Monthly Archives: May 2020

That’s all, folks!


Amid these difficult times (how’s that for an opening cliche?), I’ve determined that it’s time to address an important matter that has hitherto been ignored: the meaning of the roadrunner and of course, its relevance, like that of Dr. Strangelove, to the strained realities of the present day. Roadrunner? Yes, the roadrunner, as in the long-running (hey, a pun) Looney Tunes cartoon that began in the late forties and persisted well into the 21st century, tirelessly representing themes of obsession, futility, as well as split-identifications.

To fully appreciate the roadrunner one has to be a child, or at least inhabit the childlike state that intuits all of the following: namely, the roadrunner rules. Rules were important when I was first watching cartoons. Pre-teens know rules, are governed by rules, and don’t know the possibilities of breaking rules, generally, yet they know how to identify. The world of the roadrunner, plus its (gender?) nemesis, the seemingly male Wile E. (not so wily) Coyote, is likely the American southwest, given the resemblance of the landscape to that of the Grand Canyon or Monument Valley. The rocky, arid spaces suggest the starvation that motivates the salivating Coyote, while the roadrunner figure, wide-eyed and spry, seems ever comfortable, well-fed and unthirsty. The rules are that no dialogue exists between these characters, only the non-verbal utterances between enemies (the roadrunner’s impish “beep-beep”, for example, which made it seem like a car), such that a western “duel” is conjured.

In its cartoon physics, rules apply to the Coyote that don’t apply to the underdog roadrunner: For example, the roadrunner can stop on a dime while the Coyote cannot, which often leads the latter to fall off precipices that he doesn’t see until its too late. Interestingly, a sub-rule that relates here is one in which the Coyote is spared the full consequences of his impending fall until he realizes his error. What does this mean? Are we to infer, or absorb into our childlike state that reality only hits when reality hits? That psychic reality (coming out of denial) will coincide with material, or physical reality? Furthermore, in the cartoon, the Coyote enjoins the audience into his psychic acknowledgement, as if the collective witnessing (by the viewer) is also necessary to activate the actual fall. What typically follows is the changing of our position to that of a God-like aerial view. We see the Coyote fall, and as he looks up at us and disappears towards a sandy earth and a presumably dusty death, he appears more humiliated than terrified. He has, after all, been fooled again.

This recalls another rule: that the roadrunner never directly harms the Coyote. It just seems to ever know something the Coyote doesn’t, like the apparent fact that a painting on a rock will allow its entry, such that the roadrunner can continue along a road that has been painted on a surface, while the Coyote gets flattened as he runs into the same surface. And what does that mean? Is this really the roadrunner’s world, and does it have special powers that defy physics? Are we to infer a social allegory in this hint that rules are applied selectively? Again, the roadrunner cannot directly harm the Coyote, but it can manipulate or take advantage of nature’s whimsy, the apparent flexibility of gravity, and of hallucinatory objects. Of course, it’s also possible that the roadrunner itself is not real, and that its disappearance into the painting on the rock is itself a hallucination.

The most important rule in the roadrunner cartoon appears to be that the Coyote cannot and will not ever capture the roadrunner. Why? And if he never captures the bird (?) why does he never give up. Why does he not move on, start chasing lizards or something, or at least hire some company other than ACME to supply the weaponry that will invariably let him down. What…was ACME like the Amazon of its day: were brick and mortar stores all gone and did he have no choice but to order from this one supplier of all that is needed? For children, it’s not clear who is meant to be identified with. It’s not clear who is the hero and who is the villain, which for me is the secret of the cartoon’s lasting appeal: though it borrows motifs from the genre of the western, it otherwise mocks its landscapes and binary paradigms. In it, the underdog is a pest and a flirt; it is implicitly female in a pre-feminist sense: teasingly appetizing, but with no appetite of its own. Okay, not quite true: occasionally, the roadrunner stops in its tracks, tempted by a petit cairn of seeds that its adversary has placed in the middle of the road, but it can easily eat and run, and more importantly, it may seem to the viewer that the would-be prey can give or take sustenance. The Coyote, meanwhile, is deceptively powerful and nasty–a rapacious derivative of the big bad wolf–and a desperate fanatic who does not know when to stop.

If we are to identify with the roadrunner, then this identification is the reason the bird is never captured. The reason: the consequences are unthinkable. The roadrunner will be eaten. He, she–whatever–will be torn to shreds, and cartoons can’t allow that. That’s for adult entertainment, horror films and the like, and children must be protected from the dire consequences of the chase. Sorry Coyote, this means that you must lose while we empathize with your need. You are a villain, but a likeable one because you never seem to actualize your villainy. Also–again, because of cartoon rules–the Coyote is not destroyed by this necessary sparing of the roadrunner. Each episode ends with the Coyote unfed, which is sad but not fatal. The episode, and therefore the Coyote’s loss and humiliation, will soon be over, only to begin again the next time.

If children of a happy or safe upbringing, we watch the roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote cartoons, allowed by adults to enjoy their never-ending chases, their darker-than Tom and Jerry drama, because unlike the mouse and cat, the roadrunner and Coyote are never friends in domesticity–they are rivals amid desolation, and perhaps the last creatures on earth. But this again is too much imagination for the childlike mind. The episodes only last a few minutes, so we’d know, or learn, about stopping, but not death. Kids are often told when to stop, when recess is over; when play time is to become work time, school time; when dinner, as provided reliably, is ready. On some things, adults  encourage children to not give up on that which is frustrating, and sometimes be told that one doesn’t always get what one wants. That’s all, folks! No one explains obsession to a child, or fanaticism; an addiction never satisfied, much less starvation. The need of the Coyote, and the ambiguous need of the roadrunner, must ever exist in tension, unresolved and co-existent. No one seems to understand–at least not with words–pursuing a goal through hallucination, at some point forgetting what pursuits are even about.

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The Dr. Strangelove talk

via The Dr. Strangelove talk

“Mr president, I’m not sayin’ we won’t get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than 20 million killed…depending on the breaks”

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May 31, 2020 · 6:37 am

Fishing for narratives


There’s a fair amount of gender stuff in this blog recently. That’s because there’s a lot of gender stuff in my forthcoming book, Getting Real About Sex Addiction. Inevitable, I think, when the dominant context in the field of treatment is heteronormative—meaning, aimed at heterosexual men. It gets tiresome reiterating this, given the zeitgeist demand for diversity. Even barely interested publishers want to know if mine and Joe Farley’s efforts would attend to the needs of sexual minorities. But sex addiction (SA) treatment’s dominant attention to the “needs” of heterosexual men is a fact in this country—one of not many facts, actually, in the field of SA treatment, but a fact nonetheless.

The demographics of treatment, plus the typical split-formats of group therapy in particular, enables a predictable positioning of men and women. These positions are girded by chestnut beliefs that permeate society, dominate pop psychology literature (at least), and thus infiltrate the offices of psychotherapists. I sometimes think that all one needs to be a therapist in the present dystopia is to have a sociology degree from university coupled with an accurate take upon what social and political beliefs reign in the community in which one practices. Thereafter, treatment models and theory is what you have to filter those beliefs, employing jargon so as to affirm whatever narrative is most palatable. Facts? Yes, there are facts, plenty of which are relevant to treatment, and depending upon the context, they may determine whether society invests money in mental health care. But make no mistake: in the absence of research that actually proves that one method, intervention, or “style” is most effective over time, our field of practice, following the dictates of consumerism, will pursue that which is quickest and cheapest, and with respect to gender issues—those narratives that are most familiar.

So, do I have specific examples of treatment-distorting narratives? Indeed I do. Take, for example, the commonly expressed view that the sex addiction construct “excuses” the behavior of afflicted individuals, in effect privileging heterosexual men unfairly. This view fits a prejudice of both progressive society and, in this context, also traditionalist observers, and so the narrative sticks. Only it’s BS. That’s right. I think wordpress allows the contraction. I’ve been treating individuals, couples, men and women who present on both sides of the acting out/non-acting out divide for nearly twenty years, and in my opinion, the opposite of the “excuse” narrative is more prevalent. The SA assessment (it’s still not a diagnostic category in this country) does not yield clemency for someone who cheats on his or her partner. Divorce or separation rates do not diminish because the specter of sex addiction has rendered conflictual couples more flexible in their mores. And as far as illegal activities are concerned, I find that courts and sex offender treatment “protocols” are largely unmoved when individuals claim that a progressive addiction is the cause of an unacceptable behavior. Crossing the line of moral horror is as much a criteria of addiction as frequency of behavior or states of craving, and the horrified—meaning the righteous onlookers—do not excuse.

Nor should they, I think, by which I simply mean that self-identified addicts shouldn’t be exempted from legal consequences that result from behaviors known to be illegal. The addict made a choice, I say, disagreeing with what some recovering addicts think. Nor do I think that impacted partners are obliged to forgive their addicted partners, especially if “forgiving” entails remaining in a relationship with a habitually slipping or relapsing addict. Still, the truer reductionism with respect to the term addict is one of scapegoating. Addiction, a concept borne as much via ontology as medical science, is often blamed for a crossection of habits that straddle behavioral, psychological, even spiritual manifestations. This is largely the influence of the 12-step community, which seeks to support individuals afflicted with what it thinks is a disease, though in personifying the problem of addiction (“my addict is telling me…”), it enables shorthand explanations that circumvent complexity, yielding facile and false narratives. As a result, potentially dynamic problems between couples are cast as the unilateral fault of “the addict”: “Typical addict. I ask him to pick up the kids after soccer practice, and of course he forgets…”

Therein lies a bridge to gender issues, which are also subject to reductionism and stereotype. Combined with the prejudices aimed at male sexuality, broader assumptions about male versus female traits deliver a hammer blow to heterosexual men in sex addiction treatment. In drawing attention to the circular logic that pervades my field, I wrote in Getting Real about the assumptions of masculine privilege that underlay interventions and imagined what eating disorder treatment might be like if corresponding biases prevailed in that context. Are women privileged in representing the majority of admissions to eating disorder treatment? Do men, by implication, find it more difficult, more stigmatizing, to admit problems related to losing or gaining weight, and does the construct of “eating disorder” shield or excuse women (mostly) from moral judgements that might otherwise be aimed at them: the imputation of greed, for example. Well, excessive eating (or the reverse, self-starvation) does induce moral judgements, but not as much as sex does, and feminists and traditionalists ally in the belief that pornography and prostitution are immoral entities, either because they promote exploitation or promiscuity.

More skewed narratives, I write in Getting Real. I don’t dispute the progressive premise, which observes exploitation of women’s sexuality, ignoring promiscuity unless there are power differentials, like someone paying or being in charge—plus someone getting paid, behaving subserviently. Unlike social conservatives, progressives object to power differentials that they deem institutionalized, though like conservatives, they are selective as to what they think exploitative, and like conservatives, they appear to sanctify sex more than any other human behavior. Ostensibly, the exploitation of violence is likewise objectionable, but close inspection suggests not. For example, in response to January’s SuperBowl event, I’ve heard numerous women—menu feminists, I call them—complain that the game’s vaunted halftime show, featuring scantily-clad Jennifer Lopez and Shakira, was yet another example of patriarchal culture objectifying women (it didn’t seem to matter that the female performers in question clearly chose their roles and likely earned a lot of money). None of these women remarked on the main event, which featured similarly well-paid gladiators, many of whom will be crippled if not brain-damaged by middle age, all for the entertainment of our Pax Romana—sorry, American—dream. They chose their roles as well, of course. Or, does anyone really choose, I hear some asking?

The professions of fisherman, electricians, roofers, and landscapers have two things in common. Firstly, they are all male-dominated professions. This fact alone would reinforce for many a belief that masculine privilege reigns in our present-day society: the term “male dominance” linked psychically with male advantage. Fact number two might muddy the waters of what is known versus what is presumed. Those same four professions are above firefighters, policemen, and apparently military personnel in a Bureau of Labor report indicating the most dangerous jobs in the United States, based upon an aggregate of workplace injuries and time off work. How privileged am I as a psychotherapist to not worry about electrocuting myself, or slipping off a roof or a high tree, or—I guess—a fishing boat? Who knew: that’s the most dangerous job of all, apparently. The French analyst Jacques Lacan wrote that mental processes issue from an intertwining—what he termed a Borromean knot—comprised of three realms: the imaginary, the symbolic, and the real. The imaginary contains proto-concepts born of imagery, our intrinsic narcissism; our earliest split-recognitions of self and other. The symbolic represents such representations via language, via laws and social structures—the unconscious organization of society. The realm of the “real” exists beyond what is known—beyond the not-quite language that brings us “addiction”, and reality-approximating words like “standards”, “protocols”—to the imperceptible. The blockage of the real exists in our repetitions, which represent our beating-our-heads-against attempts to contrive. Lacan called this our automaton behavior. The imperative of moral equivalence (a lingua favorite of progressives, I notice) gets employed to reduce discussion, cast opinion as fact, to dismiss narratives that don’t fit with an orthodox message.

Alright then, let’s compare an iconic women’s movement moment with an unrecognized as such yet contemporaneous watershed in the cause of men: the burning of the bra was about sexual and economic freedom, the former proceeding from the latter. The burning of the draft card was about not dying at the behest of authority.

We get that it is true, what Lacan taught. We get it and we don’t.


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On Circularity and Tautology


Just before Covid broke out and thereafter shut us in, I’d started going to Peets to prepare notes for this blog. I’d already had in mind to write a few overdue thoughts on the matter of tautology when I saw an anecdotal cue in the corner of my eye. Over the shoulder of a diligent girl with a winning, sympathetic smile who served me coffee was a poster proclaiming that the house brew from Colombia was a hundred percent grown by women—that is, men were not involved, presumably. For a fleeting, half-witted moment I wondered why this was necessary to advertise before thoughts of obligation intruded. Was there a tradition of female exclusion in the Colombian coffee industry? I wondered. Amid the progressively flavored ambience the question seemed foolish, and not because I ought to have known something, anything, about Colombian culture. The poster’s claim/boast will have been deemed acceptable by marketers; been green-lighted by franchise execs, nodded to by employees and duly patronized by a genteel, civic-minded customer base. Why? Because its premise will have been deemed unfalsifiable. No evidence necessary. Circular reasoning, in philosophical and critical thinking circles—not so much the office spaces of advertisers, I’ll venture. Was research into the history of the Colombian coffee trade really necessary? That women had been hitherto excluded was a given, wasn’t it? Would it even matter if the implication wasn’t true?
Unfalsifiable ideas (ideas immune to rebuke) designed for professional and thereafter public consumption are nothing new in modern psychology. An acknowledgement of this dates back to the 1930s at least, when Freud wrote in “Constructions in Analysis” that psychoanalysis employs circular reasoning when considering the accuracy of interpretations. If a patient were to reject an interpretation, it is only a sign of resistance, many analysts thought. Those of the Kleinian school took it a step further, suggesting that a resistant, interpretation-rebuffing patient was one exhibiting a “negative therapeutic reaction”: meaning, an act of aggression, denying the nurturing goodness of the attending analyst. Even those who write with tongue-in-cheek satire of this stance confess guilt when asked if they have ever resisted the resistance of a patient—even claiming that the correctness of an insight was or is confirmed by the denial of the patient. Indeed, the more intense the denial, the more deeply embedded is the truism, was or is often the belief. The matter of real interest becomes the correspondence between the intensity of denial and the level of unconsciousness: the deeper the idea is buried, the more intense the denial of the analyst’s interpretation.

Circular thinking is habitual; that is, it happens unconsciously and repeatedly, so they lodge in the mind. I recall one example from an academic setting, during a somewhat delicate discussion about touch in therapy, as in the prospect or practice of physical touching between clinicians and patients. The sensitivity in the air concerned the matter of sexuality, of course, and more specifically, the legacy of sexual abuse by male practitioners upon female patients. Amid this background, however, the view remains that some manner or degree of touch between patient and provider may be appropriate. Hugging, for example, or shaking hands. Fair enough? Not so fast, complained one student—a woman—who pointed out that most of the literature on the subject of touch between patient and analysts/therapists has been written by men. She needn’t have substantiated her point, it seemed. Still, what she then pointed out, without comment on the contradiction, was that an analyst named Judith Butler has “written more on the subject of touch in the clinical setting than anyone”.
As in more than anyone since men stopped writing on the subject, assuming that’s still allowed? The data point supplied had not perturbed the previously declared premise. My not-quite-as-provocative-as-that query didn’t yield an answer on this occasion. My fellow student didn’t identify the men of yesteryear who had previously dominated the topic. Neither did the instructor. They simply thought it a refreshing change, not an irony, that the most prominent commentator upon touch in therapy was a woman. By the way, I’m sure there has been plenty of “research” into this question, utilizing hidden cameras no doubt, to determine how often, and by what proportions of each gender, that physical touch is occurring in therapists’ offices. I know. I’m not taking this seriously, am I? Well, not quite. It’s more that I don’t take seriously the thinking or methodology that’s being applied to this subject. I can’t be bothered to review beyond what I already have what’s being written on this subject, as if it could be studied objectively. And it hasn’t. I imagine (borderline assume) that the fewer male therapists that remain in this field are as conservative as I am. I shake hands. I will give a hug to a male patient, usually without concern. I will give a hug to a female patient at the end of an intermediate-to-long-term therapy, assuming she initiates. I will never initiate. Never. The day that changes is the day it becomes acceptable to have hidden cameras in my office. And that’s the day I retire, frankly. Actually, that’s bravado. I’d check my bank account first. So, who knows about what’s under the surface, or behind closed doors upon which “In session” still interdict? Should we know?

Circling back to my main topic: circularity. In the crossover realm of addictions and addiction treatment, which I attempt to describe in the forthcoming book, Getting Real About Sex Addiction, there are analogous tautologies, which are redundant expressions indicating unfalsifiable logic. The term “male sex addict” may be one example; the phrase “objectification of women” may be another: terms that may seem redundant because of prejudicial beliefs. Do we assign the term sex addiction to women in an era sensitive to “slut shaming”? Would the term “objectification of men” be deemed a thing by an average observer not prone to ontological (nature of being) insight? There are chestnut beliefs taken for granted by many, professionals as well as consumers of psychotherapy.

One that exists on the periphery of mental health care emanates from Alcoholics Anonymous, still the most prominent sobriety movement in the United States after a near century of existence. Absent a painstaking assessment of a drinking history, and sometimes even in spite of said data collection, a person who presents for help, either within a 12-step milieu or within a 12-step-based treatment program, is often thought to be in denial of a problem simply if he or she denies a problem. The presentation for assessment, for care—whether at the behest of others or not—signifies the conclusion a priori. Hence a circularity: if an individual presenting for care admits that he is an addict/alcoholic, then he is an addict/alcoholic. If he equivocates or else denies that he is an addict/alcoholic, he is still an addict/alcoholic. It’s just that friends, family and professional helpers will all now have some work to do upon the resistant mind.

No surprise that similar phenomena contaminates the sub-field of sex addiction treatment, which is otherwise largely preoccupied with medical, ontological, and phenomenological (study of experience) questions regarding diagnoses and criteria: questions like, what is this thing we call addiction? Or, for those still debating the details, what are the events or behaviors that actually happened? Hence, the field ignores its other assumptions. But tautologies and circular reasoning are apparent, and not just amongst practitioners and patients, but especially amongst the non-acting out, “betrayed” partners of designated sex addicts who, in the aftermath of a discovered acting out pattern, are hypervigilant to clues of wayward behavior, including instances of denials or argumentativeness. I’ve known more than one partner of an addict declare with studied conviction that she knew that her partner had slipped or relapsed in his behavior, not so much because of some undeniable evidence pointing to this conclusion, but rather because the intensity of his denials implied the unconscious defense of negation—negation of that which is necessarily deemed true. So, don’t tell me that analytic ideas have no place in the modern conversation of addictions just because people don’t know the theoretical derivatives of their assumptions. Next, this issue of whether an addict is an addict based upon whether he self-identifies or else because he’s in denial is just the tip of the iceberg on this matter of tautology and sex addiction. As my opening anecdote suggests, the muddying of water (or coffee) extends to gender biases intersecting with notions of what is trauma, or what constitutes objectification as these concepts pertain to an already loaded subject—sex. Okay, I got called out recently (you might have read) for using words like ‘trauma’ without explaining what it means. As if I know what it means! That doesn’t mean that I don’t have ideas, or even experiences that would inform, but I think the term’s meaning has become diluted in our culture. For once, I’ll be brief and orienting, for I think the debate congeals around a triangular phenomenon: firstly, there is the notion that trauma is the crazy-making event. Second and third, the question (broadly) is whether the crazy began in the self or within some un-locateable pre-verbal memory, or further, whether crazy stems from a later (even contemporary) crazy-making event. Platitudinous wisdom suggests that some combination of each phenomena is true.
If the subject of trauma across contexts has been contaminated, can you imagine what I think has happened when the context is sex? Well, without the background specter of sex and gender politics, it’s hard to imagine that sex addiction would have gathered steam as a concept, displacing as it has (almost) in recent years the relatively benign if not old-fashioned construct of infidelity.
In Getting Real, I argue that sex addiction treatment is a subsidiary front in a zeitgeist war against male sexuality. The evidence for systemic tautological fallacies lie in the far higher rates of men being admitted to sex addiction treatment versus women, coupled with the absurdist view that such admission rates constitute a privileging of care for men instead of the neo-Scarlet lettering that it obviously is. Now, I know there are some who would reject my appropriation. Cue again the concern with matters of moral equivalence, or asymmetry. So, once again, I accept that the plight of modern sex addicts doesn’t match the experience of ostracized women in 17th century New England, but also (once again), metaphors and allegory don’t imply equivalence or symmetry. They serve as reference points, and are inherently imprecise, as all meaningful things are. Incidentally, few would argue that the trauma of sex addicts’ partners matches that of combat veterans, but does that render the term sex addiction induced trauma invalid? I don’t know if the people who promulgate this hegemonic opinion also believe that sex addiction is an unnecessarily pathologizing label, but it wouldn’t surprise me if such concurrences of semi-thought, which compound absurdity, exist in our professional field. Beyond the statistical surfaces, the ethical complaints that accompany the sex addiction concept—that pornography and prostitution exploits and objectifies, or that extramarital affairs betray partners—largely target a heterosexual male population whilst shielding would-be female sex addicts from a similar excoriation. In my view, a now dominantly female proletariat in mental health care is wary of attaching pathologizing labels to female sexuality, which results in circular, apologist formulations. Therefore, a woman who acts out sexually with pornography or prostitution or serial affairs does not exploit or objectify others, especially men, but rather internalizes a demeaning state of mind such that what she does she invariably does to herself.
Uh-huh. Again, note the Cliff Notes co-opting of a psychoanalytic concept, which is common within frameworks that comprise the sex addiction field. More importantly, note the assertion of ideas across mental health/sociological spectrum that are presented credulously; that is, immune to falsification.

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The Dr. Strangelove talk

via The Dr. Strangelove talk

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May 2, 2020 · 5:02 pm