Evil, Ignorant, or Psychotic   (2017Feb27)

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Monday, February 27, 2017                                             5:40 PM

What do we mean when we say someone is ‘psychotic’? I don’t know anything about psychiatry—but I know it doesn’t mean misbehavior—we have criminal law to define what misbehavior is—and it even has conditions that attempt to separate crime from insanity—so ‘psychotic’, whatever that means to us, is not merely doing something bad. I’ve always assumed it meant disassociation from reality—perceiving reality in a way that is fundamentally different from sane people.

And we’ve seen several media reports recently that go out of their way to point out that psychosis, in and of itself, isn’t evil, per se. They give examples of people who are diagnosed as psychotic, but functional, meaning that such people can take care of themselves and don’t make a habit of hurting anyone else, but are nevertheless technically psychotic. That would seem to bear out my assumption that being psychotic isn’t the same as being a bad person.

I think, when we discuss modern politics, we often use ‘psychotic’ to label someone who thinks they have a good idea—and we recognize that ‘good idea’ as a very bad idea, the badness of which should be self-evident to any sane person. Thus Trump and most of his coterie are often described as psychotic—their ideas, if you can call them that, have been seen before, have been discussed before, and have been discarded as shortsighted, or just plain wrong, sometimes years or even decades before now. Their ignorance and willful blindness suggest someone with a malevolent agenda—and rather than call them evil traitors, we give them the benefit of the doubt—and say they must be crazy.

But these are our choices: evil, ignorant, or psychotic—they’re either doing wrong because they intend to, because they don’t know better, or because they fail to grasp reality. Not great choices. Rachel Maddow did a segment on this last week, giving examples of seeming malfeasance, or incompetence, depending on how much volition and knowledge you give them credit for. With each example she repeated the mystery: ‘Are they evil, or are they ignorant and incompetent? You choose.’ But she left out bat-shit crazy—and I can understand why she wanted to keep it simple, but she still left out a very real possibility.

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And I can also see where a knowledgeable reporter would shy away from the question of psychosis. Capitalism is psychotic, when we consider that we are destroying our planet as fast as we can, meanwhile shouting to all who will listen that we can’t afford to slow down. American Politics is psychotic, when we consider that Trump won the election. Religion is psychotic on its face—the very definition of insanity—believing in something that there is no evidence of. And you and I are somewhat crazy as well—everyone is a little crazy, or a lot, depending. I like to think I’m only a little bit crazy, but who knows?

But a true psychotic is like a runaway robot—it will follow its programming, and it won’t slow down just because people start suffering or dying. It won’t adjust for outside input, peer pressure, ethics, morality, or any other reason—it will do what it is doing, and god help you if you get in its way.

And if that sounds a little too much like Trump and his administration, then you and I are in agreement. He may be evil. He is most certainly one of the most ignorant people ever to wield such power. But whatever else he is, there’s some crazy in there, too, no doubt about it.

Look at his life before politics—always skirting the far edges of propriety when it came to personal behavior, always skirting the far edges of legality when it came to acquiring profits, always dismissive of anything like ethics. Had things gone a little differently, Trump would have been campaigning from a jail cell, arrested for one illegal or perverted act or another. It is entirely possible his entire campaign was meant merely to give him immunity from prosecution for many actions he dismissed so quickly, while yelling that his opponent belonged in jail.

The fact that Trump University was found to be fraudulent, during the campaign, and even this clear indicator was ignored by his supporters—means that a good quarter of the country’s voters are a little t’eched in the head, as well.

Then there’s Putin—a murdering crime-boss who wormed his way into the Russian establishment and will kill anyone who threatens his primacy, now that he has it. Trump admired him openly during the campaign and now, as president, he urges America to ‘get along’ with this mafia thug. Crazy loves crazy, I guess.

But America is funny—we’ll do the whole four years with a madman in the White House—but if he takes off his pants and starts running around the front lawn singing nursery rhymes—we’ve got him. This is ironic since, if Trump were to do that, it would be among his most sensible activities—and his least harmful agendas—in the last year.

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Saturday, March 30, 2013               1:54 AM

Oh My God! When I read back some of the crap I’ve written, I could easily puke. There’s something about writing—in trying my hardest to make myself crystal clear, I muddle about worse than if I’d told it plain. But then I re-read my so-called ‘plain speaking’ and I find it full of vacuous nothingness—in avoiding detail and subtlety, I’ve written the equivalent of ‘Life is like an onion’ or some other such fortune-cookie rubbish.

And what indication has the universe given me that what I write is worth the digital disk-space to store—much less a hope that someone else will come round just dying to read it? None whatsoever—trying to kid myself is out of the question—I may not be much of a writer, but I sure as hell know good reading when I read it. In my normal course of reading a book I make allowances for times when I’m not in the mood for that particular story—or not in the mood for reading, as a past-time, generally.

Granted, that was nearly never in my original life. But even then, I’d be sometimes obliged to start a new book, with a different tone or texture than the one I’d not yet finished. Nothing is so well-written that it is always a pleasure to read—even for a dyed-in-the-wool bookworm like ‘me-point-one’ used to be. And now that I’m just slightly living in comparison to those wonderful days, I still enjoy a book—just not without suffering from the sort of neck-cricks and backaches and blurry vision that less-enthusiastic ‘readers’ like to make a point of complaining about.

And this is the problem with writing—even if it’s good (a big if) it still can make my flesh crawl when mine comes at me suddenly. The pomposity, the mawkish pettifogging, the condescension—I sound like a prize jack-ass. And this would be the same bit of writing I had re-read days ago, immediately after writing it, and thinking it superb!

But I am used to this. Does anyone know the worst thing about LSD? It’s the crash. The heady delirium and fascination with all things is replaced with a hollow, worthless reality that is nothing more than what it has always been—the same thing, day after day, year after year. We don’t normally experience the dread stolidity of life—but the LSD, in simulating the altered perceptions and convoluted thought-patterns of a schizophrenic, gives us a glimpse of a world that seems to be hiding behind the ‘same-ol same-old’ of life. It makes us feel exalted and fascinated by all the colors and sounds of the psychedelicized world—we wander like wondering children in a magnificent amusement park.

Then it wears off—and back comes the flat-seeming world we left from. But now it’s shabby, drab, irritating sameness is put into high contrast—it’s almost painful just to exist without the LSD’s magic. That is the worst thing about LSD—it makes reality seem dreary. The funny thing is, that disappointment lasts and lasts—it isn’t a hangover, it isn’t anything—it’s just the world, the way it’s always been—revealed as the grey, unmusical reality that people get hurt in, get sick in, die in, go broke in, and nothing can be done to stop any of it.

No sense of delight I’ve ever gotten from LSD, or any drug, has ever been worth the cost of that crash—the drug wears off, but the crash lingers forever. It is an awareness that behind all our thoughts and feelings and opinions is a world that doesn’t give a damn how we feel or what we believe—it will still gladly mush us like bugs if that’s what’s going on this moment. Good people get punished. Bad people get ahead. Innocent people get hurt and criminals get away with murder. All philosophy evaporates in the presence of hunger or cold or fear. All happiness comes in an instant and is gone before we have the wits to fully realize we are happy.

So I tell myself that I’m too critical of my own writing—that I’m denying myself the same leeway I grant other authors (and, believe me, many an author has taken full advantage of it—the curse of being compulsive about finishing whatever book I’ve started). I tell myself that perception is a shifty bugger, and if I wait until tomorrow I’m just as likely to see some good in the same writing.

So, like all would-be artists, I spend a lot of time listening to my own music, reading my own poems, looking at my own drawings—always asking, “Is it any good? –and if it is, would I be able to tell?” Many of my proudest creations have given me mal de mer from the eternal rising and falling of my opinion of its quality—it’s a good job that I had a habit of giving away all my drawings most of my life—I’d still be checking them every day to see if they looked okay or not.  And I’m far too busy listening to my piano recordings to waste time on that. As far as the writing goes, I figure it’s good therapy, like a journal or something, so I should keep it up even if I’m positive that it’s all garbage. And some days, I’m treated to a good opinion of myself for a few hours—I actually enjoy some of my writing on those days.

That still leaves a percentage that I’ll always feel embarrassed to have been the author of—but with those I just tell myself ‘nobody reads my stuff anyway, so no biggie…’ One of the many perks of being an amateur. I don’t know how professionals do it—creativity is such a tightrope—if I had to merge it with making my living, I’d be lost. Plus they have to have patience with the jerks that pay for art—you’d think such people would be gracious patrons of ‘art’, but I gather that’s not quite how it works.

But it’s all conditional—one’s faith, one’s happiness, one’s self-confidence, one’s solvency—they come and go as the wheel of fortune spins. The auction price for a Van Gogh will dip and climb depending on the art market. What started as Matt and Trey making silly, irreverent cartoons has become the toast of Broadway and London—a devastating lampoon of a major faith during which, apparently, no one in the audience can stop laughing. People starve. People text while driving. People grow old. People laugh.

Is it not fitting that our mood should also rise and sink from moment to moment, transforming the jumbled pile of reality as would a kaleidoscope, into seemingly perfect geometries of meaning and fulfillment? Can I ever hope to write down words that would improve the life of any who read them? Or can I only hope to interest myself in that conceit as a means of avoiding my true uselessness? And could I tell the one from the other? Do I want to?

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