December 07, 2007


For first time visitors, this blog normally covers fairly serious topics during the week. Weekends are reserved for various animal commentators in and around Goat Rope Farm.

This week we a pleased to feature another Dharma talk by a cat. Our guest claims to have mastered a particularly austere form of Zen Buddhism. His formal name is Neko-Roshi, which is loosely translated from the Japanese as "Cat Master."

It is our hope that features such as this elevate the cultural discourse of our times and promote a greater appreciation of both the humanities and the animalities.


I have once again come to guide hapless humans to the path of Enlightenment. Perhaps you do not realize that felines are among the most advanced practitioners of the most excellent Dharma, devoting as we do some 20 hours a day to meditation.

Humans who cultivate wisdom, ethics, and compassion and venerate the glorious Feline Vehicle may hope to be reborn as cats.

As is the case with other schools of Buddhism, the Feline Vehicle is based upon compassion and the desire to liberate all beings from suffering. We especially desire to liberate little beings, such as birds, ground squirrels, mice, baby rabbits, some insects, lizards, and small snakes from endless suffering the the transitory realm of birth and death.

If we were bigger, we might even try to liberate you...

When we are bored, we even practice by trying to liberate strings, cat toys, and little objects we can bat around.

We have discovered through intense meditation that these small creatures suffer more intensely than others and when we liberate them--especially when we take our time and really enjoy it--they are immediately reborn in the Pure Land of endless bliss.

Not so for us. We have taken a sterner path and have taken the Bodhisattva vow that we will refrain from entering Nirvana until we have liberated all such little helpless beings. Or at least a whole lot of them.

Now I have but one favor to ask of you. Would you please tell the woman who lives in this house that it is very bad karma to keep me inside when there are dozens of hungry birds hopping around in the winter?



Caption: Venus the goat, left, is all about Adlerian psychology.

Aside from news and links about current events, this week Goat Rope is looking at one of psychology's lesser known Old Guys, Alfred Adler. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier posts.

As a psychologist as well as a Social Democrat, one of Adler's main ideas was about the importance of social interest or community feeling, so it's not surprising that he was also concerned about the need for social reform. He basically had a public health approach to psychology.

Living as he did during the rise of Nazism, he was aware of the dangers of prejudice:

Those who have travelled have found that people everywhere are approximately the same in that they are always inclined to find something by which to degrade others. Everyone seeks a means which permits him to elevate himself at little cost.

Economic hardships could make social hostilities increase:

Difficulties in earning a livelihood, bad working conditions, inadequate educational and cultural facilities, a joyless existence, and continuous irritation, all these factors increase the feeling of inferiority, produce oversensitivity, and drive the individual to seek "solutions." To an individual in this state of mind any outside interference appears as a threat to his security and rouses him to active or passive self-defense. Motives of hatred appear most clearly in the economic disturbances of our time.

War and group idolatry (my term, not his) were examples of how our natural tendency to social interest could be abused:

...the psychologist must work against nationalism when it is so poorly understood that it harms mankind as a whole; against wars of conquest, revenge, and prestige; against unemployment which plunges people into hopelessness; and against all other obstacles which interfere with the spreading of social interest in the family, the school, and society at large.

He also had an acute understanding of the pitfalls of power that echoes the ancient wisdom of Lao Tzu:

The struggle for power has a psychological aspect, the description of which appears to us today as an urgent duty. Even where the welfare of the subjugated is obviously intended, the use of even moderate power stimulates opposition everywhere, as far as we can see. Human nature generally answers external coercion with countercoercion. It seeks its satisfaction not in rewards for obedience and docility, but aims to prove that its own means of power are stronger.

The results of the application of power are apt to be disappointing to both parties. No blessing comes of the use of power. In power politics the man in power wins followers who are actually his opponents and who are only attracted by the intoxication of power. And he finds opponents among those who might be his followers if they had not automatically become oppositional. Those who are excluded from power line in wait for the revolt and are reception to any argument.

Adler probably isn't read or studied much these days--but maybe he should be.

RACIAL DISPARITIES persist in the criminal justice system.

THE MESSAGE. Here's an interview about communicating social issues with Thom Hartmann, author of Cracking the Code: The Art and Science of Political Persuasion.

DON'T WAIT FOR THE MOVIE. The CIA apparently destroyed videotapes of some "severe interrogation" sessions.

THEM BELLY FULL BUT WE HUNGRY. I almost missed this one. The USDA recently reported that 35.5 million Americans, including 12.6 million children, are having trouble meeting their basic need for food.

FULL COURT PRESS. The Manchin administration has joined Massey Energy in opposing federal court rulings about mountaintop removal mining that may limit the ability of coal companies to do whatever they want to.


December 06, 2007


Caption: There they are. Superiority is on the left.

Aside from news and links about current events, the theme for this week's Goat Rope is old school psychology and in particular about Freud's one time ally and later "rival," Alfred Adler. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier entries.

Adler may be best know for his concept of the inferiority complex, but ideas of inferiority and superiority are central to his work. Everyone comes into the world weak, helpless, and ignorant. Later life experiences, illnesses, and other struggles amplify this.

In Adler's view, a basic drive in human life is the attempt to move from a perceived "minus" or feeling of inferiority towards a superior, more positive, or more complete state. As he put it,

To be a human being means to possess a feeling of inferiority which constantly presses towards its own conquest...The greater the feeling of inferiority that has been experienced, the more powerful is the urge for conquest and the more violent the emotional agitation.

But that striving for superiority is or should be balanced by what he called "social interest." In Adler's view, humans are inherently social:

Fiercely besieged by nature and suffering from considerable physical weakness, man's intellect points him to that communal living. This process of association, itself the result of personal weakness and insecurity, indicates a precondition that must be met in every way just as does the will to live, as life itself, must tacitly be accepted: Man is a social being. Expressed differently: The human being and all his capabilities and forms of expression are inseparably linked to the existence of others, just as he is linked to cosmic facts and to the demands of this earth.

Adler, who was politically a Social Democrat, disagreed with Freud's view that there was an inherent conflict between individual and society. When it happened, this was a sign of neurosis or a misguided style of life.

Speaking of which, "style of life" is another major Adlerian term. He believed that everyone, more or less consciously (usually less) has a guiding goal or narrative (sometimes he called it a "fiction") that is followed throughout life, based on their own vision of superiority. People are not so much pushed by instincts and drives, as in Freud's view, as pulled by their final goal (Greek: telos):

Every individual acts and suffers in accordance with his peculiar teleology, which has all the inevitability of fate, so long as he does not understand it.

Treatment for him involved helping people rethink mistaken goals. This aspect of his teaching has led many to regard him as a grandfather of sorts to the current cognitive-behavioral approach to therapy which seems to have the best track record of bringing good results in a relatively short time.

O CANADA. El Cabrero finally got around to watching SiCKO, with its amusing contrasts between the US, French, Canadian, and British health care system. The latest snapshot from the Economic Policy Institute shows the Canadian system costs much less than ours and has better outcomes in terms of infant mortality and longevity.

IRAN. Here's Robert Scheer on Bush's latest Iran contortions.

UNLEASHING CAPITALISM? Perry Mann says "No, thanks" in this op-ed.

THINK KIDS GROW UP FAST THESE DAYS? The Neanderthals were probably quicker.

OH POO--it could be the key to the diversity of life. No #($*.


December 05, 2007


Caption: Psychologist Alfred Adler, by way of wikipedia.

Welcome to Goat Rope. This week it's old school psychology with a heavy dose of current events and commentary.

When the early history of psychoanalysis is discussed, three names are usually front and center: Freud, Jung and Adler. While Freud and Jung still have large popular (not to say cult) followings, Adler (1870-1937) is by far the least known. Ironically, his work can be seen as a forerunner of the current cognitive behavioral approach to psychology and psychotherapy.

Adler was a Viennese physician who was an early collaborator of Freud's. The relationship continued for around 10 years, with Adler eventually serving as president of the Viennese Psychoanalytic Society. However, Adler wasn't shy about developing his own ideas and Sig was never a great celebrator of theoretical diversity, and the two parted ways in 1911.

Adler was nowhere near as sexy as Freud, whether you take that literally or metaphorically, or as occultish as Jung. His basic idea was that people try to move from a perceived negative state to a positive, more complete situation as they understand it and that the best way to do this includes relating productively to other people. He called these striving for superiority and social interest, about which more tomorrow.

LABOR'S LEGACY. Here's a good op-ed from down Florida way that appreciates labor's legacy for all Americans.

FROM THE WEST COAST, here's a good item reminding us that markets are not God.

COMING HOME? A disproportionate number of homeless people are veterans, according to this study.

POST HOC, ERGO PROPTER HOC. Here's an item in praise of Latin which also notes how many things have gone south since its study declined. El Cabrero is thinking of taking up Latin if I ever get anywhere with Greek.

JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT IT WAS SAVE TO GET BACK IN THE PREHISTORIC WATER, a pretty nasty new one has just been found. You can count on Goat Rope to keep you up to date with dinosaurs and other things that happened millions of years ago. We might get behind on other stuff.


December 04, 2007


Caption: RX Sig. A prescription written by Freud himself. His contemporaries probably couldn't read it either.

Aside from links and comments about current events, the theme for this week's Goat Rope is psychology.

El Cabrero can still remember stumbling onto the subject in high school through the writings of Sigmund Freud and C. G. Jung (I can't remember which came first). At the time, I found the text and pictures of Jung et al's Man and His Symbols intoxicating with all the talk about the collective unconscious and its archetypes.

And as for Sig, after plowing through The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, nothing ever looked the same. That was the work where he discussed what we now call "Freudian" slips of the tongue, mistaken actions, "forgetting," and other actions in which unconscious thoughts and emotions expressed themselves.

If you read about the early history of the psychoanalytic movement, three names are prominent. Aside from Sig and Jung, the Other Guy was Alfred Adler, who is by far the least known. Ironically, Adler's ideas have probably held up better in psychological circles than either of the others. He can be viewed as one of the grandparents of contemporary cognitive psychology and related forms of therapy.

I became interested enough to give Adler a whirl recently after discovering that his approach to psychology is an influence in my daughter La Cabrita's graduate psychology program. Goat Rope verdict: Dude ain't bad.

More about Adler tomorrow--same Bat time, same Bat channel.

WILL IT MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE? US intelligence agencies say that Iran abandoned its quest for nuclear weapons years ago. But then this administration has never allowed facts to get in the way of an unnecessary war.

A NICE IDEA.Bush administration cutbacks in veterans' services have made it hard for some vets to call home when they receive treatment at VA facilities. Veterans for Peace is urging people to buy phone cards for veterans this holiday season.

STOP THE PRESSES. Chimpanzees are better at math than you may think.

FIGHTING FOR SICK DAYS. Allied groups yesterday announced a drive to require paid sick days for workers at WV businesses employing 25 or more people. SEIU is taking the lead, but many other organizations have signed on as well.

WV ONES TO WATCH. A lot of other economic justice issues are percolating in El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia these days. Here's an AP item by Lawrence Messina about concerns over the privatization of the workers' compensation system. Also, on a positive note, an interim legislative committee has supported what labor supporters call the Worker Freedom Bill, which would prohibit employers from requiring workers to attend meetings where they pusy their views on unions, religion, or politics.

PITFALLS OF PERFECTIONISM. Speaking of psychology, this one from the NY Times is interesting.

ON A RELATED NOTE, a mental health study of Katrina survivors finds it has a continuing impact.


December 03, 2007


Photo credit: Dave Hogg, courtesy of EveryStockPhoto.

It used to be a joke that every college freshperson wanted to be a psychology major. That is the age when people are trying, generally with very limited success, to figure out themselves and other people.

El Cabrero fit that pattern back in the previous geological age. I had somehow stumbled on to Freud, Jung, and Nietzsche in high school and imagined that psychology classes would be that cool.

Would that it were so.

To my horror, I seemed to have stumbled in to a den of behaviorists. If there is one ideology I like even less than Stalinism or economic libertarianism, it's gotta be behaviorism.

I would probably have a lot less trouble learning that a good friend was a cannibal than I would to learn that he or she was a fan of B. F. Skinner. Actually, that happened recently and I'm still trying to deal with it.

Clarification: by behaviorism, I don't mean attempting to study behavior in measurable ways. That's fine. I mean metaphysical behaviorism, where people pretend that there's no such thing as conscious or unconscious mental activity and that we're all balls of stimulus response conditioning.

I remember some professors ridiculing the idea of consciousness, mind, and similar ideas and thinking "These people are idiots."

It seems to me the height of loopiness for beings who are only aware of the world through their own consciousness to deny that it exists. And I think there's something evil about reductionism, the attempt to reduce the complexity of human life to any simple deterministic factor, whether it's conditioning, genes, economics, "rational choice," etc. We're way too messy for that. Sometimes I wish we weren't.

As Dmitri Karamazov said in Dostoevsky's classic novel,

Yes, man is broad, too broad. I’d have him narrower. The devil knows what to make of it!

That was the end of my psych major.

Fortunately, it appears that the discipline has recovered from this mental disorder, thanks in part to research from many quarters, including brain science, evolution, ethology, etc., not to mention common sense.

SHOCKING IRAQ. Here's a video segment of Keith Olbermann discussing the application of the "shock doctrine" in Iraq with Naomi Klein.

TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS. Corporate lobbyists, nervous about 2008, are pressing to grab all they can in the months ahead.

MINE SAFETY then and now, courtesy of the Gazette's Ken Ward.

TWISTS AND TURNS. There have been some strange developments in the Megan Williams case lately. First, the WV Attorney General Darrell McGraw's office declined a request of the Logan County prosecutor to offer an opinion on pressing hate crimes charges in the case. Then the AG expressed a desire to take over the the case. Both moves were not well received by prosecutor Brian Abraham.