“Besides real diseases we are subject to many that are only imaginary, for which the physicians have invented imaginary cures; these have then several names, and so have the drugs that are proper to them.”
~Jonathan Swift, 1726
“The alarming increase in Insanity, as might naturally be expected, has incited many persons to an investigation of this disease.”
~John Haslam, 1809
On Madness and Melancholy: Including Practical Remarks on those Diseases
“Cancer, like insanity, seems to increase with the progress of civilization.”
~Stanislas Tanchou, 1843
Paper presented to the Paris Medical Society
I’ve been following Scott Preston over at his blog, Chrysalis. He has been writing on the same set of issues for a long time now, longer than I’ve been reading his blog. He reads widely and so draws on many sources, most of which I’m not familiar with, part of the reason I appreciate the work he does to pull together such informed pieces. A recent post, A Brief History of Our Disintegration, would give you a good sense of his intellectual project, although the word ‘intellectual’ sounds rather paltry for what he is exploring: “Around the end of the 19th century (called the fin de siecle period), something uncanny began to emerge in the functioning of the modern mind, also called the “perspectival” or “the mental-rational structure of consciousness” (Jean Gebser). As usual, it first became evident in the arts — a portent of things to come, but most especially as a disintegration of the personality and character structure of Modern Man and mental-rational consciousness.”
That time period has been an interest of mine as well. There are two books that come to mind that I’ve mentioned before: Tom Lutz’s American Nervousness, 1903 and Jackson Lear’s Rebirth of a Nation (for a discussion of the latter, see: Juvenile Delinquents and Emasculated Males). Both talk about that turn-of-the-century crisis, the psychological projections and physical manifestations, the social movements and political actions. A major concern was neurasthenia which, according to the dominant economic paradigm, meant a deficit of ‘nervous energy’ or ‘nerve force’, the reserves of which if not reinvested wisely and instead wasted would lead to physical and psychological bankruptcy, and so one became spent. (The term ‘neurasthenia’ was first used in 1829 and popularized by George Miller Beard in 1869, the same period when the related medical condition of ‘nostalgia’ became a more common diagnosis, although ‘nostalgia’ was first referred to in the 17th century (Swiss doctor Johannes Hofer coined the term, also using it interchangeably with nosomania and philopatridomania — see: Michael S. Roth, Memory, Trauma, and History; David Lowenthal, The Past Is a Foreign Country; Thomas Dodman, What Nostalgia Was; Susan J. Matt, Homesickness; Linda Marilyn Austin, Nostalgia in Transition, 1780-1917; Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia; Gary S. Meltzer, Euripides and the Poetics of Nostalgia; see The Disease of Nostalgia). Today, we might speak of ‘neurasthenia’ as stress and, even earlier, they had other ways of talking about it — as Bryan Kozlowski explained in The Jane Austen Diet, p. 231: “A multitude of Regency terms like “flutterings,” “fidgets,” “agitations,” “vexations,” and, above all, “nerves” are the historical equivalents to what we would now recognize as physiological stress.” It was the stress of falling into history, a new sense of time, linear progression that made the past a lost world — from Stranded in the Present, Peter Fritzsche wrote:
“On that August day on the way to Mainz, Boisseree reported on of the startling consequences of the French Revolution. This was that more and more people began to visualize history as a process that affected their lives in knowable, comprehensible ways, connected them to strangers on a market boat, and thus allowed them to offer their own versions and opinions to a wider public. The emerging historical consciousness was not restricted to an elite, or a small literate stratum, but was the shared cultural good of ordinary travelers, soldiers, and artisans. In many ways history had become a mass medium connecting people and their stories all over Europe and beyond. Moreover, the drama of history was construed in such a way as to put emphasis on displacement, whether because customary business routines had been upset by the unexpected demands of headquartered Prussian troops, as the innkeepers protested, or because so many demobilized soldiers were on the move as they returned home or pressed on to seek their fortune, or because restrictive legislation against Jews and other religious minorities had been lifted, which would explain the keen interest of “the black-bearded Jew” in Napoleon and of Boisseree in the Jew. History was not simply unsettlement, though. The exchange of opinion “in the front cabin” and “in the back” hinted at the contested nature of well-defined political visions: the role of the French, of Jacobins, of Napoleon. The travelers were describing a world knocked off the feet of tradition and reworked and rearranged by various ideological protagonists and conspirators (Napoleon, Talleyrand, Blucher) who sought to create new social communities. Journeying together to Mainz, Boisseree and his companions were bound together by their common understanding of moving toward a world that was new and strange, a place more dangerous and more wonderful than the one they left behind.”
That excitement was mixed with the feeling of being spent, the reserves having been fully tapped. This was mixed up with sexuality in what Theodore Dreiser called the ‘spermatic economy’ in the management of libido as psychic energy, a modernization of Galenic thought (by the way, the catalogue for Sears, Roebuck and Company offered an electrical device to replenish nerve force that came with a genital attachment). Obsession with sexuality was used to reinforce gender roles in how neurasthenic patients were treated in following the practice of Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell, in that men were recommended to become more active (the ‘West cure’) and women more passive (the ‘rest cure’), although some women “used neurasthenia to challenge the status quo, rather than enforce it. They argued that traditional gender roles were causing women’s neurasthenia, and that housework was wasting their nervous energy. If they were allowed to do more useful work, they said, they’d be reinvesting and replenishing their energies, much as men were thought to do out in the wilderness” (Julie Beck, ‘Americanitis’: The Disease of Living Too Fast). That feminist-style argument, as I recall, came up in advertisements for the Bernarr Macfadden’s fitness protocol in the early-1900s, encouraging (presumably middle class) women to give up housework for exercise and so regain their vitality. Macfadden was also an advocate of living a fully sensuous life, going as far as free love.
Besides the gender wars, there was the ever-present bourgeois bigotry. Neurasthenia is the most civilized of the diseases of civilization since, in its original American conception, it was perceived as only afflicting middle-to-upper class whites, especially WASPs — as Lutz says that, “if you were lower class, and you weren’t educated and you weren’t Anglo Saxon, you wouldn’t get neurasthenic because you just didn’t have what it took to be damaged by modernity” (Julie Beck, ‘Americanitis’: The Disease of Living Too Fast) and so, according to Lutz’s book, people would make “claims to sickness as claims to privilege.” This class bias goes back even earlier to Robert Burton’s melancholia with its element of what later would be understood as the Cartesian anxiety of mind-body dualism, a common ailment of the intellectual elite (mind-body dualism goes back to the Axial Age; see Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind). The class bias was different for nostalgia, as written about by Svetlana Boym in The Future of Nostalgia (p. 5):
“For Robert Burton, melancholia, far from being a mere physical or psychological condition, had a philosophical dimension. The melancholic saw the world as a theater ruled by capricious fate and demonic play. Often mistaken for a mere misanthrope, the melancholic was in fact a utopian dreamer who had higher hopes for humanity. In this respect, melancholia was an affect and an ailment of intellectuals, a Hamletian doubt, a side effect of critical reason; in melancholia, thinking and feeling, spirit and matter, soul and body were perpetually in conflict. Unlike melancholia, which was regarded as an ailment of monks and philosophers, nostalgia was a more “democratic” disease that threatened to affect soldiers and sailors displaced far from home as well as many country people who began to move to the cities. Nostalgia was not merely an individual anxiety but a public threat that revealed the contradictions of modernity and acquired a greater importance.”
Like diabetes, melancholia and neuraesthenia was first seen among the elite, and so it was taken as demonstrating one’s elite nature. Prior to neurasthenic diagnoses but in the post-revolutionary era, a similar phenomenon went by other names. This is explored by Bryan Kozlowski in one chapter of The Jane Austen Diet (p. 232-233):
“Yet the idea that this was acceptable—nay, encouraged—behavior was rampant throughout the late 18th century. Ever since Jane was young, stress itself was viewed as the right and prerogative of the rich and well-off. The more stress you felt, the more you demonstrated to the world how truly delicate and sensitive your wealthy, softly pampered body actually was. The common catchword for this was having a heightened sensibility—one of the most fashionable afflictions in England at the time. Mainly affecting the “nerves,” a Regency woman who caught the sensibility but “disdains to be strong minded,” wrote a cultural observer in 1799, “she trembles at every breeze, faints at every peril and yields to every assailant.” Austen knew real-life strutters of this sensibility, writing about one acquaintance who rather enjoys “her spasms and nervousness and the consequence they give her.” It’s the same “sensibility” Marianne wallows in throughout the novel that bears its name, “feeding and encouraging” her anxiety “as a duty.” Readers of the era would have found nothing out of the ordinary in Marianne’s high-strung embrace of stress.”
This condition was considered a sign of progress, but over time it came to be seen by some as the greatest threat to civilization, in either case offering much material for fictionalized portrayals that were popular. Being sick in this fashion was proof that one was a modern individual, an exemplar of advanced civilization, if coming at immense cost —Julie Beck explains (‘Americanitis’: The Disease of Living Too Fast):
“The nature of this sickness was vague and all-encompassing. In his book Neurasthenic Nation, David Schuster, an associate professor of history at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, outlines some of the possible symptoms of neurasthenia: headaches, muscle pain, weight loss, irritability, anxiety, impotence, depression, “a lack of ambition,” and both insomnia and lethargy. It was a bit of a grab bag of a diagnosis, a catch-all for nearly any kind of discomfort or unhappiness.
“This vagueness meant that the diagnosis was likely given to people suffering from a variety of mental and physical illnesses, as well as some people with no clinical conditions by modern standards, who were just dissatisfied or full of ennui. “It was really largely a quality-of-life issue,” Schuster says. “If you were feeling good and healthy, you were not neurasthenic, but if for some reason you were feeling run down, then you were neurasthenic.””
I’d point out how neurasthenia was seen as primarily caused by intellectual activity, as it became a descriptor of a common experience among the burgeoning middle class of often well-educated professionals and office workers. This relates to Weston A. Price’s work in the 1930s, as modern dietary changes first hit this demographic since they had the means to afford eating a fully industrialized Standard American Diet (SAD), long before others (within decades, though, SAD-caused malnourishment would wreck the health at all levels of society). What this meant, in particular, was a diet high in processed carbs and sugar that coincided, because of Upton Sinclair’s 1904 The Jungle: Muckraking the Meat-Packing Industry, with the early-1900s decreased consumption of meat and saturated fats. As Price demonstrated, this was a vast change from the traditional diet found all over the world, including in rural Europe (and presumably in rural America, with most Americans not urbanized until the turn of last century), that always included significant amounts of nutritious animal foods loaded up with fat-soluble vitamins, not to mention lots of healthy fats and cholesterol.
Prior to talk of neurasthenia, the exhaustion model of health portrayed as waste and depletion took hold in Europe centuries earlier (e.g., anti-masturbation panics) and had its roots in humor theory of bodily fluids. It has long been understood that food, specifically macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein, & fat) and food groups, affect mood and behavior — see the early literature on melancholy. During feudalism food laws were used as a means of social control, such that in one case meat was prohibited prior to Carnival because of its energizing effect that it was thought could lead to rowdiness or even revolt, as sometimes did happen (Ken Albala & Trudy Eden, Food and Faith in Christian Culture). Red meat, in particular, was thought to heat up blood (warm, wet) and yellow bile (warm, dry), in promoting sanguine and choleric personalities of masculinity. Like women, peasants were supposed to be submissive and hence not too masculine — they were to be socially controlled, not self-controlled. Anyone who was too strong-willed and strong-minded, other than the (ruling, economic, clerical, and intellectual) elite, was considered problematic; and one of the solutions was an enforced change of diet to create the proper humoral disposition for their appointed social role within the social order (i.e., depriving nutrient-dense meat until an individual or group was too malnourished, weak, anemic, sickly, docile, and effeminate to be assertive, aggressive, and confrontational toward their ‘betters’)
There does seem to be a correlation (causal link?) between an increase of intellectual activity and abstract thought with an increase of carbohydrates and sugar, with this connection first appearing during the early colonial era that set the stage for the Enlightenment. It was the agricultural mind taken to a whole new level. Indeed, a steady flow of glucose is one way to fuel extended periods of brain work, such as reading and writing for hours on end and late into the night — the reason college students to this day will down sugary drinks while studying. Because of trade networks, Enlightenment thinkers were buzzing on the suddenly much more available simple carbs and sugar, with an added boost from caffeine and nicotine. The modern intellectual mind was drugged-up right from the beginning, and over time it took its toll. Such dietary highs inevitably lead to ever greater crashes of mood and health. Interestingly, Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell who advocated the ‘rest cure’ and ‘West cure’ in treating neurasthenia and other ailments additionally used a “meat-rich diet” for his patients (Ann Stiles, Go rest, young man). Other doctors of that era were even more direct in using specifically low-carb diets for various health conditions, often for obesity which was also a focus of Dr. Mitchell.
As a side note, the gendering of diet was seen as important for constructing, maintaining, and enforcing gender roles; that is carried over into the modern bias that masculine men eat steak and effeminate women eat salad. According to humoralism, men are well contained while women are leaky vessels. One can immediately see the fears of neurasthenia, emasculation, and excessive ejaculation. The ideal man was supposed to hold onto and control his bodily fluids, from urine to semen, by using and investing them carefully. With neurasthenia, though, men were seen as having become effeminate and leaky, dissipating and draining away their reserves vital fluids and psychic energies. So, a neurasthenic man needed a strengthening of the boundaries that held everything in. The leakiness of women was also a problem, but women couldn’t and shouldn’t be expected to contain themselves. The rest cure designed for women was to isolate them in a bedroom where they’d be contained by architectural structure of home that was owned and ruled over by the male master. A husband and, as an extension, the husband’s property was to contain the wife; since she too was property of the man’s propertied self. This made a weak man of the upper classes even more dangerous to the social order because he couldn’t play he is needed gender role of husband and patriarch, upon which all of Western civilization was dependent.
All of this was based on an economic model of physiological scarcity. With neurasthenia arising in late modernity, the public debate was overtly framed by an economic metaphor. But the perceived need of economic containment of the self, be it self-containment or enforced containment, went back to early modernity. The enclosure movement was part of a larger reform movement, not only of land but also of society and identity.
* * *
“It cannot be denied that civilization, in its progress, is rife with causes which over-excite individuals, and result in the loss of mental equilibrium.”
~Edward Jarvis, 1843
“What shall we do with the Insane?”
The North American Review, Volume 56, Issue 118
“Have we lived too fast?”
~Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell, 1871
Wear and Tear, or Hints for the Overworked
It goes far beyond diet or any other single factor. There has been a diversity of stressors that continued to amass over the centuries of tumultuous change. The exhaustion of modern man (and typically the focus has been on men) has been building up for generations upon generations before it came to feel like a world-shaking crisis with the new industrialized world. The lens of neurasthenia was an attempt to grapple with what had changed, but the focus was too narrow. With the plague of neurasthenia, the atomization of commericialized man and woman couldn’t hold together. And so there was a temptation toward nationalistic projects, including wars, to revitalize the ailing soul and to suture the gash of social division and disarray. But this further wrenched out of alignment the traditional order that had once held society together, and what was lost mostly went without recognition. The individual was brought into the foreground of public thought, a lone protagonist in a social Darwinian world. In this melodramatic narrative of struggle and self-assertion, many individuals didn’t fare so well and everything else suffered in the wake.
Tom Lutz writes that, “By 1903, neurasthenic language and representations of neurasthenia were everywhere: in magazine articles, fiction, poetry, medical journals and books, in scholarly journals and newspaper articles, in political rhetoric and religious discourse, and in advertisements for spas, cures, nostrums, and myriad other products in newspapers, magazines and mail-order catalogs” (American Nervousness, 1903, p. 2).
There was a sense of moral decline that was hard to grasp, although some people like Weston A. Price tried to dig down into concrete explanations of what had so gone wrong, the social and psychological changes observable during mass urbanization and industrialization. He was far from alone in his inquiries, having built on the prior observations of doctors, anthropologists, and missionaries. Other doctors and scientists were looking into the influences of diet in the mid-1800s and, by the 1880s, scientists were exploring a variety of biological theories. Their inability to pinpoint the cause maybe had more to do with their lack of a needed framework, as they touched upon numerous facets of biological functioning:
“Not surprisingly, laboratory experiments designed to uncover physiological changes in the nerve cell were inconclusive. European research on neurasthenics reported such findings as loss of elasticity of blood vessels,’ thickening of the cell wall, changes in the shape of nerve cells,’6 or nerve cells that never advanced beyond an embryonic state.’ Another theory held that an overtaxed organism cannot keep up with metabolic requirements, leading to inadequate cell nutrition and waste excretion. The weakened cells cannot develop properly, while the resulting build-up of waste products effectively poisons the cells (so-called “autointoxication”).’ This theory was especially attractive because it seemed to explain the extreme diversity of neurasthenic symptoms: weakened or poisoned cells might affect the functioning of any organ in the body. Furthermore, “autointoxicants” could have a stimulatory effect, helping to account for the increased sensitivity and overexcitability characteristic of neurasthenics.'” (Laura Goering, “Russian Nervousness”: Neurasthenia and National Identity in Nineteenth-Century Russia)
This early scientific research could not lessen the mercurial sense of unease, as neurasthenia was from its inception a broad category that captured some greater shift in public mood, even as it so powerfully shaped the individual’s health. For all the effort, there were as many theories about neurasthenia as there were symptoms. Deeper insight was required. “[I]f a human being is a multiformity of mind, body, soul, and spirit,” writes Preston, “you don’t achieve wholeness or fulfillment by amputating or suppressing one or more of these aspects, but only by an effective integration of the four aspects.” But integration is easier said than done.
The modern human hasn’t been suffering from mere psychic wear and tear for the individual body itself has been showing the signs of sickness, as the diseases of civilization have become harder and harder to ignore. On a societal level of human health, I’ve previously shared passages from Lears (see here) — he discusses the vitalist impulse that was the response to the turmoil, and vitalism often was explored in terms of physical health as the most apparent manifestation, although social and spiritual health were just as often spoken of in the same breath. The whole person was under assault by an accumulation of stressors and the increasingly isolated individual didn’t have the resources to fight them off.
By the way, this was far from being limited to America. Europeans picked up the discussion of neurasthenia and took it in other directions, often with less optimism about progress, but also some thinkers emphasizing social interpretations with specific blame on hyper-individualism (Laura Goering, “Russian Nervousness”: Neurasthenia and National Identity in Nineteenth-Century Russia). Thoughts on neurasthenia became mixed up with earlier speculations on nostalgia and romanticized notions of rural life. More important, Russian thinkers in particular understood that the problems of modernity weren’t limited to the upper classes, instead extending across entire populations, as a result of how societies had been turned on their heads during that fractious century of revolutions.
In looking around, I came across some other interesting stuff. From 1901 Nervous and Mental Diseases by Archibald Church and Frederick Peterson, the authors in the chapter on “Mental Disease” are keen to further the description, categorization, and labeling of ‘insanity’. And I noted their concern with physiological asymmetry, something shared later with Price, among many others going back to the prior century.
Maybe asymmetry was not only indicative of developmental issues but also symbolic of a deeper imbalance. The attempts of phrenological analysis about psychiatric, criminal, and anti-social behavior were off-base; and, despite the bigotry and proto-genetic determinism among racists using these kinds of ideas, there is a simple truth about health in relationship to physiological development, most easily observed in bone structure, but it would take many generations to understand the deeper scientific causes, along with nutrition (e.g., Price’s discovery of vitamin K2, what he called Acivator X) including parasites, toxins, and epigenetics. Church and Peterson did acknowledge that this went beyond mere individual or even familial issues: “The proportion of the insane to normal individuals may be stated to be about 1 to 300 of the population, though this proportion varies somewhat within narrow limits among different races and countries. It is probable that the intemperate use of alcohol and drugs, the spreading of syphilis, and the overstimulation in many directions of modern civilization have determined an increase difficult to estimate, but nevertheless palpable, of insanity in the present century as compared with past centuries.”
Also, there is the 1902 The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease: Volume 29 edited by William G. Spiller. There is much discussion in there about how anxiety was observed, diagnosed, and treated at the time. Some of the case studies make for a fascinating read —– check out: “Report of a Case of Epilepsy Presenting as Symptoms Night Terrors, Inipellant Ideas, Complicated Automatisms, with Subsequent Development of Convulsive Motor Seizures and Psychical Aberration” by W. K. Walker. This reminds me of the case that influenced Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, Daniel Paul Schreber’s 1903 Memoirs of My Nervous Illness.
Talk about “a disintegration of the personality and character structure of Modern Man and mental-rational consciousness,” as Scott Preston put it. He goes on to say that, “The individual is not a natural thing. There is an incoherency in “Margaret Thatcher’s view of things when she infamously declared “there is no such thing as society” — that she saw only individuals and families, that is to say, atoms and molecules.” Her saying that really did capture the mood of the society she denied existing. Even the family was shrunk down to the ‘nuclear’. To state there is no society is to declare that there is also no extended family, no kinship, no community, that there is no larger human reality of any kind. Ironically in this pseudo-libertarian sentiment, there is nothing holding the family together other than government laws imposing strict control of marriage and parenting where common finances lock two individuals together under the rule of capitalist realism (the only larger realities involved are inhuman systems) — compared to high trust societies such as Nordic countries where the definition and practice of family life is less legalistic (Nordic Theory of Love and Individualism).
* * *
“It is easy, as we can see, for a barbarian to be healthy; for a civilized man the task is hard. The desire for a powerful and uninhibited ego may seem to us intelligible, but, as is shown by the times we live in, it is the profoundest sense antagonistic to civilization.”
~Sigmund Freud, 1938
An Outline of Psychoanalysis
“Consciousness is a very recent acquisition of nature, and it is still in an “experimental” state. It is frail, menaced by specific dangers, and easily injured.”
~Carl Jung, 1961
Man and His Symbols
Part 1: Approaching the Unconscious
The importance of dreams
The individual consumer-citizen as a legal member of a family unit has to be created and then controlled, as it is a rather unstable atomized identity. “The idea of the “individual”,” Preston says, “has become an unsustainable metaphor and moral ideal when the actual reality is “21st century schizoid man” — a being who, far from being individual, is falling to pieces and riven with self-contradiction, duplicity, and cognitive dissonance, as reflects life in “the New Normal” of double-talk, double-think, double-standard, and double-bind.” That is partly the reason for the heavy focus on the body, an attempt to make concrete the individual in order to hold together the splintered self — great analysis of this can be found in Lewis Hyde’s Trickster Makes This World: “an unalterable fact about the body is linked to a place in the social order, and in both cases, to accept the link is to be caught in a kind of trap. Before anyone can be snared in this trap, an equation must be made between the body and the world (my skin color is my place as a Hispanic; menstruation is my place as a woman)” (see one of my posts about it: Lock Without a Key). Along with increasing authoritarianism, there was increasing medicalization and rationalization — to try to make sense of what was senseless.
A specific example of a change can be found in Dr. Frederick Hollick (1818-1900) who was a popular writer and speaker on medicine and health — his “links were to the free-thinking tradition, not to Christianity” (Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, Rewriting Sex). With the influence of Mesmerism and animal magnetism, he studied and wrote about what more scientifically-sounding was variously called electrotherapeutics, galvanism, and electro-galvanism. Hollick was an English follower of the Scottish industrialist and socialist Robert Dale Owen who he literally followed to the United States where Owen started the utopian community New Harmony, a Southern Indiana village bought from the utopian German Harmonists and then filled with brilliant and innovative minds but lacking in practical know-how about running a self-sustaining community (Abraham Lincoln, later becoming a friend to the Owen family, recalled as a boy seeing the boat full of books heading to New Harmony).
“As had Owen before him, Hollick argued for the positive value of sexual feeling. Not only was it neither immoral nor injurious, it was the basis for morality and society. […] In many ways, Hollick was a sexual enthusiast” (Horowitz). These were the social circles of Abraham Lincoln, as he personally knew free-love advocates; that is why early Republicans were often referred to as ‘Red Republicans’, the ‘Red’ indicating radicalism as it still does to this day. Hollick wasn’t the first to be a sexual advocate nor, of course would he be the last — preceding him was Sarah Grimke (1837, Equality of the Sexes) and Charles Knowlton (1839, The Private Companion of Young Married People), Hollick having been “a student of Knowlton’s work” (Debran Rowland, The Boundaries of Her Body); and following him were two more well known figures, the previously mentioned Bernarr Macfadden (1868-1955) who was the first major health and fitness guru, and Wilhelm Reich (1897–1957) who was the less respectable member of the trinity formed with Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Sexuality became a symbolic issue of politics and health, partly because of increasing scientific knowledge but also because increasing marketization of products such as birth control (with public discussion of contraceptives happening in the late 1700s and advances in contraceptive production in the early 1800s), the latter being quite significant as it meant individuals could control pregnancy and this is particularly relevant to women. It should be noted that Hollick promoted the ideal of female sexual autonomy, that sex should be assented to and enjoyed by both partners.
This growing concern with sexuality began with the growing middle class in the decades following the American Revolution. Among much else, it was related to the post-revolutionary focus on parenting and the perceived need for raising republican citizens — this formed an audience far beyond radical libertinism and free-love. Expert advice was needed for the new bourgeouis family life, as part of the ‘civilizing process’ that increasingly took hold at that time with not only sexual manuals but also parenting guides, health pamphlets, books of manners, cookbooks, diet books, etc — cut off from the roots of traditional community and kinship, the modern individual no longer trusted inherited wisdom and so needed to be taught how to live, how to behave and relate (Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process, & Society of Individuals; Bruce Mazlish, Civilization and Its Contents; Keith Thomas, In Pursuit of Civility; Stephen Mennell, The American Civilizing Process; Cas Wouters, Informalization; Jonathan Fletcher, Violence and Civilization; François Dépelteau & T. Landini, Norbert Elias and Social Theory; Rob Watts, States of Violence and the Civilising Process; Pieter Spierenburg, Violence and Punishment; Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature; Eric Dunning & Chris Rojek, Sport and Leisure in the Civilizing Process; D. E. Thiery, Polluting the Sacred; Helmut Kuzmics, Roland Axtmann, Authority, State and National Character; Mary Fulbrook, Un-Civilizing Processes?; John Zerzan, Against Civilization; Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization; Dennis Smith, Norbert Elias and Modern Social Theory; Stejpan Mestrovic, The Barbarian Temperament; Thomas Salumets, Norbert Elias and Human Interdependencies). Along with the rise of the science, this situation promoted the role of the public intellectual that Hollick effectively took advantage of and, after the failure of Owen’s utopian experiment, he went on the lecture circuit which brought on legal cases in the unsuccessful attempt to silence him, the kind of persecution that Reich also later endured.
To put it in perspective, this Antebellum era of public debate and public education on sexuality coincided with other changes. Following the revolutionary era feminism (e.g., Mary Wollstonecraft), the ‘First Wave’ of organized feminists emerged generations later with the Seneca meeting in 1848 and, in that movement, there was a strong abolitionist impulse. This was part of the rise of ideological -isms in the North that so concerned the Southern aristocrats who wanted to maintain their hierarchical control of the entire country, the control they were quickly losing with the shift of power in the Federal government. A few years before that in 1844, a more effective condom was developed using vulcanized rubber, although condoms had been on the market since the previous decade; also in the 1840s, the vaginal sponge became available. Interestingly, many feminists were as against the contraceptives as they were against abortions. These were far from being mere practical issues as politics imbued every aspect and some feminists worried about how this might lessen the role of women and motherhood in society, if sexuality was divorced from pregnancy.
This was at a time when the abortion rate was sky-rocketing, indicating most women held other views; since large farm families were less needed with increase of both industrialized urbanization and industrialized farming. “Yet we also know that thousands of women were attending lectures in these years, lectures dealing, in part, with fertility control. And rates of abortion were escalating rapidly, especially, according to historian James Mohr, the rate for married women. Mohr estimates that in the period 1800-1830, perhaps one out of every twenty-five to thirty pregnancies was aborted. Between 1850 and 1860, he estimates, the ratio may have been one out of every five or six pregnancies. At mid-century, more than two hundred full-time abortionists reported worked in New York City” Other sources concur and extend this pattern of high abortion rate into the early 20th century: “Some have estimated that between 20-35 percent of 19th century pregnancies were terminated as a means of restoring “menstrual regularity” (Luker, 1984, p. 18-21). About 20 percent of pregnancies were aborted as late as in the 1930s (Tolnai, 1939, p. 425)” (Rickie Solinger, Pregnancy and Power, p. 61). (Polly F. Radosh, “Abortion: A Sociological Perspective”, from Interdisciplinary Views on Abortion ed. by Susan A. Martinelli-Fernandez, Lori Baker-Sperry, & Heather McIlvaine-Newsad).
In the unGodly and unChurched period of early America (“We forgot.”), organized religion was weak and “premarital sex was typical, many marriages following after pregnancy, but some people simply lived in sin. Single parents and ‘bastards’ were common” (A Vast Experiment). Abortions were so common at the time that abortifacients were advertised in major American newspapers, something that is never seen today. “Abortifacients were hawked in store fronts and even door to door. Vendors openly advertised their willingness to end women’s pregnancies” (Erin Blakemore, The Criminalization of Abortion Began as a Business Tactic). By the way, the oldest of the founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, published in 1748 material about traditional methods of at-home abortions, what he referred to as ‘suppression of the courses’ (Molly Farrell, Ben Franklin Put an Abortion Recipe in His Math Textbook; Emily Feng, Benjamin Franklin gave instructions on at-home abortions in a book in the 1700s). It was a a reprinting of material from 1734. “While “suppression of the courses” can apply to any medical condition that results in the suspension of one’s menstrual cycle, the entry specifically refers to “unmarried women.” Described as a “misfortune” it recommends a number of known abortifacents from that time, like pennyroyal water and bellyache root, also known as angelica” (Nur Ibrahim, Did Ben Franklin Publish a Recipe in a Math Textbook on How to Induce Abortion?).
This is unsurprising as abortifacients have been known for at least millennia earlier, recorded in ancient texts from diverse societies, and probably were common knowledge prior to any written language, considering abortifacients are used by many hunter-gatherer tribes who need birth control to space out pregnancies in order to avoid malnourished babies and for other reasons. This is true within the Judeo-Christian tradition as well, such as where the Old Testament gives an abortion recipe for when a wife gets pregnant from an affair (Numbers 5:11-31). Patriarchal social dominators sought to further control women not necessarily for religious reasons, but more because medical practice was becoming professionalized by men who wanted to eliminate the business competition of female doctors, midwives, and herbalists. “To do so, they challenged common perceptions that a fetus was not a person until the pregnant mother felt it “quicken,” or move, inside their womb. In a time before sonograms, this was often the only way to definitively prove that a pregnancy was underway. Quickening was both a medical and legal concept, and abortions were considered immoral or illegal only after quickening. Churches discouraged the practice, but made a distinction between a woman who terminated her pregnancy pre- or post-quickening” (Erin Blakemore). Yet these conservative authoritarians would and still claim to speak on behalf of some vague and amorphous concept of Western Civilization and Christendom.
This is a great example of how, through the power of charismatic demagogues and Machiavellian social dominators, modern reactionary ideology obscures the past with deceptive nostalgia and replaces the traditional with historical revisionism. The thing is, until the modern era, abortifacients and other forms of birth control weren’t politicized, much less under the purview of judges. They were practical concerns that were largely determined privately and personally or else determined informally within communities and families. “Prior to the formation of the AMA, decisions related to pregnancy and abortion were made primarily with the domain and control of women. Midwives and the pregnant women they served decided the best course of action within extant knowledge of pregnancy. Most people did not view what would currently be called first trimester abortion as a significant moral issue. […] A woman’s awareness of quickening indicated a real pregnancy” (Polly F. Radosh). Yet something did change with birth control that was improved in its efficacy and ever more common or else more out in the open, making it a much more public and politicized issue, not to mention exacerbated by capitalist markets and mass media.
Premarital sex or, heck, even marital sex no longer inevitably meant birth; and with contraceptives, unwanted pregnancies often could be prevented entirely. Maybe this is why fertility had been declining for so long, and definitely the reason there was a mid-19th century moral panic. “Extending the analysis back further, the White fertility rate declined from 7.04 in 1800 to 5.42 in 1850, to 3.56 in 1900, and 2.98 in 1950. Thus, the White fertility declined for nearly all of American history but may have bottomed out in the 1980s. Black fertility has also been declining for well over 150 years, but it may very well continue to do so in the coming decades” (Ideas and Data, Sex, Marriage, and Children: Trends Among Millennial Women). If this is a crisis, it started pretty much at the founding of the country. And if we had reliable data before that, we might see the trend having originated in the colonial era or maybe back in late feudalism during the enclosure movement that destroyed traditional rural communities and kinship groups. Early Americans, by today’s standards of the culture wars, were not good Christians — many visiting Europeans at the time saw them as uncouth heathens and quite dangerous at that, such as the common American practice of toting around guns and knives, ever ready for a fight, whereas carrying weapons had been made illegal in England. In The Churching of America, Roger Finke and Rodney Stark write (pp. 25-26):
“Americans are burdened with more nostalgic illusions about the colonial era than about any other period in their history. Our conceptions of the time are dominated by a few powerful illustrations of Pilgrim scenes that most people over forty stared at year after year on classroom walls: the baptism of Pocahontas, the Pilgrims walking through the woods to church, and the first Thanksgiving. Had these classroom walls also been graced with colonial scenes of drunken revelry and barroom brawling, of women in risque ball-gowns, of gamblers and rakes, a better balance might have been struck. For the fact is that there never were all that many Puritans, even in New England, and non-Puritan behavior abounded. From 1761 through 1800 a third (33.7%) of all first births in New England occurred after less than nine months of marriage (D. S. Smith, 1985), despite harsh laws against fornication. Granted, some of these early births were simply premature and do not necessarily show that premarital intercourse had occurred, but offsetting this is the likelihood that not all women who engaged in premarital intercourse would have become pregnant. In any case, single women in New England during the colonial period were more likely to be sexually active than to belong to a church-in 1776 only about one out of five New Englanders had a religious affiliation. The lack of affiliation does not necessarily mean that most were irreligious (although some clearly were), but it does mean that their faith lacked public expression and organized influence.”
Though marriage remained important as an ideal in American culture, what changed was that procreative control became increasingly available — with fewer accidental pregnancies and more abortions, a powerful motivation for marriage disappeared. Unsurprisingly, at the same time, there was increasing worries about the breakdown of community and family, concerns that would turn into moral panic at various points. Antebellum America was in turmoil. This was concretely exemplified by the dropping birth rate that was already noticeable by mid-19th century (Timothy Crumrin, “Her Daily Concern:” Women’s Health Issues in Early 19th-Century Indiana) and was nearly halved from 1800 to 1900 (Debran Rowland, The Boundaries of Her Body). “The late 19th century and early 20th saw a huge increase in the country’s population (nearly 200 percent between 1860 and 1910) mostly due to immigration, and that population was becoming ever more urban as people moved to cities to seek their fortunes—including women, more of whom were getting college educations and jobs outside the home” (Julie Beck, ‘Americanitis’: The Disease of Living Too Fast). It was a period of crisis, not all that different from our present crisis, including the fear about low birth rate of native-born white Americans, especially the endangered species of whites/WASPs, being overtaken by the supposed dirty hordes of blacks, ethnics, and immigrants (i.e., replacement theory); at a time when Southern and Eastern Europeans, and even the Irish, were questionable in their whiteness, particularly if Catholic (Aren’t Irish White?).
The promotion of birth control was considered a genuine threat to American society, maybe to all of Western Civilization. It was most directly a threat to traditional gender roles. Women could better control when they got pregnant, a decisive factor in the phenomenon of larger numbers of women entering college and the workforce. And with an epidemic of neurasthenia, this dilemma was worsened by the crippling effeminacy that neutered masculine potency. Was modern man, specifically the white ruling elite, up for the task of carrying on Western Civilization?
“Indeed, civilization’s demands on men’s nerve force had left their bodies positively effeminate. According to Beard, neurasthenics had the organization of “women more than men.” They possessed ” a muscular system comparatively small and feeble.” Their dainty frames and feeble musculature lacked the masculine vigor and nervous reserves of even their most recent forefathers. “It is much less than a century ago, that a man who could not [drink] many bottles of wine was thought of as effeminate—but a fraction of a man.” No more. With their dwindling reserves of nerve force, civilized men were becoming increasingly susceptible to the weakest stimulants until now, “like babes, we find no safe retreat, save in chocolate and milk and water.” Sex was as debilitating as alcohol for neurasthenics. For most men, sex in moderation was a tonic. Yet civilized neurasthenics could become ill if they attempted intercourse even once every three months. As Beard put it, “there is not force enough left in them to reproduce the species or go through the process of reproducing the species.” Lacking even the force “to reproduce the species,” their manhood was clearly in jeopardy.” (Gail Bederman, Manliness and Civilization, pp. 87-88)
This led to a backlash that began before the Civil War with the early obscenity laws and abortion laws, but went into high gear with the 1873 Comstock laws that effectively shut down the free market of both ideas and products related to sexuality, including sex toys. This made it near impossible for most women to learn about birth control or obtain contraceptives and abortifacients. There was a felt need to restore order and that meant white male order of the WASP middle-to-upper classes, especially with the end of slavery, mass immigration of ethnics, urbanization and industrialization. The crisis wasn’t only ideological or political. The entire world had been falling apart for centuries with the ending of feudalism and the ancien regime, the last remnants of it in America being maintained through slavery. Motherhood being the backbone of civilization, it was believed that women’s sexuality had to be controlled and, unlike so much else that was out of control, it actually could be controlled through enforcement of laws.
Outlawing abortions is a particularly interesting example of social control. Even with laws in place, abortions remained commonly practiced by local doctors, even in many rural areas (American Christianity: History, Politics, & Social Issues). Corey Robin argues that the strategy hasn’t been to deny women’s agency but to assert their subordination (Denying the Agency of the Subordinate Class). This is why, according to Rogin, abortion laws were designed to primarily target male doctors, although they rarely did, and not their female patients (at least once women had been largely removed from medical and healthcare practice, beyond the role as nurses who assisted male doctors). Everything comes down to agency or its lack or loss, but our entire sense of agency is out of accord with our own human nature. We seek to control what is outside of us, including control of others, for our own sense of self is out of control. The legalistic worldview is inherently authoritarian, at the heart of what Julian Jaynes proposes as the post-bicameral project of consciousness, the metaphorically contained self. But this psychic container is weak and keeps leaking all over the place.
* * *
“It is clear that if it goes on with the same ruthless speed for the next half century . . . the sane people will be in a minority at no very distant day.”
~Henry Maudsley, 1877
“The Alleged Increase of Insanity”
Journal of Mental Science, Volume 23, Issue 101
“If this increase was real, we have argued, then we are now in the midst of an epidemic of insanity so insidious that most people are even unaware of its existence.”
~Edwin Fuller Torrey & Judy Miller, 2001
The Invisible Plague: The Rise of Mental Illness from 1750 to the Present
To bring it back to the original inspiration, Scott Preston wrote: “Quite obviously, our picture of the human being as an indivisible unit or monad of existence was quite wrong-headed, and is not adequate for the generation and re-generation of whole human beings. Our self-portrait or self-understanding of “human nature” was deficient and serves now only to produce and reproduce human caricatures. Many of us now understand that the authentic process of individuation hasn’t much in common at all with individualism and the supremacy of the self-interest.” The failure we face is that of identify, of our way of being in the world. As with neurasthenia in the past, we are now in a crisis of anxiety and depression, along with yet another moral panic about the declining white race. So, we get the likes of Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and Jordan Peterson. We failed to resolve past conflicts and so they keep re-emerging. Over this past century, we have continued to be in a crisis of identity (Mark Greif, The Age of the Crisis of Man).
“In retrospect, the omens of an impending crisis and disintegration of the individual were rather obvious,” Preston points out. “So, what we face today as “the crisis of identity” and the cognitive dissonance of “the New Normal” is not something really new — it’s an intensification of that disintegrative process that has been underway for over four generations now. It has now become acute. This is the paradox. The idea of the “individual” has become an unsustainable metaphor and moral ideal when the actual reality is “21st century schizoid man” — a being who, far from being individual, is falling to pieces and riven with self-contradiction, duplicity, and cognitive dissonance, as reflects life in “the New Normal” of double-talk, double-think, double-standard, and double-bind.” We never were individuals. It was just a story we told ourselves, but there are others that could be told. Scott Preston offers an alternative narrative, that of individuation.
* * *
I found some potentially interesting books while skimming material on Google Books, in my researching Frederick Hollick and other info. Among the titles below, I’ll share some text from one of them because it offers a good summary about sexuality at the time, specifically women’s sexuality. Obviously, it went far beyond sexuality itself, and going by my own theorizing I’d say it is yet another example of symbolic conflation, considering its direct relationship to abortion.
The Boundaries of Her Body: The Troubling History of Women’s Rights in America
by Debran Rowland
WOMEN AND THE WOMB: The Emerging Birth Control Debate
The twentieth century dawned in America on a falling white birth rate. In 1800, an average of seven children were born to each “American-born white wife,” historians report. 29 By 1900, that number had fallen to roughly half. 30 Though there may have been several factors, some historians suggest that this decline—occurring as it did among young white women—may have been due to the use of contraceptives or abstinence,though few talked openly about it. 31
“In spite of all the rhetoric against birth control,the birthrate plummeted in the late nineteenth century in America and Western Europe (as it had in France the century before); family size was halved by the time of World War I,” notes Shari Thurer in The Myth of Motherhood. 32
As issues go, the “plummeting birthrate” among whites was a powder keg, sparking outcry as the “failure”of the privileged class to have children was contrasted with the “failure” of poor immigrants and minorities to control the number of children they were having. Criticism was loud and rampant. “The upper classes started the trend, and by the 1880s the swarms of ragged children produced by the poor were regarded by the bourgeoisie, so Emile Zola’s novels inform us, as evidence of the lower order’s ignorance and brutality,” Thurer notes. 33
But the seeds of this then-still nearly invisible movement had been planted much earlier. In the late 1700s, British political theorists began disseminating information on contraceptives as concerns of overpopulation grew among some classes. 34 Despite the separation of an ocean, by the 1820s, this information was “seeping” into the United States.
“Before the introduction of the Comstock laws, contraceptive devices were openly advertised in newspapers, tabloids, pamphlets, and health magazines,” Yalom notes.“Condoms had become increasing popular since the 1830s, when vulcanized rubber (the invention of Charles Goodyear) began to replace the earlier sheepskin models.” 35 Vaginal sponges also grew in popularity during the 1840s, as women traded letters and advice on contraceptives. 36 Of course, prosecutions under the Comstock Act went a long way toward chilling public discussion.
Though Margaret Sanger’s is often the first name associated with the dissemination of information on contraceptives in the early United States, in fact, a woman named Sarah Grimke preceded her by several decades. In 1837, Grimke published the Letters on the Equality of the Sexes, a pamphlet containing advice about sex, physiology, and the prevention of pregnancy. 37
Two years later, Charles Knowlton published The Private Companion of Young Married People, becoming the first physician in America to do so. 38 Near this time, Frederick Hollick, a student of Knowlton’s work, “popularized” the rhythm method and douching. And by the 1850s, a variety of material was being published providing men and women with information on the prevention of pregnancy. And the advances weren’t limited to paper.
“In 1846,a diaphragm-like article called The Wife’s Protector was patented in the United States,” according to Marilyn Yalom. 39 “By the 1850s dozens of patents for rubber pessaries ‘inflated to hold them in place’ were listed in the U.S. Patent Office records,” Janet Farrell Brodie reports in Contraception and Abortion in 19th Century America. 40 And, although many of these early devices were often more medical than prophylactic, by 1864 advertisements had begun to appear for “an India-rubber contrivance”similar in function and concept to the diaphragms of today. 41
“[B]y the 1860s and 1870s, a wide assortment of pessaries (vaginal rubber caps) could be purchased at two to six dollars each,”says Yalom. 42 And by 1860, following publication of James Ashton’s Book of Nature, the five most popular ways of avoiding pregnancy—“withdrawal, and the rhythm methods”—had become part of the public discussion. 43 But this early contraceptives movement in America would prove a victim of its own success. The openness and frank talk that characterized it would run afoul of the burgeoning “purity movement.”
“During the second half of the nineteenth century,American and European purity activists, determined to control other people’s sexuality, railed against male vice, prostitution, the spread of venereal disease, and the risks run by a chaste wife in the arms of a dissolute husband,” says Yalom. “They agitated against the availability of contraception under the assumption that such devices, because of their association with prostitution, would sully the home.” 44
Anthony Comstock, a “fanatical figure,” some historians suggest, was a charismatic “purist,” who, along with others in the movement, “acted like medieval Christiansengaged in a holy war,”Yalom says. 45 It was a successful crusade. “Comstock’s dogged efforts resulted in the 1873 law passed by Congress that barred use of the postal system for the distribution of any ‘article or thing designed or intended for the prevention of contraception or procuring of abortion’,”Yalom notes.
Comstock’s zeal would also lead to his appointment as a special agent of the United States Post Office with the authority to track and destroy “illegal” mailing,i.e.,mail deemed to be “obscene”or in violation of the Comstock Act.Until his death in 1915, Comstock is said to have been energetic in his pursuit of offenders,among them Dr. Edward Bliss Foote, whose articles on contraceptive devices and methods were widely published. 46 Foote was indicted in January of 1876 for dissemination of contraceptive information. He was tried, found guilty, and fined $3,000. Though donations of more than $300 were made to help defray costs,Foote was reportedly more cautious after the trial. 47 That “caution”spread to others, some historians suggest.
Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America
By Carroll Smith-Rosenberg
Riotous Flesh: Women, Physiology, and the Solitary Vice in Nineteenth-Century America
by April R. Haynes
The Boundaries of Her Body: The Troubling History of Women’s Rights in America
by Debran Rowland
Rereading Sex: Battles Over Sexual Knowledge and Suppression in Nineteenth-century America
by Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz
Rewriting Sex: Sexual Knowledge in Antebellum America, A Brief History with Documents
by Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz
Imperiled Innocents: Anthony Comstock and Family Reproduction in Victorian America
by Nicola Kay Beisel
Against Obscenity: Reform and the Politics of Womanhood in America, 1873–1935
by Leigh Ann Wheeler
Purity in Print: Book Censorship in America from the Gilded Age to the Computer Age
by Paul S. Boyer
American Sexual Histories
edited by Elizabeth Reis
Wash and Be Healed: The Water-Cure Movement and Women’s Health
by Susan Cayleff
From Eve to Evolution: Darwin, Science, and Women’s Rights in Gilded Age America
by Kimberly A. Hamlin
Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917
by Gail Bederman
One Nation Under Stress: The Trouble with Stress as an Idea
by Dana Becker
* * *
8/18/19 – Looking back at this piece, I realize there is so much that could be added to it. And it already is long. It’s a topic that would require writing a book to do it justice. And it is such a fascinating area of study with lines of thought going in numerous directions. But I’ll limit myself by adding only a few thoughts that point toward some of those other directions.
The topic of this post goes back to the Renaissance (Western Individuality Before the Enlightenment Age) and even earlier to the Axial Age (Hunger for Connection), a thread that can be traced back through history following the collapse of what Julian Jaynes called bicameral civilization in the Bronze Age. At the beginning of modernity, the psychic tension erupted in many ways that were increasingly dramatic and sometimes disturbing, from revolution to media panics (Technological Fears and Media Panics). I see all of this as having to do with the isolating and anxiety-inducing effects of hyper-individualism. The rigid egoic boundaries required by our social order are simply tiresome (Music and Dance on the Mind), as Julian Jaynes conjectured:
“Another advantage of schizophrenia, perhaps evolutionary, is tirelessness. While a few schizophrenics complain of generalized fatigue, particularly in the early stages of the illness, most patients do not. In fact, they show less fatigue than normal persons and are capable of tremendous feats of endurance. They are not fatigued by examinations lasting many hours. They may move about day and night, or work endlessly without any sign of being tired. Catatonics may hold an awkward position for days that the reader could not hold for more than a few minutes. This suggests that much fatigue is a product of the subjective conscious mind, and that bicameral man, building the pyramids of Egypt, the ziggurats of Sumer, or the gigantic temples at Teotihuacan with only hand labor, could do so far more easily than could conscious self-reflective men.”
On the Facebook page for Jaynes’ The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Luciano Imoto made the same basic point in speaking about hyper-individualism. He stated that, “In my point of view the constant use of memory (and the hippocampus) to sustain a fictitious identity of “self/I” could be deleterious to the brain´s health at long range (considering that the brain consumes about 20 percent of the body’s energy).” I’m sure others have made similar observations. This strain on the psyche has been building up for a long time, but it became particularly apparent in the 19th century, to such an extent it was deemed necessary to build special institutions to house and care for the broken and deficient humans who couldn’t handle modern life or else couldn’t appropriately conform to the ever more oppressive social norms (Mark Jackson, The Borderland of Imbecility). As radical as some consider Jaynes to be, insights like this were hardly new — in 1867, Henry Maudsley offered insight laced with bigotry, from The Physiology and Pathology of Mind:
“There are general causes, such as the state of civilization in a country, the form of its government and its religion, the occupation, habits, and condition of its inhabitants, which are not without inﬂuence in determining the pro portion of mental diseases amongst them. Reliable statistical data respecting the prevalence of insanity in different countries are not yet to be had ; even the question whether it has increased with the progress of civilization has not been positively settled. Travellers are certainly agreed that it is a rare disease amongst barbarous people, while, in the different civilized nations of the world, there is, so far as can be ascertained, an average of about one insane person in ﬁve hundred inhabitants. Theoretical considerations would lead to the expectation of an increased liability to mental disorder with an increase in the complexity of the mental organization: as there are a greater liability to disease, and the possibility of many more diseases, in a complex organism like the human body, where there are many kinds of tissues and an orderly subordination of parts, than in a simple organism with less differentiation of tissue and less complexity of structure; so in the complex mental organization, with its manifold, special, and complex relations with the external, which a state of civilization implies, there is plainly the favourable occasion of many derangements. The feverish activity of life, the eager interests, the numerous passions, and the great strain of mental work incident to the multiplied industries and eager competition of an active civilization, can scarcely fail, one may suppose, to augment the liability to mental disease. On the other hand, it may be presumed that mental sufferings will be as rare in an infant state of society as they are in the infancy of the individual. That degenerate nervous function in young children is displayed, not in mental disorder, but in convulsions; that animals very seldom suffer from insanity; that insanity is of comparatively rare occurrence among savages; all these are circumstances that arise from one and the same fact—a want of development of the mental organization. There seems, therefore, good reason to believe that, with the progress of mental development through the ages, there is, as is the case with other forms of organic development, a correlative degeneration going on, and that an increase of insanity is a penalty which an increase of our present civilization necessarily pays. […]
“If we admit such an increase of insanity with our present civilization, we shall be at no loss to indicate causes for it. Some would no doubt easily ﬁnd in over-population the proliﬁc parent of this as of numerous other ills to mankind. In the ﬁerce and active struggle for existence which there necessarily is where the claimants are many and the supplies are limited, and where the competition therefore is severe, the weakest must suffer, and some of them, breaking down into madness, fall by the wayside. As it is the distinctly manifested aim of mental development to bring man into more intimate, special, and complex relations with the rest of nature by means of patient investigations of physical laws, and a corresponding internal adaptation to external relations, it is no marvel, it appears indeed inevitable, that those who, either from inherited weakness or some other debilitating causes, have been rendered unequal to the struggle of life, should be ruthlessly crushed out as abortive beings in nature. They are the waste thrown up by the silent but strong current of progress; they are the weak crushed out by the strong in the mortal struggle for development; they are examples of decaying reason thrown off by vigorous mental growth, the energy of which they testify. Everywhere and always “to be weak is to be miserable.”
As civilization became complex, so did the human mind in having to adapt to it and sometimes that hit a breaking point in individuals; or else what was previously considered normal behavior was now judged unacceptable, the latter explanation favored by Michel Foucault and Thomas Szasz (also see Bruce Levine’s article, Societies With Little Coercion Have Little Mental Illness). Whatever the explanation, something that once was severely abnormal had become normalized and, as it happened with insidious gradualism, few noticed and would accept what had changed “Living amid an ongoing epidemic that nobody notices is surreal. It is like viewing a mighty river that has risen slowly over two centuries, imperceptibly claiming the surrounding land, millimeter by millimeter. . . . Humans adapt remarkably well to a disaster as long as the disaster occurs over a long period of time” (E. Fuller Torrey & Judy Miller, Invisible Plague; also see Torrey’s Schizophrenia and Civilization); “At the end of the seventeenth century, insanity was of little significance and was little discussed. At the end of the eighteenth century, it was perceived as probably increasing and was of some concern. At the end of the nineteenth century, it was perceived as an epidemic and was a major concern. And at the end of the twentieth century, insanity was simply accepted as part of the fabric of life. It is a remarkable history.” All of the changes were mostly happening over generations and centuries, which left little if any living memory from when the changes began. Many thinkers like Torrey and Miller would be useful for fleshing this out, but here is a small sampling of authors and their books: Harold D. Foster’s What Really Causes Schizophrenia, Andrew Scull’s Madness in Civilization, Alain Ehrenberg’s Weariness of the Self, etc; and I shouldn’t ignore the growing field of Jaynesian scholarship such as found in the books put out by the Julian Jaynes Society.
Besides social stress and societal complexity, there was much else that was changing. For example, increasing concentrated urbanization and close proximity with other species meant ever more spread of infectious diseases and parasites (consider toxoplasma gondii from domesticated cats; see E. Fuller Torrey’s Beasts of Earth). Also, the 18th century saw the beginnings of industrialization with the related rise of toxins (Dan Olmsted & Mark Blaxill, The Age of Autism: Mercury, Medicine, and a Man-Made Epidemic). That worsened over the following century. Industrialization also transformed the Western diet. Sugar, having been introduced in the early colonial era, now was affordable and available to the general population. And wheat, once hard to grow and limited to the rich, also was becoming a widespread ingredient with new milling methods allowing highly refined white flour which made white bread popular (in the mid-1800s, Stanislas Tanchou did a statistical analysis that correlated the rate of grain consumption with the rate of cancer; and he observed that cancer, like insanity, spread along with civilization). For the first time in history, most Westerners were eating a very high-carb diet. This diet is addictive for a number of reasons and it was combined with the introduction of addictive stimulants. As I argue, this profoundly altered neurocognitive functioning and behavior (The Agricultural Mind, “Yes, tea banished the fairies.”, Autism and the Upper Crust, & Diets and SystemsDiets and Systems).
This represents an ongoing project for me. And I’m in good company.
I don’t know how much Philip K. Dick knew about Alchemy, but he was probably aware of it as he studied Gnosticism and was somewhat familiar with Jung’s ideas. I’ve mentioned before about PKD’s view of God in the garbage. I’m wondering if he got this idea from Alchemy or if he came up with it on his own.
Interesting! either is quite possible I guess. the archetype of the Trickster is so very vital and of course by the nature of it very challenging to pin down…
I just checked back to Balder’s thread. No one responded to what I said not even to disagree. I can assume that it simply went over their heads or they were intentionally dismissing it, but either way its clearly not friendly. Obviously, I find it frustrating. Integralists are like any other group of people devoted to a certain way of looking at the world. I was attracted to integralism because the model provides the potential for seeing multiple perspectives, but I find few integralists live up to that potential.
I could talk in proper integralese, but I don’t find it an inspiring language or at least I don’t find many of the people who speak it to be inspiring. To me, its just one view among many… true but partial. However, it seems that many integralists take their model way too seriously as if its objectively true rather than just being a convenient map. I love maps, but as far as I can tell the integral map shows in detail only a small area.
Why can’t such a view as I present be allowed within the sacred confines of integralism?
Why can’t Apollo acknowledge Hermes?
On an integral discussion board, I noticed a post that fits in here. The person was asking this question… why do all of the integral sites seem to be losing their momentum, there activity in major decline, some even closing down?
It seems to me that its the loudest advocates of integralism that are turning off the average person from being interested. In the beginning, integral was attractive to so many because it had so much potential, but I think many people like me are realizing how little of that potential is actualized within the integral community. Even the integralists are getting frustrated and closing ranks around a few bulwarks of integral theory such as pre/trans. The innovative spirit of integral is dead and awaiting a new theorist to resurrect it, but as long as Wilber is around that probably won’t happen.
Many have complained about integralism being elitist. I don’t think that is quite right, but not entirely false. I’ve found that the integral boards aren’t very welcoming communities (often a bit aggressive and argumentative), and I’m not entirely sure the reason. The friendliness and openness of the God Pod is something you’d never find on an integral board… why? Is it as I’ve conjectured… that integral theory attracts more Intuitive Thinking types (Apollonian intellectuals) who are more interested in ideas than in interpersonal relating?
The reason I’m so frustrated is because I really do like integral theory. One of my complaints about Gaia was that I felt that I resonated more with the community than the community resonated with me. I don’t know if that is true for Gaia as a whole, but it definitely seems true of my relationship to the integral crowd within Gaia.
I’m not merely complaining based on this one incident. I’ve posted comments and started a thread on the Integral Post-metaphysical Spirituality Pod, but there wasn’t much of a connection. And I’ve participated on several other integral boards outside of Gaia. I’m more interested in integralism than most people, and if this is my experience of integralism then what hope is there for this model fulfilling Wilber’s grand vision?
Basically, I’m trying to decide how I want to relate to the integral community here. Should I just ignore and avoid them? Or should I just trudge on assuming that eventually my viewpoint will be aknowledged? I’m trying to focus my time spent on Gaia anyways, and so I don’t want to waste my efforts on being frustrated with people who don’t appreciate what I contribute. Maybe I’ll stick to my method of commenting abou the integral discussions from the sidelines of my own blog.
I just read through Balder’s thread again. My frustration is not lessened.
I’ve spent years studying integral and I understand everything they’re saying. I don’t even directly disagree with what they’re saying. In fact, I think they’re discussing important truths.
Nonetheless, I can’t shake the feeling that so much gets left out of the conversation. I’ve observed many integral discussions over the years, and there is a similarity amongst them all. The same basic ideas get bandied back and forth, but new ideas are so rarely introduced or if introduced not given much attention. Integral too often seems like a self-enclosed system.
I am interested in the model as it now exists, but I’m even more interested in how it can continue to evolve. Restating the same ideas that have been discussed a thousand times before isn’t going to further the discussion. Integralism needs new blood.
I understand that they’re wary of anything that stands outside of the conventions of integral. They feel they have to defend themselves against the onslaught of the green meme. I’m a strong proponent of many of the integral criticisms that are brought against the New Age. But as it stands the New Age seems to have more potential and vitality for growth than integral does. The New Age may simply take the best from integral and simply bypass it.
My sense is that I didn’t get a response in that thread is because Balder (and others) didn’t feel it related to the topic of integral… even though it was in response to what Jim said and Balder responded to Jim.
To me, this seems a vast failure of imagination, failure of vision even. From my perspective, Jungian views on alchemy and mytholgy correspond with Integralism. And if it doesn’t, then Integralism needs to be revamped. Many other critics of Integralism have brought this up… such as Kazlev and Goddard.
What do Integralists fear would happen if they opened up the gates to new (and old) ideas?
Why is Wilber the sole standard by which everything in the universe is measured?
Centria started a thread (based on her blog) about negative experiences and how we handle them.
Well, this is how I handle it. I write my thoughts out and let myself vent. It gives me perspective. And sometimes it allows me to understand the situation better… which on a good day might lead to a more compassionate attitude.
So, how about my present situation?
Only a few people commented to Balder’s blog and my comment was a fairly long one. Balder responded to everyone’s comment except mine. I perceive that as being the rudest that anyone on Gaia has acted towards me. His dismissal of my comment obviously was intentional… I just don’t know what the intention was.
This leaves me to interpret it as best as I can. Unless I ask Balder his reasoning all I have is his silence. The question is how do I want to respond to this situation. I don’t feel like asking Balder why he ignored me. What I feel like doing is dismissing him in return. He seemed like a decent guy that I might like to know, but this makes me doubt how nice of a guy he is. Maybe he is nice. I certainly don’t know the motivations behind his lack of a response.
In Balder’s blog, he has given lengthy responses to Julian. And Julian has said some of the most confrontational statements I’ve heard on Gaia. What am I to make of the integral community here? This is an important question as the fact that many integral people being here is partly why I joined Gaia. If the integral crowd here isn’t overly friendly, it puts a minor crimp in the reason I joined in the first place. Fortunately, it turns out that I’ve connected with more non-integral people who seem more open-minded and curious than do the integral proponents around here… which I’m a bit surprised by.
However, I want to focus on this situation with Balder for the moment. I feel hurt, annoyed, frustrated, even slightly angry. Balder could’ve given a single sentence reply to just aknowledge my existence… but he didn’t. I don’t know him and so part of my frustration is not even knowing why he chose to not respond even with a simple courteous comment. Do I just accept that is just the way it is? People do things that are unkind all of the time even people who are usually nice.
The thing is I’d never do what Balder did. NEVER. I wouldn’t respond to everyone with lengthy replies and ignore one person. I said nothing to offend him. There was no good reason for his ignoring my comment. What kind of person is willing to treat people that way? I know, I know… I’m blowing it all out of proportion. But I’m doing so because I really don’t understand. I was prepared to have Balder disgree with my view, but I didn’t even expect that I’d be simply ignored. It took me by utter surprise. Balder seemed like a nice guy and in my worldview that isn’t how nice people act.
Should I be sympathetic and assume the best. Maybe Balder was having a bad day. Maybe I offended him in some manner I’m unaware of. The only thing I can think of is the discussion I had with him about his pod in an earlier blog of mine. I was telling him how I didn’t join the discussions there because I didn’t feel like I fit in. Maybe he took it as a personal criticism and is holding a grudge against me. I just don’t know. Maybe I just rub him wrong for some odd reason.
I guess its not important. He isn’t obliged to respond to me whether or not it would be the polite thing to do. I don’t know how to respond and so I guess I’ll just let it go. Let go and let God as its been said before. If I have offended Balder in the past somehow, then I’m sorry. If I haven’t offended him and he simply doesn’t like me, then I’ll just have to accept that is the way it is. If he didn’t comment to me for no particular reason at all, then such is life.
This small experience has effected me. Gaia feels like a less friendly place because of it. Balder is one of the more active members here. Its not as if I can avoid him as he often posts in the God Pod. My two ways of handling negativity is either to avoid it or understand it, but in this case neither seems possible. So, I just have to try to process it internally.
It just makes me sad. 😦
I don’t like it when I’m sad.
I don’t handle negativity well at all. If I feel too much of it, I just withdraw from the world.
Oh well… obladi oblada… life goes on…
BTW did I mention that I’m sad?
I’m so sorry you are sad, honey! That does seem intentionally unkind. And I’m so sorry that Gaia feels less friendly because of it. I have noticed this kind of intentional ignoring before, sometimes of me sometimes of others, but not usually in a way that is important. This is very significant.
I doubt you have offended Bruce. I can’t understand why he would treat you in this way. Even unintentionally it doesn’t seem like him. He is so careful to respond to everyone.
Have you been able to let it go or are you still upset? Wish I could make it better…
Are you sure you don’t want to discuss this on the God Pod? Not the thing with Bruce, just the original comment about integralists, like what you say above. Start a thread and we could discuss it in detail. See if Bruce responds at all.
What do you think? I won’t do it myself, if you are not comfortable.
What I can’t figure out is why I didn’t see the notification of your other comments on this blog. I didn’t see until today that you had posted anything else. So I want to respond to your earlier comments.
I think you have identified a huge problem with the integral movement. Here on Gaia we can have discussions on Integral on the God Pod, but even then they are problematic becaause of polarisation and disaffection.
The Integral Pod is still on the top 10 most active pods, but it went through some really rough patches and had to reboot. It’s only so active now because they tend to discuss controversies, so they’re not really discussing Integral much. So in a way it also proves your point.
Thanks for stopping by Nicole. I know you have your own emotions to process at the moment. (BTW I’d be curious to hear how you process. Journalling? Going for a walk?)
I do feel relatively better. A venting session like that and some good sleep often does the trick.
I’ve decided it probably isn’t something to be taken personally. Balder’s lack of response probably had nothing to do with me. One thing, a blog is like someon’s personal space. He is interested in integral and he didn’t see my comment as appropriately inegral. I’ve noticed that integral types have little tolerance for ideas outiside of integral conventions. I’ve noticed many times an integral person become impatient and frustrated because someone was once again trying to introduce non-integral ideas into an integral discussion. The feeling I sense from a person when they’re like this is that they feel the person doesn’t understand or respect integral. Balder started his blog because he wanted to have a discussion about integral (as he understood it, not as I understood it). He doesn’t want to deal with people like me in his own blog, his own personal space.
I’m the type of person that integralists see as the greatest threat. I was raised in the New Age and I’ve been known to defend the New Age against integralists. I’m interested in Jung and the paranormal, two subjects that integralists have an uneasy relationship with. I tend towards more of an open view towards ideas and I’m not as willing to classify certain ideas as clearly better than other ideas. I prefer to see differences as simply differences. I’m skeptical of the general attitude of integralism that was first modelled by Wilber: Apollonian, masculine, willful, ascetic, confrontational, defensive, rationalistic, idealistic, approval-seeking(from the academia), etc.
And, in spite of all of that, I love integral. I love the models Wilber has created. I’ve gained great insight from studying integral. I appreciate how integral can be applied in practical ways.
Basically, I was totally into integral until I met various people who were even more into it and I was turned off. One of those people that turned me off was a good friend of mine. I’d known him for a while and we started an integral group with another guy. I quickly realized that studying Wilber’s work was like an act of devotion for this guy. He didn’t want to think analytically about Wilber’s ideas; he didn’t want to consider alternative viewpoints; he wanted to ‘study’ Wilber (somewhat similar to how you study a holy text).
This seems very odd to me as integral attracts very intelligent people. Integralist remind me of the intelligent types I’ve met on atheist boards. On those boards, there would be these people who knew what they knew and knew it extremely well, but they lacked humility and openness to new views. They could talk about the minutiae of some particular school of thought or some particular set of ancient texts. You meet these kinds of people on integral boards also. When you join an integral discussion, you realize you’re dealing with people who have lived and breathed integral (ie Wilber’s work) for years if not decades. Its daunting to face them in a discussion. But despite their massive knowledge of this one subject, they often know very little of anything else (at least not with any depth). They have some vague familiarity with other ideas, but those ideas just aren’t important to them.
This isn’t unusual behavior. This is normal human behavior in fact… which makes it all the more sad. For some reason, I had higher expectations of integral types because they seemed to have higher expectations of themselves. Integralism has so much potential. It is one of the best theories out there.
I realize I can’t expect everyone to be like me. And, of course, I have my own issues. But I just wish that online discussions weren’t so challenging. Why is it so difficult to speak about differing opinions openly (without polarization, judment, and dismissive attitude)? When I enter a discussion, I try to always give someone a fair hearing (as long as they’re not being rude or something). As you know, I’ll go far out of my way to understand another person’s perspective, I’ll spend much time trying to see what interests them about a subject. Or, if I feel confused or uninspired, I’ll just give a quick response to aknowledge them.
I’m not perfect at this. I’m sure at one point or another someone felt dismissed by something I said or didn’t say. In the past, I could get argumentative when I disagreed with someone… which is something I try not to do anymore.
For some reason, it irks me when I run into people who are entirely committed to a single viewpoint. I probably need to do some shadow work on that one. Maybe I’m jealous because of my lack of an ability to commit to a single viewpoint, and then I idealize my non-committal nature as being open-mindedness. Probably so… I rationalize my behavior as much as the next person.
Now, to your question of whether I want to discuss this on the God Pod. Yeah, probably. I need to think about how to present it. I’d be curious to know what you’d think would be the central issue of such a discussion. Integral’s lack of openness to new ideas? I could bring up the defensive/critical attitude that Integralists have towards New Agers (and other non-rational metaphysics), but that has been brought up before.
I agree its important.
I just love synchronicity.
Just today Theurj in Balder’s Pod posted a thread about Integral Ideology.
(and I posted the thread as another thread over in the God Pod.
Either Theurj read my mind or we were both reading the collective mind.
I’d taken that pod off of notification, and the only reason I knew about is because I looked at my friend activity. I had asked Nickeson to be my friend a while back because I knew him from another integral board. He has one of the most grounded and even views of integral that I’ve come across. His comment is my favorite in the thread so far.
Ironically, Balder responded saying he didn’t think any of it applied to him. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to him, he has inspired me to rant about the problems of integral for several days.
Anyways, that solved my problem of trying to figure out how to start a thread about this.
To be fair, Balder does seem like an open-minded and self-questioning fellow. In his post, he did say that “I may be deceiving myself – our shadows are notoriously hard to spot”. And its to the credit of Integralism that this subject came up in the integral pod.
You might find it interesting that my response to this situation is somewhat typical for an INFP.
I took Balder’s silence very personally and blew out of proportion, and then I started obsessing over it. I focused on the interpersonal dimension and conjectured about his motives all the while questioning myself. My sense of values felt challenged and so I went on a miniature righteous crusade. And yet I did it all without ever having to directly confront the person who was bothering me in the first place. 🙂
And this was only a minor annoyance. Just imagine what I’d be like if I really felt like my values had been challenged. To give you an example, some people conjecture that Osama bin Laden is an INFP. INFPs might be one of the best types for being a terrorist. Here is a thread where we discussed this at Globalchatter.
Wow, Ben… I’m glad you found a way to resolve it. Great self-analysis there. You are helping me a lot in my crash course on INFPs. It’s interesting to see you and Alan talk together in the God Pod. You are finding your way very well with him. He likes you and enjoys your discussions. Of course, we talk about you on the phone together at times, so I know this directly and not just by inference. It’s obvious by how much he interacts with you on the God Pod. You are one of the few in the God Pod who take the time to try to meet him in the very unique space he inhabits… as well as myself of course lol Thanks for that.
INFPs can have a very odd way of thinking and communicating. To other people who aren’t INFPs, the odd comments and the constantly shifting tangents seem to have no coherency. To an INFP, everything is connected.
What others can’t see is the Introverted Feeling (Fi) of an INFP. Fi gives the INFP a solid core that brings it all together. An INFP can jump around a million ideas without needing to hold onto any given single one of them. This Extraverted Intuition that jumps around in a very non-linear fashion. As its their favored Extraverted function its how they relate to the world. But since its not their primary function, they aren’t directly attached to it. The INFP can get stuck in a single value but rarely in a single thought.
INFPs tend to gather bits and pieces of everything and stick it all together in a loose fashion. INFPs can be intellectual but not usually in a very systematic way. We don’t have the patience and focus to study one thing to the exclusion of all else. So, this means we can our knowledge has breadth without depth if we’re not careful. Depth is in our values, but that is hard to communicate even to ourselves.
I grew up with an ENTJ dad who taught me how to analyze and so I’m not entirely typical for an INFP. I’m able to communicate in a more linear fashion, but my mind is always all over the place.
As such, INFPs might have some interest in integral theory because they appreciate any insightful viewpoint. However, the INFP is forever saying: “Thats true, but….” And an INFP has less of a problem with seeing two contradictory things as being true simultaneously. To systematize one’s thoughts as integral theory does would be to destroy the beautiful complexity of life.
So, an INFP might come off as being ‘Green Meme’ to an integralist. The INFP wants to see multiple perspectives and doesn’t want to judge any of them absolutely. The integralists call this relativism and consider it inferior. The INFP would have to alter their way of thinking (or at least communicating) just to fit into the correct view that integralists idealize. Fortunately, INFPs are independent thinkers who are unlikely to change their ways for anyone. Unfortunately, INFPs are stubborn who are unlikely to change their ways even for loved ones.
Anyways, its nice that Alan and I can connect as we do. I know on my end that it isn’t important that I agree with him or even entirely get any given idea of his. I understand the general way of his thinking. I also realize that as long as you listen well and don’t judge INFPs they tend to be easygoing people who just like to play around with ideas. I can sense where his values are and as a fellow INFP I respect that inner certainty. I just present my view as my view. At times I’m left clueless by what he means and so I respond with silly humor. Most INFPs love silly humor. Its hard for INFPs to stay serious for too long.
About this situation, I didn’t really need any responses from anyone else even though its always nice to have a sounding board. INFP’s have a knack of seeing all sides to a situation on their own if given enough time and if given the space in which to contemplate it.
INFPs get perspective from Ne which means they have to throw out every possible idea they can think of. Their Fi sorts it all out in terms of relevance, but first it all must be considered. No rock must be left unturned.
If you just active listen to an INFP while nodding your head (and maybe throwing out a few alternative possibilities), they’ll probably figure it out. They just need support in their own processing. INFP’s have a faith in their Fi. They may not immediately understand, but they assume that it must make sense one way or another.
Though, if their processing fails, they will be strong in their blaming others. If their Ne can’t help them, then they fall back on their Fi which can tend towards black/white thinking (wrong or right, good or evil).
I noticed Balder’s most recent comment in the discussion that started this whole rant of mine. At the end of his comment, he says:
“This, at least, is the conclusion I come to when I attempt to “think inside the box.” In other words, I’m not saying this is how things are; rather, I’m looking at the “model” and tracing out its implications (as I see them), to see how well they serve us.”
I’m not sure but that sounds like he may be taking seriously the criticisms of the Integral Ideology thread. He is being self-conscious of the fact that there is a box he is thinking within. He explains that he is looking at the implications of the “model” in order “to see how well they serve us.” This seems to imply that he is considering how worthwhile it might be to think outside of the box.
In an earlier comment, he said this:
“As Jim points out, and as you pointed out also, this topic can get somewhat complex and difficult to sort out, in part because of the nature of the subject but also because Wilber’s language has sometimes been rather vague.”
I am in agreement with him about this. This is something that both the proponents and critics of Wilber agree upon.
Wilber is often not very clear and even people who’ve studied him for decades aren’t always sure what Wilber’s position is. Plus, there is the complaint that its impossible to determine Wilber’s true position because he is always saying that statements he made previously no longer represent him. He’ll refer to his present position being clearly stated in the notes 7b of such and such book, but of course the notes to his book are somewhere on his site rather than actually in the book itself.
So, if its so confusing, then what good does it do for the average person? Heck, what good does it do for those who are willing to spend years trying to decipher Wilber?
Ok so my response is in two main parts:
1) I really appreciate your in depth analysis of INFPs. It totally resonates with my observations of him, and a lot of our conversations have a randomness because of that. He tries to be linear because of me but clearly it’s a struggle. 🙂 I can feel his attention and mind jumping all over. And superficiality is a danger for him, one I think at some level he tries to avoid. Still just beginning to know him so it’s hard to be sure about much. But this really really helps, Ben. Thanks.
And silliness is so much a part of him. Example: Yesterday, I booked the B and B I will be staying in when I’m in Scotland in early August. We were both amazed to realise it is literally one block from the flat his brother and he share. He kept saying, “But I don’t remember seeing a B and B there” and noticing that I was becoming nervous, began this elaborate story about how it was probably Brigadoon, and that I would end up 300 years in the past… I kept telling him to stop and he kept spinning the story, in sheer delight. It took him …. a long time before he relented and told me that when he walked out to look at it, sure enough, he just had never noticed it.
It’s also really helpful to know you didn’t really need any feedback. I always give it compulsively, but I did see you were working it through all by yourself and doing a perfect job. This too will help me with him, if I can just remember to bite my tongue when I am tempted to give him advice (something I realised I needed to do almost from the first day by how he reacted to something, doesn’t matter what) all goes much better.
2) Bruce is very thoughtful and I agree that he probably does see these things. Wilber’s frustrating disowning of his previous ideas is very confusing indeed, and one of the many reasons he can only be one of many sources for a balanced Integral perspective.
I was starting to forget about Balder’s blog, but finally someone responded to what I said. Jim made some comments which is fitting as I was largely responding to him in my comment. I’m assuming that either this blog or the Integral Ideology thread brought me to the attention of Jim. I just wish I had received a response without having to go through all of this hullabaloo.
Jim was friendly towards me in his comment and I appreciated that he brought up Mindell as that is another interest of mine. But why couldn’t he have responded earlier? We could’ve spent this whole time discussing how ideas such as Mindell’s relate to Integral models. At least, the opportunity has now arisen.
The only problem is that I don’t know how much I feel like participating in Balder’s blog. I feel turned off from the integral community right now. For instance, the only integral proponent that responded to the Integral Ideology thread in the God Pod was Albert and he has an aggressive quality about him… which seems fairly typical of many integral proponents.
I was just observing something about integral discussions. When I bring up criticisms or alternative perspectives, I get a feeling that I’m not quite being treated as an equal or there isn’t precisely a sense of connection. Its partly that it seems participants in integral discussions have to somehow prove themselves. I don’t want to prove myself. I just want to have a friendly conversation. Also, comments in integral discussions can feel more like lectures or arguments. They don’t entirely feel inviting.
“It’s also really helpful to know you didn’t really need any feedback. I always give it compulsively, but I did see you were working it through all by yourself and doing a perfect job. This too will help me with him, if I can just remember to bite my tongue when I am tempted to give him advice (something I realised I needed to do almost from the first day by how he reacted to something, doesn’t matter what) all goes much better.”
I hear you about that difficulty. You’ve hit upon the difference (and potential conflict) of Fe vs Fi.
I don’t have a lot of experience with dominant Fe types, but Fe came up a lot in discussions at Globalchatter. Some INFPs have a very strong reaction to Fe. To an INFP, it could feel meddlesome or even manipulative.
I’d like to hear more about your experience of Fi. I’m sure it must bother you sometimes. We Fi types aren’t as tactful as Fe types. We’re not very easygoing when worked up, and we’re not very emotionally expressive except when very relaxed or very worked up.
This blog of mine is an interesting experiment for you to observe. I used to journal a lot. But now I’ve started using this blog somewhat like how I used my journal in the past. This means that I’ve made my personal processing a bit more public.
I was reading more closely the comments by Tulim in Balder’s blog. They were amusing. Tulim’s second comment makes my original comment seem pretty in-the-box. Tulim had enthusiasm, but I could tell right off that he wasn’t going to get a response from that crowd. In a different situation, I might’ve asked Tulim some questions just for curiosity’s sake.
Tulim was saying how he was playing with lego’s to try to understand how it could be modelled differently. Playful imagination… that is one of the things I’ve been thinking about lately. Integral types seem to lack playful imagination or at least integral discussions seem to. I admire the ability to wonder.
In case anyone was wondering, I truly don’t feel bothered by any of this at the moment. I wish it could’ve turned out differently such as having a nice conversation with Jim. Now that Jim and I know that we agree on some things, maybe the next time we meet we’ll have the conversation that we didn’t have this time.
I realize that I could’ve responded to this situation differently and by doing so it might’ve turned out differently. However, possibly no matter what I would’ve tried to do, Balder might simply not have been interested in what I was interested in. I had expectations that Balder apparently doesn’t share. Of course, often when I have expectations, I end up disappointed.
All I can say is that I was true to myself. I responded in my own fashion imperfect as it might’ve been. I’m not entirely dissatisfied with how it turned out. The God Pod discussion was fairly interesting.
I hold have any major issues towards Balder or the integral community here on Gaia, but there is now a bad taste in my mouth. I think I’ll mostly or maybe entirely avoid integral discussions that occur outside of the God Pod. The God Pod may be the only place where an open discussion of integral can occur. Thank God for the God Pod. I hope Jim decides to join in at the God Pod. Then, life would be good.
I noticed Balder did respond to Tulim in a very polite manner. I wouldn’t be surprised if his response was inspired by my comments here. He probably wanted to avoid another person going off like I did.
It makes me laugh. He still hasn’t responded to anything I said even though I posted some further comments to Jim. I very well may never get another response from Balder for the rest of my time here on lovely Gaia. That is fine. I’m sure its been a learning experience for the both of us. 🙂
I’m very sorry for the impression you’ve taken from my silence. I actually appreciated your comments and I believe I said as much on my blog, although I did not say that to you directly, and I can understand why you feel slighted. Partly my silence is because I’ve actually just got too much going on, in my own life as well as online, and I just have not been able to keep up with all the conversations I’ve got going (I just apologized to Valli in IPS for similar lack of response). But my lack of response was also because your response seemed more like it was directed to Jim’s first post, which was also not directly related to the topic of my blog, and I felt like if I went down that track, it would take the whole conversation astray from the questions I was wanting to explore. Please don’t take this as overall closed-mindedness, or a dismissal of your points, however. I did not intend that at all, and do not believe I am closed to non-Integral perspectives (I have my fingers in a number of pies; Integral is just one of them).
I have noticed that you’ve been commenting on IPS posts over on Nicole’s pod, copying many things over there rather than commenting directly on the original posts, and I have taken that as a reticence on your part to actually engage with me or with the people on my forum. So, I think that might also have contributed to a “lack of connection” overall – not consciously, but looking at it now, I think that could have played a part in my prioritization of my own attempts to respond to the various posts out there addressed to me.
I have not read all of your comments on this blog here, but I read over enough to see that your feelings have been hurt, and again, I apologize. I will happily add my comments to your observations on my blog later.
P.S. I just discovered your blog comments today, so they did not influence my response to Tulim.
I just read a few more of your comments. Honestly, I think a bout of projection was getting the best of you, friend! You are referring to me and others as “that crowd,” thinking that I would not respond to Tulim because he was playing with Legos and exhibiting playful imagination. I thought it was delightful! I do adopt a more academic tone in some of my posts, depending on the subject, but it is just one of my voices, not the whole of it. Have you read much of my blog, which features fairy tales, stories, original poetry, music, etc? I’m actually very interested in imagination, and have several blogs on that subject that I’ve been planning for awhile (particularly in relation to TSK and Integral). I’ve also written papers on the ecology of imagination in children, and have been a teacher of creative writing and imaginative fiction.
A year or two ago, several of us on the Integral Pod also engaged in an extensive “chain story” about mythical characters from Egypt. The story actually bogged down towards the end, and some people’s feelings got hurt when others took what they saw as too much liberty in directing the story’s ending, but in the process of it (when it spontaneously arose), it felt like something magical and inspiring was unfolding. Playful, not great art, but a lot of fun.
I do think there is room for broader, more creative, playful ways of expression in Integral writing and discussion. I certainly would welcome it.
Anyway, I hope now that I am aware of your feelings about these issues, and painfully aware that I caused you to feel hurt and disregarded, I hope our interactions can take a turn in a more positive, fruitful direction.
First off, I know I was projecting. That goes without saying. LOL
Secondly, it doesn’t change much about the objective points I made… about my experiences of the Integral community… even if my assessments of you were entirely wrong.
I’ve found many people interested in Integral hard to relate to, but that is just my personal biased perspective. It just feels like the only discussions that take off in Integral groups are ones that are extremely abstract. I tried to start a thread about comparative mythology in your pod and it did get some response but never really went anywhere too interesting. OTOH the Translation/Transformation thread went on and on. Why are the various obscure meanings of ‘translation’ and ‘transformation’ more interesting to integral types than mythology?
The first Integral group I joined was Lightmind and there were two factors that I disliked. It felt like there were these cliques, these private conversations going on where I wasn’t welcome. And everyone was always arguing like a bunch of competing egotists. The conversations were often interesting, but the place was also often rather annoying. It wasn’t any specific person, but rather the environment of the whole place.
I’m sorry to have responded the way that I did. No doubt you’re a multi-faceted person as we all are, and I was only seeing one side of you. I realize you have to prioritize your time and I empathize with that immensely. The problem was that I felt you were prioritizing based on your integral view… that was the rub. To me, my comments were very much related to your blog or at least as much related as were Jim’s comments. The reason I felt slighted was that you ‘prioritized’ your time in such a way that you lengthily responded to everyone else but me.
Whatever… I’m feeling better now. I was projecting and you were prioritizing. Its not important in and of itself. It was just the situation and it hit me wrong because I’m sensitive to that kind of thing. I’ve had a couple of experiences recently where I was dealing with people who seemed stuck in a particular view, and so that was where I was coming from.
Try not to take me too seriously. I rant sometimes, but I don’t generally hold grudges. I’m glad I ranted in fact. My opinions on the whole matter of Integral are out in the open for all to see.. including my messy emotions. I’m glad everything is cleared up now. Now, doesn’t everyone feel better? 🙂
Okay, for more important things… such as the silly side of my personality. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I love being playful and imaginative when I’m not going off on some serious rant. I realize Integralists aren’t without humor… although often more of a biting humor (which I see as being more MBTI NT). There was a fair amount of playfulness at Lightmind, but there is a certain kind of Integralist that sees the world as an ideological battlefield, a certain kind of Integralist who has an air of moral superiority. To be honest, I really don’t like that kind of Integralist… “No sir, I don’t like it,” says the Mr. Horse from Ren and Stimpy.
I’d love to see more imagination and whatnot in the Integral community. And I’d love to help contribute to that rather than privately griping in my blog. So, I’d like to participate in your pod more if I can do so on my own terms. My interests are wide and do not fit neatly into integral categories. I love to integrate all that I know, but I don’t follow proper Wilberian protocol.
I feel my weird sense of humor and wildly roaming imagination is appreciated on the God Pod as people respond to it there. Your pod is no doubt interesting, but I just don’t see much focus on lighthearted fun and playful creativity. What I require from a discussion group is that both my serious and silly sides be satisfied simultaneously… because I don’t separate them. So, I still feel some slight reticence towards the Integral community here. I want to join in, but I don’t know that I fit in. Does that make sense?
BTW thanks very much for stopping by and being so kind in response to all my ranting and projecting. All is well that ends well.
This is wonderful to be able to catch up with you at last here. I’m delighted to see you and Bruce have had a chance to sort things out.
Now, let’s try to tackle things in order of how you blogged comments:
1) the sense of not being an equal: I have experienced this feeling of marginalisation very much in the Integral pod, which led me to going away many times from the discussion. i didn’t feel it was at all deliberate and in fact some of the people there try very hard to include people, and this issue and related ones have been discussed extensively there from time to time. it’s just a question of focus and perspective, i suppose…
2) INFP… yes, I’m well aware of the danger of coming across as meddlesome or intrusive and keep an eye on myself about that. I really had to laugh out loud when I got to this part:
We Fi types aren’t as tactful as Fe types. We’re not very easygoing when worked up, and we’re not very emotionally expressive except when very relaxed or very worked up.
I was just in the middle of one of our webcalls which as usual had fallen into silence as we listened to music and worked on whatever we were doing. Looking at him, and thinking about how true the above can be. It does indeed make it challenging to be in a close long distance friendship like this.
This blog of mine is an interesting experiment for you to observe. I used to journal a lot. But now I’ve started using this blog somewhat like how I used my journal in the past. This means that I’ve made my personal processing a bit more public.
Indeed, I am learning so very much about you in particular (which is fascinating) and INFPs in general, through these blogs and discussions.
3) Tulim and playfulness – you know how delighted I am by play in discussions of all kinds. I had the pleasure of meeting another person who really prioritises play in her life and work, another volunteer in the Children’s Area at the Old Songs Folk festival. We had a blast… and skipping ahead to the end, I do love your weird sense of humour and wildly roaming imagination, as well as the others who share it – Andrew, Eric, Ua, Christopher (sometimes lol) et alia…
(((((((Ben))))))) I do love you so much! This is a wonderful discussion. Seems to have helped you a lot but it’s also given me a lot.
We’re not very easygoing when worked up, and we’re not very emotionally expressive except when very relaxed or very worked up.
There is another thing I wanted to mention in relationship to this. As Intuition is the INFP’s main Extraverted function, this is their preferred way to relate to people. Ne communicates in terms of abstractions, possibilities, creativity, and silliness. These modes of expression can be used to communicate their Fi core, but they can also be used to hide and protect it. For instance, I know that I sometimes use humor as a defense mechanism to ameliorate my cynicism or to distract myself from depression. Also, Ne can be used to obsess over possibilities as a way of avoiding those inner experiences that can feel so certain.
as a defense mechanism, to hide and protect, to distract, to obsess over possibilities to avoid inner experiences, oh Ben, you have no idea how true these are of him. at times it becomes a barrier that feels insuperable.
one of the things i have found most difficult is his use of humour and distraction when i’m trying to talk seriously about something that is bothering me about the relationship or, sorry, the friendship 🙂 he keeps haring off here there and everywhere and i keep calling him back with a growing sense of frustration and alienation.
anyway, you’ve been able to observe quite a bit of his behaviour and our interaction in the pod. any further insights for the moment?
I have only one further insight. It seems he may be a very strong Introvert. If that is the case, that could magnify how he uses Ne to protect his internal Fi experience. A strong Introvert can have more going on inside than outside, and they might not be that trusting to open up completely or quickly.
I understand you’re finding it difficulty which leads to a sense of frustration and alienation. Of course, that isn’t his intention. Partly, an INFP uses Ne to test out the waters. I’m sure he notices your emotional response, and in response he might be even less willing to open up or be serious.
Trust me, Ne being used as humor and distraction is better than some uses of it. If an INFP becomes irritated and defensive, that Ne will point out every possible failing that they’ve ever noticed in the entire time they’ve known you. Some INFPs use Fi to keep an internal tally going which can be quite detailed. INFPs have good memories for interpersonal experience and they will dredge up what you did a year ago even if you’ve forgotten about it.
yes, i did realise that about his reaction to my reaction, so we are both backing off. This week we spoke very little, and now he’s away till Sunday night or Monday, I forget, visiting his brother’s new baby who was born on my birthday. Next week of course I will be out of town, back in town for a week, out of town again and then another week from then I will be in Scotland.
So my feeling is that we will chat briefly on and off and keep it relaxed. I am working hard right now not just with him but with everyone to enjoy the moment and if someone I want to talk to is not available, just enjoy something else. Good discipline for me.
Yikes about the internal tally. 😦 Good to know…