The Psychopathology of Capitalism- Chapter 2, Part 2


While the specifics of human character structure vary across time and from place to place, there are certain human characteristics which seem to arise out of primordial human needs and/or instincts.  One of these characteristics is our propensity to conceive and tell stories.  By stories I make no distinction between folk tales, legends, myths or religious fantasies.   From my perspective, while they all serve different purposes, they still perform similar functions.

These stories have served many different purposes.   In prescientific times and in societies in which science and education are underdeveloped, fictional stories reveal our need to understand and explain the world around us. For example, we find creation myths as well as stories explaining natural forces and elements in nearly every culture. These stories reflect the fact that the drive to know and understand is essential to human nature in a twofold sense. First it demonstrates our capacity for rational analysis even when the analysis we produce is “irrational” as in the case of creation myths.    It is essential in another sense: we must know and understand the world if we are to survive in it.

In and through stories and their explanatory functions human beings assuaged their fears and relieved their anxieties; after all, if when we die we don’t really die, but rather go to another, better, world, or are reborn again, then death is not so fearsome a thing after all.  It is in and through the telling of stories that the consciousness of human beings is shaped and shared, so that a common consciousness forms.  Thus stories arise from and support both particular and universal social and sexual relations, that is to say modes of production and modes of reproduction.   Thus  our stories inform us, whether correctly or incorrectly,  of who we are,  how we are, how we should be, what is and is not possible. In so doing they are the functional heart of every idiontology.  Just as the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is a foundational element of the Judeo Christian religious dogma, so too, the existence of antisocial beings in a state of nature, is the foundational story of capitalist liberal democracy.

However, stories not only explain the world to us,  provide us with comfort in our times of need and succor in our times of anxiety, structure our characters and perform a core idiontological function in all societies, they also entertain us.  Whether they are true or false, whether they be told by storytellers or written in books or cast on television or movie screens, we yearn to hear them and we enjoy them.

Just as storytelling is universal so too there are certain common themes that appear over and over again across time and space.   Love is one of these.  Not only do all cultures appear to have love stories, but  we very often find the same love stories being recast across time and cultures.  Such is the case of the Pyramus and Thisbe, first written by Ovid, but itself derived from more ancient sources.  Thisbe and Pyramus are the ill fated lovers whose warring families keep them apart.  They defy their families and meet secretly.  During one of these meetings Thisbe is frightened by a lion and runs away.  In the process she drops her scarf, which the lion picks up in its bloody moth and then drops again.  When Pyramuscomes and does not find Thisbe but only the bloody scarf, he assumes the lion has killed her and in a fit of sorrow, kills himself.  Geoffrey Chaucer, writing in the England of the late 1380’s would use this theme his poem, The Legend of Good WomenOf course, the most famous retelling of the myth is Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette.  The same story was  then retold both as a movie and on Broadway as West Side Story.

A theme perhaps even more ancient than love, is that of the struggle between monsters and heroes. Monsters and heroes are the archetypal foundation of an endless number of myths and stories across cultures and down through the ages.  One of the most famous of these is Beowulf an old English epic poem which is usually required reading for high school students in the English speaking world.  It is the tale of Beowulf,  a Scandinavian hero of the Geates, who at the request of Hrothgar, king of the Danes, comes to protect his mead hall from attacks by the monster, Grendel.  Beowulf kills the monster Grendel, and then the beast’s mother, who attacks the hall after she learns of her son’s death.  Finally, in his last battle, Beowulf attacks and slays a dragon sea monster.

The mythologies of North American Indians likewise contain many stories of battles between monsters and heroes.  The Inuit’s story, Wabi: A Hero’s Tale,  tells of a Monster Frog which killed people by not allowing them access to water. The hero in this instance is their Spirit Chief, Gluskabe, who comes to help them.   At first he speaks to the Frog Monster, trying to convince him on moral and ethical grounds to let the humans have some water.  He speaks to it in quite “socialist” terms, saying that the water should be shared equally by all.  When the Monster refuses, Gluskabe cuts down a birch tree which then falls on the Monster killing it.

Another one of the many very interesting and revealing monsters is Chenoo, who appears in a legend from the Wabanaki people.  This monster was once a human who, because he had committed a horrible crime, was punished by the Gods by having his heart turned into ice.  His heart of ice was then put into the body of a monster who devoured human beings.

There are a host of pairs of monsters and heroes in Greek mythology.  One of these was the Chimera, a ferocious, fire breathing monstrosity with the body and head of a lion,  the head of a goat protruding from its back and a snake for a tail.  It was believed to portend the storms, shipwrecks and other natural disasters that claimed human lives.  The hero of this tale is Bellerophon who was ordered by the king of Lycia to slay the monster.   Bellerophon, went to the temple of Athena  to pray for her aid.  He fell asleep there and when he woke up he saw the goddess before him, leading the mythical horse Pegasus, who possessed the ability of flight.

He mounted Pegasus and flew to the lair of the Chimera.  Knowing he could not attack the monster directly, he came up with a plan.  He attached a large chunk of lead to the end of his spear,  flew towards the monster. Just as the Chimera opened its mouth to burn him in its fire, Bellerophon drove the lead into the creature’s mouth. The fiery breath of the Chimera melted the lead so that the monster choked on it and died.

Other famous myths are those of Theseus and the Minotaur, a beast with the body of a man and the head of a bull who fed on the flesh of the youth of Athens, and that of Perseus and Medusa.  In the story of Theseus he enters the labyrinth in which the monster dwells and slays it. Perseus relies on his quick wittedness and the help of the gods, to slay Medusa, the creature from whose head grew venomous snakes rather than hair.  Merely to look upon her would turn one to stone. Perseus, using a mirrored shield given to him by Athena, looks at her image indirectly and so is able to chop off her head. It is from her bloody neck as the legend goes, that Pegasus arose.

While there are many variations in the stories of monsters and heroes amongst the ancient tales, we find a remarkably number of similarities which serve to define the nature of monsters and of heroes.  To begin with, monsters are grotesque in appearance.  Some like the Cyclops, are born deformed.  However, most Monsters are disgusting combinations of human and animal parts as in the case of the Minotaur and Medusa.  Thus, they are partially animal and so not fully human.  Second, what makes them monsters is that one way or another, they kill human beings.  In the case of the frog monster they kill humans by keeping something which all humans need to themselves, and so letting others die from want.   We find too that very many of these monsters feed off the flesh of those they have killed.

As opposed to monsters, heroes are well formed, strong, brave and above all, clever.  The Greeks had great respect for the “tricksters” such as Odysseus, who relied on their ability to deceive and manipulate others in order to achieve their ends Even a cursory reading of Greek mythology makes it clear that the Greeks placed great value on a kind of deceitful cleverness which allowed the individuals who possessed it to do and get what they wanted – from the defeat of the Trojansto killing monsters, the Greeks admired and respected those who employed deception.

So what does this all mean to us; this cursory review of stories of monsters and heroes.  Well, it tells us that monsters are monsters exactly and precisely because they kill and destroy human beings in one way or another.  Heroes are heroes because they are the ones who are and appear to be fully human, and so protect other humans from these monsters.  Although there may be war heroes, the most regaled heroes are those who, with the help of the gods, confront and defeat these monsters by using both their cleverness and their weapons.

Well, if we return again to the criteria by which people are identified as suffering from ASD, we find that in their most extreme, they fulfill the behavioral criteria for being “monsters.”  By and large, psychopaths and sociopaths have no qualms about killing others.  In the case of individuals such as Jeffrey Dahmer, they not only kill their victims but also consume their flesh.  Many if not most people on the spectrum, like the Frog Monster of American Indian legend, feel no guilt if because of their selfishness and greed, others suffer and die.  Certainly, American capitalists who pay the lowest possible wages and offer no benefits to their part time employees, care little whether those people are exhausted and malnourished, or whether they and their children suffer from want and need.   They do not want to hear, just as the Frog Monster did not want to hear from Gluscabe, that the resources of the earth belong to everyone.

Of course, the big difference between the monsters of ancient tales, and modern monsters, is that modern monsters, although behaving like animals in many ways, do not appear to be monsters, we cannot identify them by their appearances.  They look and most often, act as we do.  They are discernable only by their actions; by the ways in which they destroy others.

We are then left to conclude that in the real world, unlike in in the stories of the ancients, we cannot “identify” our monsters.    Unable to identify our monsters by how they appear, we are unable to identify our “heroes” on the basis of their appearance or actions.   Thus we very often mistake monsters for heroes.  As we shall see in the next chapter, we mistake those who are most successful, those who have used, abused, and one way or another taken the lives of others, to be heroes.

However, when it comes to the ability to deceive and manipulate, that quality which the Greeks admired so much in their Gods and heroes, it is considered to be a personality disorder which runsacross the APD spectrum: a trait shared by psychopath and narcissist alike.   However, upon investigation, we find that we are not unlike the Greeks in that we too greatly admire this quality – the ability to manipulate and deceive others.  It is often the case that the “clever” person is far more admired that the educated one.

As regards the value we place on deceit and manipulation we both are and are not, like the Greeks.  While the Greeks admired those who used tricks and deceit to conquer enemies and evil monsters, we admire and at the same time punish those who do so.  Even as Bernie Madoff is put in jail, we admire the shrewd businessman who “gets over” on his competitors.

The capitalist ideontology of theexclusionary “I’  confuses the American people so that unlike the Greeks, they are unable to distinguish monsters from heroes.

Mary Metzger is a 72 year old retired teacher who has lived in Moscow for the past ten years. She studied Women’s Studies under Barbara Eherenreich and Deidre English at S.U.N.Y. Old Westerbury. She did her graduate work at New York University under Bertell Ollman where she studied Marx, Hegel and the Dialectic. She went on to teach at Kean University, Rutgers University, N.Y.U., and most recenly, at The Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology where she taught the Philosophy of Science. Her particular area of interest is the dialectic of nature, and she is currently working on a history of the dialectic. She is the mother of three, the gradmother of five, and the great grandmother of 2.

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