What Tori Hope Petersen Wants You To Know About Being ‘Fostered’

What Tori Hope Petersen Wants You To Know About Being ‘Fostered’

The foster care system gets mentioned in discussions by people who have little to no knowledge of its reality. Tori Hope Petersen gives a firsthand account of the system and how it shaped her in her debut memoir, “Fostered.”

Petersen is a wife, a mother to three, and has also been a foster parent. She is also a former foster youth and foster care advocate. Over her years in the system and working with the system, her faith and passion have given her the strength necessary to serve these less-than-fortunate children.

Petersen took the time to talk with The Federalist during a short break from helping her younger sister move in. The sisters spent their early days together in foster care before being separated. This year, they were reunited and Petersen welcomed her sister into her home where they now live together. During a follow-up conversation, Petersen’s son hung out on the side while enjoying a bowl of spaghetti as the two sat in the summer sun. It was apparent her family is her everything.

Petersen talks about her upcoming book, “Fostered,” and how her journey through the foster care system and faith journey have shaped her.

Fostered” will be available for purchase on Aug. 30, 2022 on Amazon or at Barnes and Noble, Walmart, or Target.

Why did you initially decide to write “Fostered”?

I wanted to write the book because I wanted youth in foster care to understand that they weren’t victims, that they were victors, that they could overcome the hardest things that were set up against them through Christ. As I wrote the book, and as I began to write on social media, I realized that I was educating foster parents, child welfare workers, lawyers, people who worked in the child welfare space, and just people who have an interest in foster care. I didn’t intend for the audience to be what it is now. I just really wanted to write a book that was kind of like the book that I needed when I was in care. Now knowing my audience is broader than I anticipated, I now hope that the book encourages people to step into the hard parts of foster care and to love those around them in an unbridled, fearless kind of way. As people read, they will see that’s what was done for me by others.

What is your experience interacting with your audience who’s learning about your story and about the foster care system for the first time through your story?

It’s mostly just from my social media platform. When it comes to social media in general, the people who read and probably take the most from my posts are just the general population and people who have been interested in foster care, but I think have been scared. I get a lot of messages and I mean, it’s just like, so amazing, so many messages of people saying, “We’ve been interested in foster care for a long time. We’ve been scared or we haven’t done it because X, Y, and Z. Because of your post or your story, we’re getting involved.”

One of the themes that you taught and touched on in your book is just the importance of strong mother and father figures and a strong family. Could you talk a little bit more about that?

I don’t even know what to say about it. It seems so obvious that when we have those supports, the kind of unconditional love that parents give at home, that’s what a strong family is. Then, we don’t go searching for it in other places. When we don’t have to go searching for it in other places, it feels like there’s more stability around our self-worth and who we were created to be. And research shows there’s so much that supports this. I just think that a strong faith and family is really the foundation of a person, but that doesn’t mean a person can’t be strong if they don’t have a strong family either. That’s why it’s important that we have strong communities.

In your book, you recount when you met your father’s side of the family and you felt that sense of community even though you hadn’t really known them up until then. That, along with other things that you touched on in the book, was a very emotional and personal moment. What was it like revisiting those memories?

There were moments that it was hard, but honestly, it was so healing. When people say writing memoirs is cathartic, I didn’t really know what that meant. I always used to have this recurring dream that I was locked in someplace—in the post office or my house or jail—and I couldn’t get out and my mom was yelling at me like how she yelled at me when I was a kid. I’ve had that dream since I went into foster care, probably at least once a month. After I finished writing my book, I had that dream where I was locked somewhere and my mom was yelling at me, and I walked out. I’ve never had the recurring dream since, and I feel like that encompasses what this book has done for me. It’s just been healing. I think that’s kind of what counseling does for us. It helps us process things, and I think that’s what the book helped me do in a deeper way than I already had. It helped me process things all over again.

Unfortunately, not everyone can make that same peace with the past, and some people don’t even have the resources to rehabilitate their minds after traumatic experiences. This is especially true for children in the foster care system. What’s one of the biggest changes you would like to see in the foster care system going forward?

Every foster kid has a file, and that file follows them everywhere they go. It usually says the worst things that have ever happened to them and the worst things they’ve ever done. We know that first impressions are so important, right? Like when we go into a job interview and we have a bad first impression, we think, “Oh how do I fix that?” When a kid has a file, they can’t fix that. It’s just the same things that get brought up to the person that they want to form a deep relationship with. They never get a new start. They never truly get a new beginning. I think how we see children is so valuable for how they’re going to see themselves. I think that we need to do something with the file so that children don’t have that following them around in a way that plagues their identity, because healing really begins and ends with identity.

Poor conditions in the foster care system are a big part of the pro-abortion argument. What is your response to that?

My response is that any real social justice advocacy or any real social justice movement, it aims to end the suffering, not the potential suffering.

What do you hope your readers walk away with after reading through “Fostered”?

My greatest hope behind the book is that youth who read it, parents who read it, and people who read it understand the value that each individual has, that there’s a purpose and plan for their life, and that no matter what they’ve been through, God loves them. And knowing that, they love others. People and God loving me is my motivation to love others the best I can. I want that love to just continue. I think it goes back to that piece of identity that no matter where you come from, no matter what’s been done to you, no matter how you were conceived, you have value, you can be loved, you can love. There’s a plan and purpose for your life. I just want people to know who God is and who God has created us to be.


Elise McCue is an intern at The Federalist and student majoring in multimedia journalism and professional and technical writing. She also reports on the Southwest Virginia music scene for The Roanoke Times. You can follow her on twitter @elisemccue or contact her at mccueelise@gmail.com

Source

Are You Maladjusted?

Are You Maladjusted?

In praise of Christian misfits. Following Christ naturally means being at odds with the world around us. Embrace your peculiarity; never be ashamed of being a fool for God.

Maladjusted Christians? Yes, in the eyes of the world this will always be the case. And before you think I am going off the deep end again, let me remind you of 1 Samuel 22:2 —

All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their commander. About four hundred men were with him.”

As I remarked in an earlier piece:

It is interesting that David, who at the time was not on the throne, but was being hounded and chased around the country by Saul, found himself to be a magnet for those who were on the fringes of society, those who did not fit in, those who were discontented and in distress. The really amazing thing about this motley crew of rejects, misfits and outsiders is that they went on to do many mighty things for God and David. We read about these men later in the Old Testament narratives. In 2 Samuel 23, 24 and 1 Chronicles 11, 12 we learn about “David’s mighty men”.

So we have a biblical precedent here. Indeed, a study of the Bible and church history will also reveal this truth. God’s people will always be outsiders. We will always be seen as misfits and oddities and even freaks. That is how the true son or daughter of God has always been considered, by both the world and worldly Christians.Prophetic Untimeliness book - Christian misfits

Here I want to discuss this further, utilising an important Christian thinker I have just featured in my last two articles: Os Guinness. His book Prophetic Untimeliness (Baker, 2003) is discussed here.

Today I want to further explore Chapter 5 of the book The Price of Faithfulness. It begins this way:

“A French resistance leader was once asked how he explained the fact that his men had been so heroic. He thought for a while, and then answered: ‘We weren’t heroic. We were simply maladjusted enough to know that something was seriously wrong’.”

He examines unheeded messengers such as John the Baptist, Churchill and Solzhenitsyn. Despite their differences, they shared some common virtues:

Discernment of the times; courage to repudiate powerful interests and fashion; perseverance in the face of daunting odds; seasoned wisdom born of a sense of history and their nation’s place in it; and — supremely with the Hebrew prophets — a note of authority in their message born of its transcendent source.

No feature of the unheeded messengers, however, is more common than the link between the brilliance of their perspective and the burden of their pain. … Both are the result of being outsiders, and for any Christian who would speak out today in a time of the church’s deepening cultural captivity, prophetic untimeliness carries a clear cost.

Square Peg

He lists three such costs. The first is “a sense of maladjustment.” Says Guinness:

When society is increasingly godless and the church increasingly corrupt, faithfulness carries a price. The man or woman who lives by faith does not fit in. … C. S. Lewis referred to himself in his inaugural lecture at Cambridge as an “Old Western man,” a “dinosaur,” and a “Neanderthaler.” In short, praised prophets are mostly dead prophets, though in their lifetimes they were skunks in the parfumerie or heretics in the revival meeting.

Although he goes on to make this important point:

Though faithfulness may entail maladjustment, maladjustment does not necessarily indicate faithfulness; we may just be odd and using maladjustment to rationalize our oddness.

Quite so: some believers think they are suffering for Christ when they are really suffering because they are so off-putting, quarrelsome and difficult to be around.

Forward-Looking

The second cost of faithfulness is “a sense of impatience.” As he says:

When society becomes godless and the church corrupt, the forward purposes of God appear to be bogged down and obstructed, and the person who lives by faith feels the frustration. At such a moment, untimely people see beyond the present impasse to the coming time when better possibilities are fulfilled. Their response to any delay of the vision is impatience — raw, bit-chomping impatience. And their natural cry is, “How long, O Lord?”

He continues:

“Is it ever too late to be what we might have been, and to do what we might have done? For followers of Jesus, the kairos moment — the right time in all its fullness of opportunity — is in God’s hands, not ours. And this earth, this life, and our endeavors are not all we have.”

Uphill Battle

The third cost is “a sense of failure.” As the world and the church continue to go downhill, “the prospects of good people succeeding are significantly dimmed and the temptation to feel a failure is everpresent.” But he goes on to say that we should not worry about our own success or legacy:

If we define all that we are before our great Caller and live our lives before one audience — the Audience of the One — then we cannot define or decide our own achievements and our own success. It is not for us to say what we have accomplished. It is not for us to pronounce ourselves successful. It is not for us to spell out what our legacy has been. Indeed, it is not even for us to know. Only the Caller can say. Only the Last Day will tell. Only the final “Well done” will show what we have really done.

He concludes this chapter with these words:

God knew the times in which He called us to live, and He alone knows the outcome of our times as He knows the outcome of our lives and our work. Our ‘failures’ may be His success. Our ‘setbacks’ may prove His turning points. Our ‘disasters’ may turn out to be His triumphs. What matters for us is that His gifts are our calling. So every day our work is like a prayer. And everyday we give back all we can of God’s gifts to Him — with love, and trust, and hope.

Quite right. So Christians, just do it. Just keep on with what God has called you to do. And don’t worry about the results. Don’t worry that you may not seem to be making any headway, or that you are making any progress. Just be faithful.

For example, you may have been called by God to start a blog site. But it may get just a handful of readers each day. So you might get discouraged and think: ‘What is the point?’ Well, the point is you are doing what God has called you to do. That is the main thing. And secondly, you will be having some impact, even though you might doubt this at the time.

It will only be in the next life that we discover how much of an impact we really did have. But even that should not be our main concern. Our real aim must be to love God fully and seek to do His will. And yes, to do His will fully and fervently will mean that we will be misfits.

Certainly, the world will see us as misfits, as outsiders, as weirdos. But sadly, and far too often, many if not most Christians will feel the same way about you. They will think that you are so very maladjusted. Well, so be it. If we are to be misfits for Christ, then wear that as a badge of honour.

He also did not fit in very well.

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Originally published at CultureWatch. Photo by Taylor on Unsplash.

Thank the Source

Eerdmans: Woke Christian Publishers

Another Christian institution sells its soul, capitulating to the ways of the world and celebrating sin. Why does Eerdmans have to jump onto the LGBT bandwagon?

Some of the biggest and most famous Christian — and mainly evangelical — publishing houses in America would include the following: Baker, Zondervan, Kregel, IVP, Westminster John Knox Press, and Eerdmans. I often tell my students that when they are checking out a new book, trying to figure out if it is worth buying, one of the things they should look for is the publisher.

Generally speaking, the sorts of Christian publishers I mentioned above are more or less reliable in giving us solid Christian books. Not always, but for the most part. (One also looks at who the author is, the blurbs of others, and so on.) But some religious publishers are quite theologically unorthodox and politically liberal, so they are usually worth avoiding.

Others tend to be far more dependable. Imagine my massive disappointment when I was alerted about one of the biggest Christian book publishers that seems to have gone full-tilt apostate as it joins in with the ungodly and immoral June homosexual pride month. I refer to Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, located in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Of interest, several other big-time Christian publishers are also located there, including Baker, Zondervan, and Kregel. Grand Rapids has a large Dutch Reformed population, and institutions such as Calvin College are located there. So it has had a strong religious background, at least earlier on.

Lost the Plot

Of course, over the years some Christian publishers have been moving away from orthodox, conservative and biblically faithful titles. That has certainly been true of Eerdmans, which has been publishing more and more decidedly lefty and theologically unorthodox volumes.

But this pride madness really does take the cake. And do not take my word on this. On their Facebook page, Eerdmans has this:

Books to read for Pride Month.

Wherever you stand or whatever you think you know, #PrideMonth is an important time to take a step back, listen to real stories, and seek to understand.

Here are some books to help you do that! eerdword.com/pride-month-books/

And if you follow that link to their website, we find this:

Eerdmans

June is Pride Month, and you’ve probably seen countless businesses touting their rainbow flags, multi-colored logos or raising their support in different ways. Yet, there is still such disunity and unrest on this topic, among people of faith especially.

We find ourselves at a time again where we should be willing to listen and seek to understand those in the LGBTQ+ community who are simply fighting to be seen and heard, cared for and loved.

This month, as an Eerdmans reading community, we hope you’ll take time to listen. Check out some of our upcoming and previously published books that give a voice to wonderful stories of life, love, rocky relationships, and what the Bible has to say about it all.

Are you for real, Eerdmans? Pride in what God calls an abomination? Pride in what Scripture condemns in no uncertain terms? Pride in a sinful lifestyle that is sending people to a lost eternity? So Eerdmans, do you celebrate Sodom and Gomorrah Day as well? This is appalling.

And homosexuals are “fighting to be seen and heard”?! Are you serious, Eerdmans? There is no other group in America — or on the planet — that is heard and seen as much as the homosexual lobby. They really do have the greatest platform possible to push their agenda.

Everywhere we turn we see their militant agenda being force-fed down our throats, be it in media, law, politics, entertainment, popular culture, education, and even our churches. It is EVERYWHERE! The rainbow militants are ubiquitous, and no one can avoid seeing their activist crusades and being bombarded with their propaganda.

Nobody Listens to Ex-Homosexuals

The ones who are NOT being seen and heard are biblical Christians who still remain faithful to the Word of God. And even more invisible — and despised and rejected — are all the ex-homosexuals: those who were deeply involved in the homosexual lifestyle, only to be radically set free and redeemed by Christ. Try finding their stories anywhere in the public arena! And try finding their stories at Eerdmans!

Indeed, I just looked at a bibliography I have been compiling on homosexuality over many years. It contains around 150 titles, all of which present the biblical position on this issue, offer titles on counselling, feature stories of those who left the homosexual lifestyle, and even has pro-and-con debate books about this subject.

I assumed that of course some of the earlier volumes on my bibliography would at least be Eerdmans’ titles. But I just took a look: I was shocked to find NOT ONE! Not one single book by Eerdmans affirming the biblical position on homosexuality. Not one.

Sure, there are plenty of books published by Eerdmans that I do not have. But I must say, I believe I have just about every solid title that is out there which affirms the Christian view on homosexuality. And not one of them is from Eerdmans. Shame, Eerdmans, shame.

Rot

Eerdmans is not alone in all this, of course. We have seen too many churches, denominations, pastors, Bible colleges, seminaries and so on that have all sold out over the years on this and related issues. So Eerdmans is not the sole focus of my concerns. But as I say, for so long it was one of the top Christian publishers that so many of us made use of.

Of the many thousands of Christian books I have, probably several hundred at least would be Eerdmans’ titles. Thus my great disappointment and consternation to see them hopping on board the radical homosexual bandwagon and telling us to take pride in an immoral and dead-end lifestyle.

Christians should NEVER take pride in sin — whether their own or that of anyone else. Sin is to be denounced and condemned and avoided at all cost, and we are to pray for sinners to come to Christ in faith and repentance, leaving behind the sins that sent Christ to the cross.

All that groups like Eerdmans are doing is nailing Christ back up onto the cross. That is absolutely despicable. As I just wrote on the Eerdmans Facebook page:

“We NEVER should take pride in sin — any sin. And speaking biblical truth is not being hateful. It is the most loving thing a faithful Christian can do. Shame on you, Eerdmans.”

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Originally published at CultureWatch. Photo by Mikhail Nilov.

Thank the Source

Dismissing Reality During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Dismissing Reality During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Deriding the concept of mass formation psychosis and dismissing its influence during a global crisis, is itself a verification of the phenomenon. Those who live in denial and refuse to study the actual data are under the grip of powerful forces with vested interests.

Historians analysing the Covid-19 pandemic will one day consider what was going on in the minds of those who supported a narrative that only served profits and power. Looking back, they will greatly appreciate the analysis of contemporary experts, particularly Mattias Desmet, a professor in the Department of Psychology and Educational Sciences at Ghent University in Belgium. He is recognised as a leading thinker in his field, and has written over one hundred peer-reviewed academic papers.

Desmet has presented his understanding of human behaviour in response to the pandemic and vaccine policies to forums and international media. His book on the topic, The Psychology of Totalitarianism, will be published in June of 2022. It examines the emotional climate that has allowed a singular, focused, crisis narrative that forbids dissenting views and relies on destructive groupthink.

The central tenet of Desmet’s evaluation of the emotional response to the pandemic rests on the psychological concept of mass formation. It is a general term that applies to individual, group, and crowd behaviour as influenced by the manipulations and conduct of dominant social forces. The concept is not new — nor is it in any way a stretch to apply it in analysing the extensive anxiety driving the attitudes and demeanour of billions of people during the worldwide pandemic.

Mass formation can be associated with mass psychosis, a disturbance in the minds of small or large groups — to the degree where there is a loss of contact with reality — often with an eclipse of morality and objectification of an imagined enemy.

The hostile and dismissive response to Desmet’s perspective on the pandemic’s emotional climate is both fascinating and revelatory.

Enter the Media

Desmet was interviewed by a number of prominent individuals in a variety of media outlets, with his views on the current rise of mass formation taken seriously by some of the public and medical professionals with open minds. Detractors quickly appeared in an attempt to minimise his impact.

When Dr Robert Malone, respected veteran expert in molecular biology and a pioneer in mRNA research, discussed and amplified Desmet’s theory on the Joe Rogan Experience, a threshold seemed to have been crossed. Mainstream media and medical websites went into high gear pronouncing mass formation as discredited and bunk. The disdain for anyone invoking the term was overt. Medpage Today reported, “It sounds like the name of your friend’s failed high school band.”

The vast majority of criticism had little to say about the reasonable theory that government representatives, a huge portion of the medical profession and at least one-third of the general population had fallen into a trance. And most importantly, there was no willingness to consider that there might be a powerful psychological force skewing judgement and provoking irrational behaviour.

In a show of reflexive impulsive bias, media coverage claimed that the concept of mass formation did not exist. This response simply revealed how the process of mass formation blinds the minds of scientists and journalists.

Widely attributed press sources, including Reuters, quickly found experts who said:

“Mass formation psychosis is not an academic term recognised in the field of psychology, nor is there evidence of any such phenomenon occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

To ensure readers need not fear they were under any spell, they advised, “numerous psychologists have also told Reuters that such a condition is not officially recognised.”

Mass formation was also dismissed in a number of articles because it is not mentioned in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a simplified clinical guide to individual psychiatric disorders that does not cover crowd psychology.

Not Necessarily the News

The blast of commentary was presented as objective news, yet the press response directly conflicts with the knowledge of prominent psychotherapists, including luminaries who enriched the modern understanding of the human psyche, such as Scipio Sighele, Gustave Le Bon, Elio Cannetti, and Hannah Arendt.

In his 1921 book Crowd Psychology and Ego Analysis, the founder of psychotherapy, Sigmund Freud, discusses mass formation and its ramifications, saying,

“The strangest and at the same time most important phenomenon of mass formation is the increase in affectivity evoked in each individual (as) exaltation or intensification of emotion.”

The preeminent psychiatrist Carl Jung highlights mass formation in his prescient 1957 book, The Undiscovered Self, on the state of mankind and the dangers of modern materialism. His perspective is foundational, relative to Desmet’s recent findings:

 “Under the influence of scientific assumptions, not only the psyche but the individual man and, indeed, all individual events whatsoever suffer a leveling down and a process of blurring that distorts the picture of reality into a conceptual average.

We ought not to underestimate the psychological effect of the statistical world picture: it displaces the individual in favor of anonymous units that pile up into mass formations.”

Despite a wealth of historical precedents, the reaction to Desmet’s ideas was bizarre and unfounded. A renowned and respected psychotherapist had postulated that we might need to reconsider the unconscious response to lockdowns and mandates — and his ideas were summarily dismissed by the voice of the state.

The diagnosis is clear. Deriding mass formation and dismissing its influence during a global crisis is in itself a verification of the phenomenon. Mainstream media demonstrates how it perpetuates mass formation by indulging in another well-accepted psychological phenomenon: denial.

Considering the degree of unwillingness to confront the reality of the ineffectiveness and dangers of the COVID-19 vaccines, an evaluation of the news media’s response to the current plague can also be deemed delusional.

The Syndrome Persists

In recent decades, studies have shown that psychological problems are increasing exponentially. Rather than attempting to reverse this dysfunction, powerful forces in government and the corporate press continue to mislead and prey on an expanding susceptible population, who in the face of crisis, cling to authority.

It is the vulnerability of dissatisfied populations that allows mass formation.

Desmet suggests that a number of factors, including; isolation, a sense that life is meaningless — and particularly free-floating anxiety, frustration and aggression — independently or in unison, can lead to mass formation and its repercussions.

Jung also viewed precursors to dysfunction in the context of a modern age where the State and Scientific Rationalism play critical roles in supporting mass formation, saying:

“Science supplies us with, instead of the concrete individual, the names of organisations and, at the highest point, the abstract idea of the State as the principle of political reality. Apart from agglomerations of huge masses of people, in which the individual disappears anyway, one of the chief factors responsible for psychological mass-mindedness is scientific rationalism, which robs the individual of his foundations and his dignity. As a social unit he has lost his individuality and become a mere abstract number in the bureau of statistics. He can only play the role of an interchangeable unit of infinitesimal importance.”

The concept of mass formation and its relevance to the pandemic are undeniable when our current crisis is examined carefully, particularly when the inadequacies and inconsistencies of prevention and treatment are analysed and understood.

Vaccines were initially presented as the only viable way to stem a deadly disease. A subsequent admission that they did not stop transmission was revealed in the context that they continued to be effective and safe. Any serious analysis of these claims confirms this also is a fabrication.

There is an important and viable inquiry asking how a false and deadly narrative continues to be accepted. Policies supporting repressive controls and ongoing vaccination have no foundation other than nonsensical dictates and support from a public bolstered with questionable data, prodded to near-hysteria.

The very forces that are responsible for the false narrative can only take a defensive position when light is shed on their methodology. The dogmatic negation of the idea that a mass formation is responsible for blind compliance and irrational acceptance of dangerous therapies is striking and revelatory.

As time passes, the induced fear and coerced consent will continue to be exposed as part of a scheme promoting selfish interests, and verifiably nothing to do with good health.

Eventually this epoch will be recognised for its essential impetus: the nefarious entrancement of a vulnerable world.

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Originally published by Robert W Malone MD, MS. Photo by cottonbro.

Thank the Source

Experiencing Pain Makes Us Human And Gives Us Meaning

Experiencing Pain Makes Us Human And Gives Us Meaning

Whenever I’m running, whether it’s a morning five-miler, a trail race, or a marathon, I typically encounter at least one moment of above-average physical or psychic pain: sore ankles, shortness of breath, the fear that the next step will be my last. Yet, almost every time, not only do I push on, but I welcome the suffering. Why?

This question—why do some people voluntarily invite pain into their lives?—has bedeviled philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, theologians, and physicians for millennia. Two opposing answers have generally held sway: First, we embrace suffering for instrumental reasons, such as improving our health, demonstrating toughness or dominance, or sacrificing for others.

Second, we welcome pain because it’s actually, irrationally, a source of pleasure. Apologies to John Cougar Mellencamp, but sometimes human beings just want to make it hurt so good.

These explanations, even if they seem mutually exclusive, indeed go a long way toward resolving this conundrum, and recent social-science evidence bears them out. I run to enhance my physical and mental health. Even though it hurts, I know I’m helping myself in the long run. I also enjoy—at least some of the time—the endorphins that my strenuous exertion releases. Instrumentalism and masochism account for many aspects of extreme self-sacrifice, hot-pepper-eating contests, and polar-bear plunges; humans never cease to evince their rational and irrational sides, sometimes simultaneously.

Yet these justifications for chosen pain seem to omit a key, if hard-to-define, element: purpose. For many people, myself included, it’s not simply that suffering helps us achieve a goal, or that pain provokes a temporarily pleasant chemical reaction, but that the feeling of suffering itself provides meaning that transcends its immediate effects.

When I run, for instance, the strain itself empowers me in the moment not only to improve my performance but to reflect on work and personal challenges. Conversely, when I’m compelled by circumstance to go days without running, and I’m unable to access its attendant pains, every aspect of my life loses a measure of meaning.

How Pain Helps

At the outset, it’s important to note that pain’s central biological and evolutionary purpose is to signal danger. “Pain is information about what’s wrong,” according to Paul Bloom, the Yale psychologist and popular author, “and an inducement to make things better.”

Yet at times we embrace pain in order to enhance our lived experience. “Under the right circumstances and in the right doses,” Bloom reckons in his new book The Sweet Spot: The Pleasures of Suffering and the Search for Meaning, “physical pain and emotional pain, difficulty and failure and loss, are exactly what we are looking for.”

This is true in both the micro and macro senses. “We sometimes play with pain,” Bloom reports, citing experiments performed by Daniel Kahneman and his colleagues, “in order to maximize the contrast with future experience, so as to generate future pleasure.”

The anticipation of subsequent pleasure allows us to muddle through the pain, and that pleasure, when finally experienced after the pain, is especially pleasurable. Think about the enjoyment of hot cocoa after an hour of ice-skating or the taste of a cold beer following an afternoon of assembling Ikea furniture.

In my running example, the gratification of jumping into a cold swimming pool or ocean retroactively justifies the preceding hard run on a hot summer day. We often seek out pain to intensify the pleasure that follows.

We also embrace pain because of its longer-term benefits, such as improved health from exercise or dieting. Dan Ariely’s famous Ikea Effect demonstrated how we place a higher value on items that we struggle to build or assemble ourselves than on ones we simply purchase. He and his co-authors concluded that “even constructing a standardized bureau, an arduous, solitary task, can lead people to overvalue their (often poorly constructed) creations.” We invest time and effort into challenges ranging from crossword puzzles to calculus problem sets because, difficult as they are, their completion yields satisfaction and self-betterment.

Persevering in the face of pain can also signal toughness and bravery. Consider professional athletes like Curt Schilling of the Boston Red Sox “gutting out” an ankle injury against the Yankees in the 2004 postseason despite bleeding through his socks; Bernard King of the New York Knicks hobbling out on a bum knee to win Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals; Kerri Strug vaulting off (and landing on) a broken ankle to win gymnastics gold for the United States in 1996; or the fictional Roy Hobbs stroking the climactic home run in “The Natural,” notwithstanding a recently reopened gunshot wound.

We valorize these heroes for withstanding and overcoming their pain, for courageously sacrificing their careers and personal well-being for the good of their team, town, or nation. I’m nobody’s hero, but I do feel especially valiant when I’m able to complete a run in inclement weather, on little sleep, or despite sore muscles.

Suffering can also promote social welfare, as we sacrifice personal comfort for the greater good. Bloom reports that, “In experimental work, people tend to contribute more to a charity when they expect to endure pain and suffering for that cause—the so-called martyrdom effect.”

I recall a charity walk in which my family and I participated many years ago early on Thanksgiving morning in downtown San Diego. A homeless man we passed on the street asked us what was going on? “We’re part of the Walk for Hunger,” I explained. Befuddled, he responded, “Well, I’m hungry. Do you have any food?”

Unfortunately, and awkwardly, we didn’t—but at least we and hundreds of other walkers felt good about ourselves and our sacrifice. “This is why savvy charities,” Bloom suggests, “sponsor walkathons and marathon, not group massages and beach parties.”

But not every instance of chosen pain yields these instrumental benefits. We must therefore examine less rational explanations for why we voluntarily embrace suffering.

Pain Feels Good (for Some)

As a self-described masochist, former ballerina, eating disorder survivor, and all-around magnet for painful experiences, Leigh Cowart unquestionably understands suffering. In Hurts So Good: The Science and Culture of Pain on Purpose, equal parts riveting travelogue and unnerving chronicle of agony, Cowart, a science journalist, argues that for many people, pain and pleasure are synonymous. 

In some ways, Cowart’s argument is chemical: “endorphin is a portmanteau of ‘endogenous’ and ‘morphine.’ The drugs are coming from inside the house.” Some masochists deliberately choose pain because it triggers instant gratification.

Cowart adduces ample, if somewhat disturbing, evidence for this thesis, journeying to circuses featuring acrobats dangling from skin piercings in unimaginable places, witnessing a tongue-forking procedure, partaking in a hot-pepper-eating contest, participating in the infamous Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge on a frigid New Year’s Day, and observing an insane multi-day ultramarathon in the Tennessee backcountry.

Cowart champions the notion that “the experience of pain is always subjective, crafted by the mind itself and subject to all kinds of outside influences, including anxiety, threat level, emotional state, previous memories, degree of anticipation, and sexual arousal. Hurts So Good cites various neurological studies concluding that the somatosensory cortex in both self-identified masochists and non-masochists physically process pain in the same way but that masochists in pain displayed higher levels of activity than non-masochists in portions of the brain responsible for memory and cognition. Those who enjoy pain connect with it on a different intellectual and emotional level than those who don’t.

To be sure, aspects of masochism tend toward the instrumental. At one point, Cowart defines the term as “something universal, timeless, human: the deliberate act of choosing to feel bad to then feel better,” and further asserts that “people have long used this tactic, consenting to suffer so that they can enjoy the deliberately engineered biochemical relief that follows painful stimuli,” or what is later referred to as “nice homebrew morphine.” Indeed, in the many cases Cowart surveys, the sufferers point to the salutary aftereffects of torturous experiences.

But those same respondents also emphasize their enjoyment of the pain in the moment. One interviewee described his experience during a “chest pull,” proudly telling Cowart that “my mind started removing my spirit from my flesh. I was hovering over myself looking at myself as in the third person.”

Ed Currie, the American chili pepper “breeder” responsible for the Carolina Reaper, the fieriest species on earth, explained to Cowart that “when you eat superhot peppers, it actually makes you feel good. It gets you high.” Then, too, sexual masochism boasts millions of practitioners worldwide, people who, by definition, regard painful or humiliating sexual experiences as pleasurable.

Cowart also cites a 2012 study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Paul Rozin that found half of participants relished negative experiences. For many, suffering is an inseparable part of the fundamentally irrational human experience.

Pain Means Something

But pain is also something more than suffering. Bloom quotes a famous story about Abraham Lincoln, a consummate instrumentalist. After insisting to a passenger in his carriage that “all men were prompted by selfishness in doing good,” he ordered the coachman to halt to allow him to descend into a muddy gully to rescue a group of piglets from drowning.

When Lincoln’s companion challenged his supposedly self-centered worldview on account of this deeply altruistic act, he retorted: “Why, bless your soul, Ed, that was the very essence of selfishness. I should have had no peace of mind all day had I gone on and left that suffering old sow worrying over those pigs.”

Yet over and above simply avoiding an unsettled mind, Lincoln surely enjoyed more than the mere aftermath of having saved those helpless creatures. While there’s no way of knowing for sure, it’s easy to imagine happiness and fulfillment washing over Honest Abe as he rolled up his long pantlegs and mucked about the putrid bog. There’s deep pleasure and value in the moment of discomfort, not only in its wake.

This in-the-moment approach has an analog in traditional Judaism. From an instrumental perspective, the ancient rabbis labored to define the value of pain—quite literally. The Talmudic tractate Baba Kamma establishes a tort regime that includes reimbursement for pain and suffering as a form of damages.

But the scholars of Israel disagreed with the scholars of Babylonia over how to correctly assess the monetary amount of pain, with the former pegging the value to the amount a person would have to be paid to undergo such suffering and the latter tying it to the sum a person would pay to forego such pain. Either way, at least in the context of civil disputes, the ancient Jewish tradition regarded suffering in technical, monetary terms as something to be avoided and compensated—and certainly not as a value in and of itself.

Yet when it comes to the spiritual power of pain, things are a little different. For instance, the rabbis adjure us to subjugate our souls—literally, to torture them—on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, when traditional Jews forego food and drink, the comforts of leather shoes, showering, perfume, and sexual relations.

This suffering, too, is designed to facilitate a goal — i.e., a single-minded focus on penitence and prayer — but it also yields powerful feelings of relief and communal connection that attend the traditional break-fast meal at the end of the holiday. Along similar lines, Cowart cites the recorded experiences of medieval flagellants, whipping themselves in a religious frenzy to ward off the Black Death and to enter “a state of feeling bad as a pathway to the state of feeling better, a better life or a happier ending.”

The suffering fostered by Yom Kippur’s fasting and related discomforts transcends these benefits, itself serving as a unique kind of pleasure. We sit in synagogue, hungry and smelly and tired, but relishing the meaning of suffering, viscerally sensing the pain and connecting it to our personal and spiritual shortcomings.

Yes, the ordeal is symbolic and inspirational, but it’s also expressive and intentional. We feel, deeply, how the impoverished feel, and in the moment we strive to help them. As Nachmanides, the 13th-century Spanish scholar, observed, it’s no accident that the Hebrew word for suffering—yissur—shares a common root with the term for ethical behavior—mussar. The pain (of Yom Kippur, of life in general) isn’t merely a stand-in for morality: it embodies it.

Similarly, Brock Bastian, a University of Melbourne psychologist, told Cowart that “pain is often used in rituals in general because it signifies something meaningful.” Bastian and colleagues conducted a groundbreaking 2019 controlled experiment, entitled “Emotionally extreme life experiences are more meaningful,” in which they found that “the emotional extremity of an event plays a key role in whether events are found meaningful, as the most meaningful events in our studies were those that were either extremely pleasant or extremely painful.”

While their findings relied on subjective reporting, and the authors candidly acknowledged “the possibility that reciprocal processes influence our results; emotional intensity may drive meaning in events, but meaningful events may also come to be seen as more intense over time,” their study nevertheless reinforces the intuitive notion that we welcome painful experiences because we find them meaningful.

Likewise, Dave Proctor, the third-place finisher in the 2019 running of Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra World Championship, recalled thinking, near the end of his 200-mile-plus scamper over two non-stop days, that “I’m capable of so much more.” The unimaginable agony of running for days on end on what must have been blistered, bloodied stumps embodied, for Proctor, the deepest sense of self-reflection.

For me, too, on a dramatically lesser scale, running pains themselves, in the moment, viscerally reflect my strengths and weaknesses, the potential and limits of my abilities, the resolution of which represents the profoundest reason for my striving.

Likewise, some women who refuse anesthesia during childbirth cite as justification the meaningfulness of labor pains. Bloom touches on this when he writes that “I’ve heard from some women who have had children that the torment is an important aspect of it, that the relief provided by an epidural would make the experience less meaningful, less authentic.”

One practicing obstetrician who underwent anesthesia-free childbirth tells her patients considering following suit that “pain during childbirth is normal and necessary. It signals that your body is doing what it needs to do. Every wave of pain gets you closer to the goal: your beautiful baby.” The pain is the point: in the moment, it’s a metonym for the entire, extraordinarily moving birthing experience.

The notion of “flow” echoes this sense of purposeful, in-the-moment suffering. We enter a flow state, according to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the Hungarian psychologist who coined the term, when we experience focused, intense concentration, a sensation we can attain only through strenuous physical or mental effort. “The best moments usually occur,” he wrote in 1990, “if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” Willingly inflicting challenges upon ourselves unlocks creative energies in the moment that we otherwise could not access.

The same can be true of unchosen pain as well, and here, Bloom cites Victor Frankl, the celebrated psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor, for the proposition that finding meaning in life eases the burden of suffering. “Those who had the best chance of survival” in the Nazi death camps, Bloom asserts, channeling Frankl, “were those whose lives had broader purpose, who had some goal or project or relationship, some reason to live.”

Knowing there was something out there beyond the barbed wire provided incentive enough for some to survive. Elsewhere Bloom argues, similarly, that “some forms or suffering, involving struggle and difficulty, are essential parts of achieving these higher goals, and for living a complete and fulfilling life.”

All very true. Yet, in many ways, as Frankl himself recognized, the suffering itself provides that meaning and purpose. “There was no need to be ashamed of tears,” Frankl wrote in his 1946 Man’s Search for Meaning, “for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.”

At least some Auschwitz inmates wore their suffering as a badge of pride, an act of bravery almost unimaginable to contemporary free people and yet still, somehow, relatable. We want our pain to mean something, and not simply in order to overcome that suffering but also to revel in it, to elevate its effects, to experience its depths.

Why Does It Matter Why We Choose Pain?

In the end, though, what difference does it make why we choose pain, especially if the answers are so multifarious? Indeed, in his perceptive exploration of pain in The New Atlantis eight years ago, Ronald Dworkin, a practicing anesthesiologist and Hudson Institute fellow, noted that “human lives resist being studied according to abstract principles or names or categories, but rather demand and deserve to be understood one person at a time.” If everyone experiences pain differently, and welcomes it for diverse reasons, who cares why some people choose pain for its meaning?

For one thing, understanding the purposive nature of self-chosen suffering for many people can help us discover and police the fine line between masochism and self-injury. Perhaps the soundest distinction lies in the explanation of Dr. Allan House, author of a key 2015 paper, that “self-harm is more about the harm than the pain.” In other words, the purpose of the suffering makes all the difference in the world. Similarly, Cowart’s friend Darien Crossley recounts that “the only difference between my maladaptive self-injury and my sexy pain on purpose is, I feel, the intention behind it.”

More broadly, grasping how individuals embrace suffering because it furnishes meaning can help those who do not share this predilection understand, appreciate, and normalize it. Rather than mock as idiotic, condemn as superstitious, or prohibit as immoral those who engage in self-abnegating religious rituals, athletic endeavors, or bodily ordeals, we should recognize the very real physical and psychic benefits that suffering confers to the sufferers. Such interpretive generosity can foster tolerance and self-improvement.

In the end, we’re only beginning to understand the biochemical and psychological underpinnings of chosen pain. Cowart highlights the fundamental irrationality and subjectivity of pain, insisting that “I believe, through research and interviews and personal experience, that using pain for its own sake is an everyday part of being human.”

Bloom concludes by asserting that “chosen suffering can generate and enhance pleasure, and…is an essential part of meaningful activities and a meaningful life.” Both arguments are true, if incomplete. For many people, over and above furnishing direct pleasure and indirect benefits, pain itself is meaning, is purpose, is itself a reflection of humanity’s never-ending effort to understand and better itself.


Michael M. Rosen is an attorney and writer in Israel and an adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Reach him at michaelmrosen@yahoo.com.

Source

Experiencing Pain Makes Us Human And Gives Us Meaning

Experiencing Pain Makes Us Human And Gives Us Meaning

Whenever I’m running, whether it’s a morning five-miler, a trail race, or a marathon, I typically encounter at least one moment of above-average physical or psychic pain: sore ankles, shortness of breath, the fear that the next step will be my last. Yet, almost every time, not only do I push on, but I welcome the suffering. Why?

This question—why do some people voluntarily invite pain into their lives?—has bedeviled philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, theologians, and physicians for millennia. Two opposing answers have generally held sway: First, we embrace suffering for instrumental reasons, such as improving our health, demonstrating toughness or dominance, or sacrificing for others.

Second, we welcome pain because it’s actually, irrationally, a source of pleasure. Apologies to John Cougar Mellencamp, but sometimes human beings just want to make it hurt so good.

These explanations, even if they seem mutually exclusive, indeed go a long way toward resolving this conundrum, and recent social-science evidence bears them out. I run to enhance my physical and mental health. Even though it hurts, I know I’m helping myself in the long run. I also enjoy—at least some of the time—the endorphins that my strenuous exertion releases. Instrumentalism and masochism account for many aspects of extreme self-sacrifice, hot-pepper-eating contests, and polar-bear plunges; humans never cease to evince their rational and irrational sides, sometimes simultaneously.

Yet these justifications for chosen pain seem to omit a key, if hard-to-define, element: purpose. For many people, myself included, it’s not simply that suffering helps us achieve a goal, or that pain provokes a temporarily pleasant chemical reaction, but that the feeling of suffering itself provides meaning that transcends its immediate effects.

When I run, for instance, the strain itself empowers me in the moment not only to improve my performance but to reflect on work and personal challenges. Conversely, when I’m compelled by circumstance to go days without running, and I’m unable to access its attendant pains, every aspect of my life loses a measure of meaning.

How Pain Helps

At the outset, it’s important to note that pain’s central biological and evolutionary purpose is to signal danger. “Pain is information about what’s wrong,” according to Paul Bloom, the Yale psychologist and popular author, “and an inducement to make things better.”

Yet at times we embrace pain in order to enhance our lived experience. “Under the right circumstances and in the right doses,” Bloom reckons in his new book The Sweet Spot: The Pleasures of Suffering and the Search for Meaning, “physical pain and emotional pain, difficulty and failure and loss, are exactly what we are looking for.”

This is true in both the micro and macro senses. “We sometimes play with pain,” Bloom reports, citing experiments performed by Daniel Kahneman and his colleagues, “in order to maximize the contrast with future experience, so as to generate future pleasure.”

The anticipation of subsequent pleasure allows us to muddle through the pain, and that pleasure, when finally experienced after the pain, is especially pleasurable. Think about the enjoyment of hot cocoa after an hour of ice-skating or the taste of a cold beer following an afternoon of assembling Ikea furniture.

In my running example, the gratification of jumping into a cold swimming pool or ocean retroactively justifies the preceding hard run on a hot summer day. We often seek out pain to intensify the pleasure that follows.

We also embrace pain because of its longer-term benefits, such as improved health from exercise or dieting. Dan Ariely’s famous Ikea Effect demonstrated how we place a higher value on items that we struggle to build or assemble ourselves than on ones we simply purchase. He and his co-authors concluded that “even constructing a standardized bureau, an arduous, solitary task, can lead people to overvalue their (often poorly constructed) creations.” We invest time and effort into challenges ranging from crossword puzzles to calculus problem sets because, difficult as they are, their completion yields satisfaction and self-betterment.

Persevering in the face of pain can also signal toughness and bravery. Consider professional athletes like Curt Schilling of the Boston Red Sox “gutting out” an ankle injury against the Yankees in the 2004 postseason despite bleeding through his socks; Bernard King of the New York Knicks hobbling out on a bum knee to win Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals; Kerri Strug vaulting off (and landing on) a broken ankle to win gymnastics gold for the United States in 1996; or the fictional Roy Hobbs stroking the climactic home run in “The Natural,” notwithstanding a recently reopened gunshot wound.

We valorize these heroes for withstanding and overcoming their pain, for courageously sacrificing their careers and personal well-being for the good of their team, town, or nation. I’m nobody’s hero, but I do feel especially valiant when I’m able to complete a run in inclement weather, on little sleep, or despite sore muscles.

Suffering can also promote social welfare, as we sacrifice personal comfort for the greater good. Bloom reports that, “In experimental work, people tend to contribute more to a charity when they expect to endure pain and suffering for that cause—the so-called martyrdom effect.”

I recall a charity walk in which my family and I participated many years ago early on Thanksgiving morning in downtown San Diego. A homeless man we passed on the street asked us what was going on? “We’re part of the Walk for Hunger,” I explained. Befuddled, he responded, “Well, I’m hungry. Do you have any food?”

Unfortunately, and awkwardly, we didn’t—but at least we and hundreds of other walkers felt good about ourselves and our sacrifice. “This is why savvy charities,” Bloom suggests, “sponsor walkathons and marathon, not group massages and beach parties.”

But not every instance of chosen pain yields these instrumental benefits. We must therefore examine less rational explanations for why we voluntarily embrace suffering.

Pain Feels Good (for Some)

As a self-described masochist, former ballerina, eating disorder survivor, and all-around magnet for painful experiences, Leigh Cowart unquestionably understands suffering. In Hurts So Good: The Science and Culture of Pain on Purpose, equal parts riveting travelogue and unnerving chronicle of agony, Cowart, a science journalist, argues that for many people, pain and pleasure are synonymous. 

In some ways, Cowart’s argument is chemical: “endorphin is a portmanteau of ‘endogenous’ and ‘morphine.’ The drugs are coming from inside the house.” Some masochists deliberately choose pain because it triggers instant gratification.

Cowart adduces ample, if somewhat disturbing, evidence for this thesis, journeying to circuses featuring acrobats dangling from skin piercings in unimaginable places, witnessing a tongue-forking procedure, partaking in a hot-pepper-eating contest, participating in the infamous Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge on a frigid New Year’s Day, and observing an insane multi-day ultramarathon in the Tennessee backcountry.

Cowart champions the notion that “the experience of pain is always subjective, crafted by the mind itself and subject to all kinds of outside influences, including anxiety, threat level, emotional state, previous memories, degree of anticipation, and sexual arousal. Hurts So Good cites various neurological studies concluding that the somatosensory cortex in both self-identified masochists and non-masochists physically process pain in the same way but that masochists in pain displayed higher levels of activity than non-masochists in portions of the brain responsible for memory and cognition. Those who enjoy pain connect with it on a different intellectual and emotional level than those who don’t.

To be sure, aspects of masochism tend toward the instrumental. At one point, Cowart defines the term as “something universal, timeless, human: the deliberate act of choosing to feel bad to then feel better,” and further asserts that “people have long used this tactic, consenting to suffer so that they can enjoy the deliberately engineered biochemical relief that follows painful stimuli,” or what is later referred to as “nice homebrew morphine.” Indeed, in the many cases Cowart surveys, the sufferers point to the salutary aftereffects of torturous experiences.

But those same respondents also emphasize their enjoyment of the pain in the moment. One interviewee described his experience during a “chest pull,” proudly telling Cowart that “my mind started removing my spirit from my flesh. I was hovering over myself looking at myself as in the third person.”

Ed Currie, the American chili pepper “breeder” responsible for the Carolina Reaper, the fieriest species on earth, explained to Cowart that “when you eat superhot peppers, it actually makes you feel good. It gets you high.” Then, too, sexual masochism boasts millions of practitioners worldwide, people who, by definition, regard painful or humiliating sexual experiences as pleasurable.

Cowart also cites a 2012 study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Paul Rozin that found half of participants relished negative experiences. For many, suffering is an inseparable part of the fundamentally irrational human experience.

Pain Means Something

But pain is also something more than suffering. Bloom quotes a famous story about Abraham Lincoln, a consummate instrumentalist. After insisting to a passenger in his carriage that “all men were prompted by selfishness in doing good,” he ordered the coachman to halt to allow him to descend into a muddy gully to rescue a group of piglets from drowning.

When Lincoln’s companion challenged his supposedly self-centered worldview on account of this deeply altruistic act, he retorted: “Why, bless your soul, Ed, that was the very essence of selfishness. I should have had no peace of mind all day had I gone on and left that suffering old sow worrying over those pigs.”

Yet over and above simply avoiding an unsettled mind, Lincoln surely enjoyed more than the mere aftermath of having saved those helpless creatures. While there’s no way of knowing for sure, it’s easy to imagine happiness and fulfillment washing over Honest Abe as he rolled up his long pantlegs and mucked about the putrid bog. There’s deep pleasure and value in the moment of discomfort, not only in its wake.

This in-the-moment approach has an analog in traditional Judaism. From an instrumental perspective, the ancient rabbis labored to define the value of pain—quite literally. The Talmudic tractate Baba Kamma establishes a tort regime that includes reimbursement for pain and suffering as a form of damages.

But the scholars of Israel disagreed with the scholars of Babylonia over how to correctly assess the monetary amount of pain, with the former pegging the value to the amount a person would have to be paid to undergo such suffering and the latter tying it to the sum a person would pay to forego such pain. Either way, at least in the context of civil disputes, the ancient Jewish tradition regarded suffering in technical, monetary terms as something to be avoided and compensated—and certainly not as a value in and of itself.

Yet when it comes to the spiritual power of pain, things are a little different. For instance, the rabbis adjure us to subjugate our souls—literally, to torture them—on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, when traditional Jews forego food and drink, the comforts of leather shoes, showering, perfume, and sexual relations.

This suffering, too, is designed to facilitate a goal — i.e., a single-minded focus on penitence and prayer — but it also yields powerful feelings of relief and communal connection that attend the traditional break-fast meal at the end of the holiday. Along similar lines, Cowart cites the recorded experiences of medieval flagellants, whipping themselves in a religious frenzy to ward off the Black Death and to enter “a state of feeling bad as a pathway to the state of feeling better, a better life or a happier ending.”

The suffering fostered by Yom Kippur’s fasting and related discomforts transcends these benefits, itself serving as a unique kind of pleasure. We sit in synagogue, hungry and smelly and tired, but relishing the meaning of suffering, viscerally sensing the pain and connecting it to our personal and spiritual shortcomings.

Yes, the ordeal is symbolic and inspirational, but it’s also expressive and intentional. We feel, deeply, how the impoverished feel, and in the moment we strive to help them. As Nachmanides, the 13th-century Spanish scholar, observed, it’s no accident that the Hebrew word for suffering—yissur—shares a common root with the term for ethical behavior—mussar. The pain (of Yom Kippur, of life in general) isn’t merely a stand-in for morality: it embodies it.

Similarly, Brock Bastian, a University of Melbourne psychologist, told Cowart that “pain is often used in rituals in general because it signifies something meaningful.” Bastian and colleagues conducted a groundbreaking 2019 controlled experiment, entitled “Emotionally extreme life experiences are more meaningful,” in which they found that “the emotional extremity of an event plays a key role in whether events are found meaningful, as the most meaningful events in our studies were those that were either extremely pleasant or extremely painful.”

While their findings relied on subjective reporting, and the authors candidly acknowledged “the possibility that reciprocal processes influence our results; emotional intensity may drive meaning in events, but meaningful events may also come to be seen as more intense over time,” their study nevertheless reinforces the intuitive notion that we welcome painful experiences because we find them meaningful.

Likewise, Dave Proctor, the third-place finisher in the 2019 running of Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra World Championship, recalled thinking, near the end of his 200-mile-plus scamper over two non-stop days, that “I’m capable of so much more.” The unimaginable agony of running for days on end on what must have been blistered, bloodied stumps embodied, for Proctor, the deepest sense of self-reflection.

For me, too, on a dramatically lesser scale, running pains themselves, in the moment, viscerally reflect my strengths and weaknesses, the potential and limits of my abilities, the resolution of which represents the profoundest reason for my striving.

Likewise, some women who refuse anesthesia during childbirth cite as justification the meaningfulness of labor pains. Bloom touches on this when he writes that “I’ve heard from some women who have had children that the torment is an important aspect of it, that the relief provided by an epidural would make the experience less meaningful, less authentic.”

One practicing obstetrician who underwent anesthesia-free childbirth tells her patients considering following suit that “pain during childbirth is normal and necessary. It signals that your body is doing what it needs to do. Every wave of pain gets you closer to the goal: your beautiful baby.” The pain is the point: in the moment, it’s a metonym for the entire, extraordinarily moving birthing experience.

The notion of “flow” echoes this sense of purposeful, in-the-moment suffering. We enter a flow state, according to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the Hungarian psychologist who coined the term, when we experience focused, intense concentration, a sensation we can attain only through strenuous physical or mental effort. “The best moments usually occur,” he wrote in 1990, “if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” Willingly inflicting challenges upon ourselves unlocks creative energies in the moment that we otherwise could not access.

The same can be true of unchosen pain as well, and here, Bloom cites Victor Frankl, the celebrated psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor, for the proposition that finding meaning in life eases the burden of suffering. “Those who had the best chance of survival” in the Nazi death camps, Bloom asserts, channeling Frankl, “were those whose lives had broader purpose, who had some goal or project or relationship, some reason to live.”

Knowing there was something out there beyond the barbed wire provided incentive enough for some to survive. Elsewhere Bloom argues, similarly, that “some forms or suffering, involving struggle and difficulty, are essential parts of achieving these higher goals, and for living a complete and fulfilling life.”

All very true. Yet, in many ways, as Frankl himself recognized, the suffering itself provides that meaning and purpose. “There was no need to be ashamed of tears,” Frankl wrote in his 1946 Man’s Search for Meaning, “for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.”

At least some Auschwitz inmates wore their suffering as a badge of pride, an act of bravery almost unimaginable to contemporary free people and yet still, somehow, relatable. We want our pain to mean something, and not simply in order to overcome that suffering but also to revel in it, to elevate its effects, to experience its depths.

Why Does It Matter Why We Choose Pain?

In the end, though, what difference does it make why we choose pain, especially if the answers are so multifarious? Indeed, in his perceptive exploration of pain in The New Atlantis eight years ago, Ronald Dworkin, a practicing anesthesiologist and Hudson Institute fellow, noted that “human lives resist being studied according to abstract principles or names or categories, but rather demand and deserve to be understood one person at a time.” If everyone experiences pain differently, and welcomes it for diverse reasons, who cares why some people choose pain for its meaning?

For one thing, understanding the purposive nature of self-chosen suffering for many people can help us discover and police the fine line between masochism and self-injury. Perhaps the soundest distinction lies in the explanation of Dr. Allan House, author of a key 2015 paper, that “self-harm is more about the harm than the pain.” In other words, the purpose of the suffering makes all the difference in the world. Similarly, Cowart’s friend Darien Crossley recounts that “the only difference between my maladaptive self-injury and my sexy pain on purpose is, I feel, the intention behind it.”

More broadly, grasping how individuals embrace suffering because it furnishes meaning can help those who do not share this predilection understand, appreciate, and normalize it. Rather than mock as idiotic, condemn as superstitious, or prohibit as immoral those who engage in self-abnegating religious rituals, athletic endeavors, or bodily ordeals, we should recognize the very real physical and psychic benefits that suffering confers to the sufferers. Such interpretive generosity can foster tolerance and self-improvement.

In the end, we’re only beginning to understand the biochemical and psychological underpinnings of chosen pain. Cowart highlights the fundamental irrationality and subjectivity of pain, insisting that “I believe, through research and interviews and personal experience, that using pain for its own sake is an everyday part of being human.”

Bloom concludes by asserting that “chosen suffering can generate and enhance pleasure, and…is an essential part of meaningful activities and a meaningful life.” Both arguments are true, if incomplete. For many people, over and above furnishing direct pleasure and indirect benefits, pain itself is meaning, is purpose, is itself a reflection of humanity’s never-ending effort to understand and better itself.


Michael M. Rosen is an attorney and writer in Israel and an adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Reach him at michaelmrosen@yahoo.com.

Source

Biden: the State, the Media, and Misinformation

Biden: the State, the Media, and Misinformation

Biden’s new “Disinformation Governance Board” is the stuff of dystopian novels. How will his partisan government be able to provide objective “fact-checking” facilities? It is just a means to control the flow of information in accordance with the Democrats’ agenda.

When much of the media is about pushing agendas and taking partisan, ideological positions on what should be straight out objective news reporting, we are in trouble. When the state seeks to take control of the media, and launches an attack on the independent press, you know we are also headed for trouble.

But what happens when the state and the mainstream media end up happily in bed together, sharing the same ideological outlook and promoting the same radical agenda items? Then we are in massive trouble. This is the stuff of dystopian novels such as Nineteen Eighty Four. As Orwell presciently said in that 1949 book:

Do you realise that the past, starting from yesterday, has been actually abolished? … Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book has been rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street and building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And that process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.

Infowars

Or as Andrew Breitbart somewhat more recently put it in his 2011 volume, Righteous Indignation:

Make no mistake: America is in a media war. It is an extension of the Cold War that never ended but shifted to an electronic front. The war between freedom and statism ended geographically when the Berlin Wall fell. But the existential battle never ceased. When the Soviet Union disintegrated, the battle simply took a different form. Instead of missiles the new weapon was language and education, and the international left had successfully constructed a global infrastructure to get its message out.

And Scott Powell in his 2022 book Rediscovering America put it like this:Rediscovering America book

Many assume that because the press is not state-controlled in the US, there is a long way to go before the American government has the power of Orwell’s Big Brother.

But what if the universities and the educational system and the major television and print media institutions embrace the groupthink that ingratiates them with the ruling elite and deep state?

What if the culture shapers in Hollywood and the advertising industry on Madison Avenue follow a similar path in participating in and reinforcing the same groupthink norms?

What if the rise of social media promotes a kind of groupthink conformity that effectively marginalizes and silences opposing views?

Propaganda may actually be more effective in America than in totalitarian societies because of the power of repetitive messaging — the key integral means and essence of brainwashing — from ostensibly separate private media sources within the United States. Citizens in totalitarian societies aren’t as easily fooled because they know that the government controls the media and all its messaging.

State Control

That is now where we seem to be heading in the West. In America in particular, an ominous new development from the Biden Administration may well mean we must dig out our copies of Nineteen Eighty Four and read it again. This has to do with a soon to be created Disinformation Governance Board by the Department of Homeland Security.

Ostensibly it is to be about monitoring and surveying misinformation and disinformation coming in from overseas. Hmm, what could possibly go wrong? One meme making the rounds shows a “pregnant man” emoji saying, “We must stop disinformation.”

Two pieces in the Wall Street Journal sounded the alarm on this. Its editorial board said this in part:

The concern isn’t that the board will spy on Americans. The problem is that this new board may choose to play the role of national fact checker, a kind of government PolitiFact. They’ll look down from Mt. Washington at this or that statement and vouchsafe to the masses what is true and what is false.

No doubt there’s some utility in telling migrants from Haiti that they will be deported if they seek to cross the Mexican border into the U.S. And there may be a need for someone in government to monitor and rebut Russian or Chinese propaganda.

But does anyone think this board will limit itself to foreign falsehoods? The temptation will be great to address issues that are part of America’s raucous domestic political debate. All the more so given that the disinformation board’s first executive director is reported to be Nina Jankowicz, whose partisan footprints are all over social media. She can be seen on TikTok singing her own highly partisan adapted lyrics to the tune of a “Mary Poppins” song. (What did Julie Andrews do to deserve that?)

Mr. Mayorkas’s intentions may be nonpartisan, but refereeing political debate isn’t the government’s job. Leave that to the free exchange of ideas in the public square. The Disinformation Governance Board will promote more mistrust than it prevents.

Alarm Bells

Roger Koppl said this:

By creating the DGB, the U.S. government is creating a crisis monitor with the dial permanently set to “existential threat.” No one inside the board will have the incentive — or the courage — to dial it down. The dangers of the DGB will be amplified if it becomes the tool of partisan political actors. And it already has.

Executive director Nina Jankowicz, who once described Hunter Biden’s laptop as “a Trump campaign product,” has written that America’s “information landscape” includes “declining trust in the media, fed by the Trump administration’s relentless attacks on the fourth estate.”

She has said: “Unless we mitigate our own political polarization, our own internal issues, we will continue to be an easy target for any malign actor — Russian or Iranian, foreign or domestic — to manipulate.”

Yes, you read that right. We must all fall in line because of the many grave threats — domestic as well as foreign — out there. Incorrect political opinions become a national-security threat. The DGB already looks frighteningly similar to the KGB.

Others have expressed their concerns. For example, Brian S. Brown of the National Organization for Marriage put it this way:

If you look at the calendar you might think that we’re in the year 2022. Actually, it appears that we’re living in 1984 and fulfilling George Orwell’s predictions of a dystopian society. The latest evidence of this is the “Disinformation Governance Board” that Joe Biden has authorized be created in the Department of Homeland Security ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

What will the Biden Administration consider to be “disinformation?” The woman selected to head the new department is a hard-core leftist who once declared that the Hunter Biden laptop story was a Trump-inspired hoax. We don’t know what their immediate targets for suppression might be in coming months, but we do know that it will be in furtherance of a hard-left political ideology. One set of issues high on the priority list is likely to be any critical discussion of the LGBT agenda. Biden is already pushing legislation to make the demonstration of support for traditional marriage a “sex stereotype” that could lead to ruinous lawsuits and punishment. Biden is also aggressively pushing the lie that gender-confused children can “change” their gender and government employees should encourage this even if they have to do it behind parents’ backs.

Yes, this is all very worrying indeed. Things are bad enough when you have the secular left Tech Giants deciding that they must monitor and control what information we get. Most of us have already fallen victim to their censorship and propaganda. Biden and the Democrats will simply make all this much worse.

Let me finish with another quote from Orwell: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” When the State gets in the business of telling people what they are allowed to hear, see and read, then we have reached a very scary place indeed.

___

Originally published at CultureWatch. Photo by Werner Pfennig.

Thank the Source

Why Recovering The Lost Art Of Statesmanship Requires Curbing A Rabid Corporate Media

Why Recovering The Lost Art Of Statesmanship Requires Curbing A Rabid Corporate Media

“Inhabiting These States today, George would be ineligible for any office of honor or profit,” wrote American satirist H.L Mencken of our most respected Founding Father, George Washington. “The Senate would never dare confirm him; the President would not think of nominating him; He would be on trial in the newspapers for belonging to the Money Power…. He would be under indictment by every grand jury south of the Potomac.”

Rather than being “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen,” as Light Horse Harry Lee called him, Washington would be ripped to shreds by enterprising attorneys and a fickle media.

Mencken wrote that reflection on America’s preeminent statesman a little more than 100 years ago, but his point is even more relevant today. There are entire Beltway organizations devoted to both trying to dig up dirt on politicians (and even prospective ones), or helping those considering public office to evaluate what dirt already exists on them so they can do damage control.

Media (and social media) have turned politics into an entertainment industry of endless packable soundbites aimed at defaming the other side. In contrast, 150 years ago, Americans sat for hours listening to speeches and debates by those seeking even local office.

This is not the way to foster authentic statesmen. Real statesmen, said nineteenth-century American Catholic writer Orestes Brownson, require “public spirit, intelligence, foresign, broad views, manly feelings, wisdom, energy, and resolution.” Now we pay more attention to likeability, ability to deliver zingers, or the capacity to check certain boxes demanded by our identity politics regime. Our two major parties obsess over polling to determine what candidates will be best suited to satisfy the amorphous desires of our distractible, capricious citizenry.

Prudentialism vs. Partisanship

Statesmanship is the topic of a new book by Assumption University professor emeritus Daniel J. Mahoney entitled The Statesman as Thinker: Portraits of Greatness, Courage, and Moderation. “What is needed today,” says Mahoney, “is not a return to classical politics per se but an openness to the judicious mix of realism and moral aspiration that informed the classical political philosophies of Aristotle and Cicero in particular.” He offers reflections from not only classical thinkers, but Edmumd Burke, Alexis de Tocqueville, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Charles De Gaulle, and Václav Havel to help us perceive what this looks like not only in theory but practice.

Mahoney identifies a number of important qualities common among the great statesmen. “The thoughtful or reflective statesman exercises what the contemporary French political philosopher Pierre Manent calls ‘commanding practical reason,’ not arbitrary power or a plan to satisfy the lowest impulses of his soul,” he writes. Rather, this prudentialism serves the common good.

True statesmen also reject narrow partisanship, which Mahoney argues “sunders the unity of the political community and, in extremis, can lead to civil war and self-seeking at the expense of the common good.” Such a political leader, embodied in the writings of Cicero, prefers “peace to war, magnanimity to peevish resentment, clemency to the perpetual aggravation of the hatreds and divisions that destroy the moral integrity of the civic community.”

The best politician employs the intellectual and moral virtues and “all the powers of the soul,” with proper humility and deference to divine and moral law, to better the community. When such a leader achieves this, even briefly, citizens recognize that he or she has approached the peak of human excellence.

Yet is there anyone in recent memory who fits such a description? What national leaders might we point to in the United States and say, “Yes, that is a politician who is a worthy successor to Washington, James Madison, or Lincoln”? Is there anyone to fit the model of a “beaux ideal of a statesman,” that famous Lincolnian description of Kentucky politician Henry Clay? Have men (or politics) changed so much that such statesmanship is no longer even possible?

Perhaps, although I’d argue that it is the fourth estate, the modern media that is supposed to help preserve the integrity of American politics, that actually obscures and undermines statesmanship in the American republic. Part of the problem is what Neil Postman diagnosed almost 40 years ago in Amusing Ourselves to Death: a media less focused on informing than it is on entertaining. There’s also the headache caused by a 24/7 news cycle — driven by television and social media — that has made it impossible to ever escape the endless supply of political controversies, no matter how unimportant or fabricated.

We must also mention the fact that corporate media has entirely abandoned any attempt at objectivity. Although still trying to present themselves as unbiased, corporate media — from the Washington Post and New York Times to CNN and MSNBC — are unabashedly partisan in their news reporting, let alone on op-ed pages and talk shows. Yes, Fox News leans right — but none of the other major networks do, nor any of the prominent national newspapers. This means that conservative politicians can expect nothing but opprobrium and personal attacks from journalists who claim to be interested in “just the facts.”

Consider how the Washington Post, which is a local newspaper for many Virginians, has covered Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin since he was elected in November 2021. It wasn’t just that the Post was outspokenly critical of Youngkin when he ran for office, but that they have sought to conflate anything that has happened in his first year in office as a reflection of his poor leadership, if not his supposed bigotry.

When Youngkin refused to wear a mask at a grocery store in Alexandria, the Post featured critical articles (and op-eds) about it, even though the city of Alexandria had no mask mandate, and the state mask mandate in schools was dropped shortly thereafter — with support from Virginia Democrats. When a Richmond high-school student picked a fight with whoever runs the governor’s Twitter account, and his campaign responded in kind, the Post made Youngkin out to be an ogre needlessly attacking defenseless kids. These are faux controversies at their best, and leftist corporate media eats up every single last one of them.

A Desperate Need

Mahoney understands this toxic reality. He describes a “new Manichean racialism” that is rigorously enforced in our schools, media, corporations, churches and, indeed, through nearly every institution of civil society,” something Youngkin and other politicians have vigorously pushed back against, and taken heat as either a racist or a dog-whistler for racists.

Mahoney criticizes “the intellectual clerisy in the West,” including academics, activists, and journalists, who are “increasingly committed to the negation or repudiation of our civilizational inheritance.” They represent a coercive regime “founded on the manipulation of language and the forced imposition of ideological cliches with little or no connection to anything real or enduring.”

And that’s the problem. The very civil society institutions that are supposed to give republican government a persistent vigor and stability are corrupted to the core, obsessed with racial, sexual, and gender identitarianism that fosters a self-destructive tribalism and “a barely concealed nihilism.”

Unless politicians are willing to fight back, the noose of identitarianism will only tighten, especially given that Woke Capitalism and Big Tech are in on the game. As Mahoney observes, we now live in what British intellectual Roger Scruton called a “culture of repudiation” that is at war with human nature and civilization itself.

Mahoney urges Americans to “repudiate repudiation” and “open ourselves to human excellence in all its forms.” I’m certainly game — how else will we preserve our precarious polis? Given the odds stacked against us, it’s little surprise we are still in desperate need of authentic statesmen.


Casey Chalk is a senior contributor at The Federalist and an editor and columnist at The New Oxford Review. He has a bachelor’s in history and master’s in teaching from the University of Virginia and a master’s in theology from Christendom College. He is the author of The Persecuted: True Stories of Courageous Christians Living Their Faith in Muslim Lands.

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