Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A hopefully unscientific ongoing investigation into suffering and its meaning for me

"Not even in our most devious dreams could we have designed a surrogate as evil as these real monkey mothers were", he wrote. But of course he was speaking of himself.

I want to sing a song
about something I read
and how it squeezed my heart
like bellows of some hellish
icy fire that gives out neither
light nor warmth but sucks them in.
About a man who, like all of us,
is deserving of any spare
compassion you or I
may have in our pocket.
His name? Not relevant,
he had already changed it from
fear of loss, but he called himself a
scientist and a psychologist, and indeed some of his work
served to underscore the importance of touch
and the physical expression of parental affection,
at a time when mothers were encouraged by men in white coats
to ignore their instincts and crying children, and shake hands
goodnight rather than have a hug or kiss.

As a man in a white coat he helped change all that,
providing "proof" of the opposite  -
which allowed dutiful 1950s wives and mothers
to do what they knew already was best,  
and any child or adult who is not touch deprived
because of that work must be credited in some part
to him.

Yet his intellectual curiosity, if that is what it was,  - so human, so inhuman - untempered by something we might call mercy or seeing one's self in the other - inflicted great damage on his
non-human primate subjects
cutting out sections of their brains, subjecting them to massive doses of radiation,
forcing cobalt into their cortex....nothing that other "researchers" were not doing at the time,
or were to do, but worse was to come.

A scientist is G-d in their laboratory, as we are all G-ds in our world - laboratories.
Sometimes low functioning people with distressing thoughts
and problems of human living end up in jails or locked wards or out on the streets
Sometimes high functioning people with distressing thoughts and problems of human living
end up as leaders and politicians and clergy and jailers
and psychiatrists and hackers and scientists

and at some point his second wife
who was very dear to him
got cancer and after struggling with the
disease died. He sank into a black depression, received
electro-convulsive therapy
and then continued with increasingly sadistic "experiments" on
rhesus monkeys, ostensibly to find out
what was obvious, but perhaps to push
the pain or heaviness in him
into other beings, to "act out" his own psychic distress
(he said as much),
to lighten his load, to punish women, to punish Life, who knows?

Now a disembodied curiosity,
detached or numbed from his own heart and hurt
he improved his devices designed to deprive and torture:   

"the hostile mother"
"iron maidens"
"the rape rack" and

 "the pit of despair"

and it was appropriate he named them for what they were,
rather than with some scientific euphemism,
like LD 50 tests where animals are poisoned for a better shampoo,
or "deafferentation*"- cutting sensory ganglia that supply nerves to the fingers, hands, arms, and legs of  monkeys so that they cannot feel their limbs.

perhaps it was a cry for help?
"I am in a pit of despair, someone help me, someone stop me,
I'm sick and I don't know how to stop myself" - how many addicts have silently or loudly screamed this prayer as they seem to fall beyond abasement,
in light-less concrete cellars of blood and vomit

but no one stopped him, instead
they gave him scientific medals and funding,
although there were critics who rang the alarm bell on what was being done in our name,
thus enabled he continued spiralling down, aided and abetted by doctoral fellows,
ostensibly to see if severe deprivation
could irreparably damage
sentient beings.
Surprise, it does.

He stopped
when age and Parkinsons
finished his blighted frame
Reading of it threw me
into the pit of despair
I joined him
and the monkeys

at first I wanted
he be resurrected from the grave, so that
I could strangle him with my own hands
before it could happen, to clean this stain
off our family
I wanted him slowly tortured
so that the pain in me and his monkeys
would become his again,
followed by thoughts of more subtly sadistic
 and devastating forms of "justice"
where he would be endlessly exposed to the suffering he caused
and presided over, til it cut through his denial and was perceived
til he understood and his heart
burst from remorse and regret

like a murderer who must meet the loving and weeping parents and children and siblings of the people they have killed, every day for the rest of their life, with no means to undo what they have done, (but how will that help the grieving kin?)
and then I wished a fiery end to alla cleansing fire, so that we could begin again,
untainted by human perversity,
but I already knew, and saw ever more clearly
then I as doing to him
and me, what he did to those monkeys,
righteous anger and revenge fantasies only go so far
and my heart broke once again, for double futility

both they and him long gone, borne away on the river of time
only reemerging now when attention turns to what it
says about us,
and what we already know:
that whatever is fed, grows

but still the wound in me
not scoured clean

I will not watch
footage of the helpless monkeys
in their tiny bleak beyond bleak
my identification with them
so strong
why haunt myself
it seems I cannot bear
my own helplessness

to reach across time
to bring comfort
(though what i see
is just an image -
they have been free
these 45 years)

nor can I bear to name him
(infamy be wiped out and leave no trace)
or hear his voice or see his likeness
from shame and sorrow, would that he
and all cruelty
were never born

but the day, the hour, the minute, the second  will come
when I will let both he and I go,
compelled by my
non-indifference to sorrow

and after I had ached for them, and me, and eventually him I thought
if he had known that he could not free himself 
like that, if he had found a way back to his heart, if he
could have left the prison of the lab and his career and his
imagined loss and found comfort he
would never have done that,
it would not have been a possibility for him
to seal a baby in a cold steel tin

so like Leonard Cohen
bringing flowers to a mass murderer
in the garden of my heart
I pick some fresh blooms
and take them to him
before it all began
for when we do not know
we do begin again



"In our study of psychopathology, we began as sadists trying to produce abnormality. Today, we are psychiatrists trying to achieve normality and equanimity." he wrote

He wanted to test how isolation would affect parenting skills, but the isolated monkeys were unable to mate. So he and his assisstants devised what he called a "rape rack", to which the damaged female monkeys  were tied in normal monkey mating posture. He found that, just as they were incapable of having sexual relations, they were also unable to parent their offspring, either abusing or neglecting them.  Having no social experience themselves, they were incapable of appropriate social interaction. One mother held her baby's face to the floor and chewed off his feet and fingers. Another crushed her baby's head. Most of them simply ignored their offspring.

* deafferentation -  While developing the new  constraint-induced movement therapy that helped, and helps, restore the use of affected limbs in stroke patients, psychologist Edward Taub used restraint and electric shock to force the monkeys to use the limbs they could not feel. He discovered that, when motivated by extreme hunger or the desire to avoid electric shock, they could be induced to use their deafferented limbs. The research led in part to the discovery of neuroplasticity within the primate motor system.

Some of this research in the 1990s parallels what was already known, or used, on shell shocked first world war soldiers who underwent lobotomies, or who were tortured  - literally - back into a degree of functionality.

"Mutism and speech disorders were the most common form of war neurosis. They were thought to be symptoms of a soldiers repressed aggression towards his superior officers. The rate of war neurosis, however, was four times higher among officers then among the regular soldiers. Their positions required them to continually repress their emotions in order to set an example for their men. The most severe cases of shellshock occurred in officers who had made a name for themselves as daredevils. These man were ashamed by their overwhelming fear and performed daredevil acts to show their men that they were not afraid.

The treatments of shellshock were many and varied. Disciplinary treatment was the most common at the time. The doctors involved with this form of treatment had harsh moral views of hysteria and stressed quick cures as the goal of wartime psychiatry was to keep men fighting. Shaming, physical re-education and the infliction of pain were the main methods used. Electric Shock Treatment was very popular. This involved an electric current being applied to various body parts to cure the symptoms of shellshock. For example, an electric current would be applied to the pharynx of a soldier suffering from mutism or to the spine of a man who had problems walking.
Another form of treatment consisted of "finding out the main likes and dislikes of patients and then ordering them to abstain from the former and apply themselves diligently to the latter". Patients who had a fear of noise were given rooms looking onto a main road, men who had been teachers or writers before the war were refused access to the library and men who feared being alone were put into isolation."

See also this theatre review

Journey into the heart of darkness

If you tend towards brooding melancholy then skip this post, but if you've never thought too much about what motivates scientists who perform unnecessary experiments on sentient beings then this extract from a harrowing play - but which nevertheless evokes laughter because contradiction is inescapable living life as a person -  may expose you to some new perspectives.

And here is an intelligent review of the play

Monday, November 13, 2017

Here we go....again

Have been experiencing quite extreme mood and energy cycling / swings, not just from day to day but during a single day. So at 1pm may find myself unable to keep my eyes open, feeling too heavy too move, or terrribly oppressed, and then - sometimes after a short nap if that is available to me, or just lying down and listening to Mooji or Byron Katie or, today, for a change, Allan Watts - I find myself busy doing things again, my energy levels restored. This may last a while, then there is another crash, and sometimes before bed time there may be one more small burst of energy and animation.

I try to be mindful and not get fully identified with the feelings that arise, particulary the denser paralysing ones, which for some reason - probably an imagined future - I am more resistant too than the "ups".

I think it can be liberating if I can let go and trust that Life is beneficient, and allow what is changing to change, without clinging too tightly to notions of how my body should feel, or what my energy levels should be like, at any given time.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

What do the dead think of the Holocaust?

My question is this: Once suffering is behind us, what concerns us?