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Book Review: Anger, Madness, and the Daimonic

2020-02-15

“Anger, Madness, and the Daimonic: The Psychological Genesis of Violence, Evil, and Creativity,” is a book by Stephen A. Diamond, a “licensed clinical and forensic psychologist.” So I have no idea what that means as far as what Dr. Diamond does in his day job, but it does sound kind of interesting, and undoubtedly qualifies him to write a book on this stuff.

The book seems to be written from a clinicians perspective, and despite being clear and evocative in places, in others it simply summarizes studies and says little. There were parts of this book that I thought were great (I’ll get to them) and there were parts that put me to sleep and made me angry!

Before getting into the review too much, I will say that I am pretty biased going into this. But only to the extent that I think psychiatric diagnoses (I have one) are bullshit, and in no way shape or form agree with the idea that they are the result of genetics. I think they are the result of intra and inter personal relationships for the most part, not genetics and biology per se.

So I was really taken in because this book more or less takes on madness, instead of individual “psychopathologies”, which to me is a good thing. Seriously, I think that a field that has come up with the DSM should be disqualified on the basis of stupidity from talking about the roots of anything. But, the title pulled me in here, and I do know, that despite the clown-work that is the DSM, psychologists (except the ones who helped the CIA devise torture programs) in general want to help. They in no way shape or form have an easy task, and when they fail, the results are often tragic.

Dr. Diamond did not disappoint with this book, which was readable and enjoyed by myself, a layperson and armchair everything, and the title was true to the work.

Despite not ferreting out the roots of anger, or its causes, and jumbling together some concepts related to anger and rage, Dr. Diamond does manage to pull it all together, and the book does in a way agree with perhaps the thesis laid out in the title: that “anger, madness and the daimonic” is the psychological genesis of violence, evil and creativity.

I first read this book before reading anything written by Rene Girard on mimesis – his framework for interpreting violence and desire. Girard, in my opinion, is the more correct interpretation on the genesis of “anger, madness, and the daimonic,” although Diamond’s text is strong and encouraging in general, despite such a dreary topic.

I believe that the key sentence, displaying Dr. Diamond’s take on anger, is the following (on pg. 10):

No amount of scientific research or speculation so far has dispelled the age-old wisdom that human beings are comprised partially of animal instincts or innate responses, including archetypal capacity for anger, rage, and violence.

The key word here in my opinion is “archetypal.” Now after reading Girard, there is a ton of reason to abandon this “age-old wisdom” in my opinion.

And in fact (to be fair), Dr. Diamond includes a summarization of some research by a multidisciplinary perspective drawn from: anthropology, biology, ethology, political science, sociology, zoology, and behavioral psychology. His take on their findings:

These nine co-authors come to the comforting collective conclusion that aggression and violence are not predetermined, and therefore, not inevitable human behaviors.

Which is crazy, because, at the core of Girard’s mimetic theory, is basically this finding. In fact, Girard’s theory deals nicely with the word archetypal I think, and kind of like how in math you can just kind of cancel out stuff when it all adds up the same way, I’m pretty sure Girard’s theory will ultimately cancel out that word, and with it, Dr. Diamond’s take on anger.

Now, I’ve read a lot of Rene Girard’s work now, and while it offers reason to be hopeful, well, let’s just say it’s, um, complicated?

By contrast, while Girard’s work strikes at the core, Diamond’s book kind of avoids it, at least with offering a theory of what may cause anger. But, it does address “the psychological genesis of violence, evil, and creativity.” And it’s anger according to Dr. Diamond (my summarization).

Here, I think, with a liberal application of language, Girard’s mimetic theory, and Diamond’s exposition, are basically in alignment (I think). While Diamond does not address the causes of anger, he does a good job in detailing it’s consequences, and as he shows, it varies from outright evil to ingeniousness and, ironically, beauty and art. The link between madness and creativity has been detailed in other works (see Touched with Fire, for example) as well.

I personally found Diamond’s writing in chapter 8 - Creativity, Genius, and the Daimonic - to be the best in the book. Maybe it was just a topic a little nearer and dearer to my heart, and if I had found it 15 years ago, a lot of things would have made more sense potentially. His approach to this topic I thought was well balanced giving what you might find on the internet or elsewhere, and what he writes makes sense: it feels true.

Another great part of this book: It talks about exorcism like it works!! And maybe it does? I mean, I totally wasn’t expecting to hear that written in a book by a clinical and forensic psychologist. First of all, I’ve seen the professionals, both the shrinks and the pill poppers, and never, not once, did they say I could try exorcism! It’s too bad I didn’t walk into this guy’s office! Exorcise those devils out dammit.

Where oh where is my Silicon Valley Exorcism startup? Hello YCombinator? WTF!!

Anyway, in all seriousness, despite this book’s flaws, it was encouraging to see that there are still professionals out there, who, just maybe, don’t totally subscribe to the “it’s genetics your doomed” approach. I have seriously been told this by the pros basically, like it is actually a fact, and I can’t find where this is factually proved. Email me the link which proves mental illness is caused by genetics, preferably a link to each *proof* for each *illness* in the DSM, and, well, I’d love to see it.

To sum it up and end this review, because this is a topic I could go on forever about, this is a pretty good book to read. It might not immediately help if you have depression or something else, but it definitely might, and may open your mind to thinking a little differently than the “popular opinion” about these things, which, in my opinion again – is totally wrong.

So read it or not, because to me, I kind of think that Rene Girard reached the bottom of “existential depth psychology” and while this book is good – well, I think there is something much much better.

But this is a good book. I mean exorcism is in it!!