Book Review: Dispelling Wetiko

Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil by Paul Levy

My rating: 1 of 5 stars


Incomprehensible and charmless, Dispelling Wetiko attempts to answer questions nobody asked with more meandering, answerless questions that don’t really even pertain to the initial question. Through the fog of schizoid babble and overuse of the meaningless signifier “nonlocal”, Paul Levy attempts to argue… something. He borrows heavily from Lovecraft in that, “Wetiko cannot be put into words (except the word Wetiko), Wetiko is so powerful and ultra spooky and pervasive that if you talk about it, it controls you, but if you don’t talk about it, it also controls you!”

Wetiko, as near as I could decipher, is being selfish and willfully noncreative. It’s etymologically linked to the indigenous concept of the Wendigo, who ate people; Wetiko as a “psychic disease” eats humanity by robbing us of what it means to be human, locking us in a non-generative box of self-absorbed consumption, something about “ego is a delusion” because Levy’s into Buddhism, blah blah, you get it. Oh, look, I used words to describe the indescribable.

He’s a miserable writer and it’s made worse by his flagrant self-obsession, which he props up on meaningless New Age jargon like an unconvincing scarecrow, periodically name-dropping Jung and Rollo May in an effort to salvage credibility.

The worst part is, it’s a book pretending to be about psychology, but no psychologist was even peripherally involved in its production. In the intro to the book, Paul Levy explains how the manifestation of Wetiko crept into his dreams, manifesting its vampiric and oogidy-boogidy nature by his recurrent dreamland dalliances with Dracula.

Multiple dreams about Dracula. One where they’re sitting in his parlor just vibing out, chatting, but Dracula keeps staring at him, eyes beginning to glow with a bestial hunger. In the second one, he and Dracula are laying in bed together, and Levy realizes “Wetiko” is aiming to consume him vampirically, so he jams something in Dracula’s mouth while chanting a Buddhist mantra that symbolized a very specific guru whom Levy idolizes.

Now, if at any point in the editing process, Levy had checked with a psychologist, therapist, psychoanalyst, or even a first-year psych student, they would have said:

“Paul, these Dracula dreams sound horny. The ‘charismatic, vampiric’ force manifesting in the form of Dracula, staring at you in a way that makes you feel desired and uncomfortable, literally sharing a bed with you… could that be your unconscious grappling with something latent? Maybe that’s why you chose to dissipate Dracula’s dark and alluring power with the sigil of your Buddhist father figure, who provides a channel by which to communicate that ‘compassion’ and ‘lovingkindness’ for other fellas? Is that maybe why you felt you had to mention waking up next to your girlfriend in the very next sentence?”

Not my pig, not my farm, not my client. Maybe if he were my client, I would have finished this book. As it stands, there’s no way I’m sitting through 12 hours of this. If that means I stay wracked with Wetiko, it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.



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Book Review: Pathways of Bliss

Pathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation by Joseph Campbell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Joseph Campbell’s work is always best consumed through audiobook. He’s a dry writer. Unfortunately, he’s an even drier speaker, as career academics usually are, so you’ve really gotta hunt for the audiobooks where they hired professional narrators to read it, instead of the recordings of his university lectures that they try to pass off as books.

The ideas contained in the work are gold, especially if you’re a Jungian or some other kind of witch. Human beings think in terms of the mythological. These archetypes help us understand aspects of ourselves, and we call on them the way that voodoo practitioners let the loa ride them, or how ancient Greeks invoked the protection of situational gods, color-coded for easy reference

The main idea of pathway to bliss is We Live in a Society and we lost the plot, which is why we have such a hard time figuring out what makes us happy. The first step is initiation, the transformation from the comfort and protection of childhood to suddenly having all the responsibility of adulthood thrust on us. In many cultures, this is a highly ritualized process. In American culture, it’s not, which is why there are so many cringy “adulting” jokes. Women get menstruation, which serves as a pretty undeniable threshold, but men just kind of stumble along and eventually segue into what their interpretation of proper adulthood and conduct is.

The other function of initiation is to unite the mentalities of the tribe with regard to what the values of the tribe are, and to provide a clear, concise set of rules for the aspiring initiated to follow and uphold. A code. We don’t have a code anymore. Instead, we have a selection of half-ass codes that we spend all our time arguing about, because as mythologically-minded creatures, we want the meaning and purpose provided by a unanimous code.

There’s a vague blueprint, though. You graduate. You get a job. You marry. You produce 2.3 offspring. You provide for them. You keep all those plates spinning until the kids grow up and launch along their own ill-defined trajectories, and then you retire, and then…

And then?

Campbell talks about how it’s at that point you’re free to pursue your bliss, even though time has almost run out. You spend your whole life working toward the golden years where you’ll finally be able to fish in peace, and once you’ve squared away the rest of your requirements and you have your lifetime boxed up nice and tidy, you get in your little boat and row out. And sometimes, after a week, you realize that fishing is boring, and holy shit, I wasted my entire life.

There is no formalized initiation. There is no clearly defined rule set. We have interpretations of the expectations foisted on us, but interpretations are all they are, since our culture is without a true moral compass. The main message of the book is that we don’t need to put our bliss off until we’re almost dead. In fact, it’s the worst move we can make. Our lives belong to us foremost, and we contain all the archetypes, and maybe some would resonate with us better than others if we gave ourselves the chance to explore those sides of ourselves.

Maybe you weren’t meant to be a fisherman. You thought you were, but you waited and scrimped and saved for 50 years, and now you’re out there, and fishing is boring. Maybe your true passion is base jumping. Well, you’re 70, so you’re not going to go base jumping. Not more than once, anyway. It’s tragic to deny yourself the best life you could have had, and the best you that you could have been, because instead of pursuing some ridiculous bliss dream off the beaten path, you followed what you thought was expected of you — but which was never really expected of you in the first place!

Go on out there, chase your bliss. The Gonzo kids would say “Let your freak flag fly”. Do that, if it makes you feel better. It’s your life. You’re the protagonist of the story, and I think that the real and deep-down origin of neuroticism is the cognitive dissonance that comes from knowing yourself to be the hero of your personal mythology while observing yourself constantly acting unheroic.



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Book Review: The Courage to be Disliked

The Courage to Be Disliked: How to Free Yourself, Change your Life and Achieve Real HappinessThe Courage to Be Disliked: How to Free Yourself, Change your Life and Achieve Real Happiness by Ichiro Kishimi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’d call it a masterpiece. Why not? Kishimi breathes new life into the uncle that foundational psychology keeps in its basement, Alfred Adler, in the form of a dialogue between a whiny-ass college student and a supercilious old Zen Stoic master.

The kid rails on about the injustice of the world and how terrible and evil it is to everyone, but him specifically, as 20something My First Nihilists are wont to do. The old man is smug, Socratic, and avuncularly pedantic over the next 300 pages as he gently explains why the kid’s worldview sucks.

Psychology was founded by three deeply disturbed Eastern European physicians. You’ve heard of Freud, inventor of Yo Mama jokes. You’ve probably heard of Jung, who was functionally a witch. Odds are you haven’t heard much about Adler, considering I did two degrees worth of psychology and the extent of my exposure was two PowerPoint slides about his birth order theory.

Adler pushed individual psychology, so called because the individual was the smallest component a mind could be reduced to. None of that “id ego superego” horseshit here. Adler wasn’t a big believer in the subconscious as a separate entity, like some frothy little anxiety-inducing daemon rubbing his shady little claws together. Trauma wasn’t real relevant either, which is about as far from psychodynamic theory as you can get.

You can’t explain Adler by outlining what he wasn’t, which Kishimi understood, and that’s probably why he presented this in the form of a dialogue. The format is something like this:

Kid: Bitches incessantly.
Old Guy: Presents contradiction gleefully.
Kid: Overreacts to what he perceives as a slight.
Old Guy: Tells kid to calm down, presents Adlerian concept in matter-of-fact way.
Kid: Presents contradiction. Angrily.
Old Guy: Further explains Adlerian concept, provides some examples, says more nice things to kid.
Kid: “I see. How interesting.”

This allowed Kishimi to address all of the points of argument that would be raised by anyone versed in Freudian (or, to a much lesser extent, Jungian) psychological perspectives.

Adlerian psychology is complex in that it has a lot of simple concepts that interlock. The first point introduced by Kishimi is that you can’t care about praise or conditional positive regard from others. Everybody likes it, but it’s not a guarantee and it doesn’t last. No matter what you do, in a crowd of ten people, at least a couple will always hate you. Nature of the beast. That’s their task, and trying to live to “correct” that in them and sucker them into liking you is a con that sacrifices your own freedom. Disloyalty to the self at the expense of free will is ultimately not worth the price of admission.

The reason you’ll never get everybody to love you is called “separation of tasks”. You get to decide what you do, but you can’t decide what other people do. How other people feel about you is their task. Your task is acting with honesty and integrity. If they don’t like it, okay. Cool. None of my business. Not my pig, not my farm, hoss.

This is not to say we’re incapable of adjusting things we don’t like about ourselves. No pulpy determinism here; in fact, this is about as far from callow reductionist self-excusing that you can get in early psychology, or even modern psychology. If you don’t like something about yourself, stop actively deciding to behave in a way that supports that trait every moment of every day. It falls away without its base and makes room for your next incarnation, no less a “real you” than the current one, but a you that didn’t have an opportunity to thrive, choked as it was by the thorns of your miserable old habits.

Throughout the book, the oldo says “decide to be happy” and the kid responds with high-pitched Lemongrab screeching, for obvious reasons. That doesn’t mean anything! “Happy” is something you aim for, like sanity, but it has no standardized definition outside of self-report, and even there it’s chosen only by the obnoxiously religious. How the hell?

Adler suggests a formula for happiness, or at least for a general sense of contentment that will move you beyond the realm of the big fat sweaty depressive. There’s only two steps.
1. Rely on yourself.
2. Live in harmony with society.

The obvious issue here, especially for anybody who follows my own brand of green-and-black Magic deck doomsaying, is that society is an absolute mess and living in harmony with it makes you complicit. And that’s true, within the paradigm that defines society as “7 billion people drawing invisible lines then drone striking across them”. Living in full-on harmony with our quotidian calamities, ranging from casual Skull & Bones war crime right on down to the antinature of a 40-hour workweek sitting in front of an LED screen, could only make you more miserable, more depressed, possibly even sweatier.

When Adler or Kishimi talk about a society, or a community, their definitions are more flexible and require more input on your part. You choose your own communities, and your communities become your society. If you decide “my community is my school”, that’s too many people, too much data to try to parse, and you’ll retreat from it. If your community is your circle of friends, co-workers you see every day, maybe some local chapter of a club devoted to a shared hobby, that’s manageable. You could live in harmony with these fellas, just as the human animal was programmed to live in harmony with their tribe. (Based on modern hunter-gatherer models, a tribe probably consisted of twentyish roving “bands”, each band consisting of around 25 people, which means you’d have 500 people to choose from but would probably only deal with a maximum of 150, which gives us Dunbar’s number. Neat.)

I’ve tried to adopt this way of thinking in how I spend my money, especially in light of the Coronavirus’s wholesale slaughter of small businesses. Living in the city, you’re surrounded by people you don’t know and businesses that you might not care for, all of which technically make up your neighborhood community. With an Adlerian approach, nope! Target might be closer to my house than Doggie Style Pet Supplies, but that doesn’t mean I accept Target as part of my community. They both carry chew toys. Doggie Style might be slightly pricier, but I’m no longer subsisting off canned tuna and Burger King tacos (who remember?) as I did in my wasted youth, and I’d rather pick and choose what I allow into my definition of community. This is, after all, my task.

This contribution, monetary in this example, is how I give back to this aspect of community. I internalize that I’m able to pick and choose. That’s self-reliance. I give money to Capitol Beer and Sushi, rather than Applebee’s. That’s contribution. If you have self-reliance and contribution, you have all the ingredients for happiness.

Obviously, that’s writ on a detached, macro, somewhat ancap level. It’s less messy when applied to personal relationships, like with your family. You need to know you’re not helpless, and you need to contribute to your family in some way, even if its something as subtle as with positive presence. Otherwise, you’re going to feel bad. Them’s the breaks.

One of my favorite bits is Adler saying “all problems are interpersonal relationship problems”. A sort of shiny spin on Hell being other people. Without other people gumming up the works, our problems would pretty much just be getting food. A life without other people wouldn’t be much of a life, but they certainly bring with them their cost.

I could go on, but won’t. Read the book. Here are some of my favorite excerpts.

“No matter what has occurred in your life up until this point, it should have no bearing at all on how you live from now on.”
Your past trauma, however developmental, is irrelevant. Each moment of a choice you make to continue living the way you always have. If that way isn’t working, choose to live differently.

Trauma is powerful, but only because we empower it with the meaning we extract from it.
“What kind of meaning does one attribute to past events? This is the task that is given to ‘you now’.”

What happened, or happens, to us is beyond our control. The meaning we ascribe to it and how we proceed from that point decides how we will feel, and how our life will go.

As Adler says, “Children who have not been taught to confront challenges will try to avoid all challenges.”

And they become adults who won’t deviate from their comfort zone, and languish in prisons of their own design.

An adult, who has chosen an unfree way to live, on seeing a young person living freely here and now in this moment, criticizes the youth as being hedonistic. Of course, this is a life-lie that comes out so that the adult can accept his own unfree life. An adult who has chosen real freedom himself will not make such comments and will instead cheer on the will to be free.

They are just jealous of your righteous teen styles. Up tha punx.

If you are thinking of school as being everything to you, you will end up without a sense of belonging to anything. And then, you will escape within a smaller community, such as your home. You will shut yourself in, and maybe even turn to violence against members of your own family. And by doing such things, you will be attempting to gain a sense of belonging somehow.

There’s always going to be a larger community, and you need the refuge of people you can trust within it, whichever one you choose.

There are two objectives for behavior: to be self-reliant and to live in harmony with society. The two objectives for the psychology that supports these behaviors: the consciousness that I have the ability and the consciousness that people are my comrades. … In other words, “to be self-reliant” and “the consciousness that I have the ability” correspond to the discussion of self-acceptance. And then “to live in harmony with society” and “the consciousness that people are my comrades” connect to confidence in others and then to contribution to others.

You need to have faith in others to be able to feel good about contributing, otherwise you’re just going to feel like you’re allowing yourself to be taken advantage of. Faith is predicated on trust. Trust only comes with the belief that they’ve got your back, that your quid will be pro quo’d. Hard to apply to humanity at large, but necessary to apply to whatever your community is, if you don’t want to be nuts.

Life is simple, and the world is, too.

Life is a series of moments, which one lives as if one were dancing, right now, around and around each passing instant. And when one happens to survey one’s surroundings, one realizes, I guess I’ve made it this far. Among those who have danced the dance of the violin, there are people who stay the course and become professional musicians. Among those who have danced the dance of the bar examination, there are people who become lawyers. There are people who have danced the dance of writing and become authors. Of course, it also happens that people end up in entirely different places. But none of these lives came to an end “en route”. It is enough if one finds fulfillment in the here and now one is dancing.

An old chestnut, but a good one. The journey is the destination. Having goals is fine, but your life isn’t achieving those goals. It’s living to see them achieved. Or not. Maybe it’s changing your mind along the way. Deciding that is your task, and you get to, because you’re free.

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Barcelona: The Gothic Quarter and Other Medieval Crap

Monday, September 23, 2019. Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.
Soundtrack: Blind Guardian – The Maiden and the Minstrel Knight

An Australian joined us for tapas the night before. Over mojitos, he and I commiserated on the ennui that first drove us overseas.

“I’m a month into it now, so I’ve got about two months left.”

“That’s a long haul.”

“Fuckin’ right,” he said. “I miss it back home, but I just gotta power through it.”

“When you’re here you wanna be there, and when you’re there you wanna be here,” I said.

“Exactly.”

Ladygirl sipped at her oversugared mojito.

She and I dropped off to resolve our sleep debts; Australia also hadn’t slept in a few days, but said he was going to head out for a few beers before turning it.

The next morning I was tickatackin on the terrace and he bodily dragged himself out in a demonstration of top-of-the-line ragdoll physics.

“Did I wake you two coming in?” he asked.

“Naw,” I said. “I was out by midnight, so it must’ve been after that.”

“I just got in at 7, mate.”

I looked at my watch.

“You’re talking like, fifteen minutes ago?”

“Yeh. I went on the pub crawl, then we wound up at this club. Somebody gave me a pill. I only took half, figured I’d be good. I wasn’t good.”

“What kind of pill?”

He looked around, visibly insane, but I would look visibly insane if I had his week too.

“Ecstasy,” he said.

“So much for a couple beers.”

He exploded with manic laughter, then announced he was going to bed and disappeared. I encountered him again when I went to get my stuff from the locker. He was snoring like a backfiring chainsaw. I’m glad he found peace.

We would have liked to stick around Gracia, but the hostel was full up. We booked one next to the Arco de Triunfo, gathered all our stuff, and made our way across the city of dreams.

The city of dreams was drowsy this morning. The demographic had changed. A lot more oldos were puttering around, wearing more clothing than the established average. The oldos in Barcelona have no sense of spatial awareness whatsoever, and will attempt to hip check you off the sidewalk or drive a baby carriage into your leg.

I was sad to see Gracia go. The tapas were all $2, and it was far enough removed from the tourist sites that you were only occasionally swarmed by teenagers screaming in English. Still, I wasn’t disappointed for long.

You know you’ve hit the Gothic Quarter because evil wizard castles start growing out of nowhere, but the deal is really sealed in the twisting, labyrinthine side-streets that make up the medieval district. You never know what’s around the next corner, but “weird tourist shops” would be a fair bet.

Who is this handsome gentlemen, to be placed in the pantheon alongside Einstein and Obama? Could this be the Christmas Lad of Iceland, prior to his scientific gelding?

The Caganer is a popular figure in Catalonian culture, associated with the Nativity. Yeah, the Christmas one. With Jesus in it. His name translates to “the shitter”, and most families will pop his figurine somewhere clandestine in the nativity scene, whereupon the children will try to find it. It’s like a little Where’s Waldo, but with shit.

“Why?” you may be asking. “Isn’t it kind of blasphemous to have a dwarf shitting next to Jesus?”

That’s a reasonable conclusion to draw, but nobody knows. There are a bunch of possible explanations for the Caganer’s presence and symbolism, but it’s empty conjecture. I’m partial to the Jungian representation of Caganer as “the Other” myself, but I’m also certain it’s a load of psychobabble cagada and 17th century peasants just thought poop was funny.

I know you’re wondering. No, I didn’t buy it. But only because his little red cap clashes with my office.

We scrounged up some beer and bocadillos at a cafe not far from the Cathedral. While there, we had to move to another table because a waiter had to open an honest-to-yog trapdoor and descend into the cellar for more wine.

There was a sign over the door that I managed to noodle out despite my at-best halting Spanish. It said:

Bienaventurados los borrachos, porque ellos verán a dios dos veces.

Blessed are the drunks, because they’re going to see God twice.

Love,

B.