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Psychosis – Toward a humble, intelligent and ethically sound approach

Exorcising a boy possessed by a demon from Trè...

Exorcising a boy possessed by a demon from Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, 15th century – Wikipedia

Psychosis is usually described within psychology and psychiatry as a fundamental break with reality.

Current theories say this apparent break is caused by biological and environmental factors, resulting in a breakdown or disintegration of the personality where normal judgement is severely impaired or absent. The break can be non-violent or violent, temporary or permanent.

However, humanity has never reached absolute consensus on the topic of reality. And for anyone to suggest that they ‘know it all’ is misguided, grandiose and, in the case of some mental health workers, a naive political act.

Psychiatrists like R. D. Laing and Stanislav Grof emphasize not just the drawbacks but the transformational benefits that may arise after a so-called breakdown. Providing that a breakdown is properly treated, Laing goes as far to say we should think in terms of breakthrough instead of mere breakdown.

Breakdown is only the first stage in developing a greater sense of self, spirituality and wisdom.

As the old saying goes, we have to break an egg to make an omelette. Instead of trying to put a runny egg back into a broken shell, it is better to simply let the omelette cook. In other words, psychiatric treatments that try to resume former ways of being may help for a while. But hopefully a person moves on and learns how to make sense out of a dramatically different life experience and emergent worldview.

Laing’s position is worthy of consideration but most mental health workers point out that psychosis is no trivial matter and should not be glibly romanticized. People and those close to them suffer dearly. True, some individuals recover and flourish after a psychotic episode but others never really get better, even with positive family and social supports. They limp along on disability payments, looking forward to their evening pill that lessens their pain or frightening hallucinations. Sadly, these pills also tend to dull the mind and, statistically speaking, have long term negative effects, to include early death.

A few anti-psychiatry writers at sites like Mad in America tend to overlook the possibility that some souls may never pass through their ordeal unscathed. Like ships dashed against the shoals in stormy weather, they sink or float shattered and aimless, never reaching the far shore of meaning and happiness.

Psychosis (video game)

Psychosis (video game) – Wikipedia

This is a tragedy for non-violent souls. But for those inclined to violence, it can be so much more than mere personal tragedy. And to overlook this is not just foolish. It’s socially irresponsible.

So who’s right? The critics or the psychiatrists?

The vast majority of people on both sides of this debate have good intentions and something to say. It is unfortunate that little positive dialog exists between the two groups because neither, in my opinion, fully understands the human psyche in relation to all of creation.

What’s at stake here is the definition of health and normalcy, and how that affects people’s lives.

If a person deviates too far from social conventions, there is a risk of being scapegoated by so-called normals. If left unchecked, this unfair dynamic can contribute to even greater unhappiness, discomfort and instability. So mental health becomes not just a personal issue but part of a greater social, political and economic dynamic.

I add the economic dimension because not being able to “work” as currently framed in the 21st century conversation is a huge stroke against individuals trying to break out of the psychiatric name-calling game. Arguably a kind of bullying, name-calling turns a blind eye to the fact that non-violent ‘crazy’ people rarely make money while violent, organized criminals often do.

Social organizations that brand themselves as “friends” of those with mental health labels may inadvertently reinforce the stigma:

Accept your label… take your meds… you’re doing so much better.

To my mind this is like telling a person of color:

Accept that you are a  &%$#@!, take a menial, dead-end job, and be happy with your lot!¹

R.D. Laing, perusing in 1983 The Ashley Book o...

R.D. Laing, perusing in 1983 The Ashley Book of Knots in a humorous allusion to his own work, Knots – Wikipedia

Defining reality and normalcy is not just a philosophical riddle. Difficulties also arise in religion when discerning health and goodness from dysfunction and evil. For example, in the New Testament story some believe that Jesus Christ is insane or possessed by a demon:

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebub[a]! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons – Mark 3:20-22.

Christian believers see Jesus’ rebuking his accusers as a sign of his divine intelligence but some nonbelievers see Christ as an egomaniac:

So Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house. I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.” He said this because they were saying, “He has an evil spirit.” – Mark 3: 23-30.

The belief that madness is caused by evil, possession by a demon or by God withdrawing favor was common in the ancient world. In prehistory we have archaeological evidence, circa 5000 BC, of holes drilled in skulls, presumably to release evil spirits that tormented the insane.²

Medieval book illustration of Christ Exorcisin...

Medieval book illustration of Christ Exorcising the Gerasenes demonic – Wikipedia

Today, many Christians of different denominations still believe that Satan wants to enslave victims in a psychological, social and spiritual hell. Not just in the next world, but now.

The Catholic clergy still perform exorcisms but also recommend psychiatry for mental discomfort. Adding to the ambiguity, the whole idea of spirituality varies from person to person.³

To further complicate things, many intelligent people believe that the idea of normality is a farce or illusion—a by-product of the most effective media spin.

The trouble with normal is it always gets worse.4

Not surprisingly, the relation between psychiatry and laws concerning individual rights and freedoms differ among countries and regions. In Russia we see a long history of political abuses involving psychiatry. That is, those who rub the Big Cheese the wrong way get locked up. But this isn’t just a Russian problem. Subtler kinds of psychiatry-based oppression and marginalization take place in North America.

So who can really say what’s normal and real? It almost seems like small or crafty minds try to fit everything into their own perspective. A perspective they are comfortable with.

But the fullness of life is rarely like that. Life changes and evolves. And it’s high time we realize this.

Related » Beatnik, Michel FoucaultMadness, Neurosis, Nietzsche

¹ Unlike some mainstream media outlets, I don’t wish to reinforce harmful words by indicating with a single letter. Please fill in the gap.

² This is a huge presumption. Our prehistoric ancestors might simply have thought the skull was too tight and were trying to relieve pressure, like letting air out of over-inflated tires. Point is, we cannot know.

³ See https://www.skeptic.com/reading_room/is-spirituality-so-broadly-defined-that-testing-is-meaningless/

4 https://youtu.be/kybkiiAKMOY

For more historical info see my highlights at LINER (scroll down)

 ‘I feel like I’m going crazy:’ Migrants in Greece are attempting suicide and suffering from other mental health issues at alarming rates (businessinsider.com)

 Why We’ve Been Thinking About Madness All Wrong: A Conversation With David Dobbs (psmag.com)

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Who’s got the power?

The Power of Choice

The Power of Choice: Simon Greening via Flickr

Way Back

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle defined power in a way that remarkably prefigures Sir Isaac Newton‘s three laws of motion.

Aristotle says power is

  1. The agent causing a change in something
  2. The ability or potential in an object enabling it to act
  3. The ability in an object to remain unchanged

Image – Wikipedia

Today

In the social sciences and political life power usually means the ability to make decisions that influence, regulate or coerce.¹

For democratic countries political power is limited to the extent that the next elected representative has the ability to change or modify a set of power relations, as we see with US President Trump trying to unravel or remedy, depending on how you look at it, many of former President Obama’s initiatives.

But power goes far beyond big politics and weighty issues. It is found in the doctor’s office, the workplace, the schools and our neighborhoods. And thinkers like R. D. Laing suggest that power manifests within family dynamics.

Oliver Twist – Wikipedia

A Little Theory

Different cultural critics hold diverse views of power and how it is best applied. From Machiavelli to Marx, power is always present. But just how it is interpreted is a uniquely human act.

Postmodern and other social thinkers often overlook the fact that power, as a noun, is ethically ambivalent. Both good and bad can things be modified by the adjective “powerful”—for example, powerful love and powerful hate.

The 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes argued that knowledge gained from philosophical understanding creates power. Hobbes added that such power should be applied in ways good for the Commonwealth. His argument is echoed in the G-8 countries’ rationale behind military strikes against the enemies of democracy and freedom. In Catholicism, this is called the “Just War.

Good and Evil – Wikipedia

Michel Foucault says power is embedded in our social relationships but he doesn’t emphasize an ethical dimension to power. Rather, Foucault sees power as an ongoing struggle of competing intentions.

To some observers, it is almost as if Foucault portrays ethics and morality as historically relative products of social power.

If true, good and evil are not absolute, timeless and universal truths. They are relative to a given social time and place. That is, good and evil are social constructions.

However, Jules Evans argues that Foucault’s later work, such as The Care of the Self (1984), reveals a developing interest in an ethic of wellness. As Foucault says:

Perhaps I’ve insisted too much on the technology of domination and power. I am more and more interested…in the mode of action that an individual exercises upon himself by means of the technologies of the self.²

Whether or not Foucault’s interest in wellness was purely intellectual or, perhaps, an emerging practical concern remains open to debate.

Anthropology, Depth Psychology and Religion

Supernatural – Juliana Coutinho via Flickr

Terms like mana, numinoustapas and orenda refer to a form of magical, mystical or spiritual power originating from beyond the realm of scientific predictability.

In keeping with Max Weber‘s idea of charisma, individuals with a lot of social power may possess, command or mediate a good deal of spiritual, otherworldly power.

I think Weber’s concept of charisma is important because, for some, it links spiritual and political power.

Science vs Religion

Power ON – Wikipedia

Another central question is whether or not a given set of otherworldly powers are good or evil. This issue was once of great importance. It is now pretty well passed over by the media and most everyone else.

In its place we have the popular mindset of “health” and “illness.” In a nutshell, science and technology have moved in where religion and ritual once held sway.

So the 21st century mass murderer is “mentally ill” and not “possessed by Satan.”

At least, this is how the courts see it. And they, to return to our initial topic, have the power

¹ See my highlights at LINER for some recent distinctions in the ongoing dialog about power:

Hard Power – http://lnr.li/C0mV7/

Soft Power – http://lnr.li/IQQXv/

Smart Power – http://lnr.li/0rJdk/

² Michel Foucault, lecture given in 1982 cited in Jules Evans, “Philosophy as a Way of Life,” Eurasian Home Analytical Resource, August 15, 2007.

³ Most traditional theologians would say the courts only hold as much power as God permits, God being the bearer of all power.

Related » Counter-discourse, Discourse, Poststructuralism

 Two Concepts of Polarization (3quarksdaily.com)

 The last sacred kings (aeon.co)

 What are your desert island philosophy essays? (ask.metafilter.com)

 If Time Is Money, They’re Both Lies (therooflesschurch.com)

 Porn stars go mainstream (foxnews.com)


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Poststructuralism – Another label to be avoided?

Saint Foucault

Saint Foucault by Sándor Iskender via Flickr

Poststructuralism could be defined as an approach to knowledge that appeared in the social sciences during the 1960s to 70s as a reaction against or outgrowth of structuralism.

The term poststructuralism was most chic within academic circles during the mid-1980s to early-90s, after which time ‘postmodernism’ became the mainstream term, aided perhaps by figures like Jean Baudrillard who made headline-grabbing comments about America’s involvement in the Gulf War.

In its heyday, the term poststructuralism generally contained elements found in postmodernism but referred more to social theory and the history of ideas rather than to art, music and architecture—these applying more to postmodernism.

Postmodernism being the broader term, it includes questions posed by poststructuralism.

Although Michel Foucault said he didn’t wish to be pigeonholed as any particular type of theorist, academics in the 1980s often described his later work as poststructuralist. And several other theorists have resisted the label ‘poststructuralist.’

The distinction between poststructuralism and postmodernism arguably remains unclear because representative or designated thinkers of each orientation tend to eschew clear-cut, linear modes of reasoning, along with the notion of consistent theory. And they tend to embrace the task of deconstructing the assumptions and practices associated with traditional approaches to knowledge.

Jean Baudrillard lecturing at European Graduat...

Jean Baudrillard lecturing at European Graduate School, Saas-Fee, Switzerland. (European Graduate School, June 12, 2004, http://www.egs.edu/). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With regard to structuralism, the poststructuralist/postmodern disputes the structuralist belief in universal patterns comprised of binary opposites.

The meaning of the term poststructuralism continues to evolve, especially with the turn to integrating spirituality within a poststructural paradigm, or lack of one.

With the arrival of the internet, broadband, dramatically increased computing power, and a dazzling array of software, digital media and mobile devices, some suggest that poststructuralism and postmodernism are yesterday’s news, these giving way to newer trends of ‘performatism‘¹ and ‘digimodernism.’²

However, this seems a bit rash. Have we really stopped deconstructing accepted (and acceptable) truth claims – i.e. thinking critically – in favor of playing with hypnotizing gizmos or, perhaps, escaping or being distracted through fake news, Facebook likes, and other superficial pursuits?

Let’s hope not.

¹ See http://www.performatism.de/What-is-Performatism

² Alan Kirby’s Digimodernism: How New Technologies Dismantle the Postmodern and Reconfigure Our Culture

Related » Comparative Religion, Counter-Discourse, Discourse, Power, Marx (Karl)

Highlights by Liner http://lnr.li/VZq8J/


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Postmodernism – Not necessarily absurd or without wings

Inside My Secret Cloning Chamber

Inside My Secret Cloning Chamber: Stuck in Customs / Trey Ratcliff

The term postmodernism became popular in the 1970s and 80s but has roots reaching back through the centuries.

Social theorists usually try to define concepts through a key set of ideas and parameters. Postmodernism challenges conventional perceptions of “the definition” and few seem to clearly agree on its meaning. This is partly because postmoderns questions the very act of defining, labeling and signifying.

If postmodernism has a core idea, it might be that it paradoxically has no core idea upon which to stand. Some say that makes postmodernism absurd. But that stance seems intellectually childish.  Questioning something doesn’t render the process meaningless, as amorphous as outcomes may be. Truth isn’t always black and white and only conceptual control freaks reject uncertainty.

In one sense, postmodernism is a reaction against the kind of scientific certainty associated with the enlightenment and (some definitions of) modernism. It is also a reaction against the proclaimed truths and teachings of religion.

Garry Knight – Post-Modern Architecture – An example of the post-modern style of building seen increasingly along the Thames riverside via Flickr

With regard to scientific truth claims, postmoderns challenge the idea of natural laws that accurately predict future events. They also dispute the assumption that these laws don’t change over space and time. These challenges are especially prevalent in the social sciences but also crop up in physics.

In psychology, postmodernism questions the notion of a stable, unchanging and eternal aspect of the self, such as a soul. Perhaps the ironically enduring truth of many (but not all) postmoderns is the conviction that truth claims are relative to a given culture or subculture.

Michel Foucault, for instance, says power is the creative agency that generates social truth. For Foucault, power not only represses individuals and certain types of belief, knowledge and practice. Power also has the ability to create discourses of truth. These created truths bear tangible effects on persons and their bodies.

Because power constructs truth, postmoderns are concerned to “deconstruct” taken for granted truth claims that have consciously or unconsciously slipped into public use and practice.

By way of example, a few popular areas of deconstruction are notions of the natural, the sane, and social progress. What do we really mean by using these terms? Are we implying a social truth instead of an absolute truth? Who benefits from this dynamic? And who gets the short end of the stick?

In the arts, postmoderns combine different elements from various styles and genres. And the notion of the ‘fragment’ is accepted in postmodern art, literature and philosophy. A good example of valorizing the fragment is found in rap, hiphop and club music where digital tech easily reproduces and mixes past musical and non-musical samples within a new artistic production.

versionz – postmodernism via Flickr

The postmodern scene has become somewhat holistic, even spiritual, particularly with figures like Jacques Derrida who talks about a ‘metaphysical space’ between links in endless chains of connotation. Likewise, Stuart Hall‘s cross-cultural perspective points to new avenues of inquiry once closed off critical theory.

Historia painting by Nikolaos Gyzis (1892)

Additionally, the contemporary discipline of postmodern theology shifts the meaning once again as to what it means to be postmodern.

Daniel J. Adams’ “Toward a Theological Understanding of Postmodernism” (Cross Currents, Winter 1997-98, Vol. 47 Issue 4 ) might be taking postmodernism in the opposite direction from which it came. Adams says postmodernism is restoring the sacred in an age turned off by religious dogma and yet ironically blinded by the new dogmas of scientific materialism.

These latest postmodern trends suggest that a responsible view of the individual in society integrates biological, psychological, social and spiritual factors. So postmodern thinkers may try to separate the spiritual from the cultural in any belief system, be it religious or nationalistic.

Funnily enough, I found from direct experience that even a basic Catholic RCIA course, geared toward the general public, deconstructed the cultural from the spiritual within the Bible. So to say that postmodernism kills spirituality or leads to absurdity simply shows the ignorance of those upholding that belief.

Postmodern theology combines the best of Pontius Pilate – “What is Truth?” – and Christ – “I am…the Truth” – as portrayed in the New Testament.¹ And because we live in an imperfect world with lots of spin, this just makes sense.

¹ John 18:38, John 14:6

Related » Discourse, Language, Karl Marx, Poststructuralism, Susan Sontag, The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology (PDF)

Postmodernism – Wikipedia

Oct 10 2017  Highlights with LINER

_____

Postmodernism describes a broad movement that developed in the mid- to late 20th century across philosophy, the arts, architecture and criticism which marked a departure from modernism.

_____

The term postmodern was first used around the 1880s.

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In 1921 and 1925, postmodernism had been used to describe new forms of art and music.

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In 1949 the term was used to describe a dissatisfaction with modern architecture

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In 1971, in a lecture delivered at the Institute of Contemporary Art, London, Mel Bochner described “post-modernism” in art as having started with Jasper Johns

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Post-structuralism resulted similarly to postmodernism by following a time of structuralism.

_____

Martin Heidegger rejected the philosophical basis of the concepts of “subjectivity” and “objectivity” and asserted that similar grounding oppositions in logic ultimately refer to one another. Instead of resisting the admission of this paradox in the search for understanding, Heidegger requires that we embrace it through an active process of elucidation he called the “hermeneutic circle”.

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Jacques Derrida re-examined the fundamentals of writing and its consequences on philosophy

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Michel Foucault introduced concepts such as ‘discursive regime’

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Jean-François Lyotard identified in The Postmodern Condition a crisis in the “discourses of the human sciences” latent in modernism but catapulted to the fore by the advent of the “computerized” or “telematic” era (see information revolution).

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Richard Rorty argues in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature that contemporary analytic philosophy mistakenly imitates scientific methods.

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Jean Baudrillard, in Simulacra and Simulation, introduced the concept that reality or the principle of “The Real” is short-circuited by the interchangeability of signs in an era whose communicative and semantic acts are dominated by electronic media and digital technologies.

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One of the most well-known postmodernist concerns is “deconstruction,” a theory for philosophy, literary criticism, and textual analysis developed by Jacques Derrida. The notion of a “deconstructive” approach implies an analysis that questions the already evident understanding of a text in terms of presuppositions, ideological underpinnings, hierarchical values, and frames of reference.

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Structuralism was a philosophical movement developed by French academics in the 1950s, partly in response to French Existentialism. It has been seen variously as an expression of Modernism, High modernism, or postmodernism[by whom?]. “Post-structuralists” were thinkers who moved away from the strict interpretations and applications of structuralist ideas.

_____

The idea of Postmodernism in architecture began as a response to the perceived blandness and failed Utopianism of the Modern movement.

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Postmodernism is a rejection of ‘totality’, of the notion that planning could be ‘comprehensive’, widely applied regardless of context, and rational. In this sense, Postmodernism is a rejection of its predecessor: Modernism.

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Literary postmodernism was officially inaugurated in the United States with the first issue of boundary 2, subtitled “Journal of Postmodern Literature and Culture”, which appeared in 1972.

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Jorge Luis Borges’ (1939) short story Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote, is often considered as predicting postmodernism

_____

Samuel Beckett is sometimes seen as an important precursor and influence.

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The postmodern impulse in classical music arose in the 1960s with the advent of musical minimalism.

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Criticisms of postmodernism are intellectually diverse, including the assertions that postmodernism is meaningless and promotes obscurantism.


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Plotinus – Is “The One” really God?

Plotinus

Plotinus – Wikipedia

Plotinus (205-70 CE) was an ancient Greek speaking philosopher thought to have been born in Egypt. He established a branch of philosophy that, since the Renaissance, has been called Neoplatonism.

At Rome in 244 CE he became a prominent teacher of asceticism, encouraging the introspective life. Later, he founded a short-lived community in Campania, based on an ideal society outlined in Plato‘s Republic.

Plotinus’ works were edited by his disciple Porphyry and put into six groups of nine, called the “Enneads.”

Perhaps Plotinus’ most important contribution to the history of ideas is his notion of the One. For Plotinus, the One is Goodness and Beauty existing before, and the ultimate source of all observable differences found in, our world of becoming. Our world emanates from the One, this process setting up a complicated and hierarchical series of arrangements, or dyads, all leading back up to the One.

Psycho-spiritual liberation is best found in personal union with the One, described as an ephemeral experience of pure, insurmountable delight. According to Porphyry, Plotinus had four of these ecstatic experiences during the time these two men knew each other.

Plontinus’ work has been widely influential. The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung mentions the term “Word Soul” (anima mundi) when speaking of the archetype of the self. And New Age and Gnostic circles have adapted his legacy in countless ways. Artists, musicians and poets have also tried to capture or develop the essence of his thought.¹

Plotinus

An anachronistic portrait of Plotinus – Wikipedia

Basically, Plontinus believes we can become one with God. By way of contrast, most monotheistic religions believe that we can have a relationship with God but never actually be the same as God.

This difference is key and, I think, could influence how we understand and experience our world.

Consider an analogy: If an ant falls into a sugar jar it might eat tons of sugar and become totally absorbed with the sweet substance. For the ant, this is Heaven on Earth and nothing is greater.

Likewise with some people. One experience of extreme absorption and they assume they have found the ultimate. This could be unfortunate because that presumption might prevent them from encountering even greater perspectives and experiences.

¹ Although Elton John’s 1992 song “The One” is really about meeting a soulmate, I think one could argue that Plotinus’ ideas, along with the notion of chakras, have an indirect influence. See https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/eltonjohn/theone.html

Plotinus – Wikipedia

Oct 6 2017  Highlights with LINER

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His metaphysical writings have inspired centuries of Pagan, Islamic, Jewish, Christian, and Gnostic metaphysicians and mystics

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Plotinus had an inherent distrust of materiality (an attitude common to Platonism), holding to the view that phenomena were a poor image or mimicry (mimesis) of something “higher and intelligible” [VI.I] which was the “truer part of genuine Being”. This distrust extended to the body, including his own; it is reported by Porphyry that at one point he refused to have his portrait painted,

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From all accounts his personal and social life exhibited the highest moral and spiritual standards.

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Plotinus taught that there is a supreme, totally transcendent “One”, containing no division, multiplicity or distinction;

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Plotinus identified his “One” with the concept of ‘Good’ and the principle of ‘Beauty’.

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The “less perfect” must, of necessity, “emanate”, or issue forth, from the “perfect” or “more perfect”. Thus, all of “creation” emanates from the One in succeeding stages of lesser and lesser perfection. These stages are not temporally isolated, but occur throughout time as a constant process.

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The One is not just an intellectual concept but something that can be experienced, an experience where one goes beyond all multiplicity.

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Plotinus writes, “We ought not even to say that he will see, but he will be that which he sees, if indeed it is possible any longer to distinguish between seer and seen, and not boldly to affirm that the two are one.”

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Plotinus never mentions Christianity in any of his works.

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Henosis is the word for mystical “oneness”, “union”, or “unity” in classical Greek. In Platonism, and especially Neoplatonism, the goal of henosis is union with what is fundamental in reality: the One (Τὸ Ἕν), the Source, or Monad.

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As is specified in the writings of Plotinus on Henology,[note 1] one can reach a state of tabula rasa, a blank state where the individual may grasp or merge with The One.

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For several centuries after the Protestant Reformation, Neo-Platonism was condemned as a decadent and ‘oriental’ distortion of Platonism.

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Plotinus seems to be one of the first to argue against the still popular notion of causal astrology. In the late tractate 2.3, “Are the stars causes?”, Plotinus makes the argument that specific stars influencing one’s fortune (a common Hellenistic theme) attributes irrationality to a perfect universe, and invites moral turpitude.[clarification needed] He does, however, claim the stars and planets are ensouled, as witnessed by their movement.

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One of his most distinguished pupils was Pico della Mirandola, author of An Oration On the Dignity of Man. Our term ‘Neo Platonist’ has its origins in the Renaissance.

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Plotinus was the cardinal influence on the 17th-century school of the Cambridge Platonists, and on numerous writers from Samuel Taylor Coleridge to W. B. Yeats and Kathleen Raine.

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Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Ananda Coomaraswamy used the writing of Plotinus in their own texts as a superlative elaboration upon Indian monism, specifically Upanishadic and Advaita Vedantic thought.

 Elton John is the muse for Gucci’s latest maximalist mille-feuille collection (telegraph.co.uk)


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Pollution – Not always what you think

Girls Fashion Scooter Mask Helmet Pollution

From the 1960s and 70s onward, awareness of environmental pollution has increased steadily. In 2017 the Green movement is almost like a religion for many.

Personalities like Al Gore present themselves as objective reporters of scientific fact while promoting particular agendas on climate change. Meanwhile, the scientific and greater debate on global warming rages on.

The media tends to emphasize industrial pollution generated by so-called developed countries. But organic pollution from human and animal waste is a huge contributor to early death and preventable disease—especially in densely populated, economically underdeveloped countries.

We are all aware of pollution. People wear masks in public. Not just in China but where I live in Toronto.

Falun Gong in Toronto – Wikipedia

However, there are at least three additional types of pollution that many overlook.

Social Pollution

Social pollution is about social activities that an opposing group, usually a ruling power, says pollute the social body, as we find in China.

“The same people that are cracking down on issues like democracy and Falun Gong are concerned about things like ‘spiritual pollution,'” Economy said. “And every several years — maybe five to seven years — China is likely to have a ‘spiritual pollution’ campaign and ‘anti-spiritual pollution’ campaign which means that they don’t like what they perceive to be coming from the West: sex, the freedoms, drug use; all of these very sensationalistic television programs.”¹

Jagannath Ghat – Kolkata_2012 – Wikipedia

Ritual Pollution

In religious scripture and practice we find the idea of ritual pollution, as in the Bible‘s Old Testament.

According to Leviticus 15: 19-23, women are impure and can spread this impurity for a certain period during and after menstruation:

When a woman has a discharge, if her discharge in her body is blood, she shall continue in her menstrual impurity for seven days; and whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening. Everything also on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean, and everything on which she sits shall be unclean. Anyone who touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening. Whoever touches any thing on which she sits shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening. Whether it be on the bed or on the thing on which she is sitting, when he touches it, he shall be unclean until evening.

More dramatically, Eric Lafforgue says the idea of ritual pollution has deadly consequences among the Hamar in southern Ethiopia.

Twins, a child born outside of formal marriages are considered to possess mingi (abnormality, pollution, unclean) and, for this reason, they are abandoned into the bush to die.²

Title page of a Eighteenth century popular Pamphlet on the effects of masturbation on the health of the individual. This pamphlet was one of the first to warn against the dangers of onanism – Wikipedia

Spiritual Pollution

Beliefs about spiritual purity and impurity can be found that are not necessarily linked to a particular social or physiological taboo.

As evident from the works of the Indian holy men Sri Ramkrishna and Sri Aurobindo, the distinction between pure and impure is also made on the basis of an individual’s perceived spiritual development.

The Hindu guru (Skt = spiritual teacher) often keeps a safe distance from disciples to avoid being overwhelmed by their spiritual impurities. The guru allegedly intercedes for disciples to help purify them—that is, to cleanse their souls from the subtle crud accumulated from their ungodly attitudes and behavior.

From the guru’s perspective, the disciples’ spiritual discomfort is alleviated through intercessory meditation, ritual and prayer.

The poet Kálidása (c. 5th century CE) mentions a similar dynamic involving spiritual pollution and purity in his Shakuntala.

It is natural that the first sight of the King’s capital
should affect you in this manner;
my own sensations are very similar.
As one just bathed beholds the man polluted;
As one late purified, the yet impure:-
As one awake looks on the yet unawakened;
Or as the freeman gazes on the thrall,
So I regard this crowd of pleasure-seekers.³

Likewise, Jainism makes use of the symbolism of iron filings (the impurities of non-liberated souls) automatically flying to a magnet (the pure and liberated soul).

Similar ideas about subtle yet tangible pollution are found in the Christian mysticism of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Teresa of Avila and St. Faustina Kowalska.

Image via The Chrysalis

Most spiritual perspectives differ on some of the finer points but all agree that subtle impurities may transfer from one person to another.

Buddhism speaks of karmic weights and skandhas that transfer and cluster over space and time, contributing to the apparent illusion of individuality.

In Jungian depth psychology, the notion of a subtle transfer of light and dark qualities is found in the discussion of alchemy, where Jung and his followers liken human relationships to complex chemical interactions.

Ethics and Pollution

Implicit to any discussion of spiritual pollution is the realm of ethics. The classic religion scholar Rudolf Otto says a morally evil action is “self-depreciating” and “pollutes,” leading toward imagery suggesting the need for “washing and cleansing.”4

So the next time someone tells you we have a polluted environment, you might ask what they are saying.

When we say someone is “toxic” do we simply mean they are a drag to be with or is there more to the picture? And how about “bad vibes?”

Metaphor or reality?

¹ Nikola Krastev, “China: Report Says Media Control Is Tightening,”Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Thursday, February 23, 2006.

² See commentary at flickr.com/photos/mytripsmypics/3231940994.

³ From the Shakuntala by Kálidása, circa 5th century CE, in A Treasury of Asian Literature, ed. John D. Yohannan. New York: Meridian, 1984.

4 The Idea of the Holy, second edition, trans. John W. Harvey, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973 [1923], p. 55. For more on religious and spiritual pollution see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ritual_purification

 Wood burning could be banned in some parts of London (telegraph.co.uk)

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 Will Climate Change Not Affect Everyone Equally? (pollutionpollution.com)

 Saving the Environment, One pureWash Pro at a Time (pcrichard.com)

 How taxpayers’ money is being used to fuel Europe’s deadly diesel pollution (euronews.com)

 Long-term Kidney Diseases can be a result of Air Pollution (medindia.net)

 NGT refuses to lift ban on 10-year-old diesel vehicles in Delhi-NCR (scroll.in)

 Petition launched to recognise Great Pacific Garbage Patch as a country (dezeen.com)

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 The Daily Fix: Polluting coal power plants undermine India’s climate change mitigation commitments (scroll.in)


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Freud’s Pleasure Principle – Missing the point of spiritual healing?

Sky Diving Sigmund Freud

Archie McPhee Sky Diving Sigmund Freud via Flickr

Sigmund Freud believed that human beings begin life by seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. This “pleasure principle” initially takes the form of relieving instinctual tensions generated by the id through activity or hallucination.

When one grows older and the ego matures, one normally advances to the reality principle, where gratification through childish activity or hallucination is replaced by socially acceptable behaviors.

This new behavioral repertoire is, ideally, appropriate to the various demands of the entire inner and outer environment.

But for Freud it’s not a happy solution. Freud had a pessimistic outlook, seeing mankind as the “walking wounded”—that is, forever saddled with psychological complexes never fully resolved nor surpassed.

Had his model included the idea of grace, Freud might have appreciated how God can touch us and heal our wounds. But as an atheist, Freud’s model is severely limited and limiting.

Elton John was probably talking about romantic love in his classic song, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” But even so, God doesn’t always beam us directly from above. God’s love often comes through other people, by way of friendliness, physicality, intercession or some combination of thereof.

But these cuts I have they need love to help them heal¹

When I was young and just beginning university I found Freud liberating. Here was a guy who had seemingly opened the door to the unconscious. To my youthful self, Freud had given us a map to make sense of our anxiety, shame and pain. But soon after, upon discovering Carl Jung, and having experiences better explained – at that time – within a Jungian framework, Freud’s model suddenly seemed sort of small and dark.²

Sigmund Freud by Max Halberstadt via Wikipedia

I remember talking with a guy in a New Age bookstore about the two theorists as I was purchasing books by Jung for my PhD studies, upon which I was just embarking. The bookstore guy summed up my feelings nicely:

Freud will drive you crazy. Jung won’t.

I laughed and went my merry way.

Now, many years later, I’ve come to appreciate Freud again, but within the context of acknowledging a pioneer who, for whatever reasons, could only go so far.³

And Jung, well, as I’ve said elsewhere, to me he seems like a kind of kindergarten mystic. But this is not the place to elaborate on that!

¹ https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/eltonjohn/dontletthesungodownonme.html

² I’ve taken several courses dealing with Freud. The best one-volume summary I’ve encountered is Charles Rycroft’s A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, Harmondsworth: Penguin 1977. This entry owes much to that, especially p. 121.

³ For more, here are a few highlights I made with LINER.

Pleasure principle (psychology) – Wikipedia

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Epicurus in the ancient world, and Jeremy Bentham in the modern, laid stress upon the role of pleasure in directing human life, the latter stating: “Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure”. Freud’s most immediate predecessor and guide however was Gustav Theodor Fechner and his psychophysics.

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Freud contrasted the pleasure principle with the counterpart concept of the reality principle

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Maturity is learning to endure the pain of deferred gratification.

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Freud argued that “an ego thus educated has become ‘reasonable’

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In his book Beyond the Pleasure Principle, published in 1921, Freud considered the possibility of “the operation of tendencies beyond the pleasure principle, that is, of tendencies more primitive than it and independent of it”. Through an examination the role of repetition compulsion in potentially over-riding the pleasure principle, Freud ultimately developed his opposition between Libido, the life instinct, and the death drive.