Spiritual But Not Religious in 2012 – XVI

The irrelevance of much criticism of SBNR can be gauged by looking at the many psychologies of the 20th century — those of Jung, Maslow, Rogers, Erickson, Assagioli, Grof and so forth — which are relevant to it. They operated as reconciliations of left and right brain in an instinctive truthfulness that embodies both. They focused on lifting patients out of their bizarrely neurotic social environments, making space in people for themselves, sometimes then transforming the environments too.

They continue to be of huge importance to wide swathes of the public even as they are usually accorded very little status in the teaching of psychology itself, which is currently showing signs of an ideocracy greater even than the one it promulgated in the mid-20th century.

Carl Jung is both “passé” and also probably more popular than ever, with new neurological rigour on his side. Milton Erickson conferences attract thousands of practitioners and his methods have cured hundreds of thousands — yet his name appears in no mainstream psychology text’s index, to my knowledge.

Information becomes available. There appears to be no stopping the wave(s). It’s quite clear that with some of the above names — Carl Rogers for instance — no transpersonal reason exists to bar them from the academy, whereas every evidential reason exists to admit them. They are barred because what they say “should not be said”. But this bar somehow doesn’t really hold them.

There has rarely been truly strong “official” support for SBNR but nothing has stopped its growth.

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Addendum — Quiz Answer!

Full marks to mirjhar! And anyone else who guessed the speaker was indeed Richard Dawkins. I deployed that quote simply to show that the man is thinking mythically; as Clare said, “emphasising the majesty” of what he was saying. Mythic thinking and imaging concerns the big questions and stories that touch meaningful places within us. In this case, as so often, Dawkins’ point of view is very close to the Christian one (he’s not far off Ecclesiastes, “a time to be born and a time to die” etc.) Not all scientists are so unaware of their mythicising — Einstein springs to mind — but whether they are aware or not, they all do it. Human beings must.

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12 responses to “Spiritual But Not Religious in 2012 – XVI

  • mirjhar

    Can you say something more about the current ideocracy in psychology? (I don’t keep up with the field, and never have; perhaps some other readers are also unfamiliar with the current state of affairs there.) Might it be “cognitive science”, and/or the obsession with brain imaging (“neuromania”, as Raymond Tallis and others have dubbed it)?

    I assume that the ideocracy you refer to from the mid-20th century is the lunacy of Behaviourism. (“Hi, how am I?” “You’re fine, how am I?”)

    Re Dawkins: he is gruesomely evangelical! But I must admit that what got me thinking harder than ever about psychology (in a broad sense, beyond the somewhat narrow academic field that bears the name of the whole) and philosophy (ditto) was a discussion on the BBC message boards in January 2010 with the title ” Richard Dawkins’ Fundamentalism” http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/mbradio4/NF2766774?thread=7206447. (As usual, it got cut maddeningly short by the BBC censor named “Anna”, and I never did find anywhere to continue the discussion).

    True, one shouldn’t become obsessed with arguing with dawkins (a plural noun for Dawkins’s more religious disciples), or other fanatical opponents of SBNR, but the man himself is probably worth keeping in mind, as an internal intellectual opponent who speaks for a general intellectual climate that is unavoidable (however absurd).

    You put your finger on the most important thing (to my mind) with your final observation that “human beings must” mythologise. So there is something very odd about people who imagine that they are not mythologising – even if that oddness constitutes “normality” in our abnormal society. (Nurse, he’s rambling again!) :)

    • Jason Wingate

      All your guesses are spot on again! Yes the “fMRI + cog” orthodoxy is certainly what I’m thinking of, creating huge hoops through which anyone has to jump. And yes, Behaviourism. I don’t intend to focus too much on the history of psych though…

      Not sure I like the idea of having “internal intellectual opponents” — certainly not bigoted ones who don’t listen! — but I’ll occasionally respond to the ridiculousness of Dawkins’ exploits as a public figure.

      So there is something very odd about people who imagine that they are not mythologising

      There is, but don’t forget that they are simply following the officially promulgated narrative of our society, which churns out such oddness as a result. “Narrative” being another word for “myth”.

      Just as with other monomyths, the story holds hegemony because not only the supposed excellence of our mental habits, but also our material prosperity, are attributed to it.

      The original mechanism for installing monomythic ideocracy in Constantine’s day was often simply to denounce pagans as unclean, mad, and twisted — and if they didn’t agree, they were occasionally publicly dismembered. their body parts hung along some main thoroughfare of a hurriedly-Christianising town. The smell alone probably confirmed the unclean twistedness.

      Thus unfounded fears of one’s own unclean twistedness may persist when denying the monomyth to this day — or even when suspecting that part of oneself doesn’t agree with it. Cast out the devil! Etc.

      The idea that running things this way wouldn’t produce a lot of “oddity” is… charming at best. :)

  • mirjhar

    “The original mechanism for installing monomythic ideocracy in Constantine’s day was often simply to denounce pagans as unclean, mad, and twisted”.

    Plus ca change. I learned only the other day, from my daughter, that another of her school friends has been sacrificed on the altar of “scientific” medicine. (The other one she had mentioned as having been attacked by the official pushers of brain-damaging drugs is being spared them now, and is more back to herself.) From my daughter’s accounts of her, she had sounded adorably scatty, like Luna Lovegood, my favourite character from the Harry Potter books. (Yes, I confess to having read them all! Aloud, to my daughter.) “Luna”, as I shall call her, was very odd, but deep; and had been made odder by the use of too much weed. But now, as if the harm done by adulterated “street” drugs weren’t enough, she has been so doped up by “scientific” quackery that, although she comes from Iran, she no longer knows where Iran is. She is apparently unrecognisable as the person she once was (even on weed).

    Sorry if I’m sounding to much like Thomas Szasz, or a Scientologist! (I don’t agree very much with either.) But scientism is a threat on many levels, and it has its shock troops, who daily commit real atrocities, leaving millions of lives tragically damaged.

    (I do admit to being a tad obsessed with this subject; and, although I have good reasons for being so obsessed with it, I must apologise for cluttering up the comment facility of your blog yet again, with something so negative, when your primary focus is positively on SBNR itself. I’m trying to think how to avoid doing this so much.)

    At least my daughter herself seems to be escaping from the worst of the threat; she sounded relieved after seeing a hypnotherapist yesterday (her idea, not mine), whereas she had been talking about trying antidepressants.

    It frequently seems to me that “mental illness” (a phenomenon whose reality in some sense I emphatically do not deny, although the literal medical language used to describe it in our society is itself insane) is effectively punished as a scapegoat for what the prevailing scientistic worldview regards as “irrationality” in general.

    (This is not to deny that “mental illness” can involve real irrationality, and real danger, and so, even people who wish to repudiate scientism may understandably not want their own rational views to be associated with such a stigmatised and disturbing topic. No-one wants to be called mad, irrational, or insane, any more than anyone wants to be called evil, wicked, or sinful.)

    The exclusive focus on “the brain” leaves us bereft of any language for understanding the mind (or Mind), and it robs our imagination of any alternatives to the so-called “treatment” of the mind by assaulting the brain (in ways which also happen to generate huge profits).

    Psychiatry, although nobody likes to think about it, is central to the structure of our insane society, not as peripheral as it is made to seem.

    (“Nurse! He’s getting worse.”) :)

    You said much of this better, and more concisely, yourself: “Thus unfounded fears of one’s own unclean twistedness may persist when denying the monomyth to this day — or even when suspecting that part of oneself doesn’t agree with it. Cast out the devil! Etc.” Forgive me for elaborating perhaps too much.

    • Jason Wingate

      That’s ok… I’m glad your daughter chose hypnosis rather than pills too. Plus ça change, mais oui, précisément! That’s why I cite this. Having that long historical view helps prevent being trapped in a single frame instance of the now.

      I’m only concerned that a great deal of the righteous anger you are venting here, when it comes to the serried ranks of shock troops you conjure up, is perpetuating some illusion of your own impotence. I sympathise with whatever painful experiences have led to this viewpoint, but that doesn’t make it a balanced picture or a useful one for taking action within.

      Psychiatry may be more central than it makes out, but it is less central to you personally than you seem to believe it has to be. My point in this post, as you see, is that nothing stops the alternative points of view from existing and spreading, massively. We are not in the least “bereft” of useful language, we have an absolute bonanza of it available to anyone. All one has to do is use it.

      The names in this post are just the psychologists. We’ve had artists, philosophers, physicists, etc. in this very long-established and vibrant part of the culture, which is not under anyone’s boot — that’s partly why I continue to emphasise the importance of free speech! I personally would rather do something than just shake my fist.

      I find Rogers far more impressive than Laing. Laing seems to have been an “against” man. He thought challenge was the point rather than a side-effect of already having got the point. When I see him speak I usually don’t want to know him. Too angry. With him it must have been personal.

      One has to change oneself first. When I see Rogers speak I see a man who knows how to expend the effort to maintain peace within himself whether those around him always do or not — and succeeding. He upended psychotherapy in the states but until much later didn’t even understand why people were threatened by his research and theories. He wasn’t trying to be against, he simply proceeded. (More of that later.)

      You’ve probably read a little of Glenn by now, can you imagine him not meditating because of some prevailing cultural wind? It’s ridiculous. Plenty of people thought he was mad, Templeton Prize nomination or no. I don’t think he gave a fuck. It had effects — he lost his job for one thing. But you couldn’t damp him down. That’s the way to be. The research is there, the techniques are there, the resources are there. Who knows if they will be around forever? Let’s use them!

      Anger at being caged tends to peter out when one realises the door is open and walks through it. It’s easy for me to say this, having meditated this long, and I realise that, but in a way that’s exactly the point.

      I must apologise for cluttering up the comment facility of your blog yet again, with something so negative, when your primary focus is positively on SBNR itself. I’m trying to think how to avoid doing this so much

      I still think a blog of your own might be part of the answer! You certainly have things to write about and the knowledge to write on them, protestations to the contrary aside.

  • mirjhar

    I completely take your point: every word of it, about my being wedded to my own impotence, wilfully failing to take action, not going through a door that is in fact wide open, and so on; also, about Laing being negative (he left terrible effects behind him – strange things, of which I and others whom I knew in the early 1980s had personal experience, to our cost); and all the rest.

    I would maintain, in my defence, that my view of psychiatry is intellectually balanced; but such a defence of my position utterly fails to address my own extreme unbalance towards the intellectual, and towards the passively unspiritual (or spiritless, or dispirited).

    I protest too much, because I still have within me much of what I am protesting about. It has to do with the question of reason, the worship of reason, and a form of narcissism. I’m struggling with Reason, trying to reform my attitude towards it.

    I felt extremely abashed and chastened when I started to read Glenn’s book. Something rather more was going on than just the reading of his words (or even yours). I had to take a break, as it was all rather too much for me to take in at once. I don’t think I’m being gullible if I say that there was something disturbingly uncanny about it (but it might be “merely psychological”).

    Later, I had a most impressive dream, in which, among other things, Glenn appeared (but whether there was any actual resemblance between the dream figure and the man himself, I have no idea, and it may well have been an avatar for you). He thoughtfully and somewhat apologetically removed a knife which was lying on the ground between us, and which he sensed was an obstacle for me. It was an ordinary, harmless, blunt dinner knife – I liked that humorous touch!

    The first counsellor or therapist I ever found helpful was Rogerian. Unfortunately I only got to see him for a short time, and he could not try to go too deep, but in the time available he did some good, and did no harm.

    I still can’t imagine what concrete form my as-yet-nonexistent blog might take, but I can see the need for it. If I knew how to meditate, I would meditate on it … :)

  • Jason Wingate

    Well… your rephrase of what I said seems tending to unkindness! :) I didn’t say you were “wedded to your own impotence”, but that your thinking might be perpetuating the illusion of such impotence, a rather different idea!

    I also didn’t mean to imply you hold an unbalanced view of psychiatry, just that the subject tends to loom large in your thinking, unbalancing it overall perhaps. (But you’ve made your point now in any case; I hear you.)

    As for Glenn’s book, you have to remember that he is not a therapist but a warrior and indeed one of the more uncanny warriors to say the least! You won’t come to any harm just reading. He often used to say people dreamed about him without his knowing it. The dream seems a good message anyhow.

    BTW I wouldn’t want to be taken as saying that any form of therapy (Rogerian or otherwise) can do what meditation can do. It definitely can’t. Psychology is important in providing vocab and useful ideas, as I’ll show in detail soon, and in some cases (like modern trauma theory) it provides incredibly useful physiological models that can be adapted to transpersonal purposes. But meditation is what provides the juice.

    I will do a brief roundup of how to meditate after the Rogers series but it would hardly differ from the initial stuff of Glenn’s in ch.5 of PN, which can do a great deal before you really talk about awakening, just in calming and gathering the person etc… plain old stress reduction is an important lesson that Laing never learned. Unglamorous perhaps but essential and it makes you feel better. Which I like. :)

  • mirjhar

    We are all familiar, of course, with the fact that SBNR is not part of the “official” mainstream of our culture – not even now that it has gained in popular influence and emerged from being a somewhat ghettoised counterculture. And, no doubt we, all individually have at least some tentative opinions on why SBNR remains “unofficial”, why it is still not granted “serious” status.

    True, it is probably clear to all of us that orthodox Judaeo-Christianity and scientism both play important roles in the continued withholding of “serious”, “official”, “classical” (rather than “pop” or “commercial”) status. And you have written, in other posts to which you have referred to in this series, about the importance of ideocracy and orthodoxy in our culture.

    This series of articles has documented these and other aspects of the still somewhat marginal, yet influential, position of SBNR within the culture as a whole. But if I am not mistaken, you have not expressed an opinion as to what it is that is responsible for this continuing situation – a situation which is especially remarkable, given that there is already a very evident tension, within “official”, “mainstream” society itself, between such forces as orthodox religion, science, and the market economy. The fact that SBNR is in tension with these other forces (two of them, at least) does not suffice to explain its continuing marginal position in society – especially given its numerical weight in the population, to which you have drawn attention. Do you have a theory about this rather odd fact?

    (I’m not sure that I’ve made the question clear, and perhaps I need to work on its formulation some more, but I thought it was worth having a go at putting it, even in this rough form.)

    • Jason Wingate

      We are all familiar, of course, with the fact that SBNR is not part of the “official” mainstream of our culture

      Sure it is, see the link in part IV.

      It is “granted serious status” by some, not by others, at different times and places. I certainly don’t see it as existing in any consistent tension with some sort of non-existent monolithic mainstream. In many arenas it has become totally normal.

      As for the Christian tradition, it’s in no position to withold any kind of status from SBNR, any more than from Islam, say. The recent census numbers tell that story eloquently — I’ll bring them in soon, as we’re closing in to the end of the series.

  • mirjhar

    That surprised me, because while I anticipated that there might be some divergence between different people’s opinions as to the cause(s) of the situation, and there was admittedly some murkiness in my attempt to describe the situation, I had not at all imagined that there was any controversial presupposition in my question. It would be very interesting and enlightening to learn that my unquestioned intuition of there being a somewhat (as you say) “monolithic” social mainstream, with a powerfully limiting influence on my own thinking, is only an idea in my head, with no basis in reality!

    The link you refer to is the one to the DfE web page summarising Government policy on “Spiritual, moral, social and cultural development” in the National Curriculum?

    This would seem to be an instance of “multiculturalism”, which is certainly a powerful influence in our society, as the dominance of the explicit Judaeo-Christian religious tradition wanes. (I don’t know if I’m making yet another unconscious controversial assumption there! I now expect the unexpected! Even if not the SBNR Inquisition!)

    I hardly know how to react to this latest unexpected development in the conversation (when I thought that at least this one comment was squarely bang-on topic, for once!), but my impression of multiculturalism is that it is a kind of marketplace, in which you shop around for traditions, and your adherence to any one tradition is regarded as a purely private, individual matter, with no public implications (except, as your reference reminds us, in the matter of the education of children); religion then ceases to be part of the “fabric of society” as a whole. Society is then presumably held together by such things as science/technology, the market economy, and law enforcement, with there being no general agreement on whatever values or beliefs might or might not underpin all these institutions and practices. This is very different, I think, from a society in which SBNR has an honoured place, as an underpinning of society’s institutions and practices; it has been “privatised” (never, however, having been collectively owned in the first place). And it seems to me that whenever an institution or practice has to be justified, then an appeal is
    still made either to some supposed “Christian” traditional justification, or some supposedly evidence-based “scientific” justification – but never any kind of idea which is associated with the SBNR field.

    (Oh well, this comment is becoming too long, and I fear that even when I imagine I’m being uncontroversial, I am still being idiosyncratic, and making sense to nobody! So I had better not struggle any more to clarify it, with little prospect of success. I feel very much caught on the hop, and am improvising rather desperately.) 8-/

    • Jason Wingate

      This would seem to be an instance of “multiculturalism”,

      Nope. (I suppose the part about pupils’ cultures is, but not the rest.)

      That document is one of many I could adduce. It shows SBNR values in the heart of policy. No-one has agitated for it, it has just appeared.

      As for the rest of what you say, it shows no desire to even try to understand what I’m writing, so I’ll stop here.

  • mirjhar

    I am utterly and completely baffled by your repeated impression that I am not even trying to understand what you write! Yours is only the second blog I have ever tried to follow at all regularly. (The other was that of the comedian Richard Herring, which I read purely for entertainment, and because I was impressed by his record of keeping it up every day!) I continue to find it very interesting and impressive.

    But it is your blog, and you are under no obligation to me. Fear not, I won’t stay around if I am (completely unintentionally and unexpectedly!) making myself unwelcome.

    All I can say is that when you wrote (above), ‘There has rarely been truly strong “official” support for SBNR’ I though you were referring very clearly to a situation of which I was also clearly aware, and which I naturally assumed all other readers would also be clearly aware of.

    I’m sorry that I was apparently so grossly mistaken, although I honestly still have not the faintest idea how.

    • Jason Wingate

      It’s not just that one sentence! Where are you getting all this stuff about multiculturalism? About SBNR being “privatised”? You’re talking about private decisions as to belief and forgetting everything I’ve already said about the rhizomatic nature of SBNR which positively thrives on that freedom of choice, as does the democracy which births it, by nature. I’ve said many times that no-one speaks for SBNR and there is no agreement as to what it stands for.

      (“Shopping around for traditions” happens to be what saved my soul thanks very much. It’s also what you’re currently engaged in if you hadn’t noticed.)

      And my points from the beginning has been that this doesn’t stop it. You’re ignoring what I said about the SBNR language turning up in official documents, and reifying some mythical “fabric of society” without noticing just how much of the actual fabric is SBNR (and if you stopped and thought about it or googled a bit you could find 100 examples).

      Then you’re still falling back into saying that if official decisions are justified by scientific means — I don’t notice too many justified by Christian ones these last few decades — they somehow “aren’t SBNR”, but in fact there is no necessary conflict between the two, contrary to the oversimplified war you want to fight.

      Decisions are justifed in our country also based on rule of law and free speech for example, and other fundamentals of the secular society with its rights and freedoms and principles whose multiplicity (not multiculturalism) is as I’ve always said absolutely interlinked with the rise of SBNR — necessarily so since that is what democracy is. These principles do undergird our public institutions and are the subject of constant public debate; that is how it works. Not that I want a long chat about that.

      I’m sorry but you don’t really “follow my blog” if you literally haven’t noticed any of this, and the place you’re taking everything isn’t anywhere I’m interesting in going. In particular I have no use for this us-v-them thing. This whole series sees SBNR (quite correctly and demonstrably) as a settled feature of the cultural landscape and attempts how show that the situation is for SBNR to screw up or work successfully with — no-one is actually able to stop it and the good it does at this point in time, which is why all the “elemental challenges” are addressed to fellow SBNRs.

      No other commenter here has had this attitude, and seen fit to bring in so much extraneous stuff… I appreciate that you read, but I think it’s going to take much longer before you get what I’m talking about at all — for some unknown reason. You need to think about it in the round. Meantime, no more “desperate improvising”, please either post much shorter posts much more infrequently with much longer thought-filled breaths between, or move on to somewhere where you can discuss what really interests you. Thanks.

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