Conversations at the dinner table when I was small revolved around money and psychodynamic motivation.  Freud was king in the mostly Jewish, northern Chicago suburbs in the 1950s and early 60s.  At least, among my family.  Fourth-generation German and Russian Jews, we had had no bar mitzvahs for more than 100 years.  I remembering telling my Christian friends that there were four kinds of Jews:  Orthodox, Conservative, Reformed and Commercial.  We were Commercial.

No member of my family had ever finished college, with the exception of some distant cousins.  Our family tree had been dramatically pruned by WWII.  My mother’s and father’s families would gather together on the two great holidays, Christmas and Thanksgiving.  My father’s only brother died around 1950, not quite a college graduate from Northwestern.  He had spina bifida.  My mom’s sisters were children.  So, it was the identical group of people gathering every year.  There was no sibling competition to go other places.  Both sets of grandparents had only one set of grandchildren.  I was the first born.  I was male.  I was the cat’s pajamas.

Mental illness was a popular avocation amongst the adults I was in contact with.  My father’s mother had borderline personality disorder in an exaggerated form.  Mom was manic depressive, institutionalized periodically.  Dad displayed benign forms of OCD.  My mom’s dad killed himself shortly before I was born (upon hearing the news my mother was getting married).  He was manic depressive.  There is Asperger’s in my family.  I have a bi-polar sister.  I lived in a zoological menagerie of human mental derivations from the norm.

I started talking when I was three.  I was kept an additional year in nursery school before entering kindergarten.  There was no religion in our household.  There was little philosophy.  My memories emerge in a world with one powerful presupposition.  There was a belief that one’s unconscious informs all of one’s experience.  All behavior is created by hidden motivations.  What was discussed in my family was making money, and Freud.

I was fascinated by making money.  I was plagued by Freud.  That money bought stuff seemed far less relevant than all the ways that one could make money.  It was a game.  That people were compelled to behave in the ways that they did for good reasons, reasons often beyond our understanding, made the world make sense, even if the sense was inaccessible.  This was not so much a game.  There seemed constant repercussions resulting from the behaviors created by these invisible motivations.

I grew up in a household where both my mother and father were in psychoanalysis.  As they explored their own childhoods, they punctuated my sisters’ and my experiences with evaluations based upon Freudian dynamics.  Everything my sisters and I did was based upon unconscious compulsions.

We were a nonreligious house filled with talk of forces deeply involved with our inner lives, forces often beyond our ability to impact, but forces nonetheless influencing our every move and utterance.  Clearly, the lives of those around me were being buffeted by gale force winds beyond their conscious control.  I wanted to know what made the winds blow.

Until The Enlightenment and Modernity, we worshipped the gods as the hidden forces that made our world move.  With Freud and the 20th century, many of us shifted focus to the unconscious.  I suspect a synthesis is in our future that integrates the two.  Either concept by itself leaves a half world out.  Believing in only one or the other still places wisdom somewhere other than the self.

We can’t afford to continue to assign wisdom and responsibility to an inaccessible source.

To live in an integrated, transparent, horizontal world, we need immanent access to those forces that inform our lives.  It’s time for god to stop being somewhere else, be it in the world or in our heads.  It might be useful if we redefine god as being here and now.

I grew up with suburban gods.  I look forward to the new gods on the way.


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