Thursday, June 23, 2016


“Are you depressed?” the doctor asked me this morning.

“Of course”, I replied. “Who isn’t?”

He isn’t. Why would he be? He belongs to the few who prosper from the suffering of the many.

He then asked “Do you have a living will?”

“I have nothing to leave,” I said, “and no one to leave it to.”

He said nothing more, even though I hadn’t answered his question.

Perhaps he thought I hadn’t understood it. But I know a living will - unlike an ordinary will, which would dispose of my property when I’m dead - would dispose of the only property I really own - my body - while I’m still alive but no longer in control of it.

Perhaps he thought I wasn’t ready to think about that. But I didn’t answer his question because there’s no reason for him to know I intend to kill myself while I’m still able to do so.  

Later, when I was home again and surfing the internet, I came across an article about trypophobia. This is a new phobia, but it’s spreading like the plague.

Trypophobes are disturbed, even nauseated, by the sight of surfaces perforated by clusters of holes. I think I know why.

A surface they don’t recognize, perforated by holes that are irregular and therefore presumably created by something natural rather than artificial, could remind them of skin pitted or pockmarked by disease.

Skin lesions are becoming a common sight in this age of epidemics from AIDS to Zika virus. Anyone who visits a hospital runs the risk of being infected with bacteria resistant to antibiotics. That infection can be deadly for a patient recovering from surgery, as she was.

People who see skin lesions easily imagine the worst, especially if they’ve never seen the worst. Perhaps the nausea that the sight of perforated surfaces arouses in some people is due to something other, and older, than their knowledge that pitted or pockmarked skin is the visible sign a body is infected by invisible bacteria. Perhaps they imagine the worst: a dead body infected, or infested, by visible parasites: maggots, worms and/or larvae.

Most people never see a dead body now that everyone who can afford to sends their aging relatives to a ‘home’. Apparently the sight of an old body is, for them, a disturbing enough memento mori. A body visibly diseased nauseates them because they fear the death of the body much more now that they no longer believe in the immortality of the soul.

When I was young, I wondered why supernatural horror fiction was popular. Imaginary monsters aren’t as frightening as the monstrous things real people do. Then I read a book that claimed horror fiction is all that remains of religion in this irreligious age. 

It said people no longer believe in the supernatural, but they’re willing to suspend their disbelief long enough to enjoy a ghost story. That may have been true when I was young, but now most people try to suspend their disbelief in the supernatural because they fear the natural.

They don’t fear death, because death is literally nothing. They fear losing their bodies while they’re still alive, living in a body that no longer seems their own because it’s no longer under their control. It's old, weak or worst of all infected, infested, by some parasite.

People fear parasites who feed on the living, not those who feed on the dead. They fear insects who lay their eggs on or in the body of some animal. After the larvae hatch, they feed on that body until they mature, at which time they leave their host as children, upon growing up, leave their mother. Thus fear of dying, which the sight of an old and/or diseased body arouses in some people, merges with another fear, equally old.

Most people never mature. They refuse to grow up because they fear growing old. They merely learn how adults are expected to behave, and try to conform.

Refusing to grow up need not be a problem for women because they’re expected to be childlike, as dependent on men as children are on their parents. But the more men long to be children, the more they fear being dominated by their wives as they were dominated by their mothers. 

Men dominate women because they fear being dominated by them. They dominate women not because they possess more of whatever qualities supposedly make humans superior to (other) animals, such as the ability to reason, but because like willful children they’ll do anything to get their way.

Men make war because it does not merely permit them, it requires them, to stop behaving rationally, like human beings. The warrior’s power to kill undoes the woman’s power to give birth.    

But men and women are alike in that just as most men seek to control their wives and children, so most women seek to control their husbands and children, and for the same reason: they can’t or won’t control themselves, and fear being controlled by others.

Freud said women see themselves as castrated. They want children because they see a baby as a surrogate penis. Freud was not aware that men and women are more alike than they are different in that most of them feel powerless, and for the same reason.

What women want is not a penis, real or surrogate, because they can see having one is of little advantage to most men. What most women, and most men, want is power.

Men and women are alike in that the only kind of power they can imagine having is power over others; and the only people over whom they will ever have such power are their own children. But much as they want children, they also fear them.

Men enjoy playing the strong and powerful paterfamilias; but they fear their wives and children will see through their pretense, realize how weak they really are and take advantage of them.

Motherhood gives women power, but for most of history they had cause to fear becoming pregnant because they often died in childbirth. Thus men and women both want children, but also fear them.

Our ancestors believed newborns are less than human until they've undergone some initiation ritual, such as baptism; or rather they pretended to believe it, because that made it easier to kill them.

Infanticide used to be the most common way people killed unwanted infants because abortion could injure or even kill the mother; but killing a baby after it’s emerged from the womb is more difficult than killing it while it’s still hidden inside the mother's body.

Looking at a newborn baby and pretending it’s not human requires a high degree of self-deception; but people learn to deceive themselves about this, just as when they want to go to war, they learn to pretend those who were their neighbors are now inhuman monsters. People learn to pretend not to know what they know in order to do what they want to do.

Now people no longer want children. They want to be children. They want to forget the past and the crimes they’ve committed, more monstrous than any in fiction, and be born again. They want to believe, or suspend their disbelief, in a loving and forgiving god. But they can’t.

The horror fiction of my youth was about ghosts and vampires, the dead who won’t stay dead. Later the demonic newborn replaced the dead, beginning with Rosemary’s Baby, who will one day grow up to be the AntiChrist. People fear the future because try as they will, they can’t forget the past.   

Now the demonic newborn has ceased to appear human and become completely monstrous, a parasitic larva growing inside a human body. An example is the Alien film franchise in which Ripley, the warrior woman, does battle with a reptilian alien mother who lays her eggs in living human bodies, usually male (the horror that motherhood is the biological destiny of women is thus made doubly horrible by imposing it on men).

Trypophobes are revulsed not by just any perforated surface, but only by apparently naturally occurring perforations in living things, such as plants with bulging seed pods, or bubbles bursting on the surface of dough fermenting with yeast. These holes can be interpreted as signs of either generation or disease. Trypophobes apparently see no difference.  Both holes arouse in them the revulsion some people feel at the sight of skin lesions, and Freud said some men feel at the sight of the female sexual organs.

They’re disgusted not because women have a gaping hole where men have a penis, which Freud claimed arouses in men castration anxiety, but because women have a hole in their bodies from which new life can emerge. A hole in diseased flesh from which parasitic larvae may emerge reminds them of the hole from which a baby emerges from its mother’s body, and vice versa. Both remind them of death and birth at once because new life reminds them they’re growing old.

On the other hand, perhaps perforated surfaces don't remind trypophobes of anything so specific. Perhaps this increasingly dangerous world makes them so anxious that any unfamiliar object – or a familiar object they don’t immediately recognise – looks threatening.

It’s the resemblance to holes in skin that I would find disturbing, if I found holes in skin disturbing; but I got used to it years ago, when I had my first attack of stigmata. Now I’m content if they don’t bleed.

My body disgusts me now because every body disgusts me now.

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