Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Why do we watch violence?



Why do we watch violence?

"The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug." Chris Hedges

It was an unsettling question when I was first asked and one I still feel uncomfortable with. It is one I feel less and less uncomfortable about bringing up in conversation although it tends to be a conversation stopper.

It seems to me that our first reaction is that it is a “silly” question as that “of course” we watch it because it is “exciting” or simply entertaining. I realize too that there are many that actually are very careful and do not watch violence.  

I should also be specific in that I am referring to movies and televisions and realize that many, many people still choose not to view these or simply do not have the time. From the start we should not be simplistic and forget that from time immemorial literature has dealt often,  almost exclusively, with violence so the quest is why do we even bother with the Iliad and the Odyssey or the tragedies’ of Shakespeare?

The answer is not obvious. The world has always been a dangerous place and this question is only probably even at all sensible in that the world is relatively much more safe compared to only one hundred years ago. That is it would have been laughable a few years ago as to walk out in the street would to be to see what was on stage. I believe it was the humorist Dave Barry who invented the hotel game of “100 Channels.” The idea is to flip through 100 cable channels without seeing a gun. You “win” if you do not see a gun; pretty impossible to do. The idea is when is the last time you saw a gun in real life? I live and work in a pretty tough neighborhood and have not seen a gun except in the holster of an armed guard or policeman in about five years, and that was in lock box in a friend’s home.

This was not the case only a short time ago and throughout, at least recorded history, crime, famine, disease and war where common. It is recognized that often this resulted in times when the general mental status of the common man was quite unstable only adding to the turmoil. That is despite the common notion of “how bad things are,” things have greatly improved (see excellent summary of the decline of crime and violence by Steven Pinker).  But they have only recently improved and so there is a huge legacy and history of violence and of course still  too often our ways of solving problems involve violence; war to capital punishment and of course crime. I should even though this is about a “negative” point, “our penchant for watching violence”, emphasize and once again encourage you to listen to Pinker’s summary to encourage a positive “scene” and say that without a doubt things are getting better and we can always do better.  

And no, I have not forgotten “domestic violence” which has altered by who knows how much but for sure is alive and well in amounts much more so than any one dare to admit or report.

Until the advent of movies, now only a little over 100 years old we only had the theater which was only accessible to the tiniest part of the population if we were to have live entertainment and then reading which again has been available to such a small part of the population despite the printing press, until recently. It seems to me that the electronic representation of violence has much to do with interest, interest as a reflection of the violence in our own lives. Being so very ignorant of the causes for the chaos in our own lives we our subconsciously desperately looking and hoping for answers. Unfortunately so many people grow up with such seemingly mindless violence ( I say seemingly because it in the end it all has a logic) that much is watched as a means medication, and retraumatizing or reliving trauma.  Do others  live the hell that I do? Why do they? How can I survive it? At its worst media is  also, unfortunately often and frequently a classroom of “oh that is how you defend yourself in this or that situation.”

A coherent view of how emotion drives history can be seen through the study of Psychohistory.  From the start I  say I have a problem with its foundations in that it uses  Freudian ideas where I argue for the more direct approach of motivation to action through our innate feelings.  I think little if anything is lost of Lloyd DeMause’s work and thinking if you substitute one for the other when he talks of infant and childhood terror states being the cause for domestic and international terror.  His “Foundations of Psychohistory” is a classic. It is not for everyone. If anything is violent this book is. It is the true history of violence against children. It puts into a historical context why our interest and excitement are focused on what he calls “sacrificial themes,” and why we search them out.

So we watch to learn and to relive and then there is again the pure emotion of it all. Chris Hedges teaches us of the addiction to battle. A former war correspondence he finally realized that he and many of his colleagues where “chasing the battle” that in fact he had become addicted to battle. He sobered up.  His quote that is used to open this essay is used to open the movie “The “Hurt Locker” the “Best Picture” of 2010 explores one mans addiction to the thrill of disarming military ordnances and IED’s to the point that it is the only “real” thing in his life. He reenlists leaving his mate and young son.

I claim always to be monitoring myself against watching violence. I will often wait a very long time before I will see a movie that I think is violent. Often I will never see it. But then why do I eventually see some? There are some distinctions to be made the most obvious is gratuitous and non gratuitous violence. Of late I have been surprised with my acceptance of how I have been disavowing much of the violence around me. This is not good and dangerous. Sticking your head in the sand is not good.  So, watching works that present themselves as honest and I have found to be honest has helped me evaluate the real world around me.  The ends of “Macbeth” or “Hamlet” are not displays of gratuitous violence. And as much as the end of “Reservoir Dogs” might look like “Hamlet” it is not “Hamlet.” There is a movie I waited years to see. I was seduced simply by the name and its staying power in my memory. I forgot it was by Quentin Tarantino. I for example will not see “Inglorious Bustards.” He is who he is and for me he feeds the addiction of and for violence. I hear him say he has no obligation whatsoever to have a moral stance. His stance is free-floating excitement and whatever serves that end is fine with him.  To me his violence is by definition gratuitous because it is only there to entertain and to satiate because there is no further end, no moral, no real plot. What is the point of most marital art movies except excitement? Or the discharge of anger, rage or disgust?

Why do you enjoy violence?

Brian Lynch
Shame and Humiliation

http://www.squidoo.com/thinking-feeling-doing (Summary of Principles used in these posts.)



http://www.brianlynchmd.com



Tomkins, Silvan S.: Affect Imagery Consciousness NY: SPringer Publishing Company, 1963.



Shame and Pride : Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self by Donald L. Nathanson Paperback (March 1994)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Scientists discover Babies Want to be Happy: The amoral lives of babies.

[Dear Reader, a note to you for your time management. This is at least twice as long as the usual post. No apology. It is as long as it seems necessary. Comments and suggestions are, as always, appreciated. Dr. Lynch]

Scientists discover Babies Want to be Happy: The amoral lives of babies.

“It is interest… which is primary.[Interest] supports both what is necessary for life and what is possible…” Silvan Tomkins. 

Actually I claim this is exactly what we have discovered. This truth is being obscured by more recent studies dealing with, for example, on the “moral lives” of children such as seen in studies by Paul Bloom and others at Yale University. To be sure, to their credit they do not make easy or broad claims about their findings.  Their findings are full of nuance. The problem is that in the popular press and even in the scientific world we have to get each other’s attention and so we need “tag lines.” Here the tag line is that evidently children have a “moral life,” that they seem to have a sense of right and wrong, of “good” and “evil.”  I cringe from the get go that a modern Yale scientist is throwing around the word “evil” at this point in his career.

This  “moral sense”  is based on the fact that after observing puppet shows where there are “helper” puppets and puppets that hinder the progress of  a puppet that is trying to do  something the child, in one case a one year old, will  “choose” the helper and not only choose the helper but “whack” the “bad guy.

First observations are if these findings go towards an innate sense of morality where do the “bad” guys come from?  I think that is a though question.

I think it might suggest or does truly suggest that we have been doing everything wrong up until now. And why would that be if humans started out with such a strong innate moral component? As it is often summarized in the history of man we have posited evil and posited that we are born “evil.”  And again why would that be if we are born with this innate since of morality. We are little “devils” in need of socialization. We are in need of being taught what is “right and wrong” even if we have to be tortured into it! So it seems in so many of our traditions. Again how did the innate tendencies take us down these roads?

What then? What if we have been spanking the morality out of kids? Why would that be if we are born with a sense of morality? Is that where the bad guys come from?  Again if we are born with a sense of right and wrong weren’t the bad guys born with this same sense? I myself say exactly yes that is where most of the bad guys come from. That is we “abused them into being bad.”  But I am not agreeing exactly that we are born with a sense of morality as these studies suggest but for significantly different reason.

I suggest that the researches and science in general are on the right tract but just do not have the language to guide them. They get close when Hume is quoted. They state, in the New York Times article,  “As David Hume argued, mere rationality can’t be the foundation of morality, since our most basic desires are neither rational nor irrational. “Tis not contrary to reason,” he wrote, “to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger.” To have a genuinely moral system, in other words, some things first have to matter, and what we see in babies is the development of mattering.”


 I think so much is cleared up and made so much simpler when we say that the babies “like” or desire to be “happy,” to feel good. What “matters” is to feel good.  They are interested in those actions that bring them happiness. They will affiliate with that which will bring happiness. Their facileness at this is explained in their humanness. We learn quickly; at 11 months we are already forming words.  Everything they are doing need not have any bearing whatsoever on “morality” but everything on what is pleasurable and what they will see as paying off in the future in the form of “happiness” and joy.   And let me say now that they already have some understanding that that has something to do with and understanding of long term cooperation and working with others. I need others help to be happy, to complete tasks. That is putting the cart behind the horse. Morality falls out of the babies understanding of what will pay off, of what matters.

It is more than remarkable that when these experiments are done with objects that do not have painted faces there is little or no feedback. In the article I read there was only mention of this but no further comment. It is “our” contention, those of us that feel that humans are motivated primarily by emotional forces, or what we call “affect” that the human face is the seat of our humanness and is in fact the “glue” that binds us together. If we want a basis for a morality we need not look any further than “right under our noses.” The study of facial expression is showing us that huge amounts of subliminal information is guiding our actions and cognitions every step of the way. How long has it been since we have known that fully fifty percent of face to face communication is non-verbal?

Now, this is where a lot of people will take the New York Times article and run with a sexy part in the opening paragraph: “At this point, the toddler was asked to take a treat away from one puppet. Like most children in this situation, the boy took it from the pile of the “naughty” one. But this punishment wasn’t enough — he then leaned over and smacked the puppet in the head.”

Of course, note that this is only one child, that is apparently all the other children only choose the “good” guy or rewarded the good guy depending on which study they where in or took the treat away from the “bad” guy .  They did not also hit them over the head. Certainly at this age the child could have already have learned that “hitting” was what one does when one is “bad.”  Does the child have siblings and how do they interact and many other questions?

Not only is the answer “right under our noses”  vis-a- facial expression but so too in the animal kingdom. To look there is to give the lie to our biology which we seem loathed to do. The animal kingdom has each its own closed system of morality which we often admire. That system is based on the same neuroanatomy we start with and that is a “glue” of a mutual recognition of each other that must at some level be called “interest” and in mammals also involves a mutual sharing of joy. These are not necessarily cognitive processes; they only come in higher primates and of course in man. Babies derive pleasure from the pure interest they derive from the world around them and subsequently joy derived from that interest and build on these experiences through memory.

“It is interest… which is primary.[Interest] supports both what is necessary for life and what is possible…” Silvan Tomkins.  A “morality” quickly “falls” out of being “interested” in others. It has its own logic we need not fall over one another to get there. In the animal kingdom this is certainly the case, mutual “interest” (mutual recognition as being of the same species’)  in survival of the species is all that is needed to keep things running smoothly.  

I claim that choosing “the good” guy is “nothing” more than affiliating with “the good” in the sense of “feeling good,” of wanting to be on the “fun team.” True enough taking the candy away from the “bad” guy is a much more sophisticated maneuver, or is it?  What motivates the babies to take the candy away from the “bad” guy is therefore not simply understood.

But  are we really not back to Hume’s “mattering?” Or I want to posit also that as I said earlier things or “stuff” “falls” out of “what is here.” An order evolves naturally and it evolves naturally from what is given vis-a-vis the “glue” of “interest” in other.

A solitary baby is quite different than one after another baby enters a room so too as humans we cannot   but note the presence of another human and I say be “interested” in them.  What follows that initial interest is another story. There are only so many permutations.

In short all babies did not act the same. Not all babies took candy from “bad” babies. Could we say their “interests” varied? The question would be why? Not to jump to the conclusion and impose our conclusion that they are thinking “morally.”

I suggest that the researches do these experiments and analyze the real subtext and that is what is going on in the facial expressions of the babies throughout the experiment. Is there a difference between those that do and do not take the candy and what is their expression before this when they see the bunny run away with the ball among many more questions? Possibly this could be done with the footage they have.

No, “morality” is not innate, it seems like it might be as it starts to “fall out” of our bumping into each other as soon as that other kid comes into the room. We want like heck to have fun with them but it quickly gets complicated. The adult giving the baby the option of taking the candy away from the baby reminded of a scene in the Bergman movie “Shame” where one of the protagonists is forced into a position of “having” to execute someone to save his own life. Or of the Mailgram experiments which are mentioned in the NYT’s article where subjects applied shocks apparently “simply” because they were ordered to.  This is the “real” world of adult morality but it is still built on our interests.


Brian Lynch


Shame and Humiliation

http://www.squidoo.com/thinking-feeling-doing (Summary of Principles used in these posts.)

http://www.brianlynchmd.com

Tomkins, Silvan S.: Affect Imagery Consciousness NY: SPringer Publishing Company, 1963.

Shame and Pride : Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self by Donald L. Nathanson Paperback (March 1994)

Monday, June 14, 2010

"Nothing is as it seems"

"Nothing is as it seems" 

 "All the world old is queer save thee and me, and even thou art a little queer." Robert Owen.

Most everything has been turned on its head for me over the last fifteen or so years. I like, I am sure most people, thought and think that when people seek help for mental health issues it is because they are essentially “worse” off than the rest of the population.

One day it occurred to me that maybe in fact quite the opposite was true. Unless you have thought about these issues a great deal or are in therapy or have been in therapy this might not be obvious and in fact might be quite offensive thought. I do at times tend to state things in a rather radical mode but that is with the hope of getting the readers interest. If I fail that is the chance I take. That said  I am not saying there are not “well adjusted folks out there” but it has certainly seemed to me that those that surround the  people that come to see me are really the ones most in need of  help or at minimum at least a few in every family, or let’s say we all need help. We all need to learn about our emotional lives.

The people that take the step to come and get “help” or, I like to say, come in to learn something about their emotional life make  where lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.  I am not going to even say they are “better people” only that they are yes “luckier” in that sense that they are the ones in front of me for whatever reason. The truth of the matter is it will be found out that they are here because those around them literally are or did at some point practically torture them to death or to the point of insanity. That is not to say that those very same people maybe at some point did  seek  help and or where institutionalized  but it is more often that they are  in such a state of denial that they could never see themselves as “that kind of person[to seek help].” It would be and is too “shameful” for them to seek help. Therefore the person getting help, coming in and seeking learning has maybe unbeknownst to them, in the cosmic order at least crossed the threshold of shame tolerance. They are by definition not too shamed to come in. Someone it seems to me has to say these things and they have been said before.  They will be hurtful to some but my job is to speak for those that come to see me.

It has occurred to me just of late that it is of maybe no great mystery why over thirty percent of American adults live alone. This usually is interpreted as some sign of gross pathology on our part. Just maybe it is a sign of some sanity. A society that has reached a state of affluence that can escape the bonds of insanity that we find behind closed doors. The insanity of constant shame and humiliation that I hear of every day from my privileged vantage point that I am convinced exists at every level now having come at this job not simply as a “therapist” but as a general doctor seeing  all levels of  lives and families as grist for the “mental health” mill. Living alone is certainly preferable to “Mommy Dearest” who is much more common then we ever thought.

Please pursue your health and peace. No one need know the counsel you keep. Know that you are the truth seeker if those around you cannot break the cycle.


Brian Lynch

Shame and Humiliation
http://www.squidoo.com/thinking-feeling-doing (Summary of Principles used in these posts.)
http://www.brianlynchmd.com
Tomkins, Silvan S.: Affect Imagery Consciousness NY: SPringer Publishing Company, 1963.
Shame and Pride : Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self by Donald L. Nathanson Paperback (March 1994)
W.W. Norton & Company; ISBN: 0393311090

Disgust

Disgust

“A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” Simon and Garfunkel

Not a popular discussion point, disgust.  

 And much of what I say in this space is probably not very popular although many reader, I suppose,  have  not figured that out yet. I don’t mean to insult you but I assume that it is not easily grasped that I am always saying that what is happening in the human psyche is that we are motivated by our emotive network first and then we do and think or think and do. So it is with those things that “disgust” us. The implications of this are far reaching.  We are not motivated by primarily by “truth.” Truth is a hard won luxury.  We are motivated by our interests and our interests can be our disgusts that are later justified and made into truths, our own truths. So much research is showing that what we do is “believe” and then search out those facts that confirm our beliefs and disregard the rest

To set the stage as such: So it was now a few years ago that a former mentor of mine Leon Kass stated at a congressional hearing on cloning:

Repugnance, here as elsewhere, revolts against the excesses of human willfulness, warning us not to transgress what is unspeakably profound. Indeed, in this age in which everything is held to be permissible so long as it is freely done, in which our given human nature no longer commands respect, in which our bodies are regarded as mere instruments of our autonomous rational wills, repugnance may be the only voice left that speaks up to defend the central core of our humanity. Shallow are the souls that have forgotten how to shudder.”              

At the time he took a great deal of heat for this and so he should have. I sometime later myself countered him in a lengthy work. Bearing with me for a moment his collogue at the University of Chicago Martha Nussbaum also argues much to the contrary about such strong emotions. In her case she argues that the use of disgust in the criminal justice system  has no place in that system. Law should not be made on the basis of our disgust for something, or some act.

I once tried to engage her in an email dialogue about the biological foundations of emotions but failed due to her busy schedule among, I suppose, many other things. In any event I see no evidence in her work of a deep understanding of the biology of emotion. That said she is on the right tract philosophically, and Kass, unfortunately, at least then, was on the wrong one.

So, disgust, it seems from the Darwinian prospective, is a vestige of or reptilian ancestry and thank heaven for it, for without it we would not survive. It has more than anything to do with eating and saving us for rotten and toxic food. Slowly it has entered into the emotional system and into the parallel world of emotional cognates.  Love is full of metaphors of consuming and devouring the other but woe the day when love ends and we vomit the other out because of disgust!

But back to the general, Kass is wrong: my disgust is not your disgust. Yet we have tried throughout history to make this so. Tribal cultural made it easier. Authority makes it easier. And of course my authority is always more authoritarian than yours. My dad can beat up your dad. We are taught to get an “education” and then to stop thinking when it comes to matters of “disgust.” “Son you don’t even need to go there, don’t even think about it. Trust me. What those people do[ eat ice cream, mountain oysters, suck each other’s toes, live in Chicago, swim nude] is just disgusting.” If I am told that the other is “disgusting” I tend to adapt that attitude.  The people over the hill are different, they look different; they have different birthing, marriage and sexual practices.  “Isn’t that disgusting?”  Those savages scalp people. Isn’t that disgusting? Trouble is who taught them to scalp?

The simple thought then is that the “rule”, the “law”, the “sin” is always secondary to someone or some group’s disgust when that law discriminates or excludes someone or something.

Are there “universals?” Are there universal disgusts?  We would argue that no there are not but there are acts that given the goal of the emotive system and that is to “maximize joy” that human society will form itself to discourage many acts. Those acts are so antithetical to maximizing joy in the common good they will naturally elicit various negative feeling among them but not necessary restricted to disgust but will elicit anger, fear, rage, distress, shame among others. So, yes society  does, as we recognize, have its short list of universal prohibited acts such as murder but the attendant emotion we each feel might and is, I say,  quite different and of course murder too is not always prohibited.

Brian Lynch

Shame and Humiliation
http://www.squidoo.com/thinking-feeling-doing (Summary of Principles used in these posts.)
http://www.brianlynchmd.com
Tomkins, Silvan S.: Affect Imagery Consciousness NY: SPringer Publishing Company, 1963.
Shame and Pride : Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self by Donald L. Nathanson Paperback (March 1994)
W.W. Norton & Company; ISBN: 0393311090

Withdraw II

Withdraw II
“Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.” Robert Frost, “The Death of the Hired Man”


There is a devastating “withdraw,” one that can and does end untold numbers of relationships.  Why does one member of a dyad leave? But we will soon get there.  It is not always a bad thing to leave. Sometimes things need to end. The relationship has become unequal and unhealthy there is in the vernacular “abuse.” But what is “abuse?”  This is where the idea that we absorb and read each other’s emotion constantly is such a powerful and useful idea.  Things come undone at various times when one member cannot tolerate the “affective” overload or when one member loses control of the affective management.


Things may go along for years until one member of the pair starts to grow in new ways that they find interesting and the other finds threatening. This is a great danger when individuals come into therapy.
A partner will start to find new strengths and interests and all kinds of unintended consequences will start to happen at home.  Recently a wife encouraged her husband to “step up” and get treatment for his addiction. He did so and this forced such a change in the marital dynamic that she had to start to face her contributions over the years to their problems which became intolerable.  She fled, filed for divorce.


So it has happened in relationships   in my life. My growth has lead me to places where I cannot but go and so it was one night at dinner I could not tolerate the inability of my “friend” of then some ten years to acknowledge the worth of my work due to his demonstrated fear of applying any of it to his life time and time again.  He had, yes, humiliated me just one too many times and I left.  So I say there are good reasons to “withdraw.” If people keep hurting you get the hell out of their way. And the definition of insanity is: “doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.”

But there are a billion ways and reasons to withdraw. 

There is no more beautiful tale of withdrawal than “The Death of the Hired Man “ by Robert Frost:

Warren leaned out and took a step or two,
Picked up a little stick, and brought it back
And broke it in his hand and tossed it by.
“Silas has better claim on us you think
Than on his brother? Thirteen little miles
As the road winds would bring him to his door.
Silas has walked that far no doubt to-day.
Why didn’t he go there? His brother’s rich,
A somebody—director in the bank.”

“He never told us that.”

“We know it though.”

I venture to say, however, that since I claim that so many of us know so little of our emotional lives that we “withdraw” due to a massive confusion, a hurt that we do not know how to medicate and there is no doctor or cure to look to. We just think “this is what people do.”  And these are the many devastating, heartbreaking and needless breakups that I mention at first. If only we knew a little about what we are feeling at these times.

But, the mind also will tend to do other things even when shut way under the covers, in the house or on the beach and that is it will blame itself for the mess or if not that it will put all the blame on the other. If all else fails it will try the Scarlet O’Hare trick and “think about it tomorrow.”  

But, here I am referring to times of withdraw that are tragic and that are done because we tragically have not learned about this moment of confusion and shame. Not because we are being abused but because we are emotional invalids and are swept away by the tides of what is “simply” how the human psyche works unless until we understand it and counteract it. I am talking about being our own worst enemy, leaving because we are embarrassed or ashamed or fee shame.

This study of being ashamed, embarrassed and shamed has been more than fascinating. I more and more tell people, in no way to be patronizing but to try and be helpful, that when I first came across these Ideas it took me at least six months to grasp what these authors particulars meanings of shame and embarrassment et al where.  And this was with studying almost daily those six months so I honestly do not know what to expect from anyone if we just talk a couple times a month. That said many do seem to “get it.” Now that said (and please no one take this personally) it is more than fascinating how powerful “shame” is in that one can understand it in much of its complexity and seem to be utterly powerless to control shames control over their own life.  But heck I have known that feeling. It takes time. It is called changing scripts. That is what we do when we are confused and feel shame.

 Brian Lynch

Shame and Humiliation
http://www.squidoo.com/thinking-feeling-doing (Summary of Principles used in these posts.)
http://www.brianlynchmd.com
Tomkins, Silvan S.: Affect Imagery Consciousness NY: SPringer Publishing Company, 1963.
Shame and Pride : Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self by Donald L. Nathanson Paperback (March 1994)
W.W. Norton & Company; ISBN: 0393311090