Friday, February 10, 2012


Today's Telegraph and Guardian both have articles that expose the rapid and expanding dehumanization of society, encouraged in the UK by Cameron's government, and in the US by a multitude forces already beyond control.

In the Telegraph the elderly are told to go back to work and to downsize their living spaces. People in the UK have a far different attitude towards the property they live in and have made home than the peripatetic Americans, who think nothing of upping sticks and moving into retirement accommodation. There is still a sense of community and place in the UK that is unknown today in the USA. If there are no jobs for young people, how does the government expect old people to find work? And given the dehumanized environment in the workplace, to suggest that elderly people go back to work who have been subject to a lifetime of stress and oppressive bosses is simply cruel. And how are the elderly supposed to downsize in a country where there is a chronic shortage of housing? What about the negative, sometimes fatal impact of being removed from familiar surroundings?

The Telegraph also has an article about axing hospital chaplains to hire more nursing assistants because, it is said, chaplains have 'no clinical benefit'. The implications of such a statement—that people are bodies only, and those bodies are merely mechanical—are horrifying. What dark age are these policy makers living in? The evidence of the interdependence of body and mind is overwhelming. Reports on hospitals show that they are neglectful, uncaring, lonely places, especially for the elderly. Their bells are not answered; they are left in their waste, offered unpalatable food, not fed, ignored, sometimes actively abused. Whatever one thinks about religion, chaplains help to relieve the degradation of being stuck in such circumstances.

O yes. And RBS has decided to cancel its annual lunch for elderly past employees. How much could that lunch have cost in comparison to the millions of pounds of bonuses offered to executives, not to mention the wastrel gambling culture of the banking system in general?

The Guardian contributes an ominous article about the new diagnostic handbook for mental illness being published in America, which classifies normal human emotions as mental illness, so that a person grieving for a spouse would be considered 'abnormal' with the label of chronic depressive disorder, and recalcitrant children would be classified as mentally ill with an 'oppositional' disorder. This suggests a multitude of opportunities for supporting parental abuse. On the other hand, serial rapists could use the handbook to escape jail.

'Peter Kinderman, professor of clinical psychology and Head of Institute of Psychology at the University of Liverpool, said the revisions "could only make a bad system worse". The diagnostic approach, a tick-box list of symptoms leading to a label, was always "hugely problematic", he said. What is termed "oppositional defiant disorder" is dubious, he said: "Since my children say 'no you are an idiot, dad' repeatedly to me, by definition my children are ill." He also disagreed with the label of paraphilic coercive disorder: "In my view, rape is a crime and should not necessarily be regarded as a disorder. It gives people an excuse for that behaviour," he said.'

The Independent features an article that exposes the bumper profits being made by the energy companies while 5.5 million homes are in 'fuel poverty'—and doubtless people will die as a result. A little further down is an article in which care home staff admit abusing the helpless people who were entrusted to them. And finally there is a long article on loneliness—to be classified as mental illness in the new diagnostic handbook—a whole new spectrum of possibilities to make you to feel guilty: if you show any human qualities, you're sick. But there will only be more loneliness as public policy continues its relentless program of turning people into ciphers, fragmenting communities and segregating people into socio-economic, age-related and cultural ghettos.

'Contexts bring meanings from the whole of our selves and our lives, not just from the explicit theoretical, intellectual structures which are potentially under control. The power-hungry will always aim to substitute explicit for intuitive understanding. Intuitive understanding is not under control, and therefore cannot be trusted by those who wish to manipulate and dominate the way we think; for them it is vital that such contexts, with their hidden powerful meanings that have accrued through sometimes millennia of experience, are ereadicated.' (McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary, p. 319)

Are you ready to be a robot?


Blogger Bo said...

As Geoffrey Hill always says, 'A banal obviousness is what tyrants desire.'

6:31 pm, February 10, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maggie, just to clarify: the DSM-V, of which I'm not a fan, is not finalized, and discussion and debate continue. The publication date is over a year from now.

"Paraphilic coercive disorder" has apparently been relegated to an appendix by now, and it may not appear at all in the final volume. (I do wonder, though, how many would say that rape is not the behavior of a disordered brain.)

Also, (to my knowledge) loneliness is not proposed as a disorder, and the Guardian's article simply says that "Loneliness could attract a diagnosis of chronic depressive disorder" -- which is speculation. (Of course, in some cases loneliness may be correlated with a depressive disorder, but disorders generally have multiple criteria.)

It might be good to keep in mind, too, that in the U.S. one generally cannot get reimbursement for therapy or counselling without a DSM diagnosis, which fact is perhaps a contributor to the problems of the multiplication of disorders and the politicization of diagnosis.

On another topic: we've been using some ideas from your blog and latest book in our Quaker discussion meetings. Thanks for making your thinking readily available.

12:27 am, February 11, 2012  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Thanks for this comment!

1:32 am, February 11, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

tangential to this, but about architecture has become somewhat dehumanizing thru the training process:

Architectural Myopia: Designing for Industry, Not People
Building, Society, Village Development — by Nikos A. Salingaros October 20, 2011

it points out that architects literally do not see buildings the same way ordinary people do, given the way the architecture training process subverts their normal reactions, which they then suppress.

i was debating on whether to post this comment or not, as it is rather tangential, but then i saw the first comment on the article mentions ‘The Master and His Emissary’ by Iain McGilchrist, which you have also mentioned. so, i guess i'm not the only one to see some linkage.


12:41 am, February 13, 2012  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

To sgl: not tangential at all!!! Thank you very much for sending this comment!

8:45 am, February 13, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you might also be interested in the following thread posted at, in the forum "DISCUSSION: DAILY LIFE » Life style, daily living, practicalities"

alas, due to recent spambot activity, you now have to create an account (free) to read the forum, altho i hope this extra step does not dissuade you from reading the thread, as i think it is along the same vein as the other architecture link i sent you. (however, you and i suspect many of your readers are the type that would be interested in the hermitary forum anyway, which bills itself as "a forum for hermits, solitaires, anchorites, recluses, introverts, melancholics, pessimists, philosophers, the spiritual, & others" )


it has some info about the architect christopher alexander, who noted the problems with architecture a long time ago, and spent his career trying to rectify the situation, and clearly articulating exactly what went wrong, and what the solutions are.

re: your comment "downsize in a country where there is a chronic shortage of housing"

an excerpt of an excerpt from the same thread linked above:

The obstacles to sane, affordable and sustainable housing are entirely political. If you read history, feudalism never ended, it was transformed, commuted to mortgage, disempowerment and the great urban reservations, instead of self-reliance, responsibility and fulfillment.

In the early eighties the Society of Friends (Quakers) raised a ‘concern’ regarding the increasing scarcity of housing land, with its impact on house prices and living standards for the whole community. Accordingly a working group was formed to investigate and report back. They produced a document which opened my eyes to the true extent of the modern feudal state.

Quite simply they showed how every person in Britain could be housed in detached low density housing complete with gardens and access roads and still not fill up more than half of Northern Ireland… (see map?) This is still true.


lastly, for those interested in more pragmatic solutions, you might research the tiny house movement. one example of a beautiful, small, and inexpensive house is "quietude" (one of my favorite tiny houses):


12:57 am, February 14, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Maggie,

Is there really a significant difference between John Main's meditation and centering prayer?

All Good Wishes


8:04 pm, February 14, 2012  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Yes, Theo, in its original form, sadly diluted now by the international organization. Originally there was no 'ceiling' to Main's way, it led to infinite openness; now it has been strangled. There has always been a ceiling to Centering Prayer.

10:03 pm, February 14, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Maggie,

I have to say, when I first came across centering prayer I was somewhat dismayed by the organisation that has been created. I was more and more put off by the notion of 'levels' or gradings or whatever they are. Is it the same then with Main's meditation?

Leaving aside what has happened in terms of human organisation, for those of us on our own, is there any difference in use for deepening silence (Sorry, Maggie, if my language is getting in the way of what I mean and want to say ...). I know that one's prayer/meditattion is only a little of life in silence but my concern is to sort of ... minimise the chances of my getting in the way of the silence in my life by what I do .... if you see what I mean.

Is it better to pray with the word 'maranatha' or to try to let go of thoughts/feelings etc?

All Good Wishes


11:05 pm, February 14, 2012  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Just keep it simple, Theo. Maranatha (or whatever word you use, or none—you can count your exhalations, for example—will help your mind get quiet and help you let go feelings, etc. As far as I know Main never intended any gradings, any worldwide organization (I think he would hate what it has become).

11:17 pm, February 14, 2012  
Anonymous Matt said...

Dear Maggie,

Thank you so much for your recent posts on these and other threads.THere has been some really practical advice as well as the usual food for thought and reflection. I like very much what you say about the simple routes into an "infinite openness" and that Main's original teaching intended this. Could you say a little more about that openness and what you meant by "ceiling"? What might be an example of how that might stifle the route to that openness?

I take the point about the industries surrounding both Main and Centering. All that can actually make it harder to reach the silence.

1:30 pm, February 15, 2012  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Dear Matt,

Thank you.

It seems to me that the less that is said about this infinite openness the better. After all, it is openness to what we don't know and can't know and can't directly access, 'more than we can ask or imagine'.

To come to the threshold of this openness is a stopping only of the self-conscious mind and its imprisoning concepts, preconceptions, projections and the like. It's not a cessation of mental activity, but opening to a mental activity that can't be in play as long as self-consciousness in is play. Ideally the two work together, but the self-conscious mind is a bully and would like to forget about it's much more profound, open, inclusive other half.

The 'ceiling'—the problem with any system, as Jesus says in John 14—is a kind of subtle communication of what the organisers (with huge vested interests in money, fame and the like) want the followers to think, so they can keep increasing their body count. It sends an insidious message that meditation 'ought' to be this way or that way, feel like this or that, and above all that talking about it is a good idea, and being part of a mass movement is even better. Oh yes, and that you need a 'teacher'. This is all distraction, all of it, and takes away any possibility of spiritual maturity.

There is precisely nothing to be done, said, or written, or taught.

If people want what Main had in mind they have to stop and be simple and trust the process—this is what faith means, to trust what you do not know: sit your cell and seek to the beholding. That is ALL, in the end, that is necessary.

2:10 pm, February 15, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thank you for your reply to my question. Simple. Thanks, Maggie.

All Good Wishes


8:38 pm, February 15, 2012  
Blogger Raspberry Rabbit said...

Thank you for this Maggie. It's amazing how the impersonal and the mechanical creep up on us.

10:33 am, February 21, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Part I

re: dehumanization

a few excerpts from a series of blog posts which give some explanation of why people dehumanize others. (in 3 parts because the excerpts are too long for a single post)

the "about" section of the expermental theology blog describes the author as follows:
"Richard Beck is Professor and Department Chair of Psychology at Abilene Christian University. .... Richard's area of interest--be it research, writing, or blogging--is on the interface of Christian theology and psychology, with a particular focus on how existential issues affect Christian belief and practice."

while you and your readers may already be familiar with the theologians he talks about, you might not be aware of some psychological theories that have been proposed and tested (which are talked about in part II), so that may be the meat for some. the excerpts in the first part are for context for the rest of us.

i don't look at the world thru a theology lens, so i can't argue how good/bad his theological arguments are. however, as an outsider trying to understand how fundamentalism influences the world, and trying to understand some of the public figures that are strident fundamentalists, i find his perspective useful.

The Slavery of Death: Part 19, The Denial of Death

William Stringfellow: [The Powers] include all institutions, all ideologies, all images, all movements, all causes, all corporations, all bureaucracies, all traditions, all methods and routines, all conglomerates, all races, all nations, all idols.

Ernest Becker, in The Denial of Death:
…this is what a society is and always has been: a symbolic action system, a structure of statuses and roles, customs and rules for behavior, designed to serve as a vehicle for earthly heroism. .... It is still a mythical hero-system in which people serve in order to earn a feeling of primary value, of cosmic specialness, of ultimate usefulness to creation, of unshakable meaning. They earn this feeling by carving out a place in nature, by building an edifice that reflects human value: a temple, a cathedral, a totem pole, a skyscraper, a family that spans three generations. The hope and belief is that the things that man creates in society are of lasting worth and meaning, that they outlive or outshine death and decay, that man and his products count.


... [continued in Part II and III in separate comments] ...


9:40 am, March 02, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Part II
The Slavery of Death: Part 20, The Devil's Work

Ernest Becker's book The Denial of Death: "A key point in The Denial of Death is that self-esteem is involved in managing death anxiety."

According to Becker, the great tragedy of human existence is this. As noted above, our lives are experienced as "significant" because we create cultural hero systems. And yet, our hero system isn't the only one on offer. Every culture has its own values and goods, is its own hero system, that help define what a "meaningful" life looks like. This poses a problem. Our hero systems only "work" if we experience them as immune to death, as something eternal and timeless. In this, our hero systems are religious in nature. In fact, for most of us our hero system is our religion.

So when hero systems and the gods supporting them come into contact we experience an existential threat. The existence of other ways of life, other values, and other gods threatens to relativize our own values and god. That is, our "way of life" is found to be just one option among other options in the marketplace of worldviews. This shakes our confidence that our particular worldview is both true and eternal. If there are many gods how can I be sure my god is the one true god? Pressed further, how can I be sure that all of these gods aren't just figments of our imaginations to help us cope with our death anxiety? Suddenly we feel the existential floor open up beneath us.

In short, alternative hero systems--other values, gods, and ways of life--threaten to undo everything that has made our life feel significant, meaningful, and secure. The ideological Other, in posing an implicit critique of my hero system, threatens me to the core, attacks the very source of my self-esteem. And here's the deal. The ideological Other doesn't really have to do anything to us directly. Their mere existence is enough to threaten us. They represent, on the edges of our awareness, a dissenting voice. A group who doesn't bow to our god and, thus, calls all we hold dear into question.

So what do we do in the face of that threat? It's pretty simple. We demonize the Other. Rather than endure the existential discomfort it's easier to double-down on our worldview and to see the Others as malevolent agents. We aggress against the Other. In mild forms, we see the Other as confused or mistaken, a target for evangelism. More strongly, the Other is an enemy we have to forcibly eliminate.

According to Ernest Becker this, then, is the great tragedy of human existence: That which makes life worth living--our cultural hero system and the self-esteem it provides--is the very source of evil.


... [continued in Part III in separate comment] ...


9:40 am, March 02, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Slavery of Death: Part 22, Worldview Defense, Doubt, Love & the Rubbish of Self-Esteem

Given that our cultural worldviews, what Becker calls a hero system, prop up our self-esteem in the face of death we defend these worldviews from threat and critique. We generally do this by demonizing outgroup members. According to Becker this produces the great tragedy of human existence: That which supports my self-esteem--the cultural worldview--is the source of human evil.

This argument is no mere theory. The dynamics Becker describes have been documented in the laboratory. Researchers have worked Becker's theory into a research paradigm called Terror Management Theory (TMT) that has garnered significant empirical support.

Developed in the mid-1980s by Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski, TMT has focused on two key questions rooted in the work of Ernest Becker:

1. Why are people so intensely concerned with their self-esteem?

2. Why do people cling so tenaciously to their own cultural beliefs and have such a difficult time coexisting with others different than themselves?

We defend our worldview by siding with those who share our values and attacking those who do not, we display increased ingroup favoritism along with an increased tendency to denigrate outgroup members. And by engaging in these largely unconscious defensive processes we secure our cultural hero systems in the face of the existential threat posed by Otherness.

This is the source of human evil.

And empirical research backs up this conclusion. TMT studies have shown that, in the face of a death awareness prime, American participants denigrated non-Americans and Christians denigrated Jewish persons. In the face of death we lash out at these outgroup members to reap the solace found within our worldview, be that worldview based upon a nation or a god. And, more often than not, god and country are the very same things. In biblical language these are "principalities and powers" that keep us enslaved to sin due to our fear of death.

In many ways, you might say that the TMT research on worldview defense--denigrating outgroup members in the face of death--is how psychologists are studying demon possession in the laboratory.

from Peter Berger and Anton Zijderveld in their book In Praise of Doubt:
Sincere and consistent doubt is the source of tolerance.
Becker's assessment:

Men cannot abandon the heroic. If we say that the irrational or mystical is a part of human groping for transcendence, we do not give it any blanket approval. But groups of men can do what they have always done--argue about heroism, assess the costs of it, show that it is self-defeating, a fantasy, a dangerous illusion and not one that is life-enhancing and ennobling. As Paul Pruyser so well put it, "The great question is: If illusions are needed, how can we have those that are capable of correction, and how can we have those that will not deteriorate into delusions?" If men live in myths and not absolutes, there is nothing we can do or say about that. But we can argue for nondestructive myths...



9:43 am, March 02, 2012  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Hebrews 2:15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.

The freedom comes with opening to the silence of deep mind ...

Becker's problem, like so many others, is that he is locked into a Cartesian methodology; he allows for only one epistemology, a linear one, and the rest is 'irrational', when in fact the deep mind has a greater, polyvalent rationality.

While Becker's observations are acute, he mis-reads the tragedy: the tragedy is not that we are stuck in self-consciousness and illusions, but rather that even when we know there is an alternative—the work of silence— we refuse to listen, to open to the silence, to free-fall, as it were, in the love of God, which is inclusive. This is the true heroism, as the Saxon authors of 'The Dream of the Rood' understood only too well.

And yes, one of the marks of such a life is a healthy self-doubt and skepticism.

2:28 pm, March 02, 2012  

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