Saturday, November 2, 2013

Monsters, Love and Humiliation

I've written before about my interest in monsters.

The words “monster” and “demonstrate” come from the same root word: both mean “a warning.” I find that curious. A monster is a warning. But of what?

When I found out about the connection between those two words, the first word that occurred to me was “Frankenstein.” Frankenstein (he had no name in the novel; Dr. Frankenstein was the name of his creator) was a monster, but was a sympathetic monster (the “path” in sympathy is related to the word “pathos” and means “to suffer with”).

Frankenstein didn’t want much more than a friend; he wanted to be part of a community, even if it was just him and the blind hermit. He was rejected and humiliated and hated by everyone except the blind man, who couldn’t see him. Everyone else was horrified by him and wanted to kill him.

All he wanted is someone to love him, and to treat him with some respect and dignity.
What then, is demonstrated by Frankenstein? Brutally humiliate someone, especially in public, and what can happen (and often does happen, if history is any guide), is revenge. Whatever love Frankenstein had was turned to hate and the desire for revenge.

Frankenstein belongs to the class of monsters known as the Undead, along with zombies and vampires. Where did the idea of these undead monsters originate?

I don’t know, but I suspect they somehow based on real people, people who described themselves as the living dead, or zombies, or vampires.

The psychiatrist James Gilligan, who interviewed violent prisoners for almost 40 years, noticed a curious thing: those who committed the worse crimes, say, brutally murdering and mutilating their victims, invariably described themselves as “dead” before they committed their crimes.

They didn’t mean biologically dead; they meant dead inside. They often described themselves as zombies, vampires, robots, monsters. They said their “selves” had died long before they began killing people. They were in fact the Undead long before they began making others dead.

There is a lot to be learned by looking at what words really mean. The word “mortify” means “to make dead by humiliation.” In other words, if you want to make a monster, brutally humiliate someone, especially in public.

The ancient Greeks consider brutally humiliating someone in public to be obscene, and they banned it from their theater. In fact, the original meaning of the word “hubris” meant to humiliate or abuse someone in public.

Hubris was followed by Nemesis, which is revenge. Brutally humiliate someone in public, and you are then fated to suffer revenge. If you want to see a demonstration of how to create a monster, brutally and cruelly humiliate people, and if it goes on long enough, they die inside (this mortification transforms them into zombies and vampires) and then they seek to wreak destruction on people. Isn’t destruction what all monsters seek?

The sad and puzzling thing about the townspeople is they never realized their treatment of Frankenstein – rejecting, humiliating, hating, and trying to destroy him – is what caused him to seek revenge. If they had accepted him there would have been no problem.

Wrote Dr. Gilligan: "In the prisons and on the streets of the United States, such behavior appears to be committed by people who are so tormented by feelings of being shamed and disrespected by their enemies that they are willing to sacrifice their bodies and their physical existence to replace those intolerable feelings with the opposite feelings of pride and self-respect, and of being honored and admired by their allies and at least respected by their enemies. Such people experience the fear that they provoke in their victims as a kind of ersatz form of respect, the only type they are capable of achieving."

He pointed out that people are abused, disrespected and humiliated, especially as a child, it means "no one loves me." Again, you can see this in Frankenstein: "No one loves me, no one likes me, they are trying to kill I will kill them." In simplest terms, this revenge/violence is caused by a lack of love and respect.

Wrote Gilligan: "There are only two possible sources of love for the self from oneself and from others. While the self-esteem of adults who have attained internalized sources of pride can survive the withdrawal of love from others, up to a point, it appears to be difficult if not impossible for a child to gain the capacity for self-love without first having been loved by at least one parent, or parent- substitute. And when the self is not loved, by itself or by another, it dies, just as surely as the body dies without oxygen."

Whenever monsters – of course they are always people - start roaming the earth, maiming, murdering and destroying, it is a demonstration that something has gone wrong with these, they have been so mortified they transform into the Undead, seeking revenge on the living.

And the worst humiliation of all is when mobs are after you and want to see you dead - in body, or in soul.


Quartermain said...

One of the ironies, I found in the Frankenstein movie was that the monster was more human than his 'creator' or for that matter, the mob.

Steven Cornett said...

St. Paul wrote about sanctification as mortification of self to live in Christ. "It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me."

In that sense, the monsters in prison we fear are, then, the mockeries of the Saints. If the worst of them have died before they make others dead, an inescapable question has to be asked.

If they are dead, who lives in them?