Wild Things





Domesticated      -        Wild
Steady                 -        Volatile
Known                -        Unknown
Civilised             -         Uncivilised
Senex                  -         Puer
Clear                   -         Complex
Rational               -        Non-rational
Transcendent       -        Immanent




The domesticated, bourgeois life is too comfortable.

Tocqueville describes it as ‘antipoetic’, because poetry, and meaning itself, comes from those experiences that are extreme enough to make an impression. Meaning is an analogue of depth, and so meaningful experiences deepen us.

More comfort results in less meaning, and so our comfortable modern lives are always battling against meaninglessness and nihilism. This is price we pay for ascending Laslow's pyramid. The meaning that we experience vicariously in films and books is a proxy for the lack of poetry in our own lived experience.




The danger of our time is not that it makes people bad, but that it makes everything small and afraid.

[Bronze Age Pervert]
Bronze Age Mindset, 160




Geezerz need excitement
If their lives don't provide them this they incite violence
Common sense simple common sense

[The Streets]
Geezerz Need Excitement





Suppose we entertain the idea that psychology makes people mediocre; and suppose we entertain the idea that the world is in extremis, suffering an acute, perhaps fatal, disorder at the edge of extinction. Then I would claim that what the world needs most is radical and original extremes of feeling and thinking in order for its crisis to be met with equal intensity.

The supportive and tolerant understanding of psychotherapy is hardly up to the task. Instead it produces counterphobic attitudes to chaos, marginality, extremes. Therapy as sedation: benumbing, an-aesthesia so that we calm down, relieve stress, relax, find acceptance, balance, support, empathy. The middle ground. Mediocrity.

You see, for me the job of psychotherapy is to open up and deal with - no, not deal with, encourage, maybe even enflame - the rich and crazy mind, that wonderful aviary (the image is from Plato) of wild flying thoughts, the sex charged fantasies, the incredible longings, bloody wounds, and the museums of archaic shards that constitute the psyche.

I challenge psychotherapy's cool green consulting rooms, the soothing images and framed diplomas, because they are calming and cooling the valuable madness in our society so that psychology has become part of Henry Miller's Air-Conditioned Nightmare, his phrase for the U.S.A.

Psychotherapy has to take sides with the beast, walk with it, touching its shaggy fur, remembering it lives at the edge, along with Robert Bly's Wild-man, demanding a place in the mall, like the Greek Furies were given a place in Athens. This is the "relationship" on which therapy must focus, the relationship with the beast; otherwise psychotherapy's clients become Barbie and Ken "working on their relationship," plastic dolls ...

By advocating pathology I am not letting the lions loose in the streets, I am not promulgating permissiveness that breeds homelessness, poverty and despair, a Republican permissiveness called free market economics. The choice is anyway not between punitive and permissive. The choice is between repression and art, and in this choice the valences are reversed. Art requires painful discipline; it is like a punition. Repression, by packaging its denial in the mediocrity of white bread and a smiling "have a nice day," becomes a universal permit for illusory happiness.

Mediocrity us no answer to violence. To cool violence you need rhythm, humour, tempering; you need dance and rhetoric. Not therapeutic understanding.

I can think of a middle ground, but not the one therapy tries to work, because that middle ground, I believe, is mediocrity, compromising symptom and system in such a way that in the end the symptom disappears and the "successful" case reenters society. The middle ground I would propose is the arts, in which the symptom becomes the marginal informing spirit or hounding dog that never lets go, driving the psyche to the edge.

I've been straining for decades to push psychology over into art, to recognize psychology as an art form rather than a science or a medicine or an education, because the soul is inherently imaginative. The primary function of the human being is to imagine, not to stand up straight, not to make tools and fire, not to build communities or hunt and till and tame, but to imagine all these other possibilities.

And we go on imagining and imagining, irrepressibly. The repressed returns as symptoms, so our symptoms are actually the irrepressible imagination breaking through our adapted mediocrity. Hence, the pronouncement: "In your pathology is your salvation" - not salvation as adaptation, but salvation from adaptation.

As long as therapy is engaged in adaptation, it is denying the raging lust and animal appetites that claim life is worth living. And my violent rage and sullen refusals are saying again and again: "What the system offers is what I don't really want." And my addictions show this hungry suicidal demand for more, higher, faster, fuller, spacier, looser, wilder, stranger life.

And so the system is hell-bent on stamping out everything extreme, especially the extremes of pleasure, which come closest to fulfilling desire. But the psyche is extreme and the world is in extremis.

Coping simply equals compliance. Community mental health, with its pamphlets giving advice on every "dysfunction" from thumb sucking to cock sucking, actually serves to keep the people pacified and satisfied with their white bread. Maybe I am an idealist, but I still believe therapy is engaged also in raising consciousness.

I have suggested an artistic paradigm for therapy, though I don't mean literal artists and art. For the arts and artists can be just as blithely self-centered and apolitical as the Berlin Philharmonic playing for a Wehrmacht audience. I have suggested the artistic paradigm because it satisfies the three requirements discussed in this letter. First, art forms madness rather than represses it. Second, the arts often act as the sensitive antennae of social justice and moral outrage, keeping the soul awake to hypocrisy, cant, suppression, and jingoism. And third, the fundamental enemy of all art is mediocrity.

So, though I love you depth psychology, I can't stay in the same house with you. We've both changed too much.

Once you were like an artist, and now you're a homemaker. You never go out into the street; you've become content with yourself; what you say doesn't seem at all relevant. I can't bear the way you use language. No one really crazy ever comes to call. I want to be loyal to our vow, but there is more death in staying than in parting.

[James Hillman]
We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy - And the World's Getting Worse, p.151, 152, 153, 154, 156, 157, 159





I went in curiosity for a day. I stayed for a week, held spell-bound by the charm and ease of everything, by the middle-class paradise, without a sin, without a victim, without a blot, without a tear.

And yet what was my own astonishment, on emerging into the dark and wicked world again, to catch myself quite unexpectedly and involuntarily saying: "Ouf! what a relief! Now for something primordial and savage, even though it were as bad as an Armenian massacre, to set the balance straight again. This order is too tame, this culture too second-rate, this goodness too uninspiring.

This human drama without a villain or a pang; this community so refined that ice-cream soda-water is the utmost offering it can make to the brute animal in man; this city simmering in the tepid lakeside sun; this atrocious harmlessness of all things,-I cannot abide with them.

Let me take my chances again in the big outside worldly wilderness with all its sins and sufferings. There are the heights and depths, the precipices and the steep ideals, the gleams of the awful and the infinite; and there is more hope and help a thousand times than in this dead level and quintessence of every mediocrity."

So I meditated. And, first of all, I asked myself what the thing was that was so lacking in this Sabbatical city, and the lack of which kept one forever falling short of the higher sort of contentment. And I soon recognized that it was the element that gives to the wicked outer world all its moral style, expressiveness and picturesqueness,—the element of precipitousness, so to call it, of strength and strenuousness, intensity and danger. 

What excites and interests the looker-on at life, what the romances and the statues celebrate and the grim civic monuments remind us of, is the everlasting battle of the powers of light with those of darkness; with heroism, reduced to its bare chance, yet ever and anon snatching victory from the jaws of death. But in this unspeakable Chautauqua there was no potentiality of death in sight anywhere, and no point of the compass visible from which danger might possibly appear. The ideal was so completely victorious already that no sign of any previous battle remained, the place just resting on its oars. But what our human emotions seem to require is the sight of the struggle going on.

Such absence of human nature in extremis anywhere seemed, then, a sufficient explanation for Chautauqua's flatness and lack of zest.

But was not this a paradox well calculated to fill one with dismay? It looks indeed, thought, as if the romantic idealists with their pessimism about our civilization were, after all, quite right. An irremediable flatness is coming over the world. Bourgeoisie and mediocrity, church sociables and teachers' conventions, are taking the place of the old heights and depths and romantic chiaroscuro. And, to get human life in its wild intensity, we must in future turn more and more away from the actual, and forget it, if we can, in the romancer's or the poet's pages.

Fitz-James Stephen wrote many years ago words to this effect more eloquent than any I can speak: "The 'Great Eastern,' or some of her successors," he said, "will perhaps defy the roll of the Atlantic, and cross the seas without allowing their passengers to feel that they have left the firm land. The voyage from the cradle to the grave may come to be performed with similar facility.

Progress and science may perhaps enable untold millions to live and die without a care, without a pang, without an anxiety. They will have a pleasant passage and plenty of brilliant conversation. They will wonder that men ever believed at all in clanging fights and blazing towns and sinking ships and praying bands; and, when they come to the end of their course, they will go their way, and the place thereof will know them no more.

But it seems unlikely that they will have such a knowledge of the great ocean on which they sail, with its storms and wrecks, its currents and icebergs, its huge waves and mighty winds, as those who battled with it for years together in the little craft, which, if they had few other merits, brought those who navigated them full into the presence of time and eternity, their maker and themselves, and forced them to have some definite view of their relations to them and to each other."

[William James]
'What Makes a Life Significant?', Pragmatism and Other Writings, p. 288-90, 302-3




If you want to understand how vapid are the current modernistic arguments (and understand your existential priorities), consider the difference between lions in the wild and those in captivity.

Lions in captivity live longer; they are technically richer, and they are guaranteed job security for life, if these are the criteria you are focusing on…

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
Antifragile, p. 243




[...] there are people [whose] expression is never prouder, more warlike, and happier than it is when a storm comes up; indeed, pain itself gives them their greatest moments. 

This is the heroic type, the great pain bringers of humanity, those few or rare human beings who need the very same apology that pain itself needs and truly, one should not deny it to them. 

They contribute immensely to the preservation and enhancement of the species, even if it were only by opposing comfortableness and by not concealing how this sort of happiness nauseates them.

For believe me: the secret for harvesting from existence the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment is to live dangerously! 

Build your cities on the slopes of Vesuvius! Send your ships into uncharted seas! Live at war with your peers and yourselves! Be robbers and conquerors as long as you cannot be rulers and possessors, you seekers of knowledge!

[Friedrich Nietzsche]
The Gay Science, 283, 318




The dedication, severity, focus and enthusiasm necessary to sustain true scientific enterprise are forbidden because they make women and weaklings uncomfortable: the presence of “lactation rooms,” and an environment where such rooms could even be built… the suppression of vigorous debate, the promotion of an “unhostile environment” of petty chitchat and chumminess, the subjection of scientists to administrators, human resources cunts with fibromyalgia, to the crushing banality of everydayness, all of this reduces the young scientist to domestic muck again and destroys his aspirations and will. 

[Bronze Age Pervert]
Bronze Age Mindset, 131




But an ideology, in order to gain enthusiastic support, must have a positive ideal as well as a negative one; it must be FOR something as well as AGAINST something. 

The positive ideal that we propose is Nature. That is, WILD nature: those aspects of the functioning of the Earth and its living things that are independent of human management and free of human interference and control. 

And with wild nature we include human nature, by which we mean those aspects of the functioning of the human individual that are not subject to regulation by organized society but are products of chance, or free will, or God (depending on your religious or philosophical opinions).

[Ted Kaczynski]
Industrial Society and its Future, 183




We have reached the point where, in Ellul’s words, ‘every human initiative must use technical means to express itself.’ Once you understand this, you will see it manifested everywhere you look.

You might see, for example, how farms have been transformed into laboratories of technique, the land sprayed with the recommended concentrations of the latest approved pesticides, or sown with genetically modified crops, or harvested by huge tractors directed by GPS systems, whose drivers no longer even have to steer them. You might see how mass schooling systems inculcate our children with the values of technique, from the focus on exam results to the current obsession with promoting ‘STEM’ subjects at the expense of art, history or literature. Or you might see literature itself rebuilt by technique, as academic theorists take works of art apart in the manner of a mechanic searching for a fault in an engine.

Art, music, medicine, sport, science, child-rearing, education, sex, relationships: any area of life you can conceive of has been remade in the image of technique. 

At one point in his book Ellul even uses the example of a camping trip: what was once an individual choice to wander into a wild place to sleep is now corralled by technical society into official campsites with numbered pitches and regulated behaviour.

[Paul Kingsnorth]
'You Are Harvest'

 


Iain: […] on your point that things may get less complex, something that seems to me rather interesting is that domesticated animals have smaller brains than their wild counterparts. 

You put that together with the fact that modern Homo sapiens has a smaller brain than Homo heidelbergensis had [and] there may be something about living in this protected way that we do, which actually decreases neuronal complexity and perhaps our intelligence.

Jim: Yeah. I actually looked that up […] Even Homo sapiens himself has lost somewhere between 10 and 20% of his neuronal count in the last 40,000 years. That was right about the time that we’ve started to be able to create culture and advanced tools.

And so, getting smarter, actually in some sense, we don’t need so many neurons, so that the problems of being birthed, for instance, we can give up 10% of our neurons. Even in the last 3,000 years have been a measurable, but not as large, decline in the number of neurons the archeologists now believe, which is quite interesting. 

And so, anthropologists describe that effect as the self-domestication of humans.

[Iain McGilchrist & Jim Rutt]
'EP 155 Iain McGilchrist Part 2: The Matter With Things', The Jim Rutt Show




Tocqueville notes that, for the most part, Americans live orderly, productive, one might say bourgeois lives. They are practical, prudent, and focused on their work. 

“It is impossible to imagine anything as insignificant, dull, or encumbered with petty interests - in a word, as antipoetic - as the life of an American.”

[Dana Jalbert Stauffer]
‘“The Most Common Sickness of Our Time”: Tocqueville on Democratic Restlessness’, The Review of Politics 80 (2018), p.458




James admired the martial virtues and harbored deep misgivings about the "strange moral transformation" that had brought them into discredit. He saw nothing wrong with the love of adventure; the trouble, he thought, was that it often failed to find suitable forms of expression. 

Neither the obsessive self-mortification of sainthood nor the self-transcendence of warfare provided adequate outlets for "spiritual vitality."

Brooks and Santayana, however, regarded the "militant existence" glorified by James with a mixture of horror and amused condescension. They associated it with intolerance, fanaticism, individualism run riot. The puritan and the pioneer were twins, according to Brooks, in spite of their mutual dislike: prickly, quarrelsome, impatient with opposition. Neither had any talent for ordinary social intercourse.

The spiritual life of the pioneer, insofar as he had one, was “spectral and aloof,” “impersonal and antisocial.” Whether American thought defined itself in “metaphysical” opposition to ordinary life (puritanism) or glorified ordinary life in its crudest form (pragmatism), it suffered from the "want of a social background.”

Thanks to Brooks, the alleged affinity between puritanism and pioneering became a staple of cultural criticism. In an essay published in 1917, “The Puritan's Will to Power," Randolph Bourne argued that an obsession with "being good” bore a close resemblance to an obsession with "making good.” Seemingly self-abnegating, the puritan found a "positive sense of power” in the "raw material” of “renunciation.” “In the compelling of others to abstain, you have the final glut of puritanical power." Waldo Frank elaborated this critique of puritanism and pioneering in Our America (1919), assimilating these categories more closely than ever to the aesthetic categories of “highbrow" and "lowbrow."

The "frugal and self-denying life” idealized by puritanism, according to Frank, diverted energies that might have gone into art into pioneering. The desire for beauty did not die out altogether, but it fled from "reality" into the thin upper air of transcendentalism.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.351




Priding themselves on the global reach of their culture, the educated classes led what was in many ways a constricted, insular life.

Modern conveniences sheltered them from everyday discomforts. Air-conditioning and central heating protected them from the elements but cut them off from the vivid knowledge of nature that comes only to those who expose themselves to her harsher moods. Exemption from manual labor deprived them of any appreciation of the practical skills it requires or the kind of knowledge that grows directly out of firsthand experience. 

Just as their acquaintance with nature was limited to a vacation in some national park, so their awareness of the sensual, physical side of life was largely recreational, restricted to activities designed to keep the bodily "machine" in working order. Jogging, tennis, and safe sex did not make up for the loss of more vigorous exercise. Nor did open-mindedness make up for the absence of strongly held convictions.

The educated classes overcame fanaticism at the price of desiccation.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.467




Communism endowed everyday actions with […] cosmic significance […] In 1940, George Orwell had made the same point about fascism. The Western democracies, he observed, had come to think that "human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security, and avoidance of pain."

Whatever else could be said about it, fascism was "psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life." Hitler knew that men and women wanted more than "comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth control."

"Whereas socialism, and even capitalism... have said to people, 'I offer you a good time,' Hitler has said to them, 'I offer you struggle, danger, and death,' and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet."

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.79




We interpret the lives of the Cree, Naskapi, Inuit, and others who live in the far North of Canada and Alaska as a heroic battle against an adverse, hostile environment. Yet the people of the North I have talked to love their land and way of life.

Our Western minds see the wilderness as something to be tamed, shaped, and molded. 

In his essay "Wordsworth in the Tropics," Aldous Huxley argues that the Lake Country poet's identification with nature was confined to a gentle English countryside tamed by hundreds and thousands of years of human occupation. True nature, in all its wildness, Huxley argued, would have horrified Wordsworth.

Huxley's assumption may be true. Yet, in a sense, Huxley himself is guilty of a similar blindness, for untamed nature appears to be associated in his mind with an intrinsic hostility and lawlessness, almost recalling Kurtz's dying cry in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, "The horror! The horror!" Many Indigenous forest dwellers, by contrast, would see the same forest as a nurturing provider of all that they need.

Brute nature is faced with human industry and an ingenuity that seeks to overcome its adversary. Science becomes the tool whereby change can be effected and nature controlled.

Indigenous science, however, approaches the reality in a profoundly different way, for human society is not pictured as standing apart from the rest of nature. Animation and consciousness pervade all of nature from tree to plant and rock to star. Human beings are two-leggeds who have their role to play among the other beings of the world. Nature is not competitive, a battle for "the survival of the fittest," but a cooperative system of alliances. Even the plants grow though mutual relationship and support.

In a universe of animating spirits the heroic human individual cannot hope to control the world through brute force. 

Rather than seeking control, change, and progress, an Indigenous society prefers to live in harmony with the world. Power certainly exists but it lies more within alliances and the ability to call upon external energies than it does in the human will or the unleashing of mechanical force.

[F. David Peat]
Blackfoot Physics, p.305-6



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