Thursday, March 23, 2017


The real Donald Trump is much fatter.

Can’t sleep after the onslaught of today’s news revelations.  I’m not thinking “House of Cards” so much as “Game of Thrones” so let me put on my George RR Martin hat and spread this out on paper to get it out of my head.

What could possibly cause Nunes, who seemed sane a few days ago, to take intel directly to Trump, knowing that everyone would know he did and, indeed, then announcing it formally?  A threat of assassination.  A contract on Trump’s life.  Could be domestic or foreign.  The fence jumper a few days ago made it to the front door.  What if it were going to be a military-type attack:  a missile, a predator drone, or the like?

If it were foreign — who knows what could justify elimination by Russia?  They just demonstrated another method (defenestration) and they don’t need much of an excuse.  Surely Trump has been hoarding a few little secrets of his own, but then, he’s becoming less and less useful — too nutty, out of control.  We know what provoking N. Korea could do.  Wouldn’t the death of the president or even an attempted murder be enough to precipitate us into war?  Wouldn’t it, in fact, be a declaration of war on the USA?

If this were something that were real, Trump would probably be held in the deep secure bunker to protect him until he could be safely flown out of the country.  He could have already videotaped a resignation from the presidency in exchange for help in escaping.  If he is killed after he has resigned, it will not be an assassination of the president anymore.  The vid could be held, not shown until he’s gone.  He may be in the air right now, clutching his toothbrush and toupee paste.  Remember that it’s suspected that a missile brought down an airliner just off the East Coast a few years ago.

Or let’s look at another wild possibility.  When Trump is thwarted, he goes into a cork-popping rage.  It’s pretty clear tonight that his insurance plan is not likely to succeed.  What if he’s had a major brain event?  What if he’s truly demented in a mental hospital ICU right now?  What if the real reason Ivanka has an office in the White House is so she’ll be there as his legal guardian when the strait-jacket folks come.  They say she can calm him when no one else can.  Let’s hope she doesn’t have scruples about endorsing a Do Not Resuscitate order.

Some movie thriller writers might have made this intercepted intel about Ivanka, a threat against her, but I don’t think Russians, Chinese or Koreans think she or any woman is important.

Normally, when a bill looks as though it is doomed, the deadline is moved out ahead so that either persuasion might succeed or the whole issue can be allowed to die quietly.  But the insurance bill is scheduled to be voted on at 7PM tomorrow, regardless of prospects.   It will keep the Republicans occupied and present.  There’s talk about the Dems just leaving en masse.  But we might be surprised by the vote, the way we were surprised by the election.  After the vote tomorrow would be an excellent time to play a resignation tape, assuming it existed.  The news explosion would cover the embarrassment over insurance, whichever way it goes.

If Trump were flying out to some secret island, a news landslide might keep the reporters from scouring the flight schedules to find the island — at least for a while.  On the other hand, he might be dead already.  Ivanka may be asked to help plan a funeral.  Maybe Melania won't be that interested.

This is all preposterous and over dramatic.  Or is it?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


David Milch

I suppose I think of a “body of work” because of Bob Scriver and his thousand sculptures, grouped into subjects like Blackfeet, rodeo, Montana animals.  The Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife, with its full-mounts of every Montana game animal, was also intended to be a body of work but it was dispersed almost as soon as Bob died.  Whether the bronzes stay together in a “body” is up to the Montana Historical Society and, admittedly or not, they evaluate it in terms of its commercial value.

There was another body of work, which was Bob’s rather short teaching career and his music.  Teaching and music are time arts.  At the moment they are happening, they are palpable, but as soon as the process stops, they are gone.  Where is the body now?  Sheet music?  Maybe recordings but the means of the time were not very adequate.

I had thought my “body of work” would be a set of books, beginning with the biography of Bob which had been a goal since we met, though he had thought it would be more of a celebration of his achievements and I had always understood it to be an explanation of how and what he achieved.

I now understand “books” as the production of objects for sale that was devised for the wealthy and then became symbols of culture and wealth for the middle class.  When publishing developed, it exploited this last by seeking publishable material, that is, material that would appeal to people with the means to buy books.  In conversation with Blackfeet teachers of a speculative kind, it has become plain to us that the reason “Indian” books don’t sell is a) the People don’t have enough discretionary income to buy books and b) the material in most of the books is not appropriate to their interests, unless it’s sensational, common denominator stuff that’s not “Indian.”

The tribal community colleges are changing that because traditional academics are book-based.  Publishers know this and capitalize on it, so that class books have inflated prices.  In farflung places like the Montana Highline, there are not many opportunities to resell books and teachers tend to move on often, so that the same books aren’t used.

From the writer’s point of view I have finally realized that the writer is not in control of their books unless they publish them by themselves.  Editors feel they own the right to change everything.  But the publisher claims to control quality, so that to many readers the fact of being published at all means a kind of Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, a reality check that this book isn’t just a little home project.  

If you look at you will find a “body of work” that I wrote, edited and sent to be printed “on demand,” when the book is ordered.  This cuts out the cost of storage, salesmen, and bookstores, but also cuts out promotion, unless I pay for that myself.  The machinery of reviewing books is pretty much limited to the books of major New York publishers.  So I have a body of work, but no one knows about it except that Lulu puts them on Amazon, because if they begin to sell, Lulu will profit from printing them.  I don’t.

Slightly north of here is a writer of romance novels, whose body of work is targeted at tablet users who read eBooks.  Kari Lynn Dell, is a partly Blackfeet writer and ranch wife.  She also writes a humor column that appears in newspapers, another way to accumulate a body of work.  (She’s excellent in terms of the genre, a prize-winner.)  

John Tatsey’s newspaper columns were accumulated into a book (“Black Moccasin”) by an admiring and wealthy reader and also read into the Congressional Record.  Print of all kinds goes everywhere, but people are not aware of it.  They simply think about “books” as objects.  Even highly educated people can bristle if you ask them about books they have not read, because certain books have been promoted as “markers” of whether the potential reader is keeping up.

For the past ten years I have not directly created books, but rather “blogs,” daily thousand word essays, some of which follow threads that are sometimes like Bob’s (Blackfeet, animals), sometimes Bob himself, and the rest of the time almost anything.  Now that whole movies, past and present, can be bought on a disc and treated like a book — put on a shelf, watched on demand, made into a marker of education, self-published on the Internet — the idea of “book” has become very broad, much less prestigious, not limited to those who have the means to buy something expensive.

But the idea of a “body of work” has not been developed fully.  I’ve been watching as much of “NYPD Blue” as Netflix will loan on disc.  Much has been written about this series — as though it were a seminal book — because it functions much the same way.  David Milch and Steven Bochco developed the idea and a whole team fulfilled it, because — unlike a book — this art form is communal, as though the guy who prints the pages and embosses the cover of the book with gold leaf were consulted about the contents.  In this case, the cameramen were part of the art, using a particular style to support the content.  The opening “music” was deliberately part of the story, using percussion to suggest the New York subway that pounds its way under the canyons of the streets in the same way that the Elevated screams overhead in Chicago, and the sirens of cop cars wail through city nights.  This was artful and effective.  Whose “body of work” is it?

The root of the narrative is twofold:  part of it is the life-mind of David Milch, which comes through particularly in the character called “Sipowitz.”  But another part is brought to the work by Bill Clark, a veteran police officer who knew many small story arcs that could be woven into an emotional trajectory when David Milch began to write.  Steven Bochco had the urban aesthetic vision that coordinated everything.  Today his role is called “showrunner.”  

Milch proposes that in NYC for a time most cops were Irish or Italian or some mix.  He says that their family "codes" demanded duty, protection, and secrecy from those outside.  The scene was very much patterned by the European Catholic church in small towns, and cops were like priests.  Both were plagued with alcoholism because of the pressure, but the pressure couldn't be relieved because no one can save everyone.  If you save this one, two more need to be saved.

Even now, when a silly program like “Bones” can discuss dildos and vibrators without flinching, argue the ethics of polyamory and the means of murder, show flesh more shocking than nudity, and otherwise address historically taboo subjects, “NYPD Blue” still has impact and meaning.  It is a powerful expression of what might arguably be called the legacy of war:  traumatized fathers who turn violent and addicted, taking it out on sons and wives.  Bochco barely survived the son’s role and it is the intensity of it that feeds the series.

TV series are oral culture, not written, though the platform is always written narrative script.  In particular, cop stories and other underground subjects are “talked through”, people swapping vignettes and arguing theories.  In the first place, not all these people are likely to be literate/readers, but in the second place events are immediate and often private, whispered, or shared in a protected setting like an AA meeting or with a therapist.  Or told in a seedy bar.

But then who owns the “body of work”?  Possibly it doesn’t need to be such a thing, which is a way of evaluating from the outside, because it is experienced from the inside, in the moment, and that’s the reward.  The essence of Bob Scriver’s “body of work” is in the stories Corky Evans and I still swap about the creation of it.  In a way they are internalized books, a BODY of work in the most literal sense.


Watching the morning blab shows this morning while sipping my first cup of coffee and waiting for the rest of my brain to wake up, a panel member commenting on the Russia/Trump conspiracy hearings (a Republican) said with great fury that he resented Comey failing to answer so many questions.  This commenter felt that the American public (whatever that is) should demand answers to everything right away.  Of course, he was just sending out a Trump-style “squirrel” to distract everyone by hitting their parent buttons.  (“You come in here right now, young man, and tell me everything.)  Comey and his peers knew exactly what was going on and the reason for it.  Their JOBS are the handling of secrets.  But the American public cannot handle the truth.  They're like kids who want to know everything about sex but are grossed out and shocked if they find out, esp. if it's about their parents. 

In the first place they can’t recognize truth or Trump could not have been elected.  In fact, the FBI and NSA knew before the election that there had been Russian hacking, but kept the information secret — I presume in order to follow more leads deeper without sending the culprits scattering like squirrels.  In fact, investigators are still slipping along like shadows, but had gotten higher permission to at least let people know that the catastrophic consequences of such intimate breaches are not being ignored.  

The revelations come so close together that people like Rachel Maddow are getting the first news of them on their “earwigs” on the air while they are interviewing the people who presumably have the secrets.  But then they have to wait for the commercial break to ask their bigshot about it, in order to keep the secrecy.  Of course, everyone in the studio (cameramen, assistants) would hear.

And this is part of the problem.  Senators and Representatives can only operate if they have staffs.  As Comey said, “We find that information often comes from unsuspected sources.”  Those “little people” who are the mice in the walls.  (I’m really into biology.)  They often become rats, maybe out of a sense of justice, maybe to enlarge their own importance in the world, maybe out of revenge.  

Our stubborn gender assignments have a lot to do with it, since women — like Blacks — are not quite considered human and men will often say things in front of them as though they couldn’t hear.  And women — like Blacks and gays — are often part of a world quite separate from the context of powerful males who like to transact business while peeing or golfing.  Women — like Blacks and gays — are often drawn into relationships that are abusive, using and abandoning people as though they were pets.

Context has so much to do with information.  Changing cultural bias can flip bad to good, good to bad.  Materialism, commerce, property, is the unifying force of all political secrets because they are about the “Polis” (people grouped) and the “Demos” (people of the state) whose economic situations set the terms of their survival.  Our prevailing ethos is “Winner take all.”  (I blame sports.)  But the counter force to that is the protection of the vulnerable because otherwise they will fume and plot until they start a revolution.  No energy goes into finding new options or reaching compromise.

This morning’s grilling is that of Gorsuch for the Supreme Court.  It pits one system against another:  the legal context versus the historic British/Christian social virtue context.  Or if you want to look at it a different way, the US Constitution in the terms of its original composition versus the Constitution as it is applied today.  The keystone dilemma for some people is that Jefferson, who helped write the document, kept a slave wife and made children with her — but the slave wife was the half-sister of his deceased wife (same white father) and very much like her.  He was prevented by law from marrying a black woman.  Biology created children.

The opposite kind of dilemma is about those trying to use a 1776 document to guide responses to things that simply didn’t exist then, like modern weapons or wire-tapping via hacking or mitochondria transplants in ova.  Of course, if one goes to the basic primary level, it becomes useful to recognize that slavery always exists, but it has different names.  It becomes secret in plain sight, semantically cloaked.  Reveal it and the consequences are emotional: trafficking, sexual use of children. 

In the testimony of the Russia/Trump hearings, it was often remarked that the goals of legislators and the goals of legal investigators are quite different.  (Trust and respect came up.)  The Republican inquirers were trying to show they were virtuous, using the weak defenses of children:  “Those guys were doing it first” and “I knew Joey was a rat — we should get him!”  They were living in the moment, seeing squirrels.  The FBI and NCI men, as well as the two convenors, were looking at long-term, deep-structure, quite technical factors.  One might describe them as more mature, once they see the elephant in the room.

These federal governing inquiries and dilemmas remind us that there are different “silos” or “streams” or “disciplines” in modern life.  What is done in the name of government is quite different from what is done in the name of some corporation interested only in profit.  The skills of making a deal are not those of passing legislation.  Simply being aware that there are different rules in the kitchen than in the auto repair shop than in the parlor is a basic life skill that public schools don’t teach. Beyond basic public school context, academia is obsessed with keeping disciplines separate, but then someone always invents “physics for poets” or what I think they mean by “metrics” — facts and figures without words, transmitted in images.  Interdisciplinary, but that only has meaning if the discipline boundaries are recognized.

For half a century I’ve been watching and reflecting on the political “surf” on the Blackfeet reservation.  (I’m not alone and I have no special privilege.)  Three systems of governing are colliding.  The first is one we thought time would erase, but it persists in a kind of social pentimento.  It is a system that developed among “clans” or bands of about a hundred people with a genetic core, usually a powerful man and his wife/wives.  Everyone knows everyone, it’s very hard to keep a secret, there are no written laws and the basic law is survival.  Harmony balanced with disruption provide survival.  

The second one is the system of the United States with all its documents and precedents.  By now there are Blackfeet lawyers and even white lawyers located near enough to have ground-level understanding of how US law intersects with the original indigenous system.  This is complicated because treaty law is basically international law and gives the Blackfeet sovereignty over their lands.  But they have been "supervised" by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, beginning as the supervision of war survivors.  It was like my birth family where my father would say, “We’ll take a family vote and then I’ll decide.”  I think those who resent the Supreme Court are seeing this system in their governing.  They often do think that a big male figure should decide.

The third one is the mercantile system, which is now markedly international and addresses all cultural differences through their economics, reducing them all to profit/loss statements.  Some see this as a source of peace and order.  As it happens, some reservations have natural resources beyond anyone’s expectations.  But they don’t have the structure and practices to manage them, which means the buttinsky BIA wrestles with the international corporations and the indigenous mice get no cheese.  Unless a Big Woman steps in and applies virtue to the law.  (Thank you, Eloise.)

What I’m saying is that the Trump/Russia hearings are an excellent case study for a lot of human situations that need to be addressed.  It has become obvious that Trump is operating in his primitive oral culture of real estate deals.  It is a challenge for us to loosen our hold on what we think will lead to profit and try to understand the dynamics of being human mammals on a mineral planet.  What we see right away is the corruption introduced by oligarchies, semi-closed groups, which often seem as cold, dry, and inflexible as if they were mineral, stone-hearted, growth-dead.  

Russia, which is a vast windy territory not unlike Montana, once had an indigenous people.  They are still there.  After all the bombs are dropped, they will still be there.  So will some of us.  Wall Street will no longer exist and neither will Chinese loans.  If some of us glow in the dark, we'll adapt.  Or not.  But listening to this hearing the threat to bomb everything back to the Stone Age begins to seem feasible, almost attractive.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


For some years now, after finally getting a grip on rational, oppositional logic in grad school, understanding the use of “warrants” (evidence) to construct systems for the use of institutions, and finding that that realm always favors the status quo and the people in power, I’ve turned to the organic, the biological, and the metaphorical which may be contradictory to the standing order — esp. those that punish and exclude various groups within the whole, whether those are human or planetary, whether stigmatizing certain populations or demonizing certain species or sacrificing some landscapes.

So in this short piece (I aim for 1,000 words) I will address the issue of attachment/separation because the realm now labeled narcissism versus co-dependence (attachment to a narcissist in a way that helps them).  The idea of ecology — how things fit together in a protective and inclusive way that allows “space” for evolution — is highly relevant as a criterion.  That is, things fit together and the better that works, the “higher” and more valuable any new element of the process is.  "Fittingness" is the key.

The issue of N/C (if I can use an acronym) is about “love” but we get into a lot of trouble because the term has been captured, deformed, monetized, and otherwise rendered problematic.  So I’m going to talk about “attachment” in the most basic biological terms, when the blastosphere stage of a conception of a mammal has begun unfolding into a new individual.  Some of that blastophere becomes the placenta through which attachment to the internal lining of the uterus happens.  If it doesn’t happen, the beginning is lost.  It dissolves.  If it works, the mother both accepts the attachment and begins providing the supply of materials necessary for the embryo to keep developing.

Sometimes the attachment is insecure, leaky, or in a bad place, like blocking the birth exit from the uterus through the cervix.  I consider these problems part of a parent’s job, a beginning that continues right on through birth, the formative primary years, the identity-developing time before puberty, and then the sexual development.  It is a principle of evolution that every mutation builds on what went before, whether subtracting, diverting the function, using something previous to create something new, or simply duplicating.  It all hinges on whether the change supports survival.  A happy infancy means a successfully individuating child means a person who can handle sex and pair-bond if they want to start a new family.

Whether survival is helped or hindered also depends on the environment, especially the mother’s body, the adult caretakers after birth, the siblings and age cohort, and whatever institutions are there.  It also includes the quality of air and water, the molecules floating everywhere, viral and bacterial creatures in the gut or living in the skin, and animals, both household and wild.

In the past these were “organic” (maybe mineral) but now we have the ability to create molecules, genes, and even simple chromosomes.  We can go to a work bench in a lab and MAKE the constituents that go into living creatures.  For example, many insecticides and other formulations have been based on attacks through the female-hormone-based molecules in bugs without any realization that these would affect humans as individuals or as populations.  

They do.  Investigators say that the human penis (in the aggregate) is shorter than it used to be, and male sterility (two-headed sperms or sperms who swim in tight little circles) is increasing.  A recent discussion about our evolutionary predecessors, the Neanderthals, suggests that the mystery of why they died out or were absorbed into “us,” is due to the Y chromosome, that “little” chromosome that is missing a leg that is on the X.  But it’s not that the Neanderthal Y chromosome was lacking something — they evidently had on their Y chromosome a few mutated genes that caused male conceptions to be destroyed by the mother, who interpreted them as an intruder.  (They were, of course.)  The attachment broke.

The only cross-breeding between “us” and Neanderthals that were passed on were through the female.  This kind of phenomenon is not unusual.  My next door neighbor endured a tragedy because she was carrying a boy with a kind of cerebral palsy (Duchenne) that affects only males.  The boy was not lost as an embryo or as a young child, but lived to be a near-adult who was much loved by his family and friends and who was capable of love.  

We do not attach to people because they are perfect or because there is some “cold” or “dry” reason, but economics has a lot to do with settling for incomplete or painful connections.  We come to love each other when we “know” each other, which is — of course — a euphemism for sex used in English translations of the various languages of the Bible.  Dependency is a kind of connection that is vulnerable to circumstances and to emotional “shapes.”  That is, if a way of attaching was learned in very early years, it’s like a kind of structure or genome that persists — the irritable child, the impatient family, adults who enforced with abuse, are all phenomena that affect everything afterwards.  There can be something like "aborting" in which an unfinished child is ejected.

If something is faulty in early days, sometimes it can be corrected.  My cousin was born with no thumb, so the surgeons transplanted her big toe to become a thumb and it worked fine.  But there are many invisible faults in the ability to attach emotionally that don’t come along until adolescence when formation of pair-bonds become pressing as a developmental stage.  It’s painful in that the next generation may be conceived without a real family.  Biology doesn't always consider psychology.  If there are institutions who can do “surgery” whether law or missionary or therapist or collateral family, are they justified?  What if they’re no good at it and, in fact, use and abuse those dependent on them?  Who decides that it’s even happening?

We can analyze the genomes of viruses to the extent that we can distinguish among “families” of them and thereby trace them back the way we trace Neanderthals.  If we can do that, what would prevent us from meddling in their genomes?  Skill and motivation.  If we can do that, isn’t it possible to create new viruses or at least to modify existing viruses to make them more virulent or targeting specific populations?  One is not born with morality.  The Chinese are already altering human conceptions.

Interwoven with all our powers to create and destroy are our natures as human beings with all our experiences of attachment or abandonment.  We abandon some people, attack others, protect those we care about.  Most people make deep intimate attachments outside their birth families as beginning “conception” of a new family.  Our experience is shaped by these relationships and experience interacts with capacities to understand to help or hinder.  

Monday, March 20, 2017


“Slimy Colonies” is the phrase often used to describe biofilms of bacteria.  Little bacterial lifeforms are different when they’re floating round separately (planktonic) than when they attach and stick together (sessile).  Humans are much evolved from their original bacteria life form but they likewise are different when individual, free-floating, from when they are anchored in a group.

“A biofilm is any group of microorganisms in which cells stick to each other and often these cells adhere to a surface. These adherent cells are frequently embedded within a self-produced matrix of extracellular polymeric substance (EPS).”

“According to the Center for Biofilm Engineering at Montana State University, biofilms form when bacteria adhere to surfaces in aqueous environments and begin to excrete a slimy, glue-like substance that can anchor them to all kinds of material – such as metals, plastics, soil particles, medical implant materials and, ...May 26, 2008”

One of the fascinating but scary psych concepts is narcissism.  This idea started out to describe people who admired themselves and is now used to describe people who are control freaks demanding others admit how wonderful they are.  Beyond that, premises are developed about whole societies who believe they are the most wonderful and demand compliance to that opinion because they share the belief in the splendidness of the narcissist.  These loyal and compliant people are called “co-dependent” and that becomes a new category by itself.  So far, it appears that the co-dependents are better at forming into social biofilms than are the narcissists or the people who treat narcissists, most of whom tend to be arrogant and feel superior to others.

A class of "helpers" has developed around these folks.  My fav of these “narc” treaters (the confusing nickname is provided by co-dependents) is Sam Vaknin.  I think he should not have called his theories “Cold Therapy,” which is a term he used to get away from the “warm” therapies full of talk about love and embracing and fuzzy reassurance — what I sometimes call “hot tub therapy”.  Rather, I think Sam should have called his theories “Dry Therapy” with the same goal but emphasis on clarity, a bit of humor, a long perspective through human history and society.  But that’s just a quibble that explains why I prefer his ideas, esp. the early versions, over most of the others.

Ross Rosenberg lost me as soon as he talked about Alice Miller and wanted to tell all about his own childhood trauma.  When I was in UU circles EVERYONE seemed to claim that Alice Miller accounted exactly for how brilliant they were and how traumatic their childhood was because of deficient parenting.  Earlier, in seminary, it was Henri Nouwen’s idea of “The Wounded Healer” that so popular that one of the dangers for seminarians was being “insufficiently healed healers,” people who had finally found enough relief to leap to the idea that they could now seal their value by helping others, but still didn't really have the needed skills.

Richard Grannon “Spartan Life Coach” put me off with his athletic club enthusiasm for what rather sounds to me like a roomful of people madly pedaling on stationary bicycles.  He is younger, good-looking, and I’m sure attracts co-dependent women like flies.

His opposite might be Ollie Mathews  with his knit cap and readings of mailed-in indictments from victims.  He talks a lot about “flying monkeys”, those co-dependents who do evil deeds on behalf of narcissists.

Indeed, the flying monkeys who seem to see competition between Grannon and Vaknin and who want to “help” Grannon have made so much fuss about Vaknin with accusations against him that Vaknin’s Facebook website was removed.  (Facebook has a hair-trigger in this regard and doesn’t seek confirmation or defense.)  These coach/guide/ consultant/therapist guys make their livings with speeches, books, and clients that are often dependent on Facebook as a marketing device.  Indeed, that seems to be the main function of Facebook: advertising.  So being suddenly blacked out can hurt.

The female co-dependents, who in their most toxic form are flying monkeys, are the main constituents of the biofilm culture that begins to be a cult.  With some innocence and a  little value, the idea that was originally meant to describe the dynamic of an individual in a particular (and painful) situation becomes a label for a culture that takes an obsessive view.  Amazon lists pages of books. Pretty soon it is a morality, a command, an accusation, the basis for divorce -- and impeachment.

The flying monkeys pose as enforcers, insulting people in social media, demanding that people be fired, and becoming a political force full of toxic vitriol.    Sometimes they are secretive and use some hapless narcissist as a sock puppet.  Must I name names for you to recognize them?

Over the years I’ve had a lot to do with narcissists and I dearly love some of them.  Not the pitiful whingers, but the ones who use the energy to achieve something remarkable.  We hear about malignant narcissists, psychopathic narcissists, and other nasty kinds.  Not much is said about the achievers who have a narcissistic dynamic, who are achieving in reaction to perfectionist, overwhelming, punishing parents who drove them and who are passing on that drive to be better, to live up to what is sometimes an impossible demand.

The problem for the faithful co-dependent -- who joins the narcissist in the creation of something worthy -- is deciding just how worthy it is.  One weighs one’s ability to overlook callousness against the value of the end product.  The problem for the narcissist whose achievement depends on collaboration with co-dependents becomes how to keep that help.  Some have the erroneous idea that insulting, punishing, limiting will make people stay, but people are not like most dogs, who will accept punishment even for not coming when called.  Even among dogs there are some who stop coming, some who run away, and some who attack.  

A few co-dependents go crazy, or are they co-dependent because they were already crazy?  Like Camille Claudel or Zelda Fitzgerald.  The relationships are confused because our gender-role assignments are narcissist/male and co-dependent/female.  And then there’s the confusion from hierarchies, which privilege high-status people with the right to be narcissists (indeed, even justify their boasting as part of their status) and oblige lower status people to accept co-dependence.  This is also economic.  One way to survive as a low-status person is to attach to a driven narcissist.  

Eventually, the most empowered narcissist ages or drifts out of sync with the supporting milieu.  It’s hard on everyone.  Except that the media loves it.  Another juicy media subject.  And flying monkeys love to chatter.

Sunday, March 19, 2017


One of the best things about Sam Vaknin (among several) is his willingness to accept change.  His pivot-pole issue of narcissism changes over the years and he sees that, accommodates it.  But all along he has been aware that there IS an element of suffering and has wondered what would help.  Also, what people would pay money to find out.  His current solution is a system he calls “Cold Therapy,” which is actually a slightly more sophisticated version of the “talking cure.”  The idea is that revisiting the point of origin, and re-experiencing it, will provide the insight in order to change.  It works for some, but not for others.  Workshops for professionals are advertised online.

His idea is that in early childhood when we form our first categories and systems of thinking about the world, our “cosmic premise” (my phrase) we might get into a blind alley or maybe just don’t finish the process.  He proposes that one can finally stop being a child, which is a sort of definition of narcissism.  But he also proposes that a kind of re-enactment of the early trauma can be more than just talk, perhaps a little skit.  And he reminds us that this can be dangerous.

In another pre-ministerial group therapy situation I had begun to feel safe and welcome, though I was a newby and the others were at a later stage in their educations.  A little inflated and overconfident, I launched into some sort of narrative from the past.  The counsellor, this time a big Baptist black man with no identified syndromes, said, “You’re taking up too much time and space.”

Unexpectedly I fell completely apart, sobbing, out-of-control.  Only much later did I see it was a little version of a big trauma, exactly what Sam is talking about.  In my family and at school I was seen as someone who took too much space and time, that I should settle for much less attention.  The leader of this group had not planned this and was alarmed.  To him a prosperous white woman with a good education was unlikely to ever be rebuked.  She was always right.  Sam would say I was a revealed narcissist, who had been compensating for insecurity and feelings of worthlessness, and he would be right.

The next summer this counsellor hired me for the summer to be a secretary working under his other secretary, a young black woman whose opinion was that all white women were corrupt devils.  To her UUism was not a real religion anyway so I didn’t get points for seminary.  This was a familiar position to be in because of being on the reservation for a decade (as Bob used to say, Indians think all white people are crazy) and because a very mild version of this was my family’s idea of who I am.  You could say that all these people were demonstrating narcissism by imposing their categories on me.

Narcissism as a moral concept, like empathy, recently has expanded into something almost religious, a template for how one “ought” to be. Richard Grannon calls himself a “spartan life coach” but in his interview with Sam at he reveals himself as a type of youth group minister and the conversation soon uncovers many parallels between contemporary “online narcissist culture” (which is really about the victims, usually female, rather than the “narcs” as they call them) and polarized Christian categories.  As Grannon says, “They think of narcissism as a handsome young man driving a fine red sports car who tries to stop and pick them up for the purpose of screwing them over.”  This is so classic that Abraham might recognize it.  Except that in the Old Testament the narcissist tends to be a woman stripped for bathing where someone can see her.

Psych and religious categories and labels are simply attempts to understand something that is essentially opaque: the human connectome which we are only beginning to access as electrochemical and anatomical connections and processes.  It remains to be seen what impact this will eventually have, but right away I would challenge Vaknin’s idea that “empathy” (often misinterpreted as “pity” or “compassion”) is just a psychological concept.  I think he has not read about “mirror cells” and other secondary vicarious experiences of another person’s doings when presented visually, as in watching a performance or sport.  

In acting classes I’ve done exercises in “transference” in which one is face-to-face with another person and trying to get them to feel what you are feeling.  As you bring them closer to your state of mind, they will often unconsciously assume your posture and imitate your gestures.  If their brains and muscles are hitched up to instruments, this reflection can be seen in the electrochemical actions of the body.  You can “feel” this transference happening.

Vaknin, in trying to step away from the understanding of empathy as a kind of pity -- which is more technically “sympathy” and which easily devolves into what AA calls a “pity party” -- denies empathy of that sort.  He substitutes the term “cold” empathy for what I think correlates pretty closely with “theory of mind” which is the ability to predict what another being will do — not necessarily why or with insight into their motivation.  These near-adult cats in my house are pretty good at chasing each other because they can see what the pursued playmate is likely to do next.  It’s hunting skill knowledge.  Vaknin likes it because it is not “emotional” which is why he calls it “cold.” 

But human empathy is located in the prefrontal cortex — that’s where the mirror cells are.  The prefrontal cortex is also where rationality and morality “dwell.”  Cats don’t have prefrontal cortexes.  They have no foreheads, which is where the prefrontal cortex is just behind the bone, probably the development that pushed out the skull into becoming a forehead in the first place.  Cats operate on instinct and conditioning, an instinct to pursue, and experience in what and how to pursue.

Another thing a cat does not have — at least not in human dimensions — is a culture.  Another VERY interesting dimension of the talk between Richard Grannon and Vaknin is their awareness of the “culture” of narcissism victims, who reinforce each other and inflate the concept to the point of transforming it into a sort of religion, a source of righteousness and solidarity.  To me this relates both to the fervour of Trump fans and the reciprocating solidarity of hating and accusing him.  It also accounts for the obsession with literary “hoaxes” and “trespasses.”  

There begins to develop a sort of unifying theory that may grow into a new religion or a new source of political power.  Pretty scary stuff.  But some people think this is where evolution is taking us, deeper into empathy and grouping, because they contribute to survival.  But I'm startled to see that Grannon fans have started a competitive attack on Vaknin that is eliminating his presence on social media.  This is worth another post later.

Saturday, March 18, 2017


I finally re-found the url for Sam Vaknin’s interview of his sweetheart of a wife.

In another vid, Sam talks about “Cluster B” personality disorders, so I had to go looking for what they were.  The term is from the diabolical DSM-5, which struggles all the time to understand how to name things better than the labels they use for insurance forms.  This time around they tried to avoid defining the boxes of psychoses or neuroticisms, which always attract a nasty cloud of social accusations, like Sam’s diagnosis of narcissism.  Such labels are short of criminalization, but can still justify chemical restraint or even confinement — for your own good.  

Even psychoanalysts, who intend to use empathy is a benign and insightful way, make their entry through the complaints of the client because that’s the only way the analysts know them, the only reason the clients come with their checkbooks.  This leads to the grotesque cop-out of docs who say that Trump is not crazy because he isn’t in pain enough to come to their office asking for help.  Crazy people suffer, they say, and Trump is not suffering.

I see it differently.  I think he is delusional because he cannot bear to leave his fantasy — he wouldn’t just suffer, he would die.  That might happen yet.

But okay, what’s the latest thinking that leads to these “clustered” personality disorders.  I’m relying on a website called MentalHelp.net   Lots to read there.  These are the four arbitrary factors of personality disorders.  (Assuming you think you know what a personality is.)

1) Distorted thinking patterns,
2) Problematic emotional responses,
3) Over- or under-regulated impulse control, and
4) Interpersonal difficulties.

To translate, these are characteristics of assholes, clingers, the childish, the energy-drainers, the bullies, the individuals that bug everyone else.  And once in a while, a misunderstood genius, like Vaknin. Otherwise, most people and their dysfunctions just chug along with the rest of society finding workarounds and tolerating the friction.  But sometimes the situation or aging or economics demand that something be done — then what to do is a puzzle.  The idea of the DSM is that if you’ve got a diagnosis of some kind, it suggests treatment strategy or at least justification for eliminating the pain-in-the-ass.

Each of these have links on the website above.  There are roughly ten “personality disorders” which overlap each other, seem connected some way, and so are “clustered.”  

Cluster A is called the odd, eccentric cluster. It includes Paranoid Personality Disorder, Schizoid Personality Disorder, and Schizotypal Personality Disorders. The common features of the personality disorders in this cluster are social awkwardness and social withdrawal. These disorders are dominated by distorted thinking.

Cluster B is called the dramatic, emotional, and erratic cluster. It includes:
Borderline Personality Disorder.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
Histrionic Personality Disorder.
Antisocial Personality Disorder.

Cluster C is called the anxious, fearful cluster.  It includes the Avoidant, Dependent, and Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorders.  These three personality disorders share a high level of anxiety.

This cluster system is not that much more helpful than Freud’s imaginary system of “ego, superego, and libido” or his anatomical categories of stages of development: anal, oral, and genital.  Everyone has a little of most of these clusters in them.  In one counselling group (part of preparation for ministry) I was labeled “borderline.”  It was confusing that both of the group leaders (one male, one female) had also been diagnosed as “borderline.”  None of us fits into the description of “borderline” according to the DSM-5.  (Five means this is the fifth version.)  

The definition and description over the years has shifted around so much that it isn’t helpful anymore.  (I may have moved from Cluster B to Cluster A.  Is this progress?)  I’m NOT erratic, overemotional, polarizing, or inconsistent.  I don’t compensate with substance abuse, risky sexual liaisons, self-injury, overspending, or binge eating.  But I’m an investigative and reflective writer which means I try to find the truth, which can seem like borderline — detectives search borderlines on both sides.

Using a word derived from politics, nations, and territories, means assuming that it has to do with drawing a line, socially acknowledged, and then enforcing it — Foucault would say defining failure to observe a border line as “insane” is a control mechanism, a surveillance and contamination label.  It means “you stay on your own side or there will be consequences.”  Lately this has been vividly contested by people violating the Victorian (Freudian) lines about sex and gender roles.  People are forcing binary thinking over into continuums and asking “why not?” instead of “don’t you dare!”  What that means is that the line dividing the binary is erased.

Much more unfortunately, borderline morality in regard to wealth has redrawn the line of what is honourable far over into the gray area that always separates business from crime.  Eliminating regulation in these areas is an attempt to erase the “line” so there is no more chance of criminalization.

The Rachel Maddow show interviews over the past few days has illuminated how the “line” about interfering in other nations through cyberspying and rigging elections has been erased, partly because we’ve become calloused and habituated by the steady practice of those previously taboo acts on both sides.  But also because our video fictions like “House of Cards” and video strategy  games have made people we would see as villains in the past into attractive role models because they are powerful and wealthy.  Our ability to see through charlatans is badly damaged.  Anyway, time has wiped out those whose senses were sharpened by major war, whether atomic or cold.  Reporters now tend to look pretty, be young, and want personal followings on the basis of their personalities.  At every level — not just nightly news.  And they are controlled by editors and owners who want drama that sells.

So my idea is that borderlines become ecologies.  When Trump slams the borders shut, he doesn’t realize that the nurses along the High LIne are often “travel nurses” who come down from Canada, because in Canada the major cities are as “south” as they can get, along the border.  But on the US side the space along the border tends to be “empty,” just ranches and small towns, because it is daringly “north”.  Over time one side weaves into the other.  For instance, the St. Mary’s valley along the east edge of Glacier Park empties into geology on the Canadian side.  If you are there and need a hospital in a hurry, you go north, and if necessary you smash through the barrier.  Many of the kids up there are born in Cardston, Alberta, which confuses citizenship issues.

Coming out of the St. Mary’s hydrology complex is Milk River which long ago was redirected away from Canada into the USA because they had the money and will to do it and Canada did not have the will to prevent it.  Over the years, one of the flumes necessary for diversion began to deteriorate and leak, so that there was a kind of water oasis in dry terrain.  A cluster of plants and animals and birds formed there.  Now repairing the flume would destroy that little ecology.  Eliminating lines is eliminating the standing order, the status quo.  

“Healing” a human and his/her little community can have the same effect.  People who realize this will resist.  Some communities SHOULD be scattered, because their borderlines don’t do anything good and only create pain.  And assholes.  But others are shelters for atypical people with high value, even for the typicals.

More tomorrow if nothing disruptive happens.