mind, self, society and “the generalized other”

mind, self, society and “the generalized other”

(Originally Posted on February 10, 2013 by hopefulandfree)

The organized community or social group which gives to the individual his unity of self may be called ‘the generalized other.’ The attitude of the generalized other is the attitude of the whole community…If the given individual is to develop a self in the fullest sense, it is not sufficient for him merely to take the attitudes of other human individuals toward himself and toward one another within the human social process, and to bring that social process as a whole into his individual experience merely in these terms: he must also, in the same way that he takes the attitudes of other individuals toward himself and toward one another , take their attitudes toward the various phases or aspects of the common social activity or set of social undertakings in which, as members of an organized society or social group, they are all engaged…But only by taking the attitude of the generalized other toward himself, in one or another of these ways, can he think at all;  for only thus can thinking—or the internalized conversation of gestures which constitutes thinking—occur…[T]here are two general stages in the full development of the self…first…the individual’s self is constituted simply by an organization of the particular attitudes of the other individuals toward himself and toward one another in the specific social acts in which he participates with them…second…in the full development of the individual’s self that self is constituted not only by an organization of these particular individual attitudes, but also by an organization of the social attitudes of the generalized other or the social group as a whole to which he belongs…Thus, there is a social process out of which selves arise…”

—George Herbert Mead, “Mind, Self, and Society” (1934)

You might not imagine it possible to live for decades among human society, to become formally educated, to bear and nurture one’s children into adulthood and witness their leave taking from the family home, to accomplish all these activities of life—while never once realizing that one’s ability to think—in the sense of carrying on internalized (mental) conversations with a Self—does not exist.

Of course there is always a vague sense of awareness of difference, of some unknown aspect of mental or cognitive functioning which sets one apart from most others. But it is impossible to pinpoint with any substantive knowledge the extent of whatever that difference may include. The meaning of a self eludes one’s grasp, including even the sense of recognition, when looking in a mirror, of the being who appears to be returning one’s gaze. The face in the mirror is always that of a stranger, a person known intellectually to represent the visual image of oneself. But there is no feeling of connection, of warmth or closeness or understanding—nothing like the feelings one experiences when gazing upon loved ones—of what the image represents or reveals about the image as a familiar or known human being; rather, the representation in the mirror appears to be nothing more than an object which can move by means of some external power, and, thus, the experience of looking at the image inspires a sense of uneasy wariness, almost as if a stranger has appeared inside one’s room, except the stranger is not human. She seems to represent a kind of intricately designed, life sized, life like, mechanized doll.

The thing in the mirror, which seems to be looking back, appears to be looking at an unpleasant sort of object, something wholly unnerving and unnecessary, something that exists with no purpose beyond its ability to have its movements and actions directed and controlled, much like a child’s plaything, a doll or an action figure with movable body parts, a replica of a person—right down to its capacity to form words with its mouth, as if speaking spontaneously. Any bodily movement which resembles self directed action is, however, an illusion.

The thing is an object of horrific power, nevertheless, but only in the sense of its absolute powerlessness. Its powerlessness in fact provides power for others of its kind, for those without a self, for those that need therefore an external source of animating impulse. Its powerlessness indeed provides the motivating drive on which the others depend—to feel powerful, to feel alive rather than dead, and thus Its powerlessness presents the others with the only reason possible for allowing Its continued, yet reviled, existence. Their absolute dependency on Its powerlessness creates within the others a primitive rage so savage that Its existence is abhorred and, thus, always tenuous. Its absolute powerlessness—the only characteristic of Its existence that holds meaning—is the solitary attribute which stands between Its existence and annihilation.

Hence. Moreover. And.

Only by taking the attitude of the generalized other toward Itself, the internalized conversation of gestures which constitutes thinking can occur.

Like most things, the development of the self—or the mind—is not an all or nothing affair. Under conditions of extreme domination, such as those just described, the self, invariably, cannot develop in the fullest sense. That process would result, by necessity, in self destruction. Nor, therefore, can thinking (an intrapersonal process requiring a self) develop in the fullest sense. Indeed, a partial self who attempts that which others understand as thinking risks destruction of the partial self, for thinking requires the emergence of the generalized other into consciousness. When the generalized other consists of powerful impulses seeking only to fully disempower and eradicate the existence of a self, thinking must forever be avoided at all costs for, indeed, the cost of continued existence was determined long ago, and the price has already been paid, and must be paid within each moment, hour after hour, day after day, year after year.

The mind, the self, and the process of thinking must remain approximations, must remain as partially formed abstractions, illusions incapable of coming forth into actual wholeness, as active participants one with the others.

And. Yet.

There are external sources of power that may be borrowed upon to override—for a limited time—the generalized other…if one has the ability to pay and can obtain access to the source (an unlikely proposition for most.)

For the mind and the Self exist inextricably within Society, within a vast and all encompassing generalized other, and all individuals must pay the generalized other, all must pay the fee for continued existence—the price of membership—sooner or later.


hopefulandfree on February 11, 2013 at 10:42 am said:

Note to self: I suspect the description of the mirror image represents the most traumatized parts of “me”…as if I’m describing what happens when “PTSD” episodes are triggered by an unrecognized event, smell, sound, taste, image, and so forth. The absence of thinking (or dialog with self) is, perhaps, another form of generalized avoidance of internal triggers, thoughts that may prove highly risky for their ability (weird word) to evoke severely painful emotions, feelings that do not merely replicate past emotions experienced during trauma, but feelings that are real, intense, immediate and all the more confusing and upsetting because they arise as if from nowhere, with no current cause-and-effect logic but are brain pathways deeply grooved, so to speak, in the manner of automatic responses to unconscious or instantly repressed images, or memories…I recall in this moment, for example, a common response during “PTSD” reactions, namely a feeling of nausea or rather the sensation of nausea that lingers along with (accompanied by) emotions of deep loss, sadness like that which comes from being utterly alone and isolated from any source of caring, or love, or help. If only I had a way to recognize the so-called “flash back” as a trauma response unrelated to current lived experiences…yet that lack of awareness is one of the factors of this disorder that makes it especially cunning and powerful. The intensity of emotional and physiological responses (such as nausea) are perceived by me (consciously) no differently than my responses to immediate situations—say the death of a beloved animal companion. Thus, much like in childhood when I retreated to my closet floor again and again, often to scream into pillows or (and this is painful to admit) bang my head repeatedly against the wall, there is also a sense of shame devoid of any self compassion—shame related to powerlessness, maybe shame resulting from a false believe that I should have control over such reactions…that I could not remain completely repressed and in a state of denial is really (to me) evidence of my irrepressible humanity, my inability to become the robot-like being I describe. I longed to have no feelings, no emotions, and to become untouchable and detached—I remember wishing, when I was a teen of about 14 or 15, that I could be catatonic like the girl in “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden” (!!!) and I also felt angry with myself for being unable to accomplish that feat—but…what an understandable response to unbearable conditions. Strangely (actually, not strange in light of all that was going on and had been forever) that was the point in time when I noticed my physiological shift in energy and motivation…from have some capacity to self regulate behaviors that might bring pleasure (such as going to the beach to walk along the shore) to having almost no capacity to motivate myself or to imagine any potential for feeling better. This was probably the result of the most severe depression that I had yet experienced in life. It coincided with almost constant thoughts of needing to be dead. (Before then I had gone through similar periods but had always somehow managed to come out the other side, whereas this time I found I was not finding improvement…it was terrifying and shameful to feel so alone, powerless, and horribly sad…it also corresponded with the absence of my best friend, D, who was on a long cruise with her family and thus we were unable even to correspond with each other…I see that I have always depended on friendship for my sanity, I have always needed to have at least one very close friend nearby—available to talk with if only about feelings, usually leaving out the worst details of my life—during times of sadness and stress.) I pleaded with my mother to take me to a psychologist—I felt a strong drive to find a way to survive and I was frightened that I would not manage to do so this time without help—but my poor mother was heavily invested in maintaining her illusions of normalcy. I believe she struggled terribly with her own deeply repressed memories and fears…plus, her life would have imploded and/or shattered if she ever had to bluntly confront (without the complex cushions of denial) the reality of her life as a wife and mother…and probably the reality of her own childhood. I believe her autoimmune disorders, resembling lupus, were strongly connected with her own life long experiences of trauma.

Anyway. That was also the first time I recall looking in the mirror and observing “the stranger”, and sensing that something was very very “wrong” with me…far beyond the normal angst and turmoil and emotional flights (and hormonal upheavals) of many typical adolescents.


Reply ↓

hopefulandfree on March 16, 2014 at 2:15 pm said:

It is now slightly over a year since I wrote the above post and subsequent comment. Today on the 16th of March, 2014, it feels as if the above discussion was prescient in ways I still don’t understand of course yet conditions in my life have (A) changed significantly and (B) entered my conscious awareness more fully—and the result of both are almost unbearably painful to me at times…in fact, many hours in many days, I feel as though I am grieving and mourning the loss of my entire family, not the family that I grew up with as a child and teen, but the family I helped to to create with my husband—the family I loved with all my heart, the family that (I believed) I was protecting, helping, nurturing, and mostly keeping safe from those aspect of the world that could do the most harm to them if given the opportunity.

Now I recognize much of my part in the eventual harm that has occurred to them. My own struggle to control the outcomes of so many aspects of their lives, to prevent tragedy, for example, contributed to the fearful and stressed mindset of one, perhaps, who became gradually more compelled to focus on (attempting to) control outcomes too, and influenced another to resist against perceived efforts by others who (seemingly) were trying to control this one’s life. In both cases, the result was a limitation (more or less severe) in awareness of sources of danger—including dangerous people. Hence, my attempts to control as a way to safeguard led to the opposite outcome: HARM…serious and lasting harm. The kind of harm that results from having blind spots and distorted perceptions…which prevent one from achieving greater awareness of many aspects of reality…. In my current blog posts, I am attempting to absorb the consequences of my lifelong patterns of behavior, consequences to others and to myself…including how much responsibility can be rationally attributed to me (my choices), and how much responsibility cannot be taken on by any individual—for it is impossible to know what any outcomes would have been had I made different choices or reacted differently.


Reply ↓

 hopefulandfree on March 27, 2014 at 11:36 pm said:

And now it is only about eleven (11) DAYS after the most recent comment. YET. Some awareness (in me or of mine?) has again shifted in such a profoundly startling and maybe disturbing way that I am left somehow less baffled but nevertheless close to being freaked out about that which is becoming more and more apparent to me. Namely. (And this is very upsetting to record here.) Oh. Fuck. Just. Say. It.

“I”, or this consciousness now writing this, here, now, today, is not alone. Maybe not alone “in” this body. period.

For “I” (as this consciousness now writing this) did not write the original post above that quotes George Herbert Mead, and, moreover, no matter how bizarre or pathological or frightening this admission or belief sounds (to me—forget about how it sounds to an other) I am loathe to attempt any denial of it. Oh, tomorrow I may feel very different—in regards to this and to all the unknown but partly suspected implications. Tomorrow I may think “What the fuck?”

In fact I will be surprised, perhaps, (this is getting confusing) if I DO NOT feel compelled at a future time to DENY any and all identification with that “notion” and/or it seems likely that I will want to find a way to rationalize or to come up with a plausible-sounding (to me, anyway) explanation about WHY and/or HOW I could have written such a a strange idea and seemingly to have believed it at the time—much like I felt compelled to rationalize what “I” had apparently written in the original post…and on the very next DAY at that! Clearly it was disturbing to me on so many levels (that’s an interesting/relevant way of putting it, btw.)

I now read that original post (both the quote and the narrative relating to the quote) and I know or at least I “know” that the narrative was written quite literally as an authentic-as-possible description of the writer’s personal experience and perceptions.at that time—as close to authentic and accurate as the writer could come using language/rhetoric available to “her” at the the time.

What (in the name of god) am I supposed to make of all this? Well, I don’t believe that “all this” is actually so bizarre or unusual—except maybe for the part about catching on (so to speak) to the process, the part about becoming increasingly unable to rationalize and/or deny the difference (the very powerful and striking difference) between the writer’s “voice” THEN (at that point of time in the past ) and MY “voice” in this moment. The difference goes far beyond any kind of difference in in “mood” or “perspective” experienced by the SAME consciousness except just at two different times. Oh. Indeed. I can almost anticipate the kinds of explanations “I” will feel compelled to invent for the purpose of evading some seriously heavy shit. Some inexplicable shit. Some I-don’t-like-the-implications-here shit.

Ahem. (I’m now telling myself:”It’s okay, kid—it will all ‘work out’ later if not soon. Everything is okay even though maybe almost nothing is simple or anything like ‘what it seems’…”)


Reply ↓

 hopefulandfree on March 27, 2014 at 11:43 pm said:

Yep. Minutes later I can almost SENSE some nearly unconscious attempts at back-pedaling as quickly as possible AWAY FROM this “heavy shit”…hmmm….


hopefulandfree on March 31, 2014 at 12:19 pm said:

And, now, 4 days later, the thought is less “Maybe not alone ‘in’ this body” but more “maybe not ‘myself’ in this body.” But then, again, that’s yet another thought—so not “mine” or “about me” (?).


hopefulandfree on March 28, 2014 at 12:02 am said:

Again, minutes later, I wonder who the hell has been returning to this post again and again lately…and why..WHO, that is, besides me. Whether mere coincidence, or not (as in it could simply be different people coincidentally studying GHM–source of long quote–and thus googling the title, such as students in the same class who may be studying or learning about or focusing on GHM’s work)….ANYWAY, I am GRATEFUL because when I notice that this post has been, YET AGAIN, READ or looked at (or maybe just glanced at for a spit second, of course) the more that I am prompted to return to the post and to re-read the quote, AND, MOREOVER, the more I read that quote from GHM, the more I come to understand it in a way that is particularly HELPFUL to me….even if I have the PARTICULARS interpreted in a way that’s confused or not-quite-close or not-anywhere-close, the general DIRECTION in which I am “travelling— with the quote as my companion—seems promising. That is, it feels promising and seems to be making more and more sense to me. I think. :) So…hmmm…thanks…universe?


Reply ↓

hopefulandfree on March 31, 2014 at 7:37 pm said:

I love the following interpretation of Thomas Metzinger’s theory of human consciousness in relation to our illusions about being or having a “self”—quote BELOW is from a book review of METZINGERS’S popular book: “The Ego Tunnel” http://www.naturalism.org/metzinger.htm


On Metzinger’s view, the self – the feeling of being a mental me in charge of the physical body – is a module within consciousness activated by your brain’s neural processing. The self is categorically not some substantial, essential invariant entity, like a soul, spirit or homunculus…Instead, the self is a phenomenal (that is, experiential) construct that disintegrates entirely when you fall into a dreamless sleep, to be reactivated (usually in attenuated form) when you dream, and that reappears nearly instantaneously when you awake in the morning.

The self is put online only when needed, part of a larger phenomenal reality generated by the brain as it represents the world and you in it. This reality seems perfectly concrete, but the startling fact of the matter, a challenge to naïve realists (that is, just about everybody), is that IT’S AN APPEARANCE, A VIRTUAL REALITY.

You, the subject conjured up by the brain, do not directly encounter the world. Rather, YOU PARTICIPATE IN A LARGER BRAIN-BASED REPRESENTATIONAL CONSTRUCTION—CONSCIOUSNESS—THAT MAPS THE ACTUAL WORLD closely enough for you-the-organism to stay out of trouble. This global simulation carried out in each of our heads, what we can’t help but take as real, is what Metzinger calls the Ego Tunnel. WELCOME TO THE MATRIX.”

.Reply ↓


hopefulandfree on March 31, 2014 at 7:59 pm said:

Here’s another great quote by Thomas Metzinger (from an interview at beinghuman.org by Michael Taft, 9/28/2012), in which Metzinger borrows an image from Wittgenstein to show a simple idea about the function of phenomenal self over time):




A self-model is not something in the brain or in philosophy, it is also something social and public…But again, strictly speaking, it’s never really happening to the same person, but it’s also not true that there is nobody there. Of course, there is a sufficient similarity over time, the organism survives, genes are copied, books are written. We don’t arbitrarily change and it’s kind of a flux. I like very much the image the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once used.


He said you could have a rope—a long rope made of very different strings of different color. AND NO STRING, neither the red string nor the blue nor the green one, WOULD GO THROUGH THE WHOLE LENGTH OF THE ROPE. Yet the rope could be very robust, strong, and stable, even though there is not one thread that goes through it from beginning to end. I think that’s a good image for how we are on the bodily level, as well as on a psychological level.


Despite this, we have robust experiences of autonomy and self-determination. We have the subjective experience of controlling our behavior, and we also have an experience of mental self- determination, controlling our attention, our mental state and all of these things. As modern science shows, some of these inner experiences may not be fully veridical, but just adaptive.

In other words “self-deception may offer some benefits. Maybe.



Reply ↓

hopefulandfree on April 13, 2014 at 1:38 pm said:

I wake up. Never know what I’m gonna get. Never know which eyes I’ll be seeing the world through. Will it seem okay? Bearable? Too goddam fucking much to absorb? Lately, mostly, the latter is closest to the truth. I’m barely hanging on. I’m the gal with a plan. As tidy as possible. But. Still. The damage is impossible to predict. Horrible to contemplate. The thought of her pain is the only thing keeping me here. One. More. Day. I can do one more day. Right? Some acts are truly unforgivable, after all. I gotta believe that.

the symbolic violence of “anti-obesity” campaigns

the symbolic violence of “anti-obesity” campaigns

(Originally posted on January 24, 2012 by hopefulandfree)

Bourdieu refers to symbolic violence as relations and mechanisms of domination and power which do not arise from overt physical force or violence on the body…by extending the concept of violence to the symbolic domain, Bourdieu spotlights an often unnoticed mechanism for instituting or reproducing relations of domination… Parallels can also be drawn here with Foucault’s sovereign and disciplinary power in which the move from brutal, physical and public forms of punishment to disciplinary punishment was based not, Foucault says, on reasons of reform, but because it was ‘more regular, more effective, more constant and more detailed in its effects’…If power is ‘exercised too violently, there is the risk of provoking revolts’… On the other hand, exercising discipline through surveillance — ‘an observing gaze that each individual feels weighing on him, and ends up internalizing to the point that he is his own overseer…[is] …a continuous form of power at practically no cost’…This masking of disciplinary power, therefore, is what in Bourdieu’s terms enables a dominatory relationship to persist — in other words ‘through strategies which, if they are not to destroy themselves by revealing their true nature, must have been disguised, transfigured, in a word, euphemized’… symbolic violence is, however, so powerful precisely because it is unrecognisable for what it is. Through a process of misrecognition ‘power relations are perceived not for what they objectively are, but in a form which renders them legitimate in the eye of the beholder’….
The power of symbolic violence rests precisely in its lack of visibility — in the fact that for those exposed to it the doubts and the fear engendered by it cause them to question themselves. The victims are therefore left uncertain and confused as to what, exactly, is happening and unable to articulate to themselves or to others what they are going through…”Morgan (2006) *emphasis mine)

The extensive quote, above, is taken from a sociology paper about abusive interpersonal relationships, but it could equally apply to the recent state-sanctioned and medically endorsed media campaigns against “obesity.” Symbolic violence in the form of public images of fat people, including fat children, normalizes a kind of insidious domination (the “for their own good” kind) that erodes healthy self identities and self concepts and legitimizes bullying (violence) as a form of “caring” (as in “health care providers”).

In the cycle of abuse, typically, the perpetrators strategically alternate demonstrations of symbolic violence with gestures of caring and kindness, and with promises of future gifts, helpfulness, and demonstrations of compassion. This alternating, back and forth purposive action (oriented to a successful outcome for the perpetrator) helps to keep the dominated individuals feeling off-balance and prevents recognition of the damage and harm being done to them. When you’re a child, symbolic violence can creates a powerful internalized oppressor within your psyche, disabling your true sense of autonomy and power for decades to come–sometimes for a lifetime.

Moreover, when the power-wielding bullies are doctors, nutritionists, nurses, psychologists, and other members of the “caring professions”, the victims of symbolic violence internalize these shaming, degrading messages (such as sarcastic-laden commentaries on posters of fat children) as legitimate forms of self-care and as healthy methods or motivation for change. Self harming actions and language (self talk) take on the appearance of self care.

In addition, symbolic violence legitimizes the domination of particular social groups by other members of the culture. Symbolic violence tells other (non-targeted) groups that they are more powerful and more valued than the targeted group. Thus, symbolic violence, while maintaining an innocent “helping” veneer, socially constructs and maintains prejudice and discrimination.

It has long appalled me that major “health care professions” (organizations) have not taken stronger stands against the most overt forms of symbolic violence directed at fat people. I’ve often wondered, “How can these educated professionals be so ignorant and blind to the damage?”

I’m finally beginning to understand the rationalizations for domination in terms of capitalist self-interest and the social construction of professional status and power. Keeping fat people subservient, afraid, and unsure of their own worth is big business–fat shaming results in mega profits  (billions and billions) for health care corporations and for a wide variety of highly trained practitioners.

Domination is legitimized in thousands of other ways throughout the health care industry. I’m just beginning to investigate and analyze the ways in which high-status health care professionals are routinely socialized into colluding with harmful institutions and practices.

I went to nursing school with the belief that the nursing profession is noble and good. I still believe that nurses, as individuals, may sincerely care about people and may desire to enhance health and healing processes. But when the ethic of efficiency takes over, as it has throughout our health care system (as in: maximizing income for health organizations), nurses regularly face ethical decisions that force them to choose between various harmful actions while trying to predict which choices will result in the least damage to individual patients.

Looking the other way and saying nothing when mass media ads and billboards mock and bully fat children, for example, is only the tip of the catheter in the body politic. So to speak. There’s a long, hidden apparatus delivering our “health care” medicine to us in ways that appear normal, indeed helpful. Unfortunately, our “medicine” is infected with some really nasty and highly resilient social pathogens.

Until we detect and expose symbolic violence for what it is–a devastating and dehumanizing sickness–we cannot stop it. We all continue to participate, in fact–instilling fear and self loathing in some groups, while granting others a sense of false superiority, “health,” and permission to scapegoat.

And, like other forms of violence and abuse, it’s rationalized in the name of helping and caring.

We keep hearing that old familiar standard, the perpetrator’s favorite refrain:

it’s being done for your own good. 

Many of us are finally wising up.


commodity speaks

what is the value of a thing, itself, when it cannot produce or function for the benefit of others

when it cannot pay its way in the world, provide its worth in dollars and cents,

a commodity has value to another–

yet value to itself, being a thing, is not possible,

and so one must construct one’s value in the social realm, create a body that will be worth more, and cost less,

to others–

a body that can charm or fill a status order, a body that will defy illness more adeptly, for illness costs and inconveniences the surrounding things, the other machines and pieces of equipment, slows down the works in progress, thus

i will walk a certain number of miles each day, or work out for a particular amount of time, and save my dollars and cents for objects worthy of attention,

i will eat a particular number of calories, or grams of fat or carbohydrates,

to produce a body that has value to the system, that can sustain its proper place in the holy order of power,

the great ethos of efficiency in all things beautiful, all goals ahead that matter,

a life lived for the good of others, looking to the future

as defined by the book of truth, the bookkeeper’s ledger on screens glowing round the globe,

glowing with the energy of a thousand moons,

i am a human resource

to be used,

to be maintained in working order,

while creating as little trouble as possible for others,

for the others

who see me as a benefit or liability,

a burden on society or a contributor, a parasite or producer of goods and services needed by the church of exchange commodity,

a drone, a worker, working out and building muscle, getting stronger or becoming thinner, whichever is needed most by that which decides

all value,

building bone, a solid structure to perform these acts you see before you now,

these worthless drops of language lost on ears stopped up by

social need, survival,

make it through to the end, stay as long as possible, giving to the god we love, master of our souls, we will, you and i, my friends, my fellow things–

and then our bodies will be beautiful, enough,

at least–

for flames or for the worms beneath our lovely feet.

science of mind

drama we grow without intent

founded solely on previous conversations

in collaboration with others, from infancy to pre mortuary

and thus a work of art, structured not after reality but interdependency

a complex web of meanings and identities

conversing or relating one with another

or many at once, nothing

to be frightened of, but necessary to mute

for we are more than minds

more because language does not correspond to substance in the world

but to out relationships with each other regarding our

understanding of authority and meaning

directors of human actions and choices

neuro chemicals that enrapture us, yet such standpoints discount the

ways by which social interactions internalize within the processes

of organization of data, the essential tension between belief and

interpretation, the forgetting that science does not mirror nature

rather constructs it, incompletely,

like a partially transmitted dragon-fly wing, a delicate semi transparent entity

with the power to lift one into flights of the imagined sublime then

subsequently dash one into the windshield of

a ’67 cherried-out chevy

four by four pick-up

on the road to armageddon.

this is not a program

this is not a program

(Posted on January 14, 2012 by hopefulandfree)


“Historical conflict no longer opposes two massive molar heaps, two classes–the exploited and the exploiters, the dominant and the dominated, managers and workers–among which, in each individual case, one could differentiate. The front line no longer cuts through the middle of society; it now runs through the middle of each of us…”

–Tiqqun (2011)

wanting to identify the perpetrators of oppression, it is as easy for me–as for any–to fall into the imagined world, the socially constructed fear-based existence, where the constructed Other exists as enemy–or exists as privileged Ones, and, therefore, as anti-us. we feed on our rage, or rage repressed, our feelings of horrified injustice and our dim yet growing visions of domination’s legacy. spread over all, already, smothering all possibility of breathing with weights piling on our chests. we seek to blame individual persons. including our Selves. or hold responsible particular evil doers whom we call “perps” or “them” or other labels to signify Otherness, not-us. or hold ourselves responsible, the shame a burden of immense control, no Other needed.

the wars rage on, within our consciousness, and our collective conscious, our struggles against the pathologies of individual freedom. we find not liberation, for all our shouting to the world of pleasured lives, satisfaction, triumph over past weakness, hope, love, surrender, tender gestures, kindness, and, yes, even solidarity. we speak with self-seeming pride for conquering our private demons of compulsive acts, bad habits, driven behaviors, confusing beliefs made clear, and assorted small victories to claim as prizes, evidence. self-evident progress. happy little fishes flung over curtains at a carnival, returned to us like toys clipped with clothespins at the end of our line. evidence based practices, so obvious, yet small, enough for tired and well-worn denial, rationality run amok, the colonization of lifeworlds complete, as we become Whole Beings, we think. we think.

in isolation, we think, we figure it all out. our glee at finding the final solution, complete, no less a sense of power than that afforded to the infant crying in hunger, whose tiny fingers happen upon her pacifier, her beloved binkie, no concept of nourishment withheld, enough. enough. we make do.

oh, the labels of cynic and paranoid attach to us in moments weak with awkward forgetting of our place in schema rich with irony, devoid of felt pain, no more longing for more, not daring to want what small remains of dreaming follow us to waking moments dreamed as if real–unseen, unheard, untasted, untouched, unlived.

this is not a program. a spectacle, yes, a constant watching of life as if we passed through television screens in infancy and were transformed as characters, not even actors playing parts, mere characters written for the entertainment of nothingness, no beings to belong with, only objects moving, place to place, over time unrealized–as if a nightmare interspersed with normal life manifests as now, and past, and future.

we are not dead. we merely function as if we are un-alive or sometimes never to have lived at all, still born, merely noticed images passing, as if the things that matter most are pointless and unreachable, as if we are not screaming from our graves to change before it is too late–not screaming, no. the absence of sound emerges. no peep. no pat-a-cake, no lullaby sweet baby. sweet fragrant cheeks of youth, warm faces, bright eyes, innocence. breath.

these fragmented souls wander forth–laughing, screaming, crying, roaring–the noise of indignation overwhelms, before the spinning toddler stops to stop the ruthless moving round and round into overdrive, the righteousness ordained as if by gods who whisper in our silent minds, always gods of right, we’re certain. we are certain of our certainty.

unwrapping tissue thin deception proves immutable, the fluid veil through which we gulp at life rushes down, fills our throats before our first cry for help. for understanding never granted, for god’s mercy long abandoned.

this is not a program. there is no remote. no viewer. no dialog. no action. no act.

we are alone, as one, enchanted by our dreadful power to summon all as if at will. we have the words. the magic stories of good and evil. we have our dances, repeated, rituals unbroken. each utterance, each thought, all imbued with magic we call meaning. we translate each experience as if it has the power to tell us something real about ourselves, our world, like chicken entrails left on street corners next to burning candles and sweets.

oh, those others, we think, naive and ignorant. or motivated by stupidity and superstition. they cannot understand the meaning of life, not like we, not like us. our program is real. theirs–fake. an imitation of the good life. false consciousness. they forget, we grin, self satisfied. we bump our knuckles, shake our fists, salute, thump chests, posture for each other and for our lost identities, to scare away all doubt that anything of value, inside, hides in quiet waiting.

lest we remember.

this is not a program.

signs and symptoms of pathology, partial list

signs and symptoms of pathology, partial list   

(First posted on August 30, 2012 by hopefulandfree)

 “I have come to recognize, at last, our culture’s fetishistic dependency on an individualist concept of CONTROL—as its most Sacred Ideal.”


The following tidbits represent  a spattering of symptoms of widespread social pathology, which I have noted during the past few years while reflecting on the cultural milieu of let’s-keep-pretending-everything-is-normal!!!:

  • mass anxiety, alienation, duplicity, powerlessness, emptiness, shame, preoccupation with one’s self and (maybe) one’s immediate family (all symptoms just noted are invariably denied on most occasions)…
  • psychologization of every aspect of human life
  • obsession with “health”, “fitness,” “health care” treatments and providers, making “healthy choices”, pursuing “healthy” goals, avoiding “unhealthy” behaviors…
  • false conviction that “health care” professions are founded on “an ethic of care”, which (supposedly) has at its heart the best interests of individual “patients” while simultaneously looking out for the social “good”….
  • false belief that “health” is a process or condition that takes place INSIDE individual bodies, as if physiological functioning and emotional responses (to social and material conditions) are disconnected—”one” from the “other”….
  • distorted view that “human health” exists (as some reified thing) disconnected from social and material conditions, as if “individual health” shares no interconnections with the “health” of social structures, institutions, and cultural norms…
  • equally distorted (and destructive) notions that “health” is akin to a commodity owned or possessed by individuals and “it” can (and SHOULD) be managed (or controlled) by means of personal choices and individual behaviors—with the assistance of medical commodities, such as:
  1. teams of so-called “care” providers,
  2. advanced, “life saving” diagnostic technology,
  3. pharmaceutical products designed and marketed using (supposedly) unbiased, reliable, valid, and peer-reviewed “medical” research, which is (somehow) not controlled by powerful entities with wildly obvious “conflicts of interests”….
  • inability of most people to conceptualize “health” as a process inextricably intertwined with social and material conditions—our culture’s (socially constructed) blind spot, which prevents viewing health as a process that, when analyzed at the level of social institutions and public policies, reveals (formerly obscured) health determinants—social, material, genetic & epigenetic factors—over which  individual choices, personal “responsibility” and “healthy” behaviors provide little “healthful” protection…
  • growing fascination with all things “Paleo” (TM yet?)—as if the deepest secrets to everlasting “health” and happiness can be recreated though careful mimicry of dietary practices, footwear, art, “healing” rituals, tribal groupthink and “ancient respect for our Earth”—as interpreted by an elite cadre with a keen interest in accumulating and keeping tight hold of personal freedoms—while appropriating historically accurate artifacts suggesting primal powers emanated from within the (“fittest”) great lone survivalists…
  • unabashed cultural focus (in interpersonal relationships as well as popular media) on surface appearances—the energy invested in management and manipulation of personal images (producing “effective” first impressions, for example)—and the perceived imperative of perpetuating “solid public relations”, both to “enhance public perceptions” and to “expand one’s sphere of influence”…
  • compulsive blaming of individuals (and seemingly obsessive need to pronounce moral judgement), and competitive-level (accusing) finger pointing at each and every personal act (now revealed publicly) of “dysfunctional” or “self destructive” or “hypocritical ” or “inappropriate” behavior…
  • endless scapegoating—now surpassing the intensity of any national sport—targeting this particular group or that other group (ostensibly motivated by troll-like concern for that group’s OWN GOOD—an avowed demonstration of compassion for the targeted group’s well being)—or scapegoating unabashedly driven by “justifiable” resentment and self-righteous anger about the targeted group’s alleged costs to “the rest of us”—this unfair shifting of burdens from the instigators’ allegedly guilty hands onto the innocent backs of “responsible” members of society—the perversely ironic grievances about being turned into sacrificial lambs on account of the greed, sloth, lust, envy, gluttony, pride (“unearned!”) or wrath (“unwarranted!”) of the targeted group’s members (in one scapegoating cycle it’s those gays, in another it’s the fat people, or illegal immigrants, or teenagers, or union supporters, or intellectuals, or radical subversives)…
  • nearly universal denial about the nature of the “facility” where most individuals are doomed to spend their last months or years on earth (unless lucky enough to die prior to that final drive—while still conscious) at an “assisted living” facility or nursing “home” (institutionalized warehouses operated on less than a shoestring budget) with irritable, burnt-out, minimum-wage staff members, little or no privacy for “residents”, and dietary fare so unpalatable that it seems irrational to call the stuff “food”—and yet, serendipitously, that “food” may become a blessing in disguise by hastening an earlier death by starvation…
  • unceasing craving for intimate details and “inside information” about the lives of celebrities, media personalities, sports figures, alleged criminals, princesses (both living and dead), triple crown winners, political pundits, and politicians…
  • unquenchable thirst for newer forms of entertainment and diversion (more exciting, more intense, more widely available, more portable, and more time consuming)…
  • contagion-like sense of urgency to acquire the latest, most “advanced” forms of technology (for purposes of increased productivity and efficiency at work or home, or BOTH—so often blurred together anyway—and for heightened personal pleasure or convenience)…
  • ever growing demand for NEWER and BETTER and FASTER…psychotropic medications, pharmaceutical aids, mental “health” treatments, psychological protocols, physical exercises, work-out equipment, physical “fitness” routines, personalized nutritional “needs” analysis, weight loss diets, beauty secrets of the rich and famous, performance enhancing…EVERYTHING, personal life coaching, and effective lifestyle strategies—to sharpen stress management skills, improve individual coping strategies, promote more restorative sleep, rejuvenate sexual desires,  enhance intimacy, extend longevity, build endurance on the playing field and in bed, to TAKE CONTROL of your LIFE, and to “communicate” more effectively with friends, colleagues, employees, health care providers, work supervisors, spouses and children …
  • insatiable need for a steady supply of false hopes and unfounded reassurance in the form of:
  1. transparent lies from professional TV readers of “news stories”—with manufactured “crises” that captivate and alarm then soothe and calm when doom is apparently averted (or fades away in the swell of the latest new “crisis”)—all of which we’ve learned to swallow gratefully, without choking, for after all “the news” allows us to stay “current”
  2. “Little House on the Prairie” reruns…
  3. advertising we know is hyperbolic at best but often admired anyway for its special effects and compelling narratives, particularly its normalizing function—the way in which it makes all this oppressive shit seem…practically inevitable…
  4. manipulative, distorted, deceptive (and even identical) political and economic rhetoric spun and re-spun—year after year, decade after decade, election after election, in spite of its repeatedly harmful, disastrous and worsening outcomes…


  • Finally, and perhaps most confusing and confounding to witness (from where I sit):
  1. In spite of recurring and rising social morbidity and mortality, for example, at the level of our social structures, institutions, political discourses and economic policies…
  2. Millions more faceless victims of domination, injustice, oppressive policies—and pity-the-poor-fool-individualist-norms—are falling through gaping holes (into poverty, hopelessness, prison cells and morgue cubbies) in places where the so-called social safety net never existed, or has unraveled and/or been slashed to ribbons by socially constructed “necessary austerity measures” in response to manufactured “crises”—
  3. And still. None of the above signs and symptoms of social pathology have any dampening effect, apparently, on our culture’s prevailing worship of personal responsibility as our savior and redeemer. (Running a distant second place: Technology as Seer and Prognosticator.)
  • On the contrary, the increasing symptoms of social pathology appear to fuel our culture’s fevered frenzy for more and more DEMAND, INSISTENCE and SINGLE-MINDED RELIANCE on a single (albeit) fatal treatment plan, which the dominant discourse proclaims as the ONLY SURE CURE (for everything!!!)





*                                 *                                *


…..hmm. now you know… why i no longer watch TV or listen to radio…or go to doctors

earth’s orbit

about the time i quit going to church, a woman came up to me before the

service and asked “do you like my new dress?”, and i could tell from her

question, and from her tone, and her stance, that she expected me to lie


to approve of her latest purchase, and to express a compliment, moreover,

i could see that i was expected to know her as someone i had spoken to

previously, probably many times before, and the thing is i am really good

with voices, especially famous actors, both women and men, and not too

bad with faces matched up with bodies on film, but in person, well,


there’s an issue about identification, maybe i don’t see people’s faces

so clearly, and mostly i didn’t back then because i had very severe

astigmatism but refused to wear the hideous glasses my mother insisted on

(take my word for it, you would have preferred half sight too), so i looked at the woman

up and down, as if carefully, to offer the most truthful opinion possible,


and because it was close to thanksgiving time (even though we lived nowhere

near north america), and i believed that thanksgiving dinners with

all the trimmings were undoubtedly very costly,

yet mostly because her new vestido bonito made

me think of a black and white line drawing i had once transformed with

crayolas for a coloring contest–made it to appear, the drawing that is, as a

peacock’s rival–


well, i said to nice lady, because i knew honesty was a virtue and we

were indeed at that very moment standing

in church, almost in a bee line with the headshot of jesus, the portrait

in which he looks like an extremely clean-cut hippie,

(also maybe a hippie model, posing, who has moments before, so as to avoid

his supervisor’s creepy and somewhat evil eye

smoked a superb joint of phenomenal properties), anyway, i said to her,

with all sincerity and respect,


“ma’am, your dress makes you look like a turkey.”

also, i beamed.


years later when i worked in a behavioral health center, when a woman came

up to me, a patient who had been asking me all morning to let her go out

to the grassy area enclosed by a fifteen foot wall, so she could enjoy

a cigarette, the woman i had been compelled because of rules to sadly

shake my head toward as a response, again and again, the lovely

woman told me that

i reminder her of the world,


which i translated, because she was

beaming, as meaning:

she thought the world of me

even though

i’d had to be strict with her about no smoking, and i looked into her eyes,

i smiled, i beamed in fact, while she continued to explain


i resembled a globe,

especially around the equatorial section,

big, and round, and fat, and orbiting in my own universe,

and the woman’s eyes were sincere,

the barest flicker at the corners of her pink mouth and pearl teeth

maybe just a touch mischievous,

in that moment

i loved her.