Sunday, October 30, 2016

"The New Primal Scream"

-by dr. arthur janov
1991
Sigh. Am i just an embarrassingly credulous ninny in the end, like everyone else?
I set myself up as a paragon of humanist skepticism, out to expose all the hokum and bunkum (don't forget the bunkum!) that our deeply ignorant, superstitious culture cooks up...and then, when some fringe ideology happens to push my own elusive buttons, reinforcing some reality in which i WANT to believe, i go running off to Loonyville just like any other believer/member/voter/patient/sheep?
My apologies to sheep, who are a thousand times more dignified and sensible than any human i know.
Primal therapy has endured for five decades, attracting endorsers (non-celebrity and celebrity) who scream about its stunning healing powers, yet is always kept at arm's length (or worse) by the psychiatric/medical establishment - indeed, it couldn't be easier to find voices, some of them quite legitimate, who are happy to discredit or debunk primal therapy.
And yet...when you read janov's work, you can be swept away by the intuitive force of his arguments, and the scientific methodology underpinning them (including measurements of pulse, temperature, brain waves, and blood pressure). Does anyone out there really think that our current psychiatric/medical establishment has any kind of comprehensive understanding of human health, and the proper ways to maintain/restore it? I promise you, it is only conceit or wishful thinking to imagine that we are beyond the "guesswork in a white coat" stage. Does current psychiatry do more good than bad? I think the answer is at best a weak maybe. According to janov, one of psychiatry's primary failings is that it seeks to make everyone "normal", blindly assuming that's a good thing (the most pernicious example i myself can name being those cash cows known as "marriage counselors", who refuse to accept what every other branch of science has long since embraced - that humans are not monogamous). According to janov, the greatest failing of psychiatry is that it isolates mind from body...and correspondingly, the greatest failing of medicine is that it isolates body from mind. Establishment psychiatry operates on the cognitive level, but that's not where the problems lie, says janov. The central tenet of primal therapy is that sickness, neurosis, and addiction are all the result of a lifetime's worth of repressed pain, and that only by reliving and integrating those pains can we heal. A whole lot of crying is involved (the "primal scream" image). We use our cognitive abilities to deal with and contextualize pain, so the younger we are, the less our brains are able to understand or rationalize painful events, ergo an unprocessed trauma from infancy can be the most crippling event in a person's life, re-emerging years or decades later in neurosis or disease. Janov offers research into how pain affects the nervous system, and the coping methods by which our minds shut down and compartmentalize traumas too profound (or inconvenient or "unacceptable"). Janov claims 100% effectiveness in patients who see the process through. The only major independent study found that number to be closer to 40% - but that discrepancy doesn't bother me, as i think even 40% success, when dealing with deep-seated neurosis, is little short of stunning. I think i understand the context in which janov made his 100% claim, but the one reality that both primal and establishment psychiatry tend to side-step is how essentially dysfunctional our society is, in terms of human health. We live in a fear-based culture of profound touch deprivation, emotional/sexual repression, psychological alienation, and varying degrees of sociopathic violence (both emotional and physical, and both outward- and inward-directed)...as the NORM. Even if you were able to "heal" someone, the minute you let them out the door, the damage would begin re-accruing.
Janov warns of the industry of improperly-trained primal therapists which has existed over the years, and that primal done wrong can do more harm than good (the sort of self-serving claim that normally triggers alarm bells in a good skeptic).
So is it all quackery? Cult nonsense? The notion that daddy was abusive and mommy never rescued us, so decades later we get cancer, can feel like a stretch. He does acknowledge the genetic component in disease...yet to that i would add that we are only beginning to understand how genetic development is affected by experience. We are not born with an immutable DNA blueprint - our genetic expression is constantly evolving, through gene clusters that either trigger or stay dormant (see "The Agile Gene", by matt ridley). Am i the first to suggest that janov may not have needed make so unqualified a concession to genetics?
He does go on and on about birth being the core human trauma, yet i find part of myself leaning toward those researchers who flat-out deny the ability to recall or relive infant experiences. Plus, how can something as natural as birth cripple a child for life? And yet...the way we conduct birth in our culture is not especially "natural", particularly in regard to drugging the hell out of the mother. Whatever enters her system goes to the baby's more vulnerable system as well, so how many newborns have been forced to enter the world (perhaps the most profound moment of human existence) completely whacked out of their minds and unable to respond normally? What, we think that won't have any effect on a child's development? Or that mutilating a newborn's genitals won't have some deep psychological resonance? Or nearly being choked to death by an umbilical cord?
Critics cite a lack of rigorous protocols or controls in the extant research, and that's hard to dismiss. And janov's claims of "curing" homosexuality are troubling...but perhaps within context, not asinine. Homosexuality is such a hot-button issue, it can be nigh-impossible to view it objectively, so let's use a more benign example. Suppose janov claimed that he could "cure" women who like to be spanked. Is it ridiculous to propose that any predilection toward "rough stuff" might have childhood psychological origins? In that light (and given what we're learning about the malleability of genetics), is it entirely spurious to propose that homosexuality might not be so easily explained by simply stating people are "born that way", or not?
Two trainee therapists who left janov's institute and took many patients with them, reported that most admitted to "faking their primals". And yet...for the past couple decades, the psychiatric establishment has embraced the hell out of "repressed memory". And a parallel, far less controversial school of therapy has existed since the seventies, called "primal integration". It was founded in Canada, and takes a holistic/educational approach that differs from janov's medical approach, but rests on the same basic principles.
When all is said and done, did i fall for this because i think lennon's "Plastic Ono Band" is his most brilliant album? Maybe.
Read the book for yourself, and get back to me.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Old Farts

(revised re-post, in honor of glenn frey's life)

The dude is wrong.
I mean, i respect senor lebowski's Eagle-hating, man. I honor his dudeness, and all it entails.
But Eagle-hating is just wrong. Exquisite harmonies, brilliant song craftspersonship, and henley lyrics that go straight to the heart of the poisoned american dream. And okay...maybe it's fair to hate a little of what the Eagles became. A crank-out-the-hits machine coming to a bloated venue near you. So it's time to get back to what's important.
It's time for The Old Farts.
Strip away all the trappings of megastardom, and make a new band with satellite contributors from the 70s - j.d. souther, jackson browne, linda ronstadt. Plus bernie and randy. If that lineup isn't available, throw in a wild card like randy newman. And tour! Intimate venues only. Glenn would love it.
Here's a modestly brilliant set list suggestion:
Journey of the Sorcerer
Seven Bridges Road (ensemble)
Take It Easy** (jackson, ensemble - a capella)
Vote for Me (joe)
What Do I Do With My Heart?*** (linda)
Make You Feel My Love (timothy)
Try and Love Again (randy)
Taking You Home/Annabel (don)
The Sad Cafe* (j.d.)
Long Road out of Eden (don)
I Wish You Peace (bernie)
Crying (timothy, linda)
I Can't Tell You Why (timothy)
New Kid in Town* (j.d.)
Help Me Through the Night^ (joe)
Take It to the Limit (randy)
The Heart of the Matter* (linda, don)
River of Dreams (don)
Desperado (ensemble)
The Load-Out/Stay (jackson/linda)
Best of My Love* (ensemble)

* co-written by souther
** co-written by browne
*** or I.L.B.T.s - her call
^ or Fairbanks, Alaska - his call

Monday, October 3, 2016

cast adrift

I listened to two female comedians last week, and it kind of blew my mind because they both talked about feeling an urge to erase one of their exes. And i’m like “whoa whoa…you want to ERASE a human being?” That’s pretty hardcore. And it doesn’t make sense to me, there’s a disconnect there, because both of these women were intelligent, and more importantly, they both obviously had at least some amount of functioning self-worth. I mean, to stand up in front of strangers and say “I am so fucking interesting that all i’m going to do is talk…and you’re all going to be delighted.” Say what you will about comedians, but nobody can do that without some sort of functioning self-worth. But it’s so mind-blowing for me to hear intelligent women talk about ERASING another human being into whom they’ve invested time and love, because i’m so fucking lonely. We’re all so disconnected and alone, and i ask myself why. And we look at bonobos…bear with me…if you don’t know about bonobos, they will BLOW your mind…they are more like humans than any other creature in the world, by far. As just one example, bonobos are the only other animal who mate face to face, the only other animal whose vulva is oriented toward the front of their body. So when they make love they are right there, kissing the way we kiss, looking into each other’s eyes and saying “Wow, i am so digging you”. Bonobos are amazingly peaceful, so i look at them and say “What do they know that we lost”? Bonobo culture is very female-centered…i don’t want to say “dominated”, that’s a male concept…but bonobo males are just kind of goofy, they do their thing, but it’s the females who are much more active in maintaining the relationships that make up their society. And sex is absolutely integral to how they do that. Bonobos have sex for a million reasons, and like us, often for no particular reason at all. And i think about the web of relationships that’s missing from my life…i think about all the friends i don’t have. And more to the point, the friends that i’ve lost. The lovers that i’ve lost. And i imagine what my life would be like if all my exes were still my friends. It would be so fucking amazing. I think of two in particular into whom i invested a huge chunk of my life loving and nurturing, and they’re not fucking there, they’re just gone. And i think about these women comedians, and i say “How did they get to this place?” I mean, i understand denigrating your ex…it’s a little obvious, but it’s comedy gold, i get that. But how did these women with some sort of functioning self-worth, which tells me that they wouldn’t love someone who didn’t care about them at least a little, how did these women, when confronted with the reality that either sexual attraction has diminished (which is biologically what’s SUPPOSED to happen), or someone else no longer wants EXACTLY WHAT THEY WANT out of a relationship, that when that point arrives, they can just hit the ERASE button? You’ve spent weeks, months, or more caring for this human being, and now…nothing? When you erase someone, you're not just erasing them, you're erasing everyone they know. When YOU get erased, you're losing everyone they know. "But...but...but aunt ginny loves me." "Tough titty - you and aunt ginny, just suck it up." Now multiply that by the number of romances an average person has during their life, and try to wrap your mind around all those lost friendships, lost connections...and it almost made sense in the old days, when the only thing a woman had to secure her entire life, her entire future, was what's between her legs. But it's the 21st century - a whole lot of women have their own identities, their own lives, their own money...yet we're still stuck in the old ways of thinking. And sometimes i'm harder on women than men. I expect more from them, because generally women more closely resemble human beings . Most men are too lost in selfishness and brutality. But most women i meet, i think “With enough love and caring, you could become an actual human being.” Or maybe that's just a fantasy i hold on to, because without some kind of hope, i'll die. And i know that when women act shitty, more often than not it’s because some man is being shitty to them. The two greatest loves of my life, i was able to stay friends with them after we broke up, and it was great. But they both eventually disappeared, with the same line – “My fiance is not comfortable with our friendship.” Whsshhht. But these women last week, it wasn’t about that, so…what then? Is their self-worth that fragile? Are they that lost in the cinderella ALL OR NOTHING bullshit that poisons all of our attempts to love each other? And by the way, i thought they both showed touches of brilliance. The one who talked about getting her tubes tied - brillant. And the other one, being so open about having depression, yet still being funny - brilliant. So tell them to keep doing what they're doing...but maybe without the erasing.