“If we are to remain idealists, without disgust…”

Lately, I’ve wanted to feel life deserves applause, as if life isn’t extraordinary, what’s going on here, in this “universe”, which as a mental construct would make Archimedes wonder, not to mention boys like Jesus, Mohammed and Genghis Khan. Wonder is how I feel and now that I know God is female and the sensations sensible that shocked and tingled; made me laugh at the absurdity of sex.

Early on, I had difficulty understanding at times when things seemed inconsistent with survival and I’m not present to life’s wondrous promise and I feel fear, envy the virtuosity of others, guilt about my fear of being known for who and what I am, I disguise competence in my wish to hide; as if invisible, unknown, not wanting to be known but heard. These idiots would nail me to a cross. Always a Jew in a hive of Christians, afraid to go to Shul, let alone Israel. Anywhere. I inherited the experience at Auschwitz, people in uniform are potential Nazis. Catholics, protestants, methodists, mormons, prebyterians, episcopelians, all. It’s not a rational paranoia. It’s an emotional assessment made without thinking, emotional response.

Growing up, my circumstances were appropriate for un-rewardable pagan lives, not far beyond redemption. Curiosity led me to a protestant Sunday school class in the Temple district of Philadelphia, near Broad and Allegheny. That was the first time I heard of original sin, though the terms were meaningless as immaculate conception but I never got the relevance of the cute blond doll baby, they called, Jesus Christ. Nothing fabulous about Moses, David, King Solomon, etc. The holy trio was credible to me than their Santa Claus, a myth I I considered a benign fantasy and I was stunned in disbelief by the conviction of my Sunday Schoolmates about fabulous stories. Much later, after willingly submitting to the notion that immaculate conception is real, it did very little for me for I didn’t understand the representation of characters . Knowing that God is female, I get it. She’s not rendered un-immaculate, no matter whom (or how) she likes to screw and there is no justice in the world for men.

If we believed that story, clearly we are prepared to believe just about anything. Which explains a lot. God didn’t make up this story, men did. What were they supposed to say, when their partner was pregnant again with another dark-skinned kid born while they were out discovering America, who doesn’t resemble them?  Did they believe the story?  What was their choice? From a practical viewpoint, the incredibleness of immaculate conception and original sin led me to suspect something weird is going on about desire. Erotic love and jealousy, shame, disgust and anger associated with erotic passion are mysterious to a child; the erotic is a subtext in esoteric conceptions of God, devil and Paradise. In any case, Camden, New Jersey isn’t paradise and things can get worse.

The language of this essay may difficult to follow, repetition is intended to draw distinctions and I study my own experience.

The language of this essay may difficult to follow, repetition is intended to draw distinctions and I study my own experience.

When I haven’t felt compassion for the plight of the poor or other kinds of victims of human organization, it is either because I viewed sufferers as responsible for their situations or because I felt I was partly responsible. You can’t feel compassionate for someone you’re beating up, not even when it’s yourself. This would be an oxymoron.

And the will to survive; the natural self-interest of a human being makes us complicit in our downfall, and this could be seen as original sin but it’s not a sin. It isn’t a sin to want to survive, it’s on the mark and we can’t sanely avoid it. Even self-sacrifice serves the survival of something we identify with ourselves. Although I’m certain I didn’t kill Christ nor his followers, I’m open to the possibility that had I been there, depending on circumstances, the way I’m made up, I can see myself in Hitler’s shoes, and even Pol Pot’s. I see myself in the Hitlers in our history and in members of their bureaucracies. Genocide is thinkable for me in that context. On the other hand, I didn’t imagine that people are as stupid and unimaginative as in retrospect, it appears we are. We are too easily influenced by reward. The sweetest little middle class mother feels little discomfort about the plight of victims of the holocaust, famine or of engineering disasters like Fukushima not to mention political phenomena like Goebbels, Dick Cheney, George Bush and/or Richard Nixon, et cetera. It’s not in her interest to disrupt the illusion of distance from the victims.

When fortune smiles on us, our success doesn’t reflect our talent, virtue or intelligence, for good luck, whether accidental or ordained is irrespective of individual circumstances. It’s as true that I’ve caused all the evil in the world as all the good, yet my liability is limited to an arbitrary pittance, perhaps, equivalent to a sum, like $1200 in United States dollars in 2016. It’s mysterious that my personal liability is so limited but it is. I do understand that results were not guaranteed nor harm intentional and that there was contributory negligence—victims are responsible for how they feel their lives turned out. A $1200 price tag doesn’t annoy me and even though animals were hurt in the making of the narrative of my life, the reason I feel no compassion for them is simply because, when I don’t see victims as bringing it on themselves, I see myself as the cause of their suffering; it’s a feeling of guilt associated with gender in narratives of my linguistic heritage, in which this is promoted. I live in a predominantly heterosexual world created by men guided by desires of women that attract and influence men. Bearing and raising children exempts them from responsibility.

Psyche discovers Eros
Psyche discovers Eros

Desire came upon me first as I slept, in dreams. I liked the feel of it but, like Psyche’s Eros, I had no idea to what force I’d binded myself and then blinded myself to it with shame. I wanted to feel only desire and at the same time, shame filled me with disgust at the selfishness of my desire. Leopold Bloom. Don Quejano. Miguel Cervantes.

It had been so long since I had let myself express desire and so pleasure is associated with discomfort. I’m nervous when I see desire in a woman’s eyes because desire renders me vulnerable. I allow myself to feel desire and the shame I feel at my helplessness before it flavors pleasure. I can’t feel other than I feel. I can’t pretend that I’m not nervous around erotic desire. Psilocybin mushrooms allow freedom from inhibiting fear but it hadn’t occurred to me before now that this is the relationship with erotic desire that shapes the current politics of the world.

Greek stoics and their Christian counterparts viewed the erotic as animal, subhuman in this sense, and as sinful and evil and they saw female attraction to the male incompletely: their rationalizations accommodated emotional cognition that governed their behavior and thus, the social order, and their narratives of erotic love are true to this experience, requiring explanations by a deus ex machina to  make sense of it. Gods made human beings as illogical as we are with respect to erotic desire for their own perverse pleasure. Yet, these narratives about erotic love and desire projected a modern world that otherwise couldn’t have come about, including all good and evil in this world. As time went by, narratives that are consistent with the way the world works continued to evolve and here we are.

The logical conclusion revealed in all great narratives in the literary canon is that the world appears to us as it does to a great extent because we distinguish classes of things by emotional cognition. In terms of intimacy and desire, I see men, women, children, black, attractive, repulsive, admirable, Arab, male, desirable, hateful, fascist, and so on and everyone I encounter, falls into classes by dint of blends of emotions I feel towards them in the moment I encounter them. When I realized that we class each other in accordance with emotions they evoke in us and that usually, we look no further than this, I began to challenge myself to look again and this practice, though reasonable, has gotten me into trouble more than once.

We classify people based on the degrees to which they evoke disgust, sexual excitement, compassion, fear, remorse, romantic longing and so on. Then we rationalize about our emotional judgments, which is like profiling. Emotions we feel in the presence of a member of a class are predicted by the class in which we see them, which is justified by previous experience and this includes emotional responses inherited from personal genetic predecessors. When I understood this, I thought to break away from these patterns of perception. I tried everything: yoga, wheat grass, ayahuasca, ecstasy and LSD. I found that my emotional responses define me; they are traits of a personality that developed from experiences from the moment of conception. I found that I can’t unfeel what I’m feeling and the best I can do is to distinguish the justification I invent to explain my emotional judgments so that rational explanations are both understandable and debunked: Jews are acquisitive, children are innocent, women are sensitive, dark skinned people are animals, etc. Then I saw that I’ve adapted many emotional responses from narratives I’ve followed because in following a narrative, I co-create the universe with the story teller. For example, I feel jealousy when a woman I’m with flirts with a black man because I believe black men arouse sexual excitement in white women, an interesting form of racism. I view my emotional responses either as qualities of myself or as a true fact about another; proving inherent qualities of persons I respond to emotionally and all along I thought my judgments are rational when they are really only consistent with my emotional cognitions.

Rational judgments are not judgments at all. They are rationalizations of emotions we feel about classes of people we distinguish according to qualities of emotions evoked.  The Greeks tried to understand what emotion is and wrote a lot about it. Chryssipus, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates and then, on to St. Augustine, Spinoza and so on. They all found that emotion is an evaluation about how the object of an emotion is likely to either assist or harm that which we hold most dear, in Greek, our eudaimonia. An object of the emotion of love occurs for us with qualities that evoke longing and desire for the object, imagined as outside the self and possessed of the ability to inspire feelings of flourishing one’s eudaimonia.

Like Cervantes and his alter ego, Don Quejano, I learned that eudaimonia for a heterosexual man in my culture called for accomplishments like bonafide certificates, a child or two to demonstrate virility and confirmation of sexual potency, a female partner to be worn like a scout’s merit badge. I respond to women as men “should” behave but erotic longing and desire are felt emotional awareness towards sexual and/or romantic objects. Romantic love isn’t an illusion, it’s an emotional response, the triggers of which were designed by my earliest experiences and modified continually.  I’m genetically “wired” to respond as I do to begin with, even before the egg was fertilized. There was never a decision about this. I thirst and drink to quench the thirst. I fuck to fuck, no need to know who or what it is that I’m fucking with. I’m in love with the object that evokes that emotion. I’m aroused in the presence of an arousing object. I feel embarrassed when I see myself or others behaving selfishly but my erotic interest attenuates the thought and instead inspires sublimation, hence Don Quixote and Ulysses.

Martha Nussbaum wrapped up her book, Upheavals of Thought; The Intelligence of Emotions with the statement, “The longing for totality breeds intolerance of the dividual. We are left not with a total text but with insights from several idealistic pictures we may try to incorporate into the greater chaos of our lives: with Dante’s lucid love of the individual, piercing the fog of envy, anger and sloth; with Mahler’s triumphant compassion, rising above envy, including the whole world of mortal striving in its embrace; with Whitman’s political call to a democratic equality grounded in the recognition of mortality, “with the most excellent sun, so calm and haughty…the gentle soft-born measureless light…”

Nussbaum begins her book with Marcel Proust’s views of love but found an answer eventually in James Joyce’s narrative, Ulysses:

“…we are left with the more tentative and tender love of their [Dante’s, Mahler’s, Whitman’s] comic counterpart, which expresses an attitude we badly need if we are to remain idealists without disgust. By ending with Poldy and Molly, who both endorse and tenderly mock the spirit of ascent [of love], I have tried to indicate that even in their real life imperfect form, indeed especially in that real form, in which the incompleteness and surprise of human life is accepted rather than hated, love and its allies among the emotions (grief, compassion) provides powerful guidance toward social justice, the basis for a politics that addresses the needs of other groups and nations, rather than spawning the various forms of hatred that our texts have identified. In Poldy’s sudden defection from Spinoza. In Molly’s inconstant desire, in the way surprise and passivity are embraced in the movement of the text, we find a mercy and an equity that we need to combine with our other loftier visions—no doubt with our own mercy toward the uneven intermittence of attention and desire that inhabits our own imaginations.”

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