Posts Tagged ‘insanity’

“Educated” by Tara Westover — Wow!

November 15, 2018

There’s a huge genre of “Parents from Hell” memoirs. Tara Westover’s is intensely gripping.

She was born in 1986 into an extremist Mormon family, standing in opposition to mainstream Mormons (whom they called “gentiles”) and everything in the outside world, including doctors, hospitals, medicine, the government, and of course the schools, all seen as a socialist/Satanic/Illuminati (yes) conspiracy. Tara was home-schooled — notionally. In fact she learned almost nothing apart from Mormon dogma.

Her mom practiced midwifery and was much into herbalism, “essential oils,” and homeopathy as their alternative to conventional medicine. “Homeopathic” remedies are a fraud, they’re plain water. Several times Tara noted that when treated with these “tinctures” they had no effect (not even a placebo effect, which requires some belief). But she never fully acknowledges it was all hokum.

Father “Gene” ran a junkyard and construction business, into which all his kids were dragooned. In lieu of ordinary safety precautions, Gene relied upon the Lord. But the Lord was not reliable, and OSHA’s writ did not run here. The book is a litany of nasty accidents, including two car crashes, one probably leaving Tara’s mother brain damaged. At ten, working in the junkyard, Tara barely escaped from inside a forklift loader dumping tons of scrap iron, her father oblivious to the danger. A brother was severely burned using a torch after having been doused in gasoline.

Finally, Gene himself used a torch on a wrecked car without bothering to drain its gas tank. It literally blew up in his face. All these accidents were handled using only mom’s concoctions. Gene’s injuries were horrific, but he did survive, albeit badly disfigured and partly crippled. Nevertheless, word spread about this “miracle healing” — causing mom’s herbal business to go viral. And the Westovers became rich.

Before that, Tara decided to go to college, to Brigham Young University. One older brother had similarly escaped the Westover la-la land. Tara crammed alone for the college entrance exam and scored well. Lying to BYU that her home schooling had entailed a rigorous curriculum, she was accepted. Only at college did Tara begin to grasp the depth of her ignorance and outsiderhood.

Long story short, she winds up with scholarships to Cambridge and Harvard, and a PhD in history.

But the real story is Tara’s wrestling with her relationship with her family — and with her own identity which, throughout, remained shaped by that relationship.

Her dad was not okay with her educational pilgrimage. He invoked God’s wrath against her. Tara was considered treasonous, dangerous, possessed by Satan. And a big part of her problem was the degree to which she herself bought into all this: “It was not that I had done something wrong so much as that I existed in the wrong way. There was something impure in the fact of my being.” Indoctrinated to loathe herself, she did so.

Tara was particularly hung up on the word “whore,” flung by a brother who repeatedly violently abused her (though not, overtly, sexually). Mormons in general are obsessed with antediluvian ideas about female chastity. This American Life recently profiled how Mormon “bishops” (volunteers, really) get their jollies formally interrogating young girls about matters sexual — deeply disturbing. But the Westovers were extreme even for Mormons, so terrorizing Tara that when, at about 17, she had a longtime dating relationship with a lad, she couldn’t even bear his touching her hand. And yet, accused of being pregnant, she imagined it could somehow be true.

Tara eventually figured out that her dad was, well, nuts. Bipolar, to be specific. I attended a talk she gave; asked whether the religious extremism made him crazy, she said it was really the other way around. But the nuttiness and religion obviously fed each other. Yet even while recognizing the pathology, Tara remained infused with a powerful tropism to belong to this tribe, hardly able to conceive of a personal identity exiled from it. (This power of tribal belongingness is seen in our politics.)

Her education entailed a series of epiphanies. I was gratified that one came from reading John Stuart Mill (who tops my own hit parade of thinkers), on how social conventions repress women, which “moved the world” for her.

Berlin

She also learned of Isaiah Berlin’s two concepts of freedom: external versus internal coercion, the latter a function of irrational beliefs and fears. Tara knew that applied to her, yet extrication was an almighty struggle. She suffered a paralyzing mental breakdown.

Toward the end I was like, “enough already,” impatient with Tara’s inability to break the hold of her toxic family and its absurd religion. It’s so revealing about the human mind. Tara surely had an extraordinary level of cognitive intelligence to overcome her educational deficits and achieve what she did. Yet she struggled to free herself from ideas she knew were irrational and messing up her life.

But the book has a happy ending — it is really a “triumph of the human spirit” book. Though nothing suggests Tara ever relinquished Mormonism, she finally did kiss off most of her immediate family, saying she hasn’t seen her parents in years.

When I went up to her, to have my book signed — she was extremely gracious at this, by the way — I asked her, “Do you love your parents?” I expected a nuanced, if not agonized, response. But Tara said, “Oh yes, absolutely!”

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The President is insane

March 6, 2017

imagesSo he was able to read a nice speech from a teleprompter and appear “presidential.” Then he tweeted that President Obama had tapped his phones at Trump Tower and is a “bad (or sick) guy.”

Hurling put-downs that uncannily apply more to himself is trademark Trump. Like crying “fake news” at legitimate reporting, while his own wiretap accusation came from what really is fake news.

images-1It’s not just baseless but preposterous. Laws prohibit it, it’s inconceivable that Obama would have directed federal officials to violate them, and inconceivable that they’d have complied (instead of blowing the whistle). A warrant would have been required, issuable by a judge only upon convincing evidence of a crime being investigated.

“Those restrictions,” said Ben Rhodes (a former top Obama security aide), in a tweet addressed to Trump, “were put in place to protect citizens against people like you.”

Who’s the “bad (or sick) guy” — recklessly flinging baseless accusations? Why isn’t the nation totally freaked out by a president behaving so grotesquely? unknownDaniel Patrick Moynihan coined the trope “defining deviancy down.” When something previously unacceptable becomes accepted. The Trump phenomenon has shredded what used to be America’s civic standards. The media are having a hard time reporting soberly on Trump without their hair on fire, thus giving it all a seeming patina of normality. So this is the new normal. Hence no huge uproar over Trump’s insane wiretap accusation.

images-2I use the word insane not figuratively but literally, clinically. Trump’s behavior — not only this instance, but too many others to count — shows a deep psychological pathology. The President is insane. He should be removed from office pursuant to the procedures of the 25th Amendment.

Yet congressional Republicans now promise to investigate not the President’s insane behavior but the imaginary wiretapping. While thousands, all across the nation, joined the “March 4 Trump” to support him. Is insanity contagious?

Earlier, some of my friends (who did not support him) lamented that Trump is even worse than they expected. I said he’s not worse than I expected, because I knew how bad he is. But perhaps I didn’t. I had also expected the weight of the presidency would have some impact on him. It has not.

unknown-1No wonder the Russians wanted Trump elected. To sabotage America with a dysfunctional, bull-in-a-china-shop president. And if there be method in his wiretap lie madness, it’s to distract us from the Russian connection.

Trump’s is not the kind of mental illness that might elicit sympathy. It’s malevolent. Previously I’ve called him a “vile creep” and “stinking piece of crap.”* But now I’ll have to come up with something stronger.

*  The sanitized version.