The Liminalist # 74: The Logic of Denial (with Michael Lesher)


First part of two-part conversation with Michael Lesher, author of Sexual Abuse, Shonda, and Concealment in Orthodox Jewish Communities, on being a traitor to one’s religion, a pervasive problem, the differing cultures of abuse, institutional inattention, Shonda, shame, and scandal, a self-concealing problem, a shameful reality, challenging self-image, hierarchy in religious communities, the fear of undermining authority, an institutional imperative, abuse cases in family court, social destabilization as a result of child abuse awareness, Jimmy Savile’s institutional protection, endemic child abuse, the poison of power, defending Woody Allen & why no one wants to hear Dylan Farrow’s side, the irrelevance of the victim, identifying with power, on the side of the strong, looking for monsters, the crime of telling the truth, what victims want, a split in the Jewish community, finding a voice, Rabbinic reaction against the Internet, the end of atomization, carrying a secret, seeking a vehicle of shared reality, speaking an experience into reality, becoming a threat by breaking the silence, the law against informing in Jewish communities, being held accountable for choosing how to interpret the Talmud, the Talmud’s prohibition against extortion, adopting the methods of the persecutors, Jewish power abuse, minorities, self-protective strategies & getting into a pro-government posture, the virus of power, justice vs. hierarchy, how selective love = a policy of hate, why condoning any form of power abuse leads to child abuse.

Michael’s site.

Songs:  “The Kommema and his Religion” by SunWalker;  Sihanouk Trail, by Kingdom of the Holy Sun; “Seer,” by Brian Jonestown Massacre.

6 thoughts on “The Liminalist # 74: The Logic of Denial (with Michael Lesher)”

  1. @ 33:55

    Michael Lehsher: If your work with actual offenders, what you see are human beings. … They are people. If you look for monsters, your are not going to find the problem. They are not monsters. The people who commit the crimes are generally not, and the people who cover them up never are. These are people who have family, are nice to their children, funtioning members of society, think well of themselves, have some reason to think well of themselves, but they’re doing something that is deeply destructive and evil. And what you have to get at is why they don’t see that.

    Abe: Sounds to me like the key insight of the whole interview! Evil – palpable yet elusive?! Evil – not an attribute of a person but a by-product of (impersonal) social structures and power hierarchies? “Good” people doing bad things – where does this leave you in terms of (conspiracy) theory?! It seems to me, it all comes down to “man’s innate and all-encompassing fear of death” as Ernest Becker elucidates in Denial of Death and Escape from Evil:

    “Obviously it is an enormous problem: to show that man is truly evil-causing in much of his motivation. … I have been fighting against admitting the dark side of human nature for a dozen years, … I think it reflects objectively the universal situation of the creature we call man.”

    • I quoted Ernest Becker:

      It seems to me, it all comes down to “man’s innate and all-encompassing fear of death” …

      # Just found some quotes by the Russian writer Mikhail Petrovich Artsybashev (1878 – 1927):

      “Immortality is boring, just as life is hardly interesting.

      *** The worst thing is that we fear death, ***

      and that most likely you won’t find the courage to kill yourself, instead, you’ll live long, keep walking in this cemetery that they call ‘life’ and watch more and more graves appearing on it.”

      “Although there’s nothing people speak about so passionately as truth, people can’t handle either truth or sincerity. Especially not about themselves. This truth must be so horrible that the realization of it makes living impossible.”

      “That’s why they want the truth to be wrapped in a pretty gourmet of fiction, valuing especially the idealization of life itself and demand that the word ‘man’ is capitalized no less. They want to believe life is beautiful and they, who’ve been thrown into this world like blind kittens are wise and great. There’s nothing easier than to gain peoples love. Any writer, having a reasonable amount of talent, can do it very easily: he only has to keep repeating with enough pathos that ‘man’ sounds proud, and that life is wonderful, and they will run and cheer: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

      “We should have recognized a long time ago that truth can not be viewed from the point of utility, of some practical application of it. Truth is the truth – and nothing more. There’s nothing either harmful or useful in it. It is indifferent towards people. But a man has this intrinsic, insurmountable need for learning, it has been put in us by nature itself, which has been motivating us by illnesses and hunger, – and it is better to learn the most horrible truth than to be like those blind puppies poking their noses in the darkness.”

      “And so humanity is faced with this damn question about it’s mission, for the sake of which a man could live and suffer, consoling himself with the fulfilling of the will of the Sender. If a mission exists, a goal, a meaning – then life is worth living and enduring till the end. If not, if the goal is beyond human understanding, if a man is but a screw in a machine and after his death is simply to be melted into another detail of that machine, then it’s not worth worrying, not worth keeping life on Earth, and it’s better to shoot yourself in the forehead and blow up this planet.”

      • Who Is Rebbe Nachman?

        Rebbe Nachman is a unique figure in the history of Chassidut, …

        “[Chassidut] should in Jewish history be classed among the most momentous spiritual revolutions that have influenced the social life of the Jews, particularly those of eastern Europe.”

        Quoted from book review: MYSTICISM AND MADNESS: The Religious Thought of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav (2009) by Zvi Mark

        “And know that this is the ultimate knowledge, for the ultimate knowledge is that we do not know.”

        … an issue that may trouble many thinking religious persons; how can it be that our service of God, limited as it is by our very physicality, can be of significance to Him. This question, addressed throughout the ages by philosophers and mystics alike, receives its most startling treatment in R. Nachman’s hands.

        *** In his opinion, our service of God is understood as a kind of comic theater of the absurd, in which we serve the role of court jesters for the sake of entertaining the King! ***

        This radical description of the life of the pious Jew dovetails, of course, with the notion developed in the previous chapter, that we aren’t really capable of knowing anything about the Divine; our service consists largely in our ability to accept this premise and continue to serve in a state of “not knowing”. While many will no doubt bristle at such an irrational definition of religious service, for others it may in fact be very liberating.

  2. Not directly related – although many Orthodox Jews originate from East-Europe / Russia – but a fascinating read:

    The Slave Soul of Russia: Moral Masochism and the Cult of Suffering

    A Reader Review:

    An excellent analysis of the Russian character and mind.
    One of the best books I have read during the past years. As the only Western psychiatrist in Russia, I was very impressed by the most accurate analysis of the author about the Russian mind and soul. This book is a must for everyone with a genuine interest in understanding past and present Russia and Russians.

  3. “… the irrelevance of the victim, identifying with power, on the side of the strong ….”


    Unfree Labor: American Slavery and Russian Serfdom

    Kolchin has discovered apparently universal features in master-bondsman relations, a central focus of his study, … If the masters had the upper hand, the slaves and serfs played major roles in shaping, and setting limits to, their own bondage.


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