Lots of inexplicable things happen all the time. The ones that disturb our dreams, we call trauma. But, if you allow yourself to look, the inexplicable is all over the place. We try to stuff it in mental boxes, so we don’t have to live in that mess, but not everything fits, and the inexplicable keeps escaping the boxes.
In part one of this series, I described the method of putting whatever you can of the incomprehensible into boxes, a necessary step to preserve what’s left of your sanity. Whether your question is big or small; raging from why your wife loads the dishwasher the wrong way, to why your husband cheats; from your teenager’s door slamming, to your chronic anxiety; from why people vote the way they do, to what is the meaning of life; these questions have answers. If you don’t know the answers, you can find someone who will give you some. They may be satisfactory, they may be true; but they are never, never complete.
The psychoanalyst, Wilfred Bion can help you with this, if you can understand him. Not everyone can because he’s difficult to read. I’ve worked hard to put what he says in boxes of my own, so let me share them with you. You’ll still have questions, but that’s what I’ve been trying to say.
Part One: Listening Without Memory, Desire, or Understanding
You don’t get it. Your husband cheated on you when you thought your marriage was fine. Your teenage daughter used to be sweet, but now she says she hates you. You told your wife a hundred times how to load the dishwasher and she still does it wrong. You can’t stop being anxious, even when there’s nothing to be anxious about. You can’t fathom how anyone could vote for that cretin who just got elected. You wonder where we came from, where God went, and what is the meaning of life. These are some of many things you are not likely to comprehend. What do you do with them? How do you wrap your mind around the inexplicable?
The Point of Sex is Not Just to Come, But to Come Undone
Why would anyone hate sex? Yes, sex is pleasurable, but it’s also dangerous. It’s often most pleasurable when it’s the most dangerous. It lures you in with the promise of satisfaction and leaves you with a disease. It’s a tool of abuse and exploitation. It forms, then ruins relationships. Let’s face it, sex is messy. It’s messy to do, it’s messy to clean up, and it’s messy to talk about.
It’s not just prudes, the repressed, and squares who hate sex. Everyone hates sex says Oliver Davis and Tim Dean in their book, The Hatred of Sex. This hatred permeates our culture, our laws, and begets conflicts within our minds. The book is so provocative that the publisher, The University of Nebraska Press, included it in its Provocations series. It’s so provocative it provoked me to write this in response. Maybe it’ll provoke you, too.
Who hates democracy? We all do, says French philosopher, Jacques Rancière in his 2005 book, The Hatred of Democracy. It was hated by Plato, who lived in its birthplace, ancient Athens. It’s hated even by blue blooded Americans like me. Our Founding Fathers weren’t too keen on it, either. The Constitution limits democracy in favor of an elected oligarchy. We hate democracy because it’s slow and messy. It involves too many people and the wrong sort of people. Democracy is the type of government by those who have no qualifications to govern, the unwashed masses, those who believe conspiracies theories, people swayed by Russian bots, and the rabble who can’t even be trusted to know their own interests. The people of a democracy are at once sovereign and deplorable, governor and ungovernable. Hearing this, you wouldn’t think Rancière supports democracy, except he does. The hatred of democracy is integral to democracy. You can’t be democratic without hating it.
This hatred of democracy is easily found in the civic arena, but we hate democracy everywhere. Practically no workplace is democratic, we hate it so much. Our marriages are supposed to be, these days, but I’ll show you how we hate it with our loved ones, too. The insides of our heads seem to be democratic in that all our thoughts and feelings think they can tell us what they think and feel whenever they want, but we’d rather that wasn’t the case. We often wish for an inner tyrant to rule our passions.
Before anybody started talking about self-actualization[i], there was Nietzsche who taught us how to become who we are. Then he went mad and never made sense again. That being the case, can we trust him, or any of the people who speak about self-actualization, to be our guides?
It’s hard to admit such a thing, but I’ve always been disappointed in Christmas. Even as a kid. Oh, seeing my family is good. Opening the presents is fun. I would be remiss if I said I don’t appreciate the gifts. Giving my own makes me feel virtuous all over. But, when all is said and done, all is said and done. There’s nothing to look forward to for another year, Christmas-wise. The beautiful wrappings, which were exciting strewn under the tree, with all their colors and promise, are now reduced to clutter, garbage to be cleaned up and tossed into the bin. In a few days, the tree will go, too, and look pathetic leaning outside after its needles fled. Someone would lose their temper; not badly, but enough to put a gloom over the gaiety. The gifts themselves would not change my life to any great degree. I would still be an awkward lonely kid. When the Holiday break was done, I would still need to go to school and later, to work.
The best part of Christmas, I always thought, is the preparation and potential. I made my wish list, told Santa want I wanted and, until Christmas Day came, my desire was sharpened by anticipation. Except for untangling the lights, which was and is pure aggravation, trimming the tree is the highlight of the season. Each ornament evokes memories that had been packed away and forgotten. It’s no different these days, even though I’m no longer a kid. I’d just as soon skip Christmas because of the letdown it brings. Maybe if we actually got the original Christmas promise, peace on earth and good will to men, maybe if Christ actually returned, riding on the clouds of glory to wipe every tear from our eyes, I’d be satisfied; but all we get is a sugarcoated imitation.
Or Is the Nine Pointed Guide to Personality No Better Than Astrology?
I’ve been coming across more and more people talking about their Enneagram type. Luckily, I’ve heard of the Enneagram before and already know what they’re talking about. I’m a Type Five, with a Four wing. If you don’t know what that means, bear with me. I guess you haven’t come across the Enneagram. Maybe your workplace didn’t have you take an Enneagram test. Or, maybe you aren’t an Evangelical Christian, for that’s where interest in the Enneagram has gotten some traction, as small church fellowship groups adopt it as a tool for discussion. There’s nothing particularly Capitalist or Christian about the Enneagram. It’s a way to get to know yourself and, when you look at others through its lens, it’s a way to get to know others.
The word Enneagram comes from the Greek for a nine-pointed star. The nine points refer to personality types. Enneagramites refer to them by number, one through nine, but they have names: Reformer, Helper, Achiever, Individualist, Investigator, Loyalist, Enthusiast, Producer, and Peacemaker, in order. I’m a Five, Investigator, leaning towards Four, Individualist, which is called my wing. If you don’t know what type you are simply by looking at the names, you can take a short test that’ll tell you. The best one is at the Enneagram Institute website. If you want to take it before you read on, go ahead. I’ll wait.
Some Things You May Not Know About Substance Abuse, Part 5
The further people go into addiction, the more their lives center around it.
They discard all forms of recreation in favor of activities that include the addiction.
All of their friends become using friends. Non-using friends drift away and the addict is drawn to those who don’t judge because they, themselves, are doing the same thing.
Sometimes particular careers are chosen for their proximity to the drug of choice. Alcoholics become bartenders; potheads, musicians; drug users, drug dealers.
In some cases, intimate relationships end as the loved one finds that he or she is a low priority compared to the drug. They are replaced by one of two kinds of relationships: either the type where the loved one picks up after the addict and helps the addict escape the consequences, or the type where the relationship is all about use.
Things go like this until the person enters recovery, then he or she finds that all the things they love are connected in some way to use.
He can’t see his friends because all his friends use and are unlikely to support his recovery because it would challenge their own use.
The alcoholic bartender can’t return to work without being tempted to drink; the marijuana smoking musician has to watch what she does on breaks; the addicted drug dealer has to learn to sell something else.
Otherwise innocent forms of recreation, hobbies, or art may put the recovering addict at risk. A writer who cannot write without a bottle of scotch at hand is in trouble; a painter who seeks inspiration in LSD has got to find a new muse.
Even intimate relationships can be a problem if they were associated with chemical use. The wife who lovingly keeps your refrigerator stocked with brewskis, even though she hates your drinking, is as much of a problem as the breswkis themselves. The boyfriend who was your connection to a dealer may have to go as well as the dealer.
The general principle is this: first the drug takes you hostage, then it takes everything you love hostage. Even if you get yourself free, the drug still has the other hostages in its clutches. You want to be near them, but to go near puts you at risk.
Every recovering addict wants to go in and free the hostages. They want to save their loved ones who are still addicted. They want to continue writing that novel that was started under the influence of scotch, finish that painting, inspired by a meaningful trip, work at their job, see their friends. But, consider this: you’ve seen enough hostage movies to know, it’s dangerous to free the hostages. Be sure you are safe and secure before you try it.
Social status has a secret influence on your life. If you’d like to understand how, the first thing you must do is to get rid of the image you may have of those who shamelessly flaunt their status: the ruthless social climber, the top hatted mogul, the braggart with the golden toilet, the virtue signaling hipster, the TikTok influencer, and the guy taking up two parking spaces with his enormous truck. You may not be like them. For now, focus on the ordinary things you do every day in your intimate circle of friends, colleagues, and family. There, status plays an important role, a role which is the subject of Cecilia Ridgeway’s 2019 book, Status: Why Is It Everywhere? Why Does It Matter?
I was on Interstate 86, heading east, returning from a road trip that took me across most of the country, when I entered Allegany County, in western New York. It was a place I knew well, but not as well as I might. I lived in Allegany County for two short years before I moved on. The mere sight of the place unexpectedly filled me with a longing to return. I’d just been through the mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee, across the Midwest, the Great Plains, up and down the Rocky Mountains, and back again on this road trip; but there was no place I liked as well as Allegany County.
Evidently, not many people agree with me that Allegany County is the best place between here and the Rocky Mountains. The population at last count was well under 47,000, spread over an area the size of Rhode Island. Few visit, and many residing a short distance away, in Buffalo or Rochester, never heard of the place. The economy is ailing and has been for a long time. It doesn’t even have a WalMart, or any other big box store, and few fast-food joints. It does have many greasy spoon diners that could not possibly have earned a health permit. Allegany County once enjoyed an oil boom. Rusted tanks and machinery are scattered across the landscape. Oil brought money, and money built big, fancy Victorian homes, now in disrepair. It has suffered the fate of much of rural America. Its only distinction is that its decline came first.
If you enjoy worn down old mountains, covered by trees, with the occasional open field, populated by white-tailed deer, then Allegany County would be your kind of place. You would call it beautiful; and it is, by those standards. I liked that about Allegany County, for I enjoy those things, too. But the beauty of the place does not account for my strong feelings. There are many other places just as beautiful, if not more. There’s no good reason why I feel as I do about Allegany County. I have a longing that’s inexplicable. At least until I explain it.