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Brief brief: of binding and loosing

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — really just a note to myself, but you may read it over my shoulder ]
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Joas Wagemakers, blogging on Jihadi-Salafi views of the Islamic State at the Washington Post, was talking about the “caliphate” today, and as usual, I went off on my own DoubleQuoting tangent:

SPEC DQ bind and loose

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Here’s Wagemakers’s para that triggered the above:

In 2014 the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria set itself apart from most other radical Islamist groups by actually settling in a certain territory and establishing a state there. The group even declared a caliphate on June 29 and changed its name simply to the Islamic State (IS). Even al-Qaeda, which has long had similar ambitions to establish a caliphate encompassing all Muslims, has never achieved this. In its justification for the announcement of its caliphate, IS has made use of classical Islamic concepts: its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had been vetted by a group of scholars described as “the people who loosen and bind” (ahl al-hall wa-l-aqd), was found by them to be a pious Muslim ruler who fit all the criteria for a caliph and was therefore worthy of believers’ oath of allegiance (baya).

Do I detect an echo here, between the two phrases — or is the concept of loosing and binding so basic to human experience that it crops up all over?

It’s a question at the intersection of two of my fields of special interest — depth psychology and cultural anthro — see for example Anthony Stevens, writing under the subtitle Archetypes versus cultural transmission:

Essentially, the theory can be stated as a psychological law: whenever a phenomenon is found to be characteristic of all human communities, it is an expression of an archetype of the collective unconscious. It is not possible to demonstrate that such universally apparent phenomena are exclusively due to archetypal determinants or entirely due to cultural diffusion, because in all probability both are involved. However, the likelihood is that there will be a strong bias for those phenomena which are archetypally determined to diffuse more readily and more lastingly than those that are not.

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Now go read Wagemakers.

Of morale, angels and Spartans

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — how sky differs from heaven, and what that means for morale and jihad ]
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SPEC Badr & Spartans

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Okay, that Spartans / Battle of Badr DoubleQuote above is just a teaser, locating us in the general zone of morale..

What I’d really like to offer you here is another Badr-related DoubleQuote, of which the first part comes from Shadi Hamid, speaking about half way through the Charlie Rose show, A conversation about Islam and politics with Reza Aslan, Will McCants, Michael Hanna and Shadi Hamid, which aired on the 14th of this month (full video at the bottom of this post). He said:

We have to take religion seriously, but I worry sometimes, if we focus too much on religion we forget that there’s a political context. That if we want to understand the rise of Isis we can’t understand that without looking at the political vacuum that emerged in Syria. That didn’t happen by itself; there’s a series of policy decisions from the international community that helped contribute to the rise of ISIS.

So I guess the interesting question then is, How does religion interact with these political factors. So we have to bring those different variables into focus and I think we lose some of that, we lose that complexity if we’re just saying Islam is the problem. On the other hand, though .. these terrorists and extremists, they believe that what they’re doing, they’re going to be granted direct entry into Paradise, and that inspiration, motivation, is a very powerful thing that we shouldn’t underestimate. And ideology in this sense is a sort of force multiplier on the battlefield.

All of that seems relevant to me, but it’s his next few phrases I want to DoubleQuote (upper panel, below):

SPEC DQ Shadi Hamid & Quran

And whereas Hamid’s explanation, as befits a Brookings Fellow refers to a belief about Paradise, the Qur’an, as befits sacred scripture, treats the world as though it is thronged not with beliefs but with angels..

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The comparison and contrast between our conntemporary, post-Enlightenment view of “the sky” (in which birds, planes, helicopters, missiles and drones may be found, but no angels, jinn, apsarases or faeries) and that of the world’s various scriptural and mythological “heavens” (in which helicopters and parachutes are generally absent, though angels, demons, gandharvas, apsarases and the rest abound) is one that has long fascinated me — but the two are usually kept distinct. Albrecht Durer will show you angels and demons just above the rural countryside in “heaven” — but you won’t find them in military aviations journals..

It is against that background that I find this piece of artwork about the Ghazwa e-Hind so interesting — it appears to envision both “sky” with its various planes and parachutist (most of the planes a little dated, alas), and “heaven” with its celestial cavalry, occupying the same visual space:

Great Ghazwa Sky meets Heaven

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All this leads me to the question — which would seem to become ever more urgent as we move from textual to visually enhanced modes of communication —

How does one graphically depict morale or esprit de corps?

That’s my question for the day.

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Here, for those who would like to view it in its entirety, is the Charlie Rose show from which Shadi Hamid’s quote above was taken:

Smiley on defeating ideologues

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — with application to today’s tragic massacre in Paris, to IS, AQ, Breivik, whoever ]
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fanatic secret doubt Tinker Tailor
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That’s George Smiley describing Karla‘s fatal flaw, in the crucial scene from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the film version with Gary Oldman as George Smiley.

We are not so very different, you and I. We’ve both spent our lives looking for the weaknesses in one another’s systems. Don’t you think it’s time to recognize there is as little worth on your side as there is on mine? Never said a word. Not one word.

And that’s how I know he can be beaten. Because he’s a fanatic. And the fanatic is always concealing a secret doubt.

The Le Carré book version has it a little differently, FWIW:

And if you want a sermon, Karla is not fireproof, because he’s a fanatic. And one day, if I have anything to do with it, that lack of moderation will be his downfall.

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Bonus: Smiley on symmetry and asymmetry:

Smiley speaks to Karla<, wishing to turn him:

We are not so very different, you and I. We’ve both spent our lives looking for the weaknesses in one another’s systems. Don’t you think it’s time to recognize there is as little worth on your side as there is on mine? Never said a word. Not one word.

Turning analytic bifocals on the Islamic State’s Irregulars

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — IS / Daesh focus is not on the question of derangement but of repentance – Dabiq #6, Aquinas, adaequatio ]
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Lindt police
Lindt cafe worker escapes Man Haron Monis hostage situation, Sydney – credit Jason Reed, Reuters

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It’s interesting to compare how we think about those like Man Haron Monis on the cusp between derangement, criminality, terrorism and jihad, and how IS views them.

JM Berger remarks of those he classifies as The Islamic State’s Irregulars:

in a number of these cases, it’s unclear whether the attacks were inspired by the Islamic State and its extremist ideology, or whether IS provided a convenient excuse for violence that was already brewing in the hearts of the perpetrators.

while his subtitle asks:

What should we do with lone-wolf attackers who are mentally unstable or deranged? Are they terrorists, too?

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Berger, among our most discerning analysts and co-author with Jessica Stern of the keenly awaited book, ISIS: The State of Terror, describes Monis as:

a Shiite Muslim born in Iran who had emigrated to Australia. He had been charged in 2013 as an accessory to murder and faced dozens of sexual assault charges related to his “spiritual healing” practice. His own lawyer described him as “unhinged.”

Clearly, the waves of influence running amok in Monis’ head are nowhere near as simply as our routine categorizations – that he was IS, or simply a terrorist, a mental case, a criminal, a murderer perhaps – would like to suggest. Our best inquiry is into his mental state, his psychological “drivers” – how we can understand him, with easy categorization the sound-bite version providing closure.

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The Islamic State views him differently. As described in the sixth issue of their magazine, Dabiq, he is clearly a religious hero, specifically a martyr:

It didn’t take much; he got hold of a gun and stormed a café taking everyone inside hostage. Yet in doing so, he prompted mass panic, brought terror to the entire nation, and triggered an evacuation of parts of Sydney’s central business district. The blessings in his efforts were apparent from the very outset.

Dabiq then paints western media diagnoses made against him as slurs:

Then, as the situation developed and his identity was revealed, we saw a predictable response from the international media. They immediately began searching for anything negative that they could use against him, and subsequently began reporting numerous allegations made against him in an attempt to smear his character and, by extension, the noble cause that he was fighting for – the cause of Allah (ta’?l?).

And then something interesting occurs. Dabiq, half-admitting the accuracy of some of those slurs, defends him not by denying their accuracy but by framing them in the context of repentance and divine mercy:

The fact is, however, that any allegations leveled against a person concerning their past are irrelevant as long as they hope for Allah’s mercy and sincerely repent from any previous misguidance.

This is so with one who embraces Islam and thereby has his past history of shirk and transgression completely erased – as was even the case with many Sahabah. So how much more so in the case of one who followed up his repentance by fighting and being killed in the path of Allah, knowing the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) declared that such a person would be forgiven the moment his blood is first spilled.

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“He was deranged, violent, driven, and IS became the hook on which he hanged himself” – or “His sacrificial death absolved him from all flaws and sins”. The contrast is instructive.

It seems best for us to to wear secular / sacred bifocals in our analyses. But how does the analyst gain that faculty which EF schumacher, Thomas Aquinas and Augustine call adaequatio rei et intellectus

according to which to each plane of reality there corresponds an instrument of knowledge adequate to the task of knowing that particular level of reality

??

Grothendieck’s mathematics and Child Born of Water

Saturday, December 13th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — two approaches to mathematics, two types of heroism, and their respective complementarities ]
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I wish to propose a clear analogy between the mathematician Grothendieck‘s two styles of approach to a problem in mathematics, and the Navajo Twin Gods, Monster-Slayer and Child-Born-of-Water.

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Twins

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Steve Landsburg‘s post, The Generalist, compares two approaches to mathematics, as practiced by two eminent mathematicians:

If there was a nut to be opened, Grothendieck suggested, Serre would find just the right spot to insert a chisel, he’d strike hard and deftly, and if necessary, he’d repeat the process until the nut cracked open. Grothendieck, by contrast, preferred to immerse the nut in the ocean and let time pass. “The shell becomes more flexible through weeks and months — when the time is ripe, hand pressure is enough.”

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In the paras leading up to this one, Landsburg gives us the insight that these two approaches can be generalized as “zooming in” and “zooming out”:

Imagine a clockmaker, who somehow has been oblivious all his life to many of the simple rules of physics. One day he accidentally drops a clock, which, to his surprise, falls to the ground. Curious, he tries it again—this time on purpose. He drops another clock. It falls to the ground. And another.

Well, this is a wondrous thing indeed. What is it about clocks, he wonders, that makes them fall to the ground? He had thought he’d understood quite a bit about the workings of clocks, but apparently he doesn’t understand them quite as well as he thought he did, because he’s quite unable to explain this whole falling thing. So he plunges himself into a deeper study of the minutiae of gears, springs and winding mechanisms, looking for the key feature that causes clocks to fall.

It should go without saying that our clockmaker is on the wrong track. A better strategy, for this problem anyway, would be to forget all about the inner workings of clocks and ask “What else falls when you drop it?”. A little observation will then reveal that the answer is “pretty much everything”, or better yet “everything that’s heavier than air”. Armed with this knowledge, our clockmaker is poised to discover something about the laws of gravity.

Now imagine a mathematician who stumbles on the curious fact that if you double a prime number and then halve the result, you get back the number you started with. It works for the prime number 2, for 3, for 5, for 7, for 11…. . What is it about primes, the mathematician wonders, that yields this pattern? He begins delving deeper into the properties of prime numbers…

Like our clockmaker, the mathematician is zooming in when he should be zooming out. The right question is not “Why do primes behave this way?” but “What other numbers behave this way?”. Once you notice that the answer is all numbers, you’ve got a good chance of figuring out why they behave this way. As long as you’re focused on the red herring of primeness, you’ve got no chance.

Now, not all problems are like that. Some problems benefit from zooming in, others from zooming out. Grothendieck was the messiah of zooming out — zooming out farther and faster and grander than anyone else would have dared to, always and everywhere. And by luck or by shrewdness, the problems he threw himself into were, time after time, precisely the problems where the zooming-out strategy, pursued apparently past the point of ridiculousness, led to spectacular, unprecedented, indescribable success. As a result, mathematicians today routinely zoom out farther and faster than anyone prior to Grothendieck would have deemed sensible. And sometimes it pays off big.

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I no longer have — alas — a copy of Where the Two Came to their Father, the first volume in the Bollingen Series, with its suite of 18 sand paintings beautifully rendered in silkscreen by Maud Oakes, but their respective black and blue colorations lead me to suppose that the illustration at the head of this post, taken rom that series, shows the twin heroes, Monster Slayer (black) and Child Born of Water (blue) whose journeys and initiation are the subject of the rituasl “sing” recorded in that book.

The theme of two male hero twins is central to the mythologies of the American continent, according to Jospeh Campbell, who contributed a commentary to Oakes’ recording of Jeff King‘s performance of this ceremony, and lacking both the King > Oakes > Campbell book and Gladys Reichard‘s two volumes on Navaho Religion, I must draw on brief quotes from miscellaneous web sources to dramatize the differences between the twins.

Monster Slayer is the doer of deeds, similar in nature to other masculine, not to say macho, heroes — while Child Born of Water is the contemplative of the pair:

The Sun [Jóhonaa’éí] gave them prayersticks and then told them that the younger of the two (Born for Water) would sit watching these prayersticks while the older (Monster Slayer) went out to kill the monsters. If these prayersticks began to burn, this would signal that his brother was in danger and that he should go to him to help.

Reichard explains:

Monster Slayer (na’ye’ ne’zyani) (I) represents impulsive aggression, whereas Child-of-the-water represents reserve, caution, and thoughtful preparation.

A measure of their respective strategies, and of the ways in which the insights of Child Born of Water can succeed where the brute force tactics of Monster SLayer fail, can be gleaned from this section of their story, also I believe taken from Reichard:

When The Twins visited Sun the second time, he said he was willing to help them, but this time he wanted them to return the favor: “I wish you to send your mother to the west that she may make a new home for me.” Whereupon Monster Slayer, believing himself equal to any task, replied, “I will do so.I will send her there.” Then Child-of-the-water reminded them both: “No, Changing Woman is subject to no one? we cannot make promises for her. She must speak for herself? she is her own mistress. But I shall tell her your wishes and plead for you.”

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One commentator glibly suggests that the joint presentation of the hero as twins is “a clever reminder that progress depends upon cooperation between our mind and our heart” — but the psychologist Dr Howard Teich offers a far more depthful interpretation: that the two twins represent two forms of masculine heroism, one the familiar macho hero of war movies, and the other wiser and subtler, the possessor of traits commonly attributed to the feminine — and hugely undervalued — in our culture.

Dr Teich suggests we must (urgently) abandon the division of virtues into “male” and “female” types, reognize that these types are complementary rather than rivalrous, that both are necessary functions of both males’ and females’ psyches, and begin to integrate the wholeness that both strategies together represent, in our own approaches to our lives in general, to the natural world around us, and indeed to warfare — unsurprisingly, since we first encounter the twins in the ceremonial specifically devised by the Navajo to protect young warriors on their way to battle, and to reintegrate them in harmony and balance on their return.

As Teich puts it:

Monster Slayer and Child Born of Water, as these Twin Heroes are called, are the most sacred of all the legendary heroes in Navaho mythology. It is rare for the Navaho even to speak of the twins; their presence is to be felt rather than observed, and their lessons absorbed rather than applied. Although the lessons the twins hold may be countless, their particular manifestation of a deeper, more complex image of masculinity deserves the reader’s especial attention.

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I’d like to suggest that in the same way that there are “zooming in” and “zooming out” styles in mathematics, and “monster-slayer” and “born of water” styles of heroism, there are in fact twin traditions of understanding the world which we might term scientific and poetic, or in Teich’s terms — and those of the alchemists — solar and lunar.

A unified or “solunary” vision will encompass the virtues of both.

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Dr Teich’s review of the King > Oakes > Campbell book under the title A Dual Masculinity was irst piublished in The San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal, Vol. 13, No. 4, 1995. He now has a book out treating these themes: Solar Light, Lunar Light.

Oh, and please don’t expect me to know anything more about Grothendieck’s mathematics than I read in Landsburg’s article.


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