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Emile Durkheim

Emile Durkheim (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The issue of suicide has plagued humanity since ancient times. The Greek and Roman Stoics condoned suicide in certain circumstances, such as extreme illness, loss of faculties or to avoid serving a tyrant; whereas the Christian theologian St. Thomas Aquinas unequivocally said, “suicide is the greatest crime,” both against oneself and society.

The pioneering French sociologist Emile Durkheim (1858–1917) published a statistical study that outlined four distinct types of suicide: Egoistic, Altruistic, Anomic and Fatalistic.

For Durkheim, each suicide group corresponds to a specific societal orientation.

  • Egoistic suicide arises from excessive individualism and lack of integration without a greater social purpose. Along these lines, Durkheim believes that Protestants suicide more frequently than Catholics because the former are not as tightly knit within their Church.
  • Altruistic suicide arises from a lack of individualism combined with an excessive identification with some greater social purpose, such as the Japanese Kamikazi pilots of WW-II or the Middle Eastern suicide bombers of the 21st century.

The term “altruistic” sounds strange in this context, but Durkheim claims to not make moral judgments within his theory. He merely seeks to understand the type of relationship between (a) the person committing suicide and (b) their social group.¹

  • Anomic suicide arises from feeling alienated in a society characterized by diffuse social ideals and a lack of clearly defined meaning. For instance, Durkheim found that high divorce rates were linked with high suicide rates.
  • Fatalistic suicide is the opposite of anomic suicide. Fatalistic suicide is characterized by a sense of helplessness and futility in a harshly regulated social system, as found in societies condoning master-slave relationships.

While his theory has its limitations, Durkheim is important to the history of the social sciences because he looked at European demographics to try to understand suicide as a social phenomenon, just as social psychologists, researchers and advertising agencies gather and interpret data today.

¹ (a) One could argue that a dispassionate study like Durkheim’s implies some kind of moral agenda—e.g. that it’s a good and worthwhile thing to do. (b) The Hale Bopp Comet or Heaven’s Gate suicides of 1997 would probably be seen as altruistic suicide according to Durkheim’s schema. This California-based UFO group believed the Earth was about to be destroyed. For members, the only way to survive was to move to a higher level; and to do so this group believed they had to die at a precise cosmic moment, somewhat like jumping on a train when it’s at the station. Because the Earth is still much the same as it was in 1997, it seems reasonable to say that this community was sadly misguided.


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English: visual representation of the Freud's ...

Freud’s id, ego and super-ego and the level of consciousness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Sigmund Freud‘s psychoanalytic theory, the superego is the conscious or unconscious element of the ego that is formed from the child’s internalization of parental values, beliefs and prohibitions.

Because the superego is internalized in childhood, its moral injunctions are partially based on imagined rather than actual parental demands.

Modell of the human psyche according to Sigmun...

Model of the human psyche according to Sigmund Freud. The id, ego and superego are shown (Photo credit: Wikipedia).

A common mistake among popular psychologists is to equate the superego with the conscience.

Although influencing moral attitudes, the superego differs from the conscience. Internal conflicts can arise between the superego and the conscience or between the superego and more recently acquired attitudes and beliefs.

Later in his career Freud talks about a “cultural superego,” as he becomes a budding sociologist. Wikipedia explains:

In Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents (1930), he also discusses the concept of a “cultural super-ego”. Freud suggested that the demands of the super-ego “coincide with the precepts of the prevailing cultural super-ego. At this point the two processes, that of the cultural development of the group and that of the cultural development of the individual, are, as it were, always interlocked.”[32] Ethics are a central element in the demands of the cultural super-ego, but Freud (as analytic moralist) protested against what he called “the unpsychological proceedings of the cultural super-ego … the ethical demands of the cultural super-ego. It does not trouble itself enough about the facts of the mental constitution of human beings.”¹


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Still life after death? - (Cè vita oltre le nature morte?): foodriver / Vittorio

Still life after death? – (Cè vita oltre le nature morte?): foodriver / Vittorio via Flickr

Surrealism is a form of art and literature developed between WW-I and WW-II, particularly in France.

The groundbreaking surrealist treatise of André Breton (1924) challenged 19th century Realism by advocating humor, dreaminess and the absurd. Breton, himself, was trained in medicine and psychiatry, and treated shell-shocked soldiers with Sigmund Freud‘s “talking cure” method (i.e. the psychoanalytic method).

In artistic expression and, perhaps, as a lifestyle surrealism explores sublime (or bizarre) realities apparently existing behind our conventional perceptions and paradigms.

As suggested in the above, the art form was influenced by Freud‘s model of the unconscious.

Anonym: André Breton, 1924

André Breton, 1924 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The surrealist works of Salvador Dali depict the world of dreams. Other important surrealists are Max Ernst and Jean Arp, and its impact extends to Pablo Picasso and Paul Klee.

In literature, surrealism is found in the verse of Paul Eluard, the absurd, ironic plays of Eugène Ionesco and Samuel Beckett as well as in the psychologically charged novels of William S. Burroughs. Surrealism also enters into music, film and TV.¹

Today, surrealism refers to any noticeably enhanced or distorted representation or interpretation. In everyday speech, people will say “that’s so surreal” when encountered with things or events laying just outside their psychological comfort zone. This kind of usage may be slightly positive or negative.

¹ For more, see

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Structure of psyche as a pyramid according to ...

Structure of psyche as a pyramid according to Carl Gustav Jung. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

M. H. Abrams says that a symbol is anything that signifies something else. Abrams also notes the distinction between public and private symbols. The public symbol, such as the cross, is (apparently) understood by everyone in a given culture. The private symbol, such as an obscure poetic allusion, isn’t.

This distinction, however, is open to debate. Not everyone in a given culture interprets the cross in the same way.

In literature a symbol is

a word or phrase that signifies an object or event which in turn signifies something, or suggests a range of reference, beyond itself.¹

In Jungian depth psychology, the symbol is an image that mediates forces from the collective unconscious to ego consciousness. These forces can be healing (the cross image) or destructive (the serpent image).²

Jung believes that symbols arise from the unknowable archetypes but are understood through archetypal images. Archetypes apparently mingle among themselves; likewise, archetypal images are discrete but exhibit similarities. For Jung, psychic energy flows between the collective unconscious and the symbol in a two-way process.

Jungian Erich Neumann says the symbol acts as both as an “energy transformer” and as a “moulder of consciousness.” As an energy transformer the symbol facilitates the ego’s experience of the numinous, arising from the collective unconscious. As a moulder of consciousness, the symbol operates on the level of collective consciousness by contributing to a given culture’s ideology.

Jung believes that the conscious and unconscious parts of the mind are linked, so trying to ignore one in favor of the other is not a good idea. He’s widely quoted from The Undiscovered Self (1958):

You can take away a man’s gods, but only to give him others in return.

Chinese Stamp, 1950. Joseph Stalin and Mao Zed...

Chinese Stamp, 1950. Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong are shaking hands. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Along these lines, charismatic political leaders of the mass state cannot avoid being glorified or demonized. This happens through brute force, clever calculation and public fascination and projection. Jung believes, for example, that a placard of Joseph Stalin expresses an archetypal force articulated on the conscious level that both sways and oppresses individuals.

A more contemporary example would be the psychological effect that massive banking towers (symbolizing Big Business) have on the poor and disenfranchised. And in ancient cultures such as Greece, Rome and Egypt, impressive architecture probably had a similar effect on slaves, the exploited, the underprivileged and on less affluent visitors from foreign lands.

No discussion of the symbol would be complete without mentioning semiotics and poststructuralism. These contemporary paths of inquiry might not go into great detail about depth psychology, but they’re important for deconstructing cultural assumptions (see also sign, signifier, signified, denotation, connotation, Foucault, Derrida, Barthes, Bourdieu).

¹ A Glossary of Literary Terms, 2005, p. 320.

² Note, however, that for many the serpent is also healing (see Chakras, Tantra, Kundalini).

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The Synoptic Gospels

Jesus Christ baptism site (2007-05-811): Vyacheslav Argenberg

Jesus Christ baptism site (2007-05-811) In the synoptic gospels, Jesus is baptised by John the Baptist… Image and text by Vyacheslav Argenberg via Flickr

Most of us interested in religion have probably heard the term synoptic gospels at church or while watching a religion doc on TV. But many of us might not know what that means.

Religion scholars and officials love to use special terms. It makes things easier for them and, in some instances, gives an appearance of professionalism. Only the better ones, however, actually take time to explain what they’re saying.

Bible studies can get really complicated. So to make it simple, the synoptic gospels are first three gospels appearing in the New Testament. These are the books of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Although they differ in some details, there’s significant overlap in content and style among the synoptic gospels.

Most scholars believe that Mark is the oldest gospel, possibly written around 30 CE. Its content and style is simpler than that found in Matthew and Luke. So many scholars hypothesize an undiscovered document called Q (from German: Quelle, meaning “source”) to account for the material common to Matthew and Luke but not present in Mark.

Comparison of Matt 3:7-10 and Luke 3:7-9. Comm...

Comparison of Matt 3:7-10 and Luke 3:7-9. Common text highlighted in red. 1894 Scrivener New Testament (Photo: Wikipedia).

According to the Q hypothesis, the writers of Matthew and Luke drew upon Mark and Q to further advance ideas found in Mark. As of yet, however, no actual Q document has been discovered so it remains a convenient scholarly fable. It might sound cynical using the word “fable,” but I think it’s fair. Some academics use the term Q as if they held the (undiscovered) document in their hands.

Wikipedia does a great job of summing up some of the issues concerning the synoptic gospels:¹

The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as the Synoptic Gospels because they include many of the same stories, often in a similar sequence and in similar wording. They stand in contrast to John, whose content is comparatively distinct. The term synoptic (Latin: synopticus; Greek: συνοπτικός synoptikos) comes via Latin from the Greek σύνοψις synopsis, i.e. “(a) seeing all together, synopsis”;[n 1] the sense of the word in English, the one specifically applied to these three Gospels, of “giving an account of the events from the same point of view or under the same general aspect” is a modern one.[1]

This strong parallelism among the three gospels in content, arrangement, and specific language is widely attributed to literary interdependence.[2] The question of the precise nature of their literary relationship — the “synoptic problem” — has been a topic of lively debate for centuries and has been described as “the most fascinating literary enigma of all time”.[3] The longstanding majority view favors Marcan priority, in which both Matthew and Luke have made direct use of the Gospel of Mark as a source, and further holds that Matthew and Luke also drew from an additional hypothetical document, called Q.[4]

The relationships between the three synoptic g...

The relationships between the three synoptic gospels. Source: A Statistical Study of the Synoptic Problem by A.M. Horore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One thesis often overlooked by bible scholars is the remote possibility that God reveals similar content to different gospel writers. This is difficult for some to consider in our modern world. We tend to keep our noses pressed to the ground, sniffing for obvious clues that can be seen and verified. So to think that God reveals similar content to different writers in different places is too much of a stretch for many. The fact that the mode of expression is similar makes it even more challenging to consider. But it is possible. And considering we are discussing works about God and spirituality, it is a valid hypothesis—even if, perhaps, one not possible to support or reject until the afterlife.²


² A similar problem arises in the arts and, in my particular area of interest, music. Did composer B knowingly copy material from composer A or did composer B’s song just come out that way? It is possible that composer B never heard composer A’s work but, instead, drew from the same inspirational source as did A. Musicians often say they have no idea where a lot of their musical inspiration comes from. Many suggest that the source is spiritual. Could not the same be true with regard to the word of God?

Related Posts » Bible, Gospel of Luke, Gospel of Mark, Gospel of Matthew, Q Document





Most associate synthesizers with electronic music equipment but, historically speaking, this isn’t quite right. Since ancient Greece, people have been combining different sounds and playing more than one instrument at a time.

In the 3rd century BCE the Greek engineer Ktesibios invented the hydraulos, a prototypical pipe organ using a hand-pumped air chamber located in a tub of water.

In the 1400’s, the hurdy gurdy played several melodies with a background drone.

In 1761 the panharmonicon automated the playing of flutes, clarinets, trumpets, violins, cellos, drums, cymbals, triangle and other instruments; notably, it was used by Beethoven.

In 1867 one of the first electronic keyboards appears in Switzerland. And in 1899 the Singing Arc was used to obtain sound from different lamps. And in 1928 a Russian, Lev Sergeyevich Termen, invented the Theremin, which was the first mass produced electronic instrument.

In the 1960s and 70s the analog synthesizer made its debut in pop music. It emulated symphonic strings and created new, far out sounds. Some groups used it somewhat conventionally (e.g. the synthetic strings of the early Doors) while others created distant sonic landscapes that arguably rival the classical greats in terms of sheer innovative brilliance (e.g. Yes, ELP, Genesis).

English: Depeche Mode live at the O2 Wireless ...

Depeche Mode live at the O2 Wireless Festival in 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the 1980s digital sound became supreme. With digital sampling, any natural sound could be digitally reproduced without any sound quality degradation from the original sample.

Taken for granted today, this was a sonic revolution in the 80s, giving birth to a new era of musical innovation with groups like Depeche Mode, The Eurythmics and The Art of Noise.

In the 1990s (and beyond) the rise of home computers along with the development of the internet, mp3s, YouTube, SoundCloud and other technologies enabled just about anyone with a PC to become an aspiring superstar, sharing musical creations on the web. With this came the rise of VST (Virtual Studio Technology).

Virtual Studio Technology (VST) is a software interface that integrates software audio synthesizer and effect plugins with audio editors and recording systems. VST and similar technologies use digital signal processing to simulate traditional recording studio hardware in software. Thousands of plugins exist, both commercial and freeware, and a large number of audio applications support VST under license from its creator, Steinberg

In other words, VST (plugins) and VSTi (instruments) try to simulate through software what was once achieved through hardware synthesizers. But, actually, VST and VSTi go beyond mimicking old sounds created in decades past. Sounds that were popular in the 1970s and 80s, for instance, are now called “old school” and may be respected just as music lovers in the 1970s and 80s looked back to the relatively primitive electric guitar songs of the 1960s.

Many VST and VSTi are totally free. So one can get started with so-called “bedroom music production” on a shoestring budget.²

Image via


² Some of the better sites listing free VST and VSTi products are:

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The System

Lost in the system: id iom

Lost in the system: id iom via Flickr

The system is a term that enables individuals to speak about interlocking social institutions, discourses and practices in a positive, negative, ambiguous or ambivalent manner. It can imply almost anything, so it’s (usually) a safe way to talk about the undesirable aspects of society and human nature without fear of repercussion.

Along these lines, the idea of the system often carries negative connotations about systemic corruption. Sometimes the system is used to advocate some kind of practical compromise. For instance; “You gotta work the system” (i.e. play the game).

More commonly, we hear people say something to the effect of… “s/he’s a nice person… I hope s/he doesn’t get gobbled up by the system.”¹

This whole conundrum is perhaps best expressed in the arts.

In the song “Maybe the Poet” (1984) by Canadian folk-rock musician Bruce Cockburn we hear:

Don’t let the system fool you
All it wants to do is rule you

Cockburn, who is a bit of a green/social/spiritual activist, nevertheless played a concert sponsored by a major cigarette company, with a visible billboard ad on stage.

The awesome rapper Guru, rest his soul, had this to say in “Living in this World” (1995):

It’s critical, the situation is pitiful
Bear in mind, you gotta find somethin’ spiritual
We never gain, ’cause we blame it on the system
You oughta listen whether Muslim or Christian
Or any other type religion or creed
‘Cause what we need is less greed²

Personally, I don’t think anyone can totally remove themselves from the system. Even the street person who eats garbage from fast food garbage bins survives on food that, in its production, is endangering the South American rainforest.³

¹A similar situation is found with the words “politics” and “political.” When people use these words in the small-p sense, they’re probably saying, “I know what the heck is going on, but I’m not so stupid as to say it outright.”

² Read more: Guru – Living In This World Lyrics | MetroLyrics

³ See


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