Different Views

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A group of articles I recently came across raise some interesting points and questions.

One is about a Bonaboo, one species of the ape/monkey family. The individual written about was residing in a zoo, where he was sexually abused by his father, which drastically influenced his behavior, just as it would for a human. He was constantly fearful, subject to panic attacks, and not well-accepted by his group, at least in part because his behavior was unstable, and not  age-appropriate.

So he was moved to another, more harmonious group, where he was accepted readily by two older adults. The staff also tried to keep his days simple and consistent, introducing new elements gradually, so as not to alarm him. They also gave him Paxil, which reduced his anxiety, and allowed him more confidence to interact with others.

His anxiety did begin to diminish, his behavior became more stable and appropriate, so other Bonaboos in the group accepted him more and more, to the point that eventually mothers would allow him to hold their babies. After the older Bonaboos who had initially accepted him died, he became a leader of the group.

I was somewhat surprised to learn that human and ape behavior is so parallel. His story could easily be about a human, and the methods used to help him aren’t much different from the methods that might often help humans. Unfortunately, many either don’t feel they need help, are afraid to ask for it, or can’t access it, for various reasons.

Another article addressed the root causes of the mass shootings that have become so common. The article stressed that these are not the result of mental illness (though that may be involved), but of anger. The vast majority of the mentally ill are dangerous only to themselves.

Anger is a common problem, and many don’t learn skills to cope with it in an acceptable way. Anger is an important emotion which, when channeled properly, can help people survive, but can also be detrimental to people living in a complex society they can’t rightly understand (chronic anger doesn’t often produce clear thinking).

Many shooters come from unstable and/or violent homes, and the only way they know to handle anger is to explode. Without further skills, their anger becomes chronic, and can escalate, particularly from stress. Anger-management skills can be taught, but some families don’t know them, and prison systems probably teach them infrequently.

According to the author, many such perpetrators have records of domestic or other forms of violence, and our justice system tends to be punitive instead of working to rehabilitate offenders. If many of these men (they’re usually men) could get the kind of help the Bonaboo did, they could potentially become valued members of society.

An article with a somewhat different point addresses the role of guns in this country. The author says that he has owned and shot guns most of his life, and was classified as expert in the armed forces. But he’s been questioning the view of the NRA that the only defense against a bad person with a gun is a good person with a gun.

He felt particularly struck by this question on viewing a video of the recent shootings in Las Vegas. He saw a man legally carrying a gun who saw what was happening and was moving behind the shooter to stop him (just as one would expect of one trained to use firearms) when something unexpected happened: the shooter’s female partner (whom the other man hadn’t noticed) shot and killed him.

A number of experienced gun users have said that in such an incident most people would be unable to be of much use even if they DID have guns. Many gun owners haven’t been particularly well-trained (if at all) and might either shoot the wrong person or draw the gunman’s attention to themselves and get killed for nothing. The author here is saying that even with extensive training, guns don’t make him feel safer in public places. Too many things can go wrong.

If even well-trained people with guns feel this way, what is the point of most of us, who haven’t been trained, and probably won’t go to the trouble of getting trained, having guns? Hunting is a relatively legitimate use, but should also require training. Efficient self-defense is unlikely, though, if you don’t know how to use your gun, let alone how to pick your target and avoid getting shot yourself. More guns in public simply makes public spaces more dangerous.

Misunderstanding the problem isn’t going to solve it, and buying into the rhetoric of either side of the issue is usually going to guarantee misunderstanding.

Another article or two focused on the way other cultures look at people who are mentally ill. These so-called “primitive” cultures see what we call mental illness as a sign that the person affected is supposed to be a healer. That he or she is particularly sensitive to the spirit world that is usually not acknowledged, let alone perceived, by our culture. One article talked about an African shaman who visited the USA, and met a young man in a mental institution. He took the young man home to Africa with him, and treated him in traditional ways. The young man became more stable, eventually attended and graduated from college, then attended graduate school.

In this country we’ve had an unfortunate split between science and religion. Religion became corrupt, prompting people interested in science to reject it. And Christianity had turned against many traditional practices and beliefs. What we are supposed to believe is that our remote ancestors were stupid, and didn’t understand the world they lived in. Of course few of them had many of the concepts we have today, but because they lived much closer to the natural world than we, had understandings that we have lost.

Another article I read decades ago, which greatly impressed me, said that “primitive” societies all over the world have initiation ceremonies for young people. These ceremonies, according to the article, make for productive citizens by the mid-teens.

A recent video featured a talk by a man who celebrates tattooing, piercing, sexual experimentation, and drug use of all kinds by young people. He believes they’re trying to find other states of consciousness which might serve as initiation ceremonies for them, since our culture no longer provides these.

These behaviors aren’t danger-free, of course. Alcohol and drugs can lead to dead-ends. But trying to increase one’s consciousness isn’t a bad thing to do. One can do so intellectually, but the intellect is only one mode of perception. The body and emotions are also part of the laboratory we each have, and experimenting can lead to illumination.

It’s interesting that psychedelic drugs like LSD provoked so much fear some 50 years ago. Experimenting with this class of drugs isn’t danger-free either, but they can expand consciousness when used correctly, as recent research seems to tell us. Do we want to become more conscious, or less?

Some interests would prefer we become less, it seems. In the Fourth Century AD Christianity attained political power in the Roman Empire, and almost immediately began persecuting people who disagreed with official doctrine. These included not only the pagan religions, which were part of the foundation on which the empire had been built, but other Christians, particularly the Gnostics.

They were called Gnostics because the word Gnosis means knowledge, and personal knowledge was what they emphasized. Official Christianity discouraged such personal knowledge. Priests were supposed to intercede with God for the ordinary worshippers who were their responsibility. That was a system that quickly became corrupt. Power became the central concern of religion, and power doesn’t appreciate people who know too much. That’s why the Gnostics considered the God described in the Old Testament as being Satan. The human world was obviously concerned more with power than with knowledge or virtue. They believed there was a higher God than the God of the Old Testament, but that this God had limited powers to intervene.

What has changed since the days of the Roman Empire?  The basic dynamic in human government hasn’t: power remains the central concern, and human suffering is a secondary question at best. We have knowledge we didn’t have then, but knowledge from that time has also been lost, or has gone underground.

Maybe that knowledge is now badly needed.

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