Friday, December 13, 2019

The Social and Political Destabilization of Western Democracy or Why I do not like Anarchy

Red Capital Letter A with a red circle
Part of me has a certain affinity if not downright sympathy with anarchy and what it stands for. It is indeed the ultimate form of rebellion, the overturning of established political structures with a seemingly boundless expression of freedom and liberty. It promises a wholesale change, a revolution that takes out the old, stale, and corrupt and replaces that with invigorated ideals. It is the very opposite of The Who’s fear and concern that we would get fooled again as the new boss might be just like the old one.

And yet, I say that only part of me finds agreement because a larger part of me is in fact against anarchy and the expression thereof. While the violent act of smashing the established order may be cathartic, preservation of established law and its authority is the preferred choice. There is something about the Law that is appealing, fascinating and, most importantly, comforting in my mind. This may come as a result of my German upbringing, but I have a deep respect for rules and regulations provided they are fair and respectful to begin with.

I might sympathize, embrace and flirt with anarchy on ideological grounds; nonetheless, I generally dislike disobedience and destruction and shall remain married and committed to the harmonious promise of law and order. Anarchy might look like a romantic solution to one’s problems and it may carry with it the whiff and promise of an unrestrained boundless freedom, but in practice, I find it messy, of poor taste, and even inherently disrespectful. I much prefer order not in the sense or at the expense of stifling differing viewpoints and opinions, but more along the lines of everything falling into place, existing in relative and overall harmony and not interfering with or being damaging to other parts or beings.

I do not think that rules merely exist to be broken, but that rules are there to ensure harmony and stability across the board and for everyone involved, the same way traffic lights and signs precede and presuppose the smooth flow of traffic. In fact, rules are not to be broken but ought to be respected, again provided they make sense or have utility and that they are not only a means of controlling and subduing others. The Law ideally uses rules to create harmony and to ensure that democracy is upheld and that nobody's toes or any other body parts are hurt or trampled upon.

The Law is supposed to give structure and is ideally enforced by legitimate authorities; hence, the latter deserve our respect while they are following and applying the law equally and impartially. Corruption and abuse should be the exception and not the rule, so that the public and the citizens continue to trust and have faith in the authorities. Otherwise, mistrust, distrust and even rebellious acts could be fostered and encouraged to rectify the imbalance and moral void caused and left behind by misuse and abuse.

That said, we ought to tread most cautiously when it comes to rebellion and rebellious acts. It could lead to the proverbial throwing out the baby with the bathtub; if we are not careful, we might end up being worse off than before. We have evidence of this in various movements that have led to revolutions. In many of those cases, there has been violent uprising against and overthrow of the state and the status quo but at the expense of well-being, freedoms, and human rights.

Some revolutions were fought in the name of freedom and democracy, but often they would lead to tyranny and bloodshed. A coup d’état can have disastrous consequences and end up as totalitarian regimes. We may oust one leader but then inadvertently open the pathways to one who may be much worse.

The French revolution with its idealism of fraternity, equality and liberty was waged with unprecedented violence, resentment and cruelty upon the reigning nobility. The Iranian revolution replaced a monarch with an even more restrictive clergy; the Arab Spring revolution may have brought some positive and necessary changes in some countries, but in others, it led to bloodshed and more restrictions than before.

Currently, there are waves of dissent challenging governments and authorities. This is now on a global scale, not only in the Middle East and Latin America, but also in clearly established and generally robust democracies of affluent Western countries. This is an era that has given us Brexit, Trump, riots in France as well as spats, trade wars and ideological differences with China and Russia. In each of these cases, the authority, and worse, the legitimacy of the state and government has been put into question.

In cases where fresh blood is pumped into a tired, biased and unfair system, this could potentially represent a good thing; yet if it means overhauling something that has passed and endured the test of time, if it entails completely or largely rewriting constitutions and dispensing with pillars of freedoms and rights established in the codes and fabric of one’s nations, then we could be facing serious problems and issues.

It brings us back to the Law, not just as a compilation of rules and laws but as the state’s very foundation: it is the beating heart that with freedom of speech and freedom of the press shall ensure that we have a voice and that we are allowed to and continue to be allowed to speak and write our thoughts and minds.

Nonetheless, certain movements disguise themselves as being free and liberal-minded, when they are nothing of that ilk. In fact, they hide a hideous and cruel face. This is the promise of tackling corruption, of draining the swamp or making the country great again; this is waving the banner of equality or fighting climate change when the ultimate aim is to gain access and control of power; this is choosing and electing authoritarian-leaning individuals over democratic and fair-minded government representatives. This is not unlike national socialism that brought to power one who had touted law and order but who used that for his own benefit, namely to undermine and destroy the rights and freedoms of its people alongside all the other citizens of the world.

It is the duty and responsibility of the press to inform, but since humans cannot be entirely objective, we cannot expect their reporting to be either. Add to that, personal agendas of individuals and publishing companies combined with the need and desire to make money, and we will have distortions of mirrors within mirrors. But the main issue should be ethical integrity; the press ought to be at least ideologically if not financially independent from the state and should not merely represent the state’s interests or worse be its mouthpiece; the press should not engage in control nor should it feed its citizens rehashed propaganda and misinformation. 

This is where things have become more confusing and complicated since the advent of the admittedly ingenious term of “fake news” and “alternative facts.” First off, in an offbeat postmodern vein, these terms have been driven by the assumption that truth is subjective and open to interpretation. Now this may be true to a certain extent and more so in certain fields and domains than others, but facts are not debatable opinions and are not open for discussion. In fact, postmodern thinking has been put on his head in true Orwellian fashion.

Casting doubt upon this vital distinction between fact and opinion / wishful thinking while simultaneously and indiscriminately accusing the press of being a constant source of falsehood and misinformation, and worse, designating it as the enemy of the people is indeed a trademark move of dictators or wannabe dictators. However, when significant swaths of the population take these statements at face value, journalism becomes eyed and viewed as the supposed embodiment of fake media and becomes the breeding ground for suspicion; this, in turn, seriously undermines freedom of the press as well as democracy itself.

In fact, apart from books, universities and intellectuals, the entity of the press is a thorn in the side or a pebble in the shoe of every aspiring and conspiring dictator. The press if it is not merely praising their leader can and will question the legitimacy of the state and government. It is the real weapon for ensuring democracy, more so than the right to own guns.

Incidentally, gun ownership as per the US constitution was considered a potential safeguard against corrupt, ineffective and illegitimate governments and gave the people the choice to rise and stand up to the state; nonetheless, we should keep in mind that the pen is mightier and more effective than the sword or any other weapon for that matter.

A common trend nowadays is a mainstream acceptance of anarchy in its various shapes and guises. These ideas of anarchy generally tend to lead to the destabilization of democratic governments. Democracy may be imperfect and have its share of flaws, but it essentially guarantees people the right to choose the government they want.

The majority would choose the party or leader they would prefer to helm their country. Their choices may not be in the best interest of their own nation, and the majority can be wrong or make terrible decisions, yet this is the beauty of democracy, the will of the majority will be respected and followed upon.

Whether it is a Trump presidency or Brexit, it is the majority that has spoken. But there is a caveat. What if the decision of the people has been coerced and manipulated in ways unknown and imperceptible to them? What if the fake news is propagated by the very same people who wish to come to power? Or what if the aim is not so much to get certain people elected but to destabilize the nation at hand?

In fact, I was shocked to hear that on the day of Trump’s presidency there were two protests organized online by the very same entity: one that was supporting the president, the other that was opposing him. The goal may not have been to have that candidate in question as president but rather to have one that is seen as divisive and controversial and the seeds of doubt have been placed into the nation’s soul.

The current impeachment process follows similar lines. On one side, it is the constitutional right of politicians to free themselves from a president who has engaged in misdemeanors and felonies so long as it is based on substantial and credible evidence. As we speak, the Democrats have finally taken the measure and initiative to follow upon the impeachment of Trump.

It is their right to do so, and it should not be stifled as it is a guarantee encompassed and enshrined in the constitution. The process should not be mocked, ridiculed or dismissed by the accused but it should be taken seriously and be treated with respect as no one is or should be above the law.

Evidently, the guilty party would view trials with suspicion and mistrust and label them a priori as unfair and biased against them, even before a verdict has been proposed or reached. Doubting the result and outcome of trials before a verdict is reached is questioning the very fabric of the courts as an upholder of justice and democracy. 

Yet at the same time, the circumstances of the impeachment, however noble and justified, arise out of dubious circumstances. The fact that Trump is accused of overriding channels and overreaching and extending the laws and regulations of his office is a serious matter; the power of the commander-in-chief has to account for some necessary checks and balances to ensure that democracy is functioning unimpeded and the way it should. But since the spark or final straw was a matter of great personal importance to the political party itself, namely the proposed investigation of corruption of one of their own top candidates, i.e. Joe Biden in the upcoming presidential elections next year, it emits an unfortunate air of partisanship.

Put differently, if the Democrats had chosen to impeach the president much earlier on any other grounds and offences, they might have had a better standing and reputation with the public than with an incidence that has personally affected their hopes in the upcoming presidential election. Moreover, the fact that this whole initiative is merely symbolic in gesture and will be most likely defeated in the Senate, which is run by Republicans, undermines its sting and effectiveness.

Are the impeachment efforts then just mere showmanship? Is impeachment undertaken to gain favor with the voting public? Is it to ensure that their own candidate will be safe from onslaughts of accusations, justified or not? In the end, what we may end up with is the exact opposite. This right to impeach and remove a supposedly rogue president from office may backfire in the sense that it would only add to the destabilizing elements of the nation.

If the people alongside their own divided and divisive government cannot trust their own elected official at the top, what are we left with than chaos and anarchy? Would the real enemies of the state, those who reap discord and havoc in order to break up democratic foundations not come out as the eventual and veritable winners in this conflict? Would our democracy weather the storm or would it become an unfortunate victim or collateral damage to these onslaughts, which could potentially have disastrous consequences not for the nation herself but for the entire world?

In fact, the controversial and unprecedented presidency and its shocks and after-effects are not the only eroding tendency at work here. The Me Too movement started off as a credible, noble and respect-worthy endeavor of exposing those who commit atrocities and hide behind wealth and political influence. However, the recent bombshell that the women who initiated the movement have settled with the alleged perpetrator Harvey Weinstein has been a serious blow to their credibility as well as their motivations.

At the same time, the movement itself is getting out of hand and out of control and is now blindly and haphazardly attacking men with accusations that do not always stand up in court. That is where the real witch hunt is occurring nowadays where accusations are taken as, equated with and even taken in lieu of court verdicts.

What this essentially does is undermine the legitimacy of the court, even more so than the aforementioned impeachment process, as it affects not only politicians but all of society. Currently, people are accused and persecuted via social media and media networks concerning misdemeanours, which they may or may not have committed. But the fact that any accusation immediately equals conviction is a mob mentality that should not be a sign of these modern and supposedly more enlightened times.

Indiscriminately, prematurely and carelessly destroying people’s reputation without given them due representation in court is not only what occurred during times of revolution and revolt, but it happened in the darkest ages of history. A just and peaceful society cannot exist in an environment that is running on hatred, chaos, and instability. Anarchy is then not the solution but is the cause of disorder, especially if it is unbridled, indiscriminate and disrespectful of established law and order.

That is also why what is currently occurring under the banner of feminism is a dangerous and destabilizing concept. Feminism should be the fight for equal rights, i.e. men and women have access to the same opportunities, but the way it is waged, it reveals other objectives and hidden agendas. It is run with the belief that women are essentially superior to men and are always right in their views and endeavors and that their fight against the male patriarchy is just and justified.

Ironically, these radical feminists - also referred to as femi-nazis - have chosen to copy and embody the worst and most toxic aspects of male chauvinism, such as aggression, violence, and utter insensitivity. The toppling of the perceived patriarchy is ideologically akin to the Storm of the Bastille, and it is waged without a plan or strategy; it indiscriminately wishes to empower one side of humanity by pitting it wholesale against its other half. It would lead to even more chaos and destruction with its plan to throw out everything, bathtub, water and boy, with nothing concrete to replace it with.

Viewing men as suspicious and threatening is not only a projection of paranoia, but it is discriminatory in nature and essence; likewise, the perspective that women are the superior race is totalitarian and certainly not egalitarian in its mindset. If this mistrust, frustration and anger was currently directed at and waged upon ethnic minorities, we would immediately rush to stop it, but since it is undertaken by women, many tend to applaud and encourage it. Those women – incidentally, they are not the majority - support this radical form of feminism tinged by acts of anarchy, disorder and destruction while wanting to undermine all types of authority and government, as they see it as a mere embodiment of male power and chauvinism.

This movement also wants to dispense with court and often accuses men based on hearsay and gossip without providing credible evidence. No doubt, there are many women who have suffered and continue to suffer injustices under the hands of their male counterparts, but women are not infallible nor saints either; they should not be automatically sided with based on their gender. They are human beings and like men they also contain the whole gamut of existence, the good and the bad, the ugly and the beautiful. The claim of righteousness and superiority is a serious case of distortion and misjudgment.

When we choose to fight against injustice, we need to focus on what it is and equally who it is that we are targeting. Sexual assault as well as corruption and abuse of power and authority sadly exist in all societies around the world, and we need to tackle this with fervor and conviction.

We need to ensure that human rights are protected and respected by all and everyone and that includes children, women as well as men. It is an odd and disconcerting by-product of today’s world that men’s rights have become an issue, and even more so, that there are anti-feminist movements. The latter are often led by women who disagree with and criticize these radical, gender-divisive and discriminatory views.

To have democracy, we need a strong foundation, which is symbolized in trust and respect for law and authority in the form of constitutions and the courts. The latter are certainly not infallible; they have led to mistrials and wrongful verdicts, but they stand hand in hand with our democracy and are the best we have got under the circumstances.

Instead of ignoring, disregarding or discrediting them, we should bolster and fortify our courts and laws so that our system becomes stronger, sturdier and more just and so that they do not succumb to vain and destructive attacks of anarchy and of radicalism. 

Friday, November 29, 2019

Prisoner of Oneself: A Psychoanalytic Reading of The Little Stranger

Movie poster with well-dressed man holding the hand of a ghost girl
Filmmaker Lenny Abrahamson may be best known for his intricate and claustrophobic kidnapping drama Room (2015), but his best film to date is the Gothic drama / horror film The Little Stranger (2018).  One of the issues with his most recent film is also its inherent strength: it defies genre convention and is, as a result, hard to define or place. 

Although it has elements of horror, it is not a horror movie per se and may be akin to Wuthering Heights in its mood and sensibilities. Nonetheless, the filmmaker ingeniously uses horror tropes to not only shed light onto issues of class, society and tradition but also to highlight the role of personal trauma and suffering.

Briefly put, the center premise is that the crumbling mansion Hundreds Hall is past its prime and heydays, and it is being haunted by the ghost of a little girl who had died there various years ago. The current inhabitants are comprised of the mother Mrs. Ayres, her two adult children, Caroline and Roderick as well as their housekeeper Betty, and they all alternatively experience odd sensations and witness intermittent paranormal events and sightings. When the young ambitious country doctor Faraday enters this secluded and sheltered family, soon enough he also becomes aware of and attuned to an ominous presence.

Despite it all, none of them seem capable of escaping the grounds and premises, and in many ways, they end up projecting their own fears, longings and frustrations onto the ghost. Put differently, the little stranger comes to represent different subconscious facets of each of the individuals, while they are bound both physically and psychologically to the confines of the mansion and their own intangible desires.

I will give a brief description of each of the main characters here alongside their mainly unconscious fears and desires that they project onto the entity within the mansion. Please bear in mind that I have not read the book and that I watched the movie only once, so most likely there will be details that will have escaped me. 

Nonetheless, I was so impressed with the film and its themes that I felt compelled to write about it in some detail. Each main character will be given their own section, but there will be some overlap among them as they interact with and are in relation to each other.

Dr. Faraday

First off, I shall start from the periphery with the country doctor Faraday who enters the fray as the narrator of the film. He is called upon to treat the housekeeper Betty, but it turns out that her health is perfectly fine; her unease stems from being in the mansion, a place that frightens and unsettles her on a periodic basis. That piques the interest of Faraday, but in fact, the mansion has held a special place in his heart and mind for various years.

Indeed, that was not the first time he had entered the sheltered and reclusive mansion. As a child, he had managed to get a glimpse of Hundreds Hall; he even found a way in via his mother, a housemaid who used to work there in its glorious days while the little girl was still alive. Faraday’s mother fostered and flamed his childhood longings of the joys, privileges and entitlements that came with being part of the higher class and nobility, and hence, since his childhood, the mansion itself was imbued and filled with awe and magic in Faraday’s mind.

To the same extent that he admires the place and people, he also resents them. After Faraday as a young child enjoys sweets and candy that have never been accessible to him before, he walks off and wanders around in the mansion - something he is not allowed or permitted to do - and then he rips off an acorn from a wooden carving as a potential keepsake. However, his action is seen by Susan, often referred to as Suki, the girl that is the little stranger of the movie. In fact, when his mother finds out about his transgression, she chides him there and then and slaps him in the face.

However, he never returned the stolen piece; it was thrown into the fire and burnt down to ashes. But Faraday’s longing to be part of the household and its attached prestige has stuck with him for all the years; it has pushed and motivated him to work hard and to become a doctor, and yet, throughout all this time, he carries with him and cannot shake off his guilt for his childhood transgression.

After one of his doctor’s visits, he confesses to Caroline that he felt guilty about the incident, and she quickly forgives him. But he also let her know that his parents slaved away all their lives and had died in poverty to make his education possible; it was through their constant efforts that his career had become a reality. In fact, he wants her to know that, unlike the Ayers family, he had to work hard to reach his position and entitlements.

Throughout his life, Faraday kept alive the memory of this supposedly magical place; he wished and dreamed that one day he would be part of the mansion and that he would be respected by everyone. His colleague warns him to stay away from this family, but Faraday is intrigued and fascinated by what the place and family stand for. He keeps up his visits by first treating the invalid brother’s leg and then by asking for Caroline’s hand. Faraday also discovers that he is depicted in one of their family photos, but only his shoulder is visible as his head is eclipsed by the young girl who now haunts the premises.

Regardless his efforts, Faraday is rejected by them all. At a dinner party, the other guests reject and dismiss him as only an employee of the family and not deserving of being considered a veritable guest. Caroline rejects his wooing and says that although she likes and respects him as a friend, she would not marry him nor would she be happy living with him. In fact, his proposal was never even mentioned to Mrs. Ayers since she would immediately turn it down, at least according to Caroline.

When Faraday finally manages to have the brother locked away in an insane asylum, and after the mother commits suicide, Caroline herself dies under suspicious circumstances. But in the end the mansion Faraday strolls in is an empty and desolate place, mere ruins of what he had hoped for or imagined in his childhood. The nobility with all its glamour turns out to be empty façade and essentially meaningless and incapable of bringing joy or happiness to any of the individuals involved.

All these years, Faraday had been a prisoner of a fictitious idea and when he has his wish, he is still left with longings and desires, and he still is not accepted by society. Worse, in pursuit of his futile dream, he has sacrificed his own chances at a successful career in medicine; instead of moving to London, he remained put in his village. Like in the family portrait, he is and remains eclipsed by the Ayers family and their legacy.


The brother Roderick has never overcome his trauma nor his visible but more importantly invisible scars of his service during the war. At one point, Faraday attempts to treat his leg, but he notices that there are deeper psychological issues at stake. However, the brother would have none of it. Instead, he holds onto the drink and reluctantly but painfully begins to sell parts of the property so they can earn some necessary income for their livelihood. He rarely goes out and does not mingle with others, mainly due to his deformity but also because of his depressed mental state.

He complains that he cannot leave the place but that he perceives an evil presence that hates him. At other times, he would complain about the smell of fire. In fact, his trauma, his pain and suffering from the war have been left unprocessed and undigested. He has never come to face his inner demons from the atrocities of the war, and he projects those unwanted and subconscious feelings onto the ominous presence of the little girl.

In fact, his final mental breakdown occurs in the form of fire; he sets his own room on fire symbolically re-enacting the same way he has come to his injuries during the war. He remains a prisoner of his own trauma and is suffering from continuous bouts of PTSD. Nonetheless, unlike the other members of his family, he manages to escape from the premises since he ends up being taken away to a mental asylum.

Mrs. Ayers

The mother, the matriarch, is the stronghold of tradition and a symbol of a bygone era. She tries hard and one might add desperately and vainly to hold onto the remains of happier and more prosperous times for the higher-class elite. As such, she still invites and entertains her noble friends even though some seek and engage in business abroad, such as the United States and Canada and despite the fact that wealthy business people are beginning to intrude and infringe upon this privileged space once solely designated to and reserved for nobility.

We do not have much backstory about the mother nor about the death of her young child Susan, often referred to as Suki, but it is apparent that the mother is loaded with guilt and apprehension regarding her untimely death many years ago. Mrs. Ayers has not only been unable to process and digest the loss of her beloved daughter, but she has trouble acknowledging and accepting it. In fact, Mrs. Ayers claims that she is still in contact with her daughter and that Suki is sometimes upset and angry with her.

It is not clear to what extent the mother was or was not responsible for the girl’s death, but it is evident that it has left an indelible mark on her psyche. In addition to that, Mrs. Ayers has to deal with the gradual demise of her status as well as the forced selling of various parts of the property to make ends meet; it comes then as no surprise that Mrs. Ayers is filled with guilt, trauma and anxiety. She is a recluse who remains adamant in preserving the mansion to the best of her abilities as it is not only a symbol and a remnant of her once glorious past but also the physical and current spiritual abode of her beloved girl.

These pangs of guilt and denial come to haunt her to such an extent that she ends up feeling overwhelmed by the presence of the entity in the mansion, and, at one point, she even gets unexplained physical marks on her body, which are supposedly inflicted by her daughter. Faraday cannot find plausible explanations regarding what is happening before his eyes, and he asks Caroline to seek psychological support for her mother.

Not long after that conversation, they find Mrs. Ayers’ lifeless body in what must have been a case of suicide; she was desperately clutching onto a broken photo of her daughter at the bedside. Mrs. Ayers most likely used the shards of that frame to cut open her veins hence connecting the image of her daughter with her own death.


Last, but not least, there is Caroline, the daughter who supports her mother while also playing a maternal role in her relationship with her invalid brother Roderick. She rarely leaves the premises and has never married, nor does she seem to be looking for suitors. The only time she leaves the mansion is with Faraday and, in a moment of longing and desire, she almost has sexual intercourse with him in his car but then reconsiders and says that she simply cannot.

However, this only intensifies his desires for her. Then he proposes to her. At first, it appears that he has feelings for her, but they are for the most part tinged by his desire for what Caroline represents to him, namely higher position and standing in society. He unconsciously believes that by marrying her, he would attain his goals of acceptance and fulfill his lifelong dream of pertaining to the higher echelons of society.

Throughout his wooing, Caroline remains cool and distant. He is the one who is pressing her to tell her mother and to make some arrangements for their upcoming wedding. Faraday even sneaks out to obtain a wedding dress for her (with the help of Betty, the housemaid, he secretly snatches one of Caroline’s dresses for measurement at the tailor’s), and then Faraday gives her the ring of his mother. 

This is another important clue that his love for her is intimately connected with his mother’s shadow.
When Caroline suggests moving to another place, Faraday is abhorred by the idea. But Caroline, especially after the death of her mother, sees no motive to remain there and as she has no more ties with the mansion, she plans to leave Hundreds Hall. In fact, Caroline is displeased with the fact that Faraday has turned down an opportunity to work as a medic and researcher in London, which was done apparently for her sake. Caroline does not want to be tied down to anybody anymore and since she does not need to take care of neither her brother nor her mother anymore, she is free to leave; she feels elated about the fact of finally leaving the mansion behind.

Yet the past still haunts her one last time as she dies from a mysterious fall from the stairs. The fall may or may not be provoked but it happens at the onset of a surprising apparition to which she claims “you” in both surprise and anger, and as she walks back a few steps, she falls to her death.

It is evident that contrary to what Faraday says, this was not an act of suicide and quite distinct from her mother’s demise. Although the movie hints at the possibility that the doctor may have had something to do with her death, I do not think that he physically pushed her, but he certainly may have desired that outcome, especially after she rejected him and his advances and made him feel even more inferior. Sadly, even though Caroline comes close to escaping her past and the prison, she remains unsuccessful and loses herself in her own mix of desires of responsibility and duty and the incapacity of living an authentic life, mostly due to her higher standing in society.

Final Thoughts

One of the questions that the film never fully or clearly answers is whether the ghost is a figment of their imagination or whether it exists on its own right. However, the film implies that there is some paranormal presence at play. This starts with the foreboding sense of Roderick that something evil is about to occur and the subsequent vicious attack of a young girl by the family dog. We also witness a scene in which the mother is harassed by an evil presence and where the bells ring although the rooms are empty at the time. The feeble excuse that it must be the rats while there is no shot of the rodents is simply not enough to dispel the mystery.

There are also certain scenes that Faraday witnesses that are not compatible with science and reason. One of his colleagues claims that these paranormal incidents are the manifestation of subconscious fears and harmful desires that make their presence known to the people of the mansion. An entity may exist, but it would also be fed and magnified by the negative energy and thoughts and feelings of the people around it. This is the most plausible explanation of these supernatural events and serves to demonstrate how each character is caught up in a web of trauma, deceit and suffering, which they then project upon the little stranger.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Public Engagement on Cancer Care Part Three: On Prevention and Quality of Life

Attending and participating in the public deliberation on sustainable funding for cancer care this year was both a pleasure as well as an eye-opening and educational experience for me. I was able to talk to fellow BC residents alongside experts and scientists about relevant issues regarding our current health and cancer care system. This provided me with a unique opportunity to ask specific questions and share my own views, while I also ended up gleaning relevant and up-to-date information about the issues at hand. Finally, as a group, we made a series of recommendations to the provincial government and let politicians and decision-makers know our thoughts and priorities on the matter.

I have previously posted about the event (Public Engagement on Making Cancer Care Funding Fair andSustainable Day Oneand have briefly discussed treatment options, costs and research (Big Pharma, Innovation and Cancer Care) but here I would like to focus on some of the other themes and issues that stood out and were discussed in detail, namely, prevention and screening as well as treatment and quality of life. Lastly, I shall wrap up with some final thoughts and impressions on cancer and cancer care.

The best news you will hear within your lifetime is that you are fortunate enough not to have had cancer. Many of us – and we should count ourselves very lucky - will go through life without being diagnosed with this dreadful and debilitating disease; nonetheless, we cannot escape the fact that it will be in our vicinity and surroundings affecting our loved ones, friends, and people we care about. Considering its prevalence, it is best to have more knowledge and information about it, and one of the best things to do would be to raise awareness about prevention and screening.

This comes down to advice we have been hearing again and again from doctors as well as health and wellness experts who alongside parents and teachers continuously preach the importance of healthy eating and healthy lifestyles. 

Unfortunately, we are also prone to roll our eyes, let the information go in one ear and out the other, ignore or disregard the given information or erroneously and dangerously believe that we are automatically immune to it. This is a rather unfortunate trait that we have developed since adolescence and that many of us do not grow out of, the belief that we are invincible and that no harm shall fall upon us no matter how we act or what we do in our lives.

As a teenager, this was partly true for me, at least when it applied to nutrition. No matter what or how much I ate, I would be skinny and not gain any weight. However, alas those days are over as I am nowadays precariously hovering between the overweight and obese category, while weight management has become my thorn in the flesh. What this has shown me is that our bodies do not stay young and that there are certain precautions and safeguards that need to be put in place after a given age.

There are different reasons why it is important to take my health seriously. First off, unlike during my youth, I am not alone nor on my own anymore. At this stage of life, I am responsible for my family, particularly my pre-teen son who depends on me and who needs me to be healthy, now and into the distant future. 

If I were not to take care of myself now, I would indeed shorten my life span by a handful of years, at least to the extent that this issue be in my hands. Yet despite the potential threat of serious and uncaused accidents and illnesses, we do have more control and say in our lives than we generally acknowledge, notice or give ourselves credit for.

The first obstacle to overcome is a general laissez-faire attitude. We need to take active control and engagement in our healthy habits, which includes - but is not limited to - healthy and balanced nutrition alongside moderate forms of exercise. This becomes even more important once you have sailed past the shores of young adulthood and are entering a shifting territory more vulnerable to sickness and disease. As soon as the first signs and symptoms of disease appear, swift action needs to take place to avoid consequences and complications further down the road.

Hence, what can you do to keep cancer at bay? In fact, there are specific suggestions and recommendations. One of them is to reduce your intake of junk food. You do not need to avoid it entirely - and some people may actually do themselves more harm than good by trying to completely cut it out - but you should be aware of it and limit it to a certain extent. 

Those potato chips and candy bars may be tempting but they should be merely a guilty pleasure indulged in now and then without necessarily having to feel guilty about the act. Eating out on a regular basis would also not be recommended but doing so for special and specific occasions or at least reducing it to a maximum of once a week ought to be fine.

If you made the mistake of picking up smoking - whether you caved into peer pressure in your impressionable youth and / or wanted to look cool and fell for its supposed charms - right now is the right time to quit. Smoking is one of the few things that will always do harm even if it is done in moderation and those who claim to be social smokers are only conveniently deluding themselves.  

For instance, if you drink too much alcohol, you need to cut down on your consumption, but smoking with its equally harmful modern form of vaping needs to be completely stopped and eliminated. Smoking is the cause of myriad diseases, and it is most strongly correlated with lung cancer, but on the bright side, there are many ways to quit, while there is a lot of support out there for those who are serious about kicking the habit.

Once you have added a healthy dose of exercise to the mix, then you shall be able to reach and maintain that ideal weight, certainly not without persistent and continuous efforts. It is important again not to overdo any of this, be it in the form of excessive dieting, cutting out sugar, fat or any food groups entirely, nor should your exercising turn into an obsession. Wellness means to be and feel well, and one’s mental health plays an important role in it too, something I will briefly touch upon here but will elaborate further on this blog as well as in my upcoming book.

Finally, when it comes to cancer, we also need to ensure to go for regular check-ups. This is especially important if you have a genetic link to this disease. Regular efforts to screen and check for breast, testicular and prostate cancer can help us stay safe and healthy. We need to keep screening ourselves and need to keep in mind that early detection increases our chances for survival.

That prevention and screening are important to all of us was apparent throughout our discussions at the public engagement, and which is why we chose to allocate funding to these areas to ensure that our residents will never have to experience cancer. This would be a win-win situation as the government can also save a lot of money by not having to treat more patients. Not unlike the environment, we need to take immediate action as cancer is considered the new epidemic of modern times. Our actions undertaken now will save many lives in the future as prevention is the best cure and the key to health and wellness.

The second issue revolved around treatment and quality of life. With current treatment options, such as radiation and chemotherapy, cancer patients generally experience a significant number and amount of adverse side effects. This ranges from complete, albeit temporary, loss of hair to strong nausea, vomiting, continuous malaise and fragility. Considering that the treatment may not even be as effective as planned and predicted and taking into the account that one may gain time but is mostly too sick to enjoy any part of it, quality of life is something that needs to be evaluated and considered on a case to case basis.

How one wants to spend the remainder of one’s life with this debilitating illness is an important question to ask and address in each given situation. In the end, it is the patient who would need to make a difficult choice whether they want to accept a treatment that involves pain and sacrifice or whether they would prefer living out the time allotted to them with adequate levels of quality of life. All this, however, applies and is related to the current treatment options available. The silver lining is that there are and shall be other innovative treatments that would be easier to digest and that are accompanied with less severe side effects.

Whatever path one takes, it is important to maintain a holistic view throughout. The problem with doctors and medicine and to a large extent science itself is that they tend to disregard the spiritual and emotional aspects and spectrum. Doctors tend to focus on dealing with and combating the illness itself but often lose sight of the person attached to the body. But the cancer has become part of the body, and it is essential to take the whole person into account when dealing with this or for that matter any other disease.

Yet currently science has begun to acknowledge the role and importance of emotional and spiritual support, and as a result, more and more patients are given a more balanced and holistic care that would benefit them most under the circumstances. In fact, this can and should involve and be extended to the loved ones around them who also suffer from the consequences and repercussions of dealing with cancer.

Finally, a more psychologically robust self can enhance not only one’s lifespan but improve upon the life quality of the remaining course of the disease. Regardless of the circumstances and the suffering and hardship, it is vital to keep up the flames and rays of hope. It is easier said than done but one should not lose hope even in the face of adversity. This is where spirituality and one’s personal beliefs can best come into focus. A person who not only accepts their circumstances but manages to find meaning and purpose in them will be able to resist the disease much better and longer than those who resign and give up hope. 

We should also keep in mind that death will occur to each of us one way or another and that it is a fate no one will or can escape from. Whether one believes in an afterlife or not, whether one thinks that we will vanish into the void or re-appear in different forms and guises is a very personal issue indeed, and it is not up for debate here. The paths may be many, but the destination shall be the same.

Regardless of what one believes or does not believe in, it can still be imbued and injected with hope into and for the future, and that is the healthiest outlook to maintain while staring directly into the hideous face of this monstrous illness. In the meantime, the best we can do is to work towards preventing and screening for cancer, to raise awareness about it and to contribute in any way we can towards eventually finding a cure for it. I am hopeful that we are on the right path as long as we keep on treading forward.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Different Personality Types and Brain Systems by Helen Fisher

Helen Fisher sitting on stage laughing and answering questions

Ever since the inception of science, scientists have been trying hard to classify and fit everything and everyone from plants and animals to humans into distinct categories. For instance, the Greek physician and philosopher Galen based his four different types of personality on a person’s “humor,” which could be classified as either black or yellow bile, as blood, or as phlegm, while each category would be equipped and charged with specific criteria and personality characteristics.

The Big Five personality traits aside, the division of human personality into four distinct elements – earth, water, air and fire - has also been practiced by the field of astrology, yet it was refreshing for me to see that biological anthropologist / evolutionary psychologist Helen Fisher in her analysis broke down humans into four distinct categories based on differences in their brain chemistry.

I learnt about this classification when attending her lecture in Vancouver on attraction and human relationships, a topic that Helen Fisher knows best and most about due to her extensive research in the field. Yet in order to find out who could be matched with whom (keep in mind that Helen Fisher has also been involved in the creation of and, it is important to first know where oneself exactly stands on a specific spectrum of personality. 

As she was talking about the different types of brain systems with both their positive and negative aspects and connotations and as she was giving famous real-life examples of each one of them, I could not help but mentally position myself into two distinct groups.

In fact, it turned out that I was correct in my self-analysis as we were given a free test to gauge our very own brain system. Although I am unfortunately not able to make that gift to you, I can at best give you a summary of each of the systems so that you may self-classify yourself along the given spectrum. 

If interested, by all means do opt for the full test that Helen Fisher offers, which would come with relatively detailed explanations and charts; in fact, it is not unlike the astrology charts offered by astrologers except that her account is more embraced, accepted and backed up by science.

As a rule, there are four different brain systems based on individual variations and fluctuations in levels of dopamine, serotonin, testosterone, and estrogen. Although some may immediately assume that men will have higher testosterone levels and that women would thrive on estrogen, this is not necessarily the case. Brain chemistry levels can certainly be triggered and influenced by one’s gender, but there are various other factors that could come into play when dealing with the brain and one’s personality, such as genetic predisposition, upbringing, and culture.

In fact, when I heard the characteristics, I immediately knew that I was not going to fare well in the testosterone department, and indeed, I did not. But overall and in most cases, there would be two predominant traits among each of us, and they would set, define and / or favor a certain personality type.

Now let us look at each level on its own merits and drawbacks. To start off, we have the dopamine type of personality. These are usually explorers; they like to take risks, and they are rather curious. They are the ones who end up making the most amount of money but are at the same time capable of losing the most amount of money as well. This may be due to their impulsive and optimistic nature, but they are generally enthusiastic and generous people. They also tend to generate more ideas. In Helen Fisher’s words, they tend to vote for Democrats in the United States.

Yet dopamine explorers can have the following negative traits. They are easily bored and can become reckless. Their drive can keep them motivated and keep them on their toes, but it can also make them manic and, in some cases, even insincere. If you think, that all this makes it sound like an entrepreneur type of person, look no further than entrepreneur and venture capitalist and co-founder of PayPal Peter Thiel, who was held up as an example of such a type of person alongside journalist, feminist and political activist Gloria Steinem.

Then there are the serotonin builders. They tend to be the pillars of society. They are generally traditional and cautious in their outlook and approach to life. They are often modest, calm, and self-controlled, and they like to plan and schedule ahead. They are certainly not averse to routines, but at the same times they are precise, detail-oriented (they are generally very good with numbers and figures) and persistent. By the looks of it, it sounds like they would make good accountants as well as computer scientists.

Due to their traditional nature, they also tend to be religious as well as dutiful, respectful, and loyal. They are not revolutionaries but like to follow the rules and the established law. Indeed, they respect authority and do not like breaking rules or guidelines. At the same time, they are not fearful and can be stoic when facing dangers, obstacles, and difficulties.

On the negative side, they might end up being close-minded and rigid in their set and pre-established views, and they would also tend to be controlling. Two of the famous examples are current American Vice-President Mike Pence and Queen Elizabeth II. It may seem rather odd to have both of them in the same category, yet at the same time, it seems to make perfect sense.

The next brain chemistry category is the testosterone-driven director. They are analytical and logical, but also ambitious and competitive. They tend to be independent and self-disciplined, but they are also inventive. They are, for better or worse, emotionally contained and can also be skeptical of others. They are the ones, according to Helen Fisher, who would say the following to their spouses: Do I love you? I said, I love you last month, and nothing has changed since then, so why ask me the same question all over again?

Their negative traits reveal themselves in their impatient, exacting and demanding attitude towards others. In fact, when testosterone levels go up, empathy levels tend to decrease as well. This is also why men tend to be less emotional and empathetic compared to women.

But think about it, Helen Fisher told us. Men’s task and job was in fact not to be emotional and caring throughout evolution. Our ancestors would not have been able to kill animals for food had they been overly empathetic towards their prey. However, they also tend to be fair and that is an essential positive character trait they are endowed with. Famous examples include, not too surprisingly, Steve Jobs as well as Hillary Clinton.

Last but not least, there is the estrogen negotiator. They tend to be holistic and engage in what is referred to as web thinking (Helen Fisher stated that she used the term before the advent of the Internet). They are also imaginative and mentally flexible and can tolerate ambiguity.

Moreover, they are intuitive, introspective, nurturing, and empathetic, and they are good at reading faces and body posture. They are emotionally expressive as well as diplomatic and have strong people skills. In fact, they tend to be trusting and seek meaning and harmony in everything they do.

Conversely, they can also be scattered and indecisive. They could harbor negative feelings and ruminate about what you said or did five years ago. They can be hypersensitive (I would not be surprised if most or all Highly Sensitive Persons or empaths would fall into this category) and they tend to overthink things and could also be gullible due to their sensitive and trusting nature.

Famous examples include Oprah Winfrey, who seems to be the embodiment of almost all of the above traits as well as Charles Darwin who astonishingly managed to connect and encompass the whole of humanity and human history with his theory of evolution. In fact, Darwin was also high in dopamine adding the element of curiosity with the drive for exploration.

Finally, Helen Fisher quipped that many say that there has never been a female president in the history of the United States, but this may not be entirely true. There was indeed Bill Clinton with his soft face who scored high on most of what is traditionally designated as feminine traits and characteristics.

There you have the four brain systems by Helen Fisher! Should you take everything at face value? It is grounded in science, but one should still take it all with a proverbial grain of salt. But at the same time, I find it most interesting to combine neuroscience with personality traits.

It may not be perfect as of yet, but there could be more precise and more accurate measurements and predictions in the future, and ones that do not solely rely on self-survey questions but that would combine quantifiable information of brain chemistry alongside genetic codes and signposts.

Does this sound scary? Would we be better off because of it? Hard to say for now, but I would highly recommend ways and attempts of understanding oneself and others better, and this brain system is most interesting and promising in those aspects, and more.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

On Heartache and Burnout: A Personal Interview with Holistic Wellness Expert Jennifer Marcenelle

Smiling woman sitting on a couch
Last Friday I had the pleasure to have a phone interview with Jennifer Marcenelle, a board-certified, holistic, registered nurse with over 30 years of experience in the medical field who is, moreover, an energy medicine practitioner of Gemstone and Diamond Therapy. This personal interview came about through the efforts of Public Relations Manager Arden Izzo, who had first contacted me with background information as well as a brief article on Jennifer’s experience, practice, and initiatives and who then set up and arranged my interview with her.

Jennifer who used to work as a cardiovascular nurse for over 20 years considers emotional stress, heartache and burnout as serious but generally under-reported and unacknowledged sources and causes of illness and disease. Since she viewed and approached stress and burnout through a holistic lens and away from the current standard and traditional practice of Western medicine, I was not only intrigued but very eager to personally speak with her about these matters that are close to my own heart (pun intended).

Our conversation started off with a bit of background information about herself. Thanks to her knowledge, experience, and work ethic, she achieved higher levels of leadership and management positions in the health care industry. However, all of that took a heavy toll on her health and led to a near suicide due to burnout. 

It was at that point when she had a life-changing spiritual experience. She realized that not only was there a driving resistance against change within her, but the main issues in her life could be traced back to problems with “energy” levels. 

In fact, she was energetically damaged by hate and jealousy projections from others as well as by herself. Although she was already practicing alternative medicine, such as acupuncture and Chinese medicine, the problems had been alleviated to a certain degree, but then they plateaued and stagnated and did not advance much further thereafter.

This led her towards another path, one that was further away from corporate America and towards a place that was both physical and spiritual in nature and in which she could receive and later herself provide what is known as energy healing

Jennifer told me that one of the main causes for burnout is our relationships, namely the relationship we have with ourselves as well as with others. We often carry around negative energy in the form of thoughts and feelings, but we also absorb the negative energy that is oozing and emitted from and by others. Becoming aware of these emotions and then releasing them is part of the process of realizing what is true and essential to one’s own unique and special way of being.

This is what constitutes wellness, according to her. The problem with Western medicine is that we tend to turn to pills to alleviate the symptoms, but pills are and cannot be wellness. In fact, they tend to make the problems worse as they are not directly treating or dealing with them but rather circumventing and avoiding the real issues and problems while causing many unwanted and potentially damaging side effects.

Symptoms of any kind are indeed a message from our body, and they show us what specific parts of ourselves need to be changed and healed. For instance, in my case, I tend to suffer from higher cholesterol, and I am generally urged by my family physician to take pills, which is her response to any medical issue; nonetheless, we would still need to keep in mind that cholesterol has its own function as a natural protection against inflammation. Just blocking a natural defense system from doing its diligent work and ignoring or drowning the message it is trying to give us would be counterproductive.

It does not mean one should always avoid medication, far from it, but rather one should take it, if, when and only as long as it is necessary; put differently, it should be used only as a temporary measure and at the correct dose. 

One should not overlook other more natural and much more effective means, such as diet, lifestyle, and, most importantly, a reduction of overall stress, all of which would need to be addressed first to effect and bring about healing.

Jennifer further explained that each organ in our body has an energetic counterpart, an aura or a chakra, so-to-speak. In fact, strong emotions have their emotional connection with a physical body part; for instance, anger and jealousy literally burn in one’s inside and cause and contribute to energetic injury, which can eventually lead to burn-out.

We often unconsciously acknowledge this connection when we say that love is “pulling at one’s heart strings.” Indeed, emotional stress and heartache can damage the heart, change its shape or deform it, and in some extreme and dire cases, it can even lead to death. Jennifer personally witnessed this when a mother collapsed and succumbed to a heart attack when visiting her injured son at the hospital. In fact, recent research shows that emotional stress can also alter the brain, which has given insights into post-traumatic stress disorder and why it is so pervasive, prolonged and harmful when left untreated.

What can we do about emotional stress then and how we can protect ourselves from it? The best way to find wellness would be to release and remove the negative energy we carry inside. Unfortunately, we have become less and less adept at doing so. Jennifer suggested that we work with a practitioner to create balance and equilibrium in our aura or in the energetic anatomy. 

In fact, everything in our environment has a given frequency and reacts with energy fields. For instance, herbs that stem from the plant kingdom have their own vibratory rate, which affects healing, but the frequency of plants is relatively small.

On the other hand, the mineral kingdom has much higher crystalline frequency and its healing rate, as a result, would be much higher as well. Practices like diamond or crystal therapy alongside meditation and yoga can help realign vibratory forces. When you meditate with the sound of Ohm, the verbal components of the word can help your body, which is mostly made of water, vibrate, and this can aid healing.

Asked upon her own meditation practice, she told me that she likes to engage in what is known as contemplation or active meditation. For about twenty minutes and twice a day, she would try to focus and connect to the divine to reach a certain form of cleansing from within. She would, however, be discouraged from doing the type of inward meditation I engage in, which is, by all means and purposes, construed as rather passive: a kind of Zen sitting and being aware of feelings that naturally come and arise.

The problem with such passive meditation, in her view, was that it could leave one at the mercy of evil energy or forces out there. She claimed that certain things, certain thoughts and emotions, should be avoided, and that some fears are best left alone or dealt with only with the presence of a licensed practitioner.

This was one of the few instances we disagreed with each other as my approach is to actively seek out what one is afraid of and to face one’s inner demons. There was a noticeable and palpable moment of silence on the other side of the phone when I mentioned those words. 

I myself strongly advocate psychoanalysis as a means of releasing trapped and accumulated negative memories, feelings and experiences so that one can become free and independent from their pernicious influence.

Contrary to avoiding certain thoughts and emotions, I believe that those are the ones that ought to be faced, addressed, and confronted to begin with. Without stepping out of one’s comfort zone and without making unconscious processes conscious - some of which will feel quite uncomfortable - nothing true and lasting could be achieved, and we would be only caught in a vicious cycle.  

Upon my question on what she thought about psychology and psychotherapy, Jennifer responded that she believed one should have no agenda and one should not live by the truth that others propose but rather be guided by one’s own personal truth. 

The problem, she added, is that psychology alongside Western medicine, has its limitations as it is too focused on the mental structure. They work well with the mental body, yet at the expense of all the other bodies that we are made up of, including feelings, intuition as well as spirituality.

There is hope, however. Many in the medical community are changing their views on these issues and have become more open and flexible to alternative medicine and holistic care. In fact, there are various methods and treatments, such as Reiki and general holistic care in many systems and at different hospitals and institutions. This type of acceptance of different views on health care and wellness has also become visible at cancer care facilities that do not merely or solely rely on traditional Western medicine.

In fact, at the public deliberation meetings on cancer funding I attended earlier this year, I was made aware of a local supportive cancer care facility by the name of Inspire Health. At this institution, they support cancer patients by adding holistic practices, such as yoga and meditation as well as a person-based model or outlook that focuses on stress, emotional support, nutrition, and spirituality. In fact, I am planning to visit this place soon, so I shall be able to provide more details about their approach as well as practice.

Why is it that traditional medicine has been so skeptical, narrow-minded and even averse to those changes for such a long time? I asked. The answer, Jennifer responded, goes back to the United States when influential and wealthy people like John D. Rockefeller - in fact, he is considered one of the wealthiest Americans of all time - wished to make additional sums of money from the fountains of the petrochemical industry. 

As a result, they developed the medical model that would actively utilize sources of petroleum, commonly referred to as Big Pharma nowadays. By relying on this limited and often ineffective definition of health and wellness, it helped owners and shareholders grow their own pocketbooks, but left the patients to deal with various medical issues and complications. 

To heal, it is important to go inward and take responsibility for oneself and one’s health, and one needs to realize what parts to address and change in one’s body and mind. This cannot be achieved via pills or medicine but needs to go much deeper and further than that.

Although I entirely agree with Jennifer that healing comes from going inside and releasing accumulated negative energy, our means and approaches seem to be rather different. I am accepting and open-minded of other points of views and practices, but I tend to be skeptical of proposed treatments like diamond therapy. However, Jennifer pointed me towards the book Gemstone Energy Medicine: Healing Body, Mind and Spirit by Michael Katz, which I would have to consult in the near future for more information and details on the topic.

All in all, I very much enjoyed talking with Jennifer over the phone, and I learnt a lot about treatments I had known very little about. In addition, Jennifer is a very pleasant and resourceful person to talk to, and if you are interested to know more about her as well as her services and practices, please feel free to visit her website at