bring me the pill for infelicitous birth

This was going to be mainly about what is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but now since two of its very close relations–abuse, especially sexual abuse, and narcotics addiction–have entered the internet news cycle for which I am probably way too late at this point but I am actively ignoring myself as I offer myself rationalizations not to write or not to put it anywhere anyone will find it if I do write something and so because virtually anyone with a decent-sized megaphone with which to address addiction gets it completely and horribly wrong just as those speaking about trauma and PTSD also get it completely and horribly wrong I found myself with more to say than what I started out thinking I was going to say.

Neither of them, for instance–PTSD nor addiction–are diseases.

psych drugs and warning labels in psychedelic blue and hot pink

take this medication with resignation and bare faith

We would like them to be. For a million reasons but mostly nobody has to address anything they themselves might be doing to exacerbate a problem if that problem can be relegated to medical management and pinned on some vague notion of inherited disorder for which we have almost no empirical evidence that is not deeply founded in the sort of already-given interpretation my culture demands regarding health and disease, order and disorder, normality and perversity, function and dysfunction, productivity and loss, and–this list is endless as these lists always are. The point is still that blaming (genetic, medical, physiological) fate is slightly less odious than blaming those suffering under that fate but still too easy when problems are manifestly rooted in the specific cultures in which they appear, and in very complex ways that might cause discomfort to many who consider themselves beyond reproach because they did not really enjoy heroin that one time they tried it or maybe the painkillers they occasionally need to take are effective for the bluntest of physiological pain but no more than that and so they have managed so far to avoid becoming junkies of any kind.

Lucky them.

Three things:

In North American cultures, addicts of what are called hard drugs are almost always survivors of trauma–trauma severe enough that anesthesia from life itself can become the only thing that makes life bearable. And so addiction is what you do if you cannot kill yourself on a punctual, finalized schedule.

I cannot put it any more concisely than that. Probably one could investigate neural pathways and what sorts of environmental variables affect endorphin production in some cases or dopamine in others and oxytocin in other others and probably some indefinite several of neurological signaling agents we do not know very well yet. But my experience tells me that when a drug can simulate family in the absence of, you know, actual family, it answers a primal need that will not be denied once it finds what it thinks it is seeking. The idea of “will power” is laughable in the face of this sort of need, but my confused critique of whatever it is we call will–I haven’t a clue, honestly: I cannot find will in any of my personal faculties and would not recognize it if it were there staring me in the face and enacting things all on its own power as I squinted in incomprehension because where on earth did it find this original power because I have never come across any and believe me I have looked everywhere–ok well besides that much critique I am leaving the rest for later.

This will probably not make sense to you either: addiction can signal a tenacious sense of self-preservation and something like an inextinguishable hope: whatever and wherever my place is here on the planet I am doing all I can to stay here and make it into a dwelling place familiar enough not to set off serial panic even if my life will turn out to be nothing much else beyond surviving my own murder/suicide. The junkie shooting up is refusing to die even while taking into her body what may be that one bad hit. The chamber with the bullet. The all it took. The we knew this day was coming.

Sometimes that day never arrives. Contrary to legend, addiction is no surer a predictor of death than any other dangerous and desperate bid to stay alive long enough to give sunrise one more opportunity to justify its arrival.

Not entirely unlike life itself: a mortality rate of one hundred percent. Not one of us has survived it yet. I know some of you believe that to be untrue but the evidence is overwhelmingly pessimistic on this one.

That was just one thing.

Here are the others or some others or something:

somethings, I mean:

In the cultures I might call my own, PTSD is usually figured solely as either a soldier’s burden or the occasional outcome of large-scale disasters. Of those I have spoken to who are diagnosed or diagnosable with PTSD, I have known a handful of soldiers and maybe one or two survivors of the flood fire famine sort of disaster that we recognize as disaster. I have not counted up the rest but that is mainly because they are one of those vast majorities that are really hard for one person to count especially when every other day I meet another one of us. The rest of us are survivors of the more private disasters of childhood abuse, domestic abuse, andor rape.

“andor” because abuse is almost always sexual at some point whether it is primarily sexual or also physical, emotional, spiritual, or some terrible cycle of All Of The Above and so abuse and rape often as not are synonymous and even simultaneous. Other times they happen in succession. And maybe some more abuse later on because you were taught that it is part of the natural order and so it just looks like another day to you.

That’s two things. Here is where I stick my neck out:

The medicalization of addiction and of many conditions called mental illness, including PTSD, functions in part to divert public attention or maybe the public itself is diverting its own attention this way which seems a more faithful description but we whoever we are we cite models of disease for this among other things in order not to have to address our own complicity in one or another tradition of abuse–traditions which precipitate what is called mental illness and what is called addiction. Repeatedly. Predictably.

Those traditions of abuse are endemic to that culture or cultures with which I am most intimately familiar because they permeate me. Or us.

This is something I proclaim as a strong strong hunch and one for which the research necessary to show it conclusively is more than a single person could do or at least if I were the only single person doing it it could take a very long time and not just because I spend most days tending to some PTSD-related intermission or another. Statistics on childhood abuse, for instance: completely unreliable, and by the researchers’ own admission almost every time I look up another batch of them, almost certainly leading to gross underestimation of the extent to which the practices addressed in their studies are accepted as normal or at least tolerable by the participants/respondents.

Here is an interesting study on public perception of child abuse in the US (pdf file).

The Framework Institute has done other research on child abuse as well, all of it interesting.

That is almost all I have to say right now. But the other day I ran across another glib homage to the power of modern medicine or that is the power of the myth of modern medicine and it was so cheerfully reductive that I wanted almost to curse the very idea of research because no animal who forces itself to be as obtusely optimistic as we have seemingly become should be trusted with the care and feeding of a whole planet based on whatever knowledge it can produce for itself.

The most recent upsurge in despair followed this which is how this all got started insofar as my deciding to write something down goes:

A comprehensive PTSD drug would be the holy grail, of course.
well.

no.
actually.
the holy grail would be

a culture that does not deliberately impose multiple traumas on its offspring over and above the unpredictable and inevitable injuries that are standard-issue living.

the holy grail would be

a culture that does not use shame and silencing as its primary methods of discipline when overt violence seems unacceptable if that ever happens to happen.

the holy grail would be

directing some of the obsessive energy devoted to identifying the neurological and genetic causes of psychiatric disorders toward identifying and eradicating the cultural, social, and familial causes of those myriad physiological changes that so often result in syndromes we call mental illness. because we cannot bear the possibility that we may ourselves be the primary vectors of this sort of pathology we look for isolated, simple biochemical interactions where nothing isolated or simple ever takes place: in and among the bodies of complicatedly social, intelligent, and sensitive animals.

the holy grail would be

examining cultural assumptions about family that chronically make children open targets of abuse while simultaneously depriving them of the security they would need to be able to talk about what was happening to them without fear of retaliation for telling the truth.

the holy grail would be

asking ourselves with unhesitating honesty why our culture predicates itself on scarcity, competition, conformity and exclusion, deprivation, and a general hostility toward life as it occurs on Earth as the pillars of social, spiritual, and economic order and security. we have chosen homelessness as the guarantor of stability and I mean that both literally and metaphorically although the metaphor is itself as real as any shopping cart and tarpaulin city.

the historical record is skipping again

This will be short, I think. I have things I need to do that are not completely centered around computers–an almost impossible coincidence but it does happen–but this needs attention now.

Actually I am finding the ramping up of violence and legally mandated persecution against QTBLG people in Russia too alarming to be able to form many coherent thoughts about it, or at least not enough to fill much of a page here. Mostly I have been like: shit! I have been having nightmares about this exact thing since the turn of the millennium only in my dreams we are hiding from the police in New York or Seattle, but maybe we have been in St Petersburg this whole time? And now it is actually happening? Uhhh, somebody do something! Anything! Somebody?

A couple of people with more readers than I will ever have have spoken up so far, and they are articulating my own thoughts very well. Especially Stephen Fry, who points out the obvious–the glaringly fucking obvious–parallels between the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics set to be held in Sochi, Russia.

It could be argued that both he and I are overreacting to these similarities, and perhaps we are, but how much of a risk would we take if we acted (or did not act) as though nothing is really going on because we do not believe fascist regimes of extermination could possibly ever arise again in “the west”? I might address the difficulties of terminology later: is this truly fascism that we see emerging in Russia? How “western” is Russia? I cannot say I care all that much about those sorts of problem just yet and I do not know if I will. Right now is a time to act if I ever saw one.

George Takei beat Fry to the punch; he posted yesterday a similar request to move the Olympics. He is less pointed about the historical resonances, but he includes a link to An Internet Petition as a point of registering protest.

Pass these around, please. More importantly, make noise. The petition is a nice start but please do not stop making noise until the Olympic Committee finds its ethical backbone.

This shit scares the fucking daylights out of me.

killing you softly

What defense against the apprehension of loss is at work in the blithe way in which we accept deaths caused by military means with a shrug or with self-righteousness or with clear vindictiveness? To what extent have Arab peoples, predominantly practitioners of Islam, fallen outside the “human” as it has been naturalized in its “Western” mold by the contemporary workings of humanism? … After all, if someone is lost, and that person is not someone, then what and where is the loss, and how does mourning take place?
… If violence is done to those who are unreal, then, from the perspective of violence, it fails to injure or negate those lives since those lives are already negated. But they have a strange way of remaining animated and so must be negated again (and again). …Violence renews itself in the face of the apparent inexhaustibility of its object.
Judith Butler, Precarious Life 32-33

Today being the day it is I decided that rather than participate in the public spectacle we seem intent on creating out of our inability to mourn whatever it was that we in the US think we lost ten years ago–although we may well have never had it to begin with –rather than go along with the ruse of our fallen, long-mythologized invulnerability to attack or even decay, that I was going to re-read Judith’s Precarious Life, since in it she addresses violence and mourning in direct response to the war that we imagine only began in 2001. I wanted to try to understand what it was exactly in our fetishization of the images of destruction that I find so frustrating to deal with, beyond even practical and political concerns over the extent to which we seem to be willing to give up every last shred of dignity and “freedom” (were we “free” before?), if it will help us to reestablish our illusion of security and safety from political violence.

I am also thinking a bit about death and the multiple, complex relations between life and death–not only in the realm of the human, but even in whatever cycle it is with which the forces of the whole universe are engaged: materialization out of potential, animation out of elementary energy, and any and all inevitable returns to entropy that we might also be undertaking as moments of complexity and approximate coherence in a system characterized by violent destruction in creation, and creation in destruction.

As is usual, I managed to get about thirty pages into my chosen reading before I felt compelled to begin writing. The questions that arise upon reading anything with nuance or subtlety are irresistible to me, and so I remain in interminable study, never able to finish much of anything but always starting again to reformulate this process in which I have, for most of my life, been chasing after ways to express the inexpressible and to narrate that which defies language. To put it all too neatly.

It is not a simple coincidence that the refusal to integrate our national experience into a humane course of action causes me to pause over this question of what it is to live in close proximity with death–even here in the US where death is sequestered and hidden away beneath neatly manicured lawns and behind antiseptic curtains. And it is not simple coincidence that this question occurs to me at the same time as does my perennial questions concerning the limits of language and sense, for death is one name for an ultimately senseless way of going along: it is the primary way in which I myself have been and will be related to all that is for all but the tiniest sliver of time that I claim as my uncertain lifespan. I do not mean by this that ultimately I will be dead, but rather that my being dead, or my not being, or something inexpressible that has to do with never having come to be to begin with despite my apparent sensible existence at the moment, constitutes the primary and primordial relations that ground this current state in which, for now, I seem to be here.

To put it in a Zen Buddhist sort of way, I am already dead and always have been. There are infinite other ways of putting it, for it will not be put, or it will not stay put, or in other words there are no other words and so there will always be an ongoing stream of other words. What we in the US seem unable to comprehend is that our ideal of individualism and consequence-free domination of whatever it is we damned well feel pleased to dominate has been bound from the time of its conception to meet, eventually, its limiting case, its moment of mortality realized, its susceptibility to destructive forces and its vulnerability to the violence that it so easily calculates as acceptable expenses for a political economy that will admit no peer. That is, empires are destined to fall. Are we falling now? Have we not already fallen?

To the degree that we must recognize the unrecognizable–that is, our “primary vulnerability” to that upon which our very being falters, even disastrously, in its attempt to circumscribe itself as independent and individualistic –in order to be able to mourn whatever is lost in a violent encounter, in a disaster, then to that degree, one who suffers loss might attempt to disavow one’s own vulnerability to loss by virtue of the fact that injury is instigated by an unrecognizable force. Thus is rendered impossible the question of any sort of narration of loss or resolution in sensible language of the insensibile moment of trauma. But rather than pausing to consider what might be the consequence of our all being exposed in this way, by virtue of our primary vulnerability, if we decline even to pause in the face of what undoes us in violence, if we attempt to master our vulnerability, we only manage to deny the very conditions of our existence and are immediately closed off from the possibility of our own future. With the unrecognizable other, we also die, or are discarded, or are disavowed, or are visited in the continuing cycles of violence that serve the interests of this denial of vulnerability, which is a denial of life itself.

We are thrown here on a sort of paradoxical demand: that the unrecognizable not be consigned to illegibility or, worse, to unreality, because we are not prepared to acknowledge that we might not be able to conceptualize, chart, categorize, or comprehend the nature of our own being exposed to an other. That is, this would be the ethical demand of living itself: not to deny the fact of our helplessness, not to foreclose the possibility of incursions from unpredictable sources–incursions which may cause us pain or pleasure or both, which may occasion the possibility of our being able to live in a more lively way, or which may frustrate our desire to keep our lives in order. One cannot predict which it will be, or whether all of these moments might be bound up together in such a way that pain is the precondition of pleasure and vice versa, or, more precisely, in such a way that the distinction between pleasure and pain is lost in the very potential of coming to life as terrestrial creatures.

Relegating to the unreal that which threatens the security of the self, denying conceptual meaning to that which breaks the bounds of conceptualization, is a form of impotence in the face of the other. This impotence is realized as the impossibility of negating that which, conceptually, one has already negated–as well as the impossibility of negating that which is not subject to the workings of negation! But although the workings of negation or exclusivity or ideation cannot bring this other into any sort of domesticated, enforced “peace”, this other remains naked and vulnerable in relation to the subject of the act of negation. Our impotence, or inability to erase what is not, to begin with, legible, visits upon the other a violence without end, a real violence that incurs real atrocities precisely because its mission is impossible, and thus must be repeated indefinitely, so long as the subject inflicting that violence seeks to immunize itself against what is crucial to the being of that very subject: its other, against which it attempts to define itself. And fails.

This is how, or one of the reasons why, totalitarian violence is in the last analysis suicidal: an attempt to destroy the other which faces me and makes my utterance of “self” possible in that primordial encounter, the effort to sever relations with that in which we are already entangled and always were, from a time prior to memory and thus prior to time, is, in a very real way, the destruction of ourselves. It is not only that the balance of an interconnected ecosystem can be fatally disrupted by exploitation to the point that exploiter and exploited both perish, although to conceive of the relations between living things in the universe in this way makes our fragility in the faceless face of our own exploitative appetites quite clear. But it is also that without those relations we are, quite simply, not. Or rather, not simply at all: those relations’ being the anteroom of history and discourse renders them both foreign to and constitutive of our ability to try to name them as such.

I have no idea how to end this, but it seems as though it might be worthwhile to pause at the point of our own suicidality as it emerges from militaristic efforts to secure our place in eternity. There is no such place to be had, of course, and we only hasten our own demise in struggling to erect for ourselves a line of defense against every possible enemy. Again, this is not only because we are happy to relinquish our ideals for the illusion of safety, but it is at least that and also our current relation to that which has, in the “West”, so long been designated as inadmissible: vulnerability itself, subjection itself, fallibility itself, interdependence and the possibility that our ideals themselves are inadequate and provisional.

back.

I may have been six years old the first time I flew back to Seattle. When I was six nobody knew where Seattle was.

I may have been five, or even four–I do know that I was two when we flew from Seattle to go live in Marietta Georgia and shortly after that we flew back, and thus I began flying back to Seattle when I was too young to be afraid to fly and I have continued to fly back to Seattle through a debilitating fear of flying until this day, if you leave out the few years when I would not fly but instead got into the habit of taking the train back to Seattle.
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why greed is now closer to godliness than ever.

Sometimes you wake up and facebook dares you to write a blog post. I won’t reveal the name of the person who posted this quote, since facebook is, you know, that place where privacy is paramount. No really, I don’t share full names with the Internet at large without permission. The pointer, though:

“Why is the Christian right so enamored with the slash and burn capitalist system? –Capitalism: Take all you can. –Jesus: Give all you can. — The connection fails me.”
–fnordlord, commenter on huffpo

Sometimes the asking of a question is meant to be a pointed rebuke, as it is here. And this particular rebuke certainly has a very important point: why do fundamentalist Christians worship “all-for-me, nothing-for-you,” greed-driven, planet trashing consumption-driven capital above just about any other kind of economic system?

It seems contradictory on the surface of it and it probably is just as hypocritical if one pokes at it a little more closely. When I see questions like this, though, they make me want to raise my hand and wave it around and say “Oh! Oh! I was one of them! I know a couple of answers to this question and you all aren’t going to believe what they consist of!”

So, allow me, if you don’t mind: what is it about a deeply exploitative and self-interested economic system that appeals to a religion supposedly founded on principles of generosity and selflessness?
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"Helping" Iran– or first, some historical humble pie

Warning: this is a political blog entry. If you came here looking for poetry, you will have to wait until next time I write some. I promise I am trying to do so more regularly and recent events are encouraging in that connection but right now I have a political opinion I would like to speak about.

I do not follow world news all that closely for several reasons including a rather fragile mental health that does not bear up well under sensationalized gloom and doom but I have been watching events unfold in Iran from a more or less medium-distance. Today at What Tami Said, Tami notes that some right wing and even moderate voices in the US “seem eager to see some saber-rattling from the President [of the United States].” To those taken in by that sort of useless testerical exuberance she points out precisely the problem with this idea–bad memory: “How soon we forget that it is our intervention that has helped shape several of Iran’s current problems.”

I am just going to explain briefly why I Agree With This Post.

It is not America’s job to come running in to save the day even when a country’s own people are appearing to be trying to choose a government we believe would look something like whatever our ideal for, say, Persian Democracy in this case would look like if we had our way with it. The Iranian people want their own independence, especially from foreign intervention. Anyone can read Iranian history and figure that out within just a few hours. We already monumentally fucked them over when we thwarted their bid for democracy after WWII; if you have a few minutes, google “Iran Mossadegh” or just go and read All the Shah’s Men for a sobering look at how the United States entered a colonial partnership with the UK to overthrow one of the most popular leaders in recent Iranian history and install a puppet regime to maintain control of Iranian oil.

In 1980, when Iranian students and political activists took over the American embassy and held 52 American diplomatic workers hostage, our reaction was one of outraged surprise. The average Iranian reaction to our outraged surprise was something like “so do you all learn your own foreign policy history?”–because of course we don’t, and few non-Iranian Americans had any idea that resentment towards us had been building there for nearly thirty years before they decided to rid themselves, once again, of a foreign-installed and -supported dictator.

I think most of us do manage to remember what happened next, but the historical lens through which we view subsequent political developments in that region is badly distorted by a lack of supporting context. We have already ignored the Iranian people more than enough to risk running roughshod over what they want in order to try to prove once again that the world really needs Western leaders to show them how to live.

I think it is safe to say that chances are, few Iranians want our active involvement this time around.

There are ways to support popular movements there, like sending funds to organizations that are not mainly headed by Western interests but which are poised to offer material aid rather than come barreling in with soldiers. avaaz.org is worth a look, for instance.

Tired interventionist policy will not only not work here, but it would almost certainly backfire, as it almost always does. If the Iranian people ask for our help, we should ask them exactly what they need, listen to what they say, and give them what they ask for to the best of our ability. Otherwise it is not our place to decide for them how this will play out, and we do not know better than they do what they need to successfully find independence and self-determination.

It is difficult for Americans to grasp, but sending in cowboys to shoot things up a bit is a mistake that we keep repeating because we do not learn from our own history. I could talk about the state of American historical “knowledge,” but that would take a whole new post filled with fresh examples of absurdity. You want to help? Listen to Iran rather than to the dinosaurs who still believe in the White Man’s Burden. Then go and do some research on what you did not learn in schoolroom American history.