Fosters Night By Paul deParrie
It was late as I descended the library steps and turned up the glossy, wet street that shone with rippling ribbons of reflected light. The Seattle Transit shelter on Broadway had panels of flame-blistered plexiglass to divert the wind from the huddled, waiting passengers. Beneath the shelter stood a kiosk abundantly covered with handbills and announcements. Stylized lettering was sprayed copiously over every surface of the shelter.
"A few years ago, the words were mostly in Spanish," I commented to a fellow traveler. "Now it is all Japanese."
The other grunted an acknowledgment of my comments but said no more. I got the same sense of rejection from him that I had gotten around the office after my "racist" piece about Japanese business five years before.
The rain started to drizzle again. Morose thoughts crowded my mind. Up through most of the last century, the big vacation spot for Japanese people had been Disneyland. These polite and diligent people had, since then, seen their youth corrupted by the same hedonistic anarchy that had eaten away at the foundations of Western society. Now the great vacation for Japanese youth was a trip to an American city where they were virtually untouchable by the law. They came over in groups to wreak havoc while a combination of hate crime laws and the overt fear of American government officials to offend their Japanese overlords protected them from prosecution. Any attack on a Japanese was touted as "racist." This much their financial power had bought them.
Nor were the Japanese the only ones who abused these conditions. Other minorities -- especially those from wealthy families -- did likewise. The cities were filled with incalculable bands of young barbarians living out macho dreams in a society that officially denounced the macho image. As a result, the society had come to castrate its own masculine drive to war with these forces and was largely cowed into acceptance.
Many people saw through the situation, but none dared question it publicly. The price was too high. Eventually the suppressed bitterness took on other manifestations -- people looked for any way possible to "beat the system."
Societal decay. Corruption. Japanese takeover of business. Thoughts like these were unspeakable and, as much as was in the power of the culture, unthinkable.
After the rebuff by the other traveler, I stood alone for a while. Suddenly a hand gripped my elbow. I turned quickly to see Carlton Trask standing there in his trench coat.
Trask was of medium height and standard build but his face was angular and narrow. He affected trench coats and fedoras and resembled some fictional private detective in his dress and manner. Trask also worked at the paper. He had been added back when drug and alcohol abuse was rampant on the job in the 1990s. The publisher had brought him on as a in-house counselor to help people with any number of emotional problems. His sessions were alleged to be confidential. I knew better.
"Coming from the library again, Foster?" he asked with that soothing tone of concern so well cultivated in his practice.
"Yeah," I answered hoping to avoid a detailed conversation with him.
"I've seen you going in or coming out of there quite a bit lately. What kind of things are you reading these days?" he pried.
I knew I couldn't brush him off. He would view it with suspicion if I were not what the pop-psychologists call "transparent."
The only answer I could think of came out, "Oh, a little of this and that. You know, general interest stuff."
Trask looked at the books under my arm. "Confessions of Augustine is general interest?" he asked with a tone of incredulity.
"Well, sometimes you need a long-range historical perspective," I answered uncomfortably.
"But Confessions of Augustine would seem to be a rather narrow, Western point of view, wouldn't it? In a country with diversity like ours, wouldn't it serve you better to study African, Native American, and Oriental writers -- not to mention women writers of the past? Western writers are so limited by their linear, rationalistic thinking, don't you think?"
I didn't bother to mention that Augustine was African.
I had really hoped to avoid a conversation like this where Trask would use his verbal probes to sound me out. Now I could see the deliberation behind his questions -- it was like a bloodhound on the scent. Someone had put him on my scent and there was little hope he would go away. My only hope was to divert him for the moment. I spotted a bus coming several blocks down the street.
"You taking the number nine bus?" I asked him.
He shook his head almost imperceptibly and answered, "No, the 14."
I said, "Here's my bus" and moved toward the approaching number nine. This route would require a transfer to get me home, but then the 14 required a long walk -- and tonight, I knew, a long talk with Trask.
Lest We Be West
"Hey, hey! Ho, Ho! Western culture's got to go!" the students sang as the ineffable Jesse Jackson, professional Leftist and perennial Presidential candidate, led them across the Stanford campus.
And thus was the conventional attitude in Academia for many years. Jackson, purporting to be a radical in this chant, was only repeating a mantra that had been in practice by the college elite.
The dismantling of Western education -- especially in colleges -- began by making such studies as Western Civilization optional. With more and more students whose reading skills barely allowed them to suffer abridged -- that is to say, dumbed down -- classics, colleges began to question whether they were prepared to teach remedial reading before requiring Plato. Of course, no one questioned the intrinsic value of the great Western works -- at first. They merely questioned their usefulness in "real life." In the end, colleges pressed out pampered pragmatists parading as cultured individuals. Later, the elite "discovered" whole rafts of new cultural studies -- Black Studies, Third-World Studies, Women's Studies. In these, a student was likely to spend more time reading Aztec poetry or the oral history of South Pacific cargo cults than with Aristotle or Aquinas.7
In the name of "equality," all cultures and ideas were deemed to have equal value -- save Western "linear thinking" and philosophies. In the name of "equality," the human sacrifice rites of the Toltecs were on a par with the Bible. Women's Studies rummaged through the small accumulation of female authored books of times past and insisted they be placed alongside Machiavelli and Dante -- even when they were merely turgid little romance novels.
7 Commentary by K.E. Grubbs, Jr., Orange County Register, 9-9-90
I crept a look at Augustine as the bus rumbled toward home. I found it -- like many of the books I had read lately -- to be difficult to read. I had been fortunate enough to be sent to one of the last parochial schools to hang on to the phonics method for teaching reading. Even in my time, the system had already been tainted by the bilge of look-say. The actual reading of the books was not as difficult as the discipline of concentration required for the task. Everything in society conspired against this ability and I had not, by conscious effort, maintained such a discipline. Short attention spans were the television-induced rule. Language and discourse were truncated.
I recall attending a rally held by abortion supporters during the mid-1980s. Abortion -- at the time -- was considered a complex moral issue. But those leading the rally reduced it to "Not the Church, not the State, Women will decide their fate." But stranger to me was a responsive chant. "What do we want?" the leader asks, "Choice!" the crowd screams, "When do we want it?" the leader asks again, "Now!" the crowd returns gleefully.
It occurred to me that the cry sounded more like a child's tantrum than a serious argument for an issue. I could imagine a crowd of children who substituted the word "Toys!" or "Candy!" for the word "Choice!"
The spirit was the same.
Not that abortion protests were much of an issue anymore. The abortion rights gang had won the battle. Anti-abortion groups had been driven out of business by racketeering laws, federal laws protecting clinics and personnel from harassment, state stalking laws, government regulation of pro-life run crisis clinics, and dozens of other inventive uses of legal sanction against their protests. Even the most mild opposition to abortion -- not to mention doctor-assisted suicide and euthanasia -- had been squelched by fear of various legal reprisals.
Off the record, however, some of the abortion-rights folks longed for the good old days of clinic blockades, sidewalk counseling, and boisterous picketing. While most of the so-called pro-lifers simply hid out, a small, crafty, and effective cadre of them had formed underground groups dedicated to militant -- or military -- solutions. Abortion providers were mysteriously identified and executed. Clinics, when they could be located, were destroyed.
"If we hadn't been so anxious to take advantage of our power when Clinton became president," said one to me, "Those people might still be blocking doors and going to jail, but we wouldn't be facing this terrorism. I remember when we called clinic blockades 'terrorism.' How naive we were!"
Briefly. . .
In Orwell's 1984, language was curbed by official means. Thus was thought made more and more difficult. The people no longer possessed the language ability to think or express liberating thoughts. No such mechanism existed in our decline -- though the result was the same.
Simultaneous with the introduction of look-say, advertising took a radical turn. Where once a craftsman simply stated his abilities to fill certain needs and gave his location, or a company simply listed the advantages of their product, suddenly the promotion took the tack of using all but meaningless slogans. Sales began to hinge on a product sounding good rather than being good. The advertiser's art began to be one of emotional manipulation. It is no coincidence that this form of commercial sales increased in effectiveness as reading declined and mass media such as motion pictures, radio, and, finally, television grew. Much of this was clearly documented and exposed in a pithy indictment called Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman.8
It was not, however, merely commercial speech that was on the decline. As inane as the sloganeering of ads became (e.g., Coke is the Real Thing -- The real what thing?), political speech followed in the same meaningless sales job (e.g., I Like Ike). Eventually, public discourse on paramount moral and philosophical issues was destroyed. Victory was accorded to those who had the loudest and most memorable slogans.
8 Penguin Books, New York, 1985
After the weekend, I returned to the newsroom. The editor glanced at me out of the corner of his eye and buried himself in his work. Now, I was never Mr. Popularity at the paper but I could usually count on a "hello" from the editor. I sensed that something was awry and my paranoia told me that it was connected with my "chance" meeting with Trask. The large room where my desk was located seemed to close in; the hum of voices seemed to be directed at me. I had seen this kind of thing before with a few others. The word was out that I might be "sick" and needed "treatment." Supported as it was with my previous scrape with "oldthink," the subliminal accusation spread instantly among my co-workers.
The news industry thrives on gossip; it is the center for society's glorified gossip. As such, those who work there are experts at passing information. There was no hope of explaining anything to the writhing, tentacled "gossip central" that I faced.
A yellow post-it on my desk informed me that I was to report for a check-up on the fifth floor in two hours. The fifth floor was Employee Social Services -- including Trask's department. Most large companies had their own equivalents of "the fifth floor." In the old days, employees who were called on the carpet were represented by shop stewards from their respective unions or professional associations. It was still true, but no such representation was accorded a summons to "the fifth floor." It was universally understood that such services were a form of aid -- not punishment or discipline. In the minds of most people, the words "punishment" or "discipline" were inexorably linked with the prefix "unfair."
The Soviets pioneered the idea of using psychiatric wards for punishment and torture of dissidents, but the illusion fooled no one. The Gulag wards were known by the Soviet people for what they really were.
The Americans, however, erected a much more effective facade by developing first a false confidence in psychology's ability to "cure." This was the ingredient that the Soviets had lacked. Their ruse was primarily a thin screen for eager American Leftists to believe in and perpetrate to the Western world.
After decades of presumption of how humane and well-intentioned psychology was, it was not difficult for the average American to agree to all manner of tramplings of personal liberty in the name of "treatment." As early as 1946, some writers warned of this tendency -- though no one seriously heeded it. A passage out of that year's novel by C.S. Lewis points to the trend. The book, That Hideous Strength, depicts a materialistic -- and spiritual -- plot to gain control of England through the agency of a private scientific foundation -- and their private police force.
At one point, Fairy, the chief of the foundation's police, explains to Mark, a central, though naive character, about the locus of their power to keep order.
"You've got to get the ordinary man into the state in which he says 'Sadism' automatically when he hears the word Punishment." And then one would have carte blanche . Mark did not immediately follow this. But the Fairy pointed out that what had hampered every English police force up to date was precisely the idea of deserved punishment. For desert was always finite: you could do so much to the criminal and no more. Remedial treatment, on the other hand, need have no fixed limit; it could go on till it had effected a cure, and those who were carrying it out would decide when that was. And if cure were humane and desirable, how much more prevention?9
But the "diseases" that were to be prevented or cured were not such as one would expect. It was not schizophrenia, paranoia, or depression which were the targets of the social services corps but ideas and beliefs which were disparate from their goals. The ideas they promoted were delivered in a Trojan Horse worthy social ideals.
Combat prejudice, violence, or child abuse. What was one to do, argue for child abuse?
Yet, anyone who fought the intrusion of the state into their family was tarred with that image. Child abuse became any deviation from official state-authorized child-rearing methods.The media spent several years in the early 1980s drum-beating the child abuse issue, tossing out hyped statistics about the incidence of abuse, and a panicky populace turned over the family reins to the state children's services officials. The state began offering "parenting" classes which taught the official method and soon "offenders" of that method appeared in court-mandated sessions.
Most people simply concluded that their own child-rearing methods were outdated or wrong, but those who were convinced that reasonable punishment was correct ran headlong against the power of the state. Children were taken from them and returned (if at all) only with the proviso that official methods be adopted and that the parents continue in "treatment" until pronounced cured.
The public did not object. After all, the state was only trying to help . . .
9 Macmillan Publishing, New York, 1965, p. 69. Original copyright 1946
The hours crept by as I awaited my appointed meeting. I was invisible to my co-workers as they awaited my diagnosis.
I tried to do a little work on a piece I had been working on about the conversions of industrial sites to upscale, trendy housing, but my mind was not functioning.
What kind of things are they going to bring up against me, I wondered. There was no way to prepare for a "test" like this. Regardless of how one responds in a psychological examination, it may be taken as a positive or negative sign depending on the predisposition of the examiner.
I was aware of Trask's predisposition. I wondered if anyone else might be in on the conference.
At 9:57, I rose from my chair and walked the thirty steps to the elevator and punched the "up" button. The doors parted. I entered and touched the plate marked "5."
The receptionist at the fifth floor directed me to a waiting room to the left. It was a sterile room with a bad version of the modern Movement Style painting done in soothing colors. It was no more soothing than the synthesized Bon Jovi tune whining over the tinny P.A. system. There was a clinical feel to the room and I suspected that my behavior in the room was as much part of the exam as anything else. I remembered the mazes that scientists used to put rats in -- and I understood the rats. I sat in the uncomfortable chair and idly picked up a magazine.
"Self," the cover proclaimed. The contents reflected the title -- one article after another on how to be the perfect hedonist.
Twelve minutes late, the door opened and Trask appeared with a young blonde man wearing a lab coat.
Oh , no, I thought, The kid thinks he's a scientist.
I was careful not to roll my eyes.
"Foster, please come in," Trask said. "This is Ridley, my assistant. He'll be with us today."
I nodded toward the kid, mumbled a vague greeting, and went inside the office. Inside was another room similar to the waiting area only with a small conference table with eight chairs around it. On one end was an open file with papers fanned out from it.
"Have a seat," Trask said indicating a chair near the end of the Formica topped table with the file. I could see that much of the paperwork was in the form of newspaper clippings -- with my byline. Several graphs and charts were alongside them.
After Trask settled into his chair, he ran his fingers through his thin brown hair.
"The reason we asked you up here today," he began, "is because we're concerned about what appears to be an unhealthy pattern in you. The first real signal was that mildly racist anti-Japanese piece you did five years ago. But I think it can be traced further back than that -- maybe to your wife's death. Her name was Mara, is that right?"
Trask paused as if expecting some comment or acknowledgment from me. I gave a slight nod but said nothing.
Trask continued. "We've charted your stories since two years before Mara's death and there seems to be an underlying discontent that begins after her death."
"It shows up in your stories," added young Ridley with the barely submerged excitement of a puppy. "A cynicism began to creep into your stories -- an almost imperceptible antisocial bias. Just little shifts of tone and choices of words that, compared to your earlier work, shows a psychological disturbance."
"Is that all this is about? 'Little shifts of tone and choices of words?'" I asked immediately regretting having opened my mouth.
"Well, to tell the truth," Trask said, "it is more than that. It appears at some point that you lost the pure cynicism that was beginning to show itself. Instead, there were hints of your adopting some other philosophy of life -- a throwback philosophy. Absolutism. Especially in the area of right and wrong. Hints of this began to appear in some of your pieces. Truthfully, we wondered where you would get such ideas in this day and age. The evolution of philosophy has taken us far beyond that point and your earlier work all shows a total acceptance of our modern philosophical understanding. It is simply not normal for anything -- especially progressive philosophy -- to de-volve. I thought perhaps you had not yet allowed yourself to grieve the loss of your wife or that you had bottled up some anger at her for leaving or at yourself for not being able to save her. Any of these things could make you vulnerable to a change in philosophy.
"But none of this explained where these thoughts were coming from. I was really concerned for you so I did a little investigation on my own. I saw you at the library some time back and I got an idea. I checked your library use. Up until about a year after your wife's death your use was fairly normal -- considering your occupation, that is. But you began to check out strange books -- elitist stuff -- from time to time. Then, more and more often. Aquinas, Milton, Chaucer, even the Bible! Then the clues began to come together. The final straw was that quote you used from Livy's book on Rome in that recent story -- what was it about? -- wasting resources, that's it.
"Anyway, it looked like your new philosophical alignment was coming from the dead hand of the past instead of the realities of today. So how does all this strike you?"
I still looked at the table. I saw only two choices: one was to come up with some reasonable sounding alternate explanation for their "evidence," the other was to find the least damaging way to play along. The first choice would have the disadvantage of going against Trask and Ridley's already formed notions. No chance there. It would be viewed as denial, and thus, more serious.
The second choice was laden with snares. A sudden breakdown or admission would be likely to be construed as an attempt to avoid "care." Too much resistance could result in heavy -- possibly court-ordered -- therapy.
"I really don't know what to say," I deferred. "I suppose I never really looked at it that way."
I knew how much Trask liked to talk -- especially about his theories of other men's lives -- and I hoped to give myself more time to choose a strategy for getting through this probe with the minimum of the psychologist's intrusion. I kept up my best "sincerity" face. In these times, people had become experts in projecting sincerity -- they had to.
"Believe what you want to believe as long as you're sincere," people used to say. It was supposed to be a sign of religious tolerance -- but nobody really meant it. What was really meant was that one might appear to sincerely believe any socially acceptable idea that he wished. Naturally, most people had to appear to believe any number of ideas -- often contradictory -- depending on the circumstances. But everyone you knew must be convinced of your sincerity.
The trick was to always appear sincere -- and "transparent."
Being open or transparent was accepted as the true mark of being sincere about your socially acceptable ideas. Believing socially unacceptable ideas -- no matter how sincerely -- was anathema . Those who believed them kept them carefully cloaked in transparency and sincerity.
"The pivot point, as near as I can determine, is your wife's death," Trask said. "I suspect that we are going to need to re-examine what happened to you there in order to clear this up. You seem to have a psychic blockage that wants removing."
Trask went on explaining to me how my psyche worked in terms that would have befitted an idiot. I feigned attention. I was constructing a plausible tale of Mara's death and its effects on my mental state. I was hoping to avoid hypnosis. A quickly constructed story would not hold in those conditions -- the mind is too suggestible. But neither did I wish to trust the whims of this quasi-religious treatment. I had seen the buried story of the Canadian study which showed that subjects under hypnosis had a diminished ability to remember events. In other words, their memory was poorer. Another back page blurb showing that hypnotized people often invented or imagined new facts for their memory. While these stories were barely perceptible, the front pages often carried long features of the glories of hypnosis as a diagnostic tool -- and as a memory enhancer for witnesses in criminal trials. The possibilities were frightening.
Of course, it would never do to tell Trask the truth about Mara's death. My bitterness over the circumstances would land me in more treatment than I would willingly endure. It might even be taken to court.
The "science" of psychology,10 as it gained in public acceptance, became a mainstay of the courts. Often conviction or acquittal hinged upon the word of someone who was guessing what went on in somebody else's mind. Certainly, many more serious crimes were mitigated at the word of these mind-readers. Parole boards released -- or kept -- prisoners based on the guesses of psychologists as to whether the prisoner would commit more crimes in the future. The fact that their guesses were amazingly inaccurate had no effect on the acceptability of their testimony.
Even worse was their success rate in affecting "cures" on the criminals -- especially for violent or sex crimes. Perpetrators were regarded as "sick" as opposed to the earlier diagnoses of being "thugs" or "perverts." A similar view was held of drug and alcohol addiction. When these last "fell off the wagon," it involved going on a drinking or drug binge. When, however, a child-molester "fell off the wagon," a child's life (or many children's lives) was seriously damaged.
When it came to civil commitment, the situation grew worse. In criminal cases, a person was imprisoned for a definite period based on evidence of what he had already done. When it came to sociological crimes -- thought crimes -- a person could be indefinitely detained based on what possible crimes he might do. Here the work of the psychologist was particularly threatening. Based on the "evidence" of socially unacceptable beliefs, he was allowed to extrapolate the possible future actions of the accused. None of the usual rights of accused criminals were accorded these defendants. Terms such as I have used -- accused or defendant -- were avoided since these prosecutions were regarded as a means of dispensing psychological care rather than actual legal violations. In this way, the Bill of Rights was neatly sidestepped.
It was ironic that no person could be forced into any medical treatment -- where there was solid science to back its effectiveness -- but one could be force-fed psychological treatment.
10 I place psychology outside of the true sciences because true science depends on facts that are observable, repeatable, and falsifiable in the present under controlled circumstances. Psychology has none of these characteristics.
I let Trask finish his imaginative tour through my mind.
"I think you may have a point," I answered. "I can't honestly say I've really been myself since Mara has been gone. But what can I do about it? I mean, nothing will bring her back."
I affected helplessness knowing that this is the thing that psychologists and counselors love. By nature, they love to direct the lives of others from their pedestal of knowingness. I believed that if I were to act transparent with Trask about my needing help -- after his enlightenment of my sorry state -- it would pet his ego. But to indicate a further need of his help would, I hoped, simply set him afire. Naturally I hoped that my apparent submission would minimize the treatment I would undergo. It only remained to be seen if Trask would buy my sincerity.
"One thing we need to deal with right away," he said. "You are going to have to acknowledge Mara's death. You cannot do that as long as you cling to euphemisms such as 'gone.' You must be able to say, 'Mara is dead' with the finality that is death's due, not 'gone' as though you will be seeing her again in the future. Anything else is denial."
I allowed myself an inner grin. Trask had taken the bait.
Go To Chapter Four
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