September 01, 2017

Restating the Obvious, Briefly

Certain themes of critical importance have been constants in my writing here, in some cases for more than a decade. (See the two collections of Alice Miller essays discussed in this post, for many examples.) One of those themes is captured very accurately in the title of an essay from five years ago that I once again draw to your attention: "The Infinite Human Capacity to Deny the Obvious."

I was reminded of that article because I recently read still another piece by a well-known "antiwar" writer bemoaning the fact that U.S. policy in Afghanistan has been a miserable failure. Not only that: it's been a miserable failure for 16 years! (The particular article and the specific writer are of no consequence, but I'll probably address a few aspects of this category of analysis in the next few weeks, using that and other examples.)

To call U.S. policy in Afghanistan a failure is, of course, unutterably wrong. Whenever you hear someone peddling this line, you can quickly and safely move along to find an analyst who actually knows what he's talking about. In my article from five years ago linked above, I discuss Robert Higgs and what I call The Higgs Principle. Here is that Principle, direct from Mr. Higgs himself:
As a general rule for understanding public policies, I insist that there are no persistent "failed" policies. Policies that do not achieve their desired outcomes for the actual powers-that-be are quickly changed. If you want to know why the U.S. policies have been what they have been for the past sixty years, you need only comply with that invaluable rule of inquiry in politics: follow the money.
There is more Higgs in the earlier post. There is also some analysis of my own which is, dare I say it, excellent. Hell, it's fabulous. Seriously: I hadn't read that post in several years. I was impressed. Haha.

If U.S. policy in Afghanistan were truly a failure -- a failure, that is, to the actual powers-that-be -- it would have been changed in five years at the outside, and probably sooner. The fact that it has not changed, certainly not in terms of essentials, means that the powers-that-be are achieving precisely what they want. In addition to the benefits identified by Higgs, there is one additional over-arching goal that the damnable powers-that-be share, and believe in to the core of their putrid, twisted little hearts: that the United States is entitled to and must have geopolitical dominance.

If you have a few spare minutes, look at Afghanistan on a map. It's right smack in the middle of everything. Consequently, it's of enormous strategic importance. As a very nice additional benefit, one especially appreciated by the endlessly greedy, grasping powers-that-be, it happens to be sitting on very valuable natural resources. So what if lots of innocent people die? So what if the country is a wreck in terms of an independent, functioning government? What makes you think the powers-that-be actually want an independent, functioning government? They didn't want one in Iraq, and they don't want one in Afghanistan. (And they have never wanted independent, functioning governments in all the other countries in which the U.S. has intervened over many decades, openly or covertly.) More troops for Afghanistan? That doesn't mean that U.S policy is a failure. It signifies that the U.S. is more than ever committed to its policy of dominance and control over as much of the world as possible. We will not be leaving Afghanistan, or the Middle East (or Africa, or Asia, or or or...) anytime soon.

I don't consider this a subtle point. If one examines and judges all the available evidence, the truth of The Higgs Principle is overwhelming. I think one of the more interesting questions is why so many "antiwar" and "dissenting" writers -- many of whom are unusually smart and entirely capable of grasping this argument -- continue to offer the "failure" line. That's one of the questions I've wanted to address for some time, and I plan to get to it soon -- not in terms of offering pointless conjecture above the psychology of any particular individual, but with regard to the broader cultural forces in play.

The importance of The Higgs Principle cannot be overstated. It's one of those identifications that sweeps away reams of incomplete, frustratingly wrongly-focused analysis, and allows one to see what's transpiring with far greater clarity. So, to be continued ...

***************

We're broiling in Los Angeles. It was over 100 yesterday and will be over 100 again today. Then it will be in the 90s and high 80s through all of next week. I'm having an awful time.

In response to my donation post yesterday, I've received seven donations, totaling about one-third of what I need. Most of those donations are from old friends and supporters -- thank you, folks! Bless you all. Because of the holiday weekend, I need to gather $300-$400 more today, if I'm going to be able to pay the rent next Tuesday. (Monday is a bank holiday, and it takes a couple of days to process donations through the accounts involved.) If I can't pay the rent Tuesday, it won't be the end of the world, but it won't be exactly helpful, either. Also, there's that electric bill sitting out there still ... and food would be nice.

Please help if you can! I put together the post above because that issue was annoying me, and I wanted to point people to that past article of mine. Good stuff there! And I wanted to reassure potential donors that I can still put words together and make actual sentences.

It's just past 7 AM, and I'm already sweating. So now I think I'll go back to bed. Sasha is keeping me constant company through our ordeal. I can't express what a relief it is that she's better. Sasha is getting better, and I can still write. Maybe we're not doomed! Hell, there are still far too many goddamned bastards to deal with. No time for quitting now.

And pray for cool weather! Christ...

August 31, 2017

Very Sick, and Scared

I'm very sorry for my absence, and I'm especially sorry that I haven't been able to continue with my writing. But I'm terribly sick right now. It's probably most likely that my health problems are the result of worsening heart disease; since I don't have the benefit of ongoing medical care, I can't know for certain. The result is that I'm able to do less and less, even within the confines of my small apartment. If my condition becomes substantially worse, it's unclear if I'll even be able to take care of myself on the most basic level. I try not to think about that, and hope that I'll improve, at least a little.

It will help when this cursed heat wave ends. We had a couple of weeks of mercifully cooler weather, but the heat wave that began several days ago will last until next week. It's truly brutal. I'm able to get out of bed only a couple of hours a day.

And just like that, the end of the month is here again. I have about a third of what I need for rent and a few other first of the month bills. This time, I also have a $92 electric bill due; I've already gotten an extension on it, so it has to be paid next week. About a thousand dollars would soothe the savage debt beast -- not that much at all in the scheme of things, but a fortune to me at the moment. If I'm not able to pay the rent by Tuesday of next week ... the prospect of homelessness, given my health, terrifies me. If I'm barely able to survive in an apartment, I wouldn't stand a chance on the street.

I hope cooler weather returns soon, and that I'm able to get a bit stronger. I continue to make lots of notes for essays I've started and articles I'd like to write -- particular points I want to make, a nice phrase or two that occurs to me -- but I can't write for sustained periods of time, which is what I require. I desperately hope all that comes back to me in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, if you are able to contribute toward my very basic living expenses, I guarantee you a very cool place in heaven. (If you are one of those odd and strange people who actively enjoys very hot weather, I don't know what to say, other than to observe that you're weird, dude.) I offer my deep thanks to all those who make donations. Sasha is very grateful, too. Miraculously, Sasha seems okay now -- none of her symptoms has returned, and she's eating well. She's still too thin, but she's holding steady. One blessed beam of light in the midst of darkening calamity.

All my thanks for your patience and attention, and for your help.

August 02, 2017

We're Still Here

This will have to be brief. I'm in horrible shape physically, and we're in the midst of another awful hot spell. This has been a very hot summer; as regular readers know, the heat in combination with certain of my symptoms is especially terrible. (I live in a second-floor, non-airconditioned apartment, which makes the heat worse.)

But in the midst of the horrible, scary stuff, there are two pieces of good news. First: Sasha seems to be getting better! After seven months of Sasha appearing to slip away for good, several of her symptoms have gone away. She's stronger, and she's eating (fairly) regularly. Maybe all of those cuddle/loving/meditation sessions we spent together had some effect. Since we don't know what was wrong in the first place, we don't know what's changed. But she's better. I can't tell you what joy that brings me. Sasha is still not nearly as strong as I would like, and she still doesn't eat as much as I would prefer. For the moment, though, the downward slide has been arrested, and even reversed to some extent.

And I'm writing again. I'm at work on three new essays, including a lengthy one explaining my own view of the Age of Trump. Since I have yet to see anyone else say what I think needs to be understood about this particular phase of the decline of American Empire, I very much want to complete it and get it out there as soon as I can. The heat has slowed me down a lot for now, but I should be back to the writing in a few days. So some new pieces should be appearing, beginning next week.

Please allow me to offer my profound gratitude to all those who have donated in the last few months. And please allow me to apologize for the lack of thank-you notes. I sent out some notes of thanks two months ago or so, but I've been bedridden for most of the summer so far, unable to do much of anything (including getting out of bed). I was late with the June rent, but I managed to work that out with the landlord without tremendous difficulty, although it was a delicate operation in certain respects.

I just paid the August rent, along with a few monthly bills. This has left me close to broke again. I don't have any money for food, or for a few bills due next week (including the bill for internet service). A few hundred dollars would allow me to get through this next brief period of time, during which I can publish some new articles. Once I'm back to publishing, we can see where we are and go from there. That, at least, is my plan (such as it is) for now.

So, terrible physical health, poverty, and unbearable heat on the one hand; a miraculously recovering Sasha (aka The Most Wonderful Girl in the World), and a return to writing on the other. It could be worse, and I am painfully aware that for many people it is. Still, a few glimmers of hope can carry you a long way.

Many, many thanks for your interest and support. If you are able to help us through this next period, Sasha and I will be forever grateful.

June 02, 2017

Rising Panic

I offer my deep thanks to the 11 people who made donations in response to my post the other day. Except for two people whose names are new to me, the donors are all long-time supporters of the blog. It's difficult to find words to adequately express my gratitude to all those who have regularly and repeatedly helped me and my writing over the years. And great thanks to the new donors, too!

Unfortunately, I'm still $700 short of what I need to pay the bills due next week, the most critical of which is obviously rent. The $700 figure includes about $50 for food, which I'll run out of in several days. I won't run out of food for Sasha, even though she's not interested in most of it on many days. The supply of cat food will last for a couple of weeks, at least. And yesterday, after trying four other kinds of food, I finally found something that seemed to please her. She still didn't eat nearly enough, but she ate some of it.

The $700 represents survival for me. $700. Hardly a huge amount of money. I have to admit that, when I consider the ungraspable amounts of money sloshing around this rotten, corrupt, nauseating country -- and when I continually read of people of dubious character and questionable motives raising tens of thousands of dollars for God knows what in a matter of days -- my own predicament fills me with rage. My primary concern over the last decade of writing has been to foster empathy and compassion for the innocent victims of cruelty and brutality, through an understanding of (among other things) the roots of the cruelty and brutality that are tragically so common in our world at present.

And for this, my reward will be to see the end of my life because I was unable to raise less than a thousand dollars. I've explained before that the new owners of my building (new as of a few years ago) have plans to demolish this building and the one next to it, so they can erect a new apartment building that will, as is now the practice in Los Angeles and other cities, charge rents that will be unaffordable for me and many others. When they evict tenants for purposes of demolition, the owners are legally obligated to pay tenants for the expenses of relocation. In my case, they will have to pay me around $20,000. If they can get rid of me and avoid that payment, they will be more than happy to do so. Non-payment of rent provides the perfect opportunity.

And make no mistake: if I were to be evicted now, without the benefit of that $20,000, my life would essentially be over. How could I possibly afford to move -- and where could I move without any funds for the required payment for a new apartment? I'd be homeless, as would Sasha, assuming she is still with us at that point. Perhaps a friend will take Sasha in, although I doubt that even a friend would be eager to assume responsibility for a cat who is very, very sick. Sasha's days are almost certainly numbered now, no matter what happens.

And given my own serious health problems, I couldn't possibly survive homelessness. I suppose that's a relief in one way. I'd be dead in short order. It sickens me, in multiple ways, that my death can be all but guaranteed for less than what many people would spend in a single evening on the town -- or for less than the price of one ticket to "Hamilton."

It's horrible to think about. Let's not permit the fuckers to win this one. If you can and are of a mind to help, I would be profoundly grateful. I still have this nagging conviction that my work here is not done yet. I need to get back to it, and I'm trying to do just that. But I can't do it without your help.

Many, many thanks, as always.

May 31, 2017

No Title

A few days ago, we acknowledged yet another Memorial Day. In connection with that tragic and deeply regrettable tradition, I can refer you to two essays of mine which I would rank among my best efforts. There is "Against Annihilation of the Spirit: Let Us All Become Cowards ," from ten years ago. It is awful to note that, with regard to its major themes, that essay is as timely today as it was in 2007. More recently, there is "If You Love Martyrs So Much, Then You Be One."

The second article wasn't written on the occasion of Memorial Day, but it deals with many of the same issues. It also expands on the discussion of The Americanization of Emily included in the "Cowards" piece. The major impetus for the "Martyrs" article was my fury at the reaction of many of Chelsea Manning's "supporters" to her "apology." I felt it vitally important to explain to Manning's critics how profoundly, horribly wrong they were -- and to refocus the commentary about Manning on the genuine, unique nobility of her actions. I wrote that piece shortly before Manning announced her chosen identity, and her new name. So my essay refers to "Bradley Manning" and "he"; that's the way I originally wrote it, so I've left it that way, for now at least.

Briefly looking over those two articles, I'm reminded -- and am arrogant enough to state -- that I've done some remarkably good and demanding work here. I would love nothing more than to be able to do more work of that kind, or work even half as good. Every week, and usually four or five times a week, I try to get some work done. Life, and the serious problems that sometimes attend it, continue to get in the way.

Sasha and I are both struggling right now, somewhat desperately much of the time. We're both in very bad shape. We spend most of our time sleeping and resting, conserving our strength, as close to non-existent as it is at the moment. Neither of us eats nearly enough; when you're very sick, food is astonishingly unappealing.

I've been briefly jolted out of my semi-comatose state by the realization that the end of the month has arrived, still one more time. Then I was struck by terror, when I realized that I'm close to completely broke. I had a small cushion -- but one more trip to the vet for Sasha and some medication for her took care of that. So, yes, almost completely broke.

So I have almost nothing for rent and several other monthly bills that will be due in the next week, including the one for internet service. Since I have no other source of income, I must ask for donations yet again. I'm deeply sorry I have no new writing to offer you -- but I still have hope that I will, preferably in the near future. I continue to be infuriated that I see no one making certain arguments about the Reign of Trump and, significantly, the reactions to Trump (notably by many "dissenting" writers) that I view as of singular significance. So there is a voice calling to me to fill the void that I perceive.

I've mentioned before that I have a primal fear of homelessness. If I'm unable to pay the rent by Monday of next week, very, very bad trouble will ensue. If I were to be evicted ... well, I don't see any future for me of any kind after that. If you are able to make a donation, I will once more be deeply in your debt and forever grateful. Since I've barely been able to function at all this past month, I've been unable to send more thank you notes to donors. I will try to get back to that very soon, but please understand that I'm only able to work at the computer for an hour or two at a time -- and even then, I can do very little at the moment. But this can't last forever. Right? Right?! Dear God, let this misery lift from this very sad home.

Thank you for reading and for your kindness. Please send some good thoughts our way. Now, Sasha and I will return to bed, to cuddle and to comfort each other.

May 01, 2017

Among the Worst of Times

I'm sorry for the lack of writing over the last month. It's been a horrible time and, unfortunately, the horrible time continues. I'd forgotten how emotionally draining and time-consuming it is to take care of an ailing cat. (Of course, I remember in general all too well how exhausting and awful tending a dying cat is -- but once past the event, many of the specific details fade from memory. And I'd forgotten just how exhausting it is. Then, too, there are times when I collapse sobbing. Grief is profoundly tiring.) And then, with all my own rotten health problems on top of that, well ...

Sasha and I have a birthday this Friday, May 5. It's my actual birthday; Sasha's origins remain a mystery -- since I have no idea when she was born, when she came to live here I decided we'd share a birthday together. In recent weeks, I hadn't been at all sure we would both make it to the 5th this year -- I think now that we will, although I doubt the current situation can go on much longer after that.

God, that's all horribly depressing. It's what's happening here. I still desperately want to get back to writing. I'm forever making notes, and I try to do some actual writing every day. It's almost impossible at the moment to have the kind of sustained, uninterrupted time I need to get anywhere. Sasha needs something; I have to lie down for a while; sometimes Sasha and I need some cuddling time. I'll keep trying; hopefully, some day soon, I'll break through.

It's the first of the month again; once again, sad to say, I'm about $500 short of what I need for the first half of the month bills. And I should pay the rent by Friday of this week if it's not going to be late; if the rent were late, much unpleasantness would follow. I would be deeply grateful for any contributions readers care to make to our efforts to survive this very, very bad time.

I am actually sending out thank you notes. I'll get to everyone eventually; please be patient if you haven't received a note from me yet. These days, everything takes me far longer than I anticipate. Getting old and sick genuinely sucks. I recommend that you avoid it as long as possible.

As always, many thanks for reading -- and all my gratitude for your many kindnesses.

April 01, 2017

Some Help, Please

I had promised myself that I wouldn't do another donation post until I had published at least one new, substantial article. I did that earlier today. I'm fairly satisfied with it, although, as with most of my writing, I'm forever seeing things that I wish I had done more elegantly, or more wittily, or just better. Writing that piece did establish one fact for me, which appears to now be unchangeable: it takes me considerably longer to put together an article than it did even a few years ago. Very rotten health and a continuing collection of symptoms of varying discomfort and pain will do that to you.

In any case, I'm beginning to get back in the groove, and I plan to begin the next essay in that series later today or tomorrow. I truly do enjoy the writing itself, and it's a wonderful distraction from the various problems infesting my life, including the questions surrounding Sasha's health. Sasha and I both have bad days and somewhat better days; neither of us appears to have a genuinely good day at this point. But we adore each other's company, and give each other lots of love. If this is the best available to us at this point, I'll take it, for as long as it lasts.

But criminy, it's the first of the month again. And no, regrettably this is not an April Fool's post. This is in deadly earnest. I'm about $600.00 short of what I need for rent and three other first of the month (roughly speaking) bills, including one for internet service. (I suppose it's more like $700.00, if you include incidentals like food -- not for Sasha, I have tons of food for her, if only she would eat more of it, but food for me when current supplies run out.)

I have until Wednesday of this coming week to pay the rent before it's officially late. After that ... well, possibly very bad trouble. So I need to get together whatever I can by Monday or Tuesday, to make sure the landlord has it on Wednesday, if at all possible.

I'm still in the process of sending out thank you notes to those who have made donations in the last month or two. As I indicated, it takes me much longer to do anything these days, including sending notes expressing my enormous gratitude to those who have been so kind and generous. So if you haven't heard from me yet, please be patient. You'll be getting a note from me in the next week or so. (I realize I now need to give myself a little more leeway with these deadlines. Unfortunately, my landlord and other creditors are not of so kindly a nature.)

In the meantime, if there are some of you who could spare some funds, in whatever amount, I could desperately use some assistance. It would be too cruel if, just as I'm finally ready to do some writing on a regular basis once more, I were forced to deal with the possibility of eviction. I will not have my life turned into a Charles Dickens novel, goddammit!

As always, my deepest thanks for your attention, and for the many kindnesses that you have shown me. I shall forever be grateful.

Land of Nightmares

Almost 30 years ago, a film was released that told an unusual and powerful story about the consequences of child abuse. The protagonist was a man whose father was already in his mid-fifties when his only son was born. The father had desperately wanted to play baseball professionally, but he failed dismally in that effort. For the rest of his life, baseball remained his one great passion, and he tried to mold his son into becoming the player he never could be himself. He talked endlessly about baseball, and he made his son practice all the time. The father never tried to help his son identify what the son's own special passion might be; his son never existed for him as a separate, unique person, whose individuality should be cherished and nurtured. The son grew increasingly resentful and angry about his father's efforts at controlling and manipulating him, and he finally left home.

Later, the son married and had a daughter. He and his family bought a farm in Iowa and struggled to make the farm a successful business. They never did have much success, and were barely able to get by. The son still carried with him his resentment and anger toward his father; he felt a void within himself, and he still sought to find the father's love that he had been denied. In his misguided efforts to find that love, he engaged in one crazy scheme after another. He finally lost all the family's money; as a result, the family lost the farm.

The film doesn't show us what happened to the family after they lost their home, but it's made clear that their future was most likely a bleak one. The marriage probably didn't last; the wife had shown remarkable patience with her husband and his schemes, but even her patience had limits. And we saw how the son reenacted his tragedy with his father with his own daughter. He talked endlessly to his daughter about baseball, just as his father had talked to him. We never have the sense that the son sees his daughter as an independent, unique person entitled to find her own path in life. His daughter will probably end up resenting her father just as her father resented his.

It's a dismal, depressing movie. But it very accurately shows a tragically common pattern of child abuse, and how that pattern is carried from one generation into the next.

Because it is so truthful, and because it brightly illuminates a subject that is usually left in shadows, when it is not ignored entirely, the film I just described never got made. Instead, we were treated to a grossly sentimentalized, fundamentally dishonest movie, one which many of you have probably seen. "Field of Dreams" was very successful and received many glowing reviews. It also received three Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Writing (adaptation).

Many people find it a sweet and emotionally involving film; many viewers describe how they were moved to tears. Magical thinking has a great attraction for us; this is never more true than with regard to our parents. That is where the first injury occurs; most of us never fully recover from it, and we carry the injury with us for the rest of our lives. I confess that I myself thought of "Field of Dreams" with considerable fondness for a long time. It was not until I watched it again recently that I grasped the huge lie at the center of the film. Even then, I had to watch it again to be certain that my new analysis was correct. I felt I was being too tough in my judgment. As I said, magical thinking will get you every time, if you give it half a chance.

You may recall the central conceit of the film. Kevin Costner plays Ray Kinsella, the Iowa farmer. He hears a voice, which tells him: "If you build it, he will come." The voice later says more: "Ease his pain." And: "Go the distance." Ray is convinced that he should build a baseball field where he is growing corn, the crop which he sells to make a living. So he plows under much of his cornfield and builds the field. The threat of foreclosure and eviction from the farm increases as the film progresses. At the same time, more and more ballplayers -- all dead ones, mind you -- turn up to play on Ray's field. The first is Shoeless Joe Jackson (who had been Ray's father's special hero), followed by the rest of the Chicago Black Sox Eight, eventually followed by still more dead players. And then, at the film's conclusion, Ray's father shows up.

At first, Ray had thought the "he" in "he will come" referred to Shoeless Joe, but we now understand that the "he" is Ray's father. As the film ends, Ray and his father reach a perfect understanding -- just as a huge line of cars approaches the baseball field. These are all the people who don't know why they are going there, but the film tells us that they are drawn to the field as the place where dreams come true, a true heaven on earth. And Ray will charge each of this huge number of visitors $20.00 for the privilege of temporarily visiting heaven. Redemption, reconciliation with dead parents, and financial security, all in one fell swoop. That's magic for you. It sure as hell isn't life, not if we are at all honest.

While "Field of Dreams" is not remotely truthful about the nature of child abuse, it does provide one valuable service: it shows very clearly how we lie to ourselves about child abuse, and how we cover it up. More than that, it shows how the truth about child abuse is inverted -- so that the burden and responsibility of understanding and resolving all the complex problems caused by child abuse become the child's, and not the parent's. The parent is entirely innocent; it is the child's responsibility to understand and comfort the parent ("Ease his pain."). Let's consider how the film conveys this message, a message which our culture communicates to us via a wide array of "experts" and also by the majority of laypeople generally.

The film's opening narration tells us some basic facts: Ray's father was born in 1896. He played a little bit in the minor leagues, but nothing ever came of it. He moved to Brooklyn in 1935, and married Ray's mother in 1938. "He was already an old man when I was born in 1952." Ray says:
Mom died when I was three, and I suppose dad did the best he could. Instead of Mother Goose, I was put to bed at night with stories of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and the great Shoeless Joe Jackson. Dad was a Yankees fan then, so of course I rooted for Brooklyn. But in '58, the Dodgers moved away, so we had to find other things to fight about. We did. And when it came time to go to college, I picked the farthest one from home I could find [which was Berkeley]. This of course drove him right up the wall which, I suppose, was the point.
Note the critical omission: "so of course I rooted for Brooklyn." But many children root for their father's (or mother's) team. Why did Ray deliberately choose to root for the Dodgers, instead of the Yankees? And then: "we had to find other things to fight about." Why were they constantly battling with each other? What had happened?

A bit later in the film, Ray tells us more about his view of his father:
I'm 36 years old. I have a wife, a child, and a mortgage, and I'm scared to death I'm turning into my father. ... I never forgave him for getting old. By the time he was as old as I am now, he was ancient. I mean, he must have had dreams, but he never did anything about them. For all I know, he may have even heard voices too, but he sure didn't listen to them. The man never did one spontaneous thing in all the years I knew him. I'm afraid of that happening to me, and something tells me that this may be my last chance to do something about it.
To be certain he doesn't become his father, Ray is determined to build the baseball field, even if it means losing his family's home.

Still later, Ray is talking to Terence Mann, a J.D. Salinger-like writer who was widely acclaimed in the 1960s, but who later became a recluse:
RAY: [My dad] never made it as a ballplayer, so he tried to get his son to make it for him. By the time I was 10, playing baseball got to be like eating vegetables or taking out the garbage. So when I was 14, I started to refuse. Can you believe that? An American boy refusing to have a catch with his father ... I never played catch with him again. ... Anyway, when I was 17, I packed my things, said something awful, and left. After a while, I wanted to come home but I didn't know how. Made it back for the funeral, though. ...

MANN: What was the awful thing you said to your father?

RAY: I said I could never respect a man whose hero was a criminal.

MANN: Who was his hero?

RAY: Shoeless Joe Jackson.

MANN: You knew he wasn't a criminal. [Ray nods in agreement. The film is very insistent on Shoeless Joe's innocence. Even though he took a bribe, we are told that no one could ever prove that Jackson had done anything to deliberately throw a game. Although I am not overly familiar with the details of this historical episode, I don't have the impression that Jackson's innocence is all that clear. And there is no dispute that he did take the bribe.] Then why did you say it?

RAY: I was 17. The son of a bitch died before I could take it back. Before I could tell him ... you know. He never met my wife. He never saw his granddaughter.

MANN: This is your penance.

RAY: I know. I can't bring my father back.

MANN: So the least you can do is bring back his hero.
The key is in this snippet of dialogue: "[My dad] never made it as a ballplayer, so he tried to get his son to make it for him. By the time I was 10, playing baseball got to be like eating vegetables or taking out the garbage. So when I was 14, I started to refuse. Can you believe that? An American boy refusing to have a catch with his father ..." In a few brief lines, we learn that Ray's father "tried to get his son to make it for him" as a ballplayer -- that is, his father never encouraged his son to pursue his own interests and passions, or even allowed him the space to discover what those interests and passions might be. His father would use his son to redeem his own failure, and transform it into success. To whatever extent a child has an independent and vital sense of self, he will bitterly resent manipulation and control of this kind. Resentment and anger are healthy reactions to parental cruelty of this kind -- and cruelty is precisely what it is.

But then, we are immediately told: "I started to refuse. Can you believe that? An American boy refusing to have a catch with his father ..." The father's manipulation and cruelty, and the disastrous consequences to which they lead, consequences which will shape Ray's adult life in significant part, are all ignored -- and it has become the child's fault and responsibility. He refused to play catch with his father; he rejected his father or, to be more precise, he rejected his father's efforts at controlling and directing his life. But Ray was absolutely wrong to do that.

We know that he was wrong according to the filmmaker's catechism, because the ultimate payoff is that his father finally comes to Ray's field to play baseball. His father is the "he" in: "If you build it, he will come." In the final scene, Ray and his wife, Annie, chat with Ray's dad (who is now a young man again):
RAY: It's my father. "Ease his pain."

ANNIE: "Go the distance."

RAY: My God. I only saw him years later, when he was worn down by life. Look at him. He's got his whole life in front of him, and I'm not even a glint in his eye. What do I say to him? ...

DAD: It's so beautiful here. For me, well, for me it's like a dream come true. Can I ask you something? Is, is this heaven?

RAY: It's Iowa.

DAD: Iowa?

RAY: Yeah.

DAD: I could have sworn it was heaven.

RAY: Is, is there a heaven?

DAD: Oh, yeah. It's the place dreams come true.

RAY: Maybe this is heaven. ... Hey, Dad? You want to have a catch?

DAD: I'd like that.
As Ray and his dad have a catch, and all wounds are forever healed, we see the throngs of people coming to Ray's baseball field, to visit the place where dreams come true. And at 20 bucks a pop, Ray and his family won't only be able to keep their farm. They'll be rich! Hell, yeah! America!!

This is truly godawful stuff. I wouldn't object to the film as strenuously as I do if it were merely a minor film, seen by few people, a movie which gave its viewers the opportunity for a good cry (even if it is a cry arising out of a fundamentally false scenario). But "Field of Dreams" was enormously successful, seen by a great many people, and it is widely regarded as correct in its depiction of the relationships between parents and children. Don't take my word for it. Look at what two reviewers said. Reviewer One:
“Field of Dreams” is a fairly talky, convoluted film, for all its iconic baseball diamond images. It’s the perfect family pick for you and your teenagers and tweens – not to mention grandparents – on an off night during the Rockies’ World Series run. And you won’t find a better film to clue your children into how important their parents will seem to them as they grow older. Is it a shameless way to tell your kids to show a little love? Yes, and it will probably work.
Reviewer Two:
Robinson`s film looks back on a lost father figure from the perspective of guilty adulthood, trying to reclaim the dad who disappeared, or was actively denied, during the process of growing up.
So our "kids" should "show a little love" to their parents? What about the parents showing a little love to their children? Oh for Christ's sake, most people will object. Parents always love their children. Everyone knows that parents always love their children.

That claim may be true, but only in terms of gross sentimentality, identical to the damaging and destructive sentimentality that suffuses "Field of Dreams." True, most parents don't actively set out to systematically damage their children. They reenact the patterns of behavior they learned from their own parents. And like their own parents, they are incapable of seeing and treating their children as inviolable, independent persons -- persons who are entitled to find their own way, and their own passion. Demanding that one's child be used to fulfill the parent's denied dreams means that the parent denies the child's claim to his own soul, and to a life that belongs to him and no one else. In the film, Ray's father is like the worst imaginable kind of "stage mother." Yet, the second reviewer clearly implies that Ray was profoundly wrong to "actively den[y]" his father: Ray looks back "from the perspective of guilty adulthood." If Ray (or any child in similar circumstances) wishes to survive with his own identity at all intact, he must deny his father, at least that part of his father that seeks to control him.

Many will continue to object to my observations, insisting that what Ray's father did, for example, wasn't that destructive. When I was making my way through Alice Miller's work more than 20 years ago, I sometimes had that same reaction to stories of cruelty that Miller examined. About that reaction of mine, I wrote:
My own reaction reveals yet another means by which the truth of childhood is buried and denied: as we grow up, we identify with the authority figures in our lives. We dare not question them, or their "goodness," or their "good intentions." We dare not, because we depend on them for life itself. Since the child cannot question them, he must question himself, and he must believe that the fault lies within. And that leads him to believe that if he alters his own behavior (and even his very being) in some unidentified manner, then he will win his parents' complete love. The child cannot grasp that his parents' behavior has nothing to do with him at all; it arises out of their childhoods, and the abuses they themselves suffered. In this way, the child is left feeling that he himself is wrong, in some fundamental way.

Because most of us identify to varying extents with authority (and most adults identify with authority almost completely), it is impossible for us to understand the child's experience.
"Field of Dreams," together with the reaction to it of many viewers, reveals these dynamics in a striking manner. The entire film is devoted to the efforts of the child to console, nurture, redeem, and heal the parent. The wounds inflicted on the child by the parent are mentioned only glancingly. It is the parent's wounds and the parent's pain that are the film's concern. The ending of the film tells us that, once the child has successfully reached out to, consoled, and healed the parent, then all be well. The responsibility is entirely the child's. The two reviewers -- and their perspective is typical of many of the film's viewers (including many friends and acquaintances of mine whose reactions I've heard over the years) -- rush to defend the parent, but who will speak for the child? The injured child is the world's foremost forgotten victim. For most people, the injured child barely exists.

The truth is that the methods most commonly used to raise children are designed to deaden the child's soul, and to prevent the growth of an independent, genuine, vital self. No, most parents do not realize this consciously -- which makes the danger only greater. No, most parents do not intentionally set out to cause their children grievous harm: they simply repeat what they learned from their own upbringing. That does not lessen the damage done to the next generation. Alice Miller offers this critical definition:
Poisonous pedagogy is a phrase I use to refer to the kind of parenting and education aimed at breaking a child's will and making that child into an obedient subject by means of overt or covert coercion, manipulation, and emotional blackmail.

In my books For Your Own Good and Thou Shall Not Be Aware, I have explained the concept using concrete examples. In my other books I have repeatedly stressed how the mendacious mentality behind this approach to dealing with children can leave long-lasting imprints on the way we think and relate to one another in our adult lives.
I have summarized Miller's perspective this way:
There are several interlocking parts of the mechanisms that Miller describes that must be kept in mind ... The first part is obedience to the demands of the parent and/or other authority figure -- the second part is denial of the pain experienced by the child himself, when he is made to "conform" to arbitrary edicts and to suppress his own spontaneous, genuine emotions -- the third part is idealization of the parent and/or additional authority figure, since the child depends on the parent for life itself and dares not challenge the parent or the parent's "good intentions" -- and the final, inevitable part is the denial of the pain experienced by others. If we fully acknowledge the injuries sustained by others and the pain they experience, it will call up our own injuries. Because this would call into question our most fundamental sense of ourselves, this cannot be permitted. In this manner, the deadening of the soul -- which began with our own souls -- must expand to deaden us to the full reality of the selves of others.
If you wish to read a detailed analysis of how a parent manipulates a child, and forces the child to focus on the parent's well-being and happiness as the standard for "proper" behavior, you can consult this essay, and the story about a mother disciplining her young child for splashing too much in the bathtub. (I have written a great many articles about Miller's work and its applications. You will find a number of those articles, although not all of them, listed and described here [more recent ones] and here [older ones]. I remain deeply proud that Alice Miller's own site still maintains the link to the collection of my older essays. [It appears very doubtful that Miller had seen the more recent essays before her death several years ago.])

I've devoted this article to a consideration of "Field of Dreams" for several reasons. Given the focus of my writing over more than ten years, it would have been more than sufficient justification to explain again how the scourge of child mistreatment and abuse is covered up and lied about. For the reasons I've set forth, the film offers a strikingly clear example of common mechanisms by which these ends are accomplished. But, as this article demonstrates, you have to know what to look for. The clues are always there, but it requires time and work to bring them to the surface. That is the second reason for this essay, which I intend to be only the first in a series of articles (which might number five or ten, or even more, by the time I'm done).

Over the years, I've sometimes expressed one of my frustrations to friends by noting that, in order to discuss any issue of importance, it is first necessary to sweep away a host of rationalizations, distortions, misrepresentations, and outright lies. We're drowning in a sea of notions devoid of supporting evidence or argument, accusations hurled in every direction, again often in the total absence of supporting data, and lies, lies, and more lies. Nowhere is this more true than in politics. I'll get to politics in this series, as I work my way up the ladder of examples I think worthy of consideration (or down, which is the more accurate direction given the ugly and blatantly irrational nature of politics as currently practiced). As we consider very different kinds of examples of these issues, we might adopt a question asked by Errol Morris as one of our guidelines. You may know Morris as the filmmaker who brought us "The Thin Blue Line," and whose earlier film, "Gates of Heaven," led to "Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe."

Morris asked: “What if everything is the opposite of what it seems?” It doesn't matter what in particular Morris asked this about (although I'll be telling you in an upcoming article), for it can be applied to a number of subjects. It is certainly applicable to many aspects of parent-child relationships, and God knows it's applicable to politics. As I think about the many issues I'd like to address in the political realm, I'm often brought up short by the fact that almost everyone is lying about almost everything. To say anything meaningful, all that must first be swept away. It's daunting work, and should be performed only after one has put on the most impregnable hazmat suit imaginable.

So suit up -- and get ready.