inkwell.vue.341 : Gary Greenberg, The Noble Lie
permalink #26 of 207: Gary Greenberg (gberg) Thu 27 Nov 08 06:25
    
>Gary, did you change your mind about anything big in the process of 
>writing the book?  Was there something that you thought was 
>incontrovertibly true that you came to doubt?

I didn't so much change my mind as come to the conclusion that most
important questions can't be answered, at least not with certainty. I
suppose I knew that going in, but it hadn't occurred to me how
disorienting it could be. But when you think you're an opinioniated
guy, think your principles are pretty well cast in stone, and then you
find yourself empathizing with a serial killer, or nodding in agreement
with a homophobic Mormon, or wondering if maybe the guy who's lying
there in a persistent vegetative state, his brain, according to his
MRI, a pile of mush, if maybe he is somehow still living an interior
life, or thinking that your lifelong melancholy is  actually a
biochemical disorder, when certainty about something gives way to equal
certainty about its opposite--well, at the very least that tells you
that the truth is a very complicated thing.
 
  
inkwell.vue.341 : Gary Greenberg, The Noble Lie
permalink #27 of 207: David Gans (tnf) Thu 27 Nov 08 09:17
    

(For the record, the KGO talker is Ronn Owens.  Ron Howard looks very little
like Fred Flintstone.)
  
inkwell.vue.341 : Gary Greenberg, The Noble Lie
permalink #28 of 207: David Gans (tnf) Thu 27 Nov 08 09:20
    

(And thanks for the reference to "Save Us from the Saved."  Another line in
the song is "No one knows, but they are certain."  See
<http://www.dgans.com/weirdest> )
  
inkwell.vue.341 : Gary Greenberg, The Noble Lie
permalink #29 of 207: David Gans (tnf) Thu 27 Nov 08 09:29
    

> there is something really wrong with the way technology reshapes the
> natural world and ourselves.

And yet, it has to happen.  Is this a job for negative capability?
  
inkwell.vue.341 : Gary Greenberg, The Noble Lie
permalink #30 of 207: Gary Greenberg (gberg) Thu 27 Nov 08 09:31
    
Did I say Ron HOward? Jesus. Yeah, Ronn Owens. 
  
inkwell.vue.341 : Gary Greenberg, The Noble Lie
permalink #31 of 207: Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Thu 27 Nov 08 09:48
    
"no one was oging to heave a trash can through
a window"

It took me a minute to realize that this was a typo for "going", but
as I stared at the word, I kind of liked it.  Maybe there is a time and
place to "og" some trash cans around, to stir up the og pot, as it
were.  [Ted K., and the unibombs, was oging things a bit too far, me
thinks.]
  
inkwell.vue.341 : Gary Greenberg, The Noble Lie
permalink #32 of 207: Steve Silberman (digaman) Thu 27 Nov 08 10:25
    
Gary, I loved Laurie Anderson's Homeland, saw it twice (two radically 
different bands, two radically different experiences, both good), and 
thought you might appreciate this comment from my interview with Laurie 
about the show:

The problem with 9/11 and its aftermath as a subject for art, Anderson 
tells me in a cafe in Toronto after a performance there, is that "it went 
right from the unspeakable to the ironic," becoming fodder for the likes 
of The Daily Show before the long-term implications of unilaterally 
declaring a global war on terror had been closely examined.

http://alumni.berkeley.edu/california/200809/show_silberman.asp

How did you "nod in agreement with a homophobic Mormon"?
  
inkwell.vue.341 : Gary Greenberg, The Noble Lie
permalink #33 of 207: Steve Silberman (digaman) Thu 27 Nov 08 10:31
    
Thanks for your great answers, by the way. 

And I know what you mean about evil.  I think I've had only one former
friend in my life who did truly evil things to me in a relentless way, and
while I don't reduce him to a single category, I have found myself trying
to "diagnose" him retrospectively with official syndromes like Borderline
Personality Disorder, which I know are very blurry and possibly ad hoc 
(though I must say, he meets all of the criteria on those BPD checklists).  
This is probably to reduce the cognitive dissonance of realizing that I 
cared so deeply for someone capable of such dark acts for so long.  (I'm 
not talking about physical violence, just a kind of utterly non-empathic 
cruelty that also manages to be superbly self-serving.)
  
inkwell.vue.341 : Gary Greenberg, The Noble Lie
permalink #34 of 207: David Gans (tnf) Thu 27 Nov 08 10:32
    

That "ironizing fog" is a bitch.  I am not an advocate of throwing trash cans
through shop windows, but there's been way to much detachment and nowhere
near enough engagement over the last several decades.  That's why it's so
gratifying, and frankly surprising, that Obama won so decisively.  I know
more people who got involved and did real work for this election than I can
recall seeing since the Vietnam era.
  
inkwell.vue.341 : Gary Greenberg, The Noble Lie
permalink #35 of 207: Steve Silberman (digaman) Thu 27 Nov 08 10:39
    
The concept of evil is sort of out of style, except among fundamentalists,
right-wing fanatics, and people who constantly misattribute it, like the
Mormons who think that the sweet domestic devotion that my husband and I
share is an evil attempt to "redefine marriage."

But my late father, a left-wing union organizer, certainly had a firm 
grasp on the concept, as does another older Jewish friend, who is also a 
liberal but has some concepts of good and evil and justice that smell of 
the Old Testament to me, raised as a totally secularized Jew.

That might be one of the things that the right wing has right: that evil 
is a valid concept.  The problem with it is that it's so often tangled up 
in elaborate forms of projection, as the Mormons are doing with my 
marriage.  
  
inkwell.vue.341 : Gary Greenberg, The Noble Lie
permalink #36 of 207: Gary Greenberg (gberg) Thu 27 Nov 08 11:00
    
Evil is an absolute term. So, for that matter, is Good. It has to be
grounded in the transcendent. Otherwise you're just talking about
relative betters and worses. NOw that God is dead, it's very hard to
find that absolute. And we're stuck with impoverished languages in
which to express our moral apprehensions. Perhaps the leading
substitute language is  therapeutic talk. "That makes me
uncomfortable." "I don't think that's appropriate." "It's not healthy."
The ENlightenment's valorization of individual has made our own
individual experience the ultimate reference point. Which is okay until
you run into someone like Kaczynski or Osama bin Laden. Because to
address these people in relative terms, as crazy or whatever, just
doesn't do justice to the proportion of their crimes. But if we say
they're evil, what is the benchmark?

My book is about how medicine uses categories of illness and health to
fill in some of that emptiness. Of course, the doctors don't really
mean to do this, at least not usually. They're just launching their
diagnoses into a soceity in which they are the closest thing to a
priest. 
  
inkwell.vue.341 : Gary Greenberg, The Noble Lie
permalink #37 of 207: Gary Greenberg (gberg) Thu 27 Nov 08 11:17
    
>How did you "nod in agreement with a homophobic Mormon"?

I went to a conference of NARTH, the National Association for the
REsearch and Therapy of Homosexuality. While there, I took a seminar in
the treatment of homosexuality conducted by Dean Byrd. He's a
psychologist of U of UTah, a Mormon, and, near as I can make out, a
very cruel man. But  his reconstruction of the history of the deletion
of homosexuality from teh DSM (the manual of psychaitric disorders),
the way it was a political move disguised as a scientifi advance was
right on the money. And his consternation over the fact that the
various therapy guilds forbid their members to conduct research into
homosexuality as something that can change, or to offer therapy to
people who want to try to change their sexual orientation, his
characterization of that ban as an instance of political correctness
that ran against the grain of science, was very hard to disagree with.

Where we part company, however, is that I think deleting homosexuality
was the right thing to do, while he thinks it was some kind of
disaster of Roe v. Wade proportions. I just wish the psychiatrists had
done it on more honest terms. And banning the research and therapy just
fuels the motors of bigotry. NOt to mention it's just incoherent. Why
draw the line at homosexuality when it comes to leting patients decide
what it is about themselves they want to change? What about a person
who works at a defense plant and is made anxious or depressed by his
work because it violates his sense of who he is? Why shouldn't I be
prohibited from helping him change himself to adapt to what he sees as
the necessity of his job?

In real life, of course, I'm going to do my damnedest to convince that
guy that he really ought to consider the possibility that he's
suffering from an oppressive condition, and that the thing to change is
not himself but his circumstances, or even better, the society that
diverts so much money to building nuclear weapons. And in the case of
the gay person upset by his sexual orientation, I'm going to work hard
to persuade him that ther is nothing wrong with loving men, and that in
a different world--one that he could achieve by, say, moving to San
Francisco--or with a different outlook, he would probably feel really
different. But these aren't swcientific determinations. They're
political. They're matters of opinion.
  
inkwell.vue.341 : Gary Greenberg, The Noble Lie
permalink #38 of 207: Steve Silberman (digaman) Thu 27 Nov 08 11:38
    
Of course, you could always promote therapy aimed at enabling left-handed
clients to become right-handed.  In fact, such therapy used to be quite
popular, and many parents compelled their kids to undertake it so they
would fit into a right-handed world better.  But then it became obvious
that such therapy messed with the mapping of the brain's hemispheres, and 
that the kids were worse off for having done it.  I suspect that therapy 
aimed at turning gay people straight is like this, *even though* I agree 
with you that sexual orientation is more fluid and changeable than most 
gay-rights advocates admit.

> his
 characterization of that ban as an instance of political correctness
 that ran against the grain of science, was very hard to disagree with.

I'd love to see the "science" that suggests that formerly gay people who 
went through "reparative" therapy to change their sexual orientation 
emerged at the other end of it happy, fully functioning human beings 
capable of both passionate sex lives and enduring relationships.  Because 
that's the bottom line if we're talking about "success" in this field.  
Ex-gays who learn to be best friends with opposite-sex partners and try to 
shut certain reoccuring images out of their minds...  well, I wouldn't 
count that as a therapeutic success myself.  But that's me.

This is about more than political correctness.  I will grant you that 
there's a chilling effect on that kind of science cast by PC, but it's not 
like there's a groundswell of ex-gays who can't wait to show the world how 
happy they are now -- which is exactly what gays who come out of the 
closet are.
  
inkwell.vue.341 : Gary Greenberg, The Noble Lie
permalink #39 of 207: Gary Greenberg (gberg) Thu 27 Nov 08 12:02
    
>I'd love to see the "science" that suggests that formerly gay >people
who 
>went through "reparative" therapy to change their sexual >orientation

>emerged at the other end of it happy, fully functioning human beings 
capable of both passionate sex lives and enduring relationships

YOu won't find that science because it doesn't exist. But let's
remember that reparative therapy paqtients are a self-selecting
population, a subset of people who are upset about their sexual
orientation, and who might not agree that a passionate sex life is
necessarily part of a happy, fully functioning human life. So their
bottom line is not going to be the same as yours. IN any event, that
kind of therapy does not have that as a treatment goal, at least not
anymore. The goal is to make the most of your life despite the fact
that you have a serious problem. 

Waht you will find that is more persuasive is first of all Lisa
Diamond's research, in which she has tracked the sex lives of women who
identify themselves as non-heterosexual for ten years. She's found a
pretty robust pattern of fluidity, of moving through multiple sexual
identities. SHe's quick to say that it's not a matter of "choice" but
it is nonetheless an indication that sexual orientation does change. 

Another thing you will find is GIl Herdt's research. He's an
anthropologist at SF State who has studied people, mostly boys and men,
in Papua New Guinea extensively, and documented the way their sexual
orientation changes as their lives progress, in a more or less
predictable way. 

Or you could talk to Daryl Bem, who is a psychologist at Cornell who
says he has always been gay, but happened to fall in love with a woman.
They stayed married for nearly thirty years, raised a family, etc.
When the marriage ended, he took up with a man, whom he lives with now.
The wife's name is sAndra Bem, also a psychiatrist, a fairly prominent
one, and she wrote a book about their family life. It's pretty
fascinating.

I think the left-hand/right-hand analogy is close. But in both cases
there may be multiple paths to the same outcome. I think it's highly
likely that there are many reasons that people end up gay or straight,
and that some of them may well be psychological. ANd whether or not
this is true, we tend to consider psychogenic conditions to be
modifiable. 

And yes, it is surely true that when a gay person comes out of the
closet, it can be a most joyful thing, something they often want to
shout from the mountaintop. I've been working for four years with a
37-year-old guy who just this weekend, at Thanksgiving dinner, plans to
tell his parents that he's gay. He's scared, but he also can't wait.
  
inkwell.vue.341 : Gary Greenberg, The Noble Lie
permalink #40 of 207: Andrew Trott (druid) Thu 27 Nov 08 14:30
    
I'm just coming to this conversation, which is full of intriguing
ideas. I'll definitely be hunting up this book. But I don't understand
what question it is that "evil" answers. Doesn't it serve the same
"othering" function as Kaczynski's schizophrenia diagnosis? I suppose
you can say, the one is (or may be) true, while the other is
fictitious. But is that really the problem? Couldn't I find a more
scientifically defensible way to "other" Kaczynski by saying that he
was obsessive, lost  in magical thinking, etc.? 

Somehow I think we'd all be better off if we realized that even the
worst of us are expressions of what it is to be human, and that instead
of smothering them in layers of alienness so as to justify ignoring
them, we ought to learn from them. I'm not accusing anyone here of this
-- far from it! -- but I fear that's what the label "evil" tends to
do, and I'm not sure what it's good for.
  
inkwell.vue.341 : Gary Greenberg, The Noble Lie
permalink #41 of 207: Gary Greenberg (gberg) Thu 27 Nov 08 15:09
    
>But I don't understand
>what question it is that "evil" answers. Doesn't it serve the same
>"othering" function as Kaczynski's schizophrenia diagnosis? 

The difference between saying someone is evil and saying thaqt they're
sick is that the first allows you to condemn that person. I don't have
any problem condemning Kaczynski for sending bombs through the mail to
people he didn't know and killing or maiming them. That doesn't mean
there isn't something to learn from him, many things, really, about
being human in this particular time and place. Not the least of which
is that humans can do really bad things. 

Of course, in order to claim he's evil, I have to say wht I think the
good is and what makes it so. That's something we have a harder time
doing than people did, say, three hundred years ago. And while much of
value has come from losing our moral anchor--human rights would be a
good example--it's hard to deny that something has been lost. 

Saying he is unhealthy, on the other hand, forces you to say what you
think health is. Which seems to be an easier thing to determine. It
seems to be a scientific question. But it's not, at least not always.
After all, the way that homosexuality was condemned during the 20th
century, and espcially from the forties to the eighties, was to call it
sick. Which seems to put the questino beyond debate. It takes the
politics out of it. And in a way, this is really disturbing, because it
can stop people from asking important questions.
  
inkwell.vue.341 : Gary Greenberg, The Noble Lie
permalink #42 of 207: Jennifer Simon (fingers) Thu 27 Nov 08 16:57
    
What purpose does condemnation serve?
  
inkwell.vue.341 : Gary Greenberg, The Noble Lie
permalink #43 of 207: Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Thu 27 Nov 08 18:25
    
It's one way we try to influence what other people do (or don't do). 
You might as well ask what good is politics.
  
inkwell.vue.341 : Gary Greenberg, The Noble Lie
permalink #44 of 207: Jennifer Simon (fingers) Thu 27 Nov 08 22:07
    
Or killing, if it comes to that.
  
inkwell.vue.341 : Gary Greenberg, The Noble Lie
permalink #45 of 207: Gary Greenberg (gberg) Fri 28 Nov 08 06:30
    
In the case of a serial killer like Kaczynski, condemnation (and I
don't mean condemnation to death, althoughthat is what Kaczynski
thought should happen with him) serves a couple of purposes. It denotes
the limits of tolerance. It also creates the grounds for justice. And
by doing this, it expresses what a society holds to be good and evil.

To condemn someone is not necessarily to seek vengeance, although that
line is hard to walk. But it is to say that if you violate what a
society holds dear, that is, if you commit evil, then you must be
singled out for punishment. Otherwise, it is as if the thing you did
didn't really happen. 

I for one will be disappointed if Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, and at
least Yoo and Addington are not officially condemned for ordering
torture. It seems to me we need to express our intolerance for that and
to signal it by seeking justice.

In the case of KAczynski, I far prefer saying that he is evil to
saying that he is sick. "Sick" is too easy. It doesn't make you specify
why what he did is wrong. It also turns diagnosis into condemnation
and treatment into punishment, a confusion of categories that happens
all the time.
  
inkwell.vue.341 : Gary Greenberg, The Noble Lie
permalink #46 of 207: Jennifer Simon (fingers) Fri 28 Nov 08 08:44
    
I can see the point of locking up people who hurt others, simply to
put a stop to the suffering, but calling them evil isn't requisite to
render the process just.  It is sufficient to say we cannot have folks
running around loose who are wont to do harm.  Truth and reconciliation
seem to be at least as effective for acknowledging what has happened
as condemnation and punishment. 
  
inkwell.vue.341 : Gary Greenberg, The Noble Lie
permalink #47 of 207: Steve Silberman (digaman) Fri 28 Nov 08 08:57
    
There's a possibly useful distinction here between calling certain acts 
"evil" and certain people.
  
inkwell.vue.341 : Gary Greenberg, The Noble Lie
permalink #48 of 207: Andrew Trott (druid) Fri 28 Nov 08 09:06
    
I'm down with not using the "sick" meme to exclude people from our
psychic universe, but to me calling somebody "evil" is kind of like
saying they're "ugly." It expresses a subjective judgment that really
doesn't go anywhere analytically. Breaches of deeply held mores are
just that, and so far as they constitute violations of criminal law I
leave it to the justice system (for which I toil for my bread) to
express our collective outrage. But maybe this is a tangent from the
theme of the book, which I gather is not so much about the idea of
"evil" as about the misuse of "sick" as a kind of *substitute* for evil
... ?
  
inkwell.vue.341 : Gary Greenberg, The Noble Lie
permalink #49 of 207: Gary Greenberg (gberg) Fri 28 Nov 08 09:11
    
Well, there's something to be said for the sin/sinner distinction. I
don't know that I want to mount a full-fledged defense of the concept
of evil. That's pretty much out of my range. What I want to say is that
regardless of how you name it, judgment is a really important part of
being human. And it's also very dangerous, because judgment wedded to
power creates oppression. To me, the best safeguard is transparency: if
you know what judgments are going to be based on, you can avoid them
by submitting or contest them by protesting or whatever. That's why
democracy is so cool (except when it is not, like in Prop 8)--it
creates the space for that contest. 

Science, to get back to my book for a second, is not a democracy. AT
least it is not supposed to be, which means that its judgments are seen
as beyond challenge (except by other science). When you say that Ted
Kaczynski is schizophrenic, and mean by that that he has an illness,
then you've taken out of play all the questions that can only arise if
he is sane. When you say that depression is an illness, then you remove
the possibility that people are depressed for a reason (other than
their biochemistry gone bad). When you say that brain dead people are
really--i.e., biologically-- dead, then you end the debate about what
actually constitutes life and death. In ll of these cases, and the
others in the book, judgments are being made, large social and
p[olitical forces are being addressed with implications for policies
about the distribution of resources, etc., but the judgments are
disguised as scientific facts. 
  
inkwell.vue.341 : Gary Greenberg, The Noble Lie
permalink #50 of 207: Gary Greenberg (gberg) Fri 28 Nov 08 09:13
    
>But maybe this is a tangent from the theme of the book, which I
>gather is not so much about the idea of "evil" as about the misuse >of
"sick" as a kind of *substitute* for evil... ?

Right. The point is that these diagnoses don't actually eliminate the
idea of evil. They just turn it into something else. At least
fundamentalists are up front about the fact that they're making moral
judgments, and they can even tell you where the judgments are coming
from.
  

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