Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Future of an Illusion (Book Review)

The Future of an Illusion (1927) was the first book of Sigmund Freud’s that I had ever read, but it was not my introduction to him, as I had studied his theories on sexuality, death, the ego, neuroses and whatever else his grandness decided to throw mankind's way. It is remarkable how much information he managed to put forth in only ten short chapters of this profound book. Many have considered him to have been a disciple of Friedrich Nietzsche's, and, speaking as a Nietzschean scholar myself, I definitely see the influence and similarities in both his thought process and style of writing. He directs all his psychoanalytic sharpness and abilities at the problem of religion in comparing it to an obsessive childhood neurosis. He believes religion to be a stumbling block in the future of mankind, and that what must replace it is the decrease of suffering through love and science. The new and inevitable God of mankind shall be Reason.

He begins by briefly explaining the necessity of civilization and the agitated feelings and sensations it causes in the masses due to the repression of the instincts, and he stresses that the passions could not be subdued by the intellect alone, hence what followed was the necessity of force. And to make up for all the inadequacies and the robbery of fulfillment which individuals feel, society, to compensate, grants them pride in their culture over others and the upholding of their ideals and works of art. This then gratifies a narcissistic need.

“The extent to which a civilization’s precepts have been internalized – to express it popularly and unpsychologically: the moral level of its participants – is not the only form of mental wealth that comes into consideration in estimating a civilization’s value. There are in addition its assets in the shape of ideals and artistic creations – that is, the satisfactions that can be derived from those sources.” – Chapter II

He goes on to explain his theory from Totem and Taboo (1912-1913) that our need for a father whom we both fear and need as protection from the elements and fate of the unforgiving, natural world transformed into God, who contained a combination of many of the gods which existed before him. He quips that the men who first designed a monotheistic god took much pride in designing one that contained the characteristics of all the ones that came before him. And from the first truly abhorrent act mankind had to deal with, which, according to Freud, was the killing of one’s father, came the necessary commandment, sanctified by God Himself – “Thou shalt not kill.” And in order for us to keep this commandment, and other important commands (which he does not mention) alive and in the hearts of man after the death of religion, the masses must be educated and taught that those commands were merely sanctified by religion, but in fact came from us, just as God did – out of necessity.

This is key because a core issue is that when the lower, downtrodden strata find out that the higher, more educated strata no longer believe in God, they will be influenced in the same atheistic direction, and be so indignant and resentful towards them that with no dogmatic fears holding them back, they will revolt out of envy and cause something as bloody as the French and Russian revolutions. This will not happen, however, if people are thoroughly educated in a secular manner from childhood, being properly taught all that their minds can possibly handle so that this gap between the masses no longer exists.

“Science has many open enemies, and many more secret ones, among those who cannot forgive her for having weakened religious faith and for threatening to overthrow it.” – Chapter X

Now, his main concern and emphasis is on Christianity and its state in modern-day Europe. Except there is no scriptural, scientific, or historical refuting of religious ideas, fables and doctrines by him, because, as he says, it has already been done by many great men before him, which he does not want to name, as he does not want to give the impression that he is putting himself in their rank. So the presupposition of the essay is that religion has been thoroughly refuted, is irrational, cannot be true and is, as he puts it, “a lost cause.” His goal is to explain much of the psychology behind it which has not been addressed yet, especially since psychoanalysis began with him. He does not hide the obviousness and his concern for the frivolousness in which people blindly hold fast to their faiths, even when presented with the blatant contradictions and errors.

“Where questions of religion are concerned, people are guilty of every possible sort of dishonesty and intellectual misdemeanour. Philosophers stretch the meaning of words until they retain scarcely anything of their original sense.” – Chapter VI

He explains that this ignorance is preserved from generation to generation through religious inculcation in childhood, and could very well be the root cause for the stagnation of the adult intellect and its limitations. This in turn causes the theistic and presumptuous circular argument that the human intellect can never be enough to replace religion in keeping a civilization secure and safe from humans acting as avariciously and cruelly to one another as their primeval ancestors.

“Is it not true that the two main points in the programme for the education of children to-day are retardation of sexual development and premature religious influence? Thus by the time the child’s intellect awakens, the doctrines of religion have already become unassailable. But are you of opinion that it is very conductive to the strengthening of the intellectual function that so important a field should be closed against it by the threat of Hell-fire? When a man has once brought himself to accept uncritically all the absurdities that religious doctrines put before him and even to overlook the contradictions between them, we need not be greatly surprised at the weakness of his intellect. But we have no other means of controlling our instinctual nature but our intelligence.” – Chapter IX

He strongly believes that when man throws off the veils of infantilism created by theistic brainwashing, he will be able to look at life more clearly and honestly. He will accept his little corner in the universe, and the horrors of life and nature will be something he takes on bravely and with resignation. And because all his concentration will be on this life, instead of a life in some Great Beyond, the world will experience progressive civilizations more profound than anything it has ever experienced before.

“They will be in the same position as a child who has left the parental house where he was so warm and comfortable. But surely infantilism is destined to be surmounted. Men cannot remain children for ever; they must in the end go out into ‘hostile life’. We may call this ‘education to reality’. Need I confess to you that the sole purpose of my book is to point out the necessity for this forward step?” – Chapter IX

Throughout the book he antagonizes himself with a made-up devil’s advocate who he hears making the inevitable objections. It is quite noble, indeed, as he scrutinizes himself thoroughly to the point where you can actually picture a stubborn-minded theist ranting while pulling out every stop he can possibly think of. It is not surprising that it ends with a formidable defence of science against the arguments that have been continuously thrown at it by men like Plato, Descartes, Kant, Leibniz, Berkeley and Hume (though he does not mention the names of these geniuses and master-rhetoricians), who have attempted to thwart it by having us question and severely doubt our reasoning abilities, senses, minds and, in turn, empirical data.

“No, our science is no illusion. But an illusion it would be to suppose that what science cannot give us we can get elsewhere.” – Concluding statement

It is a must read. It won’t take you very long either. What you get here is quality, not quantity.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Psychology of Death and Dying

I took a course this passed semester called Psychology of Death and Dying. Most of it was spent on grief and trauma, though, so it was kinda depressing at times, which is to be expected. But it was still fabulous. Even the textbook was awesome: The Last Dance: Encountering Death and Dying. All the best quotes, as far as I'm concerned, come from Chapter 1, though (probably because it's the most philosophical), and that's what I'm going to lay out here - my favourites. I'm reading The Denial of Death (1973) right now, by Ernest Becker. It's a mind-blowing, existentially and psychoanalytically driven masterpiece, deeply penetrating like nothing I've ever read before. And, man, oh, man, can he write! No wonder he won the Pulitzer Prize for it in '74. Too bad he couldn't collect it, though...since he died in March of that year. He wrote it while he was dying, and I agree with the professor I had in a psych course called Personality last winter semester that that probably contributed to how "blazenly" written it is (that's not a word, but it should be). All that was left of Becker's intellectual life force - all his fire - went into that monumental piece...but look at me, I'm so blown away by it that I've completely digressed. It's not time for a book review just yet. I'd be finished it by now if it wasn't for the 3 final essays that I had this month, the exam I had in Psychology of Death and Dying on the 15th, and having to worry about making sure everything is progressing with my 12 grad applications that I've been stressing about none stop. That's right - TWELVE!! Anyway, here are my favourite quotes from The Last Dance:

"Among the insights communicated in the work of Emily Dickinson, one of America's foremost poets, is the recognition that it is impossible to affirm life without an examination of death" (p. 19).

"Humour often functions as a kind of comment on incongruity or inconsistency relative to social norms or perspectives, as when a young girl wrote a letter to God asking, 'Instead of letting people die and having to make new ones, why don't you just keep the ones You have now?'" (p. 24).

"In the health care setting, humour serves to communicate important messages, promote social relations, diminish discomfort, and manage 'delicate' situations; it has been called the 'oil of society'" (p. 25).

"In short, humour is an important aid in confronting our fears and gaining a sense of mastery over the unknown. Finding humorous aspects to death, casting it in an unconventional light, relieves some of the anxiety that accompanies awareness of our mortality" (p. 26).

"Only through awareness of our lifelong losses and appreciation of our mortality are we free to be in the present, to live fully" (p. 26).

"The word thanatos became associated in the early twentieth century with Freudian psychoanalytic theory as a term describing the source of unconscious destructive urges, or the death instinct, in contrast to the constructive activities of eros, or life instinct. Freud postulated that all the variations of human behavior and activity were produced by interaction between eros and thanatos" (p. 30).

"Our relationship with death has, as Herman Feifel observed, 'a shaping power on thinking and behavior at all points in the life span.' The way which we anticipate death, Feifel says, governs our 'now' in an influential manner" (p. 31).

"In a variety of ways, our culture helps us 'deny, manipulate, distort, or camouflage death so that it is a less difficult threat with which to cope" (p. 32).

"Our heroic projects that are aimed at destroying evil have the paradoxical effect of bringing more evil in to the world" (p. 33 - Ernest Becker on terror management theory - how people cope with the awareness of death - four days before his passing).

"Because death is always a possibility, fear of death is built into human life. Studies show that 'fear of death functions as a motivating force whether people are currently focused on this particular issue or not; it is the implicit knowledge of death rather than current focal awareness that is the motivating factor.' In a commencement address at Stanford University, Steve Jobs of Apple Computer pointed out the irony of this when he said, 'Death is very likely the single best invention of life.' He called it 'life's change agent.' In this view, death is necessary to give existential meaning to life." (p. 33-34).

"Technological medicine sometimes seems to promote a view of death as an event that can be deferred indefinitely rather than as a normal, natural part of life" (39).

"As death educator Robert Kanaugh said, 'The unexamined death is not worth dying'" (40).

"Although death's finality appears harsh, for the ancient Greeks it was death that makes life significant. Mortality 'compels humans to make some sense of their existence, here and now, each day to discover what it means "to live well"'" (p. 45).

Monday, December 14, 2009

Maxims, Reflections and Opinions

I have accumulated these throughout the past few years. Some were thought up while sober, others while high. However, how often are any of us truly "sober?" I have often found myself to be most sober when I've been baked out of my skull, and the cobwebs have been cleared. Ones written out of sheer vexation aside, it amazes me how sublime ideas - epiphanies - sometimes blossom and crystallize all at once, and other times, only at the end of a long, deep, intense, vivid train of thought. Some a spiritual awakening, others merely much-needed, sinister laughter. Although, perhaps I should not say "merely" in regard to the most sacred of laughter - self-affirming, life-affirming laughter. God is doesn't mean we have to be.

1. Cruel people can be treated badly and not get hurt because deep down inside they know they deserve it. Good people eventually go insane.

2. I wish life’s tests were multiple choice.

3. God lets the Devil get away with so much, doesn’t he? It’s enough to make one think they’re one and the same person.

4. Pity can only last so long before it turns into laughter.

5. God is dead and his remains are cause and effect. They created him, and they’re what’s left of him.

6. Now, if you believe in the reality of something that is causing you to be afraid, that is a common product of a bare necessity of life: awareness. But if your beliefs are induced and sustained by fear, your beliefs are a stagnation, self-mortification, falsification and fallacy.

7. Commandments are not to be obeyed; they’re to be overcome. (A basic requirement for the school of Nietzsche).

8. Altruism and dualism – two falsehoods that have swindled mankind out of all honestly, truth and realism. Only we can save ourselves from cobweb spinners.

9. Selflessness, morality, immortality, Holy God, Satan, spirits, Santa Clause – all tools and tricks belonging to the category: “Swindles and Myths.” Though let’s be easy on Santa.

10. A holy truth is a sanctioned lie; the hardest kind to uproot and eradicate. Holiness = shrewd sickness. The “holy man” is a brutally unhealthy one.

11. Selflessness – the most deceitful and pernicious idea mankind ever foisted on itself. All hail the ego! Let us feed it proper nutrition.

12. Gaining a badge of morality out of being a physiological failure – THAT is the purpose and victory of the ascetic life.

13. Pure evil: making a question out of what is natural.

14. Surely God is mirrored by the universe he/she/it has created: cold, hard, merciless, unfair, heartless, amoral and indifferent.

15. I don’t know what’s funnier: the idea of a benevolent god, the notion that all men are created equal, or that it’s even remotely possible in any way, shape or form for selflessness to actually exist.

16. It’s ironic how the people under the delusion that the meek shall inherit the earth are rarely ever meek themselves. Ever notice that?

17. Fuck love if it means making a duty out of life. I have no time or tolerance for such rubbish!

18. Sometimes I think I should have kids just to raise little antichrists – for the sake of posterity, of course.

19. The spirit of man died the day “selflessness” prevailed.

20. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, no bliss from ignorance if doubt should reign.

21. The genius and energy of Plato was infiltrated by and wasted on the asinine idealisms and base-minded rhetoric of a sophist named Socrates.

22. Metaphysics (of the spiritual or theological kind) is the perfect pseudoscience for the layman. After all, it is merely the study of nothings.

23. The human is the only animal that knows for certain that it is going to die one day. It makes us naturally crazy, intrinsically insane, inexorably mad.

24. Christianity is for the oppressed and weary. For everyone else, it only makes oppressed and weary. It was created for and spawned by those gloomy, morbid and miserable in life. It gave and still gives consolation for such wretched souls. That is why for the joyous, high-minded, free-spirited and especially the hedonistic - it is the ultimate sapper of life.

25. Every vampire movie you have ever seen is about Christianity: “Allow me to suck the life right out of you, and in return you shall be granted immortality,” says the vampire/preacher. In return, you then become one of them, and feel compelled to go on to do the same to others. A conversion indeed!

26. A moralistic and/or existential philosopher who is ignorant of the human psyche is ignorant indeed. Unless his or her conscience is deeply rooted in psychological facts and observation – he/she is nothing but a sophist.

27. Do you think that a mother does not or cannot be jealous of or have contempt for her own daughter? How sadly na├»ve. She can envy her so much that she utterly despises her! But such a thing is too morbid and hateful for the mother to admit, even to herself. And so she dies…with this most bitter of secrets - in her mouth.

28. It is those who take the most pride in not putting themselves before others – that are the most arrogant of all.

29. If we could hear the thoughts of others we would kill ourselves.

30. They’ve lived so long under the ostentatious morality of a nonexistent God that they can no longer even fathom morality without one.

31. I can’t wait for the Bible and all other holy books to finally be written on toilet paper so the world can be wiping their asses with them once and for all. It would be very therapeutic!

32. Religion = a war on personal freedom.

33. Religion = self-delusion fuelled by fear and self-imposed ignorance.

34. Of all the superstitions, cults and pseudo-sciences which I have studied (and they are many), there is none more ridiculous, outrageous and unbelievable - than Judeo-Christianity.

35. If God exists he can suck my fuckin’ cock! How’s that for a reflection? LOL!

36. A wise and prudent man will “transcend” his impulses when it is befitting him. Except only a self-mortifying fool even dares to even attempt to remain afloat from them for good. And when he fails miserably at this horrifically masochistic and superfluous endeavour, let us throw back our heads and laugh with a whole-heart and utmost delight!

37. Always write your maxims and reflections down. Assume nothing about your memory. Especially if it’s when you’re lying in bed at night falling, or trying to fall, asleep. Learn from me.

38. What happens to us when we are forced into the all-too-common position of having to take on more than we can handle, in terms of the limited amount of vitality we have in us? When we have to give that extra 110%, where does that extra 10% come from? Indeed it must come from nowhere else but the energy we put into what we value most: our beloved craft(s), our friends, our family, our hobbies, etc. But what is left to tap when even this is not enough? Perhaps it has to come from what should be unspeakable as a resource. That is, from the inner, subterranean energy that is perpetually required in order to keep our identities and minds intact, until after years of such a morbid endeavour, there is scarcely anything of our former selves left. And how many of us give a piece of ourselves away every single day of our lives? I wish this theory of mine wasn’t true; but it does seem to be.

A thinker can for years on end force himself to think against the grain: that is to say, to pursue not the thoughts which offer themselves from within him but those to which an office, a prescribed schedule, an arbitrary kind of industriousness seem to oblige him. In the end, however, he will fall sick: for this apparently moral overcoming of himself will ruin his nervous energy just as thoroughly as any regularly indulged in excess could do.” - Nietzsche