“Shoot The Messenger, Now?”

“Shoot The Messenger, Now?”

“Shoot The Messenger, Now?”


“But my dreams, they aren’t as empty…as my conscience seems to be.  I spend hours only lonely, my love is vengeance, that’s never free!”  
– Pete Townshend

     Could the very source of our happiness be tied up with sources of evil?  How is love tied to success?  And hate to self-sabotage?  Could the way out of our suffering sometimes be found in having more compassion for those situations, people, and emotions within us that we would rather eliminate, stifle, and ostracize?  Is it all up to me? What about the world outside?

     At the close of one of my all time favorite allegories, Animal Farm, by George Orwell, George portrays a subtle yet chilling scene that may be all too familiar to us in everyday settings.  The pigs have completed their journey from oppression to liberation and have welcomed humans, their previous enemies, onto to the farm to fraternize.  The pigs unconscious need to be accepted as equal to the humans is in the air as they now “walk on two legs” and systemically discriminate against those who “walk on four”. Their slogan for their new world order is “Four legs good, two legs better.”

     In a show that the hostilities of revolution are over and they are ready to connect with the outside world they share a dinner with the humans.  These are the various humans they now do business with to keep their regime in place. There are non-pig animals looking in from the window of the manor house.  They observe how the pigs belie their inverted oppression and foreshadow creating new variety of enslavement.  

“But they had not gone twenty yards when they stopped short.  An uproar of voices was coming from the farmhouse.  They rushed back and looked through the window again.  Yes, a violent quarrel was in progress.  There were shoutings, bangings on the table, sharp suspicious glances, furious denials.  The source of the trouble appeared to be that Napoleon (pig) and Mr. Pilkington had each played and ace of spades simultaneously.”

“Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike.  No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs.  The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

     What are behind those eyes?  Roger Daltry (pictured above) and The Who knew back in 1971.  There are ways we are born into and internalize oppression that come to undermine our efforts in pursuing life while supporting freedom for all.  Could the lies we tell ourselves about our own oppressive tendencies be the ones that hold us back from achieving our own freedom?

“No one knows what it’s like to be the bad man, to be the sad man, behind blue eyes.  No one know what’s it’s to be hated, to be fated, to telling only lies.”  

“No one knows what it’s like to feel these feelings like I do, and I blame you!”   – Pete Townshend

     Today musical artists like Melody Gardot carry this message of just how much our inability to see those of us who need us to collaborate with them to make it is linked to our own success.  It’s easy to become blind to oppression when what passes for arguing about real issues is all about covering up.

“See that man sittin’ in front of the border line,  He ain’t got the time to argue what’s yours and what is mine.  See that man holdin’ his hand out in desperation, He don’t see salvation, no God and sure no nation.”  – Melody Gardot

   While some of us sit like the pigs and humans in Animal Farm avoiding solutions requiring collaboration, others are outside with real in the moment problems.

     I draw a line between systemic injustice and personal responsibility when I recognize that not only do our families, social groups, and institutions, fall prey to inhibiting connection among individuals but our own internal world can be our own personal Animal Farm.  We are the only ones in a position to work on liberating the inside world and following our dreams.

     In so doing, we understand that we might need help from the outside world to make them come true.  It’s not hard to see that the oppression we render on the outside is linked to an internal slavery that we have not confronted.  It is in this way that we are all linked in freedom or enslavement.

“We all workin’ for the means to the end of our situation.  We all hopin’ for the day that the powers see abdication and run.  Said it gonna come, said it gonna come.”      – Melody Gardot

     For all of my love of history, political science, and social work as an undergraduate student, one of the most profound learning experiences I had was in an art history course I was taking to pick up a fine arts credit.  Artists communicate messages at a cultural level not unlike neurons in our brain.  They are messengers that transcend the present moment and bring together our history with our current struggles making us more aware of salient aspects of our own experience that may align with those of our ancestors.

     In this way artifacts are a type of memory and having access to them can support our own personal experience of memory.  Sometimes art illuminates a way forward out of our struggles that is innovative and transformative.

     In more punitive social groups, whether family or government, we find artistic expression is suppressed.  Could this be a version of “killing the messenger?”  In the battle of Tigranocerta (69BC) the Armenian King Tigranes heard the news of  his Roman opponent Lucullus coming and cut the head off of the messenger who brought the news.  This was perhaps the first record of a leader who mistook important feedback as the obstacle to their happiness.  It is easy to see what a self-defeating climate this sets up.  Not unlike the pigs in Animal Farm inner disconnection promotes outer disconnection and back again. The fear of processing the present is linked to the fear of processing the past.  If the pigs were cheating, where did they learn that?

     We can all relate to leaders like Tigranes who have what I call a “low tolerance for navigating the zone of potential reality“.  There is always a degree of ambiguity in interpersonal relationships when it comes to assessing signs that it is safe to socially engage.  In a disconnected biopsychosocial information processing system, ambiguous signals abound and we characteristically misinterpret messages that suggest social engagement is possible.  The “zone of potential reality” describes the lack of awareness of actual opportunity for social engagement that we misperceive as an entre for manipulation.

     I’m not suggesting that Lucullus wanted to “make nice” with Tigranes. I wasn’t there.  But could a habit of killing the person who is brining a message be somewhat akin to the pigs deciding to hide the revolutionary truth of what was called “Animal Farm” by lying to the humans about the farmhouse “always having been called The Manor House”, as a way to avoid the threat that the humans may cut off relations with them?

     In other words, do we learn to hide from ourselves and others our dream of freedom in lieu of pleasing those who would prefer our enslavement?  Could this hiding be facilitated by “killing information” and the bearers of it?

     Well, Claude Shannon, one of my all time favorite mathematicians and the founder of the “information age”, knew something about this.  Claude recognized that information bearing signals are signals that help us distinguish between differing sources of information we already have stored on the receiving end of the communication dance.  If we receive a signal that repeatedly refers to the same source on our end it’s called “redundant”.  Mathematically speaking, “a probability of 1 does not tell us anything.”   Claude says, “this is not an “information bearing” signal.  Could we become prone to fearing signals that actually bear information?  Could a real signal bearing important information have required Tigranes update his world view and this be the source of his aggression?

     In a disconnected biopsychosocial information processing system we are embedded in a world that does not allow an information bearing signals to survive.  These systems thrive on redundancy.  (These are very boring environments).  This can lead to a policy of fearing reliable signals that it’s safe to connect and liven things up.  Instead the policy is, “We know what the problem is and it’s YOU (reliable signals)!” and “We know what to do “SHOOT!” and eliminate the discomfort that authentic communication will bring.

    For example, after all of his deceitfulness it wouldn’t be so comfortable for Napoleon the pig to have said, “Well look at that, you’ve just uncovered that one of the possible references for your anger is that I’ve betrayed you and perhaps I learned to do that somewhere before!”  (Like when Napoleon ran his revolutionary friend Snowflake off the farm prior to giving up on the dream of true egalitarianism).

     When we avoid negative emotional states and learn to subdue, inhibit, exterminate negative feelings that lead us to lose our awareness of the present we can shut down what our brain is trying to communicate about how things are going.  Like George Orwell intuited and Roger and Melody sing about, we have lost touch with ourselves personally and collectively.

     I like to think of complex biopsychosocial systems that get in the way of connection as “punitive” in their style versus “reparative”.  In punitive, disconnected systems there is an avoidance of recognizing that it’s safe to connect, born out of an intolerance for pain that paradoxically discourages remembering painful experiences.  In other words we perpetuate a strategy of “merely seeking comfort” and not doing the hard work of resolving our pain.  It’s an overall strategy of trying to remove disturbing memories rather than process them.

     An example of this would be the overuse of psychopharmacological agents which can come about when we seek to inhibit emotional responses to stressors that if processed would implicate us at a personal level (self-punishing patterns) or others at the interpersonal level (external punishers).  In this way not knowing and not remembering becomes a cultural trend.  To kill the messenger is to shut down attunement and deny awareness of something and “not remembering” is the way we maintain a lack of awareness over time!  This is punitive in the sense that whatever facilitates “not remembering” promotes punishment/negative/harmful consequences prevents learning.  In scientific studies of memory, rats sometimes have genes knocked out that make it impossible for them to remember.  The rat pictured here stands on an electric grate that will shock it if it selects the wrong lever.  With their memory impaired these rats shock themselves.  The subsequent behavior of selecting the shocking lever is called “punishment behavior” by the scientists.  Our repeated use of quick fixes, forceful versus relational strategies, and substitutions for the high of collaborative achievement can be examples of self-sabotaging our dreams.  These methods leave us bitter, angry, and resentful when our needs frustrated and likely to hide, mask, and lie about our true desires.  Leaving us willing to ignore our conscience in favor of fantastical solutions.  Our tendency to continue such patterns is self punishing.  

“Nothin’ comes from nothin’.  Nothin’ comes from nothin’ good.  Why you spend the whole day bluffin’?  Come on man, do what you should.  What you mean, the world ain’t easy?  What you mean the world ain’t mine? Last I checked, there were no price tags hangin’ on them shady pines.  What you say when you say nothin’?  What you mean when you say lies? Politician, tell me somethin’, What you go behind them eyes!  ‘Cause we all workin’ for the means to the end of our situation.  We all hopin’ for the day that the powers see abdication and run.  Said it gonna come, Lord said it gonna come.”

     So take a listen to some music that inspires you to live by your highest values and join with our ancestors in figuring out how to live a life worth living.  If it’s too much, find a good attachment focused psychotherapist to work out those inner sources of disconnection that get in the way.  If you need medicine to help find a psychiatric provider that is not overly invested in punitive systems which are happy with just keeping you from harming yourself and others but really prepared to help you achieve your dreams for your family, community, and indeed yourself!

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