The Riven Self
Or: The Nature of Depression & Sin
Depression is defined and characterized at length, at multiple levels of analysis. An especially sharp distinction is made between the real nature of depression as a mood disorder, and negative emotions such as sadness and grief. These definitions of Depression are used to examine faith through comparisons and contrasts. The nature of Depression is examined in relationship to our fundamental drive for Power and Rank, and thus Good and Evil. Conceptual clarifications of darker facets of psychology (i.e., Depression and Power) are used to better understand the lighter aspects of our mental life (i.e., the nature of Faith). Thus, in this context, I argue that Faith can be our worst Vice, but also our greatest Virtue.
Nowhere, Beloved, will World be but within us. Our life passes in transformation. And the external shrinks into less and less. Where once an enduring house was, now a cerebral structure crosses our path, completely belonging to the realm of concepts, as though it still stood in the brain. Our age has built itself vast reservoirs of power, formless as the straining energy that it wrests from the earth. Temples are no longer known. It is we who secretly save up these extravagances of the heart. Where one of them still survives, a Thing that was formerly prayed to, worshiped, knelt before— Just as it is, it passes into the invisible world. Many no longer perceive it, yet miss the chance to build it inside themselves now, with pillars and statues: Greater.
—Rainer Maria Rilke ~ “The Seventh Elegy” (1923)
Yes, I will be thy priest, and build a fane in some untrodden region of my mind, where branched thoughts, new grown with pleasant pain, instead of pines shall murmur in the wind…And in the midst of this wide quietness a rosy sanctuary will I dress with the wreth’d trellis of a working brain, with buds, and bells, and stars without a name…
—John Keats ~ “Ode to Psyche” (1819)
The bells, I say, the bells break down their tower; and swing I know not where. Their tongues engrave membrane through marrow, my long-scattered score of broken intervals. …And I, their sexton slave! … And so it was I entered the broken world to trace the visionary company of love, its voice an instant in the wind (I know not whither hurled) but not for long, to hold each desperate choice.
—Hart Crane ~ “The Broken Tower” (1932)
When I was born, you waited behind a pile of linen in the nursery, and when we were alone, you lay down on top of me, pressing the bile of desolation into every pore. … You taught me to exist without gratitude. You ruined my manners toward God. … I was already yours – the Anti-Urge, the mutilator of souls. … Unholy ghost, you are certain to come again.
—Jane Kenyon ~ “Having It Out With Melancholy” (1993)
I lay in dark. Across from my bed is my closet, whose door is open. There is just enough moonlight through the blinds to give gradations of gray. I lift my hand up in front of me, overlaying the closet. My glasses are off, so the world is blurry only a short distance from my eyes. The darkness of my hand begins to blend in to the darkness of the open closet, and I stare at my hand as long as I can.
Depression is the Absence of Meaning, the Apocalypse of Affect. Its real opposite is not Joy, but Elation; Vitality. (You may be familiar with the classic term élan vital.) It is the neglected Shadow, who was once visible but not felt, yet is now felt but unseen. It is the simultaneous shutting down of numerous systems: The intrinsic ability to feel any pleasure; the capacity not only to consider, but to execute a motor movement…to act; the inability to inhibit (to divert attention away from) ruminative thoughts, especially negative thoughts; the wholesale diminution of one’s primal emotive light, for both positive and negative emotions – i.e., numbness; and the metastasis of internal thought at the expense of external action. Depression is, in a very real sense, a kind of narcissistic self-absorption, but not narcissistic in the psychiatric, deviant-adult sense: Rather, it is narcissistic in the sense that all young children are narcissistic. Quite simply, they must be solipsistic and selfish, because they have no energy, no capacity, no engrained habits for the other-directedness of healthy adults. Despite such self-centeredness, depressives are left with the gnawing sense that they are no longer the subject of their own narrative.
—To call Depression a “mood disorder” is to put it lightly. It is THE mood disorder – terminal stasis – destroying local movements as it rolls over the mind, cracking the frozen tundra of Self. To exist in Depression is be buried under Zeno’s Paradox: There is seemingly no possible way that any act of creation can ever be completed, because you only see the infinity of steps between the present and the potential. Moreover, you do not have the resources to surmount such fatalism, because you are constantly ruminating on the infinity of steps from the present into the past: The Quicksand of Memory. Depression is often reductively characterized as “sadness”, but this is deeply incorrect and I’d like to destroy this notion in you. Sadness, grief, sorrow, and misery are gateways to Depression, sure, but not because they’re inexorably linked; rather, Depression is the nervous system (i.e., biology) “giving up” on the mind (i.e., psychology) when one’s experience has become intolerable. Such intolerability often occurs after abnormally protracted grief and suffering.
—Depression is Stasis, it is the destruction of Dynamism. In a sense, Depression is the result of a mind bereft of Change. I have often wondered if a person who is constantly happy and joyous for too long, with no dynamic to their emotional life, will also become depressed because they are no longer able to feel Sadness. (I suspect there is something to this idea, especially looking at the world of celebrity and lavish Decadence historically.) It is an addiction to constancy, and to the means by which that constancy is preserved. It is an inability to be with one’s self without the existential threat of Boredom. (If you cannot complete any motor act, any act of creation, then Boredom becomes a special form of Impotence and Torture. See what happens when you take away any media from a child who has been absorbed in such media for an extended period of time. See their initial desperate inability to be content following its removal. You are witnessing the raw material from which Depression and Addiction are born.) It is the inability to be self-sufficient, necessitating a constant consumption of external means for creating short-term psychological states. Is it any wonder that Addiction typically follows the dimming specter of Depression? Or that constant Consumption precedes an inability to be Alone with one’s self, rather than Lonely?
—So Depression is not one kind of psychological trait, but the destruction of psychological states entirely: The ultimate Blank Slate. It’s no coincidence that a major depressive episode can eliminate entirely a depressive’s ability to speak, to engage in motoric thought. Depression is, in a sense, one side of a two-way door that opens widest toward ultimate Objectivity: Banishment of the mind from the Tower of Self, now cowering in the clouds. Where Subjectivity is associated with speed, recklessness, directness, closeness, and heat, Objectivity is associated with sloth, deliberation, obliqueness, distance, and cold. Depression has long been linked to academic and scholarly melancholy. Again, this is no coincidence: Knowledge and Inhibition and Self-Awareness bring with them a muting of activity. In small doses, this is necessary for civilization and proper social functioning. We all see the destructive power of selfish, inconsiderate people who can’t seem to shut up or stop acting on their world. Taken to its extreme, this inhibition can result in a permanent flat-lining of action and behavior.
—Depression is an example of what I confidently call Toxic Femininity. If Toxic Masculinity is unchecked masculinity, including entrenched narrow-mindedness and violence and expansive posturing, then Toxic Femininity is its vicious corollary, constituted by broad-mindedness and passivity and contracted posture. Depression was classically known as a feminine disorder, along with Catatonia, Dependence/Addiction, Madness, Masochism, Promiscuity, Anorexia, and Schizophrenia. While offensive to some, I think there is great truth in this formulation. Just as there is great truth in the idea of classically masculine disorders, such as Mania, Hyperactivity, Disconnection/Isolation, Obsession, Sadism, Onanism, Megarexia, and Autism.
—Do you see a common theme running through each group of illnesses? Those disorders that constitute Toxic Femininity involve either the dissolving of Self-boundaries, the giving away of Self to something/-one else, the loss of motor activity and movement, or the withering of Self. In other words, Toxic Femininity is the dissolution or dwindling of Self. Meanwhile, Toxic Masculinity involves either the pathological creation of boundaries and divisions, the withholding of Self from contact with others, excessive or violent movement, or the over-expression or expansion of the Self. In other words, Toxic Masculinity is the unmoored metastasis of Self.
—To be trapped in the Self is a special kind of Hell. One doesn’t realize just how necessary expression and behavior and motor actions are for keeping one sane and surviving, until they have been through depression in some form. The neurological floodgates must be loosed every once in a while, the windows of the mind opened and aired. For behavior allows us to divide and bound and order the chaos inside us, allows us to exercise and exorcise it. All action is aggression, even fearful and hiding behavior. The endgame of depression is behaviorally defined as “learned helplessness”: Like the rat in a Skinner Box, who gives up escaping constant stress and pain, the terminal depressive doesn’t even try to hide their self from misery anymore, they simply take it in passivity. Attempts to alleviate such numbness, no matter how misguided, are ultimately a sign that the Self is still there, and can (at least) act out of Fear and Desperation, even if Love and Contentment no longer stir their souls as viable conative options. If one has no prospect for future preservation of Self, then better to die with it relatively intact than to live divided: The Anti-Urge’s mitotic metastasis. I think this is, oddly, why terminal depressives don’t usually commit suicide. It’s not because they don’t want to, it’s because they can’t work up enough energy to exhibit such violent action, or cannot break out of the profane loop they are stuck in. Even the act of suicide is transformed into a neurological purgatory: A wishful, wistful thought that temporarily comforts simply because it allows for some modicum of fleeting feeling. It is only in the early days of recovery – or the beginning of manic phases for those with bipolar disorders – that suicide becomes a tenable option. Along with reasons outlined above, I hesitantly speculate that this may help explain why depressives become a greater risk of suicide once they have just started on medication.
The increasing prevalence of Depression, especially in American life, should be quite disquieting.
—As of 2011, over 1 in 10 adults in the US are currently taking anti-depressants (CDC, 2011). However, this masks the true extent of depression’s prevalence, as many folks go untreated even while displaying symptoms. A large-scale survey (Pratt & Brody, 2014) by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) reports that 7.6% of 12+ year old Americans (around 16 million Americans), at the time they were surveyed, had experienced moderate (60%) or severe (40%) depressive symptoms within the previous 2 weeks. Not surprisingly, 90% of those with severe depressive symptoms reported extraordinary difficulty carrying out basic work, home, and/or social activities. Note the use of the term “depressive symptoms”, not a fully psychiatric diagnosis of Depressive Disorder: That’s because half of those experiencing depressive symptoms had not yet sought treatment, even if they would likely be diagnosed with a Depressive Disorder if they were seen by a doctor. (See the “Psychiatric” section below for greater detail on the varieties of Depressive Disorders.) Economically poor people were 2.5x more likely to have Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) symptoms than those at or above poverty line, which lends more context as to Depression’s undertreatment. 35.3% of people with severe symptoms reported that they’d visited a mental health professional within the last year. In every defined age group, females exhibited higher rates of depression than males. Both sexes exhibit the same general pattern: An increasing rate from the 12-17 to 18-39 age groups, increasing further to 40-59 ages, and then dropping drastically for 60+ year olds. I invite the reader to speculate on why rates fall so drastically around that age. (I doubt it’s a good thing.)
—The destruction wrought by MDD is seen in the toll it takes on the US economy. By at least 2004 (and ever since), mental illnesses have accounted for more cases of disability in first-world, developed countries than any other class of illnesses, e.g., heart disease and cancer (World Health Organization, 2004). More recently, a large study of the economic costs and burdens inflicted by Depression measured the increase in such costs between 2005 and 2010 (Greenberg, Fournier, Sisitsky, Pike, & Kessler, 2015). Their analyses are notable, since they control for comorbidity with other illnesses, particularly Bipolar Disorders and Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD), to attain a clean measure of MDD’s specific economic burden. Economic costs were assessed by medical costs to the depressive and their family, estimated lifetime earnings lost by those with MDD who commit suicide, and workplace costs regarding absenteeism and reduce productivity.
—Greenberg et al. found that prevalence of MDD rose from 13.8 to 15.4 million adults, especially amongst 50+ year olds. Following the recession of 2008 saw an increase in the number of people with MDD, previously employed full-time, become part-time (1.6 million). Obviously those without MDD showed declines in employment as well following the recession, but every type of decrease in employment rate was significantly worse for those with MDD. Treatment rate for those with MDD increased 4% from 2005 to 2010 (which does not keep up with the increase in people showing depressive symptoms, by the way). Meanwhile, the overall economic burden of MDD increased from $173.2 to $210.5 billion from 2005 to 2010, adjusted for inflation; that’s a 21.5% increase of economic burden. A large fraction of this percentage increase was attributed to higher medical costs and decreased productivity while at work.
—Such sociological findings merely “scratch the surface” of Depression’s machinery of misery. Depression’s personal and professional deficits, illuminated by epidemiological research, underscore the point made previously, that Depression is the absence of affect, not the presence of negative affect. This is a subject that far exceeds the purview of this one, but we should take a moment to better characterize what is meant by affect and emotion, given how pervasive this idea is.
—I view emotions in the following way: In the same way that the retina houses rod and cone cells for the sensory modality of vision, the same way that your cochlea houses hair cells tuned to different frequencies for the sensory modality of audition, and the same way that your skin houses a handful of different kinds of cells for the sensory modality of tactition: I believe a fruitful way of viewing affect is to think of emotions as the “sensory receptors” for our sense of motivation. Rage, Play, Fear, Love…: All these emotive states bias our actions and cognitions by processing and privileging certain aspects of our self and environment more than others. They are the motivational precursors of attentional processes, couching and contextualizing what would otherwise be a chaos of semi-random behaviors in the face of sensory input. Thus, emotions are the sense receptors of motivation.
—The motivational sense is thus what shuts down during Depression. In this light, Depression is the absence of an entire sense, much like blindness is the absence of vision. In consequence, the amplitude and frequency of Depression’s sensory decrease plays a major role in defining and operationalizing Depression in a clinic manner.
What we colloquially call “Depression” is defined, in the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) 5th edition of the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), as an umbrella category called “Depressive Disorders”. In the DSM-5, the category of Depressive Disorders is constituted by the following variations:
- Major (MDD)
- Single Episode (sMDD)
- Recurrent Episode (rMDD)
- Persistent (PDD)
- Disruptive Mood Dysregulation
- Premenstrual Dysphoric
- Due to Another Medical Condition
- Other Specified
—That’s a lot, and I have reordered them from the DSM-5 to simplify the topic. So let’s cut to the core of Depression by putting aside some of these subtypes, some of which are newer and more controversial. Subtypes 7 and 8 (Other Specified & Unspecified) are statements of clinical ignorance, so we can exclude them. Subtypes 5 and 6 (Substance-/Medication-Induced & Due to Another Medical Condition) are more allusive, referential subtypes, more interested in Depression as an emergent effect of another illness and not per se, so let’s exclude them, too. Subtypes 3 and 4 (Disruptive Mood Dysregulation & Premenstrual Dysphoric) are contextual subtypes of depression, couched in particular illnesses that have more timely urgency as of the current edition, and have greater sex-specificity: 3 is often comorbid with ADHD, and thus more expressed by males, while 4 is clearly specific to females. Casting aside the more contextual or referential subtypes (and those encoding clinical ignorance), we are left with 2 subtypes, the core of the disorder: Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), and Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD).
—MDD should simply be named “Episodic Depressive Disorder”, as both of its own subtypes are differentiated from PDD by severity and, especially, duration. Think of MDD as referring to spikes of depression along an individual’s life course, and of PDD as a long-term wave of depression. Often, PDD does not present symptoms quite as severe as those of a Major Depressive episode, yet people with PDD exhibit higher rates of psychological impairment, comorbidity, and suicidality than those exhibiting MDD. Furthermore, we should specify what is meant by an “episode”. An episode is not a fleeting, day-long period of time; rather, an episode is defined as at least 2 weeks long. So a person diagnosed with sMDD has had a single attack of depression for over 2 weeks, while a person with rMDD has had at least 2 attacks of depression punctuating their mental state with at least 2 months separating the attacks, and no meeting of depressive diagnosis in the time between attacks. PDD, in contrast, exhibits a persistent exhibition of depressive symptoms for at least 2 years (or 1 year for children/adolescents), with no more than 2 months without such symptoms during those 2 years.
—In other words, MDD is “digital” depression; PDD is “analog” depression. But the broader point is that even a punctuated attack of depression still lasts for a relatively long period of time. It is not a fleeting psychological state, like an emotion. Mood disorders like depression are, by definition, sustained over a stretch of time in a trait-like manner. Understanding this distinction between psychological states and traits, between “short-term” and “long-term” psychological events, is important for understanding the rest of this essay.
—The diagnostic criteria for an episode of MDD state that one must experience 5+ of the following symptoms (encoded across 3 categories), continuously, for at least a 2 week period:
- Mood Symptoms:
- Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, depressed mood (negative basic emotionality)
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness (negative social emotionality)
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyable
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Cognitive Symptoms:
- Difficulties with sustained attention and concentration
- Difficulties with making decisions
- Physical Symptoms:
- Loss of energy and/or libido
- Increase or decrease in weight or appetite
- Abnormal increase or decrease in activity: Either psychomotor agitation (more active) or psychomotor retardation (less active)
- Increase or decrease in sleep (hypersomnia or insomnia)
These symptoms must be present most/all days during the episode, and must also cause significant distress in daily functioning.
—One reason Depression – or any psychiatric disorder, really – is so hard to pin down is because its symptoms are deeply felt at the individual, psychological level, yet its treatment occurs at the pharmacological or physiological level. Sometimes it’s hard to discuss Depression when much of its verbal diagnostic involves existential questions about the value of one’s existence. If you read classic texts in clinical psychology, psychotherapy, and psychiatry, disorders are often analyzed in context of spirituality, religion, and mythology. In other words, mental disorders are seen in context of institutions and social phenomena that help us create meaning in our lives. This humanism is often overlooked, yet it is vital for the cognitive treatment of such disorders.
—I remember sitting in a psychiatrist’s office once, undergoing the hour intake interview to assess where we should start treating my own Depression. I was clearly annoying the doctor. He was a nice but very antsy, jumpy, fast-talking guy. He would ask me questions like, “Do you believe in God? and are you in any way religious/spiritual?” To which my response, after much dead-eyed staring downward, began with, “Wow, what a deep question, I’m not sure where to begin… I suppose my views on religion began to form when I was 3 years old. In my younger and more vulnerable years…” After about a minute of struggling to speak to such a complicated topic at all, much less coherently, I looked up and saw how irritated he was at not getting a straight answer. But what else did he expect with a depressive? an academic depressive?
—I believe that there is much to be learned by little facts like this, both about how depressives tend to think, and about how unequipped non-depressives (even – I’d argue especially – well-educated ones) are for dealing with folks under the yoke of Depression. Moreover, an analysis and deep clarification of what Depression is – or more accurately, what it should be defined as – will help make sense of Depression as an increasingly prevalent ravaging force in modern life, and will in turn tell us some profound truths about the nature of what it means to be human, and how to define the “better angels” of our psychology.
 (Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder is one of the latest additions to the DSM-5, and full coverage of its idiocy is far beyond the current essay’s scope.)
I have of late – but wherefore I know not – lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and, indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, – why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is man! …And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?
William Shakespeare ~ Hamlet (Act 2, Scene 2)
One of the most intimidating, colossal, genius, and quite simply bizarre books ever published is Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621). The book is a dissection, categorization, or “atomization” of what was once called Melancholy, and is now called Depression. Depression has, clearly, preoccupied the great minds over the centuries. Indeed, over millennia: In the 4th century BC, both Euripides and Hippocrates elucidated the nature of “melancholia” from an artistic and medical perspective, respectively. In the eponymous play, Orestes is plagued by the Furies after murdering his mother, and he begins to exhibit numerous symptoms of depression, such as lack of appetite, exhaustion, lack of motivation and libido, and lack of hope. Meanwhile, Hippocrates popularized the theory that gave “melancholia” its initial etymology. He described melancholia as a temperament arising from a particular imbalance of the “bodily humors”, of which there are 4: blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. An excess of any one could lead to illness. Melancholia (such as in melanin) thus arises from an excess of black bile. Though we know how wrong this idea is with modern science, Hippocrates did hit on a major medical advance in treating depression, by being the first to claim that it had something to do with the brain. He also emphasized the continuous, dimensional nature of melancholia, that there are degrees of severity.
—Hippocrates’s surprisingly modern approach to depression would not last, however. Using Andrew Solomon’s analysis, in his stunningly brilliant book The Noonday Demon (2001), I’ll divide the history of thought on depression (as I’ll refer to such symptoms and constructs, including old school “melancholy”, from here on) into five stages: 1) Ancient Age (from Antiquity – ~1,000 AD); 2) Dark Age (~1,000 – ~1,300 AD); 3) Renaissance Age (~1,300 – 1,700 AD); 4) Enlightenment Age (~1,700 – ~1,900 AD); 5) Psychiatric Age (~1,900 – Today). I will briefly cover facets of this history relevant to this essay, but I want you to keep the following quote in mind. It will orient you to (what I’m arguing is) the real, singular, fundamental core of Depression, despite the many shades cast by its darkness.
…if [people prone to melancholy/depression] have been formerly brought up to business, or to keep much company, and upon a sudden come to lead a sedentary life, it crucifies their souls, and seizeth on them in an instant; for whilst they are anyways employed, in action, discourse, about any business, sport or recreation, or in company to their liking, they are very well; but if alone or idle, tormented instantly again; one day’s solitariness, one hour’s sometimes, doth them more harm than a week’s physic, labour, and company can do good. Melancholy seizeth on them forthwith being alone, and is such a torture that, as wise Seneca well saith, I had rather be sick than idle. … Neglected fields yield bracken for burning. … Idleness of the mind is much worse than this of the body; wit without employment is a disease: the rust of the soul, a plague, a hell itself…
Robert Burton ~ The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621)
—As the Burton quote above indicates, the Middle Ages began to see an association arise between Depression and the sin of Sloth, or Idleness. While solitude and idle periods of time can be used for scholarly, productive endeavors, they can also be used for wallowing in misery, loneliness, addiction, and other fruits of melancholy. Not only is this where the relationship between depression and academics comes from (and that relationship is earned), it is also the seed of depression comingling with spirituality/religiosity, as we alluded to earlier.
—We owe the term Depression to Adolf Meyer, an early psychiatrist who is also one of the first interdisciplinary thinkers on mental illness. Though nobody uses the term, Meyer invented the concept of ergasiology (rolls of the tongue, yeah?) to describe the study of biological, psychological, and sociological factors pertaining to mental illness. Even if the term is no longer used, the idea was ahead of its time: Modern views of psychiatry emphasize (ostensibly) all facets of a person’s life, not just neurobiological ones. His concept was the forerunner of modern “interdisciplinary” analyses. Meyer advocated the use of the term “depression” to replace the use of “melancholy”. There are many reasons why he may have suggested this, but I’d argue one major reason stems from religion, and the connotations of melancholy.
—The final section of Anatomy of Melancholy is devoted to Religious Melancholy.
For he will deliver you… his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night…or the destruction that wastes at noonday. … Because you have made the LORD your refuge…
Here’s something you might not know about Depression: It turns inanimate objects evil.
—I say it here, and I’ll say it again later; To divide, is to define, is to divine. To individuate, to embody one’s Self, is to carve out a form, a structure, a Temple of Volition in Nature. It is a statement, in our primordial native tongue, universally understood as “I Am”. The Self is a division in Reality. Nature holds no bias, but Life does: Life is a bias in the direction of action, will, movement. In contrast, Depression corrupts divisions of reality. It deforms divisions, blurring figure and ground into each other, misleading us constantly, bleeding signal into noise. When you see the surface solidity of reality begin to crumble, all forms begin to dissolve into each other. The walls begin to ooze contradiction, corruption, hypocrisy.
—The feelings you have in life are imbued in your perception of the objects that surround you, those objects that the Self uses as extensions, extensions of life’s inherent extensionality. (Your home, your car, your work, your loved ones..) A healthy, elated individual understands those extensions as separate from the Self, because they still have boundaries or the ability to create them. The less elated a person is, the more susceptible they are to this confusion of boundaries and contrasts between the Self and the Other. To divide, is to define, is to divine. This is how Depression can turn inanimate objects evil. If you are catatonic, and you cannot move; if all is hopeless, and you constantly experience those life-negating feelings within the same 4 walls; then your perception of those walls will be tainted by your feelings. These feelings will destroy the divisions between passion/emotions on one hand, and cognitive/sensory processes on the other. The walls around you then take on the quality of a deception, Mother Nature’s true duplicitousness and capriciousness revealed. This is the sickening, self-destructive realism of Depression, truly “dispossessed” of one’s own Self, the knowledge that you are no longer the protagonist of your own life. In a cultural environment in the West that prizes Eastern enlightenment strategies (meditation, yoga, etc) and the diminishment of one’s own Ego, such dispossession may sound almost pleasant, admirable, even desired. But I often think this is a delusion of the Cult of Objectivity. Because if you are not possessed of your own Self, you are vulnerable to possession by another Self (or another Entity). Depression turns everything else in life other than ourselves toxic.
—For me to continue to speak of true Depression, I must discuss the concept of Evil. How do we define Evil? How do you? How do we define Good, for that matter? I think a decent working definition of Good & Evil, which we’ll use in this essay, is best found in contrast with two other, related qualities: Virtue & Vice. The essayist Montaigne memorably defined Good and Virtue in his essay “On Cruelty”:
I fancy virtue to be …something more noble, than good nature… He who, by a natural sweetness and facility, should despise injuries received, would doubtless do a very fine and laudable thing; but he who, provoked and nettled to the quick by an offence, should fortify himself with the arms of reason against the furious appetite of revenge, and after a great conflict, master his own passion, would certainly do a great deal more. The first would do good; the latter virtuously: one action might be called goodness, and the other virtue; for methinks, the very name of virtue presupposes difficulty and contention… ‘Tis for this reason, perhaps, that we call God good, mighty, liberal and just; but we do not call Him virtuous, being that all His operations are natural and without endeavor.
Michel de Montaigne ~ “Of Cruelty” (1588)
—So I define Good & Evil, Virtue & Vice, as follows: Good & Evil are innate qualities, whereas Virtue & Vice are its learned corollaries. Good & Evil are non-self-aware, whereas Virtue & Vice are conscious thoughts and behaviors. And what is Good, ultimately? I know of no better definition of the Good than by M. Scott Peck (1983): “Goodness is that which promotes life and liveliness.”. Evil, in this conceptualization, becomes that which is unknowingly, unwittingly against the Good, that which is unconsciously against Life and the Living: An unconscious unconscience, so to speak. Virtue, then, becomes that which is in knowing, conscious promotion of Life and the vibrancy of living things, and Vice becomes the conscious pursuance of Life’s negation, the destruction of continuous being: A conscious unconscience.
—The difference between the Self and the Other is at the heart of spirituality. Spiritual traditions advocate various methods for dealing with the inherent divisions between us and our worlds. Western traditions tend to deify the Other, and emphasize enlightenment as connection with this Other, whether that Other be God, YHWH, and/or various prophets. Whereas Eastern traditions tend to deify the Self, emphasizing enlightenment as communion of the Self with itself, such as Buddhism, Taoism, etc. Deification is the exaltation of whichever locus of ultimate knowledge for life’s meaning one decides upon.
—The ultimate mystery of existence is in division: The uncrossable chasm that exists between the organism and the world from which it’s organization is forever separate from, yet intertwined with. So naturally, those forms of thought and action that we most revere have become associated with the enduring quest to understand this division. And anything irreverent, any thought or action that deviates from that path, is a deviation from spiritual perfection – the final attainment of Oneness with the Other.
—To divide the world is to Play God. And in so doing, we take on responsibilities closer and closer to the concept of God. To divide, is to define, is to divine. God had to create division to create this world; we live in sin, imperfection, surrounded by chasms. Matter is, after all, mostly empty space
—And so we come back to Depression. Depression is the negation of Elation, which is the very heart of Living. To be depressed is to necessarily be conscious of this absence. It is total impotence in the face of mounting, enveloping sin. Depression is, I say with no hesitation, the ultimate Vice.
 (This leads us into the murky territory of demonic possession and extreme spiritual warfare/religious experience, which we’ll discuss later.)
Sinning is most broadly defined as “missing the mark”. This means that we sin every time we fail to hit the bull’s-eye. Sin is nothing more and nothing less than a failure to be continually perfect. Because it is impossible for us to be continually perfect, we are all sinners. We routinely fail to do the very best of which we are capable, and with each failure we commit a crime of sorts – against God, our neighbors, or ourselves, if not frankly against the law. …
Be perfectly honest with yourself, and you will realize that you sin. If you do not realize it, then you are not perfectly honest with yourself, which is itself a sin. It is inescapable: we are all sinners.
Scott Peck ~ People of the Lie (1983)
A 2009 worldwide Gallup poll (Crabtree & Pelham, 2009) found that, in the poorest countries, a full 92% of citizens in these countries claim that religion is an important part of their day-to-day living. In the richest countries, that percentage drops to 44%. This figure shows a perfectly linear decrease when countries are assessed with decreasing average income.
—Recall: Depression is the real opposite of Elation, Vitality…of Living Itself. It is complete deviation from the reality of what Living requires.
—The concept of Sin is one of the most misunderstood concepts in Christianity, misunderstood by all sorts of folk, including Christians. As the above quote states, sin is most accurately defined as deviation from perfection: a spiritual word for flaw. So all you non-Christians: When a Christian says we all sin, we all live in a state of sin? Chill, because it’s meaning is so simple as to almost be tautological. We as humans will never achieve perfection with anything, thus we all live in a state of sin, one that stems from the very first deviation from perfect: The eating of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil; the myth of Adam & Eve.
—Good & Evil stem from the very first division. Morality necessitates knowledge, which necessitates division of the world.
—Jesus is a Godsend for a capitalist society! In a world of organized greed and selfishness, an innately Good figure like Jesus must exist, or else that society will implode, consume itself.
—Evil & Vice are simply the act – or thought – of wallowing in one’s sin, of celebrating sin, of celebrating the inexorable existential divide. The only difference between Evil & Vice is internal, the psychological origin from which that profane dwelling is expressed.
—A nerve cell: A cell that communicates with itself. A nervous system: A network of cells that communicates information to other parts of itself, rather than other systems.
—True religion embodies its etymology: Connection within the Self: The basic ligaments and tendons of our integrity. False religion gives an illusion of interconnectedness, but it is just a cloak and leaves one in a state of disintegrity. You are literally “hole-y”. But one can create a veil of illusion as to one’s religiosity by doing all the right behaviors, yet still rotting inside. It is the internal state that matters; the external behaviors are only there insofar as they help or reinforce the internal.
—Depression is the risk of the wayward’s search for individuality, novelty, and love; when what is given is habituated, no longer enough to satisfy. The effervescence of intelligible choices may lead us into sin, eventually reaching the endgame of depression, and every vicious attempt to crawl out from the bottom: Repression, Narcissism, Arrogance, Sociopathy, and Addiction. But some of us must be allowed, for the sake of civilization’s progress and preservation, to risk the choice to be consumed by sin, so that we may (hopefully) be pulled back to the World, with new forms to be named, filled, and lived.
Human wisdom has never managed to live up to the duties which it has prescribed for itself; and if it had done so, it would have prescribed itself more, further beyond them still, towards which it could continue to strive and aspire, so hostile is our condition to immobility. Man commands himself to be necessarily at fault.
Michel de Montaigne ~ “On Vanity” (1580)
I do not doubt that the Eastern liberation from vices, as well as from virtues, is coupled with detachment in every respect, so that the yogi is translated beyond this world, and quite inoffensive. But I suspect every European attempt at detachment of being mere liberation from moral considerations. Anybody who tries his hand at yoga ought therefore to be conscious of its far reaching consequences, or else his so-called quest will remain a futile pastime.
Carl Jung ~ “Psychology and Religion”, p. 507
—You’re familiar with the story of Adam & Eve, right? I have a slightly different interpretation of the Biblical story of Adam & Eve, compared to what you’re probably familiar with. I’ve seen similar interpretations in writings by recent Judeo-Christian theologians and thinkers, but they never quite hit on one of the main points, in my opinion.
—Though you may remember the jist of the Adam & Eve fable, the devil is in the details, as they say. Please reread the story from Genesis (the New Revised Standard Version, or NRSV), as this translation has specific details that I will discuss afterwards:
…And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. …The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.
…the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.” Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”
The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”
To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
And to the man he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it’, cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the Lord God made garments of skins for Adam and for his wife, and clothed them.
Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” – therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.
Genesis 2:8-3:24 (NRSV)
—Ahh, there we go. Hopefully this has refreshed your memory of a common story. And hopefully you are left with some questions you may not have had before about the fable. I used this particular translation (the NRSV) because of one notable feature: This translation is the first I’ve ever seen that explicitly refers to “Adam” as “humankind”, as “adam” supposedly means in Hebrew. And Adam only refers explicitly to Eve as her name after God banishes and curses them, but not before. In other words: “He” and “She” are not explicitly named until after the Fall of Man. Before the Fall, they are merely referred to be pronouns, not their proper noun names.
—Adam & Eve are not distinguished from their environment until the Fall. Until they eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge? To God they are as notable as all the other 5 days’ worth of Creation. Only after Knowledge of Good and Evil is attained does Self-definition occur.
—Also notable: The Serpent does not slither on the ground before the Fall; presumably the Serpent walks on 2-4 legs like the other animals (including humans). The serpent’s punishment is to be rendered horizontal where once it was vertical.
—Also notable: It is fascinating that the woman eats the fruit first. Eve often gets the blame, or is often perceived as getting the blame from the Bible itself. But I’m not convinced that the Bible is convinced this is a bad thing. Certainly Christian sects have mostly interpreted the story as saying something about the peculiar wickedness of woman. But if you keep in mind the inevitability of the Fall, given God’s stacking the deck against humanity from the beginning, then Woman is actually the catalyst for truth in the narrative. The punishment seems to me to be far more severe for Man compared to Woman: Man is instead condemned because he did not hold is own ground in the face of peer pressure.
—Here is the broad point: Our (non-Biblical) knowledge of Good & Evil is inextricably bound to our concept of Inequality, of the so-called Vertical Dimension of psychology. The ranking of certain things above and below others.
—This dimension of comparing, ranking, creating hierarchies, does not come naturally to us. Not entirely, anyway. It must be molded, tempered, encouraged. Its sophistry and posturing are inherent to the concept of hierarchy. This is what feminists do not see when they blindly criticize aggressive tendencies per se, rather than criticize those tendencies only when they become dangerous. In the Bible, Eve eats from the Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil. She consumes the fruits of the vertical dimension, of hierarchy and rank. Of Status. Thus Adam reacts in consequence. Masculinity exists to deal with Femininity, the horizontal dimension, the dimension of Nature, of LIFE (the Tree of Life), of baseness, of non-hierarchical foundation. Thus an important hidden paradox at the heart of Gender: To express Femininity is to explicitly be for an Other, and Femininity is associated (not equal to) the Female; yet Man (associated but not equal with Masculinity) was born to be implicitly for the Other. Masculinity’s very creation was a Feminine Act.
—I do not know the vagaries of the Garden of Eden’s translation history. But in any case, I prefer to interpret the story in this way: We as animals would not have “lived forever” in Eden if Eve hadn’t eaten the fruit. Rather, we would have lived in ignorance of death, which would cognitively be equivalent. The Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil is often shortened, haphazardly, as the Tree of Knowledge. But my contention is that the former is redundant: Knowledge as we understand the concept presupposes a ranking of information, and such ranking, such inequality and hierarchy creation, is the very heart of Good & Evil. Basic Morality, in this view, becomes a natural byproduct of understanding the so-called Vertical Dimension, which we have come to understand for non-moral reasons. Such understanding is an exaptation, parasitic upon underlying intuitive cognitive abilities. Once humanity ate from the Tree of Knowledge, once they crossed the line and developed Self-awareness, they could no longer live in ignorance of death and hardship. Thus morality came into being.
—The story of Adam & Eve suggests that our capacity for Reason and Rationality are inextricably bound to – predicated upon – our intuition of Good & Evil: the Ranking of things. But the ranking of things is itself predicated on division of the world into discrete things. To divide, is to define, is to divine.
…before Adam and Eve ate of the tree, had a sense of truth and falsehood – they judged moral questions absent a deep seated, psychic capacity for passion. After they ate of the tree, passion entered their moral calculus. Desire and subjectivity came to rule them. God prevented them from returning to the Garden of Eden because the absolute, dispassioante sense of right and wrong were impossible to regain. Rather, Adam and Eve and their descendants needed to turn to another tree of life, the Torah, whose teachings would not uproot their newly accquired desires, but could guide, control, and ennoble them.
The snake, Eve’s tempter, originally appears as a walking, talking, upright being, suggesting an absence of difference between the human and the animal kingdoms. …The snake claims that it is not what God says that counts, it is what one desires that counts, since God placed desires in man and animal. Claims the snake: Ignore God’s words; instead, follow the desires God put in you. …the snake seeks to marry Eve, for, to the snake, there is no line dividing human from animal. As the story plays out, and both Eve and the snake are punished; the snake is reduced to a crawling creature, no longer able to speak.
The snake is… both naked and cunning. The snake is naked in the sense that he knows only the given, only the obvious, which, to him, is the equivalence of both the human and the animal since both are ruled by God-given desires. But the snake cannot see beyond that. He cannot perceive the *higher* side of the human being, and that inability is what makes him an animal. And so, for all his cunning, his clever influence over Eve, he cannot bridge the unbridgeable: the line between man and animal.
Hillel Goldberg ~ “The Beast That Crouches At The Door: Adam & Eve, Cain & Abel, and Beyond by Rabbi David Fohrman” [Book Review]
—In this view, the fables and parables of Christianity were necessary for the massive expansion of Western Civilization and technological advance. When you read the New Testament, substitute all references to Jesus Christ with “[the concept of self-sacrifice and atonement for others]”, and you will start to see what I’m talking about. Especially if you are non-religious and have trouble understanding the appeal of Christianity. For Christianity was the first religion (that I know of anyway) to emphasize the internal, psychological life and health of the individual, just as much as the communality of the individual with the larger group. Empathy for Others may have evolved before Empathy for our own Selves.
If you don’t know Good & Evil, you don’t know distinctions. …Good & Evil is just a way of indicating all possible distinctions.
Rabbi Ted Falcon ~ “Secrets of Adam and Eve”
—After the Fall, Adam no longer holds ignorance of death. He now has knowledge of Good & Evil, of hierarchy and ranking, of pleasure and pain, of life and death; of Value. He is now closer to God than the other animals, because he is made in the image of God, and now his psychology and self-awareness place him closer to God than before. In the light of Perfect Reason and Cognition, we are all sinners. We all “miss the mark”. Not only can humans now divide, define, (divine?), they can lie. Deception is theorized to lay at the core of animal intelligence (for humans and across the animal kingdom), that much is clear. Lying is always cognitively harder than telling the Truth.
—Adam & Eve are a fable, a parable, a story about Gender, not just about Sex. Masculinity must control Femininity. That does not equal Male controls Female! It is a manual for how to deal with these two fundamental Genders: Our basic Cognitions and Cognitive Stances toward the World. One day, the illusion of the Vertical will return, in death, to the Horizontal. The Feminine is the Mother of All Life. the act of taking the fruit brought it all into being. The Garden of Eden is really the first Biblical Exodus. We are fallen, yes, but that also means we are individuated, different from the rest of Nature. Not only is this myth compatible with Evolution; Evolution provides a hell of a good narrative of how we got to the point where we left the Garden of Eden, with all our neuroses brought about by Knowledge. We are bedeviled by Reason.
—In consequence, we have just described the nature of volition, of action, of Elation. And Depression, if you’ll recall, is the negation of Elation. Depression is the constant, incessant “missing of the mark”; the constant state of sinning as widely as possible. Living in sin.
—In other words, Depression is Evil.
 As you’ll notice in the following excerpt, and in the excerpts from poetry I use throughout the essay, I sometimes jettison paragraph breaks in prose (when I feel it appropriate) and line breaks in poems, formatting it all as continuous prose. This is deliberate, for both 1) ease of writing/formatting, but especially 2) to allow you to concentrate on the meaning of the text, without being distracted by the original text’s aesthetics. Please read the originals for their full emotional impact. All the texts quoted in this essay are phenomenal and profound and will change your life if you actually read them!
Under the horizon:
Ich schreie aus dem Engel;
for He is orison.
In your death I have bloomed.