Friday, June 27, 2008

Reflections In Smoke

The air in Sacramento is a smoke-filled haze from wildfires ringing the area. The smoke does seem to bring the temperatures down a little, but it also causes a scratchy throat and is even causing worse problems for those with respiratory conditions.

I'm reminded by all this smoke of the recent torching of a local children's playground and of what I wrote and of what others commented about what I wrote recently. In short, I said that a part of me would like to kill the arsonist, but another part of me realized that this would be worse than the arson itself, and I wondered how best to deal with my angry and vengeful thoughts and emotions. Should I express them openly or keep them to myself? Should I accept them as a natural, albeit misguided, response to the arson, or should I try to find a wholesome way to dispel them?

One person, a psychoanalytic, spiritually-oriented clinical psychologist, commented that I should not only not hold back these feelings and my expression of them, but that I should actually "amplify" them. He suggested that these thoughts and feelings were the most "normal" and "noble" part of my otherwise abnormal psychological makeup (and, perhaps, ignoble character). Of course, he added, I shouldn't act out these feelings, but, as long as I didn't, it was good for me to nurture these homicidal thoughts and hate-filled emotions toward evil deeds and evildoers. This would help me to become psychologically healthier and, perhaps, even progress more rapidly and completely along the spiritual path.

But is this person right? Should we cultivate hatred toward those who harm or would harm us and "amplify" our desire to harm or kill them? Is this psychologically wholesome and spiritually uplifting?

I don't understand how it could be. I think I do understand how suppressing anger and violent thoughts toward evildoers could be harmful psychologically and spiritually. I think Ken Wilber and others are correct in pointing out that the insights of modern psychology can combine with those of traditional spirituality to create spiritual paths unobstructed by our "shadows."

Yet, it seems to me that there's a vast and much more wholesome middle ground between forceful suppression or repression of this kind on the one hand and trying to foster these violent reactions on the other. It seems to me that this desirable middle ground involves acknowledging one's reactive anger and hatred and even openly admitting them to others without either feeling ashamed of them or stoking them. One can then seek to understand why someone would or would even want to torch a children's playground or commit any other harmful act and then strive to feel empathy, compassion, and concern for that misguided individual while, at the same time, condemning the act he or she committed or wants to commit.

I suspect that the person who urged me to "amplify" my homicidal thoughts and hateful emotions would be inclined to shake his head at what I've just written and say, "Steve, you may well be a hopeless case."

And maybe I am. At least until someone can cogently explain to me how hating and wanting to kill evildoers stops them or us from doing evil or raises our minds, hearts, and souls to where we want them to be.

20 comments:

baba rum Raisin said...

In your case, you should probably keep doing whatever you're doing in order to keep from going stark raving insane. However, a normal person would want to remain in touch with their righteous wrath in order to sublimate it into justice. For a normal, balanced person, their feelings constantly provide information about the world, not just the human world, but planes above and below that, e.g., the beauty of matter or of the sacred and holy.

Nagarjuna said...

Baba--
What "justice" would a "normal" person's "righteous wrath"
sublimate" into?

Couldn't feelings of compassion and concern for the evildoer ALSO provide "information about the world," namely that some are driven by psychopathology to do harm and that "there but for the grace of God go I"?

Couldn't one feel this compassion and concern for the evildoer and understand that he (or she) acted out of psychological illness or disorder and still seek true justice, or must one be motivated by sublimated "righteous wrath" to do this?

baba rum Raisin said...

What "justice" would a "normal" person's "righteous wrath" sublimate" into?

--You really are lost, aren't you? It sublimates into justice per se. Otherwise, you end up being like a Vulcan, with no contact with the nonlocal source of justice.

Couldn't feelings of compassion and concern for the evildoer ALSO provide "information about the world," namely that some are driven by psychopathology to do harm and that "there but for the grace of God go I"?

--No. This is to court insanity and even criminality. Again, it does not surprise me that you think this way, given your confusion about virtually everything.

You are confusing compassion with a kind of rank sentimentalism which excuses evil while sacrificing judgement and prudence. Compassion only has meaning for the one who is capable of discerning justice, otherwise you will imagine yourself to be transcending a virtue you do not possess.

Ironically, your type of vague and flabby liberalism is obviously rooted in feelings, but they are lower emotions, not higher sentiments. This is why a moral code is so important for a quasi-animal such as yourself, since your own arbitrary and spiritually unmoored judgments are not to be trusted.

In short, compassion must be "from above," never "from below," on pain of being just another name for moral stupidity.

Nagarjuna said...

Baba--
So, pyromania isn't pathology, or, even if it is, it isn't good fortune that spares us this affliction, we should hate the afflicted, and it's only the "rank sentimentalism" of "vague and flabby liberalism" that seeks to temper justice with mercy and compassion?

As for justice, what form would it take against the arsonist in question, and how would it differ from the misguided pseudo-justice sought and imposed by "quasi-animal" liberals?

shirley said...

I think you may be losing touch with reality.

shirley said...

Or, after reading the comments, just baiting Baba Rum into commenting on your blog to get his attention.

Nagarjuna said...

Shirley--
What SPECIFICALLY did I write that leads you to believe that I'm "losing touch with reality" or that I'm trying to bait Baba, and WHY does it lead you to believe this? In other words, do you disagree with anything I wrote in my post or subsequent comments, and, if so, why?

shirley said...

Steve,
I could elaborate on what I just said but it seems that points made on this blog are never acknowledged by you, another question is asked as if you never heard the answer to the first. Debate for the sake of debate to continue the debate.
Are you not interested in finding coherent patterns and workable solutions (emphasis on the word workable).
Have you not noticed this trait in yourself?
Therefore, I feel as if it is a waste of my time to delineate things as I have done in the past. Some things are self evident and will be to others who read this blog with any consistency.
Have you noticed that few people stick around for long? It's feels like speaking to a wall at times here.
This is not meant as a put down but as a general obsrvation I've made concerning the discussions here.
It's as if you wish to remain a juggler with all ideas kept airborn, adopting none into a coherent philosophy.

shirley said...

As far as specifics, here you go;

"I'm reminded by all this smoke of the recent torching of a local children's playground and of what I wrote and of what others commented about what I wrote recently. In short, I said that a part of me would like to kill the arsonist, but another part of me realized that this would be worse than the arson itself, and I wondered how best to deal with my angry and vengeful thoughts and emotions. Should I express them openly or keep them to myself? Should I accept them as a natural, albeit misguided, response to the arson, or should I try to find a wholesome way to dispel them?

One person, a psychoanalytic, spiritually-oriented clinical psychologist, commented that I should not only not hold back these feelings and my expression of them, but that I should actually "amplify" them. He suggested that these thoughts and feelings were the most "normal" and "noble" part of my otherwise abnormal psychological makeup (and, perhaps, ignoble character). Of course, he added, I shouldn't act out these feelings, but, as long as I didn't, it was good for me to nurture these homicidal thoughts and hate-filled emotions toward evil deeds and evildoers. This would help me to become psychologically healthier and, perhaps, even progress more rapidly and completely along the spiritual path.

But is this person right? Should we cultivate hatred toward those who harm or would harm us and "amplify" our desire to harm or kill them? Is this psychologically wholesome and spiritually uplifting?

I don't understand how it could be. I think I do understand how suppressing anger and violent thoughts toward evildoers could be harmful psychologically and spiritually. I think Ken Wilber and others are correct in pointing out that the insights of modern psychology can combine with those of traditional spirituality to create spiritual paths unobstructed by our "shadows."

Yet, it seems to me that there's a vast and much more wholesome middle ground between forceful suppression or repression of this kind on the one hand and trying to foster these violent reactions on the other. It seems to me that this desirable middle ground involves acknowledging one's reactive anger and hatred and even openly admitting them to others without either feeling ashamed of them or stoking them. One can then seek to understand why someone would or would even want to torch a children's playground or commit any other harmful act and then strive to feel empathy, compassion, and concern for that misguided individual while, at the same time, condemning the act he or she committed or wants to commit.

I suspect that the person who urged me to "amplify" my homicidal thoughts and hateful emotions would be inclined to shake his head at what I've just written and say, "Steve, you may well be a hopeless case."

And maybe I am. At least until someone can cogently explain to me how hating and wanting to kill evildoers stops them or us from doing evil or raises our minds, hearts, and souls to where we want them to be. "



A normal man in his fiftys possessed of himself would not be obsessing about this a couple weeks after it was brought up. People leave this type of confusinon behind in their 20s or early 30s. Until you realize this for yourself, there is nothing that I can say which will explain it to you. Nothibng. It must be realized to be understood. (see previous post for clues)

Nagarjuna said...

Shirley--
What points have you made here that I haven't acknowledged? In this thread, you've said I "may be losing touch with reality" or "baiting" people. I asked you why you say this and what I've written that you disagree with. If you care to tell me, I think you'll find me more than willing to engage you in dialog, as I did Gary previously in an extended discussion of Bernie Ward. But, from my perspective, what you typically do here is "hit and run." You make some kind of critical comment about me or what I've written, and, then when I ask you, as it seems only reasonable to do, to elaborate so that I understand it and can discuss it with you, you disappear.

Shirley, I'm not looking simply to "juggle ideas" or to engage in endless debate. As for obsessing over the issue of what should happen to the local arsonist, I don't think I'm obsessing on it. But I AM interested in the issue of crime and punishment in general and how we should respond to crime and evildoing emotionally, spiritually, and legally, especially as it all relates to the issue of free will vs determinism, and I do like to return to this issue from time to time to receive new viewpoints or elaborations of old ones. Baba and I have discussed this issue previously, but I don't think he's been very clear or cogent in expressing his views, yet, I would like to understand better where he's coming from and have asked him questions designed to help me understand him better, just as I have done you.

He appears to be unwilling to continue the discussion and clarify his meaning. What about you?

shirley said...

Steve,
Are you aware that it is actually legal to KILL an arsonist who is about to set fire to an inhabited building in order to stop the act?
Would you consider this justice and would you yourself do it?
Would the "mentally afflicted" arsonist's right to live trump anothers attempt to stop his act?
What about Tom Horn? He shot two burglars dead at his neighbors house and apparently he will have no charges filed after his Grand Jury hearing. Was he justified? What if a majority of people were willing to stand in the way of crime and injustice and put an end to it? How high would the crime rate be and would the thugs be more apt to think twice before committing a crime?
How willing would you be to stand in the way of the arsonist who burned down the playground. Would you be willing to confront him and beat the living FUCK out of him (to the best of your ability) in order to stop him regardless his "affliction"? After all, when seconds count, the police are only minutes away.
These are all ideas and actions which I would have hoped you would have thought about and firmed up as a man in his fifties. Right vs. Wrong.
How willing are you to take action against injustice and back forms of punishment instead of regarding all perversions as some sort of sickness in need of therapy and compassion.
Some people are just evil and love forcing their will on others because they can. To them it feels good. Had they been stopped forcefully early on maybe they would have turned out differently as human beings later on.
If you found Benie Ward raping a child would you be willing to physically put a stop to it?
I realize these are all hypothetical situations but humor me, what would you be willing to do? Have you gelled your worldview to be willing to put yourself between innocence and evil? And By the way, hate has nothing to do with any of this, Love of justice and preservation of innocence is more the description.

Nagarjuna said...

Shirley--
Thank you for your reply. Let me try to answer your questions.

Although it might well be legal to use deadly force, if demonstrably necessary, to prevent someone from setting fire to an occupied building, I don't believe that, in the state of California where I live, it's legal to deliberately kill someone intent on torching a vacant children's playground in order to thwart that intent. And I don't believe that it would be legal to kill or even severely injure anyone after they had already set fire to a structure if my intent was to administer "justice" rather than simply detain, with no more force than demonstrably necessary, the perpetrator until police could apprehend him. Again, I'm not talking about dishing out justice, but of doing what I could to see to it that someone either doesn't commit an evil act or is caught after the fact so that the legal system can play its rightful role in dispensing justice. And, yes, I DO believe that I would try to stop someone from either committing an evil act or from escaping afterward if I thought I could. I just hope that I wouldn't go any further than necessary to do this and not only NOT mete out more "justice" than the perpetrator or would-be perpetrator deserved, but also not subject myself to criminal and civil legal action.

I have mixed feelings about the Joe Horn case. I agree with you that if potential burglars knew that they could die for breaking into houses, they might well be deterred. And if someone broke into my house while I was home, I would consider them a threat to my or my wife's life and be more than willing to use deadly force to stop them. However, it seems to me that Horn, despite the Texas Grand Jury's decision, may have violated the law in venturing outside with a loaded shotgun to stop those men after they had burglarized a neighbor's house. Furthermore, morally speaking, I'm not sure that those men deserved to die for their crime.

Of course, if you reread what I posted previously, Baba Rum Raisin's implications to the contrary, I never said anything about how trying to understand evildoers and feel compassion for them meant letting them get away with crime. I don't believe that taking lawful action to stop crime has to be incompatible with cultivating psychologically and spiritually enlightened understanding and compassion for criminals.

The point of my previous posts about this had more to do with the moral and spiritual issues of how we as individuals and as a society should FEEL about evildoers rather than how we should act if we saw someone committing or about to commit a criminal act. Most of us never encounter criminals in the act of crime and have a chance to stop them. But we all hear and read about crimes after the fact and have feelings about this news and toward the people who committed the crimes.

I believe that we SHOULD not let hatred and vengeance blind us what seems to me to be the TRUTH that those who rape children or torch children's playgrounds are psychologically SICK and need to be regarded and treated accordingly. The question is, what IS the appropriate way to feel about and treat such individuals? Is it to hate and "beat the living FUCK out of them," or is there a response more in tune with the TRUTH that Baba Rum Raisin, in his various incarnations, insists should be paramount in guiding our actions?

shirley said...

As I said before,
"And By the way, hate has nothing to do with any of this, Love of justice and preservation of innocence is more the description."
Just because you see it as hate doesn't mean it is and speaks more to your perspective of what it would take for YOU to take action. You would have to work yourself into a hateful rage to do anything against the evil you see being perpetuated.
Others with a more realistic view of the world and reality would take action because it is the right thing to do for the world and their fellow man, no hatred involved. It's called compassion and it takes many forms for those willing to expand their repertoire and become fully human.
My guess is that if you were able to comprehend, internalize and live what I just described, your spiritual life would take off like a rocket (okay, maybe a bottle rocket).
In fact I know it would happen. And as a side effect, your wife would have more respect for you as a man as it is possible to intuitively know EXACTLY when and what to do to take action against injustice when it is taking place.
So you keep firearms in the house eh?

shirley said...

You said,
"...or is there a response more in tune with the TRUTH that Baba Rum Raisin, in his various incarnations, insists should be paramount in guiding our actions?"

I thought you had no undertanding of what Baba was eluding to? Baba certainly seems to think so.

Nagarjuna said...

No, Shirley, I wouldn't have to "work" myself "into a hateful rage" to take action against wrongdoers. It's more likely that I'd have to "work" very hard not to take "excessive" action.

As for taking a "more realistic view of the world" and acting accordingly, how do you see MY view of the world as being UNrealistic? That is, do you believe that people who burn down community playgrounds or rape children are NOT mentally disturbed or sick?

Finally, I have no idea what you were talking about with your Baba comment. The point of my previous comment was that Baba, in his various guises, keeps saying that we should know and live the TRUTH. So, if it's true that child rapists and arsonist are mentally ill, how should we feel and act with regard to them?

Shirley, I'm not sure we're understanding each other very well. I'm not saying that people who commit crimes shouldn't be subject to justice or that we shouldn't stop people from committing crimes or shouldn't detain them afterwards if we can. I'm asking about the nature of justice as applied to people who commit crimes out of mental illness, and I'm asking how we, as individuals and as a society, should feel about the wrongdoers in question.

shirley said...

Steve,
Would you use your gun to kill an intruder attacking you or your wife in your own home if that's what it took to stop him? If he were a black man, would you feel that the New Black Panther Party had justification to protest in front of your home and call you a racist for your actions? Or, would you choose to see the perpetrator as a human being doing something evil who basically freely chose to put himself at risk and therefore certainly knew things could turn out as they did?
BTW is it a long gun or a handgun? Is it loaded with buck shot or a hollowpoint pistol bullet? Perhaps a Cali/legal AR15? Have you pre-meditated the ballistic efficiency/ stopping power of the round prior to making the choice to use it?
Would you feel remorse because you didn't have the opportunity to understand and get to know the sickness of the individual prior to ventilating him with lead? Do you believe that some criminals, perhaps a majority, have a proclivity towards violence because they get off on having power over others less strong and that there is such a thing as evil in the world? How would you react to the surprised look on the attackers face as you leveled your firearm on him and proceeded to pull the trigger, would it be a feeling of power?, revenge?, relief?, omnipitence? What if he hesitated for just a second after he saw it but then continued the attack at a more frenzied pace, would you regret the increased level of force being appied by you? Would it seem unfair? Would you care how he felt? Would you tell him to stop and ask him? What if he had a knife to your wife's throat and hesitated for just a second, would you give him a chance to reconsider or fire as fast as the sights came on target?
These questions are an attempt to better understand where you're coming from, thus I'd appreciate if you'd answer them.

Nagarjuna said...

Shirley--
Yes, I'd use a gun or whatever means I had to stop an intruder in my home, and I wouldn't be pondering the philosophical, moral, or legal implications of determined will when I did it. But that would be for defense against an imminent threat to me or my family. What I've been writing about here is the nature of justice after a crime has been committed and after the perpetrator has been apprehended, and how we as individuals and a society should regard and treat those who commit criminal acts because they were unable not to.

shirley said...

Unable not to?

shirley said...

And please if you would, answer these two questions. Thanks,
Do you believe that some criminals, perhaps a majority, have a proclivity towards violence because they get off on having power over others less strong and that there is such a thing as evil in the world?
If he were a black man, would you feel that the New Black Panther Party had justification to protest in front of your home and call you a racist for your actions?

Nagarjuna said...

Yes, I believe that some people who commit criminal acts do so because they "get off" on exerting power over others, but I would ask what factors in their genes and life experience combined to CAUSE this proclivity and what we can do as individuals and as a society to effectively but justly control this proclivity or preclude it from arising in the first place.

If one defines "evil" as the unjustified infliction of harm and suffering, yes, I believe that there's evil in the world. However, if one defines "evil" as the free-willed infliction of such unjustified harm and suffering, then, no, I don't believe in evil, because I don't believe in free will. As I've stated many times in this blog, I believe that there's a cause for everything we do such that, given that cause, we cannot help but do what we do. Thus, when someone commits a crime, it is because he HAD to at that time and under the prevailing causal circumstances.

If, in your hypothetical, the new Black Panther party protested in front of my home in a legal manner, I would consider them to be acting within their rights, but I would also consider them to be misguided in exercising those rights in that manner.