Friday Flotsam – Psych Issues and I Get a Review!

1. First and foremost, my appalling ego requires me to advise you all to hop over to A Song of Joy for a review of my first published book: The Wisdom of Walt Disney. It’s also the first review of that book that I’ve received. To say more would be unpardonably self-aggrandizing.

2. In celebration of this fact, I offer the accompanying video tribute to Mr. Disney that I made to go along with an updated release of the book a few years back. All the films shown in the video are discussed in the book.

3. As I’ve noted before, I suffer from what I’ve been calling ‘Depression’. Now, the thing to keep in mind is that psychological issues are different from diseases. In a typical disease (at least, most of them) you have an objective constant in the form of the micro-organism that is causing it: the Smallpox virus or the pneumonia bacteria are species of organism that have certain characteristics and behave a certain way. But psychological issues don’t really have this; the brain begins acting in a particular way which may or may not stem from one of several causes and which may or may not follow the pattern of other brains under similar circumstances. In any case, when it comes to the brain, we only have the symptoms: there is no ‘depression virus’ where we can say ‘Ah, there’s the constant!’ In other words, as far as we know (at least from what I understand), a bodily illness is a substance – an objective thing – while a mental illness is an accident – a pattern.

Yes, I know that we have brain chemistry, but the thing is that 1. there’s a chicken-and-egg problem with that: do the chemicals cause the thoughts or the thoughts release the chemicals? The fact that we can direct our thoughts and recognize them as rational or irrational suggests the latter, at least in part. 2. Neurochemistry is such a new field that I wouldn’t hazard anything upon it that isn’t backed up by more established knowledge (brain scans have gotten results from dead salmon, so something’s not quite right there) and 3. Whether we call the symptoms thoughts or brain chemicals doesn’t really change the question: it’s still something that is happening in or being done by the brain, not, as far as we know, an objective entity that is reacting with it.

Which means that there is no real limit to the form of the pattern. The Bubonic Plague always acts within a certain range of behaviors because the Plague is only a particular bacteria. But theoretically there could be as many mental illnesses as there are potential unwanted connections in the brain.

4. Anyway, long story short, after being frustrated by various different approaches for recovery I’m working on developing my own. My particular issues seem to be an odd cocktail of depression, anxiety, a dash of OCD, and maybe a few other things (not that these ‘official’ diseases aren’t often found together), all tumbled together with a base character that’s fairly out-of-the-ordinary to begin with. So I’m trying to draw whatever seems useful from a bunch of different approaches designed to combat these various constituent issues and work out something tailor-made to my own situation.

Just starting off, in the ‘gathering info’ stage, but so far there have been some interesting results. At the moment I’m working through ‘Brain Lock’ by Jeffry M. Schwartz, which details a self-directed therapy for combating OCD. I’d definitely recommend it, even if you don’t think you have OCD, since I believe the approach could easily be modified to other issues: it’s simple, but makes sense and the methods advised have a solid pedigree, such as the insight that behavior changes thought, so that the key to change is to act contrary to inclinations: a fact embodied in the practice of ritual and objective moral law. Seeking to alter unwanted thoughts by recognizing their irrationality, dwelling upon the truth and acting accordingly is essentially just “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

In short, your feelings are secondary: your actions and your beliefs are primary.

I tend to trust insights and advice that A). recur across multiple different books from different authors dealing with different problems – the ‘action reinforces thought and thought directs action and both trump feelings’ insight keeps coming back again and again – and B). harmonize with traditional philosophical and religious thought: that is, with the ideas of the people who actually built functioning societies rather than the people who parasite off of them.

I’ll probably share more of this as time goes on.

Friday Flotsam: Pro-Life and Depression

1. Discovered that the March for Life is today. All things considered, I’m rather surprised they’re actually having it. You know, I’m thoroughly against abortion (whatever arguments can be brought in its favor, the answer is always “would that logic still apply if the child were born and we were talking about smothering it with a pillow?”), but I’ve never much liked the pro-life movement. If they succeed, then wonderful. I’m all in favor. But I don’t think they will, and they sure as heck won’t in the near future.

The trouble is that abortion is a cornerstone of the sexual revolution, which a large portion of our current culture is based upon. You are either going to keep abortion and with it the perspective on human sexuality and human nature that informs our economy and social structure, or you are going to lose abortion and with it many of the basic assumptions that underlay how we as a society do things. No more casual sex as a matter of course. No more women devoting themselves to a career unless they’re either married or willing to be celebate for a time. In fact, no more holding ‘gender equality’ as a societal goal, because we’ve got this huge, objective difference staring us in the face without being able to sweep it under the floorboards anymore.

Not to mention the fact that we would have a large number of the population having to come to terms with the fact that they’ve committed a terrible crime.

This is why even if you legally overturn it, it will come back in a few years as soon as the political winds shift, because it’s embedded in the worldview of a significant portion of the population.

You see, we are never going to end abortion until we have a seismic shift in worldview in the west.

Again, I wish the pro-life movement well in this. I hope they prove me wrong.

I also find it rather amusing to hear the March for Life described as ‘powerful’ when it hasn’t achieved anything substantive in half a century. By definition, that is the opposite of powerful.

2. Honestly, all that isn’t really the reason I dislike the pro-life label. Again, I hope they succeed, I just am pretty certain they won’t. The real reason I dislike it is that I think many people have a habit of prioritizing the ‘pro-life’ label over Christian teaching. “How can we create a truly pro-life society?” “Pro-life means anti-poverty” “A truly pro-life position prioritizes the dignity of the human person, meaning that it includes forcing ever increasing dependence upon giant corporate entities is anti-poverty.” Or, to take the most obvious example “You cannot be pro-life and support the death penalty.”

Meaning that you are claiming that a truly pro-life worldview is contrary to that of nearly every other Christian in history up until a generation or two ago. Oh, Thomas Aquinas, King Louis IX, all those other saints? Yeah, those guys just didn’t really understand human dignity like we moderns do.

This, of course, only reinforces and feeds into the modernist narrative that we are unique among the generations of man and thus can ignore any experience, arguments, or insights from the past. A ‘Reset’ mindset if you will.

And I find that ‘pro-life’ usually devolves into simply being a cudgel which some Christians use to beat others for not following their preferred socio-political views (“climate change is a life issue”). All too often, this results in the absurd spectacle of proudly ‘pro-life’ people supporting ardently pro-abortion candidates on the grounds that they somehow ‘foster a culture of life’.

If someone says “you aren’t really pro-life unless you accept such-and-such,” the answer is “then I guess I’m not pro-life. Who cares? I am not obligated to conform my views to the implications of a bumper sticker.”

3. Didn’t really mean for today’s flotsam to turn into a rant of everything I don’t like about the PLM, but such things happen.

I was originally considering writing about depression, if that is what I suffer from (on the subject of the PLM: we today get way too hung up on labels and slogans to the point where we miss the reality that the thing is supposed to be pointing to). It’s what most people seem to call it, so we’ll go with that.

I’ve mentioned it in a Catholic Match post from a while back, but depression, in my experience, isn’t so much feeling constantly down or continually sad. It’s more of experiencing continual emotional pain. Like having an open wound inside you that keeps getting prodded.

If you know someone with depression, odds are they’ll often seem to be losing their temper or flying off the handle at seemingly minor things (this kind of anger is often a symptom). Know that that’s the equivalent of a dog snapping at you if you poke at a sore spot. They’re not trying to be mean, they’re trying to send the message: “that hurts: don’t do that!”

Because when someone prods that big open sore inside of you, you can’t really just say “ow! Stop!” Because they don’t know what they did that hurt you, and you probably don’t either. And it probably wouldn’t be anything reasonable that you could explain in any case. “Don’t poke my broken hand!” is easy to understand and follow. “Don’t reinforce the deep-seated impression of powerlessness and personal inadequacy that I’m trying to convince myself is not a true perspective of reality”, not so much. It isn’t like you can give a lecture on your own psychology a la the end of Psychonauts (“As shown on page 41 of your handouts”) every time someone or something jabs at that open wound so that they’ll know how they hurt you and how to avoid doing it in the future.

The last thing they want to hear is you telling them ‘calm down!’ or being asked ‘why are you so angry?’ To their mind, that’s you saying “this shouldn’t hurt you, so I’m going to keep acting like it doesn’t” or “it’s your fault that you’re in pain and it’s up to you to act as if you weren’t.”

I haven’t come close to solving my depression issue, so I don’t have any real recommendations at the moment. This is more a set of observations. I know lots of people suffer depression these days (my therapist calls it ‘the common cold of psychology’), mostly, I think, because we’ve created a world that is thoroughly unsuited to human nature, so perhaps writing my own experiences will at least help any readers to get some clarity on it.

4. Well, this one has certainly turned into a downer, hasn’t it? Let’s end with a Dilbert:

Dilbert Has To Be Right  - Dilbert by Scott Adams