I'm reading a wry, dirty book, Edmund White's autobiography,  My Lives   White is a gay novelist and biographer who's written a frank, sexy description of his life in Paris and New York City, from the 1950's to today, in S&M scenes, departmental meetings at NYU and Princeton, drunken binges, and intellectual discussions with sexually obsessed philosophers like Foucault.


White starts his autobiography by describing the (Freudian) shrinks who have inhabited his life.  One of these shrinks was an insecure loner who built a society-of-two with the adolescent White by offering a theory of life in which all of our faults are blamed on our unloving mothers.  A theory like that simplifies things, a lot: It's all the mother's fault, and happiness lies in the imagined land of grand self-love.


In one scene of the book, the shrink tries to become White's friend by distancing himself from White's parents.  He asks the young White to edit his professional manuscripts, showing the boy he values him: "Don't think I'm a castrating a**hole like your father, an anal perfectionist who can't admit that another man can help him," the shrink says to the boy.  It goes without saying that White fell in thrall with that shrink.


The idea behind that scene is simple and meaningful for me.  We create small societies by insulting others.  Said again, mentors and friends can enhance their appeal by identifying problems that we both see, and can get distance from.  Gossip is one example of this: If people in the office name a target to poke fun of, that relieves their own insecurities around each other.  Now one person in the office is the misfit, so it's less likely (as least for a bit of time) that the members of the gossiping circle will be attacked by each other.  A circle of gossip is a circle of support that distils its group aggression onto an outsider.

Prejudice is a bigger and more extreme example of relief-through-villainizing-others: If one group has inherent problems, our group looks special.  If we name an outsider who is guilty, we don't need to look as hard at our own faults.

I once wrote a blog here on schadenfreude [to see it click here], which touches on similar ideas.  Schadenfreude is a long word for the joy we get from seeing others suffer.  While we don't often publically admit it, it's likely true that we get relief from finding faults in others.  After all, security is essentially our ability to maintain our status, or power, in relation to other people and circumstances.


Nasty, bitter partnerships are formed through that sort of villianization, but so are less obviously nasty partnerships.  For instance, whenever I'm down, I get on the phone with my cousin, and she often tells me stories about her lover, whose life is much less stable than mine (lost his job; drinks too much).  We always speak about the lover in a tone of concern, but if I were to be as honest about emotion as White is in his own autobiography, I'd have to admit to some release there too--some joy at the relative calm in my own life.  I gossip with my cousin to create a society-of-two that gives me a sense of security; and that's exactly what White did with his shrink.  Maybe that's what we always do with shrinks to some extent: we create partnerships that help us name our strengths relative to other people and things outside the room.


I wonder if you've found yourself in any position like this lately--even if very subtly naming friends as opposed to enemies.  There is some comfort in sealing joy with an inner circle.




See my book, here and visit my website, here.

by Moderator Melissa_W on ‎09-17-2009 04:23 PM

Shamefully, I tend to point out when others mess up and then highlight I how I do not mess up (particularly at the bookstore job).

by Blogger IlanaSimons on ‎09-17-2009 04:44 PM

Hi Melissa,

You're right--and even more insidious are our blinkers: our tendencies to see in faults in others where we simply can't see them in ourselves.


I just started a new job, and I've been busying noting others' weaknesses while justifying my own interpersonal style!

by Moderator Melissa_W on ‎09-17-2009 04:47 PM

Congrats on the new job, Ilana :smileyhappy:

by on ‎09-17-2009 06:40 PM

Can't say that I share this pleasure -- if a friend spends any amount of time pointing out the faults of other friends or acquaintances to me, I usually go silent, wondering what faults she has found in me that she discusses with others behind my back.    So my reaction is not comfort, but anxiety.


On the other hand, I DO find great comfort in shared SELF-deprecating humor with others -- for instance, I often enjoy "comparing" notes with others of my age about the trials of getting older.  Two women talking about their newest experiences with their own "senior moments", is always good for a laugh, and the laughter adds great glue to those bonds of friendship. 

by Blogger IlanaSimons ‎09-18-2009 05:30 PM - edited ‎09-18-2009 09:42 PM

Hi Psychee,

You make a nice point--friends who seem too critical (or gossipy) cause anxiety.  It probably comes down to a feeling of security: whether or not the person we're gossiping with makes us feel secure, as if she's rational or trustworthy.

If a gossiping friend seems catty or insecure in her own judgments--and likely to turn on us, too--her friendship doesn't offer a sense of security.


by on ‎09-19-2009 12:22 PM

Thanks, Ilana, for a great topic. 


A lot to think about.....and sometimes even feeling guilty about, in the process!  It made me think about the work place, as Melissa mentioned.  Working in the market business, it's a very small world in a large chain of grocery stores.  I distrusted that part of it.  You end up distrusting the people you work with, from the bottom to the top of the ladder.  You have to learn what their motives are.


I've worked in the school system, and it's the same with that community, as well.  Needless to say, no matter where I've worked, or organization I've belonged to, it's the same.  There is always someone who either wants to climb over someone else, or just make themselves feel better.  Gossip can also be a nice word for back-stabbing. I see several different degrees of motivation.  Some do it just to, as you say, make themselves  feel better about themselves, listening to others complain, does (at times) make your world seem better.....(although, I personally can't take a steady diet of complainers)  or....some people want to grab your attention with minor gossip......as in "look at me, I've got something you don't have".  I'd learned to steer clear of the ones who drew you aside, just to tell you the latest dirt.  But it's hard to not be drawn into those scenarios.  And you had to be careful who you talked to.....or you'd end up hearing the same news, back, from someone else.


I never seriously thought about why we do it.  But I think, sometimes, you want to feel a part of the community.  It you don't join in, you are not a "team" player, if you know what I mean.  And I guess the ego is served in the process.


I think, as Pyschee said, we want to find something, or someone,  to make us feel secure.  I don't usually find "self-deprecating" humor funny, but I've had my "senior moments".  I guess if you can't laugh at yourself [your flaws, as it were], you take yourself too seriously.


I had thought, after six years of plucking my psyche to pieces, I had all the answers.  I was wrong.  But I do know there is a check and balance system that we need to weigh in on from time to time.  Whether it's talking to a cousin, our shrink, or a friend...., you do need to trust that person.  You need to know it won't go any further than that moment.



by on ‎09-19-2009 07:35 PM

Sorry, no way to edit my last post:  I forgot to mention the part about feeling guilty.  I do see, what we see in others,  can 'sometimes' be areas we forget to see, or can't see, in ourselves.  And then, of course, if  you already know these things about yourself, then there is no real excuse for calling others on it....But....there's always a but....


Like I'd said, you can get sucked into these bad scenarios initiated by others, very easily....until you get fed, by feeding off of the bad habits of others.  

What did I just say?  

A Vampire, you say?!  

I know...bad humor today. 

Forgive me, I've had the flu....

mushbrain doesn't have a clue

by Blogger IlanaSimons on ‎09-20-2009 08:05 AM

Hi Kathy,

I don't see mushbrain here--I see some clarity.  I do think that there is pressure, as you say, to join the community in our jobs.  And if those communities gossip, there's pressure to join in.

by on ‎09-20-2009 01:20 PM

Thanks, Ilana,  I wasn't sure what I was saying, or if it made sense...my brain was getting twisted in a knot, then it started to rhyme, that's when I knew I'd better stop..  Sometimes I read your topics, and think great, I can see that.... But when I delve into them, it's like standing in the middle of a dense forest, trying to draw a tree...every limb is different on every tree, and I can't decide on what shape it should be.  The trunk is there, but the branches and needles are bending in all different directions.  Does that make any sense?  I've always wondered what it was about your topics that intrigue me...I see it, now.  Always a mystery to solve.  And that mystery is the mind in the middle of a dark forest..

by Katelyn on ‎09-24-2009 02:36 AM

Hi All,


    I noticed another variation of the "insulting others" theme.  I noticed that some people insult others and try to make them feel very small and then try to rescue them and say they will "help" them overcome the terrible problem.  There is a very interesting phenomenoa where the very  people that put you in a hole then stick out their hand to "help" you get out.  It is psychologically very economical to demonize and then "help" the *same* person.


I had a boss who drank to the extent it reeked out of her pores whenever she sat down with me at our 1-0n-1 discussions (and these appointments occurred on a Tuesday mind you not after a weekend ).  She was having health problems at the time so I can see how excessive drink might have been understandable, but it was to the extent that it was very unprofessional for a manager at a Fortune Five Hundred company. she was continually putting me in a room to discuss some trivial thing that I did and would go  on and on about it; it took me a long time to realize that she was focusing on me to distract her from something the was going on in her own life.Her boss was in another country and no one (including me) told him this was going on.  I still think he thinks I am crazy based on what she told him.


I guess in a way I am also gossiping about her, but I am trying to present a faithful rendition of events.  I think there are two kinds of "gossip", one that is done for entertainment at someone else's expense and another that from the inside at least feels like a form of necessity.  Often there are asymetrical power relationships in a situation and a person can not change the situation (or atleast very easily), but through words one can change the narrative or story that surrounds the situation.  To change ones circumstances motivates speaks, even if this speaking cannot really magically transform the situation and sometimes even hinders transformation.


It is great to see many of you are still here.  Thanks Ilana for the book suggestion on the board a month or so ago. I haven't had time to read it yet, but I plan to.  I have been away as this has been the year I took on corporate America and it took all that I had. I thought at times it would literally kill me.  I would like to tell you about it sometime, only bit by bit.  Sometimes a silence now bubbles up out of me where before there was only a plethora of words and I can't speak easily about things not because they are so very painful but because sometimes a huge gulf or chasm has opened up between what one was and what one now is that one has to learn to speak all over again.


I missed everyone. I did somethings I thought I couldn't and even though in some people's eyes it may not have seem worth the consequences, it was.  I learned who I was and the enormous fear I felt, fear that I felt had no bottom, went away and I learned that it did have a bottom. I learned who I was and what I would stand for and everything feels different because of it.




PS: I know I kind of bent the topic to my own purposes or current preoccupations, but when I read Ilana's post this is what it made me think of.

by Blogger IlanaSimons on ‎09-24-2009 08:33 AM

Hi Kate!

Thanks for the meaty note, and welcome back.  "Taking on corporate America."  Unfortunately, I'm only pulling up images of Michael Moore, so want more details from you.  Will take them in bits and pieces.

I can picture those tet-a-tets with your boss: She's using her power over you to feel secure, or to enjoy the sound of her own voice. 

But...are you really pessimistic about the power of words to change a situation?  I'm thinking of my partner, who rarely lets himself describe situations as "problems."  He's always speaking of them in more optimistic light than I do.  And I'm still not sure which comes first: his decision to describe situations like this, or his experience in his head.

by on ‎09-24-2009 10:17 AM

Oh Ick Katelyn!

I had a boss do similar nastiness to me once. Famous for giving instructions "Are you sure D? Yes D*MN IT DO IT! ok boss.." and the the next day "why did you .... idiot?! You told me to boss. I did not!..." Months of this, she even wrote me up once for following her own instructions. (shaking head) Finally one day she totally lost it and did this stuff 2 hours apart in front of her boss. I even tried to point it out to her. I had fellow employee (who had been her personal friend for years), grab me by the neck and tell me "give her enough rope today kid, don't you dare help her". She got fired.


My husband calls it, promoted to the point of incompetence.


by on ‎09-24-2009 01:33 PM

Kate,  I see you, and I've missed you.  Come back.



by Katelyn on ‎09-29-2009 04:38 AM

Hi Illana, TigerBear, and Kathy,


    Thanks for the welcome back.


Ilana: You are right words definitely can change things.  Physical reality is such a small part of reality and people do change things because of words in a philosophical sense (the whole superstructure of meanings overlaying physical reality) but also in a ordinary everyday sense of moving people, changing the way they see, and ultimately providing new ways of not only viewing the world but acting in it.  The only problem is that they have to be the right words at the right time.  Unfortunately the right words often escape me. Also, it is hard to change large institutions. They can squash you.  You have to get to the point where you are willing to risk something, to change the way things are. 

TigerBear: I loved your responce of "Oh Ick Katelyn!:".  It cheered me somehow and your description of your experience that followed showed me you know exactly about the kind of experience I mean.  I am glad it resolved itself in a satisfying way for you.


Kathy: I missed you too.  I actually am back. It will be great to find out what you have been up to in the previous months. 


All: I am still trying to get used to the way the board has been restructured (Multiple authors/"Unabashedly Bookish" vs Ilana's old Lit and Life Board).  It takes longer to find things; lots of clicking  I don't exactly hate the new structure, but I it takes some getting used to. Did get to read some interesting articles however. Loved the one about "Books in the Wild" by Bethanne. Overall the B&N site is excellent.  The "Read More" buttons drive me crazy  however. Hoping the Admins read this.


 Really enjoyed Ilana's latest articles. I read the "Robert Lowell and the Circus at our House"  one four or five times or more it was so good. For some reason it struck a chord with me. Might read it again when I wake up. Yes, a strange practice rereading these articles.  While they are wonderfully offbeat, they seem like a tonic for sanity in the morning.




by on ‎09-29-2009 09:02 PM

Hi Kate, glad you're back!   I don't know about catching up...just starting over again. for me.  Sounds like you've taken on some major changes.


Lots to read on these blogs....I don't read most of them, anymore.  Keeps me too busy.   There will be lots more format changes coming soon to these boards.  Don't get used to the way it looks right now.  Although, I don't think the "read more" will change...they have to consolidate these blogs somehow.  But who knows?


Welcome back to change....and ....reality! 


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