The Real Alternative

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Psychiatry and Spirituality – Even professor “night” can’t stop the sunrise

While doing my PhD at the University of Ottawa, I wrote a paper in 1992-93 that examined the psychiatric diagnostic system, known at the time as the DSM-III-R. I looked at the extraordinary claims of mystics and saints from different religious traditions. Would some historical spiritual figures be viewed as “mentally ill” today? I asked. To ground my paper I offered a summary on postmodern ideas about truth and power. After all, this was a graduate seminar in methodology.

Sadly, it seems the professor hosting the seminar was more interested in getting a paycheck than in trying to open his mind and encourage new research in uncharted territory.

English: The Communist States

The Communist States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He was the type of guy who said in class that it was “hopeless” talking about feminism. I guess he feared that, whatever he said, he would be jumped on.

I wasn’t writing about feminism, per se, for this particular paper. But the professor’s unwillingness or inability to probe anything but his own small, esoteric field in religious studies made him a dreadful brick wall to run into.

I say “brick wall” because for some reason this incompetent, intransigent man had a lot of power at the university. Most everyone seemed to shrink in administrative offices whenever his name was mentioned. I still can’t figure it out. But I had serious problems with him later on when trying to get letters of recommendation (outlined here).

For a while I thought it had something to do with his immigrating to Canada from a communist country. But I have met many immigrants from communist countries who are an absolute delight. In seeming contrast to professor “night,” as I will call him, psychologically healthy immigrants from communist regimes can see both mindsets – authoritarian vs. authoritative – and consciously choose which they like better.

So immigrating from a communist country, alone, wasn’t it. There must have been something else to this man that made him so difficult and, in my case, authoritarian.¹

Published by the American Psychiatric Associat...

Published by the American Psychiatric Association, the DSM-IV-TR provides a common language and standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By way of contrast, I wrote a similar paper for another professor at Trent University back in the mid 1980s. He was the “day” to the University of Ottawa’s professor “night.”

The Trent professor was a true humanities teacher. He was a PhD in psychology but also up on literature dealing with the subtle nuances of the psyche. His reading list included works like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Long Day’s Journey into Night and that old psychological classic, Macbeth.

Professor “day” clearly understood where I was coming from and what I hoped to achieve. He also wrote a glowing letter of recommendation that helped me to win a graduate scholarship.

We need more well-rounded professors like that. And hopefully the University of Toronto and Ryerson will continue to encourage quality thinking on this topic. Otherwise, too many people, imo, will be compromised by the system. And they might not even know why.

Having said that, I don’t believe strident, one-sided anti-psychiatry tracts are the answer, as we sometimes see, for instance, at Mad in America. The reality is that the psychiatric system is in place. It has legal power over other perspectives, probably in large part because psychiatric drugs can effectively subdue potentially violent or suicidal individuals (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing).

In some ways psychiatry does a lot of good. But it does need tweaking. And that’s why today’s tweet is highlighted.

¹ When I asked professor “night” why he changed his mind and would not provide a letter of recommendation perilously close to scholarship application deadlines, he answered that his letter would be “weak.” Perplexed and traumatized, I reminded him that he gave me an “A” in his course and that my academic future was at stake. At this he snapped “I GAVE YOU MY REASONS.” And that was it. End of an otherwise promising academic career.

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A good, non-denominational Sunday read

For a while I tried out doing Christian New Testament commentaries on Sunday. But that didn’t really go anywhere. I find it more interesting to compare different religions than to just write about one.

Today I updated my entry on Ram Dass, someone pretty popular back in the day, and who still has some devoted fans. The update came out pretty good, if I do say so myself. So I thought I’d list it here as “non-denominational” Sunday reading:

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Today’s Top Tweets

Every morning I go through the news in specific categories. I tweet stories that I feel are important because they are often overlooked on the front page. I often react to the stories and would like to comment. But I don’t always have time. So today I thought I’d list some of the top tweets. There are more, listed at right column.

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Psychic Spies – If true, they’d have a real edge because most people would think it’s crazy

English: Example of a subject in a Ganzfeld ex...

Example of a subject in a Ganzfeld experiment. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Russell Targ is quite well known throughout the parapsychology world. He’s a physicist who does experiments concerning psi phenomena. Targ has observed that results were more significant while conducting research with a pure heart, instead of just trying to make money. This is hardly surprising because, I would argue, any genuine psi (or insight) comes from God.

But there is another possibility. And that is of dark psi.

Could knaves and thieves possess a kind of twisted psi and use that to the detriment of the free world?

I’ve written about this possibility throughout and I still cannot say for sure. Psi is a tricky business. And if a hostile spy from a crummy regime were to try to infiltrate a good country, one of his or her advantages would be that most unsuspecting civilians would think the idea preposterous. And a truly cagey spy would try to make anyone who could blow their cover look crazy. They’d use psychiatric terms or anything else they had at their disposal to try to marginalize those in the know.


Because a hostile psi-spy, if you will, would be desperate and paranoid, like most people under the influence of evil.

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Me, myself and I – A balanced approach makes the most sense

Today’s featured tweet points to a surprisingly good, balanced article about different conceptualizations of the human self. I wrote about this at university but, in all honesty, I don’t think the professor in question understood what I was talking about. S/he immigrated to Canada from a communist regime and the years of military oppression seemed to taint his/her thinking and sense of fair play. Either that, or s/he was just always tainted. I’m not sure.

I say this because I had another professor, quite well published, who came to Canada from the same region, under similar circumstances. And s/he was fair and open-minded.  So it seems some can resist the iron grip of communist ideologies while others don’t really care to—or perhaps they are totally unconscious of it. As Carl Jung would have put it, they’re identifying with an archetype or, if you will, they are children of a lesser god.

But I digress. The point is, politics and psychology may be linked, but not necessarily causally. Natural authoritarians may actively seek out and choose to participate in authoritarianism and not simply be victims of it. Whereas others seem to have a clearheaded openness that acts as an safeguard against authoritarianism.


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The Disease – A poem I wrote a few years before 9/11

9/11 Memorial and World Trade Center (New York)

The Disease

I’ve watched it grow
I’ve seen it sow
true minds into despair

souls of sorrow
ladened deep
burning horrid stares

I’ve seen it work
at lightning speed
to destroy mankind’s seed

through the air
it does its deed
this is its only care

sans partiality
sans decency
Yes, this is “the disease”

You over there!
you believe you’re clear
of this melancholy breeze?

Well let me tell you
if you please
it’s a fatal,
dreadful siege

For once contracted
once enacted
you’ll go on normally
“it’s okay”
“I’m just fine”
“yes, I think I am still free”

But then, alas!
the grippe is tightened
beyond all points of ease
and shipwrecked sailors on the sea of life
all drown

Yes I’ve seen this blight
‘cross this land
and winds are blowing high
no apple pie nor starlit nights
will save this rotting sky
all is darkened
all are dead
all are doomed to die

Lance it fast while time remains
avoid a fearsome plight
destroy this curse
and rest assured
your mark is
for the

Cast it out and let us pray
“Lord give us back our sight”
Cast it out to guarantee,
Truth shall conquer might

The Disease © Michael Clark 1997 to present. All rights reserved.

This is a poem I wrote somewhere between 1997 and 1999. I’d just finished my Ph.D and was living in the top floor of an old, run-down house in Ottawa, the national capital of Canada.

At first, I saw “The Disease” as a metaphor for ideas like J.-P. Sartre’s bad faith, Erich Fromm’s mechanical man, Albert Camus’ The Plague and the sociological concept of false consciousness. That is, how some psychologically underdeveloped or skewed people can oppress innocent people.

The poem wasn’t planned. It mostly came via stream of consciousness, with a bit of tweaking after I’d typed out the main parts. While tapping away on my old 286 laptop I remember thinking just how foreboding it was becoming (“rotting sky…all are doomed to die”) and not really knowing why. I followed my instinct and didn’t delete the disquieting parts, although I did consider it for a moment.

After 9/11, I felt that this utterly foreboding verse could be taken as a premonition. As the new millennium approached, not a few artists and sensitives seemed to be picking up something truly rotten on their radar.

That said, around the same time as writing the poem, I was reading John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dante’s Inferno. So one could say that I wasn’t foreseeing anything but, rather, subconsciously aping the greats and their treatment of evil.

God only knows.

By the time of the 9/11 attacks, I’d moved to Toronto, a larger, more cosmopolitan city. On the afternoon of 9/11/2001 I took a walk down Yonge Street, one of the busier streets, and felt a quiver of fear as I looked at our skyscrapers. Would they hit several cities? I can only imagine how New Yorkers must have felt. And watching the memorials today on TV only reminds me of what a pack of losers those are who hate and try to undermine the developed world.

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Carl Jung – A Complicated Guy in a Complicated World

This morning I came across two tweets that demanded commentary. This is my second podcast. I feel the actual delivery is a bit better than the first but technically, the sound quality is a tiny bit over-driven. If I were an electric guitar that would be okay. But next time I’ll bring the levels down a touch. For years I recorded using analog tape decks, and with those it’s desirable to have the meters go in the red a bit. The sound gets nicely saturated. But with digital recording, it gets clipped. Luckily, the clipping in this recording is acceptable. And one can hear what I’m saying just fine.🙂

For references about Jung in the podcast, follow this link:

  • Synchronicity is “not sought at all but found” – Footote 2, pp. 94-95
  • Jung doesn’t know if UFO acounts are true or false – Footnote 2, p. 87