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Psychopathologies of American Democracy

July 27, 2019

[Update 9-16-19 First among the positive psychopathologies of American democracy (psych+) I’ll put breathing; then love, then laughter (or at least an open face lighted by a quiet smile), then “respect for life” (using Thoreau’s wording), because those enact and make possible our foundational universal human/national rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  We might call this “just being.“

First among the negative psychopathologies of American democracy (psych-) I’ll put the Death Cult, Predatory Male Domination Syndrome (PMDS), because it brings us all of the others: the frigid ego, waste deep in the near bank of the Styx, cannot get across.  Stuck in the freezing mud of its own selfishness, it becomes desperate for change, and moves to enact the ultimate change, life into death.  That change excites the ego, and its self-defeating wriggling drills it deeper into the mud.  The ignorance is simply breath-taking.]

I’m trying, but it’s taking me a long time, to get to a clear, decently concise statement of the subject of the novel:  “the psychopathologies of American democracy.”  I wonder what I mean by that?

What I mean by “psychopathology” comes mostly out of Hillman:  just as he suggests that the basis for understanding “psychology” must be to see it as the logos (word, logic, expressive action) of the psyche (soul)(what’s that?), so he sees the soul as suffering, enduring, and manifest in, its pathologies—the logos of its pathos (its vital motion, its being moved and its corresponding movements).  I’m thinking that these motions result from, and express, the conditions of its experience of humanity (soul being larger than humanity—as Hillman puts it, it isn’t “my soul,” rather, I belong to soul and live within it—likewise my life and person are not “my being,” rather I belong to being and live within it).

The soul’s pathos is expressed, in our awareness of it, most strongly in human archetypes (what?), images (what?), and myths (what?), which appear especially, as Jung pointed out, imaginatively in our dreams, reveries, religious symbols, and artistic creations and aesthetic experiences (these include, it seems to me, the artistry of the best of our everyday talk—our folklore, which serves as a bridge back into an understanding that our archetypal images, our psychology and psychopathology, are lived in our most ordinary daily lives, as we attend to ourselves and each other, trying to make ourselves meaningful; everything is psychological).  For Hillman, the key to experiencing the soul’s pathos—even to creating and recreating it, is the imagination.

To me it seems, indeed, that the nature of the soul, at least in our ability to know it, is manifest in creative relationships (creative relating, btwn anythings), which we can know and even consciously participate in, and create (or co-create).  Again, the key is imagination (healthy or sick), essentially the act of relationship-creating. Such imagining, relating, can be constructive or destructive; and Being, of course, is known to us as a yin/yang whole of those.

To my way of thinking, then, just as the “shadow” (i.e. unknown) content of one’s unconscious mental activity contains both positive and negative content, so the logic of the “pathologies” of the soul, in both our individual and collective beings, contains both positive and negative.  C’est à dire, both what moves the soul, and its expressive movements—its e-motions—is/are both positive and negative (remembering that emotions are states of our bodies, after which we form ideas of them).  As Wallace Stevens put it, “Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow; / Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued / Elations when the forest blooms; gusty / Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights; / All pleasures and all pains, remembering / The bough of summer and the winter branch” (“Sunday Morning”).  Both “L’Allegro” and “Il Penseroso.”  Inferno and Paradiso.  Both the joy and the grief of Demeter.  The agon of our Beloved, whom we find we must kill to save from something worse than death, and by whom we are forever haunted in the ambivalence of our resulting heightened, clearer knowledge of the loving value of life, and of how different life is from death, even within Life.

So the soul’s pathologies of the human condition, as manifest in our democracy, our collective consciousness and community, are both positive and negative.  

The positive psychopathologies of our democracy (psych+) include political empowerment in freedom from tyranny through an enlarged ability to defend one’s right to live and to govern one’s own life; expanded vision of equality in the right to pursue happiness, including through just, self-governing community; openness and opportunity for diversity; opportunity for creation of relationships. Together, these offer expansive opportunity to live in harmony with being and to create soul. 

The negative psychopathologies of our democracy (psych-), which Trompf has brought to the forefront, at the expense of the positive, include our historical sexism and racism; propensity for violence (even genocidal); homelessness; religious fundamentalism; alienation of human from nonhuman, including technological destruction of nature; buccaneer pursuit of wealth (what Thoreau called “gross materialism,” which I take to be the valuation of material possessions above the spiritual, with result that we turn living matter into dead material for our self-gratification); exaltation of the outlaw individual over community; broken relationship, ownership, hierarchy; class warfare.

I’m finding that one narratorial difficulty is our common use of the words pathology, pathological, psychopathology, and psychopath with exclusively negative denotations and connotations.  Since I want to suggest that the psychopathologies of our democracy are both positive and negative, sometimes I try to solve the semantic problem by calling the negatives, “psycho-pathologies.” 

By “psycho” I do mean to suggest that these negative pathologies, while all too common in the human condition, are nevertheless extraordinarily powerful sicknesses.  Indeed life-threatening, because they are obsessive death-bringers. They sicken the imagination with falsifications.  In the body politic they are an emotive ignorance that is contagious.  Like our 45th president, who energizes all of them, they constitute a running sore on the nation’s face and heart.  Like a person’s “shadowy” unconscious, they must be treated with the light of highly conscious attention, mindfulness, affirmation of life in the fullness of being. 

Of course we’re complicated with ambiguity and ambivalence, of a mentality that is both unconscious and conscious. Having gone down river and through the hell of Arkansas, Huck and Jim have gained their freedom.  Now Jim can enact his human rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, except in the slave half of the country, where his wife and daughter are still not free—to free them he will have to risk going there to buy them out of slavery.  Huck is free to go home without fear of his violently alcoholic Pap; but if he goes there he must submit to the fundamentalist neo-puritan censorship and spiritual bondage enforced by Aunt Sally.  He’s “been there before,” so he “lights out” for the wilderness, in pursuit of happiness, to at least try to make his own (better) way.  Our wilderness, however, as Allen pointed out, is in our (polluted) minds.

Tom Sawyer, alas, like a Trompf supporter, is forever unchanging in his frozen world of self-romanticizing fantasy, clueless in MAGA (unlike your typical maddog T supporter, Tom is conventionally color-prejudiced but not malicious).

Huck’s narration, of course, is filled with the ironic tumbling over and over of a “sivilization” that can’t tell life from death, believing the Big Lie that some humans are not fully human and therefore it is right in God’s eyes for the full humans (real Americans) to own them as material for self-gratification, and that therefore turns life on its head, teaching and preaching that what’s bad is good.  “Strange contradictions of the underground,” as Ellison’s narrator, nameless Invisible Man, puts it.  The good can only be claimed by proclaiming it “bad.”

Don’t forget to breathe.

[An earlier page of this episode. Contents page of this episode. Contents page to the episode, “Soul.”]

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