To Mentally Escape From The Pit of Despair

          A month has now passed without me writing any new letters to or from the Djinn Resistance Underground, and, if there is anyone anywhere out there who actually cares, I sincerely apologize. Although it has done very little to shake me out of the malaise which has crippled my artistic progress as of late, I have been doing some research on various key themes that have directly affected my productivity this month, a spate of studies that spans from lovelorn monkey torturers to an obscure fascist philosopher. I hope that you find at least some of my findings to be enlightening, or, at the very least, entertaining, since, for many of you, that will have to suffice as my only recognizable value.

          My report begins with the strange and disturbing research of one Dr. Harry Harlow, who, in the 1950’s, persuaded the University of Wisconsin-Madison to create the very first Primate Laboratory. There the good doctor began the use of baby rhesus monkeys to study various aspects of maternal bonding and its importance to psychological health. These early experiments, involving the substitution of a real mother with a wire mesh surrogate, or, for slightly luckier monkeys, a nice soft terrycloth mom instead, were perhaps slightly cruel, but hardly terrible enough to warrant, say, the rise of an entire animal rights movement. However Dr. Harlow would eventually be credited for precisely this, thanks to far more intense experiments which were still to come.

          Those experiments would begin in 1971, after a prolonged battle with cancer finally robbed Dr. Harlow of his loving wife of 23 years. It was at this bleakest point in his long life that many coworkers claim that the good doctor changed dramatically, and a career that Harlow himself once described as the scientific study of love soon twisted into a terrifying foray into the dark arts of isolation and despair.

          It began when Harlow isolated 12 separate baby monkeys in complete darkness, locking each one inside what his coworkers called a vertical chamber apparatus, but which Harlow insisted on calling the “pit of despair.” These small chambers had close slanted walls, which every monkey initially attempted to scale towards freedom, that is, at least for the first few days. These short lived and futile struggles all eventually ended in the exact same way for every monkey studied; with the baby monkey huddled in the hunched posture of defeat which Harlow soon learned was emblematic of a broken spirit.

          Although it took only a few days to reach this point, the first four monkeys were not to be released until a month had passed. All of them showed signs of depression and deep trauma, although that was nothing compared to the psychological damage that was done to the second group to be released, the four monkeys who had to endure six full months of this isolation. This group was so severely affected that researchers believed the last group, who were to spend a full year in isolation, couldn’t possibly display any further symptoms; they were wrong. The severity of the damage inflicted on all of these animals surpassed almost everyone's expectations.

          Yet Harlow was not done, not by a long shot. Harlow wished to study their maternal capacities, or lack there of, yet these severely traumatized animals were completely incapable of mating naturally. Dr. Harlow therefore constructed what he glibly referred to as a "rape rack," since the now common practice of artificial insemination was, according to one article I read, still a few year off in the future, although I personally find this a bit hard to believe, given agricultural history’s long tradition of animal husbandry.

          Yet as if rape and solitary confinement were not horrible enough, these damaged primates were then inflicted upon there own unwanted offspring, most of whom were simply ignored and so went merely unloved. However, one mother bashed in its own infant's head, while another baby was held face down by its severely deranged mother, while she chewed off both of its feet and all of its tiny fingers. Harlow had thus dramatically proven that lengthy periods of forced isolation were very, very, hard on the delicate psychology of social animals like the rhesus monkey, news to which most of the scientific world responded with a collective, “no kidding.”

          Given the unsurprising results of these unthinkably cruel and sadistic studies, one might reasonably ask why anyone would do such research at all. Some claim that enormous insights were gleaned from these studies into the psychology of abused or neglected children, while others say that these monkeys served as valuable research tools on which to test various potential cures for the sort of intense psychological damage that was inflicted upon them. I personally believe that Harlow, probably unconsciously, created a controlled environment where he could clinically recreated much of the despair and the hopelessness that he himself was feeling, a place where a new and undeniable low could be "scientifically" established, and there, with this new bench mark in suffering, he could seemingly minimize his own personal problems, at least relative to the ones he manufactured for all these poor helpless animals. Although I hardly think that this in any way justifies what he's done, I have to admit that researching his truly sinister work has certainly helped me to put my own isolation in perspective.

          I've come to understand that there’s a subtle but crucial difference between isolation and loneliness. While isolation can be quite a constructive, even a largely positive, experience for anyone interested in looking within and reconnecting with themselves, loneliness is an entirely subjective phenomenon based upon one’s personal expectations of and demands for social stimulation. Harlow was careful to only place into his pits of despair baby monkeys who had each successfully established that first and most important social bond, which of course is the one that occurs between a mother and its child. After all, as the Buddhists preach, attachment is the root of all suffering.

          This line of thinking could lead quite easily to a rather nihilistic outlook, one that attempts to preemptively break all of those bonds of trust and fidelity that seem to leave us each so obviously vulnerable to future woes. However, my own denial of such a cowardly solution was recently reaffirmed from no less an unexpected source as that of a rather grim, and admittedly fascist, aristocrat by the name of Julius Evola.

          Evola claims that one should scorn even the thought of an easy life, because all of our adversities and all of our troubles are simply a call upon each one of us to rise above them, and that these are our only real opportunities to express what we might then hope to develop into a continuously emerging nobility. If you have yet to read Evola’s Metaphysics of War, or the short but well worded article on it, which I posted a link to here just a few days ago, then I strongly suggest it. In fact, I would suggest reading any of Evola's amazing body of work which has currently been translated into English, and of course, all the rest of his untranslated works as well, if, unlike me, you can actually read and understand Italian.

          Still, I can’t help but be reminded from time to time of the somewhat wistful words of Hakim Bey, who expressed the notion that “our inviolable freedom waits only to be completed by the love of other monarchs.” My closest peers in this regard appear, ironically, to all be children, although, obviously, as far as providing peerage, they themselves are rather limited in many crucial ways. Be that as it may, until a more appropriate set of peers present themselves, I simply have to maintain the mental discipline necessary to keep my merely temporary solitude from degenerating into the sort of loneliness that might all too easily be born from any unrealistic expectations I could place upon this depressing modern age. I hope that all the rest of you, who, for similar reasons, may also need to do this, successfully manage to accomplish the same. Hopefully, we will all find what we are looking for, perhaps even in the not too distant future. 'Til then, Namaste and Good Luck.

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2 Responses
  1. gravatar Anonymous

    Good food for thought as always. I referred this to a friend who I think will get a lot out of it.

  2. I get a lot out of your writings and check every month. Just thought I'd say that to encourage you. :)

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