Marginalia.

There is something compelling about people scribbling in the margins of their own books. Its as though it were some disavowed part of the narrative that still somehow managed to make it onto the page. Its only partially conscious, very private, something that both wants and does not want to be known.

Which is why people collect Marginalia. They are brief, potentially voyeristic glimpses into private space. Some trickster at work serves to reveal a deeper, more intimate, contrary struggle with post hoc content otherwise denied the light of day.

More interesting still is the annotation of lawbooks, since what is consigned to the fringes of the page is also liable to be relegated to the fringes of civil liberty. And when this phenomena occurs around the making of laws that pertain to human freedoms we’re obliged to sit up and take notice.

In June last year the American President signed the National Defense Authorisation Act which contained a tiny section of just a few paragraphs waaay at the back giving him the powers to detain whom he liked indefinately and without trial. Yes, you can now officially disappear without recourse to due process. America, the land of the free, made itself less free.

This in itself is a puzzle, but what the President wrote in the margin next to article 1020 and 1021, which effectively placed him beyond the law and all accountability is scarier still. Next to the provision made to do away with anyone he chose, the President wrote in the margin,

”this is a terrible power and I promise never to use it”. B. Obama.

Critics made the obvious point that..

”Any president who says a power is so terrible he’s not going to use it should not be on the books”. R Paul.

But party politics and what ‘should’ have happened aside for a moment, what’s interesting psychologically is that this happened at all.

The most powerful man in the world has even further powers seemingly thrust upon him.  These powers place him above the law. He knows that it is unconstitutional, so much so, that he cannot agree to it. And yet he signs it, which is to agree with it. So the document contains two signatures, one bringing unprecedented centralised power into effect that can only erode civil liberty and another signature disclaiming and denouncing it. The irony is his refusal to be accountable for signing the law is then protected by the law he just signed.

But the most curious and interesting part of all this is that it happened without a whisper… There were no barking dogs. You would expect people to go crazy but nothing happened, all of which suggests a number of things….

Firstly, that freedom is not all its cracked up to be and that despotic powers somehow serve an as yet unaddressed aspect of our collective psyche, that deep down we are deeply divided about the burden of freedom…

”Modern man still is anxious and tempted to surrender his freedom to dictators of all kinds, or to lose it by transforming himself into a small cog in the machine, well fed, and well clothed, yet not a free man but an automaton.”  E. Fromm.

Given how highly we value our freedom is it not incumbent on us to ask how easily we give it away? How easily we accept that scrawl in the margin, the mind bending cognitive dissonance, a double message which impacts on the most basic of our human freedoms like a 3am cudgel at the door…

trick or treat..

without even making the morning papers…

Its said that we get the leaders we deserve which suggests we are not unequivocal in our desire for freedom. The fact is that the tyrant offers his oppressed people two great gifts, the route of least resistance in that you need accomplish no more, and by identifying with him, also being above the law.

Aren’t we clever!

In fact there is something of a tradition in Western Civilisation for leaders to be above the law. The Pope is infallible. The Queen of England can’t be arrested. Any number of petty officials regularly claim diplomatic immunity from their misdeeds and politicians make laws to protect them from prosecution…

and all at the same time as you and I are made subject to other laws which say we can be spirited away forever without so much as a ‘by your leave’.

What gives? What does it symbolise? On the one hand we relentlessly pursue status, on the other, we give away the freedom that seems to come with it. It doesn’t make sense, until you consider the unconscious factors involved.

People will tolerate loss of freedom if they are allowed to identify with celebrity others and experience life’s fruits vicariously. We don’t miss or feel the loss of our freedom because we’ve already been persuaded to give it away to some public figure or life style which then seems to have it all. The Self is projected onto an outer figure who must now fascinate and intrigue. The fact that you can now be carted off in the dead of night never to be seen again is ofset in the margins of selfhood by secretly aspiring to be above the law ourselves.

Which is a bit like wishing to still be baby, protected and in-arms, where nothing applies to you and everything comfortably….. is.

Damage at this stage of development is endemic in the West, which struggles so to touch and hold, who’ve even lost the longing for it except in its symbolic, concretised and compulsive form. Western Civilisation has a borderline personality disorder. The kind of disorder that is perfectly comfortable with split reality and double think. Even our holy book is split into halves so incommensurable that there was an early Christian movement, Marcionism, which argued the gods of Old and New Testament had to be different.

All gone now..

killed for their own good.

One of the defining characteristics of the borderline personality according to DSM 5 is prone to , ‘dissociative states under stress.’  In other words where opposing things can concur without conflict. The toublesome trait is deposited in another, or on a people, or in the margins of history, one’s own inner contradiction acted out in lieu of integration.

So as not to play favourites, the current President has had a brush with Marginalia himself. On the 11/1/17 he held a brief press conference garnished with documents purported to be legalese signing over his business interests to his sons. Trevor Noah on the Daily Show was sharp enough to notice that all the sheets were blank. Nothing in the margin and nothing inside. If it were a dream, what would it mean?

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Narcissism and the Bottomless Pit.

In thirty years of practice as a psychotherapist I never came across an indigenous person with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The reason is that native people generally have a way of raising their kids that is  radically different to parents in the ‘civilised’ West.

This does not mean that Western women are bad mothers, but that they have to contend with a split reality endemic in our culture that makes it difficult for baby to cross certain developmental thresholds.

On the one hand the child, as depicted in the majority of psychoanalytic literature, is a voracious power hungry little monster who battles mother for dominance and has to be brought to heel at all costs.

”Babies have become a sort of enemy to be vanquished by mother…on the premise that every effort should be made to force baby to conform when it ’causes’ work and ‘wastes’ time.’ J. Liedloff

On the other hand, and by way of compensation, we have the effusive and liberal face of Dr Spock, whose sales of his book ‘Baby and Childcare’, come second only to the Bible on the best seller list. Spock advocated ‘childcentric’ households which effectively have children ruling the roost. Detractors claim he cultivated Narcissism in millions as the most trusted name in childcare and parenting since 1940 and even hold him personally responsible for the moral decline of  western culture.

”When a society becomes out of control, it is because its members elevate self-indulgence and lack self-control…and [have] come to see gratification as a right.” R. Bradley.
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 These radically polarised veiws of parenting presented by Freud and Spock, often operating without reference to one another under the same roof, have something strangely in common. Both the liberal, anti-authoritarian mandate of currying entitlement in children and the cold hearted philosophy of ‘you did it to yourself’ inherent in Freudian theory, marginalised the fact that women have been having babies for seven million years without the input of opinionated men in lab coats.
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 Both men’ knew better’ than the feminine soul. To the extent that these theories were imposed upon women’s natural instincts, their innate knowing, their connection to their own mothers and to the Divine Feminine that presided over childbirth and motherhood, so too was their role undermined, ancient wisdom eroded and intrinsic understanding of what was right and proper, subverted and injured.
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So whilst it may be true that excessive permissiveness fosters narcissistic tendencies and a sense of entitlement, it is also the case that narcissistic wounds are inevitable when the bond between mother and child is intruded upon by someone who thinks they know better than Nature herself, irrespective of the received ‘wisdom’ under consideration.
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You’re probably familiar with the educational maxim ‘would you teach a fish to climb a tree?’ but we forget that its even more undermining to teach a fish to swim.
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A centiped was happy, quite!
Until a toad in fun
Said, ‘pray which leg follows which?
This raised her doubts to such a pitch
She fell exhausted in a ditch,
Not knowing how to run.
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“If we have learnt certain [things] so that they have sunk below the level of conscious control, then if we try to follow them consciously we very often interfere with them so badly that we stop them”. Carl Popper.
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It follows that if mother has it instilled in her that she doesn’t know her job  without instruction from a clipboard wielding MD then baby will be similarly confused and struggle with developmental tasks, understandably preferring the relative safety of remaining partly fused with mother in a state of  ‘symbiotic omnipotence’. (M. Kahn).
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This interupts the process of separation and healthy growth, preventing the child from crossing the threshold associated with ‘symbol formation’. This is significant because it is symbol formation that is responsible for the experience of others as persons in their own right, and for the development of values associated with feelings about others having their own purpose and destiny. The child can get eternally caught  in the concrete thinking of symbolic equations where, for instance, worth is measured in terms of money,  loveability in terms of sexual conquest, power in terms of domination of others, all the things we recognise as symptoms of NPD.
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‘No-one loves me, because you don’t wipe my chin.’ Liedloff.
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The figurative representation of ideas, conflicts or wishes cannot be experienced and so metaphorical notions of honour, faithfullness, duty, empathy and so on remain conceptual ideas rather than lived and experienced realities…
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”from which intellectualism is only to ready to emancipate itself.” C.G. Jung
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This is most obvious in our relationships because Narcissism does not really experience the Other as such. Their humanity remains conceptual. The notion that others have equal rights is an abstract idea to be rationally concluded without actually being lived.
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Racism and sexism are the most common outcome of such a mind set, but the irony is that the Narcissist has equal trouble conceiving of ‘his own’ in fully human terms unless they remain entirely joined at the hip. Humanity is not experienced, it is deduced, much as Socrates ‘worked out’ that one day he would die.
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‘Socrates is a man. Men are mortal. Therefor Socrates will die.’
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On the basis of such abstract deduction ordinary instinctual care for one another is occluded. One’s own self barely exists in its own right, how shall another fare any better?
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The developmental threshold of symbol formation affords not only the recognition of the otherness of the Other, it also affords value and significance to the otherness of oneself, in other words to the fantasies, intuitions and aspirations emerging from the archetypal layers of the psyche that take over the job of feeding the child, as it were, from within.
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This leads to a lack of faith, not only in others but towards life itself which cannot be trusted to provide. The child becomes a consumer…
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‘clinging to objects and people, investing them with magical powers, ferocious in [the] demand to possess and control.” Liedloff
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Asking Narcissism to share is thus experienced as an attack on all that is holy because money and resources have been imbued with a kind of spiritual manna. Losing hegemony over it is tantamount to desecration. The paranoid tendency of the Narcissist  is not simply that someone is out to get him, but that all he holds sacred is under attack.
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And so the predominant experience of life is one of being a victim, no matter how much one has, nor how much there is available. It is like being a planet without a sun, or worse, having a black hole to revolve around which threatens to drain and crush at every turn. Without the inner ‘other’, there is nothing to mediate the dark forces of the cosmos.
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”Our connection with a sacred centre [gives] a sense of real existence that counters the terror of chaos and nothingness, helps [a person] find their bearings and makes order of the Universe’. Bizint
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Since what we cannot integrate is invariably projected it will seem to those who stub their toe on at the threshold of symbol formation that some illegitimate other has stolen the key to happiness. He lives, not only in a state of lack but as if his divine inheritance is being withheld. And because he’s in the bind of having to deny what he needs, his lack and being witheld from is acted out in the world, which perhaps explains the conundrum of how it is possible for the richest and greatest nation in the world to sweep one of its most powerful men to high office on the shirt tails of the  slogan, ‘make America great again’, as though it were a mere dispossesed guttersnipe on the fringes of the stage.