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Monday, January 16, 2012

Dangerous Method, or, the Way We Live Now

I probably need to see "A Dangerous Method" again, as a rather minor aspect of the film continues to nag at me --- Jung's wife who appeared to be agonized by his extramarital affairs with his favorite patients.

There are always people in the world who are (generally) in psychological harmony with others around them. For everyone else, there is psychiatry. It is only recently that I finally begin to appreciate the moderating effect of psychiatry --- moderating the relationship between the needs of an individual person and others around him.

Humans are social animals, but compared with ants and bees we are only semi-social animals. In terms of social tendencies and instincts, primates are perhaps somewhere between buffaloes and lions. Not quite in herds, not completely solitary.

Throughout the hundreds of thousands of years of homo sapien history, I imagine, back when a person lived with and relied on his extended families, there must have always been conflicts between what one wanted and what others wanted, and pulling and tugging among people must have been eternal. A bigger piece of meat for me would be preferable to sharing with my cousins. Yet they were my cousins, and when we went out to hunt, I had to rely on them to watch my back. One had to give and take.

One could argue, although perhaps there is insufficient evidence to prove this theory, that such giving and taking are easier to manage in one's head (rather for the limbic system) when one's relationships are limited to his blood relatives numbering perhaps a few dozens. Relationships become difficult to sort out, at least for some people, when one has to interact with many many people with questionable and ambiguous connections with oneself. How much should one give and take? Some (the lucky ones in harmony with the world around them) navigate with ease, while others have difficulties.

It is tempting to hypothesize that as population density rises exponentially, the conflict between individuality and collectivity rises with it. I am reminded of Lao Tsu's ideal world, in which neighbors can hear chicken crowing and dogs barking, but never have to chat with each other over the fences like the neighbors in "Home Improvement." Ah, but that world was a long-gone dream even in the 6th century B.C. Now we cannot turn around without elbowing each other.

In the process of bumping elbows, one inevitably runs into situations where indulging one's own desires conflict with others' wishes. The doctor would like to have a love affair with his favorite female patient, openly and without guilt, while still enjoying his wife's fortune. The doctor's wife would like to have the totality of her husband's affection or, if that is impossible, make him suffer the same degree of misery as she does. Both wishes are mutually exclusive. One has to live with more disappointment than the other. Ah, the zero sum game.

Unfortunately, selfless accommodation of others' wishes is definitely not a permanent or effective solution, but rather a pathology. On the other hand, unrestrained self-indulgence causes destruction and carnage all around, although there are research data that selfish people, oblivious to other people's needs, tend to live longer and have better physical health.

When an individual's behaviors and desires conflict with social norm (ie, the requirements of others living in close proximity to him), and the conflict is internalized within the individual to cause dysfunction, psychiatry comes in to mediate between the patient and his relationships with the multitude of others to reach some sort of compromise. Psychiatry cannot fundamentally remove the conflict between individuality and society.

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