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

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

It's Impossible to Understand

When horrendous things happen, like the Holocaust or 9-11, we often hear people say that such things are beyond understanding. Actually they are easy to understand once one realizes that there's nothing there to understand. That is, they are acts of no-understanding.

Most of us, except those who like to implicate the hand of God and then torment themselves asking why - most of us know this when it comes to hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and other "acts of God". That is, we don't try to understand them in the way that we try to understand human actions. We understand that they are not to be understood in that way.

Someone seeing odd marks on rocks and thinking they might be inscrutable ancient religious sculptures, might spend years puzzling them out, or, learning that they are typical of the markings made by glaciers, would feel an understanding. He would understand that they were not to be understood in that way.

Where we drive ourselves nuts is in trying to understand insane human action (for example, the Holocaust), assuming the understanding is there simply because human beings are the actors. But those who commit criminal actions are not there, are not the ones who act. A criminal will tell you, he didn't do it: his hands did it. The criminal's crime is not in the act, but in allowing himself to become less than he is, allowing forces no more human than hurricanes or glaciers to supplant him. Another word for this is "irresponsibility." A criminal is a person who is not responsible for his actions. And that means that the criminal doesn't do anything, doesn't cause anything. It is all done to him or through him. He was only following orders, whether from Hitler or from mysterious voices, compulsions, obsessions, needs, etc.

And, of course, to say "he couldn't help himself because he's mentally ill" is to validate this irresponsibility, to reward it. This is the main activity of psychiatrists in the legal system: To explain that it's OK for people to fail to take responsibility for their actions, and that this failure excuses those actions.

This passes for "understanding" in some circles: To understand bad actions is to be able to list the excuses for them. There's some truth to the notion that it helps to understand what a person has been through, but carried to an extreme, it amounts to telling us that we are all victims, incapable of taking responsibility for our actions.

When you look at insanity, you are looking at an absence of understanding. Trying to understand an absence of understanding is like talking to a chair or a table or a rock - or a hurricane - and expecting a verbal answer. Insanity is not difficult to understand once you realize that there is no understanding in it, nothing to be understood except that it cannot be understood.

That doesn't mean nothing can be done about it. It just gives you a starting point for increasing understanding. Once you know that the actions are insane, you know where to find the being (who understands...who IS understanding) - you know the being is not in that insanity, so now you can locate him and get in communication with him. How can you locate him, if you think he's the bundle of tics or stoniness right there in front of you. He'd like to be lost in his insanity - easier than confronting what he's done or allowed to happen. Our trying to understand it helps him stay lost.

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