Sunday, July 6, 2008

Working Assumption

Working Assumption: Development in social settings occur as a result of trends which are, in turn, a function of tendencies found in the agents involved. To understand tendencies, one may begin with macrological observations and proceed down a line of inquiry to the smallest units of construction in the agent that are available at the time.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

excerpts from a work in progress (comments welcome)

This is a story about people, and how they think, or how they thought, and how they talk, or how they talked, or how they whistle, or how they whistled. This is a story about how they laugh and laughed, and jump and jumped, and cry and cried, and so on and so forth.

This is a story that is also quite like a piece of pie. It's a small part of the overall whole, one -- one slice of delicious and well-prepared crusting over a wealth of scintillating, tantalizing, and juicy sweets to be tasted. As it enters you, you can chew it. Mull over it a little. Taste it bit by bit. Then let it slide down into the interior, where it will fill you. And maybe it will fill you. Or maybe it will leave you hungering for more. Watch that hunger. This story urges you to always keep a check on that hunger, for, as the cliche goes, you are what you eat, and there's always a danger that what you take into yourself may remain, and take root, and grow, and become yourself. And so it goes.

This is a story that also serves as a picture, a portrait, so to speak. It is a portrait of a generation. It is a portrait of a man grown outside of himself, with his unruly hair out brushing the stars, and his fingertips clutching the highest mountains, and his rough, weathered backside soaking in the ocean, spread-eagled out into the be all and the end all, the alpha and the omega, the infinity and the ether.

This is a story about a time, for without time there would be no story. This is not to say that this is the whole story -- no. Because this story is about a time, there is much outside of the story that will be left unsaid. We will not discuss, for example, how the greater universe came to be in this story, nor shall we talk of the wearing down of mountains, as cool, rushing rivers ground down their peaks, bursting forth, all foamy and frothy, from veins in the earth. This shall not be a story of starclouds at the dawn of time, with the whole uncolor pressing around the unthings in the farthest and nearest niches of the not-wheres. Nor shall this be a list of all the things that this story is not. No, it is up to your mind to decide what things I do not speak of. Our chains of cause and effect will be small by comparison. This story shall only tell you what it does speak of.

Only it doesn't speak. It lies here waiting. You speak to yourself.

You'll find that out too.

It began in those frosty mornings, when the gunshot and the reveille rang out and over our little rural town, and the droplets lolled lazily down the icicles. The crack and crunch of the ice underfoot sent the messages to Adam’s brain. Heed me, boy, heed me, no choice. Everywhere the elegant ice, sharp and chill and shaped to chisel your flesh and chip your bones. And down from the sky comes the grey fog to shroud you and hide the dangers, and form wraiths in the wind at which to gawk while the cold seeps through your outer layers and into your skin and down, down, down into your thoughts. And the gears freeze, and the machinery stops, and your faculties are paralyzed. And where to turn to in this winter?

The town had a military college in its center, and there was time to ponder inside the steaming cars nudging their way closer and closer towards the high school, as the recruits jogged their morning jogs, and the outside commuters filled the lanes with traffic on their way to class. And in-between the stops and gos and brakes and bumps, and underneath the freeze, Adam began to feel the creeping of shades and the blackening of shadows. The rocking of the car’s rough planes melted away, and Adam became aware of Darkness.

Darkness begins with light fading.

When light fades, there is no glow. Without light, there can be no understanding. Without light, there is no self. When light fades, familiar things become dark, and how can there be self without surroundings? Darkness seduces, darkness cushions, and darkness becomes heavy and stifling. Darkness envelops and weighs, darkness drowns and drags into abyss. Darkness is confusion. Abyss is insanity.

In abyss there is no light, and darkness bleeds darkness. In abyss, there is no joy. In abyss, your pleasures dull you and your pains sharpen you, darkly, darkly. Your failures mock you. Your successes cut you, sharply, sharply. Within abyss, kindness becomes loathsome in its hateful pity. Love becomes hateful. Everything hateful. Friends hateful. Friends are but companions to self, and self is but putrid dark. In dark and confusion, grasping hands brush grasping hands which become drowning hands. In abyss, you fear hands. Hands are but spite, and spite becomes hell.

Abyss becomes hell.
And everything dark.

But before Darkness there is twilight. And twilight was in the Summer, as three people lay quietly on the grassy hill, staring out into infinities. And Adam glanced again and again at the tall, blonde man with the short, dark-haired girl nestled between his legs, realizing again and again that the man was tender. One could see it in the way he stroked her hair, could hear it in the affection in his voice as he said her name. Adam remembered the tone of voice -- he’d used it many times in his youth, romping through the forests, dog running close by his side. There they sat, the boy, the girl, and the young man, and on that evening, the boy had felt cold, distant, and alone. There had been friendship with his companions, but he was also a visitor, an intruder, the man who awoke to find that overnight he'd grown an extra finger or nose. He was an oddity, a mutation, a parasite, and the sensations were proof of something dark growing, a hunger.

“Vanessa? Eric? How do you think the two of you will manage once school starts?” Adam asked. Awkward after so long in silence.

No answer, and the boy's cheeks burned. Something dark? He sat there digging into wounds. The two had seen each other frequently over the last week, but no movie, swim-hole, or lazy day could fix their problem. And in the boy's mind the thought, "without my car..." Vanessa sighed, said,

"We’ll get along”

And they would, knew the boy. All subtle and wary, with machination and manipulation, the college man and high school girl found ways. A glance, a hug, a kiss, a few hours together at the social gatherings of mutual friends. Muttered conversations on the phone, an after school meeting the duration of swift rain. A heartbeat, a handshake, and for both of them a hope that her parents hadn't seen, hadn't noticed. Hadn't heard.

A hope for both of them. And in the boy, something dark, something dimming.
“If you ever need any help…”
“We’ll call. But it shouldn’t be an issue soon. In a month I’ll have my license.”
“Oh. Yeah. Well, just offering.” Adam stood up. “I’m a little hungry. You guys?”
“Famished,” said Eric.
“Not really,” said Vanessa. “I’d really like to stay here a little longer. More time to ourselves.”
Eric nestled his head into Vanessa’s hair. “I don’t mind waiting,” he murmured.
Adam sat down. And they looked up at the stars.

But the notion spiraled down in his head.
“What’s so special about him?” And even more insidious.
“Why not me??”

Why. Because you’re a damn fool and a liar. Because you’re no good, that’s why. Because your parents have control over you and she knows it and they know it and that’s no good, see. Because you don’t know enough stuff, see. A whole world you’ve got to see, see. And your jokes aren’t funny, and your stomach’s kind’ve pudgy, and you gurgle too loud when your mouthwash goes into the back of your throat and then out into the sink. And you don’t wipe well enough after you get off the toilet, and you don’t wash behind your ears. Because you can’t understand Calculus, and Kant makes no sense to you right now and because he can play an instrument and you can’t and you keep on yearning and yearning for simpler days your father knew and you never will, you fool, you pitiful fool.

Quiet, thought Adam.

Why? Because. Because of a childhood day under a lazy, dusty sun, out West somewhere with his father’s people. An Easter holiday, hunting eggs with the family, tall, dark-haired, tanned and wind-beaten. Shadow figures, and laughter, mocking laughter. His mother beside him, short and fair-haired, helping to find the eggs, his aunt also. There’s one behind the ladder, and one under the bucket, and one… up… in… the… tree…

He falls, and cries, rubbing his eyes. He hears words in the distance, as if half-remembered at the time they were spoken. “That’s what you get when--” they say. And laughter. Through the tears, dark-haired men and women with beer bottles, grins, and whipping sarcasm. The dull-red angry eye sun stares from its brown and torn sky down onto that cracked desert with the cracked family with their cracked laughs.

His mother says nothing, but takes the child, and washes away his tears. He cries as the bark scratches his eyes, but she washes, and says nothing but kindness. And his wounds tended he dries his eyes on his mother’s shirt, and runs down the hall towards the dull, dusty light outside, to find the eggs. Always more eggs to be found, and his mother sitting alone, behind, with cracked frowned brow turning into cracked head. And the whole egg cracks.

Why? thought Adam. I’ll tell you why.

Because you can’t drive a stick-shift and you can’t change the oil of the car that you do drive. Why? Your face is too thin. Your eyes are too far apart and your eyebrows are too bushy. Why? Because of your grandfather. Because of your grandfather you don’t know. Because of your grandfather who’s too religious. Because of your grandfather who won’t talk about his past. Because of your grandfather you imagine in foreign countries fifty years ago where fiery airplanes called his name, the pitching cry of the fire engine’s siren as it raced across the war-strewn air field shrieking his own defiance at the enemy’s measures. And the burn in the plane and the burn in his arms were his joy, and his uniform his pride, as he pulled forth the hoses and turned on the switches and brought everyone’s worries to rest. And then back to the States, where his marriage once failed, and his heart now too, and retirement always one step away, one step too far, and the bills, bills, bills, and nowhere a burn to be felt, a moment of pride, or even imagined shame-faced enemies to mock as the flames slowly die. Because of your shame. Because of your shame that you can’t accept that he accepts who he is. Shame.

When Vanessa was ready they arose and brushed themselves off and headed off to one of the town square’s little restaurants. They were paltry fare for the college students seeking a party, but it was all that was available unless one wanted to take the hour and a half drive south into the city. One was forced to choose between immediacy and grandiosity, and quite a few went south, but the restaurants were always packed at nights. That was one of the few entertainments available for a night out on the town -- the city sport was to dine. One could have pasta and salad, Italian ,or a fiesta, Mexican, or a cuisine Oriental (of the Chinese flavor, three separate establishments of choice), or if one desired, a gulash or cajun shrimp. There were burgers and fries of varying degrees of plumpness and seasoned delight at any time of the hour, though some of the best stayed open only during lunch. And of course there was the banquet of fast food, to be richened, if one would, with a scenic Appalachian setting. But on the square, if there was no alcohol, you were closed by five o’clock.

And there they sat and watched the people flowing by. Townspeople. College students and professors. Lawyers and real estate agents. Waitresses and musicians and secretaries and bartenders. Mechanics and workers from the carpet and ball-bearing factories. Convenience store owners and a few country politicians. And…

“Isn’t that Mrs. Recks?” asked Vanessa. It was. The school guidance counselor.

“It sure is,” said Adam. “Are you okay with eating here?”
“Yeah,” said Vanessa. “I don’t think she talks to my father.”
“Alright,” he said, and ordered the sandwiches, looking at the older woman through the corner or his eyes. She sat with her back to the three of them, glowering across the room at a bald gentlemen at the bar who was murmuring to two college girls giggling into their glasses of wine. “I wonder what she’s so pissed about.”
“Who knows,” said Vanessa. “She always finds something to be uptight about.”

They sat there for a moment in silence, then, “You never told me why your father has such a problem with you dating Eric, Vanessa,” Adam said. He’d been flirting with the idea of asking the question all night. He had a right to know, didn’t he? After all of his pains. And if they shouldn’t be together for a reason…

“It’s just the age difference,” Vanessa said, looking at him with that stare that told him quite firmly not to pry. None of your business Adam. This is our stuff.

“It’s more than that, Vanessa,” said Eric. Adam looked up. He hadn’t expected Eric to interject into the conversation, and any information forthcoming from him was a surprise.

“Let’s not get into that,” Vanessa said sharply, her lip pouting in that way Adam found so enthralling.

“Why shouldn’t Adam know? He’s been helping us out.”

“Whatever,” Vanessa said. Her feet tapped against the seat rhythmically, tap tap. Tap tap. Her pouting lip was turning into a grimace.

“Our grandfathers used to own lumber mills around here together,” said Eric. “They were business partners and pretty wealthy for awhile, for things starting getting bad in the Depression. All that land from the national park over there to the falls over to the west of the county? That was owned by our grandfathers. But for whatever reason, I guess it’s genetic, but depression runs in my family. Clinical depression. So a lot of men in my family get to being alcoholics. And when my grandfather started drinking he also liked to gamble.

“Now our grandfathers were pretty good friends, but there started to come a time where a lot of things started to go wrong. For example, one day they were out hunting and Vanessa’s grandfather’s gun misfired, and mine took some lead to the leg. It wasn’t a bad injury, and he got over it real fast with no hard feelings. But not too long after that, stuff starting going wrong at the mills -- something with the machines, or prices, or I don’t know what. Anyways, they started blaming each other for all the problems. And then one night, they got real pissed at each other over a deck of cards Vanessa’s grandfather was supposed to be cheating over. So worst comes to worst, but before they started fighting they decided they didn’t want anything to do with each other anymore and placed their bets in their last game. But their bets were all their shares in the mill business, and all the land related to the business. It seems pretty silly to me that grandpa would’ve done it if he already thought Vanessa’s grandfather was cheating.

“Who won?” asked Adam, sincerely curious now.

“Who do you think?” said Eric, smirking.

“Shut up!” Vanessa said. “It wasn’t like that.” Eric slouched in his seat.

“I don’t know. Maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t. Vanessa’s grandfather won. Royal flush.”

“That’s a pretty lucky hand,” said Adam. He was beginning to see that the old family rivalries still lived, even if only a little, in their descendants. How quaint. A cutesy game to play.

“Maybe. Maybe not. Sure pissed my grandfather off. He stormed out of there swearing revenge and calling hellfire on false friends.”

“Tell him what happened after that,” Vanessa said with an edge to her voice.

“Alright, damn. I was getting to it,” Eric said, sounding a little wounded. “I didn’t think this mattered to us anyways.”

“It doesn’t, but if the story’s going to be told, I want the whole truth, not just yours, Eric,” she said bitingly. Her tongue lashed her mouth violently (erotically).

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

On Theatre

In my high school days, I was actively involved with theatre programs, both at the school level and at the well-established local community theatre. I was a moderately accomplished actor, with a penchant for drama and more sarcastic, word-comedy, and the one time I directed a play was considered quite the success for a student director. I honestly believe that given time and dedication, I could grow into quite the proficient theatre denizen, both actor and director, and I flirted with several prospects, from play-writing to attempting to become a high school drama teacher so that I could have freedom of expression with ready made casts eager to perform.

My problems began to arise when I realized that my particular drama department was different from others. See, my drama department was full of what I would call characters in the literal, not the fake sense. They were a healthy group of wry humors and skeptics when it came to the razzle dazzle of THEATRE, and had a true appreciation for the art possible within drama. Consider an Anthony Hopkins, or a Johnny Depp, or a Kenneth Branagh. These men become their characters, they act, and in doing so add depth to that model of the universe they find themselves caught in, adding to our understanding of the point of a play that much more.

Modern theatre, or at least what I've seen at the high school level and which I'm sure builds into the wider world, isn't about understanding or points. It's about self-expression without a point. It's about hedonism and glammer and kitsch. When I went to the Internation Thespian Conferences, I was consistently dismayed to find performances not of dramas or even straight comedies, but of musicals, musicals, musicals. Theatre has died, and in its place Broadway remains. Maybe it was the birth of the movies that killed poignance on the stage -- I don't have the familiarity with all the necessary history to know. What I do know is that theatre is now a sham built upon a sham, an idealization of an idealization, and, for me personally, an embarrassing part of our culture.

To act on the stage these days no longer requires psychology, but only a familiarity with tawdriness such as the commedia dell-arte. The theatre is based upon stereotypes and master gestures which are supposed to give windows into the mind and being of the character, but which in fact serve only to cheapen and turn the complex into the two-dimensional. I'm not even speaking of portraying stock emotions to their extremes -- this at least would be justifiable. What I speak of is more sinister, is the actor studying not humankind, but other actors playing actors playing actors. When I look on the stage these days, I don't see life or even a model of life -- I see a poor caricature, and even worse, a villainous one at that. It aims to take its crass emotionalism and shove it into your soil, to sprout and overrun your world with romantic weeds that revel in nonexistant extremities.

These are the days when the theatre is a community affair, and so panders to the community's idealizations. And the community feeds on the idealizations and lives by them. And so the idealizations become mundane. And so a new idealization must be crafted, and so on, each more ludicrous than the next. Culture shapes the society, and theatre's current status shows a proclivity towards crafting a society I want no part of -- where only the pleasant things are aired and examined, and damn the rest.

"There's no business like showbusiness," goes the refrain. People come to the stage to be entertained. "Happiness sells," theatre now says. "We live for the ecstasy of life." It deceives itself. Maybe it's because the actors don't want to see wickedness in themselves with they play the villian. Maybe the director finds certain world views too bleak, too unrealistic. But Beckett and Sartre found audiences. And personally speaking, I'd rather eat the whole cake than just the sugar.

I don't call for an influx of dramas, or even a cessation of musicals. My realism isn't one of the necessity of violence and bloodshed, but one of sincerity. What starts out as entertainment very easily turns into poison. Websites such as Facebook abound with groups such as "Disney gave me unrealistic expectations about love."

Any closed system feeds on itself. In my experience, theatre has begun to clamp down on revolutionary measures. If people within theatre view themselves as anachronisms, how is the rest of the world to take them? Movies are all well and good, but there is a power about the presence of a live body on the stage. In these times, theatre dies, and Broadway thrives. And anybody willing to take a stand against its monopoly on society's perception of an art form has quite a challenge.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Mind That Step

"And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. [...] And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scatter abroad upon the face of the whole earth. And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language, and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, and they may not understand one another's speech." -- Book of Genesis, Chapter Eleven

Anybody with sufficient experience in discourse should be painfully aware of the cognitive gap. It's that space between you and I, filled with all the collective decisions, concepts, and experiences we have not shared, no matter how similar. It is the measure of our alienness to eachother, our degree of separation. The wider the gap equals the more varied our respective means of information processing are, and the harder we have to work to understand how a person sees things.

To bridge the cognitive gap is the stuff anthropology is made of, and we oftentimes forget that the first instances of anthropology didn't occur between Europeans and Asians, or Asians and Africans, or Romans and Greeks, but the very first time the very first human-thing found another and started a tribe. We perform anthropology every time we meet a new fellow from down the street. As easy as it is to glibly roll "getting to know someone" off the tongue, we forget that we perform this turn of phrase is very literal. We are all strangers, and every new meeting is a discovery of a wealth of unknowns.

The default mode of existence seems to be to assume that the people we come across are exactly like us. We cling to ideas of universality between humans, and for the average person, this serves them well enough. Our most basic form of culture is the family unit, the first thing we're exposed to in life, and so it's easy enough to get along with our family, because they share our prioris. Communities are bonded together more easily than states because ideas are easier to spread locally than globally. But there are very tangible differences and levels of comfort between people from, say, Bigcity, California and Smalltown, Georgia.

To prepare ourselves for interactions with these aliens we find in society, we developed a hierarchy -- stranger, acquaintance, friend, enemy. We expect and appreciate talk from friends that we would find repugnant from a stranger, whether the words be tender of blunt and frank. Friends are similars, or symbols of qualities we respect and admire. Acquaintances are familiar figures in our lives with behaviors and thoughts we can relate to. Enemies are familiars we find loathesome or worrisome. The more we get to know somebody, especially the processes by which they arrived at their state of affairs, the easier we find it to understand them, and in term, find their state less troublesome to our own frame of mind.

How does this apply to discourse? Everyone is aware of that old adage "watch what you say." But maybe that's a little more difficult than one might think.


It's long been conjectured that man's sapience come from his language. The default is solipsism. All is me and I am the entirety. From here we move into the simplest state of awareness, which is, of course, the idea that there is a "not-me." As soon as the being becomes aware of "not-me," it realizes that "me" can interact with "not-me." For example, he can move the "not-me" -- and so another concept is formed, "move." Conception becomes the precursor to any sort of actuality. This "not-me" is not this "not-me." So there is "this," and "that." There is "not-me" and "not-it" all around, so there must be such things as a "where," and "location." I wish to move the not-me. Where? Up. And so forth.

Our list of concepts grows exponentially as we become aware of more and more not-mes, and the number of ways a not-me can be. Our abilities of conception are limited only by the physical state of our bodies and the status quo of our congregation of concepts. Our personal experience confirms this -- we have more ideas the more we are exposed to new ideas. A person who reads more tends to think more, to shuffle information around more. Potentially, we can achieve anything given the knowledge of a thing's existence and the knowledge of a way to manipulate that thing. (We can conceive of telepathy, for example, but we have not discovered a faculty of the mind that let's us actually perform it.)

There are only two variables in this world we've become aware of. The first is ourselves. While a large part of our behavior is intrinsic to our default state, such as the need for oxygen, there are large parts of our selves that are reprogrammable. We can conceive of different states of mental being, and if we so choose, to alter our responses to meet those conceptions. Anybody who has worked with an addict or worked to change themselves in any way understands that emotions and cravings are habits our brains and bodies take on. We see these reprogrammings on a regular basis, through cognitive therapy -- by altering our thoughts, we're able to alter our behavior. It is for this reason that a person is said to "grow," or "develop," which is definitely an organic state of affairs.

The second variable is any other sapient being. A person with no previous experience of another being would no doubt feel quite anxious, being without any of the social mechanisms we take for granted. Given a completely concrete world, two separate beings discussing things would be fine. It is easy to understand the nature of the "not-me's" we can see, or the ways of manipulating them, and equally easy to demonstrate them to another. But say the person has tried to explain the existence of these things, say, through religion? There concepts are now varying from ours. "Ah, not so," we say in response to their own conceptions. "These things occurred thusly, for haven't our ancients told us so?"

At an even more basic level would be anxiety about the unknown quantity. We can explore all things, but we can never be completely sure about the inner workings of the other sapient. We know only what the sapient has told us about itself, or what we've observed through repeated behavior, but a sapient can lie, even about it's behavior if it's on guard about us. Even more frightening is the fact that the sapient need only conceive of an alternate mindframe, and our previous data goes out the window.

And so the default state of interaction with another sapient is that of a careful or even suspicious curiosity. But again, how does this relate to discourse?


If language gives rise to actuality in our observations between "me" and the static world, then it naturally follows that it performs a similar function between the variables of the world. Take, for instance, the statement "there is a fly in my soup." To the person uttering the sentence, the fact is self-evident, but to the second person who has not yet seen the fly, the statement creates the concept. "There is," there exists. "A fly," this "not-me" we both call a fly. "In my soup," located in this thing we call "soup," specifically mine. We quickly check. Ah! A fly? Just so. Or else not, and so we slowly learn to distrust the other person.

J. L. Austin, in his "How To Do Things With Words", takes things a step further. He says that every utterance is an action, even an attempt to cause things to occur. For example, "a fly is in my soup." Why do I utter this? To give information on the quality of food to my friend. To have the waiter replace the soup. And so on. To Austin, there are three uses of any given sentence.

1) The locutionary act -- the actual meaning of the statement given our language.
2) The illocutionary act -- the context.
3) The perlocutionary act -- the effect on the listener.

The last is the most important. With every statement, we attempt to direct our will on the outside world, and we know it. Conversation becomes in a very real sense the contest of wills. The danger lies in that the perloctionary act will not always be what was intended. We intend for the waiter to remove the fly. Instead the waiter begins to yell. We have made the waiter angry. The waiter intends the yelling to cause you to apologize for your rude tone. Instead it shocks you, or makes you angry.

So the question "how are you" is never mundane, it's a feeling out of how a person is likely to respond to certain things. We couch our words much more carefully when we're aware a person is irritable or in a bad mood. An for serious conversation, awareness of a person's prioris is not enough. You must be aware at all times of how a person with those prioris is likely to respond to your statements. You must use, in other words, rhetoric.

And you must always be aware of what you meant to occur as a result of your words. You may just be called upon to clarify the intent, or even to defend that intended action.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Disorder

"When a creature has developed into one thing, he will choose death rather than change into his opposite." -- From Frank Herbert's "Dune Messiah"

It often seems that patients, clinicians, and observers alike often forget that recognition of diseases and their true causes are caught in a constant state of flux. Our knowledge is aggregate, a direct result of a the cause and effect of discovery proceeding from observations and theories so ancient in origin that many of the original writings have been lost. The western rediscovery of the Grecian sciences relied largely on hearsay and roundabout. When we look back at such practices as trepanning for the relieving of headache symptoms, we see only crude barbarity, but we forget that those operating the butcher's knife did so not out of a sense of inhumanity, but out of a genuine desire to alleviate the symptoms. They did as they could given the available information, information that has since been refined.

So while others rage against the necessity of debating the very nature of mental disorder, boggling at the idea of a board of specialists having to vote on whether a state of mind is abnormal or not, I applaud our very willingness to examine our assumptions. Such cauterwaulings are but impatience at the necessity of process, like an armchair humanitarian bemoaning the poverty of the third world, or the student who wishes to be a programmer walking away from his studies because of all the "hard work." And if the clinicians work in ways that seem barbaric to a few, it is because they are the ones who feel that some progress in treatment is better than none. In psychiatry, you can't make an omelette without...

At the same time, I can't help but agree that the definitions of abnormalcy seem too blithe, with too little attention paid to the idea of normalcy, perhaps branching from the society's preoccupation with aphorisms such as "all men are created equal," by which most people mean "all men are created homogenously." We see begin to see the specter of Platonic Forms and Ideas -- if we can conceive of a man, we can conceive of the perfect man, which is the desirable man.

I posit that the only true test of disorder is whether or not a person with a reasonable amount of judgement finds themselves desirous of being in a different state of affairs, leading to a division between the original state of "condition," by which I mean the existing state with respect to circumstances, and the idea of condition as a problem in the person's life, or "disorder." We can intuitively grasp that a person in the midst of psychosis would, once the episode is over, find their state of affairs one to be avoided, but time spent browsing, say, a forum for schizoids, discovers that many enjoy their personalities. "Reasonable judgement" can also come into play in terms of a person's knowledge of their conditions. For example, it may not occur to a person with true antisocial conditions that there may be another way to exist, and ways to arrive at that mindframe. And again, a person with eating conditions may not be aware of the possible consequences of their mindframes -- for example, death.

So the first duty of the clinician becomes education, with treatment a secondary concern. Rather than diagnosis, the questions to be asked should be, "What factors could have led to this condition," and, "If the factors can be isolated and demonstrated to the person, would they consider their condition to be disorder, or are they content with their lives?" The first question serves the dual purpose of causing suspicion of the "fair cop" that a person who seeks help necessarily meets the criteria of the second question. Are they being pressured by some outside source to seek to change, for example? Would they act differently if they better knew how to deal with the outside pressure? And consideration of the factors also serves to differentiate between different styles of treatment -- medication can often be exchanged for cognitive therapy with different results, and cognitive therapy can help the person truly change rather than temporarily adapt to the conditions provided by the medication. It becomes a matter of the environmentally-stimulated biological condition versus the purely biological, or, on a scale of severity, does the person have pressing concerns that need immediate alleviation while cognitive therapy is applied.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Labels have a tendency to become self-fulfilling prophecies. Humans constantly strive for stable identity in their conceptualizations, seeking to place everything into a homogenous universe. Because a tree is a tree and will always be a tree, to know thyself is one of the most dangerous things a person can ever do. To be a Pisces, a Myers-Briggs ENFP, or an addict unconsciously becomes the goal rather than the title, and a person's lifestyle and actions may gravitate towards a conformity towards the label that can only be broken by a conscious act of will. And how often do we all lead our lives according to proactive acts of will?

If you're unhappy with your actions as a person, be wary of fitting your personality into a grand schematic. Seek resolution to specific negative behaviors through specific solutions. Acknowledgement of tendency can be a healthy thing, but only when differentiated from inclination, and for practicality's sake, think of it as something treatable rather than something hardwired. It is of such sleight-of-hand that self-improvement is made.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"The Fiction Bias"

From time to time, the folks over at Overcoming Bias like to speculate on or warn about what they call the "Fiction Bias" -- essentially, that fiction represents an inherently fallacious approach towards the world, and should therefore be avoided and rejected in the interests of objectivity. I've always been struck by confusion towards this stance -- after all, aren't most models used until the next best thing comes along, after which it's discarded as so much meat? Do scientists really approach their theories as essential truths? My own experiences with academic essays and blogs lead me to believe no, so the stance must surely have it's root in some other problem.

Overcoming Bias has always struck me as a very sound and useful advisory board for looking into personal biases dangerous to learning. It therefore strikes me as a little disappointing that people that should have an idea of what a wide variety of different mindframes can be brought to bear on a subject insist on positing the existence of a better/best style of the discussion of ideas. I suppose we all take certain things for granted -- I definitely accept a priori that "all models are wrong, but some are useful."

I could go on, but as I've already made clear most of my stance at my comment here, I'll put the stick down and leave the bush be.