Fear and Jerry Garcia

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I’ve been a fan of the Grateful Dead for a long time, though far short of being a Dead Head. I just started rereading an interview conducted with Jerry Garcia in 1971, when the band was still expanding in reach, technique, and material. Comparing what he was then and later is instructive.
In the interview he seems enlightened, though that might be exaggerating. At least he seems happily engaged in his music, the band, and with his common-law wife, in spite of money and other problems with the band.
He speaks, at one point, of how some people fear, and put up walls to protect themselves, and says this isn’t necessary. Ironically, a few years later, he would begin putting up some very high walls around himself when he began using heroin. Why was that?
There seem to have been several reasons. One is a fairly unhappy childhood: his father died when he was quite young, he didn’t get along well with his stepfather(s), and rarely found school very interesting. So he joined the army at age 15, didn’t last very long, and then lived on the street. He had an unsuccessful marriage, then emerged into the Grateful Dead.
He was lead guitarist there, wrote and sang most of the songs, was very smart and articulate. That made him the focus of a lot of people’s interest in the band, something he always felt at least ambivalent about. No doubt it helped him pick up women (he did his share of running around), but he didn’t like the demand on him to be something like a messiah. He wanted to just play his music and be able to live like a normal person.
Accordingly, he began using heroin, left his wife, and became more and more isolated as he descended further into that process. The band, which had been expanding for its first ten years, seemed to begin to contract.
I base that at least somewhat on their studio albums, which was never the best way to judge them. But as Garcia got more strung out (and he wasn’t the only band member with drug problems), their outstanding performances got fewer too.
According to his friends, he never entirely lost his optimism and interest in the world, even though his darker impulses had surfaced and become stronger as he gave into them. Later he seems to have become cynical, perhaps (at least in part) due to his shame at his own behavior. In a much later interview, he said that there was a part of him that always said, “Fuck you!” when he tried to get himself onto a more positive path, and that he was reluctant to force the issue, since he felt that part of him was important.
But as he allowed heroin to take over more of his life, it began to detrimentally influence his health. Getting busted in the mid 1980s influenced him to quit heroin, and a severe diabetic coma that left him extremely weak influenced him to get healthy again. That only lasted a few years, though. He slipped back into heroin use and other bad habits.
Who knows if it was necessary for him to experience the negative side of life as he did? It seems a shame, as he appeared to be such a positive voice, and also seemed to recognize his shortcomings, without allowing them to take over–until he did allow them.
His story is probably not so unusual, it only happened in circumstances few of us experience. It takes something to resist our less appetizing desires, something we see quite clearly today, when so many of us are activated primarily by fear. Fear may not be necessary, but it’s a barrier difficult to surmount.

Noah

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A couple of movies I’ve watched lately have been mostly silent. Little monologue, little dialogue, little voice-over. Motion pictures are, as usual, hypnotic, so I hardly notice the relative silence until later, but I still question: what were they trying to say?
The first, about a woman traveling alone through the length of Australia doesn’t need much explanation: there are rarely people to talk with, so she talks little. Noah is a different matter.
This purports to be a retelling of the Bible story, but as usual, movies always change the stories they adapt from books. In the Bible, the reason for the Flood was attributed to sin, but the Bible was remarkably unspecific as to what the sin was. The movie begins with a voice-over explaining that the descendents of Cain dominated the world. We’re shown the desolate wilderness in which the movie is set, suggesting the film is an allegory of the present.
Noah sometimes speaks (and speaks well), but is usually silent. He’s been shown visions, and so begins building the Ark. In the Bible his neighbors make fun of him. In the film things get more sinister.
This is where the movie starts diverging from the Biblical account, and I start to wonder why. Tubal Cain is Noah’s opponent here, claiming the territory where Noah is building the Ark. In the Bible, Tubal Cain is the man who first worked metal, but has nothing to do with the Flood story. Probably he is used here because his name suggests his descent from Cain.
But Noah has allies in the Watchers, who are animated stone beings, who fight against Tubal Cain’s people when they try to get in the Ark. The Watchers are in the book of Enoch, popular with early Christians, but which didn’t make the canonical Bible. I don’t recall them being turned to stone. Is there a message in this, or is the unBiblical conflict and violence just entertainment?
Noah’s son Ham is unhappy with him because Noah refused to allow the girl Ham likes on the Ark. Noah’s interpretation of his vision is that humanity must die. His mission is only to save the animals, apparently, of whom we see very little.
Tubal Cain manages to stow away on the Ark, and enlists Ham to help get rid of Noah, but Ham changes his mind and kills Tubal Cain. This also seems extraneous.
A girl Noah rescued after she was abused has gotten pregnant by Noah’s other son, Shem, and gives birth in the Ark to twin daughters. Noah thinks it’s his duty to kill them, but can’t. That may be why he gets drunk after the Flood, which actually makes better sense than the Biblical account. He passes out naked, is observed by Ham, then respectfully covered by his other sons. His wife then informs him that the Creator had left human survival for him to decide. I guess that’s a happy ending.
The movie conjures up an atmosphere that’s hypnotic, but it never seems to make a lot of sense. Conflict for no good reason doesn’t make the story more meaningful or more entertaining, as far as I’m concerned.

Golden State Wins, Cleveland Loses

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I didn’t watch the last game of the NBA finals between Golden State and Cleveland. Golden State won the game and series, which was no surprise. I listen to a sports radio station when driving, and everyone’s been saying Golden State was much deeper and more talented than the Cleveland Cavaliers, even though Cleveland has LeBron James, obviously the best player in basketball right now. Probably one of the best ever.
The surprise isn’t that Golden State won, it’s that Cleveland won any games at all, considering what all the sports radio people were saying. But they won two games, and should have won three, since they were leading in the first game, and let Golden State tie and win it in overtime. Had they won that one, they might have ended the series already because they started out a lot more determined than Golden State. Had Kyrie Erving not gotten hurt, they might even have swept the Warriors. As it was, LeBron James put on a real show, but didn’t have enough offensive help to win. Matthew Dellavedova scored 20 points in one game, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Timofey Mozgov scored some points, but none were able to be consistent. LeBron needed at least one star to help him, and the two that had been with him all season (Kevin Love got hurt in the first playoff series) weren’t there.
One of the arguments during the past week was whether James ought to win the MVP of the series, even if the Cavs lost. Those arguing against him said the MVP should come from the winning team, and that’s what eventually happened. But James only averaged more points than anyone has in the finals, and averaged close to double figures in both assists and rebounds too. He was obviously the best player on the floor, he just didn’t have enough help. The other players tried, but didn’t have the talent to win. They had the talent to compete, though, and must have scared the shit out of Golden State.
Cleveland was only playing seven players, so Golden State had a much deeper bench. That meant that by the end of each game Cleveland players were getting tired. And after the third game the tiredness started piling up, just when Golden State started getting a handle on how they needed to play.
Andre Iguodala, who won the MVP, was a worthy enough choice. He gave the Warriors a lot of things: both scoring and defense, particularly on LeBron James. James scored a lot of points, but he missed a lot of shots too. He had to take a lot of them, since no one else was hitting consistently. He set a lot of people up, but a lot of people missed a lot of shots. And Iguodala especially frustrated him.
The series ended the way it had been predicted. Cleveland overachieved for three games, and Golden State underachieved. Cleveland played defense in the first three games, and kept Golden State from doing what they wanted. Cleveland was in all of the games, at least for awhile, even though almost all their talent was concentrated in one man. It’s a tribute largely to that one man that Cleveland didn’t give up, especially in the second game, after Kyrie Erving had been hurt in the first game. They had all the excuse they needed, but they came back and won two games. The next game they lost, as much as anything because they were exhausted. If Golden State were as good as everyone said, they should have won easily. If they had lost the first game, as they deserved to, they probably would have lost the series.
It’s nice that Golden State won their first NBA title in forty years (I have pleasant memories of that series), but they know they were lucky. They had all the advantages (except not having the best player in the game) going in, and still know they could have lost the series if they hadn’t been lucky.Too bad for Cleveland, but maybe next year they’ll be a little luckier and not have crippling injuries at exactly the wrong time.

Reflections of an “Evil” Man

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It’s kind of interesting to be called evil for the beliefs you express. It’s happened to me twice in the last couple of months in an online forum. I suppose you could call the two people who called me that idealists, though I think ideologues might be a better description.
One believes that government is inherently evil. There’s some reason to believe that, as government generally has the power to indulge in what I think would be fair to call criminal activities. But when you look further into the question you find that government can also not be powerful enough.
Russia, Italy, Germany, and China are all well-known examples of countries in which the government wasn’t strong enough to prevent totalitarian fanatics from taking over. Anarchism is a nice idea, but I can’t think of any historical place or time where it worked very well. People who studied “primitive” societies sometimes got a rosy view of them, but second and third looks have shown that they tend to be pretty violent too.
So, to the person who doesn’t believe in government (a popular propandistic narrative at the moment), I ask, what is your alternative? When the Federal government destroyed the Branch Dravidians in Waco, Texas, people were justifiably outraged. My brother commented that what would be worse would be private armies doing the same thing. At least theoretically, government has responsibility to the citizens of the country. Why would a private entity have responsibility? A libertarian might be in favor of private citizens having the power to set up their own armies and persecute their neighbors with them. I think we set up governments to prevent just such behavior.
The other person disputing me wasn’t so much against government in any form, but against what he calls the present paradigm: a two-party system in which both parties are corrupt. I don’t entirely disagree with him either, but see one party as being much more corrupt than the other. He thinks I should vote for a different party so at least one other party can replace those we have now. I see things a little differently.
I see one of our important parties as being headed down a totalitarian road. Perhaps the other is too, but not as obviously. What I choose to do at this time is vote for the party of less corruption, in hopes that they will block the other from obtaining further power. Maybe I am mistaken to take this approach, but I worry that if the more corrupt party gets the presidency in addition to controlling both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court, we may never have meaningful elections again. The person disputing me said this meant I was voting for evil. I asked him to tell me what party was NOT evil, and to guarantee that they would never TURN evil. I told him I didn’t think he could, and he didn’t even try.
He did give me a historical list of evil actions that I mostly disagreed with. One was saying that Abraham Lincoln and the North were the aggressors in the Civil War. Actually, it was the South who took the initiative in seceding and then bombarding Fort Sumter when Lincoln tried to resupply it. He said that the Civil War was the defeat of
State’s rights. I replied that at the beginning of the war Southerners in general said the war was about slavery. It wasn’t until afterwards that they started talking State’s rights. He did agree with me that slavery was not a good thing, though he thought it was getting ready to die out. I disagreed with him on that point.
Perhaps he was right in saying I shouldn’t support any party that is corrupt. I think that only a party that is large and powerful enough can prevent totalitarianism, and that is by no means certain. And, given the nature of human beings, no one can guarantee that any new party, no matter how well-intentioned, will manage to avoid corruption.
The current political structure requires a lot of money to get elected. The obvious place to go for money is to people who have a lot of it. Those people will give money to politicians they approve of, but their approval comes with strings attached. The wealthy tend to be conservative. One set of donors reportedly plans to spend almost a billion dollars on the 2016 election. How many candidates will be able to resist the temptation of all that money?
There’s at least one who so far seems to be, but will there be any others? I hope so, but I’m afraid that it would be unrealistic to count on it.
The United States of America was set up to be a republic, which means a government in which representatives do the governing that people in general are too busy or too incompetent to do. The people they initially represented were landowners, so that the way in which representatives were chosen wasn’t especially democratic. As the 19th century progressed, more people were allowed the franchise, but there were always people who didn’t want everyone to be represented. Those people are now overtly represented by the Republican party, which demonizes anyone who disagrees with them, especially if those disagreeing are poor and/or dark-skinned.
So we’re left with a question: will the present trend continue, and everything be controlled by a wealthy elite, or will other groups be allowed the input to decide issues that directly affect them? Those groups will have to wake up and be willing to put a lot of work into changing the present situation, and that will be very difficult. Wealthy people, by the very reason of their wealth, can hire others to do any work they want done. Impoverished people cannot.
But if Americans in general are unwilling to rebel against the way in which they are currently governed, and may be governed in the future, I can predict a number of things happening that I consider less than desirable.
The environment will continue to degrade, exposing us to ecological collapse sooner or later. People will be punished more and more for views that the government disagrees with. Wealthy people will more and more take the law into their own hands and persecute anyone they happen to dislike. Poor people will get poorer, and frequently die from being unable to find work that pays them enough to live on. The dream of democracy and the ability of ordinary people to work hard and make a comfortable life for themselves and their families will die.
I recently reread a memoir of an interesting man about his experiences more than 40 years ago. He had a vision that, since this country has not been conquered by any outside forces, we were doomed to destroy ourselves. I hope his vision was mistaken. I fear it was not.

NBA Finals

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I started writing this at halftime of the third game of the NBA finals, and I’m pretty thrilled. I rarely get to watch sports, and didn’t get to watch any NBA games until the first game of the finals. I was pretty thrilled at the way the Cleveland Cavaliers, with the best player in basketball now, LeBron James, played, but was disappointed that they weren’t able to hold their lead at the end of the game, and lost to Golden State in overtime. What was even more disappointing was that Kyrie Irving, one of their stars, got injured at the end of the game, breaking his kneecap. That means he’s not playing again this season.
Besides that, another of their stars, Kevin Love, got injured in their first playoff series, against Boston, dislocating a shoulder, having surgery, and also lost for the rest of the season. The Cavs started out their playoff run with three stars. Now there’s one left.
That meant that Cleveland had plenty of excuse to fall apart. But they didn’t. As you might expect, LeBron James led the way offensively with 44 points in the first game and 39 in the second, but people who weren’t stars stepped up offensively just enough (they only won by two points, and in overtime again), but especially defensively.
Golden State has been an extremely deep, talented, and athletic team which has scored a lot of points all season, but so far they’re not scoring a lot of points in this series. They haven’t seen this sort of defense very often this season, understandably: nobody plays defense with that sort of intensity for 82 games. But in a 7 game series, teams can let it all hang out. That enabled Cleveland to beat Golden State on their home court, where they had only lost three times all season. Part of the reason for their good defense is size: Golden State doesn’t have a lot of very big people; Cleveland has at least three. But just being big doesn’t make you play great defense. You really have to want to do it, and the Cavaliers do. James is in the finals for the past fifth straight year, but no one else on the team has ever been there. I think James is very determined to win this year, if at all possible, and there can’t be very many players who don’t want to play on his team and conceivably win the first title in any sport for any Cleveland team in 51 years.
The first half went well for Cleveland. They held Golden State to fewer points than they had scored in a half all season, 37, and had a 7-point lead when the second half started. Then they expanded the lead to 20, and I thought, maybe they’ll win this comfortably, but it didn’t work out that way. Golden State started hitting shots, and got within two points of the Cavs before making some turnovers and enabling Cleveland to hold on for the win.
LeBron James was stellar again, scoring 40 points, getting double figures in rebounds, and 8 assists, but a number of people you probably never heard of contributed too.
Tristan Thompson had 10 points and 13 rebounds. Timofey Mozgov had six points and 13 rebounds. J.R. Smith had 10 points. And Matthew Dellavedova had 20 points, and played tough defense on Steph Curry, the MVP of the league this year, holding him to 10 points through 3 quarters. Unfortunately, Curry got his stroke back in the fourth quarter, and scored 17, making the game uncomfortably close. He thinks he’s going to start scoring a lot again. I hope he’s mistaken.
But the ESPN website notes that every time a team has had a 2-1 lead in the playoffs this season, they’ve lost the series, and Iman Shumpert, a bench player, hurt his shoulder in this one, while Dellavedova was dehydrated at the end of the game, and had to get IV fluids. As LeBron James said, they really can’t afford any more injuries. It’s really pretty amazing they’ve been able to play so well with so many players being hurt. Will they be able to continue? The odds are probably against them, but they were the last three games too.
But even if they can’t win this year, it’s been pretty thrilling to see them get to the finals this year, and play so well in them even without a lot of players (longtime Cavalier Anderson Verrajao got hurt early in the season, forcing the team to make several trades to replace him–they seem to have traded for the right people). If they can’t win this year (and that’s by no means certain yet) they should have a very good chance next year, when they get a bunch of players back, and may be luckier with injuries.
It’s nice to see a Cleveland sports team do well (I grew up in northeastern Ohio, and my grandparents lived in Cleveland). It hasn’t happened a lot in the past decades.

Wilhelm Reich Making a Life in America

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After Wilhelm Reich settled in America his view of psychiatric therapy became something more tangible than abstract analyses of dreams, resistance, etc. He saw health as the free flow of energy in the body, and unhealthiness as anything blocking that flow. This view is similar to that of Chinese medicine, and acupuncture in particular is supposed to facilitate energy flow. On superficial research, though, I don’t see anything as deep or as systematic in it as Reich’s view.
Reich saw chronic muscular spasms as blocking uncomfortable or unacceptable emotional energy, which would then remain trapped in the body, unable to be discharged, which would create sexual dysfunction to greater or lesser extent.
The greater the dysfunction, he thought, the more rigid the personality, and the more liable to cooperation with and submission to tyrannies. He saw people in general as being unable to accept freedom and responsibility, which made them easy to manipulate by master propagandists like Hitler. This is no less obvious today.
Myron Sharaf, his biographer, who had previously worked with him, says that he resented the system which made effective treatment available only to a small elite who could afford to pay for it. By this time he was less interested in therapy than in research, but had to continue treating patients to finance his research. He tried various educational initiatives, hoping that some other method would emerge that could treat people on a large scale, but was unable to find any.
His view of sexuality was threatening to many ordinary people, but especially to people in positions of power. The director of the hospital in which Dr. Elsworth Baker ( a student and associate of Reich’s) worked turned against him (though previously considering Baker a particularly fine psychotherapist) when he discovered Baker’s interest in Reich’s methods of treatment. Still, he managed to conduct some research in areas that he thought would help people.
One area of research was with children, instigated by the birth of his son, Peter. He loved to observe Peter’s behavior, and noted that his primary energetic area was his mouth: when it sucked on his mother’s nipple, and the nipple responded by becoming erect, he saw the excitement manifested by the nipple becoming a unit with the infant’s mouth. Obviously, from his perspective, this was a highly important source of contact for the infant in particular, but probably also for the mother.
He also saw the infant’s eyes as highly sensitive and charged. Infants, he said, preferred lively colors, and if able to watch their surroundings while riding in carriage or car, would do so avidly. They also liked eye-contact with their mothers, but if the mother’s eyes weren’t “alive” enough, this could cause a withdrawal.
His experience with Peter prompted him to start a program to study the interaction between mothers and infants. The program never got too large, and other efforts got in its way, but Reich gleaned some insights from it that were ahead of his time. He was a proponent of natural childbirth, though he also wanted the safety of birth in hospitals. He didn’t want the infant separated from the mother after birth, unless absolutely necessary. He wanted to be very careful about medicines and other substances ingested by the mother during pregnancy too.
He also noted a behavior in which Peter shook slightly, and his eyes rolled up in his head after nursing. He called this “oral orgasm”, and saw it as analogous to adult genital orgasm. Again, the stimulus would come from the mother’s nipple. This is another of his observations which has been scantily researched since, if at all.
Another of his projects was treatment of a young woman with schizophrenia. He saw schizophrenia as being much different in manifestation from neurosis, but stemming from similar causes. The main difference was a split between sensation and perception, he thought. He found the young woman almost embarrassingly honest, in contact with her deep experiences, but with distorted perceptions. Neurotics he found to be out of touch with their deep experiences, because of their muscular armor, and unwilling to talk about what sensations they had.
The young woman felt “both protected and persecuted by her ‘forces’, the nature of which she did not understand.” Reich began to see her “forces” as projections of her bodily sensations, and focused on helping her lose her fear of the streamings of energy in her body. He stressed the necessity of GRADUAL release of emotion and energy so that the patient would not be overwhelmed.
He was surprised to find that the patient identified her “forces” with the sun, suggesting she perceived them in her whole surrounding environment. Sharaf notes that a number of Reich’s former colleagues were saying HE was schizophrenic at this time, and indeed he was perceiving energy everywhere, just as his patient did. But although Reich could be self-destructive and paranoid, Sharaf doesn’t believe he ever really lost touch with reality. He continued to have deep insights the rest of his life, even during the stress of being persecuted because of his work.
His concern with such a patient was to avoid such crude treatments as electric shock, but to help the patient learn to tolerate intense sensations without “going off” in the eyes (rolling the eyeballs upwards to lessen the intensity).
Reich said this patient had endured verbal abuse from her mother for years, and had conceived a murderous hatred for her, wishing to strangle her. At one point she asked to squeeze Reich’s throat. He said he was a bit frightened, but told her to go ahead. He said she placed her hands very carefully around his throat, and squeezed very gently, after which she sat back in her chair, and he observed her breathing normally (one of the indicators of whether energy was blocked in the body).
Reich didn’t entirely cure this patient, but her condition did improve. Sharaf points out that schizophrenics sometimes improve from any kind of treatment or none, but that this is rare. She reached a level where she could function better, though not ideally, being more neurotic than psychotic.
Reich also became concerned about what he called the “emotional plague” character. Most neurotics he called “character” neurotics. They were unable to give, but usually minded their own business, and caused little damage. “Emotional plague” people were different in that they attacked, and persuaded others to attack people they disapproved of. He saw these “plague” people as having a lot of energy, but being so armored they were unable to use it positively, and were envious of anyone freer than they. Sharaf cites Martin Luther King’s persecution by J. Edgar Hoover as an example of this: Hoover threatened to expose King’s sex life (Hoover’s own was questionable by contemporary standards), a method that worked with most people Hoover dealt with. In this case, King refused to be intimidated.
Emotional plague characters are also very prominent today. It’s popular to discriminate against people with different sexual orientations than one’s own, against women seeking contraception or abortions, and against women’s rights in general. This was the sort of tactic Hitler used so ably, as a means of distracting people and directing their anger against scapegoats. These tactics are used today by people of equal sexual dysfunction, as pointed out in the sexual histories of three of the men most responsible for prosecuting President Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Two were also having affairs at around the same time, and one paid out a lot of money because he had molested a child.
When negative rumors started about Reich in the town of Rangeley, Maine, where he had his summer home, he tried to find out who had started the rumors and confront them directly. In one case, a local citizen called Reich and the people working with him Communists. Reich wrote to him, asking if he’d started the rumor, didn’t get an answer, but had his identity confirmed by others. Reich then wrote a letter, which the people working with him signed, talking about the dangers of slander and gossip, and how those using them as tools rely on people’s fears of being slandered themselves. Sharaf thinks he was successful in this case. But more serious problems had already begun.