends who don't bug their parents to buy them.

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that autistic children suffer information overload. It's hard not to be self centered and unaware of others when all five senses are assaulting you. That might be why my son sometimes goes overboard with the sensitivity towards others now that he knows about it, if he is assuming that everyone else suffers the same information overload, and feels sorry for them.

belledame222 said...

Yeah, thanks, that was the term I was looking, information overload.

which, funnily enough, I kind of relate to.

maybe what they call "autistic" is actually a confluence of a few things? i know there's something called...uh, sensory overload? something, over-sensitive to stimulation, which can exist by itself. and also presumably exists on a continuum, like verything else. like i said, to a degree i can relate; it doesn't really hugely interfere with my life, but i'm sure it has a lot to do with certain problems i had growing up, as well as my strong tendency toward introversion--which is actually not shying away from -people- per se, not these days anyway, just...yeah. Too much outside stimulation drains me.

belledame222 said...

and, thanks for sharing, Donna.

also wondering if the tests they did viz the "mirror neurons" were on autistic folks who did -not-, for whatever reason, ever get to the stage where they "got it," never had anyone explain those things to them--I think, probably, as always, good parenting (*nods at Donna*) must make a difference;

but point being, as with the "gay gene" business, along with other things, i think that the trend toward "everything is genetic/hardwired" tends to underplay the possibility--hell, i'm -pretty- sure it's proven that it is a reality, at least in some cases--that in fact it works both ways: outside influences, "psychological" influences, are manifested by structural changes in the brain, which can be observed.

sorry to sound so quasi-scientist; normally this way of looking at things isn't my preferred choice, particularly when someone brings in a real person (i.e. your son), not meaning to indirectly make him sound like a test subject or something.

just, in the process of looking at psych schools, and so i guess all this kind of thing is on my, well, brain.

Donna said...

Autistic people are on a continuum of symptoms. My son is very mild and most people wouldn't know that he is autistic if they met him, it would just appear that he is a little odd, but who isn't? His actual diagnosis is hyperlexia PDD/NOS, hyperlexia is someone who excels in reading. My son has been reading since he was two without anyone really teaching him. I don't know how he picked it up. He could have probably read college level books when he was 6 or 7, but there would be no comprehension, he could tell you what the words are but not what they mean. But he wouldn't speak, or rather he appeared to lose his ability to speak at about 2 years old. He was enrolled in early childhood development classes at 3 and learned to speak again. He also has atrocious spelling and writing abilities, which I don't understand from someone who can read so well, since the two usually go together. The PDD/NOS is pervasive development disorder not otherwise specified. It's autism without the label, although his school puts him down at autistic on his records there and told me that PDD/NOS is an autistic spectrum disorder.

Anyway, from what I know, I suspect you are right that there is also a continuum of this information or sensory overload in all people, but autistics are at the extreme end of the spectrum. I was reading a blog by an autistic woman and she said people couldn't understand why she wouldn't look them in the eye when they were speaking to her. She said it was because she was so overloaded she could only do one at a time, either look or listen, not both. I also know there are some autistics so severely overloaded that they can not come out of their own world, they will never understand empathy. I think the difference we are talking about between a severely autistic person who can not understand empathy and a sociopath is that the sociopath actually does understand but doesn't care about other people anyway. For an autistic it's a survival skill, their senses pain them so they have to retreat into themselves.

belledame222 said...

That's interesting. I have difficulty with eye contact and talking at the same time, too. It might have been shyness at one point; but at this point i honestly think it's largely that it's really difficult for me to focus on both at once. One or the other, fine. Both together...and in general, i'm really not very good at multitasking.

i guess it could also happen that some people are some of -both:- sociopathic/narcissistic as well as austic spectrum.

am thinking specifically of a guy who was on a BBS i belong to; he was definitely at least somewhere on the spectrum, i think naturally. he'd also had a seriously fucked-up childhood and some serious...well, issues. part of it was the usual painful just-doesn't-get-it thing that can happen with people with, say, Asperger's; but part of it was, he -really- was an asshole.

how much of one we learned later; well, sad and awful. he killed himself. but he did it in a way that...he went to his gf's house when she was away and shot himself inside. no note. it went with his general M.O.; "i want you to hurt like i hurt." furiously angry. later the ex-wife was telling some stories, very candid; he was a complicated character who was capable of tenderness but also used to hit her and even abused their little dog. so.

obviously that's not just autism. but i think that the combination of whatever inherent difficulties he had plus the fucked abusive background just made him, well, kind of lost. i think he tried really really hard to "get it;" he couldn't or wouldn't; probably couldn't. anyway, he didn't.

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