Infinite Loop 16: “The Mac Web as Therapy.”

Something has come to my attention
which I think may explain some of the things we
find on the Mac Web. Very simply, the Mac Web
seems to function as therapy for many. I see this
on several levels, but once we take it seriously
(and is there any other way to take it?), the
notion of the Mac Web as therapy makes a great
deal of sense. Of course, all therapy is a cure
for something, and the point here is to find out
what the Mac Web sures, if anything.


“Therapy” means
“care, cure.” It was associated in Greece
with one’s dealings with the gods. One who served
the gods “cared for” them. Hippocrates
of Cos, the father of medicine, used the term
in it’s medical way for a surgical procedure.
It was soon after this, in some later Greek and
early Roman philosophers, that philosophy itself
was viewed as a kind of therapy. Thus, Epicurus
gives us what he calls “The Fourfold Cure,”
of “what is hard is easy to endure, what
is good is easy to get, do not fear the gods,
and death is nothing to us.” If we adopted
these four beliefs, he thought, we would find
peace of mind, and thus we would be caring for
our souls, and thus philosophy is therapy, that
is, a cure. Even today we see philosophy as therapy
in the great 20th century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Philosophy is the therapy for confusion, rampant
desires, fear and ignorance.


Today we associate the idea of therapy
more with psychiatry and psychology than medicine
or philosophy. “I go to therapy” amounts
to “I have a psychotherapist” (literally
“psych-therapist” means, “carer
of one’s soul/mind”). We will adopt the convention
here that the therapy I am concerned with is psychological
at its core and set aside its other medical meanings.


Therapy is more often that not associated
with how it is practiced than anything else. But
one thing remains constant – – all therapy is
remedial. All therapy is a remedy for some
illness which has befallen us. It might be an
illness of the body or the mind, but therapy makes
no sense in a perfect world. Epicurus’ Fourfold
Cure was aimed at the illness of fear – – it was
a remedy for people living in fear of losing out
on the good, suffering the bad, fearing death,
and the wrath of the gods.


So, if the Mac Web is therapeutic
then it is so because it cures some ill we might
believe we have. That is, the Mac Web is a remedy
for something, and just what we want to know.
Let us look further.


Not only is therapy always remedial,
remedies themselves always aim at some good we
think we’re losing out on. Generally, we call
this “health.” But the concept of health
itself is very broad. We have health of body,
health of mind, and health of spirit. What terms
we choose to define “health” itself
with is an open question in my mind. So I will
fudge the issue by making this general claim:
Health occurs when one is functioning as he
ought in body and/or soul.


An illness therefore is the lack
of proper functioning in body and/or soul.

An illness of the liver occurs when the liver
is not functioning as it ought, and so on. A function
itself is further defined in terms of aims or
goals. Let us just speak of “not functioning
the way we ought” as a general catchall for
illness and the goal we will call “health.”


The reason I am writing this article
will be plain to many out there who read me and
have corresponded with me. When I wrote “Thinking
Different and Mental Illness”
I was slightly
taken back by the responses I got – – people thanking
me for talking about mental illness in a responsible
way, and then they shared their hearts with me.
I mean really shared them. When I wrote the “Can
we talk?” a week ago I started with a quote
from Kierkegaard which had to do with suicide
and reflection. One I have never met but have
corresponded with many times wrote of the death
of his best friend six years ago, a self-inflicted
death. So I shared the story of my own best friend
who drowned many years ago. It was cathartic,
and therapeutic. I had no idea such a simple article
would joggle such a memory in a person, and I
had an even lesser idea that one would write me
about it. I am glad he did, and if we were ever
to meet I suspect we would sit down in a cafe
and pick up right where we left off. Also, someone
from a large Mac site once said to me, before
I knew much about this person, “The Web is
perfect for me – – I am antisocial by nature.”
I don’t think this person meant it like it sounds.
I think this person meant to say that on the Mac
Web he can, in a very paradoxical way, be himself
and feel safe. All this got me to thinking over
the months and it has culminated in this article.


Let me be more precise here. I am
not sure, at this stage in my thinking, whether
the Mac Web is therapy or whether the Mac
Web produces a therapeutic environment.
The difference is very important. Therapy is the
actual process of recovery and rejuvenation of
health; a therapeutic environment is a context
in which this can occur. (True, a therapeutic
envoronment can itself be therapy. See below.)
So the question in my mind is, “Which is
the Mac Web? Therapy or an environment for the
same?” Of course you know how I am going
to answer it: Both. That is, the Mac Web produces
a therapeutic environment in which therapy can
occur and thus becomes therapeutic itself. It
doesn’t follow that it always does, mind you.
But the potential is real.


When I say the Mac Web produces
this environment I do not mean that it serves
the same function as, say, anger therapy, where
a person hits a pillow and “gets things off
his chest.” We see this on the Mac Web with
writer’s rants and border wars all the time. But
this is a rather simple level of thinking and
I wish to go beyond it here. I want deeper truths,
if there are any. I think there are, and they
turn out to be very paradoxical in fact.


Everything the Mac Web shouldn’t,
by its nature, produce, it seems to create, like
the therapeutic environment I see. Think about
it . . .


If you have ever gone through psychotherapy
you know the dynamic that is at work. I won’t
go into depth here. Let me summarize it like this:
Therapy is a form of breaking down barriers, be
they false beliefs, rationalizations, unrecognized
anger, and the whole lot of defense mechanisms,
or those little tricks and rituals we go through
trying to protect ourselves from pain. It is,
in a sense, a psychological divesting
– you sit, naked, with the therapist after a time.
(This is why when a break through is about to
come many leave therapy.) Strangely, to me anyway,
the Mac Web seems to divest people too.


In another article I wrote this:


“What is it about the Web
which creates this immediacy . . . ? At this
point, I will admit, my words outrun my thought-it’s
hard for me to put it into words. I am not even
sure I have a thought to state, to be honest.
I could talk about competition. This creates
immediacy. Getting hits does too. Press releases
and the nature of technology as such creates
this immediacy. But I think it lies deeper than
all of these. Yet I can’t quite put my finger
on it. One reason is because the whole thing
seems so paradoxical to me. The Web, if anything,
cannot create immediacy, for immediacy is born
of nakedness and the Web is nothing but a rented
suit. The Web is an amour suit writers wear
as they fire their shots at others knowing they
will never be punched in the nose for it! That
this creates immediacy boggles my mind, at least
on a rational level. Also, immediacy is constituted
by contiguous parts, like time and space; but
the Web is not made up of contiguous parts of
time and space. It is fast, but fast does not
mean immediate. So let me say it again: The
fact the Web creates immediacy does not make
sense to me-yet anyway.

I have a thought on this. Maybe
the connection lies in an analogy with thought
and speech, the short distance between thinking
something and saying it (for some anyway). Another
clue lies at the end of Plato’s Republic,
but that will have to wait for another essay.
In the meantime, let me know what you think.”

I have some more ideas on this now.
The divestiture I speak of here is the kind of
nakedness I was speaking of in the former article.
The Mac Web makes people naked in a psychological
sense to the point that a therapeutic environment
is created. But as I said, the Web itself doesn’t
seem able to produce this yet it does. Why? That
is the question.


We have a commonality – – the Mac.
That is enough said. But somehow we transform
emails, articles, columns, and even the form a
site has, into something much more. I call it
“identification.” That is why audiences
congregate at sites because they identify with
the material there. I know here at
many people identify with what we are trying to
do – – the way we write, what we write about,
the topics we choose, and so on. We go deep, we
are nerds, dare I say. The professional term is
“academic,” mind you, but you get my
drift. Somehow, there are people out there who
have thought many of things we have thought; or
if they haven’t thought them, they at least click
with the ideas we discuss; or they have a sudden
realization, or something like this, from reading
us. (I am not saying this does not happen at other
sites: I can only speak about what I know. ) Dare
I say that some have break throughs in clarification
. . . but I am not here to toot our own horn,
so let me get back to it.


There is a certain identification
people take on with Mac sites; it is no accident
that many who write me are involved in academics
in some way. But the identification occurs at
a deeper level. It is a meeting of minds and hearts,
a way of seeing the world which peopel share.
I am willing to guess, and this is the point,
that they have not talked very much about this
in public to other people. There is such a thing
as being laughed at because one is thoughtful
and reflective – – it has happened to many of
us, has it not? I suppose then that those who
do identify and write us therefore assume that
they will not be laughed at if they venture
a conversation with us. It’s called safety,
and at this point – – the divestiture has taken
place and one stands naked – – rationalizations
and fears are gone. They open up. They share.
We listen.


But if you think about it, the Mac
Web is the last place this should happen (as I
said above). I am not saying that it should not,
that it is a bad thing. I am saying rather that
the Web in the “Mac Web” seems to me
to contradict this whole process. Intimacy, trust,
identification, all require deeper contact than
the Web can give, by its nature – – but it’s there,
I see it. But why? Is there a paradox here or
not? Am I just confused?


I think there is a paradox but it’s
hard to state. The Web provides protection from
people. I think this is a good thing – – it discounts
disabilities and other social factors and appearances
which ground prejudice and ignorance, and discrimination.
The causes of discrimination remain in the background
and we communicate as people. Trust is encouraged
over time, divestiture is produced, and a therapeutic
environment is produced. People start sharing
their hearts, and I see this as a good thing.
It doesn’t make sense to me because on the Web
we are talking to strangers, on one level, and
it’s hard to produce the kind of dynamics which
produce a therapeutic environment let alone friendship
and such. The personal closeness and contact divesting
requires cannot be made on the Web. But it does
happen. What’s going on?


I said in the other article that
I think the clue to this paradox is found at the
end of Plato’s Republic. But that will
have to wait. Until then, you’ll just have to
think about . . .

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