Tuesday, April 20, 2010

In the footsteps of James Hillman 30

Prevention and Ritual

It is interesting to see that Hillman links the prevention of evil with the importance of ritual.  Ritual does something significant for human beings on a healing/spiritual level.  A ritual is a set of actions, performed mainly for their symbolic value. It may be prescribed by a religion or by the traditions of a community. Now, these sets of actions are usually formalised in a relgious setting.

For religious persons, rituals are important.  Such rituals are religious services, masses, marriage ceremonies, funeral ceremonies, benediction, communion services, vespers, prayer services and so on and so forth.  There are other traditional rituals associated with Saints' days which vary from area to area, and country to country.  Over and above all that, there are also more cultural rituals associated with birthdays and historical events.  I have in mind events like the following: Bastille Day; The Fourth of July; Victory in Europe Day (V-E Day or VE Day) which commemorates the 8 May 1945, the date when the World War II Allies formally accepted the unconditional surrender of the armed forces of Nazi Germany and the end of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich and Remembrance Day – also known as Poppy Day or Armistice Day (the event it commemorates) or Veterans Day which is observed on 11 November to recall the end of World War I on that date in 1918 (major hostilities of World War I were formally ended "at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month" of 1918 with the German signing of the Armistice). There are obviously many more rituals re-enacted by humans as a way of remembering past actions, and in so doing making them very present to us in the here and now.  That is the very essence of a ritual - the making present of a past event.

Rituals help to hold or give shape to collective emotions, and in giving shape to the expression of emotions they perform essentially a community healing function.  In psychology, the term ritual is used in a technical sense for a repetitive behavior systematically used by a person to neutralize or prevent anxiety; it is a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Here is what, among other things, Hillman tells us about ritual:

My notions of ritual suggest ways of respecting the power of the call.  They suggest disciplines imbued with more than human values, whose rituals will be touched by beauty, transcendence, adventure, and death.  Like cures like - again that old adage.  We must go toward where the seed originates and attempt to follow its deepest intentions.  Society must have rituals of exorcism for protecting itself from the Bad Seed.  Yet it must also have rituals of recognition that give the demonic a place - other than prisons - as Athena for the destructive, blood-angered Furies in the midst of civilized Athens.  (Ibid., p. 246)  

Above, the famous Creation of Adam scene from Michelangelo's ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, taken Rome, February 2010.

Monday, April 19, 2010

In the footsteps of James Hillman 29

A Note on Psychopathology

Psychiatry defines psychopathology as the study of the origin, development, and manifestations of mental or behavioural disorders.  Once again, Hillman gives a marvellous insight into this complex psychiatric problem:

Psychopathology can be generally defined by one concrete word: concretism, taking psychological events such as delusions, hallucinations, fantasies, projections, feelings and wishes as actually, literally, concretely real.  (The Soul's Code, p. 240)
Hitler's Megalomania

Hillman is again insightful here.  Recently I read a small book called The Passion Plan: A Step-by-Step Guide to Discovering, Developing, and Living Your Passion by Richard Chang (Jossey-Bass Publishers).  The argument in this book is quite simple: once you find your passion you will find your soul's path in life, you will discover your real calling or vocation.  Here is what our archetype psychologist says about Hitler's passion, which for him became demonic in intensity:

Hitler's own greatest passion was neither The Third Reich, nor war, nor victory, nor even his own person.  It was architectural construction.  Megalomaniac emperors, from Nebucchadnezzar and the Egyptian pharaohs through the Roman rulers to Napoleon and Hitler, construct in concrete what the daimon envisages.  For this reason, megalomania haunts the actual architect - as the Bible warns with the story of the Tower of Babel, which is not only about the origin of language but also about the megalomania inherent in all attempts to make concrete the grandeurs of fantasy,especially in architecture.  (Ibid., p. 242.)
Beauty is not Truth and Culture does not Prevent Evil

This sub-heading here is mine, not Hillman's.  I have always been astounded over the years that because something seems beautiful to the eye that this does not necessarily mean that it does not mask something that could be evil.  For instance, one of the worst of the concentration camp doctors and human experimenters was Dr Josef Mengele.  This man was very cultural, loved such things as loving classical music and studied Dante.  The psychopathic murderer Chikatilo was a teacher.  Here, Hillman reminds us that the goal of the psyche or, to put it another way, the psychological task is growing down .  Let me interpret this here in my way: that means that we have to earth the daimon, earth the cultural feelings, the whole thrust of one's passion in real life situations, and eventually couple the daimon with an ethical stance that somehow reflects and "contains" the soul.  These are my interpretations of Hillman's words, not his, so perhaps I'm somewhat wrong in that, though I feel I am mainly correct in my contentions.
Let us listen to our archetypal psychologist's words here again:
Growing down shifts the focus of the personality from the single minded ego-centricity of the daimon into common humanity, twisting the call to transcend toward extension into the world and its claims, as we read in the life of Jopsephine Baker, and also in those of Canetti and Einstein, Menuhin and Bernstein.  (Ibid., p. 243)
Hillman adverts to the words of the late Dr M. Scott Peck who argued that evil basically consists in arrogant selfish narcissism or supreme willfulness.  This notion of evil is quite an ancient one which was known to the Greeks as the sin of hubris and to the earlier Christians as superbia which was overweening pride.  However,  Hillman is right in his assertion that Peck is another moralist in a psychiatrist's mask and is saying no more and no less than Christian moralists have been saying for centuries.

Peck avers that love is the essential therapy that will disarm evil, that good psychotherapists are engaged in a therapeutic relationship which is essentially loving and healing and transformative of evil within a person.  Hillman says that this is all fair and good, but however, he believes that this understanding of therapy in the fight against evil is somewhat simplistic.  Rather what is needed, he argues,  is to understand that love is less an exerecise of the will and more "an exercise of intellectual comprehension of the daimonic necessity that calls above and beyond the world to the sinner and the saint." (Ibid., p. 245)

Our archetypal psychologist argues cogently that there is a duality in our calling - an angelic as well as a demonic calling vying for our attention all the while.  Let this be a metaphorical expression, a personification of both the abstractions called Good and Evil, if you so wish, and if you are somewhat scarified by literalism as I am.  I am reminded of the great and wonderful pre-Romantic English poet, William Blake, who had a keen perception of Good and Evil and who wrote a profound diptych-like poetic work Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.  Somehow within the interplay of both these books of poems we will encounter the daimon, both angelic and demonic.  Let us finish this post with the lyrical words of James Hillman:

A society that willfully insists upon innocence as the noblest of virtues and worships innocence at its altars in Orlando and Anaheim and on Sesame Street, will be unable to see any seed of any kind unless it be sugar-coated.  Like Forrest Gump eating chocolates and offering sweets to strangers before he ever looks into their eyes, stupid is as stupid does.  The idea that there is a Bad Seed, that there is a demonic call, should startle our native intelligence, awakening it from the innocence of our American theories so that as a nation we can see that evil is attracted to, belongs with, innocence.  Then we might finally recognize that in America, Natural Born Killers are the secret companions of, are prompted by, Forrest Gumps.  (Ibid., pp. 247-248)

Another scene from Michelangelo's famous Sistine Chapel - taken, February 2010, Rome.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

In the footsteps of James Hillman 28

Hillman's Concept of The Bad Seed and the Nature of Evil

If there's one question that has occupied the minds of the greatest philosophers, theologians and scholars from the dawn of civilization it is that of the presence of evil in the world.  Many of the best minds of various cultures over the last several thousand years have attempted explanations.  I have outlined the main theories of these scholars in these pages before: See this link here: EvilHillman gives us a wholly sui generis and archetypal or archetype psychological explanation of the Mystery of Evil.

One of the things that Hillman seeks to do is to explain what could possibly motivate child killers or other psychopathic or sociopathic serial killers.  He elects to discuss the case of Mary Bell, the famous English child murderer.  Mary Flora Bell (born 1957 in Newcastle upon Tyne) was convicted in December 1968 of the manslaughter of two boys, Martin Brown (aged four years) and Brian Howe (aged three years). Bell was ten years old at the time of one of the killings, and eleven at the time of the other.  Our archetype psychologist suggests that many of the theories presented as possible explanations for these horrific murders, while plausible to a greater or lesser extent, are not really fully convincing.  Those theories, he admits, would dismiss his theory of The Bad Seed as implausible, but Hillman argues that their theories are just as implausible.  I'm with Hillman here.  Let's be open to every possible explanation.  Let's not be reductionists.  Let's not be so naive as to say "ah, yes, we know the exact reasons why Mary Bell committed these crimes.  He mentions the biographer-historian's Gitta Sereny's classical study of Mary Bell's state of mind which she attributed to her upbringing by a dysfunctional mother - who was immensely destructive and a schizoid mother who never really wanted the baby Mary.  Inhumanity is due, then, to inhuman parenting solely.  Well, this is very reductionist indeed.  I've come across a few (not a considerable amount, I admit) dysfunctional children from very good and supportive families, and also a few (not a considerable amount I admit again) very good children from very dysfuncyional families.  So, from my own observed experience I can say that Sereny's theory is wide of the mark.  There could be other factors or an interplay of those other factors at play here.

Again, Alice Miller (born 1923) who is a psychologist and author, noted for her work on child abuse in its many forms, including physical abuse, emotional abuse and child sexual abuse would agree with Sereny's suggested theory as she has averred that "all absurd behaviour has its roots in early childhood." (Quoted The Soul's Code, p. 229).  Also Helm Stierlin (born 1926) , the famous German psychiatrist and psychoanalyst argues the same with respect to Hitler in his famous psychohistory of the infamous dictator: Adolf Hitler: A Family Perspective.  Stierlin would have us believe that the whole course of world history could have been altered by early therapeutic intervention in the young Adolf.

But surely genetics also must have conspired with family influence in the formation of psychopaths.  And perhaps, much more.  Let's allow as many influences as possible - nature, nurture and the Acorn Theory or nature, nurture and archetypal influences coming from the collective unconscious of the human species.  This is where the Soul comes in for the generality of the human species and where some lack or gap in the Soul comes in for the cases of psychopaths and sociopaths.  This lack or gap in the Soul accounts for the coldness in Mary and in Hitler.  Hillman argues that a lack of Soul altogether is what is called the "demonic." 

Hillman argues that Shakespeare and the all the great dramatists were aware of the demonic nature of evil, which in there stage and film versions make the sober theories of the professional psychologists and scientists pale into something far too tame to represent the horrific experience itself.  I suggest that it is as if these theories emasculate, de-spirit (If such a word does not exist, let it be my neologism, then!), sanitise, fillet the very horror of the evil act by explaining it away!).  In this, our man Hillman advances the theory that Shakespeare was well aware of the demonic nature of a lot of his villians, and especially of Iago, the archvillain of the famous Tragedy of Othello, who fails to answer Othello's question as to why he had so beguiled him into murdering his very own love Desdemona.  This is no wonder, indeed, Hillman suggests, because the devil need not give any motives for his crimes.  Iago simply replied to his once great leader: "Demand me nothing: what you know, you know.  It's as if this archvillain were to say to Othello and to us his audience, "You already know, Othello.  In the lines just preceding you have already twice named me a devil."  (See The Soul's Code, p. 235)

Hillman goes on to argue, and to argue quite convincingly, that the Bad Seed takes pleasure in evil-doing and in the malice and harm caused.  It is quite a simple exercise in research to check the biographies of infamous pyschopaths and sociopaths to supply the evidence for this pleasure-taking.  Mary Bell had reported to the police that on the day of her murder of the little toddler Brian that she was "full of laughter that day."  I have no intention here in listing the expressions of pleasure given by such sociopathic or psychopathic killers after having committed such horrific crimes when they were eventually caught.  Hillman gives such biographical evidence from the lives of other murderers - Dennis Nilsen, Jurgen Bartsch, Jeffrey Dahmer and Andrei Chikatilo.  This last is quoted by Hillman as saying at his trial:

It was as if something directed me, something outside me, something supernatural.  I was absolutely not in control of myself when I committed these murders .... I was in an animal fever .... seized by an uncontrollable urge.  (Quoted ibid., p. 238)
Hence, it is all too easy, all too reductionist, to reduce the question of evil in any particular situation to this or that single soul-emasculating theory (my formulation, not Hillman's).  Rather we must allow as many theories to conspire together as well as that of our great archetype psychologist here discussed.  Hitler's psychopathy cannot be reduced solely to his monorchidism (having one testicle) nor that of Chikatilo or Nilsen to sexual dysfunction, because this all puts the cart before the horse.  Because such individuals cannot live up to the driving demands of their daimon they become demonic.  Hillman, in short, argues that evil arises because of the dysfunctional relationship between the self and the daimon.

Above a picture of the ceiling of The Sistine Chapel, Rome, February 2010.