Feb. 13th, 2017

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Currently at Havelock: -6. High today: -2.7. About seven inches of snow last night.

We might find the framing of courage in the Laches peculiar because we commonly think that to be courageous is to do x despite being afraid of doing x. (Recall: the Laches frames courage as a matter of knowing what is to be feared and what is to be dared. Things that are to be feared are things that should not be done, because they are bad. Training in courage is training to fear bad things and not to fear good things. The courageous person does things at risk of consequences that appear (to others) to be personal costs but that the courageous person does not regard as genuinely bad and so does not fear. E.g. losing my job because I take a stand for the good is not actually a bad thing because to keep my job under the conditions required to keep it would actually be a bad thing. If I would be required to do bad on the whole in order to keep my job, then on the whole I must hope to lose my job, not fear losing it. (Of course, that's too cute, because naturally in the actual event I will hope that doing good on the whole will not turn out to cause me to lose my job.) This may be one reason why the courageous person (today, when we think that being courageous means acting despite fear) doesn't feel courageous: where others see something to be feared, and in order to do good would have to act despite fear, the courageous person does not see something to be feared and acts without fear.) Insofar as this is strictly what we think, I think what we think is probably phenomenologically incoherent. To the extent that I am afraid of doing x I am incapable of doing x. Fear is a psycho-physiological brake on action. If I am thoroughly afraid of doing x then I am thoroughly incapable of doing x. Abject terror is absolutely paralyzing. (Often when you express that you have difficulty doing something because of anxiety, others in response refer to themselves or others also "hating" to do that. Hating to do something is different in quality from being afraid of doing it. Being afraid of doing something is a psycho-physiological brake preventing you from doing it in a way that hating to do it is not. The essence of the problem in doing something that I am afraid of, as opposed to doing something that I hate, is that I may become unable to do the thing I am afraid of, not (just) that I will hate doing it. I may have to flee the party. (I've done it.) I may have to hang up on you. (Not exactly?) Which is what I was on about about what it's like to have to take out the kitty litter (which I did today, through knee-high snow) as opposed to what it's like to be crushed by a boa constrictor. (Funny thing is, taking out the kitty litter is not all that hateful. But, uh, it could be? It was? It is for some people? I dunno.))

But to take a more subtle view, we might think (as is commonly thought) that to be courageous involves overcoming one's fear of doing x in order to do x. This, at least, works, in my experience. There are a couple of times I think of when I was paralyzingly afraid of doing something and made myself do it not through my fear but by using some kind of mechanism to, you could say, dissociate myself out of my fear. I think this is a pretty standard way of dealing with social anxiety. Social anxiety is rooted in a felt threat to the self, so if you can detach your self, or feel like you have detached your self, from what you're putting out there, then there is no felt threat to the self. (Consider acting ... or karaoke. Or lecturing. But the mechanisms can always break down.) I suspect that this might be a much more common way of getting through things than one might think. Some people write down scripts so that they can robot their way through phone calls; for a lot more people, robotting their way through phone calls comes "naturally". You write down the script as a way of trying to turn off the reflective mechanism that would throw your performance of it off track. Anyway, I suspect that maybe more or less everyone lives a very large part, if not most, if not more or less the entirety, of their lives in dissociative states--you can apparently quite "happily" robot your way through life--which I guess is another way of putting what Rousseau and the romantics were on about about civilized life forcing people to be false. And then there's the question whether ancient-style training in virtue could get us--get any of us--around this. (A different kind of robot-programming? You can of course argue endlessly and fruitlessly--see below--about whether it's all robot-programming all the way down anyway. But at least you can program the robot so that it doesn't have all these conflicting programs that it has to compartmentalize until it breaks down and fires Frank Poole into space.)

(Here's a proposition for you: the phenomena framed as "anxiety" in the terms of "psychology" may be framed as "cowardice" in the terms of, let's say, "character"--which of course invokes all that propaganda I used to see coming out of "psychology" deriding the framing of "disorders" as "character defects" (which--the propaganda, I mean--I don't know that there is less of, or isn't more of, these days, and I suppose is a large part of what e.g. that corporate de-stigmatization campaign is about). I don't see how it can not be the case that many psychological disorders are character defects framed in different terms, or maybe that understanding phenomena in terms of psychological disorders is a way of explaining character defects. Whatever might hang on these being competing ways of framing phenomena I suppose comes down to issues concerning responsibility: you are not responsible for your disorders; you are responsible for your character defects. (Edit: that ain't quite it. More like: you are not responsible for what you do "because of" your disorders; you are responsible for what you do "because of" your character defects. And it is not quite that simple either, in part because you are to some extent held responsible for your disorders: once you are diagnosed with them, you are responsible for submitting to treatment for them. Failing to submit to treatment of your disorders is a character defect such that now you are responsible for what you do because of your disorder because you are doing things because of your disorder because of a character defect. (Except that today I saw someone saying that failing to submit to treatment for schizophrenia is "part of" schizophrenia. So that closes that loop. And of course you can do the same trick with depression: you're too depressed to participate in the treatment of your depression. Etc. But still the movie will scold you for not taking your meds. Until you meet the nice lady who makes you want to be a better man.) Of course I find this distinction to be nonsense. (E.g. because "my brain made me do it" as an explanation of anything in particular is nonsense, because everything you do is what your brain does. Or "the mind is what the brain does", as I wanted to say Searle put it, but apparently it was (first?) Marvin Minsky ... and when I google it, the first hit I get has the title "The Mind is Just the Brain", which is not the same point at all. Anyway, maybe better "the mind does what the brain does (and vice versa)".) I suppose another thing that might separate them is transiency--a character defect might be thought to be possibly less transient than a disorder, especially a treated disorder. But on this matter I think people are likely to be badly mistaken about the phenomena whether they are framed as character defects or psychological disorders. Anyway, it seems unlikely that something concerning transiency could be either a necessary or a sufficient condition for differentiating between character defects and psychological disorders. One way or another the practical point of framing things as disorders rather than character defects is supposed to be that the disordered person is to be sympathized with and possibly offered or possibly forced to undergo treatment, as opposed to the character-defective person who is to be blamed and possibly punished. Which, sure, in many cases is fine, I guess, except that I don't see how you can ultimately justify (except by appeal to expediency) applying character discourse to some cases and psychological discourse to others. (I suppose here my thinking is basically the same as that of Thomas Szasz (edit: well, in some very general way; I don't want to get roped into defending or repudiating Thomas Szasz here), whom I thought of today when I read a bit of a column condemning the absolute discharge of the former Vincent Li that said something about (I suspect imaginary) libertarians supporting it. The one thing I know about libertarians and insanity defences is that Thomas Szasz was against them. (I mean that he was against insanity defences. He was a libertarian.) Anyway, I don't really have a dog in the insanity defence fight, but that has largely to do with the fact that criminal justice strikes me as generally insane. (And also I do think there's something that is "not being in your right mind", and that having done something bad while being not in your right mind ought to be treated differently than having done something bad while in your right mind. But, you know, I also think it sucks to be a bad person. I think it sucks to be Donald Trump, even if Donald Trump doesn't think so. I mean I think it sucks for him. It is unfortunate for him that he is like that. It is unfortunate for you to be a bad person living a bad life. (On this, at least, Athens and Jerusalem agree.) So, you know, I don't like the idea of sending Vincent Li to jail, and I'm definitely not mad that he's not in jail, but I think that incarceration is insane generally, and also that there is not likely a better practical alternative, so what the hell ya gonna do. (So, lucky him? I truly doubt it. Would you want to be him? (But, uh, lucky me? Well. I'm a seriou ... I mean, I've tried to be a serious ... I mean, I'm trying to be a goo ... well, I am probably succeeding in being a goo.) Anyway, blah blah blah. Let's talk indeed. (Edit: I should add, to give it its due, that that column about Vincent Li also got a shot in at the "Let's talk" business--that it's easy to "talk" when what you're saying is what everyone else is saying--which I guess is what has that in the brew for me today.))

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