“I just flew by the Coronado Library. The reference librarian was wearing bumblebee antennae in patriotic colors. This is what I like about America: it’s entertaining.” This owl is so accepting. Angelic even.
I love these raw moist dawns with
a thousand birds you hear but can’t
quite see in the mist.
My old alien body is a foreigner
struggling to get into another country.
The loon call makes me shiver.
Back at the cabin I see a book
and am not quite sure what that is.
~ Jim Harrison
This may be the most lyrical poem about aging that I’ve ever read. Harrison imagines death as joining nature — but it could be argued that he’s already done that, in his great love for the countryside around him, and especially all the birds — birds turn up in poem after poem in his latest collection, “Dead Man’s Float.”
But this poem, full of nature’s and human fury, is also an unforgettable part of the collection:
WOLVES OF HEAVEN
It had been very hot for three weeks
so I worked well into a cool night
when at three a.m. a big thunderstorm hit.
I went out in the yard naked and sat
at the picnic table for a rain bath
careful about the rattlesnake on the sidewalk.
The sky drowned the mosquitoes
feeding on me. The lightning was relentless
and lit up the valley so I could see
the ghosts who had me ill this past year.
Then I was part of a battle from two
hundred years ago when the Cheyenne
from the east attacked the Absaroka,
the Crow, in this valley. A group of the Cheyenne
were masaum, the wolves of heaven,
warriors who painted themselves solid yellow.
One on a black horse stopped at our gate
but decided not to kill me.
I want to be a yellow wolf of heaven.
They disappeared into the lightning.
~ Jim Harrison
“Unforgettable” isn’t exactly accurate, at least in my case. After I first read the poem about two weeks ago, and was deeply affected by it, I remembered best the speaker sitting naked at the picnic table, the rain running down his body — I imagined this as a delightful bodily “downpour.” I remembered it was a big thunderstorm, and the drowned mosquitoes. I too love thunderstorms.
But upon rereading the poem (which I had trouble finding, having forgotten the dramatic title — dramatic, and yet also abstract, imaginary), I discovered that I had quite forgotten about the battle and the ghost warriors. Battles don’t interest me, though I learned about so many during my history classes. They are a male specialty, I think. I want the lightning and thunder naked. I want nakedness.
Whatever the reason for my first forgetting, now I’ll probably remember the battle for a while longer. The Native-American names struck me as beautiful — but then I always loved the sound of “Cheyenne.” Absaroka as “Crow” — I won’t remember Absaroka for very long, but at the moment it makes me appreciate the compact sound of Crow. And it wouldn't surprise me if a year from now I remember only that the speaker sat naked at a picnic table in a thunderstorm — that and nothing else. That part is so real and visceral. The battle is tacked on and imaginary — though skillfully handled.
(But how about possible splinters? At least put a plastic bag on the bench. And maybe he did, but in a poem you have to be selective about details. Besides, a plastic bag has no dignity, while a naked human body is always interesting.)
In terms of craft, this moment, describing a ghost warrior, stands out as a master touch:
One on a black horse stopped at our gate
but decided not to kill me.
That’s how you create reality through words — you create detail. Still, a man naked in a thunderstorm — that’s as real — or more so — as the thousand birds in the mist at dawn (their loud dawn cries are certainly real).
A WORLD WITHOUT WORK: TOWARD A POST-WORK FUTURE?
~ Even leaving aside questions of how to distribute that wealth, the widespread disappearance of work would usher in a social transformation unlike any we’ve seen. If John Russo is right, then saving work is more important than saving any particular job. Industriousness has served as America’s unofficial religion since its founding. The sanctity and preeminence of work lie at the heart of the country’s politics, economics, and social interactions. What might happen if work goes away?
The hope that machines might free us from toil has always been intertwined with the fear that they will rob us of our agency. In the midst of the Great Depression, the economist John Maynard Keynes forecast that technological progress might allow a 15-hour workweek, and abundant leisure, by 2030. But around the same time, President Herbert Hoover received a letter warning that industrial technology was a “Frankenstein monster” that threatened to upend manufacturing, “devouring our civilization.” (The letter came from the mayor of Palo Alto, of all places.) In 1962, President John F. Kennedy said, “If men have the talent to invent new machines that put men out of work, they have the talent to put those men back to work.” But two years later, a committee of scientists and social activists sent an open letter to President Lyndon B. Johnson arguing that “the cybernation revolution” would create “a separate nation of the poor, the unskilled, the jobless,” who would be unable either to find work or to afford life’s necessities.
The share of prime-age Americans (25 to 54 years old) who are working has been trending down since 2000. Among men, the decline began even earlier: the share of prime-age men who are neither working nor looking for work has doubled since the late 1970s, and has increased as much throughout the recovery as it did during the Great Recession itself. All in all, about one in six prime-age men today are either unemployed or out of the workforce altogether. This is what the economist Tyler Cowen calls “the key statistic” for understanding the spreading rot in the American workforce. Conventional wisdom has long held that under normal economic conditions, men in this age group—at the peak of their abilities and less likely than women to be primary caregivers for children—should almost all be working. Yet fewer and fewer are.
Economists cannot say for certain why men are turning away from work, but one explanation is that technological change has helped eliminate the jobs for which many are best suited. Since 2000, the number of manufacturing jobs has fallen by almost 5 million, or about 30 percent.
UNDEREMPLOYMENT OF THE YOUNG
Young people just coming onto the job market are also struggling—and by many measures have been for years. Six years into the recovery, the share of recent college grads who are “underemployed” (in jobs that historically haven’t required a degree) is still higher than it was in 2007—or, for that matter, 2000. And the supply of these “non-college jobs” is shifting away from high-paying occupations, such as electrician, toward low-wage service jobs, such as waiter. More people are pursuing higher education, but the real wages of recent college graduates have fallen by 7.7 percent since 2000. In the biggest picture, the job market appears to be requiring more and more preparation for a lower and lower starting wage. The distorting effect of the Great Recession should make us cautious about overinterpreting these trends, but most began before the recession, and they do not seem to speak encouragingly about the future of work.
To paraphrase the science-fiction novelist William Gibson, there are, perhaps, fragments of the post-work future distributed throughout the present. I see three overlapping possibilities as formal employment opportunities decline. Some people displaced from the formal workforce will devote their freedom to simple leisure; some will seek to build productive communities outside the workplace; and others will fight, passionately and in many cases fruitlessly, to reclaim their productivity by piecing together jobs in an informal economy. These are futures of consumption, communal creativity, and contingency. In any combination, it is almost certain that the country would have to embrace a radical new role for government.
LOW CURRENT JOB SATISFACTION
Frase belongs to a small group of writers, academics, and economists— they have been called “post-workists”— who welcome, even root for, the end of labor. American society has “an irrational belief in work for work’s sake,” says Benjamin Hunnicutt, another post-workist and a historian at the University of Iowa, even though most jobs aren’t so uplifting. A 2014 Gallup report of worker satisfaction found that as many as 70 percent of Americans don’t feel engaged by their current job. Hunnicutt told me that if a cashier’s work were a video game—grab an item, find the bar code, scan it, slide the item onward, and repeat—critics of video games might call it mindless. But when it’s a job, politicians praise its intrinsic dignity. “Purpose, meaning, identity, fulfillment, creativity, autonomy — all these things that positive psychology has shown us to be necessary for well-being are absent in the average job,” he said.
The post-workists are certainly right about some important things. Paid labor does not always map to social good. Raising children and caring for the sick is essential work, and these jobs are compensated poorly or not at all. In a post-work society people might spend more time caring for their families and neighbors; pride could come from our relationships rather than from our careers.
COLLEGES AS CULTURAL CENTERS; A MORE NOURISHING LEISURE
The post-work proponents acknowledge that, even in the best post-work scenarios, pride and jealousy will persevere, because reputation will always be scarce, even in an economy of abundance. But with the right government provisions, they believe, the end of wage labor will allow for a golden age of well-being. Hunnicutt said he thinks colleges could reemerge as cultural centers rather than job-prep institutions. The word school, he pointed out, comes from skholē, the Greek word for “leisure.” “We used to teach people to be free,” he said. “Now we teach them to work.”
The transition from labor force to leisure force would likely be particularly hard on Americans, the worker bees of the rich world: Between 1950 and 2012, annual hours worked per worker fell significantly throughout Europe—by about 40 percent in Germany and the Netherlands—but by only 10 percent in the United States. Richer, college-educated Americans are working more than they did 30 years ago, particularly when you count time working and answering e-mail at home.
Less passive and more nourishing forms of mass leisure could develop. Arguably, they already are developing. The Internet, social media, and gaming offer entertainments that are as easy to slip into as is watching TV, but all are more purposeful and often less isolating. Video games, despite the derision aimed at them, are vehicles for achievement of a sort. Jeremy Bailenson, a communications professor at Stanford, says that as virtual-reality technology improves, people’s “cyber-existence” will become as rich and social as their “real” life. Games in which users climb “into another person’s skin to embody his or her experiences firsthand” don’t just let people live out vicarious fantasies, he has argued, but also “help you live as somebody else to teach you empathy and pro-social skills.”
No corporate ladder to climb?
COMMUNAL CREATIVITY: THE ARTISANS’ REVENGE
Artisans made up the original American middle class. Before industrialization swept through the U.S. economy, many people who didn’t work on farms were silversmiths, blacksmiths, or woodworkers. These artisans were ground up by the machinery of mass production in the 20th century. But Lawrence Katz, a labor economist at Harvard, sees the next wave of automation returning us to an age of craftsmanship and artistry. In particular, he looks forward to the ramifications of 3‑D printing, whereby machines construct complex objects from digital designs.
It’s possible that information technology and robots eliminate traditional jobs and make possible a new artisanal economy … an economy geared around self-expression, where people would do artistic things with their time.” In other words, it would be a future not of consumption but of creativity, as technology returns the tools of the assembly line to individuals, democratizing the means of mass production.
Isabelle Adjani and her familiar spirit
Bandar thinks that a digitally preoccupied society will come to appreciate the pure and distinct pleasure of making things you can touch. “I’ve always wanted to usher in a new era of technology where robots do our bidding,” Bandar said. “If you have better batteries, better robotics, more dexterous manipulation, then it’s not a far stretch to say robots do most of the work. So what do we do? Play? Draw? Actually talk to each other again?”
The demise of the formal economy could free many would-be artists, writers, and craftspeople to dedicate their time to creative interests—to live as cultural producers. Such activities offer virtues that many organizational psychologists consider central to satisfaction at work: independence, the chance to develop mastery, and a sense of purpose.
As late as the mid-19th century, though, the modern concept of “unemployment” didn’t exist in the United States. Most people lived on farms, and while paid work came and went, home industry—canning, sewing, carpentry—was a constant. Even in the worst economic panics, people typically found productive things to do. The despondency and helplessness of unemployment were discovered, to the bafflement and dismay of cultural critics, only after factory work became dominant and cities swelled.
The 21st century, if it presents fewer full-time jobs in the sectors that can be automated, could in this respect come to resemble the mid-19th century: an economy marked by episodic work across a range of activities, the loss of any one of which would not make somebody suddenly idle. Many bristle that contingent gigs offer a devil’s bargain—a bit of additional autonomy in exchange for a larger loss of security. But some might thrive in a market where versatility and hustle are rewarded—where there are, as in Youngstown, few jobs to have, yet many things to do.”
Malevich: Knifegrinder, 1913
One out of six prime-age men in the US is not working? And yet overwork is a real problem too — people putting in crazy hours, or working two jobs just to make ends meet. Change will have to come, perhaps with productive, satisfying things to do becoming more important than paid work.
“The demise of the formal economy could free many would-be artists, writers, and craftspeople to dedicate their time to creative interests—to live as cultural producers. Such activities offer virtues that many organizational psychologists consider central to satisfaction at work: independence, the chance to develop mastery, and a sense of purpose.” I am all for artisanal communities. Abandoned manufacturing plants are perfect for a community of artists and craftsmen. And they'd figure out where to put the communal kitchen, what kind of garden to plant, how to furnish the child-care center or a small school. People are smart when given the autonomy, and when things are kept relatively small, not overwhelming. To some extent it's started -- e.g. the empty factories downtown L.A. -- but it could be developed even more. People want meaningful, fulfilling work. That usually means skilled work for the benefit of the immediate community -- e.g. people who love to cook could prepare wonderful meals for others, cabinet makers would provide furniture, artists would decorate the space, stained-glass artists would create the windows, musicians would give concerts, and so on.
Malevich: Woodcutter, 1912-1913
JUNE 28, 1914: A TRAGEDY OF ERRORS
The assassination in Sarajevo, on June 28, 1914, triggered World War I and changed the course of the 20th century. The consequences of that act were devastating. But the beginning of the story sounds almost like a farce — complete with bad aim, botched poisoning and a wrong turn on the road.
"It would be a comic tragedy of errors," Lyon says, "and it would have made for a good Peter Sellers film.”
The Latin Bridge in Sarajevo ends at the street corner where Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie
The events of the archduke's assassination make for an unlikely story at every turn. It starts with the almost total lack of security — at the time, Sarajevo had a police force of 200.
"Approximately half or slightly less than half of the police force had turned out that day to provide security for the visit of the crown prince of the entire empire," Lyon says. "And the army was not turned out at all."
"The official reason was that the army had been out on maneuvers for the previous two days," he explains. "Their uniforms were muddy and dirty, and they were not presentable.”
Also, the people in charge of the archduke's visit decided that it was a good idea to publish the motorcade route in advance. So the path was crowded with people. Bunting, flags and brightly colored carpets hung out the windows — and the would-be assassins knew exactly where to stand.
There were seven of them along the parade route, carrying bombs and guns. Most chickened out altogether.
Nedeljko Cabrinovic was one exception. He threw a bomb and missed, wounding an official in the motorcade behind the archduke.
Franz Ferdinand ordered the driver to stop. He got out and walked back to inspect the damage and the wounded people.
Today, if something like that happened, the vehicles would race away from the scene as fast as they could, Lyon says. But not in 1914: "This was European nobility at the turn of the century."
Meanwhile Cabrinovic, who threw the bomb, swallowed some poison and jumped into the river below.
At that time the river would have been about 6 inches deep, 15 feet below the level of the road. Cabrinovic sprained his ankles and was unable to move.
The poison didn't work, either — it just made him sick.
The furious archduke arrived at City Hall, where the mayor of Sarajevo delivered some totally inappropriate remarks that were written before the assassination attempt.
The archduke snapped, "What kind of welcome is this? I'm being met by bombs!" Then he wiped the blood off his prepared speech and addressed the crowd.
Afterward, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne got back into his motorcade with his wife, Sophie. They had decided to visit the hospital to see the people who were wounded in the bomb attack.
But no one told the driver.
At that fateful intersection, the car was supposed to go straight — but it turned right. A general in the motorcade shouted, "You're going the wrong way!"
And the driver stopped the car ... right in front of assassin number seven.
The Austro-Hungarian archduke and his wife, Sophie, board a car just prior to his assassination in Sarajevo.
Gavrilo Princip, who had missed his chance the first time, was standing on the sidewalk 4 feet away from the car — at the only place on the route where the car stopped.
Princip stepped forward and fired two shots. One of them hit Sophie, and the other hit the archduke. Both shots were fatal.
As they lay dying in the car, Franz Ferdinand pleaded with his wife, "Stay alive, Sophie, for the sake of the children.”
In the photos at the museum on the corner, the would-be killers hardly look dashing. They're dirty, sickly, skinny.
"Two of the seven people lying in wait were students," Lyon says. "The other five were professional revolutionaries, people who were unemployed or people who were agitating for national causes.”
They all seem to have had slightly different motivations — Serbian nationalists, anti-monarchists. But Lyon says they never intended to start a global war.
By the time the assassins' trial began, World War I had already broken out.
"Every one of them said at the trial, and later said during their imprisonment, that had they known that such a horrendous war would ensue, they would never have taken part in the activities of June 28," Lyon says.
Some of the conspirators were executed. Others died in prison. All but one are now buried just outside Sarajevo's old city, next to a highway overpass.
Yes, talk about the ironies. Another irony: the Archduke had been warned of the conspiracy to kill him in Sarajevo. He chose to ignore the warning. It was like the crew of the Titanic ignoring the iceberg warnings.
And the horrific war, the “suicide of Europe,” ground on in spite of the generals on both sides predicting a quick victory — the soldiers would be home for Christmas. The generals’ experience had been in colonial wars, with poorly armed natives.
Without the assassination, would the war had broken out at some later date anyway? We’ll never know. As Milosz said, just because something did happen, people assume that it had to happen — but that’s not true.
We see similar tribal hatreds in our era. Similar, but not the same — perhaps because the two world wars have changed the psyche of Europe and America forever.
THE AGNOSTIC WIFE AND THE SIN AGAINST THE HOLY GHOST
A few years ago the New York Times published an essay by an agnostic woman whose husband was a practicing Christian (I forget the denomination — something mild, possibly Episcopalian). One Sunday he came home from church and said, “You were right. There is no evidence. It’s all a bunch of nonsense. I'm done with it.” The wife blanched. Rather than embrace her husband with joy, now that they were fellow travelers helping each other carry the questions, she responded with an anxious, “Are you . . . sure?”
She felt anxious for a long time. She knew why. Her husband’s faith had been for her as a kind of Pascal’s wager. The probability of god’s existence was small, but just in case . . . She herself felt incapable of belief, but there was always her spouse, praying for her, pleading that she not be consigned to the flames of hell. There was no hell, the agnostic wife thought, but . . . just in case . . . this man praying for her might turn out to be enough to save her from it. Now what?
This reminded me of a man who explained that going to church was his “fire insurance” — just in case.
I confess that ten years or so after leaving the church I too pondered the question of “fire insurance” and whether it might be enough to “repent” at some unspecified later time (Don’t count on repenting in the last moment, priests warned; you could die suddenly, or grow feeble-minded; then what?) But the longer I lived, the more certain I grew that I could repent neither my non-belief nor the most beautiful moments in my life. Flames were already licking at the edges of my despair. “So be it,” I thought, knowing I could never regret thinking or loving.
Those moments were infrequent, but they did happen. And I’d been taught that to doubt one’s salvation, to think that you were damned forever and nothing could save you, was to sin against the Holy Ghost. And the sin against the Holy Ghost would not be forgiven.
Oddly enough, to be sure that you were going to heaven was not a sin. Such certainty seemed a lot more presumptuous to me than the humble resignation to eternal punishment — hadn’t we been told again and again that we were miserable sinners? In the case of an average Catholic, you’d first spend centuries in the fires of Purgatory, but in the end you’d be as pure as the saints and worthy of whatever lay behind the pearly gates.
It was far easier for Protestants, I later found out: it was enough to be convinced that one was saved through faith. The proof of the heaven to come was belonging to the right congregation. The Protestants held that Christianity was not about doing anything for god; it was about what god has done for you. (I used to think that the central message of Christianity was compassion, but apparently not.)
Where I lived, there were no Protestant churches I could sneak into (that of course would have been a sin), no other doctrines to explore. It was Catholicism or damnation. Luckily, when I turned fourteen, I experienced a paradigm shift — a fundamental, transformative shift in perception. I remember the exact moment, or rather the exact thought about the Judeo-Christian tradition: “It’s just another mythology.”
In that moment I saw what so many had seen before me: that all gods were a human invention, a product the collective human psyche. They evolved in parallel with the general cultural evolution: first gods in the shape of animals, then human but with animal heads, then totally human; first many, then fewer, and in some cultures, one: a male god with a beard, sitting on a golden throne somewhere in the clouds, all alone; the aged father without a mother at his side. True, the son was supposed to be seated at his right hand, with the Holy Ghost hovering above the two, but I don’t remember a single painting showing two thrones; the painter generally settled on either the father or the son. (Eventually I did find one painting showing the two seated on a kind of wide throne or love seat — but that’s a recent find.)
And the cognitive dissonance that tormented me before, the disconnect between the modern world and the old-style S&M Catholicism, the all-non-Catholics-go-to-hell Catholicism, was over. My thinking brain was at peace; I was happy to be free of ghosts and demons. No supernaturalist argument has ever held the slightest appeal to me since.
Titian: Assumption of the Virgin, 1518. Mary -- in the body, since the ancient Hebrews didn't believe in disembodied souls -- is being carried to god the father on a cloud. I especially like the little angels who seem to be pushing the cloud upward.
But my emotional brain seemed to have its own beliefs, strongly imprinted in childhood, and the certainty of going to hell for non-belief was one of them. And that certainty was itself a sin against the Holy Ghost, the only sin which would not be forgiven. This was a kind of background torment which would now and then come to my consciousness. My way of dealing with it was to assert, in silent debate with myself, that if god indeed was the kind of tormentor who tossed the majority of humanity (i.e. the non-Catholics) into the fires, then, even if he existed, he didn’t deserve to be worshipped. That would be worse than worshipping Hitler. Thus, in the worst-case scenario, I was indeed without “fire insurance” and would suffer for eternity — but that had more dignity than eternally singing hymns of praise to a sadistic deity.
But what about the teaching that the central message of Christianity is compassion? That was the son, but I doubted he had as much power as the old one, the god of punishment. The father commands, the son obeys, and the Holy Ghost inspires.
It took more than two decades, but eventually the emotional brain seems to have let go. One day the second set of shackles fell off as I thought, with great and pure joy, “The monster doesn’t exist. He really doesn’t exist.” And then, with profound relief, “No punishment. No punishment.”
Strange, how long that soft voice of reason had to keep working on the neural networks governing emotion to become free of toxic beliefs. I realized also that all that time I was wrestling not with some higher and more noble concept of god, some non-anthropomorphic cosmic intelligence, but with Iron-Age Yahweh and later the medieval theology of Yahweh’s alleged son. Meanwhile my friends assumed all the while that the universe is indeed friendly, and that the afterlife, if any, has nothing to do with either “correct” belief or with reward and punishment, but is some kind of wonderful cosmic journey.
And this is the close-up of Titian's god the father. It's presumably windy up there, so the beard and hair billow in a pleasant way. Note that god's nose is large, thick, and not straight; unlike Jesus in so many paintings, Titian's Yahweh does not have idealized features.
“I doubt every religion,” one woman said. “But the universe, never.”
For my part, I’ve learned to trust my own brain function; given enough time, the unconscious will provide an answer that generally is the opposite of despair. At last I know that I am no sinning, not blaspheming — not against the Holy Ghost, but against the powers of the human brain, most of them having to do with unconscious cognitive processing. The sense of inspiration is indeed my favorite brain function.
ow is this for Madonna and Child? There is something so touching about animals, almost heart-rending.
“WHEN A MAN SELLS HIS DAUGHTER AS A SLAVE,
she shall not be go out [be freed in the seventh year] as the male slaves do” ~ Exodus 21:7
I have come across this in the morning, thought, it was terrible to be a woman, then immersed myself in other things. But for some reason the verse keeps haunting me. Of course we know that thousands of years ago it was terrible to be a woman, but we may forget just how terrible.
And there are parts of the world where this still goes on . . . and worse.
What pure luck, to have been born in the West this late in history.
BRAIN INJURY AMONG PRISONERS
In the weekly sessions, attended by a half-dozen men with many stories of being pummeled in the head with fists and baseball bats, the inmates discuss prompts like: Does having a traumatic brain injury change who we are? What triggers symptoms? And what aids or services can help?
Over a two-year period, [a researcher’s] graduate students assessed 80 inmates in the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center in Denver, which houses arrestees as they await sentencing. The findings from the pilot study were staggering: Ninety-six percent of inmates screened had suffered moderate or severe brain trauma. It was a sharp contrast to the estimated 6 percent of the general population with similar brain injuries, but it did match up with previous, similar studies from the past two decades. A 2008 study of 990 Minnesota inmates found a rate of 80 percent; a 2006 analysis of 200 Australian prisoners found 82 percent; and a 2007 survey of 107 male and 118 female inmates from six federal prisons found 87 percent.
Convincing the general public to care about the mental health of society’s cast-offs is no easy task. But in the past decade, the interplay of brain disorders and criminal behavior has started to become a topic of popular discussion, partly because some athletes and soldiers—society’s heroes—have turned criminal, suicidal, emotionally volatile or violent, and a common denominator may be traumatic brain injury.
In December 2012, Jovan Belcher, a linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs, killed his girlfriend in a murder-suicide. An autopsy of his brain found that he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, the progressive degenerative brain disease caused by repeated brain trauma and concussions. In a 2015 study, researchers at Boston University found the disease—which is associated with anger, aggression, depression, impaired judgment and poor impulse control—in 131 of 165 former NFL, college and semipro football players, some of whom shot themselves.
Head injuries early in life can lead to aggressive behavior later on. An eight-year study that followed ninth-graders in Flint, Michigan, into adulthood found that young people who had endured head injuries were more likely to engage in violent acts later—fighting, hurting someone badly enough that they required medical attention or threatening someone with a knife, gun or club—than those who had not. Adults with a history of traumatic brain injuries also tend to enter prison at a younger age, according to an analysis in Brain Injury. A 2009 study of head trauma patients in Maryland found that within three months after a head injury, 28 percent of patients became aggressive.
I did some work in prisons, teaching creating writing. Aside from my own experience of poverty, teaching in prison was tremendously instructive of how circumstances -- child abuse in particular -- end up shaping lives. I'm so glad the study of brain injury in athletes and war veterans has opened a way to take seriously brain injury among the inmates. Of course there is also chemical brain injury, e.g. fetal alcohol syndrome.
ending on beauty:
The mind is a city like London,
Smoky and populous: it is a capital
Like Rome, ruined and eternal,
Marked by the monuments which no one
Now remembers. For the mind, like Rome, contains
Catacombs, aqueducts, amphitheaters, palaces,
Churches and equestrian statues, fallen, broken or soiled.
The mind possesses and is possessed by all the ruins
Of every haunted, hunted generation’s celebration.
~ Delmore Schwartz, “Narcissus”
Rome, Bernini: Triton