Thursday, January 18, 2007

More on totalism

This is meant as a continuation for this post. I may have also posted from this page before; but, well, anyway, here 'tis. Robert Jay Lifton on "Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism."

A discussion of what is most central in the thought reform environment can lead us to a more general consideration of the psychology of human zealotry. For in identifying, on the basis of this study of thought reform, features common to all expressions of ideological totalism, I wish to suggest a set of criteria against which any environment may be judged...


These criteria consist of eight psychological themes which are predominant within the social field of the thought reform milieu. Each has a totalistic quality; each depend upon an equally absolute philosophical assumption; and each mobilizes certain individual emotional tendencies, mostly of a polarizing nature.

...

1) Milieu Control

The most basic feature of the thought reform environment, the psychological current upon which all else depends, is the control of human communication. Through this milieu control the totalist environment seeks to establish domain over not only the individual's communication with the outside (all that he sees and hears, reads or writes, experiences, and expresses), but also - in its penetration of his inner life - over what we may speak of as his communication with himself. It creates an atmosphere uncomfortably reminiscent of George Orwell's 1984.

Such milieu control never succeeds in becoming absolute, and its own human apparatus can - when permeated by outside information - become subject to discordant "noise" beyond that of any mechanical apparatus. To totalist administrators, however, such occurrences are no more than evidences of "incorrect" use of the apparatus. For they look upon milieu control as a just and necessary policy, one which need not be kept secret: thought reform participants may be in doubt as to who is telling what to whom, but the fact that extensive information about everyone is being conveyed to the authorities is always known. At the center of this self-justification is their assumption of omniscience, their conviction that reality is their exclusive possession. Having experienced the impact of what they consider to be an ultimate truth (and having the need to dispel any possible inner doubts of their own), they consider it their duty to create an environment containing no more and no less than this "truth."...

2) Mystical Manipulation

The inevitable next step after milieu control is extensive personal manipulation. This manipulation assumes a no-holds-barred character, and uses every possible device at the milieu's command, no matter how bizarre or painful. Initiated from above, it seeks to provoke specific patterns of behavior and emotion in such a way that these will appear to have arisen spontaneously, directed as it is by an ostensibly omniscient group, must assume, for the manipulated, a near-mystical quality.

Ideological totalists do not pursue this approach solely for the purpose of maintaining a sense of power over others. Rather they are impelled by a special kind of mystique which not only justifies such manipulations, but makes them mandatory. Included in this mystique is a sense of "higher purpose," of having "directly perceived some imminent law of social development," and of being themselves the vanguard of this development...(A)ny thought or action which questions the higher purpose is considered to be stimulated by a lower purpose, to be backward, selfish, and petty in the face of the great, overriding mission. This same mystical imperative produces the apparent extremes of idealism and cynicism which occur in connection with the manipulations of any totalist environment: even those actions which seem cynical in the extreme can be seen as having ultimate relationship to the "higher purpose...

3) The Demand for Purity

In the thought reform milieu, as in all situations of ideological totalism, the experiential world is sharply divided into the pure and the impure, into the absolutely good and the absolutely evil. The good and the pure are of course those ideas, feelings, and actions which are consistent with the totalist ideology and policy; anything else is apt to be relegated to the bad and the impure. Nothing human is immune from the flood of stern moral judgments. All "taints" and "poisons" which contribute to the existing state of impurity must be searched out and eliminated.

The philosophical assumption underlying this demand is that absolute purity is attainable, and that anything done to anyone in the name of this purity is ultimately moral. In actual practice, however, no one is really expected to achieve such perfection. Nor can this paradox be dismissed as merely a means of establishing a high standard to which all can aspire. Thought reform bears witness to its more malignant consequences: for by defining and manipulating the criteria of purity, and then by conducting an all-out war upon impurity, the ideological totalists create a narrow world of guilt and shame. This is perpetuated by an ethos of continuous reform, a demand that one strive permanently and painfully for something which not only does not exist but is in fact alien to the human condition...

4) The Cult of Confession

Closely related to the demand for absolute purity is an obsession with personal confession. Confession is carried beyond its ordinary religious, legal, and therapeutic expressions to the point of becoming a cult in itself. There is the demand that one confess to crimes one has not committed, to sinfulness that is artificially induced, in the name of a cure that is arbitrarily imposed. Such demands are made possible not only by the ubiquitous human tendencies toward guilt and shame but also by the need to give expression to these tendencies. In totalist hands, confession becomes a means of exploiting, rather than offering solace for, these vulnerabilities.

The totalist confession takes on a number of special meanings. It is first a vehicle for the kind of personal purification which we have just discussed, a means of maintaining a perpetual inner emptying or psychological purge of impurity; this purging milieu enhances the totalists' hold upon existential guilt. Second, it is an act of symbolic self-surrender, the expression of the merging of individual and environment. Third, it is a means of maintaining an ethos of total exposure - a policy of making public (or at least known to the Organization) everything possible about the life experiences, thoughts, and passions of each individual, and especially those elements which might be regarded as derogatory.

The assumption underlying total exposure (besides those which relate to the demand for purity) is the environment's claim to total ownership of each individual self within it. Private ownership of the mind and its products - of imagination or of memory - becomes highly immoral. The accompanying rationale (or rationalization) is familiar, the milieu has attained such a perfect state of enlightenment that any individual retention of ideas or emotions has become anachronistic.

The cult of confession can offer the individual person meaningful psychological satisfactions in the continuing opportunity for emotional catharsis and for relief of suppressed guilt feelings, especially insofar as these are associated with self-punitive tendencies to get pleasure from personal degradation. More than this, the sharing of confession enthusiasms can create an orgiastic sense of "oneness," of the most intense intimacy with fellow confessors and of the dissolution of self into the great flow of the Movement. And there is also, at least initially, the possibility of genuine self-revelation and of self-betterment through the recognition that "the thing that has been exposed is what I am."

But as totalist pressures turn confession into recurrent command performances, the element of histrionic public display takes precedence over genuine inner experience. Each man becomes concerned with the effectiveness of his personal performance, and this performance sometimes comes to serve the function of evading the very emotions and ideas about which one feels most guilty - confirming the statement by one of Camus' characters that "authors of confessions write especially to avoid confessing, to tell nothing of what they know." The difficulty, of course, lies in the inevitable confusion which takes place between the actor's method and his separate personal reality, between the performer and the "real me."

...Finally, the cult of confession makes it virtually impossible to attain a reasonable balance between worth and humility. The enthusiastic and aggressive confessor becomes like Camus' character whose perpetual confession is his means of judging others: "[I]…practice the profession of penitent to be able to end up as a judge…the more I accuse myself, the more I have a right to judge you." The identity of the "judge-penitent" thus becomes a vehicle for taking on some of the environment's arrogance and sense of omnipotence. Yet even this shared omnipotence cannot protect him from the opposite (but not unrelated) feelings of humiliation and weakness, feelings especially prevalent among those who remain more the enforced penitent than the all-powerful judge.

5) The "Sacred Science"

The totalist milieu maintains an aura of sacredness around its basic dogma, holding it out as an ultimate moral vision for the ordering of human existence. This sacredness is evident in the prohibition (whether or not explicit) against the questioning of basic assumptions, and in the reverence which is demanded for the originators of the Word, the present bearers of the Word, and the Word itself. While thus transcending ordinary concerns of logic, however, the milieu at the same time makes an exaggerated claim of airtight logic,...

The assumption here is not so much that man can be God, but rather that man's ideas can be God: that an absolute science of ideas (and implicitly, an absolute science of man) exists, or is at least very close to being attained; that this science can be combined with an equally absolute body of moral principles; and that the resulting doctrine is true for all men at all times. Although no ideology goes quite this far in overt statement, such assumptions are implicit in totalist practice.

[n.b.--ed.: i am, for once, deliberately not ellipsing over or substituting more gender-neutral pronouns & nouns for the author's, though normally i might do, casually. see if you can guess why].

...

6) Loading the Language

The language of the totalist environment is characterized by the thought-terminating cliché. The most far-reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed. These become the start and finish of any ideological analysis. In [Chinese Communist] thought reform, for instance, the phrase "bourgeois mentality" is used to encompass and critically dismiss ordinarily troublesome concerns like the quest for individual expression, the exploration of alternative ideas, and the search for perspective and balance in political judgments. And in addition to their function as interpretive shortcuts, these cliches become what Richard Weaver has called "ultimate terms" : either "god terms," representative of ultimate good; or "devil terms," representative of ultimate evil...

To be sure, this kind of language exists to some degree within any cultural or organizational group, and all systems of belief depend upon it. It is in part an expression of unity and exclusiveness: as Edward Sapir put it, "'He talks like us' is equivalent to saying 'He is one of us.'" The loading is much more extreme in ideological totalism, however, since the jargon expresses the claimed certitudes of the sacred science. Also involved is an underlying assumption that language - like all other human products - can be owned and operated by the Movement. No compunctions are felt about manipulating or loading it in any fashion; the only consideration is its usefulness to the cause...

7) Doctrine Over Person

This sterile language reflects characteristic feature of ideological totalism: the subordination of human experience to the claims of doctrine. This primacy of doctrine over person is evident in the continual shift between experience itself and the highly abstract interpretation of such experience - between genuine feelings and spurious cataloguing of feelings. It has much to do with the peculiar aura of half-reality which totalist environment seems, at least to the outsider, to possess.

The inspiriting force of such myths cannot be denied; nor can one ignore their capacity for mischief. For when the myth becomes fused with the totalist sacred science, the resulting "logic" can be so compelling and coercive that it simply replaces the realities of individual experience.

...The underlying assumption is that the doctrine - including its mythological elements - is ultimately more valid, true, and real than is any aspect of actual human character or human experience. Thus, even when circumstances require that a totalist movement follow a course of action in conflict with or outside of the doctrine, there exists what Benjamin Schwartz described as a "will to orthodoxy" which requires an elaborate facade of new rationalizations designed to demonstrate the unerring consistency of the doctrine and the unfailing foresight which it provides. But its greater importance lies in more hidden manifestations, particularly the totalists' pattern of imposing their doctrine-dominated remolding upon people in order to seek confirmation of (and again, dispel their own doubts about) this same doctrine. Rather than modify the myth in accordance with experience, the will to orthodoxy requires instead that men be modified in order to reaffirm the myth...

8) Dispensing of Existence

The totalist environment draws a sharp line between those whose right to existence can be recognized, and those who possess no such right.

Are not men presumtuous to appoint themselves the dispensers of human existence? Surely this is a flagrant expression of what the Greeks called hubris, of arrogant man making himself God. Yet one underlying assumption makes this arrogance mandatory: the conviction that there is just one path to true existence, just one valid mode of being, and that all others are perforce invalid and false. Totalists thus feel themselves compelled to destroy all possibilities of false existence as a means of furthering the great plan of true existence to which they are committed.

For the individual, the polar emotional conflict is the ultimate existential one of "being versus nothingness." He is likely to be drawn to a conversion experience, which he sees as the only means of attaining a path of existence for the future. The totalist environment - even when it does not resort to physical abuse - thus stimulates in everyone a fear of extinction or annihilation. A person can overcome this fear and find (in martin Buber's term) "confirmation," not in his individual relationships, but only from the fount of all existence, the totalist Organization. Existence comes to depend upon creed (I believe, therefore I am), upon submission (I obey, therefore I am) and beyond these, upon a sense of total merger with the ideological movement. Ultimately of course one compromises and combines the totalist "confirmation" with independent elements of personal identity; but one is ever made aware that, should he stray too far along this "erroneous path," his right to existence may be withdrawn.


******

The more clearly an environment expresses these eight psychological themes, the greater its resemblance to ideological totalism; and the more it utilizes such totalist devices to change people, the greater its resemblance to thought reform. But facile comparisons can be misleading. No milieu ever achieves complete totalism, and many relatively moderate environments show some signs of it. Moreover, totalism tends to be recurrent rather than continuous. But if totalism has at any time been prominent in the movement, there is always the possibility of its reappearance, even after long periods of relative moderation.

Then, too, some environments come perilously close to totalism but at the same time keep alternative paths open; this combination can offer unusual opportunities for achieving intellectual and emotional depth. And even the most full-blown totalist milieu can provide (more or less despite itself) a valuable and enlarging life experience - if the man exposed has both the opportunity to leave the extreme environment and the inner capacity to absorb and make inner use of the totalist pressures...

***********

What is the source of ideological totalism? How do these extremist emotional patterns originate? These questions raise the most crucial and the most difficult of human problems. Behind ideological totalism lies the ever-present human quest for the omnipotent guide - for the supernatural force, political party, philosophical ideas, great leader, or precise science - that will bring ultimate solidarity to all men and eliminate the terror of death and nothingness. This quest is evident in the mythologies, religions, and histories of all nations, as well as in every individual life. The degree of individual totalism involved depends greatly upon factors in one's personal history: early lack of trust, extreme environmental chaos, total domination by a parent or parent-representative, intolerable burdens of guilt, and severe crises of identity. Thus an early sense of confusion and dislocation, or an early experience of unusually intense family milieu control, can produce later a complete intolerance for confusion and dislocation, and a longing for the reinstatement of milieu control. But these things are in some measure part of every childhood experience; and therefore the potential for totalism is a continuum from which no one entirely escapes, and in relationship to which no two people are exactly the same.

It may be that the capacity for totalism is most fundamentally a product of human childhood itself, of the prolonged period of helplessness and dependency through which each of us must pass. Limited as he is, the infant has no choice but to imbue his first nurturing authorities - his parents - with an exaggerated omnipotence, until the time he is himself capable of some degree of independent action and judgment. And even as he develops into the child and the adolescent, he continues to require many of the all-or-none polarities of totalism as terms with which to define his intellectual, emotional, and moral worlds. Under favorable circumstances (that is, when family and culture encourage individuation) these requirements can be replaced by more flexible and moderate tendencies; but they never entirely disappear.

During adult life, individual totalism takes on new contours as it becomes associated with new ideological interests. It may become part of the configuration of personal emotions, messianic ideas, and organized mass movement which I have described as ideological totalism. When it does, we cannot speak of it as simply as ideological regression. It is partly this, but it is also something more: a new form of adult embeddedness, originating in patterns of security-seeking carried over from childhood, but with qualities of ideas and aspirations that are specifically adult. During periods of cultural crisis and of rapid historical change, the totalist quest for the omnipotent guide leads men to seek to become that guide.

Totalism, then, is a widespread phenomenon, but it is not the only approach to re-education. We can best use our knowledge of it by applying its criteria to familiar processes in our own cultural tradition and in our own country.



****************


Questions? Comments? I ganked most (not quite all) of that site this time, because I'm just that sort of person and I felt like it today, but, you know. Let's tawk.

58 comments:

Trin said...

"The most basic feature of the thought reform environment, the psychological current upon which all else depends, is the control of human communication."

I want to preface this by saying that namaroopa's excellent post on why feminism isn't a cult seems totally right to me.

That said, I've definitely seen in feminist enclaves online a squishing of language. It begins with the obvious -- "say n***** in here and I'll ban you" and then just balloons. Next comes reasonable but more questionable "No calling women bitches or cunts." And then even murkier: "No using 'retarded.'" "I'm gonna have to ban you for having that 'Bitch, please!' icon and using it elsewhere even though you're a woman."

And... I dunno. I mean, I don't like seeing the Special Olympics joke pop up in feminist communities at all, but there's gotta be something better than "never use this word." "Never use this word, or we ban you" replaces "You know, those words are hurtful. Understand their history before calling your opponent in a debate a 'tard."

I mean, for example, every time I see people using "spaz" to mean "flighty or hyper person" I wince, because hey, I have spastic cerebral palsy.

But most people don't even think of that -- hell, I didn't connect the two words myself until a few years ago when I got really interested in disability rights. When I finally saw it: yeah, cold water on face. Ow.

"I'm totally spazzing right now." Really? Yeah, I hate it when it gets really difficult to move my legs and I feel like a robot, too. Sucks, don't it?

So is it the answer to say "Don't say that, you disrespect me, how could you?" or is the answer to say "Do you know what that word really means? I'm not saying don't use it, but you should know it has a history that you're clearly not thinking about right now."

It goes from protecting people to "think right or you're bad." Real fast.

I dunno. Probably better to let people say what they will, and cut them down with witty barbs of your own if need be. I mean cut out the real bigots, but everyone else? If you're really bothered by other women using "bitch", engage them rather than kicking them out.

Trin said...

And on confession: yeah, yeah, that too.

Especially with the more radfemmy types. You get things like totally bizarre anti-SM screeds, and then after long discussion and flamewar, the teary "I have to fantasize about being raped to get off! I've SO FAR TO GO! SAVE ME MY SISTERS *blubber*"

I used to think that assuming they were all "repressed sadomasochists" was just my revenge-desiring subconscious being mean, but now I'm really not so sure of that. I'm beginning to think many anti-SM feminists do have SM interests themselves*, and that it's confession that keeps a lot of them together. Instead of finding community in the scene they find community with people to whom they can blubber "I had another ageplay fantasY! Will it ever cease, sisters mine?" and gher back "Oh, we hear you, it's SO HARD! We'll make it TOGETHER, brave one!"

(my mind suddenly flashed to thinking of pro-ana when I typed that. thou shalt not consume, thou shalt remain pure. heh.)

Because y'know, Sisyphus, there is no "make it."



*Dworkin definitely did:

"The children on the street developed a collective secret life, a half dozen games of sex and dominance that we played, half in front of our mothers' eyes, half in a conspiracy of hiding. And we played Red Rover and Giant Steps, appropriating the whole block from traffic. And there was always ball, in formal games, or alone to pass the time, against brick walls, against the cement stoops. I liked the sex-and-dominance games, which could be overtly sadomasochistic, because I liked the risk and the intensity; and I liked ordinary games like hide-and-seek."

http://www.nostatusquo.com/ACLU/dworkin/AutobiographyI.html

belledame222 said...

I want to preface this by saying that namaroopa's excellent post on why feminism isn't a cult seems totally right to me.

Well, see, this is the thing: something as broad and diffuse as "feminism" can't be. As even the most controlling feminists note all over the place, time and time again: there is no Queen of feminism; there is no Pope, there is no Dear Leader...for the -whole thing.-

However. That does not mean that certain particular enclaves can't become cults or cultlike, in the NAME of "feminism."

sort of like, y'know, "Christianity" isn't a cult; but certain churches and even large-scale organizations sure as shit could be looked at that way.

ultimately, the deal is: yes, the template for abuse might be written more into some peoples' ideologies, some Books, than others. but at the end of the day it still takes living beings to make of it what they will. and the impulse to go totalistic, as Lifton is trying to get at, goes -beyond- any one ideology.

and yes, this is an ideology itself, or a working framework, but, i buy it, at least to some degree: the proposition is, it's connected to stages of individual development; and parallels can be seen among groups as well.

Lifton is influenced by Erik Erikson, among others; he has his own "eight-points;" he talks about various "crisis points" in human development (and i gather, Lifton at least, dunno about EE himself, expands that to large-scale structures/organizations/groups as well), where you can either, as the saying goes, "change or die." Well, or more accurately: make the turning point, or, instead, freeze or even regress.

and people make the regressive choice when they haven't adequately resolved earlier stages. When they don't have enough solid grounding to feel safe moving forward.

it's more complex than that, but them's the basics.

speaking of which, when i wrote this posti probably had this stuff in the back of my mind, if not the forefront (it was a while ago).

so, he's looking at totalism as a kind of radical reactionary choice, made because the foundations

Trin said...

"However. That does not mean that certain particular enclaves can't become cults or cultlike, in the NAME of "feminism.""

Yup.

Marti Abernathey said...

THAT post over at IBTP really brought me into the feminist blogosphere. I read this,
http://abstractnonsense.wordpress.com/2006/12/19/radical-pathologies/
and much of it does apply to a big section of the radical feminist blogosphere.

I'm glad I found you, LL, everyone over at feminste, Dewd, Ren, and others.

People like Luckyl and Heart remind me of extremist right wing Christian fanatics in the vein of Jim Jones or David Koresh. There is no discussion. There is no debate or dialogue... just their way.

I want to build bridges, not walls. I want to fight the oppressive powers, not fight each other. I feel like that can happen with you, and I feel fortunate about that.

Unsane said...

The thing is that the totalisation may be in the mind of the beholder. I'm talking about the Internet, specifically, and our capacity to turn away if we think a writer's tone is too forceful or even too compelling.You can't say something is cultlike just because it has a certain magnetic pull for you.

belledame222 said...

so, he's looking at totalism as a kind of radical reactionary choice, made because the foundations

I have no idea where I was going to go with this. Sorry.

word verification: mudvbg. that is EXACTLY what i just waded through to get home.

belledame222 said...

You can't say something is cultlike just because it has a certain magnetic pull for you.

That's not what this is about. They're talking group and interpersonal dynamics. i can turn away, yes, (online -or- off); or any individual -can- turn away, and often do; but, that doesn't really get at why certain...transactions work the way they do. And they -do- work; there's no question that they do. Saying basically "well, they shouldn't, then, that's silly" isn't sufficient or helpful.

Marti: cheers. Me, too.

I think what's missing from the places/people/groups that feel so frustrating is the failure to understand that the "oppressive powers" are, can be, ALSO...us. "I Blame The Monolith" only gets you so far, and inevitably it seems to devolve into "I blame you," or "let's blame her."

belledame222 said...

and btw, Heart -was- a radical right wing Christian fanatic at one point--not a Jim Jones, but definitely a survivalist-tinged, quiverful, charismatic fundamentalist, the whole nine yards.

not sure where lucky's coming from (or whether i want to know) but some sort of very authoritarian and/or rightwing background would not surprise me in the slightest.

Anonymous said...
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Professor Zero said...

Robert Jay Lifton on "Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism."

Great text & interesting & useful and I didn't know about it, so thanks for posting!

belledame222 said...

no problem, glad you like. i may type some quotage from one of his books later this week if i like have the energy

namaroopa said...

Belledame, if I'm understanding this correctly, you're suggesting -

- broad fixed-identity politics (such as a Feminism for all women) are not necessarily totalist-spectrum because in reality they're too widely disconnected to control individual politics

- but enclaves within fixed-identity politics are tempting to describe as totalist because of how their group dynamics begin to operate

?

If so, it's really interesting, because I'm used to hearing the sort of queer-pomo-poststructuralist theoretical arguments against all identity politics, but not this reality-based claim that only certain types of essentialist-identity enclaves may be really problematic - perhaps even an abusive group form! Cool idea.

I'm skeptical of the claim. Still. I was trying, before, mostly to distinguish between issue-centric dogmatism and totalism, such that even a moderate totalism I think would feature an impulse toward subsuming a person's entire individually unique reality, rather than simply being (perhaps frustratingly) dogmatic. I'm having trouble imagining even a feminist enclave that may actually have a good number of members that's organizing around that type of individual erasure, rather than something very dogmatically issue-centered. I think it's more likely that someone like Twisty (or anyone who talks a lot about some form of radical theory) dogmatically claims a lot of ideas that no group is truly being held accountable to. Totalism isn't simply a matter of picking up where there are moments of language control and milieu control and such - it's whether those take place always and coherently, whether the person is giving a blow job or deciding what TV show to watch, whether putting on makeup or deciding where to go on vacation. It seems much more likely to me that a feminist enclave would get totally obsessed with collective punishment over the blow job and one-stranded dogmatic extensions than they would be to go out and form their own political parties and schools and tv stations and branded food products, especially now that we're past the hippie days. The person who's being attacked, however, does not lose their individuality as in totalism - the self is simply harmed by the dogmatism. So perhaps that's more about how aggressively one handles a bounded range of dogmatism?

I'm just thinking aloud at this point. But it's seeming to me like there are many more connections between totalism and individual long-term abusive relationships (which subsume an individual, in a way) than there are to political dogmatism. I just think that totalism isn't the emphasis of the vast, vast, vast majority of dogmatic feminists, who look to that dogmatism for only one strand in their lives, though it may get a lot of their attention.

I would wonder if a "totalist enclave feminist" could bring some types of independent concerns to the enclave - something as distant from gender as possible, such as liking green rather than orange or something. If that independent political change was not allowed because even color preferences could not adapt in order to subserviently preserve group dogma, then they're looking totalist. But rigid dogma alone doesn't have to impact color preferences. Ergh, this is not coming out clearly.

I think it might also make quite a bit more sense to compare totalisms in, say, countries with heavy domination and oppression, where the possibilities of social complexity are often erased. But politically engaged Americans are very free people with complex social spaces.

I worry that this usage of the term may still be more derogatory than descriptive, though I'm all for finding a good direct way of describing extremism in both limited-dogmatic and total-world senses. *shrug*

namaroopa said...

Belledame,
One thing I do definitely feel is derogatory:
and btw, Heart -was- a radical right wing Christian fanatic at one point--not a Jim Jones, but definitely a survivalist-tinged, quiverful, charismatic fundamentalist, the whole nine yards.

not sure where lucky's coming from (or whether i want to know) but some sort of very authoritarian and/or rightwing background would not surprise me in the slightest.


I don't know them, but no one should have lines drawn like that between personal histories and current behavior, not as a means of expressing frustrations or anything.

namaroopa said...

Trin - thanks! Yep, there's the language again. But of course, aggressive language politics are everywhere, not just in places we'd name totalist...

belledame222 said...

hey namroopa,

1) you're probably right wrt what i said there wrt Heart & her background--over the line. still, under the personal nastiness, i do have this idea that in fact there's a connecting thread, ideologically, to where she was before and where she is now (her brand of feminism is very culturally reactionary in many ways, and i am aware that the far right can in fact have the same sort of mysticism of womanhood, even a kind of womens' culture. there's another post somewhere back there where i've quoted extensively from a book that talks a fair amount about that--dunno if i quoted that bit--but where some right-wing women/groups and some feminist groups are a lot more alike than either would probably like to think). i could be wrong; i am basing this on a probably-not-terribly deep reading of some of her past-life writings that are available online, as well as what i know of her bio and her current politics/identity/outlook.

2) I'm actually not trying to tie Lifton's points to any one "ism" or identity politicking at all. i think it gets a tad confusing because i am trying to tease this stuff out, and am also trying to respond to everyone pretty much where they're at (boy that sounded hippieish, but anyway); and trin, for one, is talking about online feminism(s) because that's a big frame of reference for her here; and of course we're just now coming off another round in the endless Feminist Wars, which did partly, although not exclusively, inspire this (it's a subject i've long been interested in). So.

3) yeah, i was using "totalism" as a way to try to get away from "cult," but i respect your POV that that may be derogatory as well. Vocabulary is failing me a bit here, i think. "authoritarian" may be closer, but it gets tricky especially when we're talking about groups/dynamics on the political left, which often doesn't openly embrace the idea of authority, may even reject it. Which is one of the other things i've been trying to tease out; what someone called the "Tyranny of Structurelessness," the sort of i want to say ambient authoritarianism that happens sometimes...

4) But it's seeming to me like there are many more connections between totalism and individual long-term abusive relationships (which subsume an individual, in a way) than there are to political dogmatism.

Agree. Well, definitely that there are connections to abusive groups (political and otherwise) and abusive individual relationships (Lifton and Ross make the same point). In either case, i would say, there's...a continuum. which is also what Lifton is trying to say. and here i am trying not so much to say that little feminist or College Republican group x is a totalist group, certainly by your definition/experience; but that sometimes, in -all kinds of- dynamics, there are...aspects, okay, that make me profoundly uncomfortable. sometimes more strongly than others...and yes, i am very interested in connecting the personal to the political in that sense.

5. I just think that totalism isn't the emphasis of the vast, vast, vast majority of dogmatic feminists, who look to that dogmatism for only one strand in their lives, though it may get a lot of their attention.

Agree. And yet; i don't think it's so harmless, either. Even online. I don't know how closely you've been following the various Wars, but i am friendly with several people who react to their former involvement with this or that political group, especially self-defined radicals of various sorts, in ways that might ring some familiar bells, okay, albeit on a much less all-consuming way than an actual cult.

so, yeah, i guess i'm interested in these grey areas.

and the other thing is: in some cases, depending on the ideology, the people in question, and circumstances, yah, even feminism can be well more than dogmatic; certainly i see -impulses- from some quarters that feel very totalizing, very all-encompassing. when i'm less tired i'll see if i'm up to dragging up some examples.

then again, i really don't want to make it like i'm singling out feminism, or radical feminism; it's just what i've been most involved with lately.

maybe "abusive groups or group dynamics," but that's way loaded, too, of course.

betmo said...

you are describing american politics today to a t. i don't know if that was what you were going for- but you nailed it. not to mention- but there is the 'rush limbaugh' crowd headed by limbaugh himself that takes claim to single handedly crushing feminism- the members who he calls 'feminazis.' these old, white, neo-conservative men with loads of money are attempting to take us back to a time when people of color and women had no rights at all.

Trin said...

"i think it gets a tad confusing because i am trying to tease this stuff out, and am also trying to respond to everyone pretty much where they're at (boy that sounded hippieish, but anyway); and trin, for one, is talking about online feminism(s) because that's a big frame of reference for her here"

I hope I'm not harping, or anything. My experience with feminism and feminists offline is that, yes, there's a lot of radicalism and I never quite fit because I'm not quite as radical or as in awe of Marx, but there's not the same kind of derision, the same kind of "But well, thinking that way is proof you're caught in the dense fog of privilege."

Offline, in my experience, it's a lot more -- eh. How do I want to say it: "I think there's a lot of privilege underlying that view. How would you answer the charge that, say, poor women are not helped by that ideology because of *blah*?

Lots more civility and assumption that someone else really is also a feminist, cares, wants opportunities for all women, etc. And lots more acknowledgment that a lot of us do come from standard liberal academic background and that even those who think liberalism is priv-laced find it seductive if not even occasionally useful.

Where online -- well, it may just be application of the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory -- but it's, y'know, "OH NO SHE DIDN'T SAY THAT! CHECK YOUR PRIV, OR LEAVE."

And the person is silenced very effectively because she's banned if she says more, so she sits on her hands and reads reams about why people have decided that's a "privileged" way to think, and only starts talking again if she agrees, or if her mind is in a space where it's -- hmmmmm -- easily molded to agreeing?

Which is why your discussion of totalizing dynamics is resonating with me, too. No, we're not controlled minutely, and yes, there are often (attenuated, I think, and that's important) debates in these little enclaves.

But also, there's a lot that's similar, and I do think that can affect people, even damage them some (it did me, though please be clear that I am not saying "I just came out of a cult" here) even when it's not actually a totalizing group and just shares some facets with one.

belledame222 said...

yeah. I mean, ultimately my goal here is I guess really truly isn't so much to go, "You see! You SEE?!?! ---- group/ideology/person (even though there are Certain People who, I just HATE them, and i HATE THEIR ASS FACE, for reasons not unrelated to the shit i'm talkin' about here) is just BAD."

...so much as to tease out -why- I am finding certain ah let's say -dynamics- that I encounter, problematic. The -behaviors- I have a much clearer idea of why I have a problem with them (boundary invading/objectifying/Fucking Evil), and it's useful to be able to identify them as such. But, it doesn't really get to -why- these behaviors come up, I don't think; it isn't sufficient to say "so and so just plain is Teh Suck," (usually); but I also don't think it's all that useful to locate the source of the behavior -primarily- in the particular ideology itself (i.e. radical feminism, Marxism, Baptism, etc. etc.); I am looking for common denominators. and yes I also think that those common denominators apply to non-politicized (or any other "ism"--religion, etc.) groups or pairings: families, domestic situations, and so on. "Abuse," then. Maybe.

belledame222 said...

...it should also be said, I am at least partly riffing off of the conflict that sometimes comes up between say QD/BL and me, because I see her point(s), and yet I'm still struggling to try to articulate something. I think her take at its most basic level, as she's just laid it out again, is yer classic, "Attack the argument, not the person." you know. ad homs: not helpful. This, I understand. I may not always adhere to it that well on account of I am a meen bastard, particularly when I think I am dealing with another meen bastard, but I understand the objection. Sure.

And yet. There are times when I don't think it's sufficient to "attack" or even engage the argument as such per se, because there simply -isn't- an argument; and even if there is, it's not really the source of the big problem, okay. As kh put it somewhere, there is a level of 2+2=3 irrationality that just can't be brokered, sometimes. It -does- however make its own kind of sense, I do think that; I just don't think that the language of y'know ideas and theories and other...mm, language, call it "rational?"...intellect-based, okay, ways of talking, are adequate for addressing the people who are engaging in this...erm, behavior. Even verbal, online behavior, okay.

I think you know one of the things i'm fumbling with is that there is this idea floating around, i think, that what happens -on- the Internets (I don't even mean the subjects being talked about, I mean the exchange between the people typing) isn't quite as..."real," somehow, as those offline. Because there aren't visible bodies, because we're dealing pretty much solely with text, I think sometimes it gets a little too easy to assume that it can all be dealt with at the level of Pure Reason. Words on a screen. Ideas.

(this happens in RL political discussions where it's "only talking" as well, I think, sometimes; you know, if there's no "action" taken, politically speaking, and/or no one like gets into a fist fight or is fucking each other or owes each other money or what have you).

but you know, I'm in therapy, and I believe in the reality of an emotion-based...world? which is as abstract as is "pure reason" (you often can't see taste hear smell either one), and it's certainly not unrelated to the thoughts and ideas, but...it's different, too.

if you see what I'm getting at.

belledame222 said...

I just don't think that the language of y'know ideas and theories and other...mm, language, call it "rational?"...intellect-based, okay, ways of talking, are adequate for addressing the people who are engaging in this...erm, behavior.

To elucidate further:

when I say "address the people," I realize that can mean two things: talking -to- or talking -about.-

I think QD (she's not the only one, and again i see the point) most strongly objects to the latter, particularly when it takes the form of what's called "armchair psychology."

So, there's that.

I still think that there are ways in which one really can analyze, and/or object to, even, certain...behaviors, dynamics, that are -not- about the person's -ideas.- and that this is important.

As for talking -to- said persons in certain states, that is another ball o'wax. My problem by me is that, again, as kh put it, that 2+2=3 feeling i get with some people, sometimes. Down the rabbit hole. I do take the position that in fact everything -always- makes sense in -some- context, is coming from -somewhere-; i'm just not at all sure that the context the other person is coming from is one that i can ever really enter into, and i don't mean because of differing sociopolitical/metaphysical whatever assumptions, even though that, too, can cause deadlocks in a lot of these discussions, sure.

But what I am finding is, if it really is -only- that, that we're coming from very very different about How The World Works, based on personal experience and readings and encounters and so on (empirical differences, you might say, as well as ideological ones), then, it may be extremely -difficult- see eye to eye, but yes, i think in (har) theory, at least, with enough patience and teasing the assumptions and ideas out, we can eventually get -somewhere.-

But. -Before- that happens, there is also something else that has to be there on both sides. Maybe it's ability or willingness to listen; and framed like -that-, you'd think that yer basic sort of Deborah Tannen "You Just Don't Understand" negotiations would be enough to get past that; and perhaps sometimes it is.

However. In these let's say extreme cases we've been dancing around? oh how to put this.

maybe, you know, it's the difference between *ideology* and *ideologue.*

You can say that any given ideology is more prone to attracting/forming ideologues due to xyz in the content, I suppose (QD uses radical feminism, or rather what it's become in the Dworkin, etc.-dominated discourse); but is that the main point, is my question. Is that enough. I mean, for me, it still doesn't really explain -how- one gets from "ideology" to ideologue; and even if it does, it doesn't adequately explain (to me) -why- *some* people, even the ones who have voiced rigidly held -ideas,- are able to drop the ideology and see/hear the person standing in front of them; and (it seems like) others never really do.

I find that distinction important. It -may- be just a subjective thing--one person's "oh there's just no talking to her" can be another's "perfectly reasonable," but, you know--I really don't think that's all of it. I think that there's a lockdown that happens, a, a solipsism, an "I-It" as opposed to "I-You" style of relating that happens; and I am interested in being able to identify it when that happens, and if and whether it is possible to argue some people out of the "I-It" style of relating. (I am thinking: in -some- cases, not most, but yes some: no). What others have called "empathy," okay, except that too can be a loaded word; people assume you mean hugs and cookies and warmth. It's not really that, either, though.

and all that's still at the individual level. but i do think that there's a connection between the micro and macro level here as well, particularly when let's call them chronic "I-It" relaters get into a position of leadership.

later on I'm gonna quote from an essay that talks about this, an Otto Kernberg piece from a collection called "Even Paranoids Have Enemies."

Trin said...

"My problem by me is that, again, as kh put it, that 2+2=3 feeling i get with some people, sometimes. Down the rabbit hole. I do take the position that in fact everything -always- makes sense in -some- context, is coming from -somewhere-; i'm just not at all sure that the context the other person is coming from is one that i can ever really enter into,"

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Like that's one of my whole big things I keep writing about when talking about SM on my journal. The difference between me and them, well, part of it's whether you buy someone like MacKinnon on domination or someone like Foucault on power, and that's a nice potential intellectual debate, there --

-- but the other part of it is something else, something deeper: what do we do with darkness inside, what do we trust? Do we want the syrupy, "earnest", nice-girl world --

-- or does that conceal the same old set of fangs and teeth and sink them in worse?

I think personally that it unavoidably does. Because my whole life is full of "this is a hospital and we cut you and make you bleed, but see we all wear pastels and there are bunnies on our scrubs and pills will make you feel better!" and I'm sick of lies.

So people like Heart who have this whole veneer of sweetness, of "I'm just trying to protect women! I'll weep rivers if you assail my good motives!" eh. I'm just incapable of thinking that way at all, of entering into that "we want to make a world without risk for women" thing --

-- and, y'know, whose backs do we make it on? Well, if we're really that flavor of radfem: our sons. (And transwomen.) Many if not most of whom are oppressed on other axes.

And, well -- guh. Nope, I can't. Defanging the universe isn't ending oppression, it's hiding hatred behind tooth-rotting "earnest" needs to "protect" "women" -- from other women, from MOC, from MWD, for the evil creeping Tranz, on and on.

I don't want to live in any bubbles, because their walls are made of hate.

And yeah, that's why I save this kinda stuff for places other than Q|Ds. Because really, it's not the place to say "these two people are so outside my realm of understanding that unless I see them begin to really listen in ways I never have, my skin's just gonna crawl."

belledame222 said...

ohyeah, i think we're pretty clear on that by now: QD wants to make her space a certain kind of space. I can respect that.

i am here engaging her arguments however, because I take her, and them, seriously, and am trying to trace the source of my objections a little deeper.

as per the BDSM thing, and sweetie-Heart: yeah, i see what you're getting at. not that i think (as you know, obviously) being in BDSM or anything else is a safeguard for the whole not letting your right hand know what the left is doing thing, but, in general: yeah. The Shadow. What do you do with it?

I don't think there's a perfect answer, but it seems to me that attempting to -annihilate- it, purify it out of existence (as I often see happening in that sort of feminism, among other movements, yes) is very much a step in the wrong direction, at least.

I am a human being, not a saint, not a devil. (although I have both within me, and many more, and think both are worth bringing into the light). I don't want to be pure. I want to be whole.

Trin said...

Oh oh, please don't think i'm saying bdsm is teh answooooooor or some crazy shit. no. no. But for me, bdsm was how I used the shadow side of me to help me survive some horrible shit. so when I see people say it's not a good thing, it's like "okay, but why do you want me to put down my shotgun when the next wave of zombies is STILL COMING? What does my dying like a good pacifist get you?" if that makes sense.

Trin said...

And even if they're not still coming, why can't I display that shotgun proudly if I'm one of the ones that survived, you know? Ohhhh skeery, it's a gun.

belledame222 said...

no, i totally know that about you, trin. just y'know, saying, for saying's sake.

namaroopa said...

Of course, there’s the upside to online – which is that people talk much more directly about things that you normally can’t just say to people. It’s quicker, faster, easier to see where people are coming from, to the extent that language can show it.

And yet. There are times when I don't think it's sufficient to "attack" or even engage the argument as such per se, because there simply -isn't- an argument; and even if there is, it's not really the source of the big problem, okay.

Totally agree. Right before I saw your comments over at Kugelmass's, I was about to use the example of gay marriage for this, you get the point. When you start out in the wrong position, don't even debate; it raises the option of losing. Why should there be debate about, say, someone else’s humanity? And how completely is it distracting attention from the real issue at hand (say, why marriage is such a firmly entrenched power structure in culture that can do this shit to people)?

I just don't think that the language of y'know ideas and theories and other...mm, language, call it "rational?"...intellect-based, okay, ways of talking, are adequate for addressing the people who are engaging in this...erm, behavior.

Especially when intellect-based talking tends to replicate power dynamics more often than not...my pet peeve as someone struggling to survive the elitist academy. :)

Yeah, I do get what you're saying about an "it" relationship. I think I usually just think of the dark side of that as “objectification” (perhaps as a generalized and destigmatized synonym for abuse, or an "abuse" spectrum – I think of abuse in a very generalized way, something that takes away a person’s humanity)...but it would get tricky with feminists, since feminism introduced a lot of the theory and language about objectification!

namaroopa said...

Trin -

Where online -- well, it may just be application of the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory -- but it's, y'know, "OH NO SHE DIDN'T SAY THAT! CHECK YOUR PRIV, OR LEAVE."

Totally laughed in agreement with this one. But that’s where I’d say: but if the person leaves that group, what are they losing? Their families, jobs, education, etc are not dependent on that process of thought reform in one place on one subject. Nonetheless, I totally appreciate what you’re saying about the aggressive nature of it and I also think Belledame’s right on that we don’t have much of any language to describe the aggression. And this is how I got to my next point...

namaroopa said...

This thought really helped me understand where the impulse is coming from to use the cult/totalism idea:

3) yeah, i was using "totalism" as a way to try to get away from "cult," but i respect your POV that that may be derogatory as well. Vocabulary is failing me a bit here, i think. "authoritarian" may be closer, but it gets tricky especially when we're talking about groups/dynamics on the political left, which often doesn't openly embrace the idea of authority, may even reject it. Which is one of the other things i've been trying to tease out; what someone called the "Tyranny of Structurelessness," the sort of i want to say ambient authoritarianism that happens sometimes...

The appeal’s in the ability to describe the mental clouding, the not acknowledging what’s really going on to control people. It's the obvious deceptiveness of cults. I geeeeeet it now!

belledame222 said...

namaroopa--

well, we did recently have someone who came close to cutting herself--a good, kind, on the whole sane and empathic i would say, person, after a particularly nasty slagging, disowning and an attempted rank-pulling, "you're Not One Of Us, Never Were" from someone else. so, no, her job and bread and butter and so on was not dependent on these people, but it's not nothing that happened there, either.

belledame222 said...

relevant slip. exactly.

and you know i think ultimately it's the "mental clouding" that is the most powerful weapon. yes, eventually it gets to the point where the organization has the power to -directly- influence the person in material ways (job loss, death threats, vandalism, physical attacks, etc.); but, you don't go from zero to sixty; the whole point of a "cult," it seems to me. as opposed to you know a military insurrection or an armed kidnapping a la Patty Hearst, is that you never ever are supposed to feel like you're being coerced. and at the beginning, perhaps, in fact, it is fair to say that it -isn't- coercion, although it is deceptive and manipulative, yes. but, there's a transaction that happens, i tend to think. not for the person born into a thriving cult or an abusive family; i am talking about, what happens when the...dysfunctional, abusive, fanatic, fundamentalist, totalistic, what-you-will, relationship/group is -starting- to coalesce.

belledame222 said...

namaroopa: check the sidebar, i actually wrote a series about "objectification" using the feminist defs. as a jumping-off point, but yeah, i think we're more or less on the same page there. well, see what you think. i was actually thinking of posting my next follow up on this theme & linking it back to that series.

queer dewd formerly known as ( ) said...

Yah, I see I need to explain myself better. As BD knows, I don't particularly have a problem with psychology/analysis. Indeed, my whole thing has always been the relationships between psyche and society and what we call the mediating organizations, practices, etc. that mutually inform both individual psyches and society.

So, I'll have to think more about it. In short, my problem with slagging on people is that I have been slagged on like this. I have seen another woman slagged on like this. I have been stalked and only recently someone told me to kill myself right on my own blog, because of this kind of armchair psychoanalysis. Because of this kind of attempt to engage in social control, by setting out to whip up a group of people to ostracize and personally attack, including attempting to attack the work I did on my job and possibly get me fired. Before that, it was another guy who would jump into online discussions and personally attack me, my son, and my partner, digging up information. He was convinced that I was evil. He felt so strongly, he tried to get me fired from my job as an adjunct. (fat chance, of course, but he tried)

Later, learning about rhetoric and discourse ethics, I came to see that when the debates didn't involve sheer off the wall folks like above, but involved ordinary, respectable people who nonetheless engaged in personal attacks, it was always that they tried to discredit the person by making claims about their personal history, their supposed pyschology. If the person ever mentioned a history of depression, this would be used against them (even when the accusers, themselves, suffered from depression and admitted it but then tried to excuse the invidious distinction)

So, to my mind, I am perfectly fine with: you're a shitbag. you're an unremitting asshole.

but when it gets dressed up in theory in order to justify the claim and it's done in an effort to convince everyone else to join in the naming of the shitbag, I'm outta here.

And the biggest reason, BD, that I dediced to say, "Hey, I'm going to call this annoying person out on her crap argument" but please don't now use this as a space to crap all over her is because I didn't want to get accused of being a Twisty who appears to say reasonable things and then lets her blog descend into nastiness.

When I wanted to wrangle with Blartow, I didn't wnat to be accused of what others were accused of: sending my minions out to attack her -- as ppl accused Amanda of doing with BfP and others. Not taking responsibility for the fact that it could happen -- all in the perfectly human desire to defend someone you care about. That's why I asked that people not attack Blartow at the time.

I mean: you pointed this out, this process, and I thought you were right and saw it on my own blog. I'd criticize MacKinnon and then the comment section would descend into a hate on all radfems, hate on MacKinnon, make claims about her personal life, and generally rag on and on without really commenting on anything she actually wrote.

And I was like, woah. All i have to do is raise the name of someone that sets people off, engage in what looks like rational critique and I can stir up a big slagfest that I ultimately had responsibility for if I said nothing. So, I started trying to get folks to critique her (and others) froma theoretical position, precisely because, as you said, not all radfems are people who hate men or whatever.

As you point out, of course, this has only earned me a bad reputation with radfems. whatev.

queer dewd formerly known as ( ) said...

btw, BD, i had NO idea that Kugelmass was talking about you in his complaint about blog wars. i had not idea who he was talkng about and I pretty much agree with all that you and N wrote. I will write more this weekend, time permitting, since I think he really got the gist of the article wrong.

and, as i said already, he's engaged in precisely the kind of logical fallacy that gets served up with doilies and tea and everyone thinks it's polite. meanwhile....

to me, it's much more damaging to write that way, to pretend to be sweet and kind, when in fact, you are destroying your opponent in a way that's far more damanging than saying, "shitbag".

well, as you know belledame, I'm not one for the bullshit that is academic and corporate politieness. pretty ribbons wrapped around a cutlass, served with tea, scones and a smile and shoved into your thigh.

i'd rather it be BlackAmazon, eyes sparkling with fury, fondling the cutlass right to my face. Or Brownfemipower shoving a knife right into my thigh.

The other way? They shove the knife and when you point out the blood they say, "Oh, that's from spilling your tea when that knife magically flew into your thigh. Clumsy oaf."

namaroopa said...

but, you don't go from zero to sixty; the whole point of a "cult," it seems to me. as opposed to you know a military insurrection or an armed kidnapping a la Patty Hearst, is that you never ever are supposed to feel like you're being coerced. and at the beginning, perhaps, in fact, it is fair to say that it -isn't- coercion, although it is deceptive and manipulative, yes. but, there's a transaction that happens, i tend to think. not for the person born into a thriving cult or an abusive family; i am talking about, what happens when the...dysfunctional, abusive, fanatic, fundamentalist, totalistic, what-you-will, relationship/group is -starting- to coalesce.

Yes, yes. A lot of similarities between fully separatist cults and inculcation into abusive relationships here. You might enjoy writings from the neverending "brainwashing" debate over whether a cult member loses agency as they get further-enmeshed in this process. It's a historical debate that exploded during the time when parents tried to extradite their adult children from hippie cults, and I usually insist it's a huge distraction from having any broader discussion about cults, but in this case it's exactly what you're interested in. My favorite "scholarly" perspective on group clouding of judgment is Ben Zablocki's attempt to re-legitimize a "brainwashing" construct for the academy, in an edited volume called Misunderstanding Cults.

You know, I'm glad these bigger spinoff questions are being discussed, because otherwise discussion of "feminist issues" stays monolithic and unconnected to other questions that are normally just assumed to be beyond its purview. In an abstract sense, that's good, that conversations continue. I think the thing that really makes me bristle is where theory is used as a dodge or aggression tool in the way QD explains - when going beyond addressing current behavior and trying to suppose why someone did something (their mental health or abuse history, or because of some theory - all theory is pretty dogmatic)...those are things I don't think should ever be judged about a person, their behavior subsumed under attacks they can't respond to. I personally want to keep theory talk abstract or only focused on my own experience, because, yeah, I've often been in the position where all kinds of assumptions are made about me based on my background. When you explained the stuff about mental clouding, I finally understood what it was you were trying to critique about current behavior that could be descriptively tied to other social phenomena, and that was really illuminating, I thought. And yeah, it's really hard to figure out how to be rationally descriptive sometimes when the behavior is so frustrating and the whole situation keeps intelligible language about the situation from even being produced. So I don't want to put boundaries on that kind of discussion taking place, but to me it's also important to keep in mind that the goal of searching for that theory is to be able to talk about and respond to the same concerns better in the future, rather than to escalate hatred of any individual who inspired the theoretical spin.

Well, I guess I shouldn't speak for anyone else's motives. I stepped right into the middle of something I had no business with. At least for myself, I'm not interested in talking cult theory as a means of processing anger about anyone - and I say this because hell, if I was, then I'd be agreeing with the ever-popular academic claims that any time I integrate it into my work it's simply an unresolved obsession with my history! And I of course have well-considered reasons for not believing that's why I keep talking about it at all, for aiming at a different kind of constructiveness even when the initial discussion makes me angry. But I suppose there are certainly plenty of people who believe dogmatically in various person-objectifying psychological theories, too, and I'm never going to change their minds that I can only be accorded basic respect if my background is relegated to silence and taboo.

Would love to read any follow-up you feel like doing on objectification and such.

Trin said...

"But that’s where I’d say: but if the person leaves that group, what are they losing? Their families, jobs, education, etc are not dependent on that process of thought reform in one place on one subject."

Nama, that's where I'm not sure I agree. I mean, I got really suckered into paying way tioo much attention to anti-BDSM and anti-porn (both of which are things I'd always really enjoyed) thinking. To the point where my libido shut itself down, even though I kept saying, arguing, vehemently that I disagreed.

I don't think that it's ONLY groups that can affect you materially that can control you. Yeah, if I left I'd be losing nothing but my shame. Friends who cared about me kept telling me that. "Just don't pay attention." I even agreed with them. But women's liberation and protection was on the line, and my comfort, I thought, was a teensy weensy little price to pay.

I knew it was really harming me, but I thought that if my emotional distress stopped a woman from being raped by a porn user or a bad top, it was worth it to me. If my sexual desire dying led somehow to the shutting down of a porn mogul who videotaped rapes -- my ability to orgasm was a small price to pay for the sexual wholeness of another woman.

My therapist had to tell me OVER AND OVER AND OVER to leave those blogs. And I could only do it very slowly. I kept going back, because I was terrified that if I didn't, something I said or did would somehow hurt someone.

Maybe there's something weak about me, maybe it only should have affected me that way if the women in question had really had a way to take away my job, end my friendships and my social connections.

But, however weak I might be, that ideology had very deep control over me, for about a year, if not longer.

Which is why anti-"pornstitution" feminism terrifies me. I remember reading an anti-SM paper in which a former masochist says "Robin, I'm not sure if SM is wrong. Maybe some women can do it safely. But I know I cannot."

It's curious and maybe sad that I feel the same way about that brand of feminism. Maybe some women can deeply center their activism around fighting the very real evils of objectification, and around "decolonizing" their desires.

But I know I cannot.

Trin said...

Add to that that a lot of people I knew just barely tolerated my being kinky, and when I would tell them, distressed, how I'd lost my passion and was steadily descending into dissociation and depression:

"well, you were a slut before, sowing your wild oats. now you're just ready to love someone before you fuck 'em, like a mature adult."

belledame222 said...

but when it gets dressed up in theory in order to justify the claim and it's done in an effort to convince everyone else to join in the naming of the shitbag, I'm outta here

I understand that.

And, I am aware, you know, that the whole thing was colored by my own subjectivity: I was pissed.

There are other people running around that I think similar things more or less of their, uhhh, personality, ways of interaction, okay, but then every once in a while they surprise me.

A good chunk of the reason I focused on TF was because--and maybe it is partly a style thing, then, as Pinko Punko or someone noted, she's got that sort of WASP-y reticence--but, besides nasty stuff coming out of her blog and it becoming influential around the whole 'sphere, it really felt to me like she just wasn't willing to engage, at all. I mean, yeah, not even with me at that point obviously, who would, but from earlier encounters and observations over and over...

well, i don't want to get back into the concrete example again, except to note: you know, when she -finally- responded and kicked those assholes off her blog...i dialed it down. Here and there; i was much more able and willing to make concessions for her personally. It was partly conscious; in retrospect that is what happened. But, it was like: all right then: -response.- -Some- kind of willingness to show that you, you know, give a crap about the overall discourse, aren't just a brick wall who delivers pronouncements that some people follow.

That's one thing.

But in terms of dressing it up in theory: look, I get where you're coming from, I really do. Armchair psychology, esp. at a distance: shitty, not real helpful of itself, often distortion.

at the same time, it's like this, okay: I can't engage someone's -arguments- when they won't, like, engage at all. I can engage what they say as though it were a book, I suppose; but the thing is, the Internets, they are a community (ies) as well, not just a library. And when someone's getting hurt, as here--well you know what, and I have been explaining where Heart's coming from ideologically in this and yes that matters bigtime, because it helps people see that in fact this is -not- her mostly being concerned about "plagiarism" in any sort of individualistic, copyright way as most authors or academics understand it--she's really talking about something else entirely, which becomes much clearer as the thing thrashes on. i.e. it is Class Woman that is being "robbed," she thinks.

and, that is helpful as a way to understand what the problem here is, sure, for people who were thinking maybe it really is a sort of academic or political theory dispute between equally positioned people.

My thing is, okay, there's still something going on here that...

yeah.

look, i'm trying to get at it in the language i know; you have yours. Psych is what I know, and yes there are ways in which to talk about structures -and- individual behavior without so much pathologizing. I'm working on it. But..yeah.

Do you know Otto Kernberg, btw?

belledame222 said...

per Kugelmass: I responded over there. I also prefer the straightforwardness, as you know. Personally though I am leaning toward: there are ways to be honest in a blunt, salty sort of way; and there are ways to do it in a more "formal," upper-class language; likewise, there are ways to be completely fucked up and down the rabbit hole, in either style. The latter does tend to wield more power because it's more "respectable" and less transparent, that's so; still, it doesn't automatically mean the person using it is deliberately trying to stick knives into people. Just, sometimes...unaware.

What happens next when people say, kindly but very plainly, what the problem is, well, that is the next question.

anyway i've interacted with Kugelmass before; i like him well enough & don't take it personally really. thanks for having my back, though.

belledame222 said...

I'm not interested in talking cult theory as a means of processing anger about anyone

I realize that this may come off as suspect because I've just expressed so much anger about the anyone(s), but in fact I really don't think this is what I am trying to do. I am trying, once over some of the anger, to find ways of nailing down what the dynamic was there. And yeah, I know: "cult" automatically already sent up alarms among people, and snorting: oh, for fuck's sake, it's the Internets, she's hardly David Koresh, get a grip.

which, I -know.-

but, there -really- aren't that many helpful ways of talking about this. Not that I've found, anyway; and, I need to find my way through this with what I know. I am happy to hear any recommendations for any sociological work you might want to suggest at this point.

p.s. did I mention that I'm applying for grad school this fall? mental health counselling? first deadline coming up on the 1st; i am antsy.

belledame222 said...

um, btw, i know you said the latter quote, n; i was skimming a bit and at first thought it was still QD talking.

but anyway: if anyone has any sort of material they'd like to recommend at this juncture...

belledame222 said...

The other way? They shove the knife and when you point out the blood they say, "Oh, that's from spilling your tea when that knife magically flew into your thigh. Clumsy oaf."

see, and that is particularly deadly when it comes dressed up in the voice of polite respectability.

In my experience, though, it doesn't have to. And it's just as--and i use the term advisedly--crazy-making, no matter who's using those techniques or what kind of language they're using. "Gaslighting," is the term for that particular exchange, among others. Rich people do it, poor people do it, academics do it, radical politicos do it, women do it men do it white people black people respectable community pillars & social pariahs.

and, likewise, anyone belonging to any one of those categories can be straightforward as well.

Ilyka Damen uses a very different sort of language, usually, from BA, and she is coming from a very different background in many ways (although as with everything, i am sure there are points in common somewhere); some things she says may piss me off, she may have her blind spots as i see them (as indeed may BA or I or anyone else); and yet, you know, I think she's honest, on the whole.

and well, I won't bring her up again, but you know that there is a person who is very upfront about hir "right in your face-ness," and I find hir methods of interacting absolutely toxic; and no, i don't think it's just because i 1) disagree with her ideas, because by and large i don't, and the ones i do i could be up for discussing reasonably, if such were possible with this person 2) in fact i find that same basic denial, the whole, "that's not my knife! that's just you, you clumsy oaf! in fact, you're hurting ME!"

and, this is not someone that has much real world power; but sie still has the power to hurt people, if they end up, for whatever reason, buying the whole, as n was putting it over at Kugelmass', "oh, shit, I don't even know -what- to think anymore; i'm just tired and drained and...yah, maybe i -am- the bad person here."

...so, yeah. i might spend less time thinking about this person because as long as sie's mostly doing the equivalent of the angry angry drunk guy raving on the street corner (exaggeration, and yes the person also has friends, but then so might that guy, you know what i'm saying), sie's not -really- that much of a threat in the same way, as you say, someone wielding more structural clout can.

but, they can still do damage. and, more to the point, i do think that there is -something- that connects that person to the person wielding a great deal of structural privilege/power; this is where the psych comes in, for me.

namaroopa said...

Trin -
That makes perfect sense to me. It's a very powerful story. And wow, there's no weakness in not leaving a situation where the constraints are "soft" (as I've said, informal control is sometimes the most insidious kind...). It's a really good reminder that sex and desire interface pretty broadly with the other dimensions of life. And, most importantly, it's not for me to ultimately say how cultish a situation was or somethin...it's a really tricky set of dynamics to think around in general.

BD -
Good luck with grad programs, that's awesome! I actually am much more familiar with the sorts of structural/inequality theories Queer Dewd tends to talk about, though I did study psych in undergrad and sort of have this anti-academic resistance to Grand Theory that I cling to. I'm thinking that there are some newer strands in social theory that try to take on cognition in a much more structurally embedded way than individualistic psychology does (like with network models of knowledge and thinking exchanged between people, rather experiments which place all emphasis on individual outcomes). But it's such a new approach that I don't know of any great reads or anything. I'll keep this in mind.

In any case, I don't think you were completely off about trying to look for language for the mental clouding, especially when laced with the sorts of privilege that make it look innocuous, and maybe there is something in the cult impulse that could work. I mean, who am I to say that something doesn't have something in common with cults. I hope I didn't scare you (or Trin) away from the idea entirely. I dunno, maybe if you were to decide that mental clouding is a central element, then it could be useful to talk about some elements of totalism taken to an extreme. After all, all these constructs like "totalism" are just things someone made up at some point and tried to validate based on what they saw going on in the real world, in this case in some pretty highly charged situations. A lot of the concepts you're throwing around are problematic to use mostly because they've already acquired tainted meanings (I mean even something like "narcissism" is so tainted by association with clinical psych), rather than that there is no underlying value in what those terms could mean if they were straightforwardly defined. Like, starting a discussion about "cult" just spins off on a million tangents. So perhaps some sort of unsensationalized new language isn't a terrible idea...heck, even cults could seriously benefit from some new language to describe 'em. *shrug*

Thanks for some really interesting discussion!

Trin said...

"That makes perfect sense to me. It's a very powerful story. And wow, there's no weakness in not leaving a situation where the constraints are "soft" (as I've said, informal control is sometimes the most insidious kind...). It's a really good reminder that sex and desire interface pretty broadly with the other dimensions of life. And, most importantly, it's not for me to ultimately say how cultish a situation was or somethin...it's a really tricky set of dynamics to think around in general."

Thank you. I just noticed your "well, why not leave?" and thought I'd answer. Because it was weird. I kept saying the same things I always had, expressing the same opinions I'd always had, but felt I couldn't really hold them, really have them, without someone suffering somehow for that. I'd vehemently defend my own sexuality and click to submit my comment and feel like I'd done something horrible and why was there a part of me that kept insisting it wasn't horrible?

I felt like... like I didn't know who I was. Like trying to be me was playing a role, a role I remembered and loved but couldn't get into any more, a role I wanted back with all my soul. I could feel myself, under it all, boiling with energy, wanting to be free, to color the me-playing-me with reality, make the words words I really remembered I meant --

-- but I couldn't. I was so afraid that if I let myself free, someone would be harmed. Or a lot of someones. I'd be setting back the liberation of women. My soul, my self -- what a selfish thing to want, to need, when untold numbers of women are raped every day, untold numbers lose their own souls every minute. What was mine?

That's how it was. I don't know how, or why. But finally leaving, finally believing that my self is something I can have and hold -- that wasn't easy to get back, even though I was trying.

Anonymous said...

I have been explaining where Heart's coming from ideologically in this and yes that matters bigtime, because it helps people see that in fact this is -not- her mostly being concerned about "plagiarism" in any sort of individualistic, copyright way as most authors or academics understand it--she's really talking about something else entirely, which becomes much clearer as the thing thrashes on. i.e. it is Class Woman that is being "robbed," she thinks.

and, that is helpful as a way to understand what the problem here is, sure, for people who were thinking maybe it really is a sort of academic or political theory dispute between equally positioned people.

My thing is, okay, there's still something going on here that...

yeah.

look, i'm trying to get at it in the language i know; you have yours. Psych is what I know, and yes there are ways in which to talk about structures -and- individual behavior without so much pathologizing. I'm working on it. But..yeah.

Do you know Otto Kernberg, btw?


Don't know Kernberg. I do know a little Girard, though (enough to be dangerous--to myself, mostly), a little more of Lifton, and I read a couple Lakoff quotes this morning that links the two just enough to cut through a significant amount of my own "mental clouding" surrounding the discourse of late.

Here's the Lakoff quote, ala Richard Koenigsberg. See if you see what I'm seeing:

"A paper by Francis Beer presented at a meeting of the International Society of Political Psychology in 1993—building upon the work of linguist George Lakoff and philosopher Mark Johnson—proposed embodiment theory as an alternative to "international realism." According to Beer, we understand things "in terms of our bodies; the body is in the mind." He suggested that meaning depends on a human being's conception of the world. The body is the key to the "deep structure of consciousness, cognition and rhetoric." Metaphor, Beer suggests, provides a powerful rhetorical tool. When metaphors appear in political rhetoric, the mind merges with the body and we get "hot cognition." Metaphors constitute "hot buttons"—capable of generating political action.

Metaphorical statements contained within political rhetoric provide clues to the underlying meaning of policy formulations... Lakoff states that metaphors have an "internal structure." "Metaphorical mapping," according to Lakoff, occurs when "slots in the source-domain schema" get mapped onto "slots in the target domain." Target domains are abstract conceptual domains, whereas source domains are familiar ones, most often of the physical world. In his article, "Metaphors and Foreign Policy Decision Making" (1994), Keith Shimko defines analogical or metaphorical reasoning as the "transfer of relational information from a domain that already exists in the memory (usually referred to as the source or base domain) to the domain to be explained (referred to as the target domain)."

What I'm seeing is a lot of "hot cognition (recognition?)" turning into "hot button" rivalries over ownership of identifying/group identity markers.

Appropriation of the monster metaphor is the minor, superficial hot-botton. The underlying Big Red Button issue is precisely "Class Woman"--as Body (which represents all women-born-women and who, analogically speaking, all women represent)--which is perceived as being "robbed"; or violated, overpowered, co-opted, owned, etc.

Yes, there is indeed something going on here. And no, it's not "a sort of academic or political theory dispute between equally positioned people."

It's an argument over whose body this is. When you get down to the particulars. But in the realm of the universals, ie the ideological/pschological/analogical, it's the metaphorical body--and who lays claim to it and who are its adversaries--that's causing the brain cloud. And the scapegoating. And all those other-negating rhetorical antibodies. It's just yer classic run-of-the-mill group dynamic/psychology thing.

That helps explain a whole lot to me. What do you think?

Ok, So now what? That's not so clear to me at this juncture. I need to rest my poor beleaguered brain along with my case, I reckon. Maybe in the interim put up a mental sticky note in my mind's eye: There's nothing like me and there's nothing like you. Even poetry can't do the subject justice. But logic much less so. Let's say we let we be. As if we had a say.

belledame222 said...

sure. well, at this point i'm pretty much just teasing it out for myself, you know; i let your approach be on your board, and we don't have to see eye to eye about it. i am interested in your POV, though, of course.

Lakoff: i do see it, at least wrt this Heart-LL/radfem/trans thing; although i need to go back and reread it a bit more later. (I still haven't finished "Moral Politics," or about 12 billion other things). i did have a different framework in mind for the general principle thingie i'm hashing out, though.

belledame222 said...

to respond to the language business way up there, trin,

That said, I've definitely seen in feminist enclaves online a squishing of language. It begins with the obvious -- "say n***** in here and I'll ban you" and then just balloons. Next comes reasonable but more questionable "No calling women bitches or cunts." And then even murkier: "No using 'retarded.'" "I'm gonna have to ban you for having that 'Bitch, please!' icon and using it elsewhere even though you're a woman."

And... I dunno. I mean, I don't like seeing the Special Olympics joke pop up in feminist communities at all, but there's gotta be something better than "never use this word." "Never use this word, or we ban you" replaces "You know, those words are hurtful. Understand their history before calling your opponent in a debate a 'tard."


What i say is what Kai and some others have said wrt this in general, roughly:

Say what you want. Just don't be surprised when you get a response. And, you may not like that response. If you don't like that response, you may want to think about what -you're- saying. Because, there is a difference between "free speech" and "free to say anything i want without protest or repurcussion." oft-times i think the people who whinge about "p.c." are looking for the latter.

i also reserve for myself the right to ban people (as much as any such thing is possible on blogger; haven't tried it yet) in the even of irredeemably fuckwittery; and i have certainly deleted certain comments (only a few, pure trollery) without even worrying about it; but y'know, my space, my discretion. the Internetz is a big big place.

belledame222 said...

Girard is the "skandalon" one, right?

Anonymous said...

Yes. "Skandalon" and "mimetic desire."

A short course:

Mimetic Desire

Desire, as distinguished from animal appetite, is always aroused by the desire of another; we desire what another desires. However this may jar with popular ideas about the autonomy of desire, it conforms perfectly with everyone's lived experience, if not with their interpretation of it.

Two children in a room full of toys always want the same toy, and the more each expresses a desire for it, the more the other desires it and the more heated the rivalry between the two becomes. Were we not still under the spell of the modern myth of self-sufficient individuality, this simple and universal scene would be enough to cure us of the notion of spontaneous, autonomous desire.

This little example also brings home the fact that the imitative nature of desire leads to conflict, to animosity. In its simplest expression, desire is mimetic and, because of that, acquisitive desire gives rise to conflict. If one acquisitive gesture awakens another acquisitive desire, and if the mimetic nature of the rivalry set in motion by these competing desires forces the rivalry it provokes to escalate in intensity, then the conflict itself will have two social ramifications. First, the rivals' desire, exaggerated by their rivalry, will "glamorize" the object of their desire in the eyes of still others, awakening the desire of onlookers and drawing them into the fray.

Secondly, as the conflictual vortex grows wider and more vertiginous, the rivals will grow more obsessed (negatively) with each other than (positively) with the original object of their mutual and conflicting desires. So the contagious nature of desire insures that the enmity it spawns will quickly draw a wider and wider social circle into an ever more furious and violent maelstrom.

belledame222 said...

yah.

the last person who talked about Girard (according to people who'd actually read Girard, he did not understand what a lot of he thought it meant, but anyway), was one of the biggest energy creatures i have ever witnessed, on the v.c. he would go on and on and ON about...well, no one was exactly sure what it was, but it had to do with "skandalon;" i think the gist of it as -he- understood it was, "you see, you are making a martyr out of me, you ARE all out to get me, but isn't it interesting how it -works-" it was recursive to the power of recursive, and he liked it that way, and he was driving everyone else absolutely bonkers. i don't know how many conversations went into meltdown around him. a lot.

it only finally ended when someone tactfully but firmly withdrew his comped account; he may or may not have been able to afford the fifteen bucks a month, but clearly it was an Insult Of Massive Proportions, so he left.

...and that is why i have not been able to bring myself to crack open Girard anything, even though i understand from reputable people that he's quite worth reading. it's sort of like the way my 10th grade English teacher Mrs. Bobo ruined Walt Whitman for me; the associations, they hurt my braaaiiinnn

belledame222 said...

Desire, as distinguished from animal appetite, is always aroused by the desire of another; we desire what another desires.

but, already, i think i have issues with this. not that i think it's completely autonomous either, of course, but isn't this just a really fancy way of saying "monkey see, monkey do?"

and how does one really distinguish desire from "animal appetite" anyway? there's an assumption there, too...

Anonymous said...

the last person who talked about Girard (according to people who'd actually read Girard, he did not understand what a lot of he thought it meant, but anyway), was one of the biggest energy creatures i have ever witnessed, on the v.c. he would go on and on and ON about...well, no one was exactly sure what it was, but it had to do with "skandalon;" i think the gist of it as -he- understood it was, "you see, you are making a martyr out of me, you ARE all out to get me, but isn't it interesting how it -works-" it was recursive to the power of recursive, and he liked it that way, and he was driving everyone else absolutely bonkers.

Recursive to the power of the recursive! LOL! What a picture! I've seen similar affects in folks who've read Lifton. They understand it all now! They see the cult in all cultures! See? See? Look!

And yeah, reading Girard can certainly have a similar affect. The way he links violence with culture by pointing out the basic structural similarities of myth gives one the sensation of getting a good glimpse behind the veil, recognizing the man behind the curtain as it were.

I'm currently grappling with his rather sobering assessment regarding the downside of myth and metaphor. He teases out the old Greek notion of poetry being six or seven levels removed from reality. He sees myth and internal metaphors as textual mechanisms that both blind and bind us; and worse, provides an internal logic that legitimizes the violence that aquisitive desire engenders. Lots of overlap with Lifton's 8 points, there.

There's more to say (always!) but I fear I've gone too far afield from the original topic already. Thanks for making an occasion to talk outloud about this stuff.

Anonymous said...

Mary Sunshine in particular seems to be hitting on all 8 cylinders. Please tell me I'm reading too much into her smiley-faced-punctuated afterthought of how "reducing the size of the human population on this planet to about .5% of what it is now" "could be a *good* thing".

Anonymous said...

Ironically enough, I got this from Heart's old aol website:

While the myth holds sway, those under its spell are unwilling or unable to recognize what they are doing. "The rest I did not see," they say, nor do I speak of it." In return for making conventional culture possible, myth silences the victim's voice and veils the victim's face. In his book on crowd behavior Gustave Le Bon says this of the Jacobin ideologues of the French Revolution:

"Dogmatic and logical to a man, and their brains full of vague generalities, they busied themselves with the application of fixed principles without concerning themselves with events. It has been said of them, with reason, that they went through the Revolution without witnessing it."

This is what myth and the associated structures of what Girard calls the primitive sacred do. They make it possible to participate in, observe, or recollect certain violent events without having to actually witness them in any morally significant sense.

belledame222 said...

wait, i'm confused. which part is from Heart's old site?

i've a feeling she may've interpreted that passage to mean...um, something else. i can't quite tweak it right now at the mo'; i suspect something to do with, "take the red pill, sheeple," but i could be wrong.

per Mary Sunshine: I am thinking she and the author of the spam i posted just now maybe ought to get together and go bowling, or something.

um, so the world needs to be reduced, but she's still procreatin'. got it.
b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b...

speaking of, the guy who was into Girard, i think he had some issues even before reading him; in any case i'm not sure what Girard had to do with an obsession with hacking into other peoples' listserves and other invasive, annoying actions to basically try to make sure no one said anything bad about him, anywhere, ever;

oh yah, and he was using the whole Girard scapegoating thing to explain how he (like Gandhi and Jesus and Galileo) was a victim, on account of he'd been thrown offa some other v.c., for--surprise--being a royal pain in the ass.

so, there's that.

iow, pretty much the same behavior as most chronic trolls/energy sinks; it's just he sort of fancied himself and i suppose in some weird way -was-, oddly...self-referential?

anyway, i am fairly certain he didn't get it; as someone else remarked after reading another one of his five-page screeds,

"this is like reading Douglas Hofstader after a blow to the head."

belledame222 said...

...actually, that and the ensuing dialogue (the v.c. was a bunch of smart analytical type cookies) was probably an influence on my current stance of "you know, sometimes you just need to cut through all the bullshit and focus on the behavior." because he'd go into a conference where people were trying to talk about the place he'd been kicked out of, and he'd write these long pseudo-intellectual screeds that really boiled down to "help help I was being oppressed!" and people would gradually grow impatient and finally say, okay, here is another topic in which you can talk about, but could you just not talk about it IN HERE? and he'd find some reason why that, too, was oppressing him, (aha! NOW we see the violence in the system!) interspersed with incoherent incredibly abstract-sounding shit, possible partly derived from Girard or some other philosopher or the back of a cereal box, parody the other people and call it satire and an important part of the Process...it was unreal.

at the end of it it became clear: the problem was that he just couldn't or wouldn't (probably couldn't) "get" how social dynamics worked, and he knew enough to know that he didn't but he couldn't quite figure out why, even though he threw all the tools at his disposal into it, which were not inconsiderable. i think perhaps he was somewhere on the autistic scale--he was some kind of computer genius and would talk about himself and people sort of as if they were machines. sort of fascinating but also incredibly disruptive and annoying; most people just wanted him to go. away. and he just wanted to monologue and have everyone agree with him, pretty much. kind of a conflict of interests there really.

belledame222 said...

He teases out the old Greek notion of poetry being six or seven levels removed from reality.

I don't agree. Actually, when it's good i think it gets a lot closer to "reality" than a lot of other things.

Anonymous said...

RE: the old Greek notion of poetry being six or seven levels removed from reality.

I don't agree. Actually, when it's good i think it gets a lot closer to "reality" than a lot of other things.

Oh for sure. But... there is a downside, however, and a significant one. That can reck havoc if you don't notice it or pay attention. It's just Communications Theory 101.

Like this (good poetry/bad poetry example for the day):

Robin Morgan's 2 yo son waxes poetic when he recognizes his beloved Sesame Street character in his mother's intimate features. He speaks the word, "Monster". Robin hears the word "Monster" and sees a Monster, sees many monsters--in her head, in her bed, in her life. She is at once terrified and enraged. In resolute and fierce defiance she owns the title/metaphor, elaborates on and fleshes out the metaphor further in her own words/pictures and speaks them into existence.

Thing>>mind>>picture>>word>>picture>>other mind>>other thing.

Metaphors are likenesses. Like the thing--not the thing itself. They're identifiers/designators/markers. Literary mechanisms can and do connect things and reveal things to us. But they can obscure and displace things from us, too. The medicinal lie, trickser Hermes, and all that. Them old Greeks were pretty smart. Maybe not THAT smart, but at any rate it's taking me awhile to catch up.