Thursday, 27 June 2013

Stories and Psychopaths

We tell stories all the time. It would seem that our lived experience is carried through some kind of ongoing story (Rom Harre calls this a "story line"). We may well know that the stories are not real, but the fact that we inhabit them for a while helps us to deal with what is real. Stories are the vehicle of  the imagination. And the imagination is politically fundamental: freedom, hope, oppression and tyranny all exist in the imagination. Any explanation of how stories help us might need to account both for the wonderful things that the human imagination can do, as well as the ways in which fearfulness can lead us into crisis, evil, despondency and depression.

What is most important to understand is the relationship between stories and decisions. Good and bad decisions have stories behind them. The need to communicate, the need to rationalise, the need to defend actions all drive the need to create stories. But we should ask how it is that such desires are satisfied by the story-making activity, and indeed why it is that these desires exist in the first place.

I think stories are ways of 'playing with absence'. Art, music and drama are also ways of playing with absence. Their artificial structures reveal something natural about the nature of the relationship between what's there and what is not. The desire to play with absence comes from the fact that we tie ourselves in knots in daily life. Complexity reaches a point where there needs to be some 'pruning' of our experience, or some reorganisation of our experience in order that we can carry on functioning. Such reorganisation entails the determination of some new absence: the determination of part of the force which causes things to take the structure that they do.

Absences are difficult to pin down - particularly from the context of a present reality. Any present reality is necessarily blind to the absences which bear upon it. But a new story is a new context. It has it's own internal structure, but it also has which bear upon that structure which can be identified through 'playing' with the story.

The most effective identification of an absence in a story takes the form of a recursive principle. Through the recursive principle, the story takes shape. But it is this recursive principle, discovered through playing with the story, that serves as the key to the determination of the absences of real life. Play nourishes reality with the creation of new recursive principles.

The fantasy of thinking and planning and imagining the reaction of other people is a classic example. Through this activity, we imaging a different world related to our own, and inspired by the challenges of the real world.  Through the fantasy, we find a pattern - some principle which lies at the heart of the generation of the structure of the story. Through that, we resolve to act in particular ways in reality.

After doing something bad, we also engage in fantasy. A story is concocted to justify, defend, deny or explain away ones actions. The trauma of guilt from the reality creates complexities which are too great to bear. Fantasy is the only way out, through which anticipations of others may be considered and the causal factors behind the shape of events identified. Once again, the recursive causal principle is identified. Once again, this transforms the traumatic situation - or at least makes it a little more manageable.

It is ironic that bad actions - which demand so much of fantasy for their defence or denial - usually arise from  a lack of creativity in the first place. Bad actions result from the imprisonment of fear. But the bad person begins a pathological relationship to fantasy. Where fantasy for the good person nourishes their decision-making and psychological health in everyday life, for the bad person, fantasy is demanded as a way of defending what is really indefensible. Because it is indefensible, the recursiveness of the story only works so far; ultimately more and more stories are required. And then it is easy to lose sight of the distinction between the story and the reality. There begins the psychopath.

Authentic being is not a luxury.

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