Sunday, March 21, 2010

will the real alice please stand up?

at 18 i realized i had no idea why people do what the do. a huge part of the rest of my life spent trying to discover this. hours of therapy, visits to psychics, a summer reading forty-four books by and about c.g. jung. decades disappeared in the quest. and all i ultimately came up with said by la rochefoucauld: everyone acts out of self-interest.

actually, this remains a pretty good rule of thumb, though it explains nothing! for example, most people get pregnant by accident, and continue out of vanity, the child an extension of them. as my friend marilyn says, 'parents want to be able to brag about their children.' must be tough when they're drug-addicts and in jail. yet self-interest doesn't reveal the driving forces of parenthood and the ability to transform oneself into caring for another. somehow it generally works. not always. a therapist friend has had parents shoot each other in front of the kids, throw babies against the wall, exasperated by their crying. that's why to praise the family as the end-all and be-all of values a rather cruel joke.

mobs do act in predictable ways. once individuality subsumed in a movement, caught up in an archetype (as jung would say) they're swept along until the wave crashes on the shore. so individuality defined and asserted creates everything useful to a civilized life. and when it comes down to the individual, the mystery begins.

take alice from wonderland, for example. wonderfully in the original book, we're privy to her often rebellious thoughts. adults tell her what to do all the time. sometimes she submits out of discretion and kindness. other times she fights back or simply walks away. it's this see-saw which strikes us as both funny and universal in the face of uncertain and strange encounters.

the latest movie with johnny depp confused me. by turning the story into a normal hollywood battle-ground tale it foisted on alice the role of the modern heroine fighting dragons. she resists assuming it and yields in the end. and certainly she feels an accomplishment in cutting off the flying creature's head. (as always, we ultimately feel sorry for the villainous animal with whom we identify in the midst of these crazy humans.) the film contains witty turns of events based on our memories of the original book. yet alice as an individual more complicated than ever.

another example, the four gospels. matthew, mark, luke, and john create very different christs, the warrior vs the healer vs the poet, for example. one success of this approach: you can mix and match characteristics, creating the christ you need. nothing wrong with this, though no one artificially created saviour more true than another. thus christians all through history have been able to kill each other with impunity.

no, the closest i can get is understanding a few things about myself. i may question the concept of family-hood for self-protective reasons. ours in debt the whole time i was growing up. i knew to have a family meant doing a lot of things you didn't want to do. then, the uncertainly of the children's fate would have driven me crazy. true, i'm less domesticated for all this. and maybe my helpless feeling of the individual being inscrutable derives from the lack of experience.

whatever it is, i'm as ignorant as ever. how do drivers generally manage to keep within the lines on the highway? perhaps the answer is trust. we have to live on the hope civilization is possible, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.