Bigshot hard-drivin' lawyer Lara Bazelon has a love story to tell, sort of:
"There was no emotional or physical abuse in our home. There was no absence of love. I was in love with my husband when we got divorced. Part of me is in love with him still. I suspect that will always be the case. Even now, after everything, when he walks into the room my stomach drops the same way it does before the roller coaster comes down. I divorced my husband not because I didn’t love him. I divorced him because I loved myself more."
I'm not sure that is not how romantic love or roller coasters work, but if it is a good thing when stomach-dropping persists well into a relationship, then I would recommend she and her man stick together. Despite what you might guess, that paragraph is not from a letter to the CIA psyops program known as Slate's Dear Prudence column, but from Bazelon's essay "Divorce Can Be an Act of Radical Self-Love" featured in today's New York Times Opinion section. Bazelon is a criminal defense lawyer on the Clarence Darrow, crusader-for-the-little-guy tip. The terse Times bio also says she is "a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law and the author of the forthcoming book 'Ambitious Like A Mother.'" Get it? That's short for "like a motherfucker." Hahaha. One assumes this is an excerpt.
Before I go too far in my extended eye-roll/rant, I'll say maybe Lara Bazelon and her old man should have split up. I don't know and I kind of don't care. She thinks her kids will land on her feet. I hope they do. But from the title on down, this description of the break-up of her family is self-serving, self-centered, narcissistic bullshit. And above all, why is she telling me? I am trying to read the paper here.
People out there, as I said in my title (see above), have lost their goddam minds. Loving yourself more than other people, especially more than your own family, is a bad thing. It is not a good thing. It is bad. It is selfish. It is, how shall I put this, destructive.
Bazelon's core explanation for her decision is simply this: "deep inside, I knew that trying to force myself to subordinate my ambitions and always put our children first would have been impossible without lopping off a vital part of myself." There are two metaphors she takes far too literally here. First is "lopping off," since there is no physical mutilation required to be a decent parent and partner. You do less of some things you love, you stop doing other things entirely, and you ask your partner to do the same. It is not easy. Some of the things you stop doing you will miss, and you must do your best not to be bitter or blame your spouse or kids over the stuff you really, really miss. But on the upside, your actual vital parts remain intact--same feet and hands as back in your single days.
The other metaphor is more subtle: "vital." The idea that a career-- even one in public service, which Bazelon has-- is vital, that it is life-sustaining in the way a limb or an organ is is a kind of romantic fallacy of the ideal self, which is a self so noble and pure that it can be only sated by one path, one role.
Or maybe it is just the fallacy of the self. Buddhists and other religious and philosophical types would even deny that the self exists at all, and instead argue it is an illusion which causes suffering and alienation. You can doubt or even deny that, but be wise to consider it. To the extent there is a self-- which I think there is-- it is not some isolated being which determines and molds its truths and its destiny, but something that responds to the people around it. It is something that both depends on and serves those we love. The most vital parts of you are other people.
The day before the Times ran this essay, the online magazine Unherd ran an essay by Park MacDougald, "The importance of repression," about the work of Philip Rieff. Rieff coined a phrase, and wrote a book called, "Triumph of the Therapeutic" in 1966. According to MacDougald,
"Rieff’s point was not merely that we had come to view ourselves in therapeutic terms, supplanting older moral and religious modes of evaluation. He was making an argument about the wider implications of this shift in perspective — a shift that he considered to be, without exaggeration, the most important cultural development in the West since the Enlightenment. Indeed, Rieff saw it as nothing short of an apocalypse. Modern therapeutic culture, in his view, had become what he called in his later writings an “anti-culture”: a negation of the very idea of culture that, because it set itself in opposition to everything that had traditionally given human lives meaning, was inherently unstable. It could not reproduce itself indefinitely, and would be succeeded, Rieff predicted, by barbarism and chaos."
One might disagree that barbarism and chaos follows this shift, but few will deny this shift happened. "Trauma," "PTSD," "OCD," "bipolar," "narcissistic," which I'm throwing around here myself-- we all use terms like these constantly, we speak of pscyhological disorders as if they are as distinct and diagnosable as asthma or lupus, we casually talk about dopamine hits in a nod to the mechanistic root of mere happiness... Clearly, the therapeutic is part of our mythology and grounds our very perception and understanding of daily life. (The DSM sometimes seems to trump both common sense and the dictionary: in a Times article about alcoholism this summer, the author clarified for God knows who that alcoholism is "the colloquial term for alcohol use disorder.")
"Rieff believed," MacDougald writes, "that the commandments of sacred authority always come originally and primarily in the form of 'interdicts', or prohibitions — 'Thou shalt not' sleep with your mother or covet your neighbour’s wife. 'No' comes before 'yes,' and 'no' is the ultimate origin of culture. It is only by first restricting the legitimate range of behaviours, and in particular the expressions of instinct or libidinal energy, that cultures can be said to operate on their members. Culture is repression."
Repression is a hard sell, though. For Bazelon, staying married would have meant not merely a successful and idealistic lawyer having to do less of the work she wants to do--no, needs to do. It would have been a certain path to a broken home. She argues that, "'We stayed together for the kids' is a common refrain reflecting an ingrained belief that anything is better than a 'broken family.' To which I silently reply, you aren’t fooling anyone. Children know on an intuitive level what their parents are thinking and feeling. Long frosty silences, screaming matches and unrelenting tension between parents can inflict damage to the well-being of their children.'"
And so she got divorced. Not because she didn't love her husband. No, far from it. I mean, she still gets nauseous when he is around. Really, she got divorced because she loves someone else a whole lot more.
To which I silently reply...