Saturday, October 24, 2009

Mind over Mutter

The final sequence of Ken Kesey's memorable One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is particularly painful for you because, just as Chief Bromden's realization of what has been done to McMurphy is devastating to him, so too does the full impact of what has been done to McMurphy come through to you.  From the very beginning, in more ways than you were comfortable with, you identified with McMurphy.  The novel resounds thunderously because of its symbolic portent:  Don't mess with the system or the system will lobotomize you.

By its intrinsic nature, the system will set forth to lobotomize the individual, particularly the rebel, or the anarchist or, worse yet, the artist and the prescient thinker.  In the natural availability of dualities, of chocolate vs vanilla, of Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray Tonic vs Dr. Brown's Creme Soda, or pastrami vs corned beef, there is the choice to be of the asylum or of its administration; our entire mode of behavior is enhanced from the point where we make the choice.  Continue to rebel or continue to suppress.

The lobotomy is an ugly, extreme solution, a step that came to haunt and horrify the Kennedy family when it was done to young Rosemary.  Even their money and access to scientific and technological resources could not put them in a position to undo what had been done, and they are in a metaphoric sense weather vanes of the fact that lobotomizing is still being performed in other, less obvious, more insidious ways, perhaps even to the great numbers of us, perhaps even to you.

One of the great sources of lobotomy is the media of pop culture; you could even say the line-up of TV programming on any given day.  To be sure, there are mind, body, and spirit enhancements offered throughout any twenty-four hour cycle, but accompanying it is the combined vitriol, ignorance, and the negative tweaking of racial and social positions, to say nearly nothing yet about artistic and cultural standards.  The goal of the contemporary version of lobotomy is to induce anger, fear, intransigence, directing these potent forces to define an us and a them as opposed to the artistic and cultural standards that cause us to examine ourselves as a means of expanding the arc and comfort of our survival as a species.

Talk radio has become the Nurse Ratched of the twenty-first century; to mix the metaphor, it is the Roman Circus in which the score and sympathy is always with the lions; it is Inquisition and witch-burning rolled into one, it is the McCarthy and House Un-American Affairs Committee on steroids.

Lobotomy is also manifest in the kinds of authoritarianism and moral certainty that turn such human qualities as faith and conscience and tolerance into the plastic peanuts used in packing and shipping fragile items.  Although it borders on the smarmy, how nice to see the religious leader and the scientist meeting in the common landscape of doubt, thus the religious leader who doubts his or her faith and the scientist who doubts the established standards of proof.

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