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Damnation Lite

by on January 20, 2016

                                                            Damnation Lite

                                                          by Marco M. Pardi

                                                 All comments appreciated.

“I’ll tell you a big secret, mon cher. Don’t wait for the Last Judgment. It takes place every day.” Albert Camus. (1913-1960). The Fall. 1956.

Since Raymond Moody’s book, Life After Life, a massive groundswell of literature, film, and first hand testimony has touted what has come to be known as the Near Death Experience. Sadly it has, like other phenomena, been formalized into a sequential framework of events. One of these events, perhaps most dreaded by the living, is the “Life Review”, a process during which the newly deceased is confronted with a replay of his physical life including his actions in relation to other people and how those people felt about and were affected by those actions.

But this calls the question:  Who goes through life blissfully unaware of how they affect others?  Many people seem to like praise.  But, I’ve always felt if you are willing to take the credit you should be willing to take the blame.  Of course, I’m well aware of the existential paradox of free will versus determinism, a choice for the latter being a get out of jail free card. At the same time, however, determinism is a dis-invitation to the awards ceremony, a prospect not so welcome to many.

Many of us can recall the all smothering hectoring of the clerics, making almost every thought, word, and deed potentially sinful if not eternally damning. Even the feeling of being unsinful was sinful, the sin of Pride.  Indeed, getting born at all was sinful; we came in with Original Sin, borrowed from the loving god of the Hebrews visiting the sins of the fathers upon the generations to come.  No way out except to say it’s all a load of crap.  But then, if one had been baptized – forcefully among Catholics as the parents were doomed to eternal Hell if they failed to have their infant baptized before it’s third week of age, or among other sects and religions that similarly induct children around the age of puberty – rejection of the “grace” once given is an even greater sacrilege than never having been baptized at all.  Oh, yes, those poor souls who died without baptism go to “Limbo” (now questionable in Catholic catechism), which is to say they spend eternity in the penalty box, watching the game but never being able to play.  Other Christian sects take a far more harsh view of the unbaptized, no matter their circumstances.

Yes, there are growing numbers of groups dedicated to detoxifying survivors of cults. But these are the more sensational subjects; they are not the ones to which most people would look and say, “Oh, yeah. I need one of those.”

A multitude of ongoing polls and surveys finds that, in most advanced civilizations, an overwhelming majority of adults have rejected the religious upbringing to which they were subjected.  But have they freed themselves from damnation?  One does not need a Ph.D. in physics to know Newton’s 3rd Law: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

I have written elsewhere of how I, to acquire a better understanding of issues involved in families facing a death, obtained permission to sit in on A.A. meetings, alcohol being involved somewhere in the family matrix.  Despite official A.A. denials these groups overwhelmingly based their core pronouncements on religion. Before long I heard of “secular” recovery groups and similarly attended those. However, the overwhelming majority of meetings were filled with complaints about the religious orientation of the A.A. groups which the secular group members had previously attended.   I waited, usually in vain for someone to address the issue of getting and keeping sober – period.  And so I formed a hypothesis that, despite the bravura, these folks had not freed themselves of religion’s grip on their lives.  Thou dost protest too much. The very act of reacting displays the power of attachment to the initial action.  I’ve also written in another post of the two monks and the girl in distress. We often carry our attachments with us long after separation from the source.

Damnation occurs in the secular sphere as well.  We often read of women who stay with their abusers, return to their abusers, or move serially through one abuser after another. Most often these women become visible through visits to emergency rooms for physical injuries. What we do not often see are abused men.  True, fewer of them incur physical injuries but the mental and emotional injuries are there nonetheless and men typically do not present at emergency rooms with bruised and broken spirits.

A former colleague told me of how his (then) wife surprised him one day.  “I hate you!”, she announced, with venom.  When he asked why she said, “Everything you do, you do so well!”  Isn’t there some saying like damned by faint praise?  Damned if you do, damned if you don’t?  His choice seemed to be between continuing to earn her hatred through achievement and earning her scorn through failure.  His solution arrived with the news that, to bolster her miserably low self esteem she was bedding half the men in town including two of his doctor friends and several of his co-workers all the while spreading vicious lies about him.  He put her out on the street, where she belonged. But it was clear he carried that burden in many of his ongoing interactions. “One nice thing I can say about aging is that I can look back on an increasing number of those fuckers and say, ‘They’re fucking dead'”.  How nice. 

Yet this same former colleague, who is considering a second marriage, finds himself in a very similar situation ( I also know the woman in question. She constantly mocks, belittles and criticizes him though on a good day she may have half his I.Q.), except there is no blatantly expressed vitriol or infidelity. Is he damned by being exceptionally intelligent, or by making poor choices in marriage?  And who, or what set this in motion?  He did enjoy a previous relationship which foundered for career reasons and the burden for him now is to avoid the trap of attaching himself to how things were as a measure of how things are.  Few things are worse than comparing, openly or not, a current partner to a previous one. Perhaps I’ll see how he handles it; I’ve always found the best answers come when I don’t ask questions.

These conversations and experiences got me wondering: How much of our assessment of the present is an expression of the burdens or the glories of the past?  When faced with the trackless expanse of the future, how much is our first Small step for mankind determined by the tracks we’ve left behind?

Many sources, whether based on intense interviews or on simple observation cite the reluctance, even refusal of long term concentration camp and prisoner of war internees to leave the camp upon liberation.  Not to be confused with the Stockholm Syndrome, this reluctance is a testament to the power of even a relatively recent event – the captivity, to obliterate the personal history of even those who were taken as adults.  Having become thoroughly opaque portraits of a reality painted for them by their captors, no light from their pre-captivity past shines through to show them the way forward.

Years ago, when the State of Florida had “chain gangs” that hacked the weeds and picked up the garbage along the roads I interviewed prisoners in the county “road camps”.  The newcomers were interesting, but the deeply involving cases were found among the “lifers”.  I’m not referring to people sentenced to life in prison by the State; I’m referring to people sentenced to life in prison by something inside themselves. Though constrained by time I did manage discussions with four or five men in their 50’s and 60’s.  Each divulged a life story of successive prison sentences from juvenile hall to adult prisons, with hardly any free time in between.  The one most vocal seemed to speak for the others when he said prison had always been his home; upon release he would ensure his recapture for a new crime so he could come home.  Without the time to do an in depth search with him I could only assume that at some early point in his life he had become “damned” in a sense to repeat and sustain these Sisyphean labors. But by whom, or what?  I interviewed a prisoner in a military setting about why he stole and tried to sell classified documents.  His answer was, “I’d be accused of it anyway.”  Clearly, he had constructed for himself an imaginary society waiting for a chance to accuse him.  He had damned himself.

These prisoners were not born criminals. To what degree do we allow our present circumstances to hide the light which guided us in the past?  How easily do we allow our present circumstances to become a prophecy of our future?  Years ago a comedian made his mark with the pronouncement, “The devil made me do it”.  This played well, and still does, to audiences ignorant of the concept.  The Persian Shaitan, from whom the Hebrews garbled their externalized Satan, was not a tempter; he was the voice within us that, as we are about to speak an untruth,  arises and asks us why we are doing this. As we are about to craft a deception, reminds us of our true state.  Causes us to waiver in our affirmations of self righteousness before the Judge.

Having known psychiatrists and psychologists and having studied the theories and methods of these disciplines I place very careful or little stock in their pronouncements. In answer to a question from a recent acquaintance I said I was multiple retiree.  I’ve done some of this and some of that.  The discussion then turned to how I felt about no longer doing this, or that.  Given that I had named only two mostly sequential but briefly concurrent careers I had no problem in explaining that what I do is not necessarily who I am. But deep within me I know I have a core identity, an identity which has been veneered with visible professions, jobs, social personas, and other interchangeable labels and from which I will retire only when I expire. Where did it come from, why was/is it there? How it got there is unlikely to be agreed upon by any two specialists, much less biographers. Should I use my present to unearth my past?  I have.  Retirement can afford that to you.  But I can measure my freedom by the presence or absence of my reaction to such questions if they are asked.  And some reactions, if I provide them, are cloaked.  

I’ve posed several questions and I’m guessing most if not all are applicable to every reader. Maybe you have the answers.  Damned if I do.

 

 

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20 Comments
  1. As to the issue of women returning to abusers, prisoners returning to prison, or returning to bad partner after bad, it has been my experience the familiar, no matter how bad, is not as emotionally terrifying as the unknown. The woman or child who is abused know the dance steps. Changing that is terrifying. Every child I worked with, with the ability to express their choice, always would choose staying in an abusive home than being placed somewhere offering protection. In teaching parenting it is known the child’s behavior will get worse before getting better when instituting new responses to behavior. Because they want the familiar. Routine, bad or not, provides comfort. For most people, the emotions that come with new territory cannot be stomached.

  2. Thank you, Mary. These are terrifically insightful comments, especially coming from someone with your long and deep career experience in these matters. I’m very certain I could not have survived in the career in which you have done so well.

    I’m also guessing there may have been times when you looked at struggling, long term cases and just wondered if they were “damned” to that life.

    Thank you.

  3. What follows is a deeply edited version of my first stream-of-consciousness response to this offering. I could go on for days…

    What a brilliant piece of writing. It makes so many salient points, and asks so many engaging questions, but I doubt that you need me to tell you that. In the end, it is only our own approval which we require.

    We live life between a rock and a hard place, force fed what we are supposed to believe by those who may not believe it themselves. Do as I say, not as I do. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t; and since everything we experience is filtered through everything we have ever experienced, is it any wonder that it’s easier to continue treading the path we know than to break a new trail? It’s amazing how much we can learn to tolerate if desire, or fear, is strong enough.

    Self-inflicted damnation; what a rush!

    • Thank you, Rose. Your comments inspire a wish to step outside one’s self for a moment, just to have a look at this whole train of events. In recent years I’ve developed a couple of set answers to socially common questions. My purpose is twofold: observe those who seem not to notice the answer I give; and engage with those who do notice the answer I give. So,
      Q: How are you?
      A. I don’t know. I’ll have to ask around.

      Q. How are you?
      A. Okay so far..

      • Marco, my standard answer to “How are you?” is “I’m all right.”

        This got me into a bit of trouble with a supervisor once; when a customer posed the question, evidently I was supposed to answer, “Great!”

      • Thanks, Dana. Obviously you weren’t playing by the rules: Present a fake facade to the customers. I can understand how that may have made you feel about the whole enterprise.

      • My pat answer is “breathing in and out.”

  4. Marco, it is good to be back here on your blog.

    I have read many books about this cult and the other, but one stands out in particular. This report was of a cult survivor who after escape (not more than a few years later) went on to marry and have children. The cult leader strove to indoctrinate its members with any number of outlandish ideas, including fear and suspicion of the government.

    Even though the survivor claimed, quite sincerely, that she was not left with this particular indoctrination, when she had children she was introduced to well-known mothering group. The majority of the mothers she knew did not vaccinate their children. The author stated the women she met were seemingly some of the most caring, intelligent, health-oriented parents she had ever known.

    However, it does lead me to question her reasons for failing to protect her children’s health in this one particular area. Might it have been an underlying suspicion of the government, carried into her (very young) adult life after leaving the cult? Interestingly enough, though she was forced into the cult, they were never able to indoctrinate her young mind, despite being entirely cut off from society. Yet I do have to wonder about this one area as it pertained to her children years later. I would be interested in your thoughts.

    I would like to add that I am troubled by the psychological abuse of your former colleague by his partner. Some might have little sympathy for anyone who stays in an abusive relationship, but much like a former co-worker of mine, sometimes there are reasons that simply cannot be shared.

    In this case, the key reason she continued to “tough it out” were threats by her partner to make public some very private details of her life. Unfortunately, this type of abuse was the pattern in choosing all of her partners. The past indeed became her present in each situation, but as far as I know, she decided that would never be her future.

    I recall your quote about being given a hammer, and then beating oneself over the head with it.

    • Thank you, Dana. I’m certain I speak for many, if not everyone in expressing happiness that you are back with us in sharing thoughts. You definitely hit on a number of items, each worthy of a blog piece in itself. Yes, I do think our early experiences, cult or “normal” burrow into our consciousness and affect our decisions in ways few people trouble to discover, much less address. And, as you point out, it’s often the children who pay the price.

      I’m really hoping you have the time to examine other articles of mine and share with us your always reliable insights. Marco

  5. Proof-read, proof-read, proof-read!

    I quote myself: “The cult leader strove to indoctrinate its members…”

    Perhaps this was a Freudian slip? After all, this particular cult leader was indeed quite the monster.

  6. Marco, I can’t seem to gauge your response to my comment. Perhaps I should explain myself, minus the anger I can now see in my own response. It is aimed at myself for having learned to accept what I should have been brave enough to change. I have never been abused, but I have often felt negated, and that is simply not acceptable. Things really are better now, but in a numb sort of way. I’m tired of being numb. Thanks for accepting me, warts and all. Rose

    And, Dana, welcome back; you have been missed!

    • Thank you, Rose. We live through our experiences, some of us (like you) learn from them, and we move on. The Buddhist saying I quoted earlier, “If you want to be free, just let go” is valid but a bit simplistic. We have to scrupulously examine ourselves to determine what we may be holding onto, and that takes courage. You consistently show that courage.

  7. Gary permalink

    I once worked briefly for a man whose temperament was always ebullient and optimistic. It was a pleasure to simply be in his presence. His standard response to the question, “how are you”, was, “never better”. I always enjoyed the look on people’s faces when they heard this. They visibly brightened.

    • Thanks, Gary. I like reading about people like that, better still meeting them. I do admit, though, that my secret heart wonders if they are really covering something.

  8. Gary permalink

    .You are indeed perceptive, Marco. I didn’t mention that the man in question was a federal politician and member of Parliament.

  9. pouryabakhtiyar503 permalink

    So Although I was pretty much raised here, English was not my first language and at the tip of my tongue there is a saying or phrase I am looking for that goes something along the lines of we are what we are today because of what has happened in our past… It sounds much more clever in the phrased context. All that to say, I sometimes think that maybe our intelligence is actually counterproductive to us in the sense that it sometimes can get in our way of beneficial conditioning. One would assume that we are no different from all the other animals in that we seek pleasure and avoid displeasure… maybe we occasionally seek displeasure because we think there is a piece of cheese at the end of the maze and its really the power of our submissive mind…or Brain perhaps? Its all very convoluted, as embarrassing as it is to say, I know I am not the only one to say that 5 years ago I thought I was smart or wise or that I knew what my life mission was, only later to realize how ignorant I was and still am. That trend will probably continue.

    • Thanks Pourya. Much of what you say rings of Behaviorist psychology, which has certain merits. And, I’ve often looked back on periods of my life and concluded I was just crazy then but no one knew.

      Now I’ll spend the rest of the day trying to think of that phrase you mention. I know it’s there, and maybe I’ll find it. Almost like thinking of a good “come back” long after the moment has passed. Marco

  10. Unfortunately, someone close to me is in a marriage like your friend. He’s literally a genius, but his self-esteem is so terrible that he married a bitter, hateful, critical hag whose only joy in life is to spend his money. Is his intelligence damning? Or is it the anti-intellectual sentiment that permeates society that’s poisoned any hope of happiness? Life isn’t easy when you’re a so-called (or self-proclaimed) “nerd.” You grow up hearing names like “four-eyes,” “bookworm,” “egghead,” “snob.” So when you meet someone who, for all intents and purposes, seems interested in *you*, it’s just so easy to fall into whatever web they weave.

    Regarding prison recidivism rates, I think it boils down to the epidemic of hopelessness in this country. Once someone has been incarcerated, no matter the crime, they’re branded. The prison system is about punishment in the States, whereas in places like Scandinavia, it’s centered around rehabilitation. Ex-convicts here often feel it’s easier to return to prison where they know they’ll have a roof over their heads — better to have “three hots and a cot” than risking homelessness.

    At the end of the day, I don’t think it’s possible for our current perceptions *not* to be influenced by our past. Ten years ago, I was naive and gullible, and maybe I was “happier” for it, but I certainly wasn’t emotionally intelligent. Since then I’ve had to deal with a few sociopaths — and I mean that literally — and while I may not be as carefree, I’m sure as hell a lot wiser. So maybe I’m too emotionally guarded now, too skeptical, but the past shapes the present. Whether or not that’s a good thing is open to interpretation.

    • Thank you, Ash. I agree with your insights. Society damned your friend and he unfortunately internalized it, leaving him vulnerable just as you explained. These events are far too common, in too many ways. And, your critique of the prison system is painfully correct. The Scandinavian model is as you describe, but our same damning society is unlikely to develop the courage – or morality, to emulate it.

      Some would say your experience over the past ten years has been “growing up”. I would disagree; you were “grown up” to begin with. Sadly, your process has had to be more one of developing the armor to peacefully live your own life. Marco

      • As the old cliche says, “if they don’t know you personally, their hatred isn’t personal.” Too many people missed that message and take criticisms very personally, and he was one of them. I *hope* that one day our society will adopt a more rehabilitative stance, but I won’t care. I’ll be long dead by then.

        That’s a good point. I used to hear all the time that I was “young for my age.” Maybe they were just confusing youth with optimism. Or maybe I just feel more grown-up since I’m about to turn 33, haha.

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