Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Why Does Shit Happen?: Addiction and Power Are Not the Ultimate "Problems"

A good friend sent me this Youtube TEDS talk titled The Power of Addiction and the Addiction of Power by the psychologist Gabor Mate. Click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66cYcSak6nE

She asked my honest response to his talk, and that response can be found in the blog below.

I Mate' jumps into the middle of the problem without asking, "Why are there Problems or pathologies in the first place?". In my opinion, Mate' does not ask the more fundamental questions about Power, Addiction, Emptiness, Parental Neglect, Stress, etc.. He assumes these basic experiences of the human situation are "bad" and then launches off in a Freudian (positivistic) manner to fix them after blaming mostly parental, governmental and other social failures. I understand this approach and clearly such external causes must be taken seriously and may result in horrific social and psychological results. I am not denying what he is saying insofar as it goes, but he begins in the middle rather than at the ontological beginning.

I want to hear our thinkers ask more fundamental questions: Why is there the phenomenon of emptiness? Why is there the craving for fulfillment? Why do we come into this world yearning for mama's nipple and daddy's approval? Why do finite humans crave and seek unbounded Power, Pleasure, and Recognition? These are the three major human needs addressed in the "tests" of Jesus and Buddha--each of the teachers providing a different solution.

A positivist assumes that these pathological phenomena of consciousness arose from a Big Bang which radiated outward for 350,000 years, then forming atoms, then molecules and eventually chemical compounds which through the interaction of gravity and dark energy formed galaxy clusters filled with 2,000 billion billion stars--and at least one star with a planet we call earth which evolved an elaborate ecosystem and life as we know it. In other words, for the positivist, human consciousness entered at the end of the evolutionary trajectory rather than the beginning. This is a huge difference. If human consciousness (with the accompanying pathological experiences of emptiness, power, addiction, violence, depression, the Seven Deadly Sins,  et al) arose via the unmediated chaotic and chance "mashing" of inanimate matter--then he is on the only track left to us. He, like the Buddhist, assumes we have no ontological explanation for suffering; we must simply recognize it and try our best to solve it. If he is right, then yes, we need to empirically analyze society, mom, dad, brother, my boss, Napoleon, the patriarchy, Bush, Obama, etc. for the "original" causes (sins) of harmful behaviors and find external solutions to these meaningless pathologizings. It is up to us to simply see the horror, and to invent and implement humanly devised systems of better parenting, better politics, liberation movements and better pharmaceuticals to be ingested into our screwed up neural systems, etc. 

 But, but-----if Animated Consciousness (mundusimaginalis) actually exists, and in some curious and creative fashion interacts with and even drives this cosmic bio-psychological process--it behooves us to ask, "What larger Purpose(s) do our experiences of emptiness, alienation, power, addiction, violence, stresses, terror, bad parenting, and oppressive governments, and all of our pathologizings serve?"

Gabor Mate' doesn't begin where I begin, asking, "What normal, necessary and purposeful roles do chaos, disintegration and pathologizings play in the development of human consciousness (and what I call "soul" or "soul-making")?" The same question may be asked and answered at the cosmological level, "What normal, necessary, and purposeful role did the countless icy comets play by violently smashing into the arid molten earth hundreds of millions of years ago?" We are pretty sure that such violent chaotic (pathologizing) periods occurred purposively, in order to provide water and eventuate in a "sustainable" ecosysyem of interconnected organisms. That is what I believe, and what I think. Mate' provides some great provisional solutions on the journey to a more thorough solution, but does not address the larger issues of why such phenomena are here in the first place, and what necessary role they might play. That is why I turn to depth psychology, world mythologies, religion and theological studies. These four distinct disciplines are not synonymous, but they all have in common an ontological basis of reality that goes beyond mere human rationality and sensory data.

Also, part of what I heard in Mate' is an approach to problems that Western culture has been "addicted" to for the past 2,000 years, in both religion and secularism. Both tend to blame the past: Adam and Eve, Karma, my parents, American Imperialism, the Tea Party Republicans, the Progressive Socialist Democrats, the oppressive Patriarchy, the fanatical Feminist Movement, etc., etc., etc. Where does the regression of blame stop? Freudians and Marxists have simply re-invented the secular version of Augustinian "original sin", locating all problems in the human being--either in the "I" or someone(s) who did it to me. At least the religionists rely on a Power greater than the human ego to help with a solution--going outside of the positivist model of reality. Simple logic ought to cause us to ask, "How far back do we go in this methodological scapegoating?" Ironically, many Westerners who have rejected Augustinian original sin have adopted Eastern Karma. That is no solution. I must ask, "Why Karma?" Those who respond, "Well, because we have free will," and I ask, "Why do we have free will?"
I am always frustrated by the postponing approaches of the historical regressionists who just keep moving the problem back in history as if there was no original reason for such problems coming into existence. Someone needs to say, "Look, pathological occurrences play a huge and purposive role in this drama of existence--cosmic and psychological disintegrations are normal, necessary and meaningful. Please stop blaming yourself and your ancestors and recognize the nature of this Cosmos--SHIT HAPPENS." The bigger question that needs to be addressed is this: "Does shit happen purposefully or by random meaningless chance?" And yes, I understand that this position is fraught with horrific implications--my son was slaughtered in Afghanistan and I nearly died twice (that I know of) from alcohol addiction. 

Mate' simply assumes that power and addiction are bad; that Alexander the Great Napoleon became a despot because he was short, and that children cry excessively because their mother's are stressed over socio-political circumstances, etc. Yes, these are actual issues to be taken seriously at the micro level of psyche, but they ultimately solve very little, in my opinion. Many of these secondary solutions remind me of the guy who continually takes aspirins after he touches a hot appliance every day. For that guy there are larger lessons to be learned than how to take an aspirin while blaming the iron or the electric company for channeling injurious energy into his home.

Bottom line, as I see it: Mate's assessments and solutions, and those of others in this blame-happy culture, provide secondary causes and solutions. Are they necessary, accurate and useful causes and solutions? Yes, absolutely. Are they causes and solutions to be minimized, ignored or eliminated? No. But they are addressing symptoms rather than the larger Cosmic and Psychological Patterns behind what I believe to be a telic universe. Such assessments clearly provide some much needed temporary solutions, but will never ultimately help the addict or suffering person fit his/her pathologizings into a larger more purposeful schemata. 

A psychologist who worked with veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan once said to me, "I have renamed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to Purposeless Traumatic Stress Disorder. Once the vet can see the role of his/her pathologies as part of a larger psycho-cosmic tapestry, many of the symptoms disappear, and the others can be weaved into his/her life story as part of his/her narrative with a plot, destiny and vocation." Hopeful thinking? The positivist would say yes. But to that positivist I would reply, "How is a therapy of victimization empowering anyone?" The man or woman who cannot locate a higher meaning in his/her suffering is at a severe disadvantage in making sense of this life.

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