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psychology

Illustration by Simon Pemberton

500 Lifetimes [private]

On September 10, 2014, just a few hours before dawn in Bhutan’s Chumey Valley, a teenage boy and girl hanged themselves side by side from a tree in the sloping, silvery conifer forest behind their high school. They had been caught in a relationship, which is forbidden by school rules, and were likely to be suspended. Their shared noose was the boy’s kabney, the cream-colored scarf made of raw silk which is part of the traditional attire (along with the robe-like gho) required for Bhutanese males in formal settings. At the end of a work day, it is common to see men on the street folding their kabneys with dignity and tenderness.

A health worker on the police investigative team took a photo of the hanging bodies with his phone. He sent the image to friends via WeChat. Within minutes, the grisly picture went viral. “True love” was a common pronouncement on social media among young Bhutanese, who saw the deaths as the ultimate romantic sacrifice. Older Bhutanese considered it another sign of the idyllically isolated country’s tainted bargain with modern life. Most people, of any age, saw the deaths as karma.


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Illustration by Jun Cen

Fear Factors

When I moved to China nearly two years ago, one of the first things I bought was a bicycle. I live on a university campus, where everyone rides, and the bike was cheap: $17 for an ancient Five Rams cruiser, with a lively color scheme of teal and rust. I used to cycle to work when I lived in New York, dodging tourists and threading in between delivery trucks. But the moment I pulled out onto a street in China, it became clear that this was going to be a different experience.

Sigmund Freud, the Never-Ending Storyteller

Adam Phillips’s new study, Becoming Freud: The Making of a Psychoanalyst, is an effective breviary and defense of Sigmund Freud, and not because it dazzles with a tightrope act of theory, but because it simply and directly underscores Freud’s tremendous accomplishments of comprehension. 

A Martial Epic for Our Own Time

House of War is a history of intricate and momentous decisions made by powerful and complicated personalities, beginning with the decision that has shadowed and will shadow all subsequent human life: the decision to use the atomic bomb against Japan. Involved in that decision were several others: the decision to demand Japan’s unconditional surrender, the decision whether to publicly demonstrate the bomb’s destructive potential beforehand or to use it first in a surprise attack, and the decision about which cities to put on the target list. Though we all know how these decisions come out, Carroll’s masterly account is freighted not merely with gravity but with touches of genuine suspense. I have not read enough of the large literature on the decision to use the bomb to say with confidence whether his moral judgments about it—and about another profoundly disturbing episode, the firebombing of Japanese cities—are valid. But I can testify that they are plausible, deeply pondered, richly documented, and eloquently stated. It is a new century, but we are not through debating this matter.

 

Orwell, Freud, and 1984

Although Freud started out as a heretic in terms of established psychology and medical practice, he gained an almost hypnotic effect on his followers and succeeded in establishing an orthodoxy which exerts its power even today, almost 40 years after his death.