Psychology and Parapsychology, Politics and Place

In some recent posts, I’ve discussed personality types and other psychological factors that distinguish one person from another.

Fox and Hedgehog, Apollo and Dionysus

Horror and Typology

The Paranormal and Psychology

This subject is an interest of mine that goes back many years and my interest in psychology in general goes back even further.  I’ve always sought explanations for human experience and psychology is one of the best fields to look for helpful data and theory.  Psychology is also a good place to find connections between other fields: narratology and folklore studies, paranormal, religion, politics, etc.  I really became fascinated with psychology through Jungian typology and traits theory which connects to tons of fascinating research spanning the past century (and much from the last half century is cross-cultural research using large sample sizes).  Correlations and meta-analysis of varied research has offered clearer insight into many elusive factors of the human psyche and socio-cultural behavior. 

Psychology became even more interesting for me when I read George P. Hansen’s The Trickster and the Paranormal in which the author discusses experience and hermeneutics at the edge of mainstream science.  Along with discussing the trickster archetype, he details the relevance of Hartmann’s boundary types.  Upon further research, I learned that research on boundary types correlates with other research on personality types and traits, and of course Jung’s theory of personality types connects with his theory on archetypes.  Even further research has helped me to understand how central psychology is to the UFO field and paranormal in general.  Basically, this was an area that promised many further connections.

I’ve been recently focused on the connections between genre fiction (especially SF and Horror), philosophy (especially Pessimism), religion (especially Gnosticism) and the paranormal (especially UFO experiences).  There isn’t any grand reason my mind is focused on all of these subjects (besides general curiosity in all things weird and countercultural), but it does all fit together (more or less, in my mind that is).  To be specific, my friend has been reading a lot of Thomas Ligotti and other horror writers.  This has caused me to read more horror (and dark weird) fiction and discuss it with my friend… which has led me to read Ligotti’s philosophizing and the blog writing by related people (Quentin S. Crisp and Matt Cardin).  Because of Gnosticism and other reasons, Philip K. Dick and William S. Burroughs have been on my mind and the latter happened to be a favorite writer of Ligotti. 

 As you see, one thing leads to another and I at times can get obsessive in following certain leads.  My brain was being swamped by connections and so I wrote a post about it.

Just Some Related Ideas and Writers

I had initially noted in earlier posts some similarities and differences between William S. Burroughs and Philip K. Dick and between them and Thomas Ligotti.

PKD, ACIM, and Burroughs

Burroughs, PKD, and Ligotti

My interest in such things is very personal in many ways, but I think the socio-political angle is at least as interesting.  Psychological understanding is probably needed in poltical discussions more than anywhere simply for the reason that politics seems to attract many people who lack subtle understanding (if any at all) of the human mind and behavior.  I wrote about this in a post a while back.

Morality, Politics, and Psychology

In looking into psychological research in context of “abnormal” experiences, I came across one particularly interesting piece of data (which I believe can be found somewhere in one of the numerous links in my post The Paranormal and Psychology).  Someone mentioned that UFO experiences are more common along the coasts of the US than in the midwest.  I haven’t seen this data, but I have seen data that shows liberals are more concentrated on the coasts and in highly populated areas (i.e., urban areas) and that shows conservatives are more concentrated in the interior and in lowly populated areas (i.e., rural areas).  So, it would be logical that UFO experience would correlate with liberal politics.  Research has shown that liberals and conservatives tend to have different personalities.  One of the major factors is that liberals tend to have more “openness to experience” (a particular trait that has been well researched).  This Openness also correlates to MBTI’s (Jungian typology’s) Intuition function and Hartmann’s thin boundary types (amongst other correlations). 

Anyways, it’s not simply a matter of different ideological persuasions, but psychological tendencies that we often are born with (and which tend to remain stable throughout our lives).  Liberal types aren’t simply open to believing in the weird.  They’re actually open to experiencing them.  A liberal believes in the paranormal because they’ve experienced it, and the conservative disbelieves because they’re experiences don’t include the paranormal.  However, even if a conservative did have a paranormal experience, they’d be more likely to try to explain it away or make it conform to their cultural expectations (such as fitting it into the doctrine of the religion they belong to).  Because of psychological and other factors, I truly doubt that people hold their viewpoints for primarily rational reasons, but I have no doubt that humans are very talented at rationalizing.  Another thought I had was that people’s beliefs aren’t exactly disconnected from reality.  It’s just they’re limited to one perspective on reality.  The conservative and the liberal each explains in a perfectly valid way the data of their experience.  The problem is that it only applies to their own narrow experience, but from an evolutionary point of view this may be no problem at all.  Both views are helpful or maybe even necessary for the stability of society.  Either side is wrong in claiming their beliefs are absolutely true.  Nonetheless, the conservative belief about human behavior applies to conservative humans and ditto for liberal beliefs. 

However, accepting each as a valid viewpoint would be criticized as pluralism by many conservatives (in particular moral conservatives).  Does this mean that a liberal has a better chance of understanding the conservative position than the other way around?  Maybe… depending on what we’re focusing on.  This could be explained that we aren’t just dealing with types here, but also social development such as understood by spiral dynamics.  Liberal as a personality trait wouldn’t be helpful in understanding conservativism, but liberal pluralism as a stage of development could potentially give someone greater perspective to understand previous stages of development (which is where the majority of the population is still at).  I’m less interested in the latter for this post.  I just wanted to point it out because this a complex subject with many factors and I’d rather not make simplistic judgments.

It is important to point out that these distinctions aren’t absolute.  The average person isn’t at the extreme opposite ends, and our pscyological attitude can change depending on situation.  Even so, most people tend to spend most of their time in one mindset or another.  Furthermore, people tend to seek out others similar to them and careers that are conducive to their thinking style.  A liberal-leaning person living in a rural area is more likely to move to an urban area and so this is how genetics become concentrated.  Liberals will tend to marry liberals and tend to have liberal kids, and the same for conservatives.  This wasn’t possible in the past because people didn’t move as much, but modern society has created a situation where human genetics may be diverging into two type of people.  This reminds me of a species of rodent (or something like that) that I saw on a nature show once.  There were two genetically distinct variations of males.  One set of males mated for life with a female, but the females weren’t so loyal in their affections.  The other set of males would have sex with any female and the females of this species were willing (when their spouses were otherwise distracted).  The children of the loyal males grew up to be loyal and the opposite for the other type.  I’ve always suspected this might be the case for human males as well, but even if not the general principle might apply to humans in other ways.

It can’t be denied that humans do like trying to divide eachother up into categories.  I was reading an article titled “Burrough-sian Gnosticism In His Own Words” by Sven Davisson which can be found in the journal The Gnostic.  I was already familiar with Burrough’s ideas along these lines.  He considered himself a Manichaean and it was from this that he founded his own typology of people: the Johnsons and the Shits.  The Johnson Family was a designation that came from turn-of-the-century hobo culture.  A Johnson was someone who was a basically good and trustworthy person, someone who would help when such was needed but otherwise would mind his own business.  On the other hand (from the article): “A shit  is one who is obsessively sure of his own position at the cost of all other vantages.”  Upon reading that, I immediate thought that it sounded like an extreme version of a hedgehog type of person (who knows one big thing)… which is approximately an MBTI type with Sensation function (most notably represented by Kiersey’s SJ temperament), a thick boundary type, someone low on the trait ‘openness to experience’.  I was also reminded of a quote (by someone other than Burroughs) about a missionary (to paraphrase): “You could always tell the people she helped by the hunted look on their faces.”  My guess is that Burroughs was making an extreme distinction that could otherwise be stated with more psychological subtlety.  Taking as an extreme, it’s hard to disagree with Burroughs about the Shits of the world, but I’m sure he was intelligent enough to realize that not everyone exists at the extremes.

I also think the distinction between hedgehogs and foxes relates to the attitudes of universalism and pluralism.  I was thinking about  this latter category because of my reading another article in the journal The Gnostic.  The article is “Magic and Gnosticism” by  Will Parker.  I won’t say much about it right now as I haven’t finished the article yet, but I’ll point out that I’m thinking about his ideas in terms of George P. Hansen’s discussion of Max Weber’s theory of the process of increasing rationalization in Western society.  I plan on blogging more about this where I’ll also bring in how certain personality types are most likely to gain positions of power in certain types of organizations.

Burroughs, PKD, and Ligotti

William S. Burroughs had a powerful influence on many writers, two of note being Philip K. Dick and Thomas Ligotti.  PKD wrote about Burroughs in his Exegesis a number of times and he experimented with Burroughs cut-up technique.  Ligotti considered Burroughs to be his last artistic hero, but disliked his cut-up technique.  Burroughs, for me, acts as a middle ground between these two writers and also between the visions of hope and of despair. 

PKD, like Burroughs, was attracted to Gnosticism and saw something fundamentally or at least potentially good in a dark world.  Burroughs cut-up technique fits in with PKD’s belief about God in the gutter, divine truth revealed where one is least likely to look for it.  Both believed that, however difficult, God could be discovered.

Ligotti also started out as a spiritual seeker with his studies and meditation practice, but lost his faith along the way.  Ligotti, like Burroughs, takes very seriously the suffering of the human condition.  Ligotti takes the dark pessimism of Burrough’s to the extreme which he writes about in his Conspiracy Against the Human Race (an excerpt is published in the Collapse journal).  Both present insights that most people would rather not know about.

PKD sought the spiritual and had revelatory visions of what to him felt divinely true.  Ligotti sought the spiritual and yet discovered no truths to be consoled by.  Even though both accept the world is filled with much suffering, the difference is whether one has faith in the face of it.  Can our suffering be placed in a context of meanng?  Or are we simply animals who can’t comprehend the trap we find ourselves in?  Burroughs presents a very challenging view of reality.  PKD and Ligotti represent two very different responses.  So, why this difference?

PKD and Burroughs seem to have been more restless in their seeking than Ligotti (or so this is what I sense from my readings of these authors).  It’s possible that Ligotti is just better medicated.  He speaks about being more restless before his moods were modified with prescriptions, and also said something along the lines that this dulled his creative edge as he no longer had the extreme manic phases to motivate his writing.  PKD, on the other hand, did his best to magnify his manic phases by self-medicating himself with uppers (to the point of mental breakdown.. and maybe divine breakthrough).  Burroughs was also an experimenter with illicit drugs.  It makes me wonder what kind of view Ligotti might’ve come to if like Burroughs and PKD he had spent his whole life destabilizing his psyche.

This is important from another perspective.  For Burroughs and PKD, there instability drove their minds, their seeking, and their writing.  They were restless and had long careers and wrote profusely.  Ligotti has said that he at present doesn’t feel compelled to write.  I don’t mean to romanticize mental illness, but their is some truth to the connection between non-ordinary (including disturbed) states of mind and the creativity of artists.

Another issue is that both Burroughs and PKD were very interested in people and the human experience.  This included spirituality, relationships, and politics.  They were restlessly curious about this world that humans both live in and help to create.  Ligotti, however, wishes to see beyond the human, but realized that as a fiction writer he had no choice but to convey the horror of reality through the experience of the human.  The truly monstrous can’t be conveyed in its own terms whatever that may mean.  The problem is that this sense that one’s humanity is a failing or a limitation possibly doesn’t lead one to a long career as a fiction writer.  Afterall,  fiction is ultimately about human experience which necessitates to a certain extent a desire to sympathize and to understand. 

I appreciate what Ligotti has written as he has a probing intellect and communicates well.  However, some of Ligotti’s fans have said that Ligotti has said all that he could possibly say and has said it as best as he possibly could, and so what more is left for him to do?  Ligotti easily could be argued as a consistently better writer than Burroughs and PKD, but what good does it do if his understanding of the human condition has come to a deadend? 

I’m not saying that Ligotti can’t come to further insight.  However, without the restless seeking that drove Burroughs and PKD, is he likely to feel a desire to seek further insight?  Burroughs and PKD believed there was meaning to be found, but Ligotti dismisses meaning as just another way of avoiding suffering.  Other than the momentum of his identity as a writer, what is to inspire Ligotti to continue his creative career, to continue to share his thoughts and publish them?  Without a sense of purpose, what is the point of writing at all?

Anyways, Burroughs symbolizes the ideal of the person who simultaneously strives to be an artist and a truth seeker.  It takes something like courage (or maybe just a perverse compulsion) to confront suffering, grapple with it, try to understand it, and to convey whatever insight one has gained.  But there is danger in delving so far into the morass of the human condition.  You don’t know what you’ll find… or what you’ll become in the process.