Thursday, September 11, 2008

Passions and Self-control: the Rock in the Storm.

If you ask me my favorite poem, or what poem I think is the best ever written, I will tell you without hesitation that it is T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." I say this not only because of the endless references to cultural and literary events and works (which Eliot took to it's logical extreme in "The Waste Land), but also because it signifies a change in human thought. It is as important to the philosophical world as Alexander Pope's "An Essay on Man" or the early works of Coleridge and Wordsworth. Basically, it tells of a man in a mid-life crisis, of a person who, while socializing with women, would be thinking of grandiose phrases and philosophical ideas after "the taking of toast and tea," only for the woman to say, "that is not what I meant at all," meaning some trivial aspect of the world. But on the other hand, the same man would be walking down the stairs, with nothing but the bald spot on his mind, while the women "come and go, talking of Michelangelo." There is a definite lack of communication here, and that is precisely what from World War I to the present can be typified as. Even in this world of mass communication devices, where the world wide web has made the world flat (Friedman) and cell phones has made the distances between us unimportant. But yet there is a certain communication breakdown that makes conveying of meanings and emotions very hard to do in these times. And for that discussion, we would have to go back to Neil Postman's ideas of the Medium and the Message. But I want to go in another direction.

Prufrock and the ladies he courted had a major flaw. Not only was there a lack of communication, there was a lack of emotion as well. Prufrock dared not disturb the universe, and fretted over whether to eat a peach. The women would rather talk about idle academic subjects or hold hollow conversations than looking into the grandiose ideas (of insidious intent) that Prufrock dared to think of. In the 20th century, and even into the present, the idea of emotional thought, anything past the artificial acts of outrage and commercially caused tears from movies on Lifetime, is hard to locate. Especially with guys, and children (especially boys) are taught that emotions are a sign of weakness. Even women, when given to emotional states, is looked down upon. I have been astounded to see family members whose son or daughter had been shot, and to see very little crying, and more outrage, more anger, coming from the surface, easy to express and quick to dissipate. And afterward, trips to the psychiatrist are taken, where powerful prescriptions are given to stabilize any emotional swings, effectively zombiefying the person until such time has passed that the emotions no longer well up, like some waves on a shore before a storm.

I would assert that the control of emotions, with certain exceptions throughout history, has been of the utmost priority. Religions have been created solely around the ideas of meditation and the control of emotions, striving toward a higher plain of existence. Even in the literary world, characters such as Jane Eyre, are constantly striving to hide any emotional outbursts and subdue their passions. It is this that makes Charlotte Bronte's novel so appealing. Contemporary cultural icons also exemplify the struggle between control and passion. Gene Roddenberry used Spock (wanting to be less human) and Data (wanting to be more so) as a way to experiment with the ideas surrounding emotional expression and control. It's what makes these characters so powerful, that the passions that lie within them have to be repressed, to be replaced by discipline and conformity to society. And it's so wrong, that people are considered weak if they cannot control their emotions. We are taught from when we are children that men do not cry. They must stand firm, stolid, like a rock in a storm. And while it will offer shelter, it will not offer support. It will not keep someone warm and safe while the storm rages overhead. It is one of the biggest failures of our society, to use our emotional strength to bring love and support to those that need it.

It's also wrong to have emotions controlled by religion, or prescription medication. It's the latter I want to look at, because the first would take so many volumes of useless rhetoric. As a culture, we have taken to the idea that medication, that science, will solve the problems of our inner selves. As we battle against our own consciousness, no longer is religion the rock by which we cling. We are weak, as a society, because we cannot face our own futures. We cannot face them alone. We wind up going to psychiatrists, who, for their own benefit, will prescribe medications that will mask the effects of our weakness, keeping us stable, but still struggling, against the problems that we have. And while I am not advocating being off our medications, because I will defend to the death the effectiveness and the necessity of Prozac in my life, I understand the disadvantages to hiding behind medication instead of facing our fears and weaknesses head on.

A hundred indecisions, And a hundred visions and revisions... ((sigh)) I guess what I'm saying is that we are all trying to find that support in the storm, and medication isn't going to help that. An umbrella will only keep so much rain off, and soon you'll be as drenched as if it were not there. A truly strong person will be able to shed tears, to hug and hold someone through the hardest of times, as well as be that rock that will weather all problems, and be there when the sun comes back out again.

I only hope that I will be able to be that person for someone, and that the people that I love will be able to do the same.

[This blog didn't go as I had planned it. It started out academic, cold, as a professor in a classroom, but melted as I understood what I was actually saying.]

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