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.
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.)
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> )
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?
Gary Greenberg (gberg) Thu 27 Nov 08 09:31
Did I say Ron HOward? Jesus. Yeah, Ronn Owens.
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.]
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"?
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Thu 27 Nov 08 16:57
What purpose does condemnation serve?
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.
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Thu 27 Nov 08 22:07
Or killing, if it comes to that.
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.
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.
Steve Silberman (digaman) Fri 28 Nov 08 08:57
There's a possibly useful distinction here between calling certain acts "evil" and certain people.
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 ... ?
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.
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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