[Another slip of the novel in progress A Republic of Books]
What is madness, anyway?
As a young man I was most amazed, in a negative way, by what passes for the religion of ‘psychology’ as a purported science, and worse, some branch of medicine, or even just as field of study. Like everyone in my generation, as we had escaped from the shadow of a failed religious past, I was bombarded by Freudian and then Jungian balderdash as an excuse for bad behavior or human stupidity. But always it was proffered as an excuse. One did not seek psychological help for building a house, or starting a business, only for burning the house down or stealing from the pension fund. But as a medicine, the practice of psychology ruined more lives than can ever be accounted for, simply by allowing or even in some cases causing, the troubled and the sick to suffer as prisoners in institutions, or the criminal to go free. In sum, the field of ‘psychology’ has proved itself far worse than, say, bloodletting, which at least had an imaginative basis in ‘bad and good humours’ for cause and effect, or than the more savage lobotomy, with its assumption of a physical basis for the psychosomatic, and mutilation and impairment as a desired result. While most psychological advice is at the level of a Smith and Dale vaudeville routine: “Doctor, it hurts when I do this!” “Don’t do that!” too much of it pretends cures from false reasoning.
With Jung we were given the added layer of philosophy to compound the injury of malpractice and we could even accept a form of necromancy as enlightenment, with past lives being relived within us. In the Twentieth Century and now persisting into the Twenty-first, we are given a poor equivalent to four thousand year old Greek mythology as a guide to understanding the human mind, Oedipus amuck, now with the ‘Great Mother,’ replacing the temperamental Zeus, and regular visits to the couch as a replacements for the confessional and the priest. However, the priest was better. Two Hail Marys and four Our Fathers and we were good to go, ready to face the world anew. All our sins forgiven if not forgotten. With psychology there was no end to it. Our soul was in hock at an hourly rate, without a cure in sight.
What excuse do we have for this witchdoctoring? That is the question that most bothers me. Within our known history, we have pursued many foolish and dangerous answers to what troubles us. Especially political ones. From tyrants to ceasars, kings to presidents. But at least there was usually a positive reason behind our poor choices. We wanted something better than what we had. We wanted an improvement. But with most of what we speak of as psychology we have gone out of our way to accept pure idiocy in the place of knowledge, malevolence in the place of evil, and given ourselves over to someone who believes in the wizard of id.
If you have any interest in history you may have noticed the number of churches in every small town. In New England, the white steeple peeking up through the trees is a key geographic guide. This landmark is a symbol of many things but importantly it was a beacon for a given community, its center, and its social identity. Note: there are so many well built priory houses across Britain, left over from the days when the Anglican Church was doing its job, that they have become real estate gold now that the religious order has faltered. Forgotten is the fact that a priest once lived in those houses close by the church itself and their primary function day to day was to minister to the congregation, offering spiritual advice, and consolation. They brought an ancient wisdom found in the Book of Common Prayer, the Old and New Testaments and a mutual cultural aesthetic and applied it to the daily troubles of the parishioner’s life. Blessings were given as well as condolences. Good council was crucial. A parish priest who could not relate to his flock was soon preaching to empty pews and, at least in America, a new church would have opened for business a block away. Given that fatherly advice will always be needed, replacing the priest with the psychiatrist was a bad deal only made worse by a monetary cost that placed the services beyond the needs of anyone who was not well heeled.
What purpose is there to psychology? Why should it even be? I can understand the need for religion. The great gulf of ignorance that surrounds us begs for answers. A God can fill that need. But psychology? Is it a project to understand the mind? The brain is a physical matter and the province of science and medicine. Is the need in the very understanding of why we do what we do? Wouldn’t that be something to ask ourselves? A sociologist might help. A historian. A wise aunt. But a psychologist? Someone preaching a belief in ids and mythical archetypes rather than simply identifying healthy behavior and the opposite?
I suppose we might at least agree that there is insanity to be found in someone who did the same failed thing over and over again expecting a different result. But that would be me.
Year upon year I pursued the building of my ideal bookshop, ignoring the ever greater lack of interest on the part of the public I must appeal to. That would be ‘a fine madness,’ would it not? Could it be, the way of madness lies in truth?
Year upon year I wrote my novels, refusing to take notice of the rejection slips returned from publishers and agents. ‘O, that way madness lies’ for sure, don’t you think? In truth? Was Lear wrong? But now the public has put an end to half the question. They thinks they are better off with hundred dollar jeans, and the store would be no more. But I will continue to write until the brain sags with the rest of me. I may be no Samson Shillitoe, but alike him, my madness goes uncured.