Mind Shadows

3/1/10

Robert Robinson:An African-American's 44 Years In Soviet Russia


Hired in 1927 as a floor sweeper by Ford Motor Company, he became a toolmaker there. In April 1930, through Amtorg, a Soviet trade agency based in New York, a Russian delegation toured the plant. A Russian asked if he would like to work in the Soviet Union. At Ford he earned $140 a month--good wages--but was offered $250 a month, free living quarters, maid service, 30 days vacation a year and a car. All of this for a one year contract. At 23 and recently from Cuba, where he grew up, he was ready for some adventure. Like most things Soviet, the promises were eventually to mark a tragic life, his.

So in the mid-1930s Robinson went, and thereon hangs his tale. He describes various discrimination against blacks while the Soviet government painted itself as an ethnically tolerant utopia.

During the 1930s Moscow purges, he never undressed until 4 AM, nervously awaiting a Secret Police knock at his door. Next day, he and others would silently take note of fellow employees who did not show up for work. He was aware of the foreigners who disappeared from the First State Ball Bearing Factory. When he started there, he found 362 foreigners. By 1939 only he and a Hungarian were left. Because he was a foreigner, friends begged him not to visit them. More

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2/19/09

Suddenly Changed Forever: Suzanne Segal's Loss of Self

Gaiety transfiguring all that dread.
All men have aimed at, found and lost;
Black out; Heaven blazing into the head
(from "Lapus Lazuli," by W.B. Yeats)

Waiting at a Paris bus stop, four months pregnant, Suzanne Segal was about to take a step that would change her life forever. It occurred as she boarded the number 37 line.

"I lifted my right foot to step up into the bus and collided head-on with an invisible force that entered my awareness like a silently exploding stick of dynamite, blowing the door of my usual consciousness open and off its hinges . . . All the body's signals seemed to take a long time to be picked up in this non-localized place, as if they were light coming from a distant star. Terrified, I looked around . . . All the other passengers were calmly taking their seats . . . I shook my head a few times, hoping to rattle my consciousness back into place, but nothing changed. I felt from afar as my fingers fumbled to insert the ticket into the slot and I walked down the aisle to find a seat. I sat down next to an older woman I had been chatting with at the bus stop, and I tried to continue our conversation. My mind had completely ground to a halt in the shock of the abrupt collision with whatever had dislodged my previous reality."

Her personal identity disappeared and she began to live in terror. Of her body she said it was "an outline empty of everything of which it had previously felt so full. " She also said, "Everything seemed to be dissolving right in front of my eyes, constantly. Emptiness was everywhere, seeping through the pores of every face I gazed upon, flowing through the crevices of seemingly solid objects. The body, mind, speech, thoughts, and emotions are all empty; they had no ownership, no person behind them. I was utterly bereft of all my previous notions of reality."

Although others acknowledged a change in her, she was puzzled that nobody else noticed what she saw so clearly: "as if there were an unseen doer who acted perfectly."

Later in her narrative: "The first response that the mind had to this completely ungraspable experience was absolute terror; but that terror never changed the experience for a moment. In other words that terror never got the reference point back again. There was no personal self, but nothing stopped; the functions continued to function just as before. In fact, better than before. Speaking was still speaking and walking was still walking. I even went to graduate school and got a Ph.D."

"I experienced this fear for ten years. During this time, I consulted a lot of psychotherapists because it seemed like something I needed to be cured of. Every single one of these therapists considered this to be a problem. And they all had a diagnosis for it. They couldn't quite understand how it could be that there was such great functioning occurring, but they took the fact that there was a lot of fear to be a sign that this was a problem. "

This, on sex: "Sexuality still functions, but without the lust or longing that are self-referencing aspects. Sex serves no personal desire and has no deeper meaning that makes it anything but what it is at the moment. Like all other functions, the sexual function is engaged when the vastness deems obvious, for a mysterious, non-personal purpose. When lovemaking occurs, there is no one making love to no one. How could this possibly be comprehensible to the mind?"

Segal eventually stopped asking therapists for help and turned to spiritual teachers. "Towards the end of the ten years, there was a clear awareness that this was not something that was going to go away. It was time to start investigating other possible descriptions of what this was. It was time to investigate it with people who maybe knew more about it than Western psychotherapists. I started reading spiritual books. . . ."

American Buddhist teachers assured her that her absence of self was not pathological, which helped her understand it in a different light, whereupon her fear subsided. "I realized that the mind had been clinging tenaciously to the erroneous notion that the presence of fear meant something about the validity of the experience of no-self. Fear had tricked the mind into taking its presence to mean something it did not. Fear was present, yes, but that was all it was! The presence of fear in no way invalidated the experience that no personal self existed. It meant only that fear was present. Everything occurs simultaneously--form and emptiness, pain and enlightenment, fear and awakening. Fear's grip broke, and joy arose at once."

After this understanding a further shift occurred: "I was driving north to meet some friends when I suddenly became aware that I was driving through myself. For years there had been no-self at all, yet here on this road , everything was myself, and I was driving through me to arrive where I already was. In essence, I was going nowhere because I was everywhere already. The infinite emptiness I knew myself to be was now apparent as the infinite substance of everything I saw."

She had referred to her bus stop experience as a "bus hit." In summer 1996 a series of powerful hits occurred, which at first were pleasant, rapturous, then increasingly disturbed her, causing her to rest after especially strong ones.

In early 1997 X-rays revealed a brain tumor. She had surgery and died on 1 April 1997, age 42. Her book is titled Collision with the Infinite.

Post script. The skeptic might argue that her disease provides evidence for the materialist position-- that her brain suffered distortions of perception.

As a response to the materialist, consider this in William James' classic, The Varieties of Religious Experience: "Medical materialism finishes up Saint Paul by calling his vision on the road to Damascus a discharging lesion of the occipital cortex, he being an epileptic. It snuffs out Saint Teresa as an hysteric, Saint Francis of Assisi as an hereditary degenerate. . . . And medical materialism then thinks that the spiritual authority of all such personages is successfully undermined. . . . "

"According to the general postulate of psychology just referred to . . . scientific theories are organically conditioned just as much as religious emotions are; and if we only knew the facts intimately enough, we should doubtless see "the liver" determining the dicta of the sturdy atheist as decisively as it does those of the Methodist under conviction anxious about his soul. . . ."

"To plead the organic causation of a religious state of mind, then, in refutation of its claim to possess superior spiritual value, is quite illogical and arbitrary, unless one has already worked out in advance some psycho-physical theory connecting spiritual values in general with determinate sorts of physiological change. Otherwise none of our thoughts and feelings, not even our scientific doctrines, not even our DIS-beliefs, could retain any value as revelations of the truth, for every one of them without exception flows from the state of its possessor's body at the time."

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2/10/09

Soldiers of Fortune: Americans In The Egyptian Army

Soldiers of Fortune: Americans In The Egyptian Army

In 1865, after Lee signed the surrender to Grant at Appomattox, after Johnny Reb turned, dusty, tired, to wend his way to farms and villages in Mississippi, Georgia, or Alabama, after Billy Yank trudged wearily back to Iowa, Ohio, or New Hampshire, the war was not over for some officers on both sides. No, they were not ready to fight again. Rather, they liked soldiering, it was all they knew, and the United States was not the place for it--not unless they wanted to spend dreary years at some wilderness outpost on the plains or in the desert, waiting the next sutler's wagon with salted beef and whiskey to wash it down, helping them forget where they were--as they waited for some excitement such as the next hunt for Indians, who were rarely found.

Some had other ideas. Pick up and move on, they thought, but not toward the Western horizon, and instead across the waters to where the sun arose. Not to them just the East, but in those days the far, far East. Over there somewhere somebody could use a good soldier, tested in battle. One was Thaddeus Mot and he wound up fighting in the Egyptian army. You might say that he got there because Cotton was King in the South. With the War of The Rebellion, as it was then called by Northerners, cotton exports to Europe dried up. Europe turned to Egypt for her supply, and the Egyptian economy boomed. Cotton became King in Egypt, and when it was deposed the way was paved for Mot and his fellow soldiers. Here is the story.

Egypt's ruler, the Khedive Ismail had plans for his country. With money in his coffers from huge cotton exports during the American Civil War, he wanted to modernize Egypt. Not just for its own sake, but because the Khedive wanted to free Egypt from the Ottoman Empire, and to build Europe into a nation equal to European countries. His uncle Saïd had begun construction of the Suez Canal and Ismail finished the project. As money flowed to Egypt, Ismail tossed it on projects, especially the Suez Canal, finished at immense cost. The Canal's cost weakened his economy and opened the door to English and French influence in Egypt; he had fallen to their suasion.

The Khedive had a new problem, how to strengthen Egypt against their influence. An obvious answer was to build up his army, modernize it, and then use it to rattle his saber, the louder the better, and to fight wars, a disastrous one with Abyssinia. The Nile flowed quietly into the Mediterranean as it had to, the sun baked the pyramid at Cheops as it had since the time of the Pharoahs, and from afar Ismail had watched something new, a war in what was called the New World. This was a different kind of war, with fresh inventions and tactics. Gatling guns, armor plated warships, and men trained on the battlefield. The Khedive was interested in it.

Thaddeus Mot found his way to Turkey and became a familiar of those in power. In 1868, Mot, a Union colonel and a favorite of the Turkish court, met the Khedive Ismail in Constantinople, now Istanbul.

He impressed the Khedive, and was soon commissioned as a major general in the Egyptian army.

Mott quickly convinced Ismail to add more American veterans to the Egyptian staff. With the Khedive’s blessing he returned to the United States, and with the help of General of the Army William T. Sherman, began enlisting recruits. One of them was Confederate Major William Wing Loring, one-armed veteran of the Mexican war.

The situation presented a new chance for dozens of Civil War veterans. About fifty former Union and Confederate officers would make the three-week journey to Egypt. In addition, at least four active U.S. officers were given leaves of absence, allowing them to gain experience in Egypt. All of these men accepted actual commissions in the Egyptian Army, agreeing to fight for Egypt in any war, except one against the United States. One of then would become chief engineer in erecting the Statue of Liberty, originally proposed for the mouth of the Suez Canal.

Some stayed for only a few months (or even days), while others remained for years. Several Confederate luminaries, including P. G. T. Beauregard, Joseph Johnston, and George Pickett considered going, but declined.

More at Americans In The Egyptian Army. Also see A Confederate Soldier in Egypt, and An American Pasha's Neglected Tomb, among others.

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2/5/09

Poppa Neutrino: The Happiest Man In The World?

Poppa Neutrino: The Happiest Man In The World?

Poppa Neutrino is the free spirit (or lunatic according to some) who sailed across the Atlantic with his family on a raft made of scraps.

In his book The Happiest Man in the World, Alec Wilkinson chronicles the life of Poppa Neutrino. Now Poppa is supposedly preparing for a solo journey across the Pacific. You can listen on NPR.

You can check out the DVD featured on the picture above at this site. Here are earlier links in Mind Shadows: Poppa Neutrino: "The road to the mystical is triadic. To get through the doorway is nomadic." and 72 Year Old To Cross The Pacific On A Raft of Scraps as well as Latest on Poppa Neutrino

Below is a video of Poppa.

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8/4/05

Poppa Neutrino: 72 Year Old To Cross The Pacific On A Raft of Scraps

Poppa Neutrino was born in 1933 as David Pearlman in San Francisco. Twenty one years ago a dog bit his hand in Mexico, causing a two-year sickness so bad he thought he would die. Doctors were unable to diagnose his affliction. Finally recovered, he had changed, feeling so different that he decided on a new name. Poppa Neutrino is the first that came to him.

He explains a neutrino this way:

According to science, neutrinos are subatomic particles that exist throughout the universe, are in constant motion, invisible but ever-present, and act as a sort of balancing factor to all visible matter. When we first read about neutrinos, no one had ever seen one, yet scientists were certain that they must exist. The human soul or spirit is also something that most people claim never to have seen, and so think does not exist. But if neutrinos exist and can't be seen, there must also be many other things that exist and can't be seen.

Like himself, a neutrino is intinerant, its movement random, its course subject to its relationship within the system. In his seventy two years, Poppa Neutrino has not lived in one place over a year. With his "Floating Neutrinos," wife, children, and others, he set a trans-Atlantic record in a raft made of scraps. It was the first of its kind to make the voyage in the late 1990s.

With his dog, he now plans to cross the Pacific, also in a raft made of scraps. He recently left San Felipe, Baja California, bound for Peru, where he will attempt the voyage, done in 1948 by Thor Heyerdahl in a balsa wood raft.

His life is guided by a world-view he explains as Triads. Of them, he has this to say:

The basic premise of this plan is that from the time you are born, you are being constantly programmed by outside forces - your parents, teachers, friends and relatives, and the society and culture you live in, through the media and the demands of school, work and laws. Most of these outside forces are acting on you in a mechanical way, giving pretty much the same programming to everybody. The programs of society, for example, are designed for the preservation of the society itself, not for individual self-fulfillment.

More on Poppa Neutrino can be found here and here.

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7/20/05

Happiness & Public Policy




Not all people would say that happiness is the highest good, Some would instead assert that a meaningful life is more important. Still others would posit different values. A thoughtful consideration of the matter does reveal that happiness, broadly construed, best serves the public weal. To benefit a nation, policies must define the public good and provide instruments for implementing it. This is not easy in part because people are widely adaptive to bad situations. They can ignore smog, accept TV schlock, endure traffic jams, shrug off global warming because that’s the way things are. This acceptance is rather akin to a frog in a pan. Dump it into boiling water and it will immediately jump out. Place it in luke warm water, then slowly turn up the fire, and it will cook to death. We are cooking as I write.

Happiness has recent history as public policy. In antiquity Aristotle wrote of happiness for the individual amidst an elite. In the Nineteenth Century John Stuart Mill espoused a system to promote it. As a classical empiricist in a society with slaves to do the work, Aristotle maintained that happiness was inseparable from leisure and that labor was a vice. On the cusp of the British Industrial Revolution, Mill proposed Utilitarianism--the greatest good for the greatest number--as public policy.

World-wide surveys repeatedly reveal that people regard happiness as indisputably desirable. It consistently ranks at the top in surveys all over the globe. Whatever the values of various societies and cultures, humans almost universally grade happiness as an extremely important value.

In the United States, William James and others developed the philosophy of Pragmatism, which evolved out of the ideas of Mill. Both Utilitarianism and Pragmatism did not aim at happiness for the individual in particular but for society in general--happiness as part of public policy. Broadly speaking, in the United States such policy is a feature of liberal agendas, which conservatives roundly curse while favoring dollar democracy. In Europe, the notion of public weal has remained as a larger feature of public policy, although economics and government belt-tightening challenge the policy.

If surveyed, most people would endorse public policies that promote happiness for the greater number of people. Implementing such policies would not be easy. Planners must agree upon sources and causes of happiness. Having done that, the devil follows in the details. How to implement a public policy for happiness? In the United States, liberal policies have been increasingly deconstructed by conservatives who have called them failures, although a scholarly study of the matter reveals an equal share of intellectual muddle on both sides, liberal and conservative.

Despite this wrangling, a major question is ignored in public policy. Do degrees of happiness consistently correlate to income or do they depend on societal, cultural, and individual situations?

This wrangling partly occurs because in America money is confused with happiness. The conditions for individual happiness are identified by that which is believed to support it, which in the United States is almost exclusively the dollar. American studies of happiness reveal high incomes as correlated with happiness. People associate more money with a better life. Elsewhere on the globe, this association does not occur as noticeably. To be sure, people everywhere agree that happiness is difficult in extreme poverty, but definitions of poverty vary, and high income is not universally ranked as important. Indeed, in Western, materialistic, societies, happiness is associated with greater "stuff." Those who have things are presumed to be happier. And there is some truth to this. Some, but not all.

Global surveys continue to reveal that although the rich are significantly happier than the poor, average happiness levels change very little in index to people’s incomes.

War-ravaged Japan was still reconstructing in 1960 when surveys were taken to determine the average level of happiness. By 1988 Japanese per capita income increased four times above its 1960 level. People had more cars, shoes, clothes, cameras, stereos, washing machines, and yet the average happiness remained constant with 1960. This pattern was not unique to Japan. It repeats itself in other countries.

Other elements of happiness polls suggest something about human nature--that people don't really know what is good for them. Put differently, they may say one thing and do another. * Higher incomes do not necessarily promote greater happiness, why, then, do people want more money?

* ( In some circumstances, this is labeled as blatant hypocrisy, but often it reveals that people don't understand the workings of their own minds, or have not sorted through their conflicting beliefs.)

A related question--in order to buy more stuff and reduce tax burden, is steady, persistent per capita income growth desirable in terms of happiness?

In Daedalus, (Vol. 133, Issue 2, spring 2004) Robert H. Frank (author of Luxury Fever) casts an interesting light on the subject. He offers two scenarios, one with a people living in 4000 square foot homes, totally isolated from another people living in 3000 square foot homes. He calls each Society A and Society B. Because separated from one another, each people is equally satisfied and do not question the square-footage norm. Further, the larger houses do not provide advantage in terms of longevity or health.

He observes that "it takes real resources to build larger houses." The difference between 3000 and 4000 square feet implies a difference in resources. His question: "Are there alternative ways of spending these resources that could have produced lasting gains in human welfare?"

Society B (smaller home) residents use saved resources for the commonweal. They spend the money and material to promote specific changes in their living conditions. ". . . cost savings from building smaller houses are sufficient to fund not only the construction of high-speed public transit, but also to make the added flexibility of the automobile available on an as-needed basis." (Frank) In short, they don't need a car but can drive it if they want to. They simply don't have one thousand additional feet of floor space.

Because all income goes toward stuff, Society A residents have no excess resources for improvement of their situation. They cannot fund pubic transit and must depend on the automobile. Their cars continue to cause traffic gridlock and high stress levels. Although nicer to live in, is the larger home more valuable in the context of longer commute times, traffic jams, and traffic noise?

These are factors demonstrably correlated to reduction in happiness. When a new, noisy highway was opened, people living next it were studied. Shortly after its opening, 21 percent said the noise did not bother them; a year later, the figure dropped to 16 percent. Prolonged exposure to noise elevates blood pressure lastingly. Auto commuters are subject to various noises. Things are out of their control. They cannot predict bottlenecks or accidents. They get cut off by drivers even more tense. "A large scientific study documents a multitude of stress symptoms" from daily commuting. The stress is known "to suppress immune function and shorten longevity." (Frank) This is aside from the risk of accidents or the inhalation of carcinogenic exhaust fumes.

Frank points out that a rational person would choose Society B in order to promote his own happiness. Americans, in pursuit of happiness, still do not turn from the norms of Society A. In the meantime, we frogs are in the pan and the water is becomingly increasingly uncomfortable . . . .

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7/16/05

Notes on The Relationship of Capitalism, Happiness & Leisure




These are just some random thoughts, and I jot them down as a reminder to myself and readers of what we already know—as a reminder because we make our way in a world that remains largely ignorant of the values within the thoughts.

  • One of the oldest rules of political science is that (1) human beings come together to keep alive. (2) Then they stay together to live a good life. In the United States people have never budged from number one. As a society, they still behave as if they had a wilderness to conquer.

  • A motto found on an ancient Roman sun dial: Horas non numero nisi serenas; the hours don’t count unless they are serene. Western society rejects leisure, mistaking it for free time, but it rejects what it doesn’t understand. Leisure cannot exist when people don’t know what it is, and it is not recreation—not movies, not TV shows, not rock concerts, not water skiing.

  • In his Politics Aristotle pointed out that the Spartans were secure so long as they were at war, but collapsed when they acquired an empire. They didn’t know how to use leisure with their peace. They didn’t understand that war is waged to gain peace, which in turn is used for leisure.

  • In his Nichomachean Ethics Aristotle argued that wisdom is a virtue that can only be obtained in leisure. Scholé is Greek for leisure, whence the English word scholar, as well as school. For the Greeks scholé implied freedom, both freedom from and freedom to. From: it meant that one did not have daily struggles and worries over food, shelter, and clothing. To: that this security enabled him to develop himself.

  • Aristotle would disagree with modern materialistic society on the truly valuable. He would not regard anything useful as the highest good. Utility merely provides a means to gain something else. The highest good does not point to anything beyond itself. It is a good for its own sake. Happiness is not useful. It is a good unto itself. People want to be happy. Full stop. It is a highest good and as such has no utility in it.

  • For Aristotle, happiness can only appear in leisure. The happy person looks upon the world with no schemes, no intrigues. The unhappy person engages in work in order to avoid boredom. The happy person is not bored.

  • With the advent of Christianity, the view toward leisure changed because the idea of work altered. Work became a means of self-purification, of repentance, and through it one had hope to enter the kingdom of heaven.

  • Max Weber’s (1864-1920) classic The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism helped explain religion as an engine of the Industrial Revolution and a free market society.

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    7/1/05

    Happiness Anyone?




    In The Devil's Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce provided a definition of happiness: "An agreeable sensation arising from contemplating the misery of another.'' I can imagine Jay Leno saying of the definition that maybe it explains why the Founding Fathers guaranteed the pursuit of happiness, rather than happiness itself. A nation of perfectly happy bastards and bitches would be a miserable nation indeed.

    People say they want to be happy. But do they? Why, then, do they hurt themselves? Why do they kill one another and wage war and, even torture others? Some might argue that all this occurs because they want to be happy. Perhaps they think that happiness comes with a sense of power over others, which they confuse with a greater sense of control over their own lives. Physically hurting themselves can be regarded as a form of dominating psychological pain; hurting or killing others can also be seen as a desire for domination. Thus with domination they unconsciously associate removal of obstacles to happiness.

    In last month's Psychological Science researchers describe their findings that angry people make more negative evaluations when judging members of other social groups. This is news? Well, no, but they found the same to be the case with happy people. The happier people are, the more bigoted their judgments of others. A minority group member is guilty of something or other because he is a minority group member. Researchers speculate as to why this phenomenon occurs and have several hypotheses, one of which is that happy people tend to be complacent, which does not promote analytical thinking. It's easier to shove opinions into pigeon holes--to stereotype people.

    This presents a difference with the writings of Martin Seligman, who argues that happiness is imbued with a rational perspective because it is optimistic. Seligman says that optimists take problems and set-backs as temporary and local rather than permanent and universal, unlike pessimists. Optimists don't say "It's all my fault," while pessimists tend to do so.

    In the United States, the pursuit of happiness is a god-given right and Americans have a document that tells them so. Perhaps that is why Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn left the states to return to his native Russia. He regards happiness as a shallow and selfish goal. In Psychological Science, the researchers might agree with him. Their findings suggest that, in some way not yet fully discernible, happiness may be bad for society.

    Seligman has another approach. In the last few years he has been looking at how mentally healthy people think, and has turned away from relieving mental misery. As he would put it, he wants to help people move from +3 to +6 rather than from -5 to -3. His concern is with methods to promote happiness, as inferred from those who are happy. He wants to develop the condition rather than study its effects on interactions within society. I mention this because an unanswered question remains, To what extent is happiness good for the well-being of society? Some evidence suggests a kind of selfishness in those who are happy; consider the research associating bigotry and complacency with happiness.

    The new science of happiness looks at causes and their signatures, some of which are satisfaction with life, and episodes of joy. Perhaps not so surprisingly, among the causes are genes and good marriages. Having children does not correlate well to it, nor does money. Religious people are happier, probably because of support from church and friends they make there. ( I have friends who say they are not religious but attend church because of its social connections.) Men become happier as they age; women, less so.

    Certainly happiness has physical effects. Research evidence indicates that it buttresses the immune system, lengthens lives, and buffers stress.

    Novelist Aldous Huxley's happy folk take a drug, soma, which, in his Brave New World, makes them complacent, dim-witted, and indifferent to the suffering of others and certainly to the totalitarian state that controls them. Yet, they are happy, so they believe.

    British psychologist Richard P. Bentall puts the matter of happiness in another light: "There is consistent evidence that happy people overestimate their control over environmental events (often to the point of perceiving completely random events as subject to their will), give unrealistically positive evaluations of their own achievements, believe that others share their unrealistic opinions about themselves and show a general lack of evenhandedness when comparing themselves to others." Bentall proposed that happiness be classified as a psychiatric disorder.

    This fits with much research that finds pessimists as better judges of situations. Rather than looking through rose-colored glasses, they tend to see darkly, yet see face to face. The optimist acknowledges that disasters happen, but only to others. Pessimists feel that the deck is stacked against them, that if something is to go wrong, it will likely befall them. They are more realistic in the sense that they prepare themselves for misfortune.

    Vanitas vanitatum, says the pessimist--vanity of the vain, all is vanity. Death renders our best efforts as futile. The pessimist perhaps lives more safely than does the optimist who risks more, his expectations subject to frustration. Still, the optimist gives meaning to his life by his efforts in trying to make the best of it. Further, to the extent they are depressed, pessimists compare reality to a happiness that is out of reach, which deepens depression and leads sometimes to suicide.

    In The United States, a widespread and unrealistic view of happiness contributes to depression. Happiness became bound up with possession. An unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness? Well, this was code for the so-called natural aristocracy in which Thomas Jefferson believed. John Locke had a different phrase, from which the Founding Fathers borrowed. His was akin to the pursuit of property, if not that precise phrase. Property was a bit too blatant, because many of the colonists had none. By this means, the conflation of ownership with happiness crept into the culture.

    Happiness has remained tied to materialism. To acquire is to be happy. The most acquisitive are the happiest, so the culture teaches. And blessed are these, for the happiest among them are corporate executives in their mansions.

    Aristotle would not have accepted this view. In his Nichomachean Ethics he holds happiness as wedded to virtue, not possessions. The virtuous man is not bigoted nor complacent. He does not find satisfaction in the misery of others. He exercises his mind and enjoys its philosophical fruits. He is bound to be happy because he holds the highest good, the integrity between his happiness and his virtue.

    Today we have Doctor Feel Good and his pharmacopeia as well as his many prescriptions for our well being. Rather than asking themselves, people take his mood-level tests to find out if they are happy. Happiness becomes gauged in relation to other people. They consider whether they are better or worse off than others are, then tell him how they feel.

    Somewhere in his writings, Seligman makes a very good point. He maintains that true happiness derives from meaning and no drug, no personality test, can provide that. Meaning does not come from pleasant feelings. It derives from a life given to something bigger than the ego and making money. The pharmacist cannot be the attendant for meaning. It must come through the development of integrity, character, sense of control, and efforts on behalf of a cause greater than oneself. Even if one is no Mother Theresa, it can be built, this meaningfulness. No matter where we end up, the starting place is always where we find ourselves. We begin through doing any job with honesty, helpfulness, and concern for others.

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    5/30/05


    Nature Versus Nurture, II:Of David Reimer, & A Man Who Tampered With A Human Being For The Sake of His Career

    (See the earlier article for the first part.)

    The tragic story of David Reimer can be traced to one man, John Money, who put career, ideology, and dogmatism above any real concern for a human being. He wanted to prove that nurture could prevail over nature and used Reimer as his guinea pig, trying to make the boy think like a girl, messing with his mind, and generally making a wreck of the lad. "For Dr. Money, David was the ultimate experiment to prove that nurture, not nature, determines gender identity and sexual orientation—an experiment all the more irresistible because David was an identical twin. His brother, Brian, would provide the perfect matched control, a genetic clone raised as a boy."

    "Just shy of a month ago, I got a call from David Reimer's father telling me that David had taken his own life. I was shocked, but I cannot say I was surprised. Anyone familiar with David's life—as a baby, after a botched circumcision, he underwent an operation to change him from boy to girl—would have understood that the real mystery was how he managed to stay alive for 38 years, given the physical and mental torments he suffered in childhood and that haunted him the rest of his life. I'd argue that a less courageous person than David would have put an end to things long ago. . . .

    David Reimer was one of the most famous patients in the annals of medicine. Born in 1965 in Winnipeg, he was 8 months old when a doctor used an electrocautery needle, instead of a scalpel, to excise his foreskin during a routine circumcision, burning off his entire penis as a result. David's parents (farm kids barely out of their teens) were referred to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, home of the world's leading expert in gender identity, psychologist Dr. John Money, who recommended a surgical sex change, from male to female. David's parents eventually agreed to the radical procedure, believing Dr. Money's claims that this was their sole hope for raising a child who could have heterosexual intercourse—albeit as a sterile woman with a synthetic vagina and a body feminized with estrogen supplements. . . .

    The reality was far more complicated. At age 2, Brenda angrily tore off her dresses. She refused to play with dolls and would beat up her brother and seize his toy cars and guns. In school, she was relentlessly teased for her masculine gait, tastes, and behaviors. She complained to her parents and teachers that she felt like a boy; the adults—on Dr. Money's strict orders of secrecy—insisted that she was only going through a phase. Meanwhile, Brenda's guilt-ridden mother attempted suicide; her father lapsed into mute alcoholism; the neglected Brian eventually descended into drug use, petty crime, and clinical depression. . . ."

    David Reimer, 1965-2004

    After David's suicide, press reports cited an array of reasons for his despair: bad investments, marital problems, his brother's death two years earlier. Surprisingly little emphasis was given to the extraordinary circumstances of his upbringing. This was unfortunate because to understand David's suicide, you first need to know his anguished history, which I chronicled in my book As Nature Made Him:The Boy Who Was Raised As a Girl.

    David Reimer was one of the most famous patients in the annals of medicine. Born in 1965 in Winnipeg, he was 8 months old when a doctor used an electrocautery needle, instead of a scalpel, to excise his foreskin during a routine circumcision, burning off his entire penis as a result. David's parents (farm kids barely out of their teens) were referred to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, home of the world's leading expert in gender identity, psychologist Dr. John Money, who recommended a surgical sex change, from male to female. David's parents eventually agreed to the radical procedure, believing Dr. Money's claims that this was their sole hope for raising a child who could have heterosexual intercourse—albeit as a sterile woman with a synthetic vagina and a body feminized with estrogen supplements.

    For Dr. Money, David was the ultimate experiment to prove that nurture, not nature, determines gender identity and sexual orientation—an experiment all the more irresistible because David was an identical twin. His brother, Brian, would provide the perfect matched control, a genetic clone raised as a boy.

    David's infant "sex reassignment" was the first ever conducted on a developmentally normal child. (Money had helped to pioneer the procedure in hermaphrodites.) And according to Money's published reports through the 1970s, the experiment was a success. The twins were happy in their assigned roles: Brian a rough and tumble boy, his sister Brenda a happy little girl. Money was featured in Time magazine and included a chapter on the twins in his famous textbook Man & Woman, Boy & Girl.

    The reality was far more complicated. At age 2, Brenda angrily tore off her dresses. She refused to play with dolls and would beat up her brother and seize his toy cars and guns. In school, she was relentlessly teased for her masculine gait, tastes, and behaviors. She complained to her parents and teachers that she felt like a boy; the adults—on Dr. Money's strict orders of secrecy—insisted that she was only going through a phase. Meanwhile, Brenda's guilt-ridden mother attempted suicide; her father lapsed into mute alcoholism; the neglected Brian eventually descended into drug use, pretty crime, and clinical depression.

    When Brenda was 14, a local psychiatrist convinced her parents that their daughter must be told the truth. David later said about the revelation: "Suddenly it all made sense why I felt the way I did. I wasn't some sort of weirdo. I wasn't crazy."

    David soon embarked on the painful process of converting back to his biological sex. A double mastectomy removed the breasts that had grown as a result of estrogen therapy; multiple operations, involving grafts and plastic prosthesis, created an artificial penis and testicles. Regular testosterone injections masculinized his musculature. Yet David was depressed over what he believed was the impossibility of his ever marrying. He twice attempted suicide in his early 20s.

    David did eventually marry a big-hearted woman named Jane, but his dark moods persisted. He was plagued by shaming memories of the frightening annual visits to Dr. Money, who used pictures of naked adults to "reinforce" Brenda's gender identity and who pressed her to have further surgery on her "vagina."

    When David was almost 30, he met Dr. Milton Diamond, a psychologist at the University of Hawaii and a longtime rival of Dr. Money. A biologist by training, Diamond had always been curious about the fate of the famous twin, especially after Money mysteriously stopped publishing follow-ups in the late 1970s. Through Diamond, David learned that the supposed success of his sex reassignment had been used to legitimize the widespread use of infant sex change in cases of hermaphroditism and genital injury. Outraged, David agreed to participate in a follow-up by Dr. Diamond, whose myth-shattering paper (co-authored by Dr. Keith Sigmundson) was published in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine in March 1997 and was featured on front pages across the globe.

    I met David soon after, when he agreed to be interviewed by me for a feature story in Rolling Stone. He subsequently agreed to collaborate with me on a book about his life, As Nature Made Him, published in February 2000. In the course of our interviews, David told me that he could never forget his nightmare childhood, and he sometimes hinted that he was living on borrowed time.

    Most suicides, experts say, have multiple motives, which come together in a perfect storm of misery. So it was with David. After his twin Brian died of an overdose of antidepressants in the spring of 2002, David sank into a depression. Though the two had been estranged, David had, in recent months, taken to visiting Brian's grave, leaving flowers and, at some point prior to his own suicide, a note.

    David also had marital difficulties. He was not easy to live with, given his explosive anger, his cyclical depressions, his fears of abandonment—all of which Jane weathered for almost 14 years. But with David spiraling ever deeper into sloth and despair, she told him on the weekend of May 2 that they should separate for a time. David stormed out of the house. Two days later, Jane received a call from the police, saying that they had found David but that he did not want her to know his location. Two hours after that, Jane got another call. This time the police told her that David was dead.

    Genetics almost certainly contributed to David's suicide. His mother has been a clinical depressive all her life; his brother suffered from the same disease. How much of the Reimers' misery was due to inherited depression, and how much to the nightmare circumstances into which they had been thrown? David's mutilation and his parents' guilt were tightly entwined, multiplying the mental anguish to which the family members were already prone.

    In some press reports, financial problems were given as the sole motive in David's suicide. While this is absurdly reductive, it is true that last fall David learned that he was the victim of an alleged con man who had hoodwinked him out of $65,000—a loss that ate at him and no doubt contributed to his despair.

    In his final months, David was unemployed—for him, a disastrous circumstance. When I first met him, seven years ago, he was a janitor in a slaughter house—tough, physically demanding work that he loved. But when the plant closed a few years ago, David never found another full-time job. And thanks to me, he didn't have to. I split all profits from the book with David, 50-50. This brought him a substantial amount of money, as did a subsequent movie deal with Peter Jackson, the director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. With no compelling financial need to work, David was able to sit around his house and brood—a state of affairs for which I feel some guilt.

    In the end, of course, it was what David was inclined to brood about that killed him. David's blighted childhood was never far from his mind. Just before he died, he talked to his wife about his sexual "inadequacy," his inability to be a true husband. Jane tried to reassure him. But David was already heading for the door.

    On the morning of May 5, he retrieved a shotgun from his home while Jane was at work and took it into the garage. There, with the terrible, methodical fixedness of the suicide, he sawed off the barrel. Then he drove to the nearby parking lot of a grocery store, parked, raised the gun, and, I hope, ended his sufferings forever.

    From Slate Magazine, 3 June 2004, "Gender Gap: What were the real reasons behind David Reimer's suicide?" By John Colapinto.

    ( John Colapinto is the author of As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised a Girl. He is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone magazine where his original story about David Reimer won a national magazine award for reporting. His 2001 novel About the Author is being developed for the screen by Dreamworks.)


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    5/29/04


    Nature Versus Nurture I: Of Twins and How David Reimer Became Brenda

    They were meant to show that gender was determined by nurture, not nature - one identical twin raised as a boy and the other brought up as a girl after a botched circumcision. But two years ago Brian Reimer killed himself, and last week David - formerly Brenda - took his life too. Oliver Burkeman and Gary Younge unravel the tragic story of Dr Money's sex experiment.

    Until a few years ago, the name David Reimer meant little to those outside his immediate circle, and by the time he killed himself last Tuesday in unknown circumstances in his hometown of Winnipeg, it was already slipping back towards obscurity - a name belonging to nobody more remarkable than a local odd-job man, a 38-year-old former slaughterhouse worker who was separated from his wife, and enjoyed shopping at flea markets and tinkering with his car.

    In fact, to anyone taking an interest in the development of psychology in the 1970s and 1980s, Reimer's life story would have long been infamous, but also pseudonymous. Going by the name "John", and subsequently "Joan", David Reimer had been an unwitting guinea-pig - along with his identical twin brother Brian - in a medical experiment at first celebrated, then notorious. Masterminded by a prominent Baltimore physician, John Money, it was an attempt to settle, once and for all, the fraught nature-versus-nurture debate: to prove that gender was so fluid that by a mere change in childrearing practice, plus a little surgery, a boy could be turned into a girl, while his twin developed as a male.

    It would split the world of sexual psychology in two. And after 12 years of traumatising treatment, followed by a further two decades spent attempting to repair the damage, it would drive David Reimer to his death."It was like brainwashing," Reimer once said, having resumed his male identity after a childhood spent as Brenda. "I'd give just about anything to go to a hypnotist to black out my whole past. Because it's torture. What they did to you in the body is sometimes not near as bad as what they did to you in the mind."

    The tragedy has its roots in what seemed like a routine trip to hospital in 1966 for Janet and Ron Reimer and their twin baby boys, Bruce and Brian. Doctors had recommended circumcision, a practice still routine in much of north America, but Bruce's operation went distressingly wrong. Like almost every detail of the story, what actually happened is still fiercely disputed but what is clear is that the electric cauterising machine being used by doctors caused burning to his penis so severe as to render the organ unrescuable.

    Reconstructive genital surgery was still rudimentary, and medical experts could offer only pessimism. So when the despairing parents happened to catch a television show, some months later, on which John Money was propounding his radical new theories about gender formation, it seemed to offer a lifeline. "He was saying that it could be that babies are born neutral, and you could change their gender," Janet Reimer later told John Colapinto, author of a book on the experiment entitled As Nature Made Him.

    In photographs taken at the time, Money - then, as now, affiliated to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland - looks like a parody of a progressive "sexologist", turtlenecked and moustachioed, and his writings did nothing to dispel that impression. Raised in a conservative religious family in New Zealand, he had rebelled and become a self-described "missionary of sex", revelling in shocked responses to his tireless advocacy of open marriages and - a particular favourite - bisexual group sex.

    At their most extreme, Money's public statements had appeared to endorse, or at least not to condemn, incest and paedophilia, but there was no hint of that in the television show Janet and Ron Reimer saw. They wrote to him, and he wrote swiftly back. He was confident, he said, that Bruce could be successfully raised as a girl. From an experimental perspective, Brian Reimer would provide the perfect control: his genetic inheritance was identical to Bruce's. The only difference was that one would be nurtured as a girl, and the other as a boy.

    Money's emphasis on nurture over nature played well with the progressive spirit of the times, and especially with the women's movement, its proponents eager to establish that women's traditional social roles were not biologically pre-ordained. "Postwar, in any case, there was a move away from people being innately, biologically, inherently anything," says Lynne Segal, professor of psychology and gender studies at Birkbeck College in London. "We'd just seen Nazism, and the emphasis had been put on the idea that certain people were innately evil - Jews and gypsies, among others - so the emphasis on culture and society fitted well with social democratic ideals." The Reimers did not engage in this kind of debate. "I looked up to [John Money] as a god," Janet said simply.

    Bruce Reimer started to become Brenda on July 3, 1967. Physicians at Johns Hopkins surgically castrated him, and the remaining skin was used to forge a "cosmetic vaginal cleft". Money sent the family back to Winnipeg with strict instructions. "He told us not to talk about it," Ron Reimer told John Colapinto. "Not to tell [Brenda] the whole truth, and that she shouldn't know she wasn't a girl."

    Things started going wrong almost immediately. Janet Reimer recalled dressing Brenda in her first dress just before the child was due to turn two. "She was ripping at it, trying to tear it off. I remember thinking, 'Oh, my God, she knows she's a boy and she doesn't want girls' clothing." Brenda was bullied viciously at school. When she urinated standing up in the school lavatories, she was threatened with a knifing.

    Whether all the blame should lie with Money remains a matter of contention. His supporters argue that reconstructive surgery techniques of the time were such that trying to turn Bruce into Brenda might genuinely have been the least worst option. In public, Money advertised the "John/Joan" study as a resounding success. "This dramatic case," Time magazine reported, picking up on his salesmanship, "provides strong support for a major contention of women's liberationists: that conventional patterns on masculine and feminine behaviour can be altered."

    In private, though, things were spinning into chaos. Brenda was required to attend regular therapy sessions with Money in Baltimore, in the company of her brother. According to Colapinto's account, they soon degenerated into horrifying encounters that deeply traumatised the two children. Showing the children "explicit sexual pictures" was seemingly central to Money's theories of gender reassignment. David Reimerlater recalled, as Brenda, "getting yelled at by Money ... he told me to take my clothes off, and I just did not do it. I just stood there. And he screamed 'No!' I thought he was going to give me a whupping. So I took my clothes off and stood there, shaking."

    In the children's grimmest recollection - one they found almost impossible to talk about years later - Money allegedly made "Brenda assume a position on all fours on his office sofa and make Brian come up behind her on his knees and place his crotch against her buttocks", an element of Money's theory he referred to as "sexual rehearsal play". (The author John Heidenry, who wrote a recent review defending the sexologist, calls this charge "outrageous and offensive", and says Brian, the source of the claim, may have been suffering false memory syndrome.)

    By the time Brenda reached her teens she had attempted suicide at least once; she refused further surgery but consented, though irregularly, to take oestrogen supplements to encourage the development of breasts. John Money gradually drifted from the Reimers' lives, but Brenda remained under constant psychiatric treatment. It was after one such session with a Winnipeg psychiatrist in 1980 that Ron Reimer collected his daughter in the car and, instead of taking her home, drove her to an ice-cream parlour, where he told her everything.

    The upturn in Reimer's fortunes lasted several years. Brenda opted for a sex change within weeks of her father telling her the truth. Thanks to developments in phalloplasty, Brenda, taking the name David, received surgery that after five years left him with a reconstructed penis resembling a real one, with limited sensation, and usable for sex. When he was 23 he met Jane, a single mother of three, and married her soon afterwards. In 2000, he went public with his story.

    But his happiness didn't last. For reasons that remain unclear, David and Jane eventually separated. Then, two years ago, Brian Reimer apparently killed himself, taking an overdose of drugs he was taking for schizophrenia. David reportedly felt responsible for the death, and visited Brian's grave daily, weeding the plot and bringing fresh flowers.

    Despite Colapinto's claims that David made a large amount of money from the book, those who knew him said he was often hard up; at the Transcona golf club, in Winnipeg's eastern suburbs, where he did odd jobs, the members had a whip round for him so he could afford to eat. Friends say he had became particularly distraught during the last few months after he bought thousands of dollars' worth of shares in an investment that flopped.

    The world of psychology learned of the failure of Money's experiment through a paper by a rival, Dr Milton Diamond, of the University of Hawaii, who eventually traced those who had taken over treatment of the twins. For Lynne Segal, the story of the experiment does not settle the nature/nurture debate one way or the other - her view, widely shared today, is that the dichotomy is false - but it shows the perils of psychologists trying to prove too much through research. "It's far too simplistic, and far too interventionist, this idea that we can control and model and shape people to prove one thing or another."

    John Money remains an emeritus professor at Johns Hopkins. "He's not commenting on this story," his assistant told the Guardian yesterday. "There is no comment to make." Click for Part II.

  • As Nature Made Him by John Colapinto is published by Quartet, priced £10.

    From The Guardian, Wednesday, 12 May 2004.


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    5/28/04

    White Slavery and The Dark Continent: Lady Florence Baker, 1841-1916

    White Slavery and The Dark Continent: Lady Florence Baker, 1841-1916

    A European orphaned at four years old, abducted into an Ottoman harem, and raised to become a concubine, Barbara Maria Szasz stood at a white slave auction, ordered to turn so that men could look at the round of her buttocks, the shape of her breasts, the dimple of her cheek, the depth of her eyes. Renamed Florenz, at fourteen she was a fetching prize for the highest bidder, the Pasha of Viddin. She would lead a comfortable life as a toy for his nightly visits until her breasts began to sag and her cheeks wrinkled. After that she would train other maidens to become good concubines, living and dying within the walls of the harem.

    That might have happened had Sam Baker, a wealthy English adventurer, not been at the auction. Broken-nosed, bushy-bearded, he had accompanied Duleep Singh. Singh was the maharajah who so desperately wanted Queen Victoria to make him a prince that he gave up the entire Punjab region and the hugely brilliant Kohinoor diamond for the title. Baker, his minder, had been on a Danube hunting trip with him.

    Baker caught her eye, and couldn't turn away. He wanted her, and badly. She was very beautiful and she appeared very angry. He was attracted to her but was also moved by compassion and empathy for her plight. Unwilling or unable to outbid the Pasha, he undertook a very dangerous adventure. He stole her from the auction and smuggled her out of Ottoman territory into the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Their chemistry was immediate and they became intimate during the journey, deepening over the years into lasting love.

    A widower, Baker left his young family in England with his sister while he traveled the world. This was the age of Victorian prudery, when table legs were covered because they suggested human anatomy. Rather than return home with his young lover, Baker took her, at sixteen, with him into the uncharted regions of the Dark Continent, into areas of Africa far beyond maps. In Medieval times, such places were inscribed on maps by the warning, Here be dragons. With a safari, bearers, scouts, and hunters, they trekked over savannahs, and through forests to discover the source of the Nile. Baker also hoped to rescue John Speke and James Grant, lost somewhere in a region that remained a question mark for the European imagination.

    The journey down the Nile took four years. Fluent in Arabic, she often acted as interpreter. He and his young companion witnessed female circumcision, negotiated with hostile tribes, and nearly died of fever. In fact, they found Speke and Grant, and discovered the source of the Nile, which they named Lake Albert, as companion to Lake Victoria, christened by Speke. They also discovered Murchison Falls. In their story, we understand that Baker was not only attracted to his young lover. He had seen her anger but also rescued her because he abhorred slavery. In their travels they entered markets in which slaves were bartered for elephant tusks. Baker swore that the Nile would be free of slavers and slaves.

    Back in England, they found their welcome less than gracious, especially for Florence, who was shunned as a loose woman. Queen Victoria refused to receive her in court, although Prince Bertie, Baker's friend, observed regularly to the queen that Florence was quite ladylike.

    On the other hand, Sam was awarded a gold medal from the Royal Geographical Society and a knighthood from the Queen. This, along with their marriage, made them more acceptable. As Sir Sam Baker and Lady Florence Baker, they eventually moved in the circles of marquesses, dukes, and the Prince and Princess of Wales. Victoria remained aloof.

    They should have had no further needs; respectable society was theirs. They had wealth, privilege, and position, but this was not enough. Baker received a commission from the Viceroy of Egypt. It was to exterminate the black slave trade in Africa, a trade that fed the Ottoman Empire. Despite a small army and navy, Florence and Sam almost lost their lives this time. During his first adventure, Sam Baker had sworn against slavery as his enemy, one that he would wipe out. It was an enemy, though, that almost vanquished them both. This journey was not the same as it was for her at sixteen. Dangerous, the adventure left her frightened and deceived by native tribesmen as they fought with the Bakers and one another. She became disillusioned and never returned to Africa.

    Lady Florence arrived in London by a rather incredible series of events. Her father was a Transylvanian officer who wound up on the wrong side of a revolution. Born into a comfortable family in 1841, she was orphaned and forced from her home in Transylvania during the 1848 Hungarian Revolution and then was abducted into a harem from a refugee camp. Nobody could have predicted the destiny that awaited her.
    A picture of a somewhat older Lady Florence Baker

    Pat Shipman has written a fine, and well-researched account of Lady Florence's life in To The Heart of The Nile.

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    5/27/04


    Martin Seligman & Happiness

    As Fox Leadership Professor of Psychology at University of Pennsylvania, Seligman has undertaken the development of a new approach to psychology. He acknowledges the great contributions of clinical psychology in relieving suffering. The DSM, or Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a psychologist's bible, gives evidence of this. The therapist can consult its pages for various patient symptoms and turn to a classification that professionals on both sides of the Atlantic agree upon. Prozac and a host of other drug psycho therapies have also gone far to relieve patient symptoms. These and various advances have reduced human suffering to foster individuals who can cope with their lives.

    Still, Seligman believes more must be done. He acknowledges the progress while noting that ninety percent of psychological science relates to the disease model of therapy. He asks, What about happiness?

    To make his point, Seligman notes outcomes of the disease model. One is that psychologists study victims and pathology. This leads to a belief that mental illness is a weight that can almost overwhelm character, responsibility, and related matters. People become victims of their disease with no way out except for the interventions of therapists. Another outcome is that non-victims have had little attention paid to them. That is, they are assumed to have little need for study by psychologists. As a result, efforts were expended to make people less miserable, without attention to making them happier.

    As he began to think about this, Seligman asked himself a question, " Who never gets helpless? That is, who resists collapsing? " He became interested in optimism because he discovered that such people didn't think about adverse situations as permanent. Instead the events are regarded as temporary, controllable, local, and not the individual's fault. Those who fell prey to depression or pessimism, see a bad event as permanent, uncontrollable, pervasive, for which they are to blame. He found that these types became ill more frequently while the optimists had better immune systems, and probably lived longer than pessimists.

    For his research, he used a term, eudaemonia, the good life.

    His eudaemonia has its echo in the Declaration of Independence, that all men are endowed with certain unalienable rights, which include the pursuit of happiness. Seligman observes that Jefferson and the founding fathers didn't have lots of giggles in mind. Nor did they take the modern hedonistic view, that it involves thrills, orgasms, and related highs. Instead, they had a view more akin to Aristotle's, who offers a way to think about happiness when he links it in the Nichomachean Ethics to leisure--not our modern leisure, which is really recreation. No, not water skiing, or NASCAR race watching, but rather leisure as contemplative activity, or as good conversation with people of developed sensibilities.

    The key question becomes, How is happiness measured? Psychologists agree upon the symptoms of bi-polar disorder and schizoid paranoia, but what about happiness?

    Seligman says that apart from the Hollywood version of happiness in which everybody giggles and has fun, which is merely pleasure, two other types exist. The second type accounts for a person's signature strengths, as Seligman terms them, and life should be reshaped so that these strengths come into play as much as possible. This type involves flow, another term, and one he borrows from Mihaly Csikszentmihaly. If a person truly enjoys something he becomes wholly immersed in it, be it a bridge game or woodworking. This immersion is called flow.

    The third type is found beyond the other two, though, and it is a pursuit, the pursuit of meaning, which Seligman relates to the pursuit of happiness as expressed by Thomas Jefferson. In this regard, meaning must connect you to something bigger than the ego, which is too small, too selfish, as a repository for large values.

    Meaning can be found in religion, in charity, in work that allows service to others, so long as fairness, justice, and good will are exercised. In short, meaning does not come in a package with a bow ribbon on it. Each of us must find it for ourselves. It can be raising children, saving whales, or fighting in Iraq.

    Here, we encounter a problem with meanings as the third happiness type. In Najaf or Bagdad or Falujah, a terrorist fires a rocket-propelled grenade at an American convoy because his beliefs, his meanings, have brought him to Iraq.

    Seligman observes that some people don't like his theory because it allows the terrorist in its scope. His answer is that he would condemn the man as evil, but not because of meaning. Education, values, and thought, allow evil to be seen for what it is. Otherwise, it becomes holy righteousness for the ignorant.

    He says that he has gathered various interventions to help people become happier, over a hundred in all, and ranging from those endorsed by Tony Robbins to the Buddha. He surmises that ninety percent of them are ineffective, which is to say, placebos. Among these, he includes some interventions offered by Robbins and the Buddha. He doesn't reveal which are ineffective because as placebos they will offer documentation for his happiness research as people take them.

    He states that he spent twenty five years studying helpless rats, helpless dogs, and helpless people. Now, he is looking through the binoculars from the other end, and expects that his research will guide people not only to un-learn helplessness but also to learn happiness.

    At his web site, Authentic Happiness, he provides a variety of tests for happiness and depression, along with a questionnaire to identify signature strengths such as appreciation of beauty and excellence, curiosity and interest in the world, helping others, and spirituality. As people take these tests he will gather information to help him further develop measures of happiness.

    For a related article at this blog, see Learned Helplessness, 2 April 2004, also about Martin Seligman. Helplessness is itself a learned response, and not something that just happens to us. If we learn to respond in this manner we can also learn to take action to improve things.


    1/19/04



    Mother cultures, individualist & collectivist

    Americans say the squeaking wheel gets the grease. Japanese say the nail that stands out gets pounded down. A speaker in the West will be introduced as "distinguished" while an Asian speaker begins by saying he knows little about the topic.

    Various research reveals differences between the two. Cross-cultural scientific studies indicate individualism as a deep feature of Western cultures as distinct from most others. This research perhaps will pioneer a new way of looking for so-called universal human values, and it should. Collectivist cultures comprise 70 percent of world population but virtually all data of social science and psychology derive from individualistic Western cultures. "Universals" of human behavior may apply only to advanced, materialistic societies, a minority of world population. Collectivism predominates in most cultures of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. The most strongly individualistic cultures include the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Canada, and the Netherlands. Other Northern European countries also rank high.

    Values most important in the West are least important worldwide.
  • Novels in the West focus on a lone figure seeking private goals. Those in the East celebrate duty to kin or other authorities, despite personal temptations. Huckleberry Finn leaves civilization behind. Krishna, in the Bhagavad-Gita, is persuaded to do his duty, and plunge into battle.

    Collectivists as compared to individualists:
  • How is a person defined? In middle-class America, people think of themselves as bundles of traits, preferences, and desires. In Asia people conceive of themselves in terms of the web of their social relations.
  • When Americans are asked for their contribution to an effort, they almost always estimate greater than 100 percent. In Asia, the estimate is less than 100 percent.
  • In one study, 64 percent of New Zealanders and 50 percent of Australians endorsed the goal of doing whatever they wanted to do. Only 32 percent of Japanese and 12 percent of Indians subscribed to it.

    Collectivist society characteristics:
  • Group loyalty overrides personal goals.
  • Collectivists put high value on self-discipline, accepting one's social position, honoring parents and elders, and preserving public image for the group's sake.
  • People tend to think in terms of long-term goals which benefit the whole group. Time frames involve generations. (Individualist time frames involve immediate rewards for efforts.)
  • Family integrity is of utmost importance. Children should live at home with parents until marriage. Aging parents should live at home with children.
  • Self-effacement preserves group harmony. Studies in China show that people modest about success are better liked than the prideful.
  • Studies suggest collectivist societies have the lowest rates of homicide, juvenile delinquency, divorce, child abuse, and alcoholism.

    Collectivist societies aren't all sweetness and light.
  • In countries such as Pakistan, Peru, and Singapore those at the top of the social ladder are regarded as very different from those at the bottom. As individualist examples, people in the United States, Netherlands, and Australia would view this as anti-egalitarian.
  • Collectivists can be nice to group members but nasty, competitive, and uncooperative to members of other groups. They unquestioningly obey their own group, revealing even a willingness to fight and die for it. (This helps explain the Bush administration's miscalculations about Iraq.)
  • Child rearing is intrusive. Children have no real privacy or autonomy. Dependency on parents is regarded as good, and so is breaking the will of the child to obtain complete obedience.
  • In a conflict between personal and group goals, the group takes precedence. People feel comfortable in hierarchies and place a premium on harmony within the group.

    Individualist society characteristics:
  • Individualists place personal goals above those of groups such as family or employer.
  • Loyalty to any single group is weak, and is diffused by membership in many groups. Membership in a church, or employment in an organization shifts with a person's change of mind.
  • In individualist cultures the superior person stands alone. Winning is everything.
  • Individualists stress personal freedom, equality, an exciting, varied life, and personal enjoyment.

    Growing affluence and geographic mobility spread cultural individualism. Similarly, individualism is higher among the affluent, socially and geographically mobile, more modern segments of collectivist societies. As countries like Japan become more prosperous, individualism rises, especially among the young.

    Studies also suggest a shift in American individualism toward raw self-interest, and this correlates with economic growth. Robert Bellah, co-author of Habits of The Heart, says "in earlier days the individualism in America was also one that honored community values. Today we have an ideology of individualism that encourages people to maximize personal advantage. This leads to a consumer politics in which ' What's in it for me? ' is all that matters, while considerations of the common good are increasingly irrelevant." He also said, "there's perhaps a better model in the democracies of Europe." He added,"there you find a strong sense of the dignity of the individual with an equally strong social responsibility."

    (In any culture, what is social justice? For a thought experiment on how to determine it, see John Rawls & Justice 7 January, then read about The Homeless Guy.)


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    12/13/03


    Here Lies The Heart: Mercedes de Acosta met Ramana Maharshi

    Descended from the legendary Dukes of Alba, daughter in a wealthy Cuban family, Mercedes de Acosta was born in 1893 in New York, raised near Fifth Avenue, and had a beautiful sister Rita de Acosta who was a model for artists John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini. Married to painter Abram Poole, Mercedes was socialite, poet, playwright, Hollywood set and costume designer as well as script writer. She knew many of the greats of her day: Bessie Marbury, Rodin, Edith Wharton, Stravinsky, Sarah Bernhardt, Elenora Duse, Picasso, Cecil Beaton, Elsa Maxwell, and Krishnamurti. Near the end of her life, she met and befriended Andy Warhol, and introduced him to many of the people who would count in his career.

    She traveled to India with Consuelo (Hatmaker) Sides, whose husband had been the World War I French flying ace, Charles Nungesser. In India she met former President Woodrow Wilson's daughter, Margaret, a devotee at Sri Aurobindo's ashram.

    In 1960, she published an autobiography, Here Lies The Heart, dedicated to Maharshi, in which she wrote, To Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi, the only completely egoless, world-detached, and pure being I have ever known. She spent three days with him and remembered them as the most significant of her life.

    At a dinner party she became interested in Maharshi after she met Paul Brunton, an Englishman who had spent time with the sage, and had published A Search in Secret India, chronicling his transformative experiences at Arunachala.

    She later read Brunton's book and of it, she wrote that it "had a profound effect on me. . . . It was as though some emanation of this saint was projected out of the book to me. . . . Nothing could distract me from the idea that I must go and meet this saint. . . . . I felt I would meet the Maharshi and that this meeting would be the greatest experience of my life.

    As the car neared Maharshi's home she says,"the driver explained he could take me no farther. I turned toward the hill of Arunachala and hurried in the hot sun along the dust-covered road to the abode about two miles from town where the Sage dwelt. As I ran those two miles, deeply within myself I knew that I was running toward the greatest experience of my life.

    When, dazed and filled with emotion, I first entered the hall, I did not quite know what to do. Coming from strong sunlight into the somewhat darkened hall, it was, at first, difficult to see; nevertheless, I perceived Bhagavan at once, sitting in the Buddha posture on his couch in the corner. At the same moment I felt overcome by some strong power in the hall, as if an invisible wind was pushing violently against me. For a moment I felt dizzy."

    "Then I recovered myself. To my great surprise I suddenly heard an American voice calling out to me, "Hello, come in." It was the voice of an American named Guy Hague*, who originally came from Long Beach, California. . . . " [*Some say Guy Hague is Somerset Maugham's Larry Darrel in The Razor's Edge. The owner of this site says that his mentor was the inspiration for Larry: The Wanderling ]

    After I had been sitting several hours in the hall listening to the mantras of the Indians and the incessant droning of flies, and lost in a sort of inner world, Guy Hague suggested that I go and sit near the Maharshi. . . ."
    I moved near Bhagavan, sitting at his feet and facing him. . . .He moved his head and looked directly down at me, his eyes looking into mine. It would be impossible to describe this moment and I am not going to attempt it. I can only say that at this second I felt my inner being raised to a new level-as if, suddenly, my state of consciousness was lifted to a much higher degree. . . ."

    "[I asked Maharshi,] tell me, whom shall I follow--what shall I follow? I have been trying to find this out for years by seeking in religions, in philosophies, in teachings." Again there was silence. After a few minutes, which seemed to me a long time, he spoke.

    "You are not telling the truth. You are just using words--just talking. You know perfectly well whom to follow. Why do you need me to confirm it?"

    "You mean I should follow my inner self?" I asked.

    "I don't know anything about your inner self. You should follow the Self. There is nothing or no one else to follow."
    I asked again, "What about religions, teachers, gurus?"

    "If they can help in the quest of the Self. But can they help? Can religion, which teaches you to look outside yourself, which promises a heaven and a reward outside yourself, can this help you? It is only by diving deep into the spiritual Heart that one can find the Self." He placed his right hand on his right breast and continued,

    "Here lies the Heart, the dynamic, spiritual Heart. It is called Hridaya and is located on the right side of the chest and is clearly visible to the inner eye of an adept on the spiritual path. Through meditation you can learn to find the Self in the cave of this Heart. . . ."

    Bhagavan pointed out to me that the real Self is timeless. "But," he said, "in spite of ignorance, no man takes seriously the fact of death. He may see death around him, but he still does not believe that he will die. . . ."

    "To write of this experience with Bhagavan, to recapture and record all that he said, or all that his silences implied, is like trying to put the infinite into an egg cup. . . . On me he had, and still has, a profound influence. . . .I definitely saw life differently after I had been in his presence, a presence that just by merely 'being' was sufficient spiritual nourishment for a lifetime. . . ."

    "I sat in the hall with Bhagavan three days and three nights. . . . I wanted to stay on there with him but finally he told me that I should go back to America. He said, 'There will be what will be called a "war," but which, in reality, will be a great world revolution. Every country and every person will be touched by it.' You must return to America. Your destiny is not in India at this time." . . . ."

    "Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi died on April 14,1950. He had said, ' I am going away? Where could I go? I am here.' By the word "here" he did not imply any limitation. He meant rather, that the Self 'is'. There is no going, or coming, or changing in that which is changeless and Universal. . . . millions in India mourned the Maharshi. A long article about his death in the New York Times ended with, 'Here in India, where thousands of so-called holy men claim close tune with the infinite, it is said that the most remarkable thing about Ramana Maharshi was that he never claimed anything remarkable for himself, yet became one of the most loved and respected of all '."

    Her meeting with Maharshi was perhaps most remarkable in view of her life that preceded it. Alice B. Toklas once said of her, "you can't dispose of Mercedes lightly, she had the two most important women in US., Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich." Other lovers of Mercedes included the great actresses Alla Nazimova and Eva Le Gallienne and the legendary innovator of dance, Isadora Duncan. "I can get any woman away from any man," she liked to tell her friends. But what de Acosta eventually wanted more than anything was the 1938 interview with Ramana Maharshi. A woman of great appetites, she sought somebody who taught the quenching of appetites.

    As for Mercedes de Acosta, she moved to a 68th Avenue apartment and died in relative poverty in 1968. In her autobiography she had revealed too many secrets about her friends, who then cut her out of their circles.

    Click, her book: Here Lies The Heart



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