Different is not sick

…if you are not like everybody else, then you are abnormal, if you are abnormal , then you are sick. These three categories, not being like everybody else, not being normal and being sick are in fact very different but have been reduced to the same thing.”

— Michel Foucault, (2004)
‘Je suis un artificier’.
In Roger-Pol Droit (ed.), Michel Foucault, entretiens.
Paris: Odile Jacob, p. 95.
(Interview conducted in 1975.
This passage trans. Clare O’Farrell.)

Maslow on ‘Friending’

In 1962, leading psychologist Abraham Maslow met with some college students at the New School and answered questions that arose. One of the issues concerned friendship.

Friendship and intimacy are practically absent in our society. It is often said that Americans are very friendly; but people don’t ordinarily dare to look seriously at their relationships, because if they did, there would be the profoundly hurtful feeling of being utterly alone in the world as you realize that you don’t have a real friend.

But it is possible to have very beautiful and fulfilling relationships. They happen in a fraction of one percent of the population. It may be that we’ll work out techniques in the next decade or two for fostering relationships.

Maslow, a self-described utopian, and the fellow who identified “peak experiences” and self-actualization, thought relationships might generally become deeper, more fulfilling on the whole after the 1960s.

To quote a modern day pop psychologist, How’s that workin’ out fer ya?

Between Religion and Science, Possibility

Neuroscientist Dr. David Eagleman suggests that there is room in one’s life between basing one’s beliefs on either faith without evidence, or empirically-based proof. The alternative, Eagleman suggests, is to make space for possibility.

He explains how possibility can sit between certainty and doubt in this 20-minute presentation that melds contemporary scientific exploration with world history and cultural tradition.

Watching a Generation of Lifetimes: The ‘Up’ Series

If you pay attention to human development, psychology, or how people’s attitudes progress over a lifetime, I urge you to check out Up –– a longitudinal documentary series from Britain, available on Netflix.

The Up-Series by director Michael Apted

Director Michael Apted interviews a group of Britons every 7 years for their entire lives.

The series follows 14 children from “startling different backgrounds” from across England. It chronicles their lives for 42 years in seven-year intervals.

This longitudinal view begins in 1963 when the children are 7 years old and follows them, in the most recent installment, to age 49. You see little children playing on the playground and then witness them enduring all life’s trials through becoming grandparents. The film makers follow the group where their lives take them including Bulgaria, Australia, Spain, and Wisconsin.

Hopes, dreams, education, marriage, children, opportunities, careers, political views, religious beliefs, social values, marital stress, illness, loss (even interviewer and producer / director Michael Apted’s bias) – all show up. First in grainy black and white, then in living color, and finally, wide-screen high def.

You can stream all episodes on any Netflix-connected device:

  • 7 Up
  • 7 Plus Seven
  • 21 Up and its successors of 7-year check-ins right thru
  • 49 Up

I strongly suggest you start from the beginning with 7 Up. It really frames the project, provides the context, and sets the foundation for the rest of the wonder that unfolds.

Warning: Once you start watching, you’re going to be hooked. Set aside a weekend for the most unusual, engrossing glimpse at the lives of an entire age cohort cutting across several classes of a society.

These extraordinary documentaries capture contentment, despair, surprise, regrets, changes of heart – all the drama of full lifetimes from childhood through middle-age. (Plus providing a window unto the institutionalized stratification of British society.)

One hopes that the series continues as it would be fascinating to see how these life patterns change or don’t as this diverse cohort moves into old age…

Where are the Families of Fabled Heroes?

Unlike Hindi films, modern North American films rarely embed the hero in the thick traditions and obligations of family history. It is a rare movie indeed when we meet the hero’s parents.

So wrote cultural anthropologist Richard A. Shweder, of the University of Chicago, and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, University of Virginia, in a chapter for the Handbook of Emotions (2000).

We don’t meet the parents of Hollywood heroes because many of our culture’s iconic superheroes are orphaned. Or might as well be.

Batman’s parents are dead; victims of a violent crime. Superman’s folks died in a disaster on a far away planet. Luke Skywalker was the son of a mostly absent, and decidedly bad, father. He barely had a mother. (The character that appeared later in the Star Wars franchise, played by Natalie Portman, was an afterthought.)

At a time when the very definition and role of family in our culture is muddled (perhaps because it is in transition), we might not be surprised that our cultural heroes seem to spring forward without parental guidance and support. Or in spite of it.

Yet, the Batman and Superman narratives go back many decades to their comic book origins in the mid-last century. Perhaps they helped set us upon the path we find ourselves today.

Still, no matter how the entertainment industry construes the hero’s journey, social relationships early in life have a profound impact on shaping how each of us perceives, interprets, and relates to the world.

Given a choice between nurturing parents or becoming orphaned, even most Superheroes probably would take the hugs.