Abraham’s Double Bind

God told Abraham that he would make him the father of a nation. It didn’t make much sense: Abe was already old, his favorite wife was old, barren: like predicting rain after the drought had already killed everything. But Abraham’s role was to believe, to have faith; not to doubt, to look for reason, for reasons.
So Isaac is born.
But now God tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham’s role was to believe; not to doubt, not to examine possibility.

Chaucer embodied his time by creating characters who manifested one virtue to the exclusion of all else: Patience, Obedience, Constancy … He created monsters of virtue. Chaucer is very Genesis in that way, and the Jews were quite Chaucerian. Abraham is a monster of faith.

The Jews’ Bible has it turn out well for Abraham, and for the Jews. Oh, don’t look at their track record; look at their literature.

In college I used my reading of Kierkegaard to “reason” about faith. Mark Van Doren for one thought I had it bang on. But it wasn’t until 1979 with the publication of Bateson’s Mind and Nature that I found a new, and better, way to think about it. Bateson explained a great deal of human psychology via his concept of the double bind. To date I’ve written about that in Knatz.com’s Thinking Tools (subsequently censored, subsequently recreated at the pkTools blog, the job to be finished I hope before long: but here, not at pkTools: all must move here, and then re-become a domain, if I live, and have any resources).

But today I work the idea among my social epistemology folders; not in my science / philosophy / (“formal” epistemology) folder.

The essence of the double bind is that you’re caught in a contradiction: you’re damned if you do do something, and you’re damned if you don’t do that something.

The Jews didn’t wait for Bateson’s psychology to invent their Abraham, and Chaucer wrote about his Dame Constance without knowing the word psychology, and Hollywood too had long practiced it. I heard the film studios’ formula expressed thusly: Take a character, kick him in the balls, see what he does.

I’ll take all that further as I find time. First though I have to stitch in something “from left field,” as it were:
My friend was just here. (And Bonnie was just reminding me of Abraham!) She wanted to make some copies, I have her printer/copier. Handy: I always love to see her, give her a squeeze, and I wanted to print something out for her anyway: at her request, as a matter of fact.

Important context / background: Yesterday was Bonnie’s fifty-sixth wedding anniversary. A year ago, when we were still on our perfect, utterly blissful honeymoon, on June 18, she again told me about her wedding, her honeymoon with Dan, about Dan, what a great guy he was, how much I would have liked him, how she guessed that he would like me, even if he found me a little crazy … She was weepy with nostalgia, actually the nostalgia was also sweet: she though of Dan, I hugged her …

But September 2010 changed everything, their son, Scott, lost his job. And she’s disrupted her life (and my life, and everyone’s life) every since to try to help him, a guy used to making $200,000, but spending $300,000, juggle two wives, a girl friend, three daughters, and five BMWs …

If anything had been wrong before in her relationship with her son, I’d seen no trace of it: until ten months ago. Anyway: this morning, Bonnie comes in …

No wait: yesterday morning, I’m hugging Bonnie, she’s weeping, she reminds me that it’s her fifty-sixty anniversary … I hug her some more, pet her, say how lucky she was for so long … how wonderful she is, and so forth. But by the end of the day, her weeping is becoming debilitating. She no longer looks seventy-nine going on forty-nine; she looks seventy-nine going on eighty-nine. She looks used-to-be-cute-going-on hideous. I’m making supper. We’ve just played Chinese Checkers, and backgammon. We planed to practice a dance step: rehearsing a position we saw in a costume movie, and trying a cha cha variant from an instruction DVD … then to watch Black Swan with Nathalie Portman. Dinner is one minute from ready: but I see Bonnie is on the phone. She’s telling someone, has to be Scott, how she’s concerned about him, then several times, obviously getting no satisfactory response, how she hadn’t heard from him, she hadn’t heard from him … Slipping in some guilt, then trying and failing to wedge it in, trying to hammer it in …

A monster of motherhood! “Concern” eclipsing all else! A Chaucer character right in 2011! Trying to deal double binds to her no longer lucky spendthrift of a son, who still wasn’t wishing her a … any kind of an
anniversary.

Whew: I don’t know what I’ll do with that. Delete it, probably. But at least I’ve set up a point to be made, a point not at all commonly heard.

Oh, wait: she came in to make copies. Sighed three times in the first two seconds. Went straight to the copier, without hearing me ask her to wait, that I had work queued on it, that it wouldn’t obey her, not just yet … Oblivious. In her house she often doesn’t hear what I say. But now she was ignoring me in my house. Head down, obsessed. Like Abraham.

I’ve been in hospital ERs when the junkies arrive to demand drugs. The hospital explains that they can’t, it’s against the law, it’s against policy … there are no drugs, the drugs are all locked away, they don’t have the key … So the junkies start banging gurneys together, doing who knows what damage to how many old farts helpless on the gurney with their neck broken, or their uterus descended, or their hernia strangulating … And the ER gives the junkies the drugs: suspends everything to violate the law, to violate policy.

Abraham, with his head down, sacrificing Isaac. Not thinking about what it means …

Man oh man, human beings. Ho, boy!

2011 06 20, day after Father’s Day: I just got a F-Day greeting from my beloved spiritual daughter Catfarmer. She asked how I am, how Bonnie is. I told her. And said:
“I tell her that he [her son] is addicted to wasting money and she’s addicted to his wasting money and that she needs to kick her addiction for him to have a chance of kicking his addiction.”
Fifty three years old, he ought to develop his own legs: or fall down as part of the consequences of not having any.

(God, too, should let man grow up!)
(But I think he has! That’s why so few of us hear from him anymore!)

related post at IonaArc blog

Sentience & Semiotics

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
This entry was posted in pk Teaching, sentience semiotics. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Abraham’s Double Bind

  1. Pingback: Being Fully Persuaded | YOU DECIDE

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