Author Archive

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Addiction and Rescue: The Pledge Goes Viral

November 7, 2015
"k1f" Kirby Farrell

“k1f” Kirby Farrell

If you’d like to be rescued from death, vote for me.

That’s the gist of a video clip Huffington Post put on Facebook. In it a presidential contender promises prospective voters in a New Hampshire tavern that he favors treatment for addiction. Within a day or two, more than two million people called attention to the clip. Whew.

Pundits at opposite ends of the spectrum praised the candidate’s pledge to favor treatment over punishment for addiction. Although treatment would cost money and conservatives loathe Medicare and Obamacare, a conservative blog  called the candidate’s plea “riveting stuff,” and promised that “You won’t be able to take your eyes off of it.”

What makes the video spellbinding? For one thing, at a time when marketing strategists have reduced politics to bumper sticker slogans, the candidate ruefully describes his mother’s addiction to cigarettes and her eventual lung cancer in her 70s. Then he issues a challenge: nobody said, “Well, she deserved it, let’s not give her chemotherapy.” So why do so many people object to giving treatment to drug and alcohol addicts?

He values his mother’s life, he vows, as he values the lives of all addicts— and also babies saved from abortion. No doubt the candidate brought in abortion because it’s a hot button issue for conservatives. But there’s more to it than that.

Everyday prejudice assumes addiction to be mostly a problem of minorities and the shiftless poor. For decades, money that could have paid for treatment instead built prisons to punish drug offenders, especially black males. The moral aggression was deliciously logical. They got what they deserved. Likewise, when gays succumbed to AIDS, some conservatives eased their fear by scolding that They deserved it.

It’s almost a reflex: when frightened, turn flight into fight.  Attack and punish the threat. If you assume free will is always more powerful than physiology, you can blame the victim for irresponsible risk-taking.

In the video the candidate urges us to think of Mum and be more sympathetic. Not to seem sentimental, he then recounts how a fabulously successful lawyer he knew became addicted to Percoset, lost his ideal wife, family, and house, and died in a motel room with a bottle of vodka and an empty bottle of Percoset. It’s death: total failure. At the funeral the candidate saw the man’s three daughters sobbing. Again he pledges to support treatment for addiction. The lawyer wasn’t weak or irresponsible, he’s a victim.

To be fair, the candidate sounds sincere.  Yet these sob stories are moves in a political campaign. They have a mythic quality. The heroic leader pledges “treatment” to save victims of a runaway appetite from death. In the process he absolves them of guilt. In the real world of course, treatment is helpful but no panacea. What matters in the video is that the hero wants to help.

Who wouldn’t want to be rescued?  The wish goes back to childhood and the dream of omnipotent parents. It implies a fear of failure, chaos, and social death. And it puts the supplicant in the role of a guilty child grateful to a big-hearted parental patron.

The candidate was taking a risk, because the conservative base doesn’t approve of government solutions to problems. Yet here’s the screaming irony: the money the candidate pledges for treatment would be public money. It already belongs to the listeners. They’ve paid for it in taxes and fees. In effect, they’ve pooled their money in an insurance fund that could treat addiction and other illnesses. The problem is that propaganda diverts public money to the corporate military or tax breaks for the grateful rich.

Rather than ask who would oppose treatment for addiction, the candidate spins a yarn about Mum and his tragic lawyer friend. This also masks the public reality. After all, an affluent lawyer leading a conservative life doesn’t need public money: he can pay for his own treatment.  And if treatment didn’t work in his case, was something wrong or missing in his ideal inner life?

As it happens, as the governor was offering to rescue voters, two economists released a study that finds “Death Rates Rising for Middle-Aged White Americans.” In fact, “Unlike every other age group, unlike every other racial and ethnic group, unlike their counterparts in other rich countries, death rates in this group have been rising, not falling.” Who’s affected? Primarily whites 45 to 54 years old with no more than a high school education. The cause?  Not “the big killers like heart disease and diabetes but an epidemic of suicides and afflictions stemming from substance abuse: alcoholic liver disease and overdoses of heroin and prescription opioids.”

In a word, stress is up, incomes are down, and your job has gone to China. In the period covered by the study, “the inflation-adjusted income for households headed by a high school graduate fell by 19 percent.” As belts tighten, you have less control over your life. Reach for the painkillers.

Whether out of dumb luck or shrewd intuition, the candidate offers to rescue troubled whites just as prisons and wars against drugs are finally revealing their cruelty and futility. Even more serendipitous: pundits praised the video because the candidate was dying in the polls, and his “emotional plea” seemed to revive his prospects. Everybody likes a story about an underdog beating the reaper and rewarded for his humanity.

Why did the video catch so much attention? It’s likely that in an era of predatory money, people are excited to see someone on top showing compassion. While the workaday world touts survival of the fittest, the video suggests we can pull together. We’re social animals. We want to believe.

How real is the candidate’s compassion? Hard to say. He sounds sincere. Maybe his near death in the polls made him sympathetic to others in trouble. At least he’s proposing help rather than another enemy to bomb. Tome his empathy would be most convincing if he openly disagreed with opponents who want to divert the public’s money to the rich and hungry. With living standards under pressure, he could even pledge to relieve stress on working folks, addicted or not.

Let me know when that video turns up.

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used with permission
Source: Helena Farrell for Tacit Muse:used with permission

In slang we talk about flipping out, running amok, losing it, etc., Berserk abandon is terrifying yet also alluring, since it promises access to extraordinary resources by overthrowing inhibitions. Berserk style has shaped many areas of contemporary American culture, from warfare and business to politics, sports, and intimate life. Focusing on post-Vietnam America and using perspectives from psychology, anthropology, and physiology, Farrell demonstrates the need to unpack the confusions in language and cultural fantasy that drive the nation’s fascination with berserk style.

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<<This book amazes me with its audacity, its clarity, and its scope. We usually think of ‘berserk’ behaviors—from apocalyptic rampage killings to ecstatic revels like Burning Man—as extremes of experience, outside ordinary lives. in fascinating detail, Farrell shows how contemporary culture has reframed many varieties of abandon into self-conscious strategies of sense-making and control.

Abandon has become a common lens for organizing modern experience and an often troubling resource for mobilizing and rationalizing cultural and political action.This landmark analysis both enlightens and empowers us.>>

—Les Gasser, Professor of Information and Computer Science, U. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaigne.

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Rampage as a Team Instinct: When symbolism breaks down.

October 18, 2015
"k1f" Kirby Farrell

“k1f” Kirby Farrell

We’re social animals, with an instinct for group competition that’s evolved to intensify     solidarity, as in team spirit. Cooperation to win makes the group stronger and insures survival. Heroes, families, and tribes compete in order to expand, lead, and dominate others. In civilization, where strangers live together, the emphasis is usually on team     sports that act out warfare without the bloodshed.

In rampage killing, the symbolic quality of sport breaks down. Opponents become enemies. Defeat means death. Almost all rampage killers role-play the warrior-hero. When they dress in combat fatigues and use military weapons, psychiatry calls them pseudo-commandos. They convince themselves they’re revenging or rescuing what’s right. Police said the killer in Oregon had “a philosophy of hate,” as did Dylann Roof murdering black churchgoers, and Anders Breivik in Norway. A neighbor of the Roseburg killer reports that, “The way Chris [Mercer] carried himself was like ex-military almost—combat boots, camo pants, white shirt, brown shirt. Every day it was the same thing.” As in a war, he had body armor and was “armed for a long gunfight.”

Whatever the motive, why does rampage take the predictable form of an indiscriminate assault with guns blazing? Why this model and not another? Yes, American culture is awash in guns and heroic, paranoid stories about vigilante guns saving lives. Military weapons are readily available. And in the most expensively militarized country in history, about half of rampage killers have had military training—far more than ordinary murderers. Headline news and movies provide lavish models to follow.

All these tools presuppose a split world organized around us—or me—versus them.

Football games sometimes injure or kill the players, but part of the thrill of the game is the effort to temper do-or-die fury with skillful restraint. With a gun, a rejected player can dictate a new game and take a starring role. The wannabe hero competes with innumerable opponents, which raises the stakes and tactics to survival pitch.

Most rampage killings have a copycat quality. The Columbine killers frankly aimed for record-breaking infamy that would compel Hollywood and cow the world. They were competing for heroic celebrity. If you’re depressed or aggrieved or frightened of your own insanity, as Adam Lanza was in the Sandy Hook school savagery, the wish to be a “big man” can be irresistible. It shows up in the fascination with Hitler and Satan and messianic heroes. They’re superhuman masters of life and death. In shooting Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Jared Loughner imagined he was saving the nation. As in terrorism, the violence can end in suicide, yet death in a blaze of glory can seem more alluring than an insignificant life without meaning.

What these behaviors have in common is the berserk belief that if you free yourself of all inhibitions, you can get access to amazing powers. Running amok, you feel pumped up, beyond taboos and doubts, indifferent to pain and death. You risk suicidal chaos, yet abandon generates a nervous system rush that feels superhuman. With weapons blazing, the warrior role enables you to run free, mowing down opposition, for a touchdown.

But here’s what we often overlook: rampage killers dream of heroic domination so overwhelming that they can command the world’s respect and abject reverence. The rampage is a nightmare demand to belong.

The Oregon killer sympathized with rampage killers such as Vester Lee Flanagan, because “he was all alone and unknown, yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows who they are.” His conclusion?  “Seems the more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight.” In another entry he commented: “People like [Flanagan] have nothing left to live for, and the only thing left to do is lash out at a society that has abandoned them.”  What he calls “limelight” is the glow of belonging and the spotlight that confirms you exist and you matter. The terror is to be alone and in effect dead.

Conventional wisdom imagines berserk fury to be out of control. But in fact, as copycat rampages demonstrate, you can manipulate the fantasies and physiology. Like James Holmes in Aurora Colorado, and Adam Lanza, the Roseburg killer was on the edge of control but also planning record-breaking devastation, as he signaled on an anonymous chat-room the night before. Chris Mercer was a student at the community college, desperately uncomfortable with others and desperately unhappy. It seems likely that he murdered other students because to him they represented a rival team—and rivals who were winning.

Berserk abandon is not some rogue pathology. In fact, it is all around us today. When bungee jumpers plunge into a chasm, they are role-playing at suicide. Their calculated abandon is a form of play-death and rebirth. Rebounding, the jumpers feel more keenly alive and fearless. Pumped up to emergency levels, the nervous system reinforces a conviction of resources beyond humdrum everyday limits.

Countless American movies are fantasies of abandon. Bullets and bodies fly, but the hero emerges unscathed to claim the girl and a fertile future of more life. When this plot gets boring, the quest for more thrilling extremes becomes self-intoxicating. In an age of digital effects, the studios’ competition to develop ever more convincing mayhem becomes part of a movie’s story and a selling point.

Since WW2, and even more so since 9/11, Americans have been cultivating abandon as a style. If you have history’s most expensive military, why not use it. Every quarrel acquires do-or-die urgency. Propaganda demonized Saddam Hussein, and now the “shock and awe” invasion of Iraq has created the nightmare of ISIS, historic refugee panic, and widespread chaos in the Middle East. This is a gunfighter mentality gone amok.

In its deregulated speculation, Wall Street took extraordinary risks, endangering global finance. To score points with excited partisans, politicians look for excuses to shut downgovernment. The same dynamics appear on a personal level in binge behavior from drug use to gambling. The allure of abandon promises to turn anxiety and depression into adrenalized potency, as in rant broadcasting’s focus on “enemies” in order to enjoy putting them down.

Underlying all such berserk righteousness is survival anxiety. Soldiers run amok facing literal death. But social death can be just as powerful. To lose face, lose hope, and to lose your mind to mental illness can also be a form of death. You can see death-anxiety behind the struggle over health insurance, in fantasies about “death panels.” A Tea Party rally audience “Cheered [the] Idea of Letting Uninsured patients Die” (ABC News,13 Sept.11). In such examples people focused on fears of victimization, then fantasized about aggression. Berserk style makes “take no prisoners” thinking seem natural and even heroic.

Guns may be the chief marker for the berserk mentality. After a rampage, gun sales surge “as buyers express fears that politicians may use the shootings to seek new restrictions on owning weapons” (AP, 25 July 12). The purchasers want to be able to kill in a pinch. Never mind that data shows that guns bought for self-defense are likely to kill the wrong people. Never mind the childish NRA fantasy that pictures gun-owners as dead-eye vigilantes killing insane killers.

Like Dylann Roof’s murder of black folks at prayer in a church, and like the cops photographed murdering black men, panic is explosive and labile. When panic and rageare confirmed, the hysteria is indiscriminate. American Christian lynch mobs did unspeakable things to their victims. Demagogues today cunningly press one hot button after another: immigrants, abortion, nigger rapists, terrorists—tools to push people to an emergency pitch.

The psychology of abandon recognizes that all these behaviors show our instinct for group protection and power. Rampage killers regularly kill to attack a hated group on behalf of some real or tacit group. Sometimes they identify with other rampage killers as if they form an army of “buddies.” Even isolated, they behave as if “my side” is triumphing over “them.” Psychotic or not, they can act as if their rampage has the “as if” quality of a football game: warfare in which the feelings are intensely real and yet death is only symbolic.

After the Oregon rampage, President Obama reasoned on television about the need for gun control. Some spectators cheered the message. But you can be sure that those who openly despise the mixed race president felt gut hostility to his appeal: a virtual fight with the president and with his “fans.” Civilization is a football game that excited strangers can attend without confusing numbers on a scoreboard with an enemies list. When the game leaves some players face down and bleeding on the field, it’s time to reexamine team spirit.

************************

used with permission
Source: Helena Farrell for Tacit Muse:used with permission

The psychology of abandon studies borderline behavior and emergency physiology. In slang we talk about flipping out, running amok, losing it, etc., Berserk abandon is terrifying yet also alluring, since it promises access to extraordinary resources by overthrowing inhibitions. Berserk style has shaped many areas of contemporary American culture, from warfare and business to politics, sports, and intimate life. Focusing on post-Vietnam America and using perspectives from psychology, anthropology, and physiology, Farrell demonstrates the need to unpack the confusions in language and cultural fantasy that drive the nation’s fascination with berserk style.

<<This book amazes me with its audacity, its clarity, and its scope. We usually think of ‘berserk’ behaviors—from apocalyptic rampage killings to ecstatic revels like Burning Man—as extremes of experience, outside ordinary lives. in fascinating detail, Farrell shows how contemporary culture has reframed many varieties of abandon into self-conscious strategies of sense-making and control.

Abandon has become a common lens for organizing modern experience and an often troubling resource for mobilizing and rationalizing cultural and political action.This landmark analysis both enlightens and empowers us.>>

—Les Gasser, Professor of Information and Computer Science, U. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaigne.

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The Self as Schtick: Life as a Bad Movie

September 11, 2015
"k1f" Kirby Farrell

“k1f” Kirby Farrell

Spoiler alert!

If a story can be spoiled by knowing “the ending,” then the ending is likely to be an entertaining surprise, the answer to a puzzle or the punchline of a joke.  If the surprise comes to you like the flash answer to a riddle, bringing closure, then it seems to come from intuition or “the unconscious” or magic.  But the spoiler alert is warning us that the surprise has the contrived quality of a trick. Once you know it, it’s dead.

It’s schtick.

The Yiddish term schtick describes an easy, crowd-pleasing routine that usually has a clichéd or gimmicky quality. We’re ambivalent about schtick. It can be a habit that makes life gratifyingly easy. You sign off with a smiley face or xxxx kisses although that schtick could mean anything from “Have a nice day” to a heartfelt “I love you.” The cliché is boilerplate, a rubber stamp: a cut-&-paste substitute for more personal or even intimate meaning.  As schtick, the sign-off allows you to enjoy a facsimile of closeness. It’s also a labor-saving device, sparing you the sweat or anguish of deciding how you really feel about this relationship at this moment.

In a world overloaded with information, schtick can function as a code. It’s a kind of abbreviation or shorthand. You know what to expect, you don’t have to ponder it, test it, taste it, keep coming back to it. You don’t have to pay attention to details or read the whole thing. This gives you more time to enjoy more schtick.

Fast food is schtick. Most pop music is schtick. Industrial entertainment (TV, Hollywood, social media) relies on schtick. Think of the fights or explosions that climax thrillers. Bullets and fists fly, yet the heroes emerge triumphantly unscathed. Even romances build in a climactic kiss that resolves canned conflicts in a happy-ever-after ending. Advertising is often schtick making fun of schtick.

You can see where schtick shares some virtues of the factory. Identical products manufactured in scale are cheap and familiar. Once programmed, machines make production almost effortless and widely available. What’s not to like?

One complication is we’re pretty ambivalent about factories because they regiment, routinize, and depersonalize life. Schtick looks like “real life,” but you don’t have to take it seriously. It offers closure yet it doesn’t really resolve anything. Formula crime shows solve every crime. Nobody asks where crime comes from or what becomes of criminals after jail, or what happens to their families. In comedies, laugh tracks cue you to share in a nonexistent group’s hallucinatory merriment. The experience may be enjoyable, but like the popcorn box, you pitch it when the lights come on.

It’s a trick of course. Schtick is always going dead. Today’s schtick is tomorrow’s stale formula, so producers have to keep goosing it up to make it seem fresh. Yesterday’s climactic fistfight is today’s disemboweled loser or Los Angeles exploded by aliens, intestines slung in trees like holiday ornaments.

In this respect schtick is a kind of play. As in play, you know it isn’t true, but you behave for the moment as if it is. Here’s the catch: play as entertainment is different than play as exploration or experiment. A formula surprise isn’t the same experience as a discovery. A surprise is a product manufactured for you to use, whereas you have to make the discovery.

It follows that schtick is wish-fulfilling, even flattering. The customer is always right. Literature, by contrast, poses questions that sail off into the unknown, and dramatize suffering, hilarious absurdity, and death. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 asks, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” Nah. That would be schtick. His plays don’t really resolve. They explore. In the end characters go offstage to puzzle over the disruptive merriment or horrors we’ve just witnessed. The plays open out into the strangeness of being alive.

Most novels and commercial films rely on schtick—editors think of it as the hook. Writers are under terrific pressure to honor sctick. A recent prizewinning novel, Atticus Lish’sPreparation for the Next Life, describes the relationship of a vet suffering PTSD (Skinner) with an illegal immigrant (a Uigher woman named Zhou) who barely survives in NYC doing scut work. It’s a serious story, full of eloquent, brilliantly detailed descriptions of urban squalor. In the end the vet kills a monstrous ex-con who’s tried to rape Zhou and then shoots himself. The stricken Zhou lights out for the territory and ends up contentedly working on a ranch.

Here’s the catch: the novel vividly evokes the characters’ misery, but neither of them is capable of abstract thinking.  Remember: it’s PTSD and an Asian woman with minimal English. The result is that the action is intense but the characters have almost no inner life. When you want to see what they’re thinking and feeling, brilliant pictures of the soulless city take over. The characters show little ambivalence or resistance to fatality, so the fatality they face seems plot-driven, and the ending contrived.

The novel dramatizes insistent themes in American culture these days: victimization, deadening work, vulnerable immigrants, callous government, damaged warriors, plucky women survivors, and sexual predators, to name a few. What’s eerily missing is inner life. Lots of grime, no imaginative sympathy in sight. The author and fans could reply that Well, that’s how American life is now. A society of cyborgs and ATMs. People talk schtick and self is no more than a logo on a sweatshirt. And yes, it can feel that way. But you could make that complaint about any era in history.

And more crucial still: values don’t pop out of manholes. Somebodies create them. Even when we fail or get it wrong, we’re always imagining values. It’s how we’re built

One sign of a cultural shift away from stories about inner life is the visionary sweep of soap operas such as The Sopranos, The Wire, or Rome. Their characters proliferate rather than develop in depth, but the scripts argue that that’s the effect of looking at a complex, big world. When it works, it’s powerful. It’s an epic perspective, an effect, you might say, of the globalized Information Age, where you get to know a tiny bit about a million people.  Nothing is wholly exotic anymore and your “mobile device” can bring up Uighurs playing kickball in China, quantum diagrams, and flyby Pluto.

We’re ambivalent about this overwhelming scale of awareness. It excites our curiosity and fantasies of escape and apotheosis. But it also shows us how ephemeral we are. We see that universe of information in snapshots of schtick. One fistfight and kiss after another. On this gameboard everybody’s a helpless victim. Inner life seems depleted, waiting for some leader or story to pump it up again. Meanwhile schtick offers merchandized tattoos, “selfies” and “selfie sticks”—Don’t leave home without one.

After all, it isn’t the quantity of inner life we miss—who doesn’t know self-absorbed people? It’s the quality that matters. Something in us aspires to “get real” despite the warnings that life Contains Spoilers.

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PS: it’s liberating to be able to spot when something is schtick and not the real thing. If you have an example, send it along. Let’s collect some tricks and kicks.

 

Helena K. Farrell/Tacit Muse. Used with permission
Source: Helena K. Farrell/Tacit Muse. Used with permission

In slang we talk about flipping out, running amok, losing it, etc., Berserk abandon is terrifying yet also alluring, since it promises access to extraordinary resources by overthrowing inhibitions. Berserk style has shaped many areas of contemporary American culture, from warfare and business to politics, sports, and intimate life. Focusing on post-Vietnam America and using perspectives from psychology, anthropology, and physiology, Farrell demonstrates the need to unpack the confusions in language and cultural fantasy that drive the nation’s fascination with berserk style.

<<This book amazes me with its audacity, its clarity, and its scope. We usually think of ‘berserk’ behaviors—from apocalyptic rampage killings to ecstatic revels like Burning Man—as extremes of experience, outside ordinary lives. in fascinating detail, Farrell shows how contemporary culture has reframed many varieties of abandon into self-conscious strategies of sense-making and control.

Abandon has become a common lens for organizing modern experience and an often troubling resource for mobilizing and rationalizing cultural and political action.This landmark analysis both enlightens and empowers us.>>

—Les Gasser, Professor of Information and Computer Science, U. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaigne.

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Superman needs you: Do you have a super need?

August 27, 2015
"k1f" Kirby Farrell

“k1f” Kirby Farrell

Great leaders, they say, have “magnetism.” Their “charisma” casts a spell.  But it’s really a collaboration. Hitler staged the Nuremburg rallies, but thousands had to show up and stand in the hot sun saluting and throbbing with crowd power. They’d been through a capital “D” Depression. They wanted to be rescued. They believed in a payoff. When it comes to leaders, them is us.

So here we are in our own American funk, telling pollsters who we’d like to rescue us. It’s highly scripted. People have been studying leadership formulas at least since Plato. And tycoons have been manufacturing leaders for ages. Yet followers still want to believe.

Consider candidate Trump, who’s a favorite among some voters. Instead of questioning whether he’s a worthy candidate, let’s look at tools he and others—including Hitler—have used. No, this isn’t to equate the two men. We’re talking tools here. And wondering how them could be us.

Let’s start with the obvious. Adolf and Trump play the roles of “Hitler” and “Trump,” heroes powerful as the parents who raise us as infants. Literally, they raise our morale and self-esteem, rousing us to feel heroic purpose, offering us more life. How can one person do all that? For one thing, they speak in abstractions while winking at you, so you can attribute to them qualities dear to your heart. It’s hero-worship. And it’s like the paradox of love: if you fall in love with someone who embodies your most cherished ideals, you’re in love with yourself.

So how can a “Trump” or an “Adolf” raise anybody up? Yes, they show stupendous self-confidence. But how does that pump us up? The trick is to turn depressive flight into invigorating fight. They gather us into a vigilante posse to drive out hated scapegoats. Trump’s scapegoats are “Mexican” immigrants, plain women, gays, and the losers he fires on TV. The blog Glaad describes him throwing victims “under the bus.” His rejects suffer social death. By contrast, Adolf’s losers—Jews, gypsies, Slavs, Commies, quite a list—get the real thing. “Trump” calls for “mass deportation”; Adolf put mass deportation in cattle cars to Auschwitz. But it doesn’t have to be so sensational. People “put down” others routinely—the same verb that describes euthanizing an animal.

The heroic rationale for this aggression is Social Darwinism and eugenics. Since only the fittest survive, you confirm your own merit by getting rid of the unfit.  Eugenics would improve “us” by wiping out disease and death. Adolf’s campaign famously characterized Jews as vermin and germs. Trump trooper Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas vows that “We don’t even know all of the diseases [immigrants carry], and how extensive the diseases are.”

Adolf relied a lot on slave labor. The idea is to drain the losers before disposing of them. Trump has been abusive to labor. But Iowa radio host Jan Mickelson created his own Nuremburg rally on Twitter by calling for undocumented immigrants to become “property of the state” and put into “compelled labor.” When a caller challenged the idea, Mickelson answered, “What’s wrong with slavery?” Even as it rattles the shackles for immigrants, this sort of slave talk points to America’s real slaves, black folks. Substitute “Jews and gypsies” for black Americans, and you’re reading Adolf’s playbook.

Given this sensitive program, “Trump” and “Adolf” have to be unquestionably right. The script calls for both to have infallible intuition and tell truths others are too cowardly or corrupt to utter. They see through journalists, scientists, and what VP and jailbird Spiro Agnew called “pointy-headed intellectuals.” And they never apologize. This enables them to hold demonstrably false ideas without blushing. Like Adolf’s delusions about Jews,Trump’s claims about immigrants don’t square with reality.

The freedom to lie is part of a larger freedom to break the rules that limit ordinary mortals. In The Art of the Deal, Trump brags about deceiving his business partners in Atlantic City. In a PR stop at the Tex/Mex border, “Trump” floated on a cloud of double-talk. Adolf too felt entitled to enjoy what Goebbels called “the big lie.”

To shore up their infallibility, “Trump” and the Führer “double-down” when wrong. Like double-or-nothing gambling, doubling down can be self-intoxicating. Like a Ponzi scheme, illusion requires more and more illusions to keep paying off. Keep it up and you end up in the toybox or the tomb.

When illusions fail, the great leader blames betrayals. For Adolf, defeat in WW1 was a stab in the back; the Gestapo had a full roster of traitors to kill. On a more playful note, “Trump” condemns Sen. McCain for betraying his troops, supporters, and others. But then, if you think that politicians and illegals are secretly undermining the nation, they’re all traitors.

Self-intoxication leads to overreaching. Beginner’s luck lured Adolf into a doomed two-front war. “Trump” begins to imagine that he can control all the vicious chaos in the middle east. Adolf designed triumphal arches and stupendous buildings. As the kids say, speaking for the infant in all of us, Adolf’s monster buildings would be “awesome.”  Not to be outdone, “Trump” brags about “his” skyscrapers.

As self-intoxication intensifies, boundaries blur. The actor confuses theater and life. Emergency physiology takes over. More victims died in the last six months of WW2, when the outcome was obvious, than in all the war years before. Survival rage takes no prisoners.

Told about two young followers in Boston who mauled a  homeless Hispanic guy and praised Trump to the police, the candidate first said, “That would be a shame.” But he couldn’t resist adding, “I will say, the people that are following me are very passionate. They love this country. They want this country to be great again. But they are very passionate. I will say that.” Of course he was talking about himself too.

This dreamlike response echoes Adolf’s belief that passionate “will” can conquer the world. The idea is that the leader’s superhuman will can rouse enchanted followers to superhuman ambitions. In the ultimate blurring of boundaries, leader and followers imagine that they’re fusing. As in transference—hero worship—the merger of the enchanter and the enchanted creates not problem-solving wits but passionate belief. In reality all is not well, but in the mirror you see a champion.

Superman wears many costumes: politician, priest, lover, parent, celebrity, business executive, and more. In these days of insanely overpaid executives, for example, the formula shows up when the corporate CEO axes “other” employees in lean and mean downsizing, freeing up profits and awesome power for the impressed followers.

“Trump” and “Hitler” didn’t invent the Superman formula. They’re copycats inspiring more copycats. And like rampage killers, Superman copycats try to outdo one another to get noticed. They’re natural extremists—think “mass deportations.” As leaders and followers pump up the Superman dream, the dream is taking control of them, they breathe hot conviction, and salute.

Better not to stick around for the ending.

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Some interesting youtube documentaries about eugenics and “eugenics”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=427&v=c2kV83nPWnM(link is external)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=101&v=ufqOe0_pres(link is external)

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Helena K. Farrell/Tacit Muse. Used with permission
Source: Helena K. Farrell/Tacit Muse. Used with permission

As a cultural style, berserk abandon is terrifying yet also alluring. It promises access to extraordinary resources by overthrowing inhibitions. Berserk style has shaped many areas of contemporary American culture, from warfare to politics and intimate life. Focusing on post-Vietnam America and using perspectives from psychology, anthropology, and physiology, Farrell demonstrates the need to unpack the confusions in language and cultural fantasy that drive the nation’s fascination with berserk style.

<<This book amazes me with its audacity, its clarity, and its scope. We usually think of ‘berserk’ behaviors—from apocalyptic rampage killings to ecstatic revels like Burning Man—as extremes of experience, outside ordinary lives. in fascinating detail, Farrell shows how contemporary culture has reframed many varieties of abandon into self-conscious strategies of sense-making and control.

Abandon has become a common lens for organizing modern experience and an often troubling resource for mobilizing and rationalizing cultural and political action.This landmark analysis both enlightens and empowers us.>>

—Les Gasser, Professor of Information and Computer Science, U. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaigne.

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Hunting Bwana the Dentist: What fantasies move a man to ambush an elderly tourist lion?

August 27, 2015
"k1f" Kirby Farrell

“k1f” Kirby Farrell

A Minnesota dentist has paid tens of thousands of dollars to “hunt” a rhino, an elk, a leopard, and lately Cecil the 13 year old celebrity lion in an African park.

Public opinion is outraged. The “hunt” has the stink of injustice about it. Dentist Walter Palmer hired a guide to bait Cecil out of a protected reserve. The dentist wounded him with his fancy bow, then trailed the dying “king of beasts” for 40 hours till he could finish him off with a bullet. Realizing their mistake, the mighty hunters naturally tried to hide Cecil’s GPS collar and left his severed head behind.

Wildlife authorities in Zimbabwe are making noises abut prosecuting Palmer. His next hunt may be for a shark with a briefcase.

The symbolic logic at work is worth some thought because it’s so prominent in the air these days. To kill a lion, the “king of beasts,” is to kill a mythic predator. The fantasy is that in bagging a “wild” animal, the mild dentist from Minnesota is overpowering “wild” death. The hunter takes nutrition out of the dead prey, but also the animal’s spirit strength.  Aztec warriors dressed up in jaguar skins to give themselves a little extra wildcat pick-me-up while killing enemies on the job.

Dentist vs Lion pits two top-dog males in a fight to the death to prove potency and death-defying juju. Conservatives often justify dog-eat-dog survival economics as Social Darwinism, “nature red in [ahem] tooth and claw.”

The public is outraged because the fantasy is such a lie.  The  rich suburbanite with his store-bought weapons hires a “guide” to whack an elderly tourist lion who’d lost his fear of humans and wore an Oxford University GPS collar. Like drones and sniper wetdreams, it’s shooting fish in a barrel without risk or even a sweat.

In this reading the tame hunter is a sort of murderer, and since he lured the lion out of the park, an assassin. Instead of being an alpha animal, the dentist has used lies and trophy heads the way lynch mobs cut off parts of tortured blacks as souvenirs of their glorious triumph over a “bestial” scapegoat.

Think of the familiar symbolic analogues to the hunt. It’s the child’s triumph over a father, the rebellious subject’s overthrow of the evil king. It’s the fired employee coming back in fatigues and shooting the boss. It’s the alienated schoolkid with a military assault weapon slaughtering schoolmates.  For that matter, think of the ISIS hot heads or the Saudigovernment beheading “trophy” POWs (ISIS) and criminals (Saudis) to dramatize superiority.

The “big game” hunt brings trophy glory the way rampage killing spurs global fame. The sleazy dishonesty of Walter Palmer’s ambush tells us how urgent his fantasy had become. But then, think of how the American corporate military played big game hunter in Iraq, slaughtering thousands in a safari that has thrown the entire region into chaos. Propaganda tried to keep the spotlight on the “big predator” Saddam Hussein, who had nothing to do with 9/11, but reality chased that script into the dumpster.

In panic, a sleazy war pulls on a religious helmet. Note the fantasies in “The Marine Rifle Creed”: “My rifle is human . . .  We will become part of each other  . . . Before God, I swear this creed.  My rifle and myself are the defenders of my country.  We are the masters of our enemy.  WE ARE THE SAVIORS OF MY LIFE.  So be it, until victory is America’s and there is no enemy, but peace.”

Forget the bad writing (they’re creating “no enemy but peace”). The creed makes the warrior-hero a quasi-religious figure.  It turns the hunt into a sacred crusade so the killers won’t feel so guilty violating the deep prohibitions against killing others. As we see in thePTSD suffering and suicides of vets, it doesn’t always work. Sometimes you just can’t hide the GPS collar and the severed head.

But there’s another fantasy in play too. This summer Americans have been also appalled at the spectacle of cops killing trophy “bad” blacks. As Dylann Roof justified shooting up a Charleston prayer group, black folks are rapists who’d exterminate whites—just as lions are predators. Trapped in his child brain, trying to be a big (ahem) shot, he reasons that it’s kill or be killed.

The point is not that police and a bigshot dentist are conscious racists, but that a constellation of fantasies contribute to their viciousness. The cop who threatened to “light up” Sandra Bland in Texas saw her as a wild animal he had to subdue at all costs. Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Michael Brown reported that he saw Brown as the mythic, wild “Hulk” and felt by contrast like a helpless child.

Such fantasies are exaggerated by the cruel stress in American life that keeps audiences pumped up for nitwit rant broadcasting, Trump and dump meanness, and TV “nature” programming that obsesses over sharks, lions, alligators, and other voracious jaws. I

For a dentist, such jaws can be especially potent, since destists have an unusually highsuicide rate and deal every day with the spectacle of inner human decay. The mouth, after all, focuses the terrifying contradictions of being human. It’s the source of civilized speech, kissing, and taste, but also hides bacteria and rot, not to mention the teeth we use to kill and chew up the bodies of other  creatures.

We have to kill and eat or we’d die—again, we’re at once victims and warrior heroes brandishing fine china, knives and forks. We display French cookware on the wall and venerate “cuisine.”  But the sneaky reality is that we digest our “prey” into shameful excrement, and then project our angry guilt onto “assholes” and “shitheads.” Dentists charge us a lot of money to look into this frightening paradox every day. Whether they know it or not. Killing “big game” is taking out your fear and rage on a scapegoat, the more shameful when the scapegoat is in effect everybody’s national pet.

A child dresses up as Bwana the great white hunter.  If he hasn’t been able to understand the courage it takes to make something healthy out of the fearful human paradox, Bwana the dentist is pitifully trapped in the maw out of which he makes his living.

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Now available in paperback from Leveller’s Press and Amazon:

Helena Farrell for Tacit Muse
Source: Helena Farrell for Tacit Muse

When behavior becomes a cultural style, berserk abandon is terrifying yet also alluring. It promises access to extraordinary resources by overthrowing inhibitions. Berserk style has shaped many areas of contemporary American culture, from warfare to politics and intimate life. Focusing on post-Vietnam America and using perspectives from psychology, anthropology, and physiology, Farrell demonstrates the need to unpack the confusions in language and cultural fantasy that drive the nation’s fascination with berserk style.

<<This book amazes me with its audacity, its clarity, and its scope. We usually think of ‘berserk’ behaviors—from apocalyptic rampage killings to ecstatic revels like Burning Man—as extremes of experience, outside ordinary lives. in fascinating detail, Farrell shows how contemporary culture has reframed many varieties of abandon into self-conscious strategies of sense-making and control.

Abandon has become a common lens for organizing modern experience and an often troubling resource for mobilizing and rationalizing cultural and political action.This landmark analysis both enlightens and empowers us.>>

—Les Gasser, Professor of Information and Computer Science, U. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaigne.

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Don’t Be Fooled by Arresting Logic: Using the Psychology of Abandon to Decode Scare Tactics

June 10, 2015
"k1f" Kirby Farrell

“k1f” Kirby Farrell

It was bound to happen. Protests against police killings have triggered a propaganda backlash. In the Wall Street Journal—now part of the Fox news empire—Heather MacDonald, author of Are Cops Racist?, warns that protests against police killings in cities such as Baltimore have unleashed “A New Nationwide Crime Wave.”

In a world of ads and rant screaming for attention, it makes sense to study the tools used to manipulate us. MacDonald’s argument uses what the psychology of abandon calls “berserk style.” Protests against police violence, she implies, have created a crisis, which presumably calls for emergency force to suppress protests and crime.

The psychology of abandon studies styles of thinking that disguise or rationalize behavior that is—or seems to be—out of control. In this instance, MacDonald equates demands for justice with an “onslaught” of “anti-cop rhetoric,” looting, and a “crime wave.” Protesters have run amok. But even as she inflates crime to crisis proportions, she ignores the real crisis mentality that leads hair-trigger cops to kill unarmed “suspects,” especially black “suspects.”

MacDonald’s creates her crisis out of inflammatory clichés:

This incessant drumbeat against the police has resulted in what St. Louis police chief Sam Dotson last November called the “Ferguson effect.” Cops are disengaging from discretionary enforcement activity and the “criminal element is feeling empowered,” Mr. Dotson reported. Arrests in St. Louis city and county by that point had dropped a third since the shooting of Michael Brown in August. Not surprisingly, homicides in the city surged 47% by early November and robberies in the county were up 82%.  Similar “Ferguson effects” are happening across the country as officers scale back on proactive policing under the onslaught of anti-cop rhetoric. Arrests in Baltimore were down 56% in May compared with 2014.

This is the language of abandon. The “incessant drumbeat” evokes an invading army or dark-skinned jungle savages. Rather than blame protesters for a national crime wave, MacDonald alleges only that a situation “has resulted,” as if Zeus or gravity caused it. Poor blacks protest because they need to be empowered, but in the WSJ, only “the criminal element is feeling empowered.” The idea of being “empowered” is being poisoned in this negative use the way rant media have corrupted terms such as “entitlement.” Criminals are not actual people but an “element” alien as insects or atoms.

The official-sounding social science jargon clashes with the hysterical melodrama of protesters attacking police in an “onslaught.” Meanwhile the police aren’t disobeying orders, they’re “disengaging” and “scaling back” like businessmen or generals in a battle for civilization. If cops feel unhappy, MacDonald implies, they’re free to ignore orders and make their own policy. This is a vigilante fantasy.

Among cops, “proactive” enforcement is known as “broken windows” policing. It challenges indications of disorder before any actual crime can take place. If you’re black in a rough neighborhood in Philly, say, that means cops have “discretionary” power to put you down on the sidewalk and look for signs of crime. No matter how innocent you are, they can hassle, humiliate, and sometimes arrest you on phony charges.[1] The strategy sometimes works, but there is a tradeoff, sometimes a tragic tradeoff.

“Discretionary” policing takes place on the shadowy edge of the law. Police on Staten Island were being proactive when they arrested Eric Garner for selling loose (untaxed) cigarettes (July 17, 2014). He protested and they took him down, choking him to death. (Police excused.) Just as MacDonald’s polemic strips out references to actual people, so ordinary racial prejudice strips out individuality, seeing groups or stereotypes. It would be harder to kill Eric Garner if you knew him as a 43 year old father of six kids—including a 3-month infant—with a bum heart. The police knew him as a rap sheet of minor offenses: a black guy who had filed a complaint about being strip-searched on a public street.

In the WSJ op-ed, Garner is buried in unmarked numbers. Even if we try to take the statistics seriously, they’re inflammatory. How many murders does a spike of 100% entail? 2 instead of 1?  2,000 instead of 1,000?  Last year US cops killed about 467 people enforcing the law, twice as many unarmed blacks as unarmed whites.[2]  In Europe, the casualties are close to zero. And if statistics are so persuasive, they should reassure hair-trigger police, since according to OSHA, construction workers are 400% more likely than cops to die on the job, and police fatalities include traffic and other mishaps.

Actually it should be no surprise if crime rates spike around protests. In the 1960s when LBJ’s Great Society programs acknowledged the injustice and misery of poverty—really for the first time in US history—riots followed. In Detroit and Watts, frustrated young blacks saw that the public effort to help was indirectly an admission of past injustice, as if that justified retaliation. This is the vindictiveness of victim psychology. Feeling painfully victimized after 9/11, Americans felt justified in destroying thousands of innocent lives in Iraq, and in a  war as berserk as any riot.

Police killing involves another form of abandon that’s crucial to understand. Police help maintain society in many ways. In “fighting” crime, however, they are akin to warriors, playing a heroic role by risking death. Arresting criminals is especially dangerous in the US, where gun culture has a hair trigger. Human terror of death disposes us to admire heroes whose courage can master it. It goes without saying that our need to believe in that courage disposes us to overlook or deny the survival panic in police killing.

At the bottom of society, by contrast, many blacks live on the edge of social death, some surviving through crime. Just as we inflate super-heroes, so we’re apt to exaggerate the failings of the poor, associating them with crime, laziness, brutishness, and other markers of social death. Putting down scapegoats gives self-regard a boost.

Confrontation with a poor “suspect,” then, presents two kinds of abandon.  One kind is the moment when unrealistic assumptions, emergency physiology, and guns overcome judgment. The other is the danger, for the cop, of losing heroic self-esteem in a (possibly fatal) moment of panic. The cop fears death, but also the fantasy qualities he’s attributed to the “suspect.” If the suspect escapes or otherwise “wins” the contest of wills, the cop loses his heroic confidence. In officer Wilson’s fatal tangle in Ferguson, he described Michael Brown as the superhuman Hulk and himself as a helpless child. As in battle, the instant of total danger trumps inhibitions and our foundational sense of “what’s right,” triggering survival rage: berserk abandon.

“Fighting” crime, the cop feels heroic. Defying poverty and social death, the criminal feels heroic. In each case heroism offers the sensation, like a drug rush, of being a bigshot, invincibly lucky, safe from death. You don’t have to plan the moment of crisis. It can happen by chance or by “chance.” Prejudice can guide the outcome if, say, you assume that all black men are likely to be criminals. In any event, guns create their own hair-trigger mentality. To ignore this psychological dimension is as callous as it absurd:

“‘Any cop who uses his gun now has to worry about being indicted and losing his job and family,’ a New York City officer tells me.”

Hmm. What about the black guy who has to worry every day about a cop’s trigger finger? What about Eric Garner’s family?

In this regard, Heather MacDonald is a hired gun for comfortable people who read theWall Street Journal. As in Vietnam and the “war on terror,” her backlash says: Shoot first and ask questions afterward.

Do I need to add that of course not all police are killers?  But even one killer can spoil your welcome home.

That’s why we need justice as well as law.

1.  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/05/opinion/we-must-stop-police-abuse-of-b…(link is external)

http://blackagendareport.com/data_cops_more_aggressive_against_blacks_mi…(link is external)

2. The US government doesn’t publish a tally of police deaths. For useful data, see:http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2015/jun/01/the-counte…(link is external)

Also: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jun/09/the-counted-police-killin…(link is external)

Also in this series, “Who Can You Trust?” (September 15, 2014); “The Child and the Monster” (November 29); and “Guilty Games” (December 5).

+  +  +  +

Helena Farrell for Tacit Muse
Source: Helena Farrell for Tacit Muse

When behavior becomes a cultural style, berserk abandon is terrifying yet also alluring. It promises access to extraordinary resources by overthrowing inhibitions. Berserk style has shaped many areas of contemporary American culture, from warfare to politics and intimate life. Focusing on post-Vietnam America and using perspectives from psychology, anthropology, and physiology, Farrell demonstrates the need to unpack the confusions in language and cultural fantasy that drive the nation’s fascination with berserk style.

“This book amazes me with its audacity, its clarity, and its scope. We usually think of ‘berserk’ behaviors—from apocalyptic rampage killings to ecstatic revels like Burning Man—as extremes of experience, outside ordinary lives. in fascinating detail, Farrell shows how contemporary culture has reframed many varieties of abandon into self-conscious strategies of sense-making and control.

Abandon has become a common lens for organizing modern experience and an often troubling resource for mobilizing and rationalizing cultural and political action.This landmark analysis both enlightens and empowers us.”

—Les Gasser, Professor of Information and Computer Science, U. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaigne.

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Tattoos and Identity: Choose not a life of imitation

May 29, 2015
"k1f" Kirby Farrell

“k1f” Kirby Farrell

Believe it or not, there’s actually a website(link is external) pitching “nine brilliant lyrical tattoo ideas that will have leave an indelible impression on your skin and your soul.” Even more astonishing, it recommends tattooing the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ maxim Choose not a life of imitation on your hide. And to really hook you, photos show the slogan tattooed on body parts from breastbone to instep.

OK, it may be a fad. But if so, why this fad? At first glance the pitch is just a string of empty advertising words like “brilliant” that are a meaningless grunt of enthusiasm.  And “Choose not a life of imitation” sounds like a lame truism that Bart Simpson’s teacher would make him write a hundred times on the blackboard. How could such clichés send anybody to the tattoo parlor?

As if that’s not puzzling enough, the pitch is an ad. It’s selling not tattoos but an idea that lures customers—and advertisers that pay the website for your clicks. The site’s voice mixes friendly advice and bossy certainty like an ad for vitamin “supplements.”.

Even more puzzling: the pitch is selling personal authenticity.  Choose not imitation is Polonius’s “To thine own self be true,” which in turn cribs from Socrates and high school graduation speeches. And it’s a mind-fuddling contradiction: Be truly yourself—do what other customers are doing.  Do what I tell you. What’s going on here?

For one thing, the friendly bossiness does put you in a flattering role. If you follow their advice, you’ll be heroically using your body to display your wisdom to other people for the rest of your life. Of course there’s a catch. By needling Choose not imitation under your skin, you’ll also be advertising sophomore wisdom like a sandwich board or Ronald McDonald. And you’ll be promoting the website and a tattooed pop rock band. It’s like wearing a cool teeshirt with a cool brandname on it. You’re an ad selling ads to get more people selling ads.

And why not? These days everybody’s marketing themselves in social media, only they call it sharing. On Facebook, say, you display friendly bits of yourself, and nobody expects a cry from the heart. Since Facebook sells your information to marketers, you’re working for them and advertising them. And since It’s a culture of Likes, and naturally you want to be liked, you can’t help selling yourself to Facebook “friends.”

But you want to be more than an ad in a world where intimacy means personal hygiene sprays and relationships are built on a high fibre breakfast. And the tattoo peddlers know it, too. That’s why they promise that their cool tattoo ideas will make “an indelibleimpression on your skin and your soul.” You’ll really feel the maxim, like facsimile pain in bondage play in “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

Is it all just vapor? Maybe not.

Choose not imitation isn’t logic, it’s a song lyric. And music arouses a halo of emotion: associations with significant moments. You “understand” melodies yet they’re not logical the way words are. They repeat, they build toward a climax. They can feel intoxicating and keep playing in your head without your conscious prompting. So the song lyrics can develop the enchanting qualities of a fetish.

We’re fetishists, you recall, when we attribute special powers to something outside of us: money, a new BMW, a rabbit’s foot, that beloved snapshot, a safety blanket. Songs have fetish power. So do tattoos. Jared Loughner tattooed bullets on his back to psych himself up for his psychotic shooting rampage in Tucson. For most of us, fetishes have a quality of play. Jared Loughner, poor devil, really believed.

With a tattoo you can attempt to capture the momentary enchantment and make itindelible. Wouldn’t it be awesome if the tattoo could give you the feeling of the song, which could recover its special experiences which evoke, as Romeo and Juliet say, the face of heaven? Wouldn’t it be even more awesome if you’ve never had those feelings but wish like hell that you could?

But wait! as the ad says, there’s more! Tattoos get attention. And since the self is not a thing but a process, we need other people’s attention to feel real. Like oxygen, attention is crucial. This is one reason solitary confinement drives prisoners insane, and why romance creates ecstasy.  Even social media are good for a thrill of attention.

But how can you feel significant—heroic—if everybody is wearing your tattoo, imitating your Choose not imitation? It’s one of life’s routine illusions. We want to be heroic—which can be terrifying as well as terrific. But we also want the security and power of a group. Culture invents things such as teams to ease this conflict. On a team you can be a hero-worshiper around the team’s star player even as you and “your” winning team are also heroic.

In politics, the US is sharply conflicted about sharing identity as a team or being a lone heroic individual.  When we think about it, the usual balance falls apart. We’re more comfortable as consumers. In marketing, customers can be branded alike and buy the same product, and yet feel special about “my” face cream, “my” TV show, “my” music. The photoshopped glamor and ingenuity of marketing helps keep you enchanted so you don’t notice that you’re imitating a billion other bipeds.

If you’re at home in your inner life and trust your judgment, would you need a marketer telling you how to think?

One danger is that you may notice the illusion and feel empty. You look for deeper, more personal concerns. But nobody’s sharing deep experience on Twitter. In fact the language of inner life is increasingly screened out in a world of computer choice, where a life story is reduced to a decision tree: make the right decision, the right keystroke, and the program will take care of you. [1] You’re less likely to learn much language for inner life.

The marketers of choose not imitation encourage denial. They promise you an “indelible impression on your skin and your soul.” They’re selling lasting significance: heroic meaning that you can hold onto in a world of pixels, pills, and trivia. By giving your “soul” the “impression” of lasting significance, the sales pitch offers you nothing less than symbolic immortality. Marking yourself with the magic words is like reciting a mantra, over and over, in hopes that something meaningful will happen.

But then, why wait?  Put yourself in a conversation. Live your words. Make your own meaning.

[1] For more details, have a look at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/swim-in-denial/201208/ambivalence-a&#8230;

Also Steven Quartz & Annette Asp, “Unequal Yet Happy,” NY Times, April 11, 2015: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/12/opinion/sunday/unequal-yet-happy.html?…(link is external)

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And now available:  from Leveller’s Press and on Amazon: https://store.collectivecopies.com/store/show/Lev%20018(link is external)

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF ABANDON explores letting go as a behavior and a fantasy about behavior. Abandon terrifies but also fascinates us with the possibility of getting access to hidden resources by throwing off inhibitions. Farrell investigates how the idea of running amok lurks as a style in movies, sex, gambing, sports, war, banking and religion.

 Helena Farrell
Source: Tacit Muse: Helena Farrell

“This book amazes me with its audacity, its clarity, and its scope. We usually think of ‘berserk’ behaviors—from apocalyptic rampage killings to ecstatic revels like Burning Man—as extremes of experience, outside ordinary lives. in fascinating detail, Farrell shows how contemporary culture has re-framed many varieties of abandon into self-conscious strategies of sense-making and control.  Abandon has become a common lens for organizing modern experience and an often troubling resource for mobilizing and rationalizing cultural and political action.This landmark analysis both enlightens and empowers us.”

—Les Gasser, Professor of Information and Computer Science, U. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaigne.