Let me ask you a purely academic question: Hello?
— Dean Blehert

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Problems and a few Solutions

I'm taking a brief break from my Tom Cruise series (which will continue in January).

The following (with some editing) I wrote to a group of people who, though highly suspicious of most government/social labeling of individuals, were up in arms about the dim possibility that someone may have been guilty of child abuse. I use the child abuse issue to discuss a phenomenon I call "the wedge issue."

Apologies in advance for not documenting each point -- haven't had time today to dig up the main sources on child abuse (I do a lot of reading and evaluating data, but am sloppy about keeping track of where I put the books or what websites I used), but I believe that you'll get my point about "wedge issues". Here's today's ramble:

Yes, child abuse happens, I'm sure. But it's also a movie-of-the-week fad. That is, the amount of child abuse in our society has been greatly exaggerated, and this was done for a purpose.

Evidence of the exaggeration:

1. Books by advocates for more funding for child-abuse programs, "better" laws for stopping it, etc. These books all used invented or heavily inflated statistics to make their point. They all, progressively, altered the definitions of child abuse to include, increasingly, behavior previously considered normal (shades of the Psychiatry's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, which extends the concept of mental illness to include any conceivable behavior).

2. They also out-and-out lied about actual known child abuse. For example, they would list number of child abuse cases in a given year without stating that most of them had been dismissed.

3. They were full of generalized anti-family bias, ignoring the far worse abuse in the foster homes where kids taken from their "abusive" families were put. Etc. The whole child abuse scene is a creation by the same people who brought us DSM IV and uses the same kinds of lobbying, invented statistics and financing -- and false science.

4. Finally, please please please realize a wedge issue when you see one. For example, homosexuality is a wedge issue for getting psychiatry into the school system. Extreme and inhumane anti-homosexual doctrines, extremist anti-feminism and extremist forms of greed and worship of social hierarchies are used to justify "values education" that discredits conventional morality, patriotism, men and free enterprise -- as hierarchical and validating ambition and causing wars, etc. Terrorism has been a wedge issue for justifying the invasion of Iraq and compromising constitutional rights in the U.S.

Similarly, child abuse has been a wedge issue for allowing psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers to intervene in American families and break them up.

Wedge issues are "Horror stories" that no one can dismiss without labeling himself heartless, used to justify some long-term deprivation of freedoms or other nasty hidden agenda. Currently TeenScreen (and other programs whose agenda aims at helping pharmaceutical companies put millions more kids (and adults) on harmful, expensive drugs) use teen suicide as a wedge issue. They exaggerate its statistics, imply that psychiatric help (inevitably drugging) would help (though no evidence exists for this assumption) and ignore the fact (for which considerable evidence exists) that most teens who kill themselves are ALREADY getting psych. "help" and have been given psych. drugs and that these drugs are known to have suicide as a side effect.

I call "suicide" a wedge issue, like "child abuse", because the TeenScreen rhetoric is such that anyone objecting to the screening of millions of children is made to sound heartless. That's the point of a wedge issue: Smuggle into the established system a thoroughly repugnant sub-system (hard to extricate once established) -- such as the "screening" of all school children through the use of unscientific and intrusive questionaires, the labeling of about a third of them as "mentally ill" (again, with no valid science involved), and then nearly all of those so labeled being put on expensive, damaging drugs for the rest of their lives. That's the agenda, but the face you see is parents weeping over the suicide of a child who was denied the "help" that might have saved him or her.

Click here for more data on TeenScreen.

So there's no need to keep apologizing (when dismissing excessive alarm) that, yes, of course, child abuse exists; no reason to be careful lest someone think you are cold hearted and have no sympathy for raped babies. The whole point of a wedge issue is to make everyone apologetic and to give us all a self-righteous feeling as we go about dismantling our own freedoms.

Morality is one example of something essential to a free society that has been undermined by wedge issues: Personally, I'd much rather live in a society where most people tell the truth, keep their agreements, are reasonably clean (don't stink, for example), treat each other they way they, themselves, would like to be treated, respect their parents, etc. Morality is an important part of civilization. Now, if you wanted to undermine morality, you'd find some area where morality is way out of step with current ideas and has led to extreme abuses.

Thus the psychologists who created much of what we now laughingly call education found the most extreme areas of abuse (treatment of homosexuals, treatment of women, certain abortion issues, racism) and used these as wedge issues to attack the concept of morality, to encourage kids to mock their parents' views, distrust church teachings, etc. Of course, the same society that created slavery, abolished it as a result of MORAL force, and has made its most successful attacks on racism from similar motives, but that part isn't stressed.

The point is, wedge issues are always issues that are hard to disagree with. What makes them wedge issues is the way they are used, the goal in mind. For example, the people who led the movement to ferret out child abuse in this society probably include some saints who really wanted to help, but were mainly people who had another agenda in mind.

This should be obvious: Why would people with the welfare of children in mind get laws passed that make it easy -- with zero evidence of abuse -- to separate children from their parents, children who are begging to stay with their parents, when all existing evidence shows that kids who stay with their parents do far better in life than those who go to foster homes?

Child abuse exists -- and always has. Much MORE of it seems to exist since it has become the flavor of the month. There are things that can be done about it. But don't buy into the hysteria. Just because it's on Law and Order SVU doesn't make it so. At least recognize that the current system to handle child abuse is a mess and is part of the psychiatric state that is slouching toward Bethlehem to be born.

Murder exists, too, and sometimes people commit murders that appear to others extremely irrational you know, insane?), and this is the justification for all sorts of laws that allow the state to move in on people who have committed NO crime and force them to take psychiatric medications. Well, isn't murder a bad thing? For example New York's "Kendra's Law" forces psychiatric drugging on thousands of non-violent people (drugged in their own homes) who have been labeled schizophrenic, and does so because another person so labeled killed a child named Kendra.

What's ignored is that the killer had also been "treated" -- and that didn't prevent him from killing. What's also ignored is the absence of evidence that people who have been labeled schizophrenic commit more violent crimes than people who have NOT been so labeled. (The evidence is they are LESS violent -- especially when NOT treated by psychiatrists.)

The manipulation in using one or two crazy murders to create the impression that there are hundreds of thousands of potentially murderous schizophrenics out there who MUST be medicated whether they want to be or not is identical to the manipulation in using a few really awful cases of child abuse to create the impression that their are more than a million (that's what they say!) children out there who are being abused and must be separated from their families whether they want to be or not, with the law making it almost impossible for the families to prove innocence, at their own great expense (usually losing their homes to pay legal expenses).

In answer to the above, a correspondent wrote: "I couldn't agree more! But..one problem: how, then, does a society deal with the real problems that are being exaggerated and used as wedge issues (to break up social/emotional community and control everyone)?? What this society does is all wrong, altogether. But we cannot do nothing. So..what is the solution?"

I responded as follows:

In the long run, the only rational society is a society of rational individuals. No system can compensate very well for the lack of such a citizenry. But I have some ideas about ways to improve things. I'll suggest a few: 1. I recommend as of interest a secular moral code (called "The Way to Happiness") that seems to go over well with people of all or no religious beliefs and hits at those key parts of accepted morality that actually contribute to our survival as individuals and as a society. It's been of use in many areas to many millions of people. You can find it at http://www.thewaytohappiness.org/. It's been used successfully in schools, in whole nations, in successful criminal rehabilitation programs, etc.

It's one of those stories you don't find in the news. For example, when the first free elections (all races voting) were to be held in South Africa, all the newspapers predicted the elections would be accompanied by huge amounts of violence. Hundreds of thousands of the Way to Happiness booklets were passed out (in all needed languages) or included with Sunday Supplements shortly before the election, and the predicted violence didn't happen. The recent lull in Israeli/Palestinian violence followed distribution of, again, hundreds of thousands of copies in Hebrew and Arabic by Israelis and Palestinians who wanted to see an end to the violence.

Of course, these could be coincidences, but there are many other such "coincidences" with this book, so it's worth looking into. It's simply a common-sense moral code, simply expressed, stressing values shared by all major religions and by most people who are not religious; and it's printed in many languages. You can print it off the website.

2. Schools should concentrate on getting students able to read, write, study, evaluate data, etc., not on forcing sets of attitudes on students. The schools' excuses for getting into that racket has been that families and churches do a lousy job of it. This may be true, but families and churches do a far better job than the schools are doing. People who are able to study and learn and apply and evaluate data are far more likely to make pro-survival decisions than the ones we're turning out today. (By evaluate data, I mean: Understand it, be able to spot inconsistencies, be able to spot the signs of missing data, be able to pull strings, etc. -- be able to think with it, not just parrot it, be able to own it.)

3. Use existing criminal law (before all the unconstitutional social-worker stuff was added to it) to find and arrest criminals. Do not throw out rights to due process because some criminals get away and not all victims are saved.

4. Get psychiatrists and their treatments out of the system (out of the schools, law courts, government agencies, hospitals, churches, etc.), since those treatments mess people up. Psychiatric treatment makes criminals. Many of the worst crimes are committed, not by people who "need treatment," but by people who have been treated. This is not simply because the treated people are the ones in worst shape to begin with. For example, recent studies have shown that in nations where schizophenics (people so labeled by psychiatry) are left with their families and not drugged, they recover - typically in a few years, whereas, in the "advanced" countries where they are drugged, etc., they deteriorate and never recover.

I suspect that with psychiatry out of the way (along with the drugs, shock, weird notions of what we are, etc.) -- and definitely out of law, education, etc. -- much criminality would also vanish. Here's just one example: Most of the kids who've shot up our schools are now known to have been on psychiatric drugs at the time or on withdrawal from them and/or to have received other psychiatric treatment. The few who are NOT known to have been on psych. drugs are those whose medical records were sealed before the press (or CCHR) could get that data -- so were probably on psych. drugs.

I say this, because each time there's a school shooting, guys from the pharmaceutical industry show up and try to get all medical records sealed before anyone can find out if they'd been psych-drugged. This happened, for example, in the case of Eric Harris of Columbine. We only know he was on Luvox because he'd tried shortly before the shooting to join the army and was rejected because he was on the drug, so the data was gotten from the Army. It couldn't be gotten from his medical records. (Note: I'm not saying that anyone who has been treated will be criminal. I'm saying that many actual criminals -- killers, rapists, etc. -- are people who were "treated" by psychiatry BEFORE they became criminals.)

As for the psychiatric (and usually the psychological) notion of what we are: The big push since Wilhelm Wundt has been to consider human beings stimulus response animals, cannon fodder. What sort of morality is likely to evolve in a society made up of entities thus viewed? You may feel that churches today have all sorts of faults and that religions have a great deal to answer for (and I agree), but I think you'll find that the ideas of human dignity, goodness and love were not developed by "secular humanists" or materialists, but by people with some sense of a spiritual side to life.

5. Generally, people behave better when given more freedom, not when they have their freedoms taken away. Sometimes discipline is needed (with children, for example), but even children behave better when they are consulted, when they are given more (not less) opportunity to do things they want to do. A police society is always a criminal society.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Tom Cruise: Who Does He Think He Is - 5

If it's wrong for Tom Cruise to speak out against psychiatry because he's not a doctor, the implication is that medicine is an extremely effective, scientific discipline.

I don't intend to take much time on this point, because, while I know a fair amount about psychiatry, I'm know far less about the general field of medicine. But the argument can be made (and has been made) that medicine itself is overvalued as a science. I believe this to be true, but to what extent? – that's beyond me.

Here are a few of the points to consider:

1. Medicine (main-stream Western medicine) has always been a "science", but when we look back at the medicine of the previous century or even of previous decades, we find a great deal that doctors insisted was science (for example, treating people by bleeding them) is now considered pseudo-science.

2. Medicine has always been a very narrowly defined discipline that (via its official bodies) worked hard to exclude, outlaw, label as quackery other highly effective approaches to maintaining good health and treating illness. For example, for many decades medical authorities tried to keep chiropractic and homeopathic practices illegal. These same authorities still dismiss studies that show chelation therapy effective (and more effective than heart by-pass surgery). Doctors are only beginning to catch up to naturopathic practitioners, nutritionists and other alternative practitioners in understanding the importance of good nutrition and proper supplements (vitamins and minerals) and in understanding what is needed to maintain good health (preventive as opposed to reactive medicine).

3. Medicine is perhaps overrated when given credit for the improvement in life-expectancy statistics in industrialized nations. It is difficult to sort out which benefits derive from improvements in medicine as opposed to those that derive from public health measures (sewer systems, clean water, hygiene) and the greater availability of protein and fresh fruits and vegetables.

4. Iatrogenic illness (illness caused by doctors) is the third highest cause of death from illness. For more data on this, click here. Medically caused illness kills hundreds of thousands in the U.S. every year – and that's just the known deaths. The statistics on it are based on deaths of patients while in the hospital receiving treatment. There are not such statistics on people who, having left the hospital, die soon afterwards.

5. Like the psychiatrists, doctors in general know very little about the drugs they prescribe. They believe what they are told buy the drug companies and may or may not read the "countra-indications" and "side-effects". They are "educated" by drug company representatives. When the drug companies and the FDA say that Vioxx is a miracle drug, the doctors prescribe it. When the FDA finally acknowledges that Vioxx kills people and the drug company pulls it off the market, the doctors stop prescribing it. (Duh.)

6. Like the psychiatrists, doctors in general are overly fond of the quick fix, and use drugs to treat conditions that might better be handled by nutrition, exercise and other means.
Much of the "science" of doctors consists of vocabulary (all the jargon that impresses us when we watch ER), knowing something about dosages, knowing how to spot the symptoms of a variety of illnesses, knowing the usual treatments for these illnesses, knowing anatomy, knowing a fair amount about body mechanics and how to open and close up a body (surgery), how to inject, how to scan, etc. There's a lot of knowhow. This doesn't mean that the people with this knowhow know how to use it to get a good result. It just means that they know how to do certain things.

On the other hand, medicine does, at its best, and in its own narrow areas of skill, have a scientific basis:

As mentioned earlier, most medical illnesses have an etiology. That is, sets of symptoms are not labeled illnesses until a specific physical diagnosis (e.g., a blood test) is tested and validated, and, usually, until a specific cause (germ, deficiency, blunt-instrument trauma or whatever) has been found. This differs vastly from psychiatry. As Scharfstein (head of the APA) admitted on TV and as the U.S. Surgeon General told Congress years ago, there are no physical tests for the various "mental illnesses" psychiatrists claim to have discovered. There are no blood tests, no X-Ray or MRI tests, etc., that can be used to diagnose clinical depression or ADHD or anxiety or any of the several hundred other conditions that psychiatrists claim are medical illnesses, just like diabetes.

About a year ago, several members of MindFreedom (an organization of "psychiatric survivors" – people who were diagnosed as mentally ill and treated by psychiatric means, who feel that they were harmed by psychiatry and that psychiatry is a non-science) went on a public hunger strike, pledging to fast until they got an answer to their letters to the head of the APA (Scharfstein). The letters asked the APA to list any valid scientific studies showing that any mental illness was the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. They eventually got a response, which they turned over to a panel of doctors and psychiatrists (people like neurologist Fred Baughman, for example). The panel analyzed the response and sent the APA a letter, pointing out that the APA letter hadn't pointed to a single study, just asserted that numerous such studies existed. The only specific references the APA sent were to psychiatric textbooks, and these textbooks contained passages indicating that NO such studies existed. The APA responded with another load of PR (never citing a single study). Why? Because no such studies exist.

So when you hear the commercials that tell you that depression "may" or is "believed to" result from a deficiency in serotonin, that's not a scientific pronouncement. It's pure propaganda designed to sell drugs.

The last line of defense for psychiatry as a science is the argument that, hey, we don't know why, but the drugs work, and that's what counts. As pointed out in an earlier rambling of mine, the drugs work about as often as placebos work. (But the placebos don't have such devastating side effects as suicide, violence and psychosis. All the psychiatric drugs DO have such results in a small, but significant percentag of the users – and a few percent of millions is hundreds of thousands of people. And they have other annoying side effects in nearly every user. And the effects of withdrawing from them can also be hellish.)

The most recent "meta-studies" of popular psychiatric drugs show them working about as well as placebos. A meta-study is a study that takes into consideration data from all available studies. The FDA approves these drugs after the manufacturer or its sub-contractors test them in multiple trials. But the manufacturers submit to the FDA only those tests where the drug gets the best results. When meta studies look at ALL the tests, the drugs turn out to be, essentially, ineffective.

When a doctor or psychiatrist says that these psych. drugs help many of his patients, what he's not saying (and perhaps doesn't realize) is that a sugar pill would help just as many of them, and without the negative side effects. And a placebo that causes SOME side effects (called an active placebo) would probably do BETTER than the drugs, since the patients would not realize they were getting a placebo.

In summary, medicine is, just barely, a scientific activity, but psychiatry, though a specialty of medicine, is NOT a scientific activity. It has the superficial appearance of adhering to medical standards of rigor, but it does not. The psychiatrist's medical degree is camouflage for quackery.
So when someone says, "What does HE know? He's not even a doctor," one answer is, why should he have to be a doctor to critique psychiatry? Psychiatry has nothing to do with medical science.

For a bit more detail on the "science" of psychiatry and what it all means (the "peer-reviewed, double-blind studies", etc.), you might find of interest my essay on psychiatric jargon.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Tom Cruise: Who Does He Think He Is - 4

I'll say more today about Tom's not being a doctor and therefore not being qualified to speak out about the pseudo-science of psychiatry.

First, a question: Why didn't the media attack Brooke Shield's book (recommending that women use anti-depressants to handle post-partum depression) on the grounds that she's just an actress? Why is it OK for Brooke Shields to air her positive view of psychiatry, but not OK for Tom Cruise to air his negative view?

One answer would be that Brooke Shields isn't claiming to be an expert; she's just writing about her personal experience. But isn't it tantamount to claiming expertise when you recommend (directly or implicitly) the drugs to a broad public? I noticed almost nothing (in the media's attacks on Cruise for criticizing Shields' book) about the recent news stories of mothers (several – the most notorious being Susan Smith) who, after being given anti-depressants to handle post-partum depression, murdered their children.

Shields didn't mention this in her book. A responsible author (which Shields was not) would have taken the trouble to find out more about the dangers of these drugs before promoting them. A responsible media would have pointed out that Shield's book was promoting drugs that were (in recent trials) deemed wholly or partly responsible for women murdering their children.

Bottom line: Tom Cruise attacks psychiatry, and that's not OK, because he's just an actor, not a doctor. Brooke Shields promotes psychiatry, and that's OK, though she's just an actor, not a doctor.

Another question: If Tom's unqualified to speak out on psychiatry, because he's "not a doctor", the question immediately arises: What do doctors say about psychiatry. So the media gave us a bunch of psychiatric experts, who attacked Cruise's remarks.

How is it then that the media did NOT give us the many doctors and even psychiatrists who agree with all or most of Tom Cruise's views on psychiatry? Why did they create the impression that this was all about Tom and his church?

Or perhaps you didn't know that many doctors and psychiatrists, people who have all the proper credentials in their fields, often Ivy League degrees and many books published and who are NOT members of Tom's church and who have nothing to gain in their careers and finances (and everything to lose) have been speaking out for years against the pseudo-science of psychiatry, the fraudulent basis for the current "medical model" of psychiatry that tries to treat sadness and restlessness of school kids as medical illnesses, etc.

It's to be expected that most people don't know about these people. They aren't given media attention. Few or none of them were allowed to be heard during the hubbub about Cruise's remarks (though several stepped forward). One (Harvard-educated psychiatrist and author, Peter Breggin) was invited to appear on a show, then kept waiting for 70 minutes while the usual pro-psych. "experts" blasted Cruise; then he was told, sorry, they hadn't been able to fit him in. (Do you think, maybe, the local producers received a phone call from management when they heard Breggin was slated to be on the show?)

At this point, you may want to click on the following for a sampling of what these doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists and other experts have to say about psychiatry:

Experts on DSM 4 (the psychiatric diagnostic manual) -- scientific? Or Not?
More on DSM 4
Experts on ADHD -- Is this labeling based on science?
Experts on Psychiatric Drugs -- are they useful? Based on valid science?
Experts on Mental Illness -- Is the psychiatric/medical model for mental illness valid?
More on Mental Illness.

So the media picture of a lone, under-educated extremist attacking the people who know – is simply a media-concocted lie. What really occurred is that, for years, a significant number of dissenting doctors and psychiatrists and FDA whistle-blowers -- at great risk to their careers and incomes -- have tried to tell us what Tom Cruise told us, but they have been denied a voice in the main-steam media. Tom Cruise, the top-grossing star in the world, could not so easily be denied, so he put his career and media access on the line by speaking out.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Tom Cruise -- Who Does He Think He Is -- 3

I've pointed out that Tom Cruise's attack on psychiatry and psychiatric drugs made him a target for mainstream media, and that the reasons for this all come down to "Show me the money!"

The networks (and most other media) need drug company business.

The other "reasons" why it is so easy to see Tom Cruise as an "extremist" (despite the fact that he said nothing more extreme than the truth) come under the following heads:

1. He's not a doctor.

2. He's an actor. And, worse, he's a star! (Popularity doesn't go down well with critics.)

3. He's enthusiastic.

4. He must be wrong, because "all these people" say so, and besides, would we be drugging millions of kids on Ritalin; would tens of people be taking anti-depressants; would all these sincere voices on NPR talk about "clinical depression" and "the latest medications" if there was no science to psychiatry?

I'll take these points up in separate daily installments. Today I'll discuss "He's not a doctor."
True, as far as I know, Tom Cruise is not a doctor. Its also true that psychiatry is currently considered a medical specialty, so that a psychiatrist must be a medical doctor. (Note: This is not true for psychologists, nor, at least in most states and nations, for psychoanalysts.)

When these facts are used to debunk Cruise, the following assumptions are being made:

1. That a non-doctor (or non-psychiatrist) can't understand these matters.

2. That medicine (curing illnesses, surgery, obstetrics, etc.) is scientific and useful.

3. That if medicine is scientific and useful, then psychiatry, being a branch of medicine, just also
be scientific and useful.

4. That Tom Cruise's objections to psychiatry are just the rantings of a non-expert extremist, whereas all the real experts (with medical degrees) know he's wrong.

Point 1: A non-doctor can't understand these matters:

First of all, just the fact that Cruise has no financial or career interest in psychiatry – is, in other words, an outsider, gives his viewpoint reliability. The people defending psychiatry have a vested interest (money, career, prestige) in making psychiatry look good. Cruise has no such vested interest. As far as I can determine, no one is paying him to attack psychiatry. No one is paying his church to attack psychiatry. And, as should be obvious to anyone who has followed the news, Tom Cruise's action in speaking out about psychiatry did not win him much favor with the media. Celebrities depend upon the media to keep them in the public eye. Tom actually, on the air, told a media big-shot that he was glib. (This is something most of us know. But no one ever tells them this on their own shows. No one but Tom Cruise.)

Second: Why would you think that a medical degree would give someone more knowledge of your mind than you have? What evidence exists that psychiatrists know anything about the mind? In the days of talk therapy (now a dying subject for most psychiatrists, who simply prescribe drugs), psychiatry was simply a bunch of theories (each psychiatrist had his own), but was still called a science. Studies of results from psychotherapy all came up with the startling discovery that one "therapy" was about as good as any other, and that all of them got about the same percentage of positive results as were gotten by African witch doctors. And all of these approaches were LESS successful than talking to a good friend about your troubles.

Third: Much of the mystique of science is jargon and complexity. And much of that is designed to make it appear that there's something inscrutable and profound there that normal mortals can't comprehend. And this is as true of pseudo-science as of science. Textbooks of Nazi eugenics theory are as complex and scientific-sounding as textbooks of modern psychiatry. So are textbooks of phrenology, palmistry and most other practices that claim to be science. So, yes, it is difficult to penetrate areas of science or alleged science if you don't have an education in those areas, but most of the education needed consists of learning the definitions of the terminology. This is particularly true in the field of psychiatry, since there's little "practice" to it these days beyond acting knowledgeable and writing prescriptions.

Tom Cruise – though you might not expect it, since he is, himself, so plain-spoken -- happens to be expert in the area of terminology. The media didn't mention, for example, that Tom has sponsored and established and endowed several literacy centers where kids with "learning problems" are tutored, and made literate – not by drugging them into stillness, but by teaching them to use dictionaries and look up words and master the definitions and practice using the words in sentences; by getting them to demonstrate concepts they find difficult to understand and, by other means, to break through the walls of terminology. It works.

Tom knows a lot about it: He grew up nearly illiterate and was considered to be afflicted with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). But his mother did not allow him to be drugged. Eventually, after years of struggle with the need to read scripts, etc., he encountered a technology of study (the one used in his literacy centers), which, when he applied it, disintegrated his allegedly incurable ADHD. (Psychiatrists claim it's a permanent condition, which can only be held at bay by a lifetime on drugs.)

Tom has successfully applied that knowledge to handle the "study difficulties" of thousands of "learning disabled" children. (He's worked with them personally or others, using the same technology in his literacy centers, have worked with them.) He's donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to set up these centers, and they do get results. (Odd that in all the media blitzing he received, no one mentioned these literacy centers.)

So, though not a doctor, Tom IS an expert in the area of learning disorders and does get results (results that the psychiatrists cannot get with their drugs for learning disorders, which do NOT improve student grades on tests or abilities).

More to the point, Tom knows how to read and understand what he's reading. You don't have to be a doctor to understand medical literature IF you have the right dictionaries and know how to look up words. Since I've done the same thing, I'll give you some idea what you find out, if you start looking into the science of psychiatry:

A. You find out that the way so-called "mental illnesses" become official "illnesses" is not via scientific research. Mental illnesses are voted into existence by a show of hands among members of an APA committee. Once they are voted into existence, because psychiatrists are doctors, the newly approved "illnesses" are presumed to be medical illnesses, are covered by insurance and Medicare and Mediaid, and are used by drug companies to sell new drugs. You also find out that this is NOT the way other medical illnesses are designated illnesses.

Both medical illnesses and psychiatric illnesses begin as observed symptoms. For example, doctors observe that some people react very badly to sugar. Psychiatrists observe that some people are very sad.

The next step for the medical doctor (non-psychiatrist) is to find out what is causing the condition. The researchers try to find if these people with sugar intolerance (and other symptoms) have something in common that explains their symptoms and that can perhaps be handled to cure the symptoms. The medical researchers may find that there are several different causes for these symptoms (as a headache may be from a brain tumor or a salt deficiency or a head injury or "stress" or a virus, etc.) and that you have to find out which cause applies if you want to treat the symptoms successfully. For example, if a headache is caused by a salt deficiency, taking salt tablets handles it, but if it's caused by a brain tumor, salt won't handle it – and if it's salt deficiency, brain surgery is an awfully extreme treatment.

For the sugar intolerance, doctors find that most of these people have a shortage of insulin, and that, if they are given insulin and avoid sugar, they get better. That's over-simplified: There are various forms of diabetes. There are probably other, more basic causes (Why is the person not manufacturing enough insulin?), etc. But the basic point is, in standard medicine, you don't label a group of symptoms an illness or disease until you isolate it from other similar sets of symptoms by finding a unique cause for each sub-set of symptoms and then a handling for that cause.

So medical doctors proceed from noticing symptoms to finding an etiology (that's one of those medical terms: It means finding a cause) and developing diagnostic tools that enable them to differentiate which cause applies to the symptoms being investigated. For example, a patient comes in with symptoms A, B and C. There are 2 known diseases (X and Y) that show symptoms A, B and C, and they require different treatments, so one must first determine if this patient has X or Y. People with X will also have symptom D. People with Y will not have D. So the doctor checks for symptom D, finds it, and knows his patient almost certainly has disease X, so he treats the patient for disease X.

This is, ideally, what medical science does. It is not and has never been what psychiatry does. The psychiatrists, having observed the symptoms (sadness), come up with a bunch of ideas about what may be causing this sadness.

For example, the fad (and it is no more than a fad, not based on research) in the past 20 years or so has been to say that the cause is "a chemical imbalance in the brain." No actual research has ever shown that such an imbalance exists or even defined what a correct "chemical balance" is for the brain. Nor is it considered that there can be many different things that cause sadness, each of which has it's own unique handling.

The psychiatrists, having thus come up with a theory (but not tested it), give sadness (up until then considered a part of the human condition) a name (clinical depression) and vote it into their manual (DSM: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) as a mental illness. They make it sound scientific by talking about degrees of depression, by listing a bunch of symptoms (difficulty sleeping, for example) and by giving percentages of people suffering from this newly invented illness. The percentages are based on – nothing. They never site any source for these statistics. The main idea is to persuade lots of people that they are mentally ill so that psychiatrists and drug companies can sell them drugs.

(Having thus labeled hundreds of millions of people mentally ill -- anyone who is sad or anxious or overweight or just about anything -- they argue that opponents to this labeling are just trying to stigmatize the mentally ill, who should be happy to know that they just have an illness, like any other illness. Thus the stigmatizers represent themselves as defending those they stigmatize against being stigmatized! Would you rather consider that you are feeling bad about yourself or that you have a permanent "brain imbalance" for which you must be drugged for the rest of your life?)

The drug companies then advertise a drug that handles this new illness. They couldn't very well drug you just to get you high on a stimulant (that would be like getting drunk to forget one's troubles), but they can give a stimulant a fancy name and tell you that it handles "clinical depression."

Then, AFTER THE FACT, the drug company researchers look to see what chemical effect their drug has in rat brains, discover that one effect noticeable is that their anti-depressant increases the amount of a chemical called serotonin in the brains (of rats). This then is much publicized as the cause of depression: Not enough serotonin.

Aha! This makes it sound like science has been at work to discover the etiology of depression. But the time sequence is backwards. MANY things may allay depression: Getting drunk or taking heroin or taking a walk or straightening out one's life or being confronted with an emergency that demands instant action or getting a better job or taking a hit of cocaine (which is pretty close to what Ritalin is, the drug we give to millions of kids to make them sit still in school), etc. So one could as logically note that a few cocktails cheer up many people, then say that they suffered from an alcohol deficiency.

Thus, for all the scientific and medical jargon, the use of words like "syndrome" and "dysfunction", the fake statistics, etc., when you take the trouble to look up the words and read the manuals and textbooks, you don't have to be a doctor to discover that you're wading chin-deep in bullshit.

The process of psychiatric research has been entirely a public relations campaign on behalf of the drug companies: Creating the rationale for getting more and more people on drugs by defining more and more conditions as mental illnesses. The science is so non-existent that an illness may be pulled from the manual if it is unpopular. For example, homosexuality was listed as a mental illness until this became so politically incorrect that it was voted out of the manual. Meanwhile, it "turns out" that being anxious or fat or religious or annoyed by psychiatry are all mental illnesses. Having difficulty with math in school is a mental illness. Disliking peanut butter getting stuck to the roof of your mouth is a mental illness. (You think I'm kidding? Read DSM, edition 4.)

The point is, you don't have to be a doctor to see what's going on here. Forgetting that Tom is a bright guy (you don't make hundreds of millions and direct and produce blockbuster movies without some intelligence; plus, as I mentioned, Tom is an expert on learning disorders), lets say he's "just an actor." But please reread "The Emperor's New Clothes." The Emperor is stark naked. His high officials all flatter him, agree that his new outfit is lovely. The "media" all applaud (not wanting to risk the Emperor's wrath). Who speaks out? A small child who doesn't understand that this is the Emperor, who must not be displeased. A small child cries out, "Look! The Emperor is naked!" Sudden shocked silence. Then everyone begins to shush the child, tell him, "Quiet, you silly child, you don't understand a thing!" But a few people begin to chuckle, then more, then waves of laughter.

It sometimes takes a child to state the obvious. ("Out of the mouths of babes...".) I don't think Tom Cruise is a child. But clearly he's not part of the Emperor's entourage nor one of his media lackeys nor part of the over-awed crowed. And that's what it takes to tell us the truth. That, and a lack of interest in being a slave.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Tom Cruise: Who Does He Think He Is - 2

One reason Tom Cruise's statements were mostly brushed under the rug, with few (in the media) bothering to consider whether any evidence supported them is extremely simple:


Billions of dollars each year are earned by the pharmaceutical companies who sell the drugs promoted by psychiatrists and prescribed by doctors and others (whoever can win the legal right to prescribe them – psychologists in some states).

To keep that flow going, the pharmaceutical companies finance the American Psychiatric Association and various pharmaceutical front groups (for example NAMI – National Assoc. For the Mentally Ill – is largely financed by the drug industry, as is CHADD, a similar organization that claims to advocate for those suffering from "ADD" - Attention Deficit Disorder. Both organizations simply echo the pharmaceutical line and promote the drugs. Both organizations revealed, only under considerable pressure from alternative media sources (like Mother Jones) the millions they receive from Eli Lilly and other drug companies.

To keep that flow going, the pharmaceutical companies spend billions wooing doctors, giving them, not just free samples, but also free trips to conventions in Hawaii or Las Vegas, sporting events, and various gatherings (with fancy hotel rooms and meals) where they get "educated" on the latest drugs. Medical students often depend upon pharmaceutical-sponsored lunches and other gifts to get through medical school.

To keep that flow going, the pharmaceutical companies BUY spokespersons from the fields of medicine and psychiatry, by paying them large sums to give talks at conventions or to sign their names as co-authors to studies favorable to their drugs (studies written by hacks hired by the drug companies). Drug companies also endow university laboratories and other facilities. Recently, forexample, David Healy, a prominent researcher, had a job offer from the University of Toronto retracted, immediately after he spoke out against the efficacy of certain psychiatric drugs -- drugs whose maker had just made large donations to that university.

To keep that flow going, the pharmaceutical companies BUY the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), that is supposed to protect us from dangerous medications. Several studies over the years (when some drug is finally found to be deadly, and people look back to see who approved it) find that the FDA "scientists" who approved it all had financial ties to the company that developed the drug and/or to the drug companies in question -- had accepted large payments from them to give talks, owned their stock, etc.

Also, these scientists usually come to the FDA from the drug companies and look for work at the drug companies (or doing drug-company-funded research at colleges) when they leave the FDA. For example, the guy who approved NutraSweet [Aspartame], already previously rejected as bad stuff, was boosted into the post of head of the FDA by the machinations of the head of the company that made NutraSweet (Searle). The new head of the FDA promptly pushed through a quick approval of NutraSweet. Soon after, he left the FDA and took a well-paying position at Searle. By the way, the head of Searle who arranged all this was a fellow named Donald Rumsfeld.

(And, by the way, many of the lousy side-effects of aspartame are the ones "treated" by other drugs. For example, it increases depression. A win-win situation for the drug companies.)

To keep that flow going, the pharmaceutical companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars to buy print and TV ads for their drugs. If drug companies withdraw advertising from a magazine (like TIME) or a TV station, that's a huge loss of revenue. Next time you're watching commercial TV some evening, count the ads for pharmaceutical company products – not just for psych. drugs, but for all their products (for pain relievers, nasal sprays, Viagra and Cialis, drugs for heartburn and indigestion, drugs for ulcers and reduction of cholesterol, etc.

The companies that produce anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs and Attention Deficit drugs, etc., are the same companies that produce all the other drugs and that pay for all that advertising, so a media company wants to please the pharmaceutical companies. There are occasionally some "hard-hitting" exposes of pharmaceutical corruption that has been known about for years and that don't go very deep, but by and large, the drug companies are protected.
And that brings us back to Tom Cruise. The "extremist" Tom Cruise is simply a media creation. Cruise is a humongous celebrity, maybe the top box-office earner in Hollywood, so gets appearances (though not as many since the Matt Lauer show). The media stifle the truth about psychiatry: There are many doctors and even psychiatrists (with all the academic credentials and honors you can eat), who have been trying to tell us for years what Tom Cruise told Matt Lauer, but they aren't allowed on prime-time network TV. But Cruise, the star, had the opportunity. So Cruise took his shot.

I suspect the networks were torn: If they censored it, they'd lose huge ratings, perhaps the most re-watched Today show ever, all that controversy. On the other hand, they might lose the drug money if they ran it. But, they thought, he's just an actor, and besides he belongs to THAT religion. It'll be easy to make him look ridiculous, so let's go with it.

And that's why the media turned on the blitz and worked so hard to make Tom look silly. One example of their tactics: Bringing on Scharfstein and Glenmullin to discuss Tom Cruise's remarks. The set up is, here's Scharftein from the APA, who thinks psychiatry is peachy keen, and here's Glenmullin, who disagrees, thinks the drugs are overprescribed and that psychiatry needs a little patch-up work here and there, but basically agrees with Scharfstein about the value of the drugs and the fake medical science of psychiatry. So these two are presented to us as experts from opposite sides of psychiatry (which they are not; they are mainstream psychiatrists with minor differences). It follows, then, that Cruise, whose statements are far more radical than Glenmullin's, must be an "extremist".

That also explains why the "experts" (psychiatrists all) were lobbed softballs, asked no hard questions. For example, Cruise said there's no valid science behind psychiatry, but when these psychiatrists called that nonsense, no one asked them to cite the scientific studies that have validated psychiatry. (There are none -- none that can't easily be impeached by anyone who knows how to read and evaluate such studies.)

That's my take on how it happened that Tom Cruise told some sharp truths on network TV, and the media jumped all over him and did their best to make him look like a fool.

But there are other reasons why Tom Cruise's remarks appeared strange or extremist or could so easily be made to look that way, despite the overwhelming evidence that the Emperor of Psychiatry is stark naked. I'll cover those other reasons in future ramblings.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Tom Cruise: Who Does He Think He Is - 1

I found fascinating the avalanche of snide media response to Tom Cruise's statements on the Matt Lauder show a few months ago. Why? Here are a few reasons:

1. Every thing he said was, to the best of my knowledge, correct. Psychiatry and its rationales for pushing psychotropic drugs and defining mental illnesses are not based on sound science and are essentially fraudulent. You can find my take on these issues in my essays on psychiatry as a pseudo science and psychiatric spin.

2. The "experts" called in to debunk Mr. Cruise essentially conceded all his points (which few people noticed). For example, psychiatrists Stephen Scharfstein (head of the American Psychiatric Assn. or APA) and Dr. Glenmullin, a Harvard psychiatrist, appeared to be disagreeing with Cruise, while (dimly perceivable beneath all the weasel words) conceded directly or implicitly all the points Cruise made. Glenmullin pointed out that the psych. drugs are hugely over-prescribed, but said, almost as an aside – and with no attempt to provide scientific date validating this opinion – that, of course, psych. drugs are very valuable when used correctly and help many people. Tom never denied that some people think that. He denied that it was based on science. Neither psychiatrist (though asserting otherwise) pointed to any shred of scientific evidence.

Scharfstein, after snidely referring to Cruise as, possibly, being an expert in the field of acting, went on to assert that Cruise's statements were wrong, extremist and irresponsible and that psychiatry is a medical science making tremendous advances and helping millions, but, in his evasive responses to questions, conceded that psychiatry is NOT science – that there exist no medical tests to validate any diagnosis of so-called "mental illnesses"; nor could he point to any scientific evidence for the psychiatric rationale for the drugs: that "mental illnesses" result from "chemical imbalances in the brain."

[Note: As Dr. Thomas Szasz pointed out many years ago in his famous book, "The Myth of Mental Illness", when we use the term "illness" to describe certain conditions, we are using it as a metaphor. There's nothing wrong with a metaphor when we realize it's a metaphor, but when we start taking our metaphors literally, we can get into trouble. For example, an actual medical illness is not labeled an illness until it's "etiology" -- its cause -- is understood well enough to be able to distinguish it from the many similar illnesses. A scientist (a true scientist) would never label "depression" or "tiredness" or any other broad human condition an illness because he knows that any such condition can have numerous causes, and that each cause requires its own appropriate handling. Whenever, in what follows, I debunk the terms "mental illness", I am not denying the existence of unwanted conditions. I'm denying the scientific basis for calling these conditions "medical illnesses" and thereby justifying treating them with drugs.]

The only attempt to cite scientific studies to validate psychiatry as a science came on shows where a psychiatrist held up allegedly normal brain scans and allegedly "mentally ill" brain scans and said that psychiatric science was based on the data from these scans, and that psychiatric drugs made abnormal scans normal. Sounds very scientific, but is hogwash. To understand why, please read my essay (followed by expert documentation) on brain scan science.

Within a week or two of Cruise's statements, the FDA (after stalling for 15 years) finally conceded that the drugs Cruise was criticizing increase the chances of suicide. And a major NIH study announced that new research showed the latest, most "miraculous" and popular (with psychiatrists) drugs were, in fact, no more beneficial than the old bad drugs and were probably more dangerous. And yet another major study came out showing that many of the "miracle drugs" of the past 15 years never did much better than placebos in their trials – data obscured by the drug company's showing the FDA only the most successful trials. In fact, the likelihood is that with slightly different experimental design (using active placebos that create some noticeable effect so that the test subject doesn't know he's getting a placebo), the placebos would have been more helpful (and definitely less harmful) than the drugs. (Note: These new studies differed from previous studies in that they were NOT financed by the drug companies.)

As I say, all this happened within days and weeks of Cruise's statements, but he remained a figure for scorn or mockery in the media, with few noticing that he'd been vindicated.
Similarly, The Washington Post, around this time, printed a front-page rant by Tina Brown talking about how Tom Cruise's romance with Katie was obviously a fraudulent PR caper to promote his latest movie, and would be over as soon as the film was doing well and was obviously fake. Tina cited the expert evidence of her teen-aged daughter stating that it was all a fake.

It's been a few months now. The film (huge hit, War of the Worlds) has made its rounds. Tom and Katie are still together, and few doubt that they plan to stay together. I have not yet seen a retraction or apology from Tina Brown or the Washington Post.
The media have a gift for double think.

3. Brooke Shields was presented as a victim of Tom Cruise's supposedly unwarranted intrusion into her very personal life, whereas it was she who was marketing to the world a book promoting to other pregnant and post-pregnant women the use of a dangerous drug to handle a condition that is (per all available medical science) based on hormonal problems that are not handled by the drugs in question. But, apart from the stupid science here, the point is it was Brooke Shields who made her personal life a public issue, not Tom Cruise.

By analogy, if John Doe enjoys masturbating, that's John Doe's business. But suppose John Doe publishes and heavily promotes a book recommending masturbation for all as the best cure for migraine headaches, warts and hang-nails, and someone goes on TV and says that, contrary to John Doe, masturbation is not a scientifically validated cure for migraines, etc., and that, in fact, it can be damaging to you in various ways?

Now, if John Doe wants to respond to that, a legitimate response might be to point to evidence that masturbation is harmless and does help with migraines, etc. But if John Doe (and his friends) respond by saying, "Boo Hoo, how DARE you tell me how I should live my life and publicly advise me on how I should have handled my very intimate concerns!" – then John and his friends are being extremely disingenuous.

But that is essentially how Brooke and her chivalrous defenders responded, adding the astute observation that Tom Cruise is not a woman, so has no right to speak out on post-partum depression. (I wonder if the psychiatrist who prescribed the drugs for Brooke was a man?) (Gosh, ladies, I really don't think rat poison is a good solution to post-partum depression, but I'm a man, so what do I know?)

And yet, the impression remains (courtesy of the media) that Tom Cruise is an extremist, that he said things that were silly, that his reputation and popularity were damaged (though his movie, immediately after he spoke out, was a blockbuster hit), etc. I'll bet most people reading this have that impression. Why?

Part of it is our tendency to believe that if the media tell us that everybody is saying it, we believe that everybody is saying it, and if everybody is saying it, we believe that it must be truth, that "where there's smoke, there's fire."

Perhaps smoke suggests fire, but the picture changes when we learn that all the mockers have a strong financial incentive for their mockery. And there are several other factors involved. I plan to discuss them in my next few ramblings.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

A Brief Christmas Meditation

(I need to work on "brief". Currently my wit is lacking soul (brevity, that is).

Today, I'm told, is Christmas. Seems a good time to deliver myself of a few thoughts about the fine old religions. These are far from new ideas, but perhaps my take on them will be of use to some.

One reason religion is a tricky subject for most people (one of the things people are told not to discuss at the table, likely to lead to dissension) is that most (perhaps all) of our major main-stream faiths are composed of two distinct elements that tend to be mushed together so that they are difficult to differentiate. These elements are:

1. An attempt to free man from entrapments so that he (in the he/she sense) can be more himself.

2. An attempt to enslave man.


The proponents of freeing man assume that we are basically good, and that our apparent evil behavior results from the suppression of what we truly are. They stress that when they refer to God, they are referring to something in each of us or that some shard of God in us reflects the whole of God. They express this in many ways (and this expression emerges in all the great religions, though the examples below are from Christianity -- after all, this is Christmas day).

One of my favorite statements of it is in Meister Eckart's remark that "The eye with which God sees you is the eye with which you see God." (Or did he have it the other way round.) A similar statement from St. Augustine (which also is hard to recall, because it works both ways, and I may have it backwards) is "I went in search of God and found myself." The beginning of the Gospel of John is another statement of this. Another example is Augustine's view of sin or evil as a a suppression of God within us, and of Hell as an absence of God, our being set apart from awareness of God's presence -- set apart by our own despair, our own unwillingness to know ourselves. For example, a person who has done things he considers evil will, to assert his basic rightness, justify those evils to the point where any glimpse of his own basic goodness will be shattering, blinding, to be avoided (he thinks). Hence the long, wrenching weeping that typically accompanies moments of realization.

Those who want to free man would agree with ideas like the following:

It is not the strong who are to be feared, but the weak, who, out of fear of others, suppress them.

It is not the free man who is to be feared, but the slave, for the slave does not consider himself responsible for his actions.

It is not enforcement that makes a man treat others well. It is encouraging him to follow his dreams. (Where those dreams are insane, it is because of earlier enforcements that perverted saner dreams. The solution is to rehabilitate the person's OWN dreams, which are always positive.)

Each person is responsible for his own condition. That does not preclude his taking responsibility for others, and your taking responsibility for another does not relieve the other of the need to take responsibility for himself. (One expression of this is "God helps those who help themselves".) In other words, the concept of responsibility is broader than notions of guilt and blame.

"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free."

Not that I (for example) am God in the megalomaniac sense of being the only God, but I think many of the people who think of religion as a way to free man from entrapments would agree that, not only is something of God within us, but in a sense, that is who we are. For example, I've had moments in which I've been aware of a source of limitless joy and creativity and understanding, and I've felt it, not as something within me, but as something I am, something that is far more what I am than, for example, my body or the personality-and-body conglomeration I call "Dean Blehert". At such moments, if I look at my own body, it seems tiny, as does the room containing it.

This is not to be confused with "anything goes" and "hooray for free love and orgies." That has nothing to do with freedom. It's a parody of freedom designed to degrade the concept of freedom, designed by those who fear freedom. Usually the proponents of "anything goes" are the "Mr. Good Vibes" psychiatrists and psychologists who turn people on to the latest drugs and sexual fads, which lead to more spun-in patients for the stern "control-everyone" psychiatrists.

A person who is free will act (or so the proponents of freedom believe) in ways that are optimal, not only for themselves, but also for others, since a free being wants to play, and that means he wants playmates, and that means he wants others to be free. You don't free others from entrapment by encouraging them to give way to whatever cravings obsess them.

I'm not saying that freedom must be chaste or Puritanically grim. I'm saying that the "Orgy" picture of freedom is so constricted that it seems bleak to a free being. It's like touting the freedom of a dog to lick up his own vomit. It's not much fun.

There's the old song line, "How do you get 'em back on the farm, once they've seen New York?" Similarly, "How do you get 'em back to the whores, once they've known love" or "How do you get them back to being couch potatoes or people leading lives of quiet desperation, once they've discovered the joy of creation"? or "How do you get them back to being serial killers, once they've discovered that other people exist and that play is possible and that better games are available?"


A large component of the "great religions of man" consists in attempts to enslave man or subdue man "for his own good" or suppress man's evil impulses. This is religion motivated by fear, based on the idea that man is innately evil. It's the religion of high priests (or in our irreligious days, chiefly the religion of psychiatry, that views more and more of us as insane and seeks to suppress our "symptoms" with drugs, shock and other enforcements). The high priests know that we are evil and dangerous and must be kept in our places. They fear the creative, distrust joy, feel that the way to make us "good" is to threaten us with terrible eternal punishment (and deprivation of great rewards) if we step out of line.

One fine description of this view of religion and how it contrasts with the other is in Dostoyevski's parable (in "The Brother's Karamozov") of "The Grand Inquisitioner." Encountering Christ, upon Christ's return to earth, the Inquisitioner explains that he will have to have Christ burned at the stake, since Christ comes to bring freedom, and people don't want freedom, fear it, will be destroyed by it.

Those who hold by such beliefs would generally stress the following:

God's power is based on our own lack of power. To understand God's greatness, we must abase ourselves. Because God causes all things, we must not consider ourselves able to cause anything. That is, for example, the dark side of Calvinism (and most of what we call "Puritanism" derives from Calvinism) -- the idea that all is pre-determined, that there is no free will. Obviously if only God has freedom of action and if we have no freedom of action, there can be nothing of God within us.

People are basically bad. Goodness must be enforced upon us. Thus we need to believe that a few chosen (pre-determined) individuals (the high priests? inspired saints?) are good enough to enforce goodness on the rest of us. How does this fit in with the fairly wide-spread idea (not just in Western religions) that man is made "in the image of God"? I suppose it can be made to fit: We are so bad, that we took the perfection we were given and corrupted it.

[More basically, the idea that we are "made" ignores the idea that something in us is immortal. Immortality is not something that begins last Tuesday, then goes on forever. Something timeless has neither beginning nor end. What begins will end. At least that's my understanding of it. I speak, not out of theological reasoning, but from my own experience of, on occasion, simply knowing who I am, and at such times, I am aware of myself as having neither beginning nor ending. This is not something I can prove to you, though if I can persuade any of you to step out of your heads for a while (a heady experience), you'll know what I mean -- and probably many of you have already had that experience.]

I said I'd be brief. And, in theological terms, I've been very brief, but in Internet terms (where everyone is in a hurry), I've failed. Nonetheless, I'll say a bit more:

There are many examples of the mix of these two elements in any religion. I suspect that in most cases a visionary who has experienced great freedom tells others they too can be free of the things that entrap them (in dying bodies, loveless lives, cycles of brief pleasures that lead to long agonies, inability to express to others what is beautiful in themselves, inability to love, etc.). The rulers and big shots in the society see this as a danger (this guy is going to make these mobs of idiots strong, and they'll stand up to us), they try to suppress the new religion; this fails; therefore, the bought priests, in the name of the new religion, corrupt it, introduce a heavy dose of fear, hell, bureaucracy, complex rituals that involve the flow of wealth and power to the priesthood, punishments, etc. (But even, say proponents of freedom -- even the high priests are basically good beings. Just more difficult to reach then others, closer to being cinders or stones.)

When I read the Gospels, often I feel I am reading the words of a visionary (Jesus) who sought to free men. When I read Paul, I find a mix of this (mostly) with a bit of the other. When I read the Book of Revelations (written long after the death of Jesus), I feel I'm reading a book aimed at driving people nuts and carefully crafted to do just that. Its connection with the Jesus of the Gospels in extremely tenuous. I think whoever got it made part of the cannon was (like the guys who gave us the Nicene Creed and made it heresy to remember that one may have lived before this lifetime, so that the preciousness of the one and only body we are ever allowed to have makes it possible for Hell and Heaven to continue to make sense as stick and carrot) -- I think that guy was out to keep people under control as good little vulnerable pure-meat bodies, with souls like the batteries in the Energizer Bunny. And, of course, if salvation requires the end of the world, why would anyone bother with trying to improve conditions among the living and perhaps making waves in the process? Great control operation.

I won't try to elaborate, in detail, my evidences for this view. It would extend this message considerably. I'll just say that, first of all, what I object to in Revelations is not something specifically Christian. For example, The Book of Revelations echoes similar imagery and concepts in the Old Testament books of Ezekiel and Daniel. Also, my objection is not only to the degrading idea of man in that book (We aren't eternal unless God brings back the piece of meat we happen to use as an identity badge during a particular lifetime?), but also to the specific end-of-the-world incidents related, for those incidents happen to be designed to push certain overwhelming "buttons".

Analogy: Dad drives his kid to drink by beating the hell out of him and telling him he's no good. Kid moves away, stops drinking (with great effort expended in the process) and starts to put his life together. Dad shows up one day, sees the kid looking strong and alive, hates that, so says, "Look at you, you punk, you were never any good. Remember how you spilled milk on your Mom's best chair, how she cried; how you ran away that time, drove your Mom nuts; you were the death of her, and now you're a big shot, think you're better than your old man, probably don't remember how I sat up with you when you were sick...". And so on. What's he doing? Pushing every button he can think of to drive his son down again. To do so he brings up every past painful experience he can think of. Does it work? Depends on the kid, how tough he is, how much he understand what's happening. (The movie "Shine" does a good job of presenting a father-son relationship that's along these lines.)

Well, that's what I get when I read the Book of Revelations, but someone is pushing buttons that affect just about everyone. Old nightmares based on long-ago experiences.

When those of us who are not Christians or are Christians, but sometimes feel that certain fundamentalist groups are too "extreme", the actions we usually object to most are dramatizations of "Revelations", though any truth, when obsessive, becomes something scary.

How does one love as oneself all those people who, clearly (per "Revelations", nearly everyone), are doomed to eternal agony?

I could make finer distinctions within and between Gospel books, but am here looking at a broad and, I think, obvious distinction, just to make my point. Simply read the Gospel of St. Matthew, then read "Revelations" (read both in the same evening) and notice whether or not they belong in the same universe and express even remotely simlar visions. For me the only connection is that both have a simplicity and directness of expression.

Beyond that, when I read the first, I hear the voice of one who is wise and means us well. (This doesn't mean I agree with everything he says. It means I highly respect what he says.) When I read the other, I feel I'm hearing the repeated, mechanical ranting of a madman who is carrying an "end of the world is coming" sign and trying to drown out the visionary.

So, though I doubt that most people would consider me a Christian, I do hope you've had a merry one, and I hope that you are able to extricate from the knotted mishmash of Christianity (and the other major religions), the strand that is, indeed, merry. As William Butler Yeats says of Chinese wisemen in his poem, "Lapis Lazuli" (he's looking at a carving of them in that blue stone):

One asks for mournful melodies;
Accomplished fingers begin to play.
Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes,
Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Academia and Poets

Well, I've given in: I've decided to give these ramblings informative titles. This one is taken from my response to a quarrel between two poets about the efficacy of college education. It's basically a letter to someone who teaches poetry at a college and resented someone else's idea (not mine) that colleges are useless to a poet and most likely harmful:

I have a lot of mixed feelings about academia. I "go both ways" on it. I did 8 years of college and taught for 2 years as an Assistant Professor of English at Cornell, but dropped out of academia in 1969 and have not much looked back.

I think the value of a college education is often overrated, but I also think those who try to make nothing of college degrees or scholars or the like are glib on the subject.

For example, a while back a poet friend of mine in L.A. sent me a poem that harped on the rather too-familiar concept of scholars as being dry as dust and being a kind of parasitical growth on the great bards (especially Shakespeare). My response was (is):

Critics of Scholars

Poets love to gripe about the dry triviality
of scholarship. This is like a flower
telling the fertilizer it stinks.

Of course,too much fertilizer can kill,
and far too much shit gets heaped up
around Shakespeare and other eminences
(who yet tower above the heap);

but this Shakespeare, with whose blaze
we are wont to rout all scholars, as if
rousting bats from a cave by waving a torch --
this Shakespeare, who gave him to us?

We know him because scholars troubled to go blind
searching through scraps of quartos and folios
to patch together what we call "Shakespeare,"
while other scholars glossed for us
the lost meanings of Elizabethan English
("Get thee to a nunnery" -- who knew
that could mean a whorehouse or that,
as recent scholarship reveals, the flowers
in which Ophelia draped herself for drowning
were all well-known abortifacients?)

(Who cares? I do. I want to know.)

And Homer, who is he? (Or she? Or they?) The scholars
spent many a night, many a decade spinning like
Penelope to weave the epics into script
from an oral tradition, translate them, proof them,
annotate them. How much else was lost? We know
of writers called, in their time, greater than Homer,
of whose work no scrap remains. Of others (like Sappho
or Euripides) we have tens of stanzas out of thousands,
a few plays out of dozens.

Literature is a collaboration of creators and scholars
and readers. Most readers miss the point. Most scholars
multiply trivia. And most poets (Penelope's
false suitors?) are fully worthy of their readers.
But here and there a poet says something;
a few critics (how we scorn them!)
spread the word; scholars salvage it; and some readers
get it.

This is hard for most poets to accept: We want our fire
to burn so bright that generations-to-come will be unable
to miss the conflagration. We don't want to have to depend
upon anything or anyone besides our own brilliance.
We don't want to know that the greatest works we know
are known to us because some dusty scholar loved them.

No need to envy their role. WE are the source of power.
But even as we spurn those who lurk on our lines
of power to intercept admiration and redirect it
to their own poor simulacra (poor sponges, dry and brittle
without what they sop up from us), all the more
must we respect those who flow power to power.

I enjoyed much of my time in college, though I found grad. school mainly disappointing. As an undergraduate, I was working out my own ideas about literature, and found few students and fewer teachers who seemed to me to go very deep. I figured in Grad. School I'd find that depth, but most of the teachers and fellow students I encountered at Grad School (Stanford, 1963-67) seemed to me more shallow (and in more excruciating detail) than what I'd encountered as an undergrad.

I think of the seminar papers on Chaucer, for example, the A given a paper that enumerated a whole lot of animal images in Chaucer, the point being (in far more complex and portentous words than these) that there's a lot of animal imagery in Chaucer. I think also of a sweet-tempered, dim professor who gave me a B on what I thought was a good paper. I took it to him and asked why. He said, well, because there were no footnotes. I said, what should I have footnoted? The ideas were mine. I found nothing like them in the critical literature I read. He said, "Well... yes, but I think there should be footnotes."

But, to be fair to academia, when the pre-PhD written test came up a couple years later, there was a question on the same authors, and I responded with the same ideas, and another, younger professor graded it as high as he could (like A++) and said it was brilliant. (There were two guys reading that part of the test, which dealt with 17th Century poetry. One, a bright young guy named, loved my answer. The other was the eminent and coldly forbidding poet and scholar, Yvor Winters (apt name!), who wrote on my answer something like the following: "As I can't decipher his hand-writing, I won't grade his answer." That was a relief, since I'd had some little run-ins with Prof. Winters.)

The topic is very broad. Many of the best-known creative types of the 20th century either didn't go to college or (like F. Scott Fitzgerald) dropped out early. I don't know how to quantify this, but my impression is that the proportion of artists and creative types (writers, painters, inventors, etc.) who have avoided college is greater than the percentage for most other fields and that colleges have not particularly fostered creativity.

Then there's the issue of creative writing in the colleges and whether it fosters creativity or mass produces sameness (the Dana Gioia argument in "Can Poetry Matter"). I don't take sides on that one -- insufficient data, hard to form criteria. Poetry activities often foster sameness wherever poets travel in schools or flocks, whether academic or underground or in cozy poetry clubs.

Then there's the current moral bankruptcy alleged (with some justice) about many disciplines -- sciences, especially social and psych. and medical -- that seem to be operating, within academia, as shills for industry marketing (for example, the pharmaceutical industry). And earlier whole disciplines were created by endowments from CIA front foundations -- allegedly the source of college "Communications" departments and with heavy influence on language majors as well. The CIA endowed disciplines it felt would turn out graduates with the skills needed to man the ramparts in the Cold War (also, largely a CIA invention).

I think the withering away of the apprenticeship system is also relevant. In too many college subjects and in too many colleges, there's an imbalance in the direction of theorizing and away from application. I know this varies from discipline to discipline and from subject to subject, but I think (apart from credentials), in many fields the guy who finds a job in his area and spends his first four years out of high school learning on the job has advantages over the college guy in the same field. Some colleges do include apprenticeships. I know Antioch has always been big on that.

The most basic point about education is one you may find unreal. I've seen this phenomenon in action and seen the remedies work and produce quick, dramatic results: People get stupid when they go past words they don't understand and don't look those words up, get the various definitions and the derivation, see which definition applies, use the word in sentences, etc. Usually a "misunderstood idea" clears up (no matter how eloquently someone has been insisting it makes no sense) when you find out what word, just before that idea entered the text, was misunderstood. This is a tricky area, because the misunderstood word (or partially understood, etc.) is often NOT in the area where the student is having trouble. It's usually just before, right at the end of what the student understands.

Going past misunderstood words makes a student accumulate a sense of not knowing, a kind of hovering anxiety and not-thereness. If he does a lot of this (guessing at meanings from context, never learning to use a dictionary or just being too lazy to look up words), he either gets very stupid, dull, gets angry at the material, stops studying it, leaves school -- or he gets glib, able to say all the words, but not apply them.

[This datum comes from the literacy program promoted by Applied Scholastics. If you'd like information on their educational technology, which is close to miraculous, check out http://www.studytechnology.org/.]

Since most students are NOT taught this in school at any level, those who don't, on their own (or through some wise teacher or parent) learn to look up words do get stupider with study, drop out or become glib. This happens to anyone who reads a lot and doesn't know how to spot misunderstood words and symbols and get them cleared up. Most of the "I hate math" syndrome stems from words and symbols never cleared up in early education -- that and never having been given a clear idea of why they were studying math, what it's for. Sometimes a student can't begin to handle a subject because of misunderstood words in some earlier similar subject, and when that earlier subject is cleared up, the new one becomes easy.

Sometimes behind glibness is an inability to define the little words (like "to" and "in" and "as"). People simply go blank mid-page, find themselves reading the same lines over and over, with whole sections seeming to vanish from the page.

Since students are made to read a lot of text, often text that holds little personal interest for them, is just an assignment to be gotten through, students are likely to get stupider in the course of an education. I observed this myself in grad school and when teaching at Cornell: The freshmen, were brighter than the seniors and the undergrads were brighter than the grad students, this despite the fact that the grad students were, theoretically, a more elite group. I taught a seminar at Cornell (in what I called "The Involuted Novel" -- Nabokov, Kafka, Robbe-Grillet, Sterne, Melville's "The Confidence Man", stories from Borges) in which, both times I taught it, the students included undergrads and grads. Several of the undergrads got it right away and came up with some great ideas. (One wrote me an involuted final.) The grad students could only try to fit these books into pre-existing labels that missed the point. None of my fellow professors had a clue (the ones who got interested), though some of them who didn't get it, still said it was brilliant. (There was one prof. at Stanford who really got it -- and another who got it well enough to borrow from it, without acknowledgement, using my words as his own in at least one published article. Flattering!)

I know the stereotypes -- undergrad girls taking English for their MRS degrees, dumb jocks, etc. But my own experience was that the undergraduates, though they didn't always have the terminology, were brighter than the grad. students. And though most of the freshmen couldn't write a sentence in their first paper, they progressed a lot faster than the seniors.

On the other hand, where someone really could read and understand and think and apply, he'd be a powerhouse by the time he finished grad. school.

As for your statement that much of later college education deals with critical thinking, etc. -- I was told that in my day, but didn't find it so. Or rather, I didn't feel that the critical thinking promulgated went very deep. I don't know what it's like currently. One thing I do know: We didn't then have a huge number of college kids who'd been put on drugs in grade school. I imagine that in some ways college kids are in much worse shape now than even in the fabled druggie '60s. I do NOT believe that Ritalin is good for people or makes a student brighter or more alive. Ditto anti-depressants. Etc.

But this affects all areas of life (work place as much as academia). I mention it because I suspect that academia is not a better place now than it was in the 1960s, when I got my closest look at it.

I had several professors whose courses I enjoyed, one I greatly admired, but mostly I found the professors boring (in at least one case, this was my blindness, my preoccupation with going my own way, my assumption that no one had anything of value to say with me, but in most cases, I think they were simply boring). What made college interesting was the opportunity to seek out authors I cared for and to formulate my own ideas in papers. I wasn't with my fellow students and professors most of the time. I was "with" the authors I was reading and relating directly to them. The professors loomed dimly on the room's horizon, crass interlopers.

I felt the courses I taught were of some value to my students, but I didn't think they were valuable enough. I wanted to do more than that. But I stayed with academia until I felt maybe I could do better work elsewhere.

One way to put it is that certain works of literature gave me tremendous joy, and I wanted to make that joy or that source of joy accessible to others. Ditto the joys of creating literature. The difficulties I encountered, I'd say, were threefold:

1. Much expected of a professor seemed to me contra-productive. (Academic small talk, Staff meetings...yikes!)

2. Difficulties in conveying to students what I'd hoped to convey (but some victories along the way, large and small).

3. Difficulties in my own life that distanced me from my own capabilities to feel that joy, to create, to enjoy literature, and my having such difficulties lessened my confidence in the value of my work: If my own life stumbled about so much, what had I to give others? (And actually, I DID have some things to give, KNEW I did, but couldn't understand why, knowing the things I knew, I could still be so unhappy much of the time.) It seemed to me that it was necessary to resolve life itself (what makes joy accessible and makes wisdom stable enough to live with? What enables creation?).

(It didn't help that my first marriage had broken up my last year of grad. school, and that I'd come to Cornell because, of my acceptances, it was the one place that had appealed to my then wife. Then we broke up, she stayed at Stanford, and I was in "centrally isolated" Ithaca. Came to love the place, its gorges, fine autumns, etc., but that first year, 67-8, was rough.)

In retrospect, I learned some things worth learning -- with the help of professors or in spite of professors -- and found much to enjoy in college.

But whether academia overall has value is another matter. There are pluses and minuses, teachers who stimulate and teachers who dull, subjects that are mostly lies and opinions and arbitraries, subjects that produce useful results, etc. I think it possible that academia harms more than it helps. I also think that's a hard thing to measure. Whether or not YOU are doing something useful is not the point. You could be a paragon among educators. That wouldn't mean that the educational system is doing more good than harm.

These things are not so easy to sort out. Before Germany became NAZI Germany, its university system was supposed to be the finest in the world, admired and emulated by American colleges, for example. When Germany became book-burning, Jew-killing Germany, the unversities mostly went along with this or led the way. And German academics in the field of eugenics (like Ruden) anticipated Hitler and laid the groundwork for the Holocaust. (Note: Modern psychiatry descends in both theory and in avatars -- early leaders -- from that same eugenics movement, as does psychology -- well documented in several books, most notably "The Men Behind Hitler".)

How sane is our society? It can be and has been argued that the humanities lag behind the sciences, so that we have people who are spiritually and ethically deficient controlling way too much physical force (e.g., nuclear energy, genetic modification...), and that this air-conditioned, high-horse-power, connected-up nation is going to hell fast in many ways -- for example, the number of people medicated, the genetically altered food, the loss of environment and species (etc., etc.). The reverse can be argued, that things are better than ever before, that global warming is a figment of liberal imaginations, etc. cubed.

If, indeed, we're lopsidedly materialist (humanities underdeveloped), it's futile to blame science for this. We (literary types, for example) need to look to our own work -- what have we not done that we should have done? Have we, for example, failed to communicate broadly enough beyond narrow poetry circles? Or have we failed to find the wisdom that we should have been communicating?

If you happen to think that the planet isn't in great shape and that this society isn't in great shape, you need to ask what part of the responsibility for that must be borne by academia? I don't see us becoming NAZI America, but whatever we're becoming may turn out to be monstrous. So it is not terribly counter-intuitive to doubt whether our colleges are assets to long-term survival of individuals or the nation or the world. Are universities Horatio at the Bridge, stemming the forces of chaos and defending and creating civilization? Certainly the Pre-World-War-II German university staffs looked upon themselves that way, and were viewed that way by most university professors all over the world.

One answer is to say all this has nothing to do with higher academia. The world's problems are caused by stupid politicians, bad science, illiterate populace, bad elementary schools, churches, etc. Then one must ask, why haven't colleges turned out wise statesmen, responsible scientists, teachers who can teach, etc.?

I personally think that this planet has been on a downward spiral for a long time. I don't blame academia for this, but do think it more a part of the problem than part of the solution. But I tend to think of poets (academic or not) that way too. Not individual poets, just the general ruck of us.

I also think something can be done about it and that a lot of people (in and out of academia) are doing good things.

If you're doing good where you are, that's fine. Love the one you're with.

I have no way to prove to myself or others that I've done better for myself and others by leaving academia in 1969. But I don't regret having left. And I have my satiric moments, when, for example, I create verbal droodles like the following:

Hackademic poetry
Hackendemic poetry
Acanemic poetry
AKA demi-monde

Dean, but no longer an academic dean.

Ramblings - 5

Written in response to a poet who argued that poets should write about their own experience, because it's difficult to write "authentically about an "imaginary existence -- and elaborated since:

In another sense, it's impossible to make poetry about anything OTHER than an imagined existence, and, when writing about one's own experience, it is all too easy to slip into NOT imagining it and, therefore, not producing poetry. Writing about something a bit outside one's immediate experience (something many poets have done successfully, I think) is a good way to become aware of what is , in fact, authentic in art.

This happens in art, in love, in all our experience: We think because we have something that we can stop creating it. A man works hard to woo a woman, creates (or co-creates) an atmosphere, a game with complex roles, a shared reality. They marry. Now he "has" the woman and "has" the marriage, so he stops creating them. He stops creating the woman as being someone special, for example. He has the idea that once he "has" the things he so successfully created, he can stop creating them.

This is a lie. Creation is a continual process. If you stop creating who you are, you'll cease to be that person. If you stop creating a relationship, beneath the surface inertia, it will crumble away, leaving only a veneer, until that, too, flakes apart.

Similarly, one's "own experience" is something one "has". So one feels it doesn't have to be created (that is, imagined). Hence much confessional poetry is a bore. What it means or meant to the poet (for example, prolonged agonies of despair in much adolescent poetry), to the reader is hectic mush.

A poet writes the word "I" (meaning him/herself) and assumes thereby that the reader has received all that "I" means to the poet.

I first became aware of the trap of familiarity in college, when I wrote a short story based on something that happened to me and members of my family. When I wrote it, I used the real names of the people. The story seemed fully realized to me, all the characters vivid and alive. Then I decided to change all the names. When I reread it with the names changed, much of the life seemed to have gone out of it, and I realized I had work to do.

(No wonder artists who read their work to family and friends, but not to strangers, are so easily persuaded they are geniuses: They read their work only to people who already know the people and experiences presented.)

Just the trick of changing the names gave me a sense of how my skimpily imagined events (like undercooked cake) might seem to a reader who didn't know the "real people" in the story. Because I knew them all too well, I couldn't imagine imagining them.

Writing about "imaginary" situations makes us more aware of what it means to make something live for others, since it usually takes more work just to make it live for ourselves.

Apart from the above arguments, I suspect that we have all experienced a great deal more than we know, and that much we call imaginary is simply from lifetimes we've forgotten -- but that's a more controversial point.

On a still more esoteric note, I question the notion that one can't be another person and know that other person's intimate thoughts and perceptions. Seems to me that if empathy has limits, they aren't known. I'm not saying that I can do this any time I want to. But I think it's possible and is a skill or art worth developing, and one way to develop it is to take on viewpoints other than "one's own". After all, every time you write a poem, you try to take the viewpoint of some reader you may never even have met! And if you're writing for the ages, you try to assume viewpoints of those not yet born. At least I think that's part of the process.

For one famous poet's views on the subject of BECOMING someone or something else, look up John Keats' famous letter in which he argued that this is the heart of poetry. He called this ability "negative capability" -- negative, because one is able to cease to be oneself in order to become (in his own example) the sparrow out the window pecking at gravel.

Personally, I am less inclined to look at this ability as a means to produce poetry, than to consider poetry one way to practice and develop this ability. What distinguishes poetry I like and poetry I don't care for is not so much the skill or the beauty or the intensity, but a quality I call "stickiness" or lack thereof. When I read a poem that uses great skill to stick me to a viewpoint, passion or attitude like a fly to fly paper, I may admire it for the skill with which it entraps -- as I admire a well-done TV commercial. But I far prefer a poem that frees me from traps, renders them less sticky, allows passions and attitudes and ideas to become roles in games governed by a spirit of play. In my own work, I like to make attitudes slippery, leave the reader with no traction, let him slip about until he discovers it's up to him/her to create his feelings and attitudes, that they are not created for us. Or rather, only parodies of our own creations can be created for us.

Here, put on this gooey tragic mask -- isn't it noble! Oh, it won't come off, what a shame. Sorry, I must have dripped some aesthetic super-glue on it. But how noble!

If it sticks when I don't want it to, it contains a lie. That's my touchstone.

So if it's difficult to write authentically about something outside one's immediate experience, it may be, none the less, important to try. Because nothing is stickier than one's own experience -- especially the painful experience. And nothing art can do is more useful than it's ability (rarely) to dissolve that stickiness and rehabilitate our ability to adopt viewpoints at will, for example, to choose to be angry because it's appropriate and will communicate to someone, without becoming mired down in anger or to choose to be enthusiastic and truly be so.

I'm not saying a poet should fake anything -- pretend to feelings he doesn't feel, for example. I'm saying he should be able to choose to feel them and then really feel them, and then choose not to feel them and be free of them. That seems to me ideal. And he should be able to be himself writing about his life or be able to be another and capture that other's life with comparable immediacy. And so should we all, whether or not we are poets.

The first time I loved a girl, I thought I was falling in love -- that is, falling into something that I hadn't put there myself. Later, after several intense and sometimes miserable experiences, I became aware of the extent to which I was creating what I fell into -- much as I create you, perfect reader, in order to address you (and re-create myself as letters on a computer screen). I think the moment this became completely real to me was when I touched the steering wheel of my car tenderly and suddenly felt love for that steering wheel.

So the next time someone was interested in me, and I wasn't terribly interested myself, but wanted to be (wanted to have someone, saw no good "reason" not to be in love with her), I thought, "I can do this. I can put the love there." And I did it. It really happened. I found, in myself, something (admiration is part of it) that I could create and flow toward this person, and soon I found myself as much in love as I've ever been.

But the relationship didn't last. We didn't share the same goals, the same tastes, etc. And her love for me was apparently aimed at someone quite different from me, someone she mistook me for. So after a few years, it fell apart. But I was still creating the love. Despite knowing I was doing it, I found it hard to stop, hard not to think of things I needed to say to her (when she was no longer there), for example.

But it took only a couple months to unstick myself from what I'd created. With my first love, it had taken more than a year. Meanwhile, I'd learned two lessons:

1. It's not enough just to be able to create love at will. One must also be able to uncreate it, at least as an attachment to a particular person or thing.

2. Since that can be difficult, it's best to direct one's love toward someone likely to return it and to participate in a life that is likely to expand it -- shared activities, shared goals, etc.

What does this have to do with poetry and choice of subject? Hmmm -- Oh, yeah -- it has to do with stickiness and non-stickiness -- by which I mean, not teflon, but freedom. Teflon suggests imperviousness, whereas, to play any game worth playing, one must be willing to experience and let others create effects on one. But that needn't make one give up the ability to move on to other games and start them as fresh-spirited as a child faces a fine spring day.

It has to do with becoming aware of our own abilities to create -- and to uncreate.

It has to do with the extent to which what we create is not only real, but is all that IS real to us.

It has to do with the extent that our own experience is something we create, so that the act of experiencing includes the act of creating something (imagining something) that does not exist (until we imagine it). Therefore, any poem is the creation of something one has not experienced and deals with created experience. So that when someone says it is best to deal with one's own experience as opposed to something imaginary, he is also saying that it is not necessary to imagine one's own experience. And that's a kind of irresponsibility. It leads one towards solidity and deadness, a being simultaneously stuck in our own experience and having nothing to do with it.