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Cutting room floor:

We seek fortunes in our mythical House of the Rising Sun. Gambling, addiction, and all sorts of bizarre vice were part of normal life. You can get a sense of what I’m talking about in the first season of “True Detective.” That voodoo-horror vibe can only come from the grasping of meaning of a people without a home, waiting for a new grand narrative.

“This place is like someone’s memory of a town… but that memory is fading.” — Rustin Cohle

There’s an indie band from Ruston, Louisiana you might know called Neutral Milk Hotel and their most famous album is a screaming ode to the hero of the album, Anne Frank. The commiseration with Jews is no coincidence.

Famously, when the Isrealites escaped the tyranny of Egypt, they wandered for 40 years in the desert, worshiping false idols. Similarly, Cajuns worship various voodoo idols and "dark arts."

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Oct 11, 2023Liked by James Taylor Foreman

I've never connected the dots between placebo, healing, and grand narratives (stories) this way Taylor. Though I'd have no hesitation in saying that I've gravitated toward and experienced the healing of myself and others by aligning with meaningful stories. Especially stories that awaken a sense of Purpose, Home, and our pattern of belonging. From my own experience of your writing, you do have the gift. You're a pattern weaver, reorganizing and reframing our attention so that we can understand we've been up until now, and believe again in where we're going.

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Thanks so much for this thought, Rick.

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Thanks for this post. I wrote a brief series on modern mythology trying to parse out where new myths exist today. It was surprisingly difficult parse out. I never thought of the connection between the placebo effect and a sense of belonging to a place and culture thought. So interesting.

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Oct 13, 2023Liked by James Taylor Foreman

Great argument. Another novel insight, well told.

I think an implied but not explicit element here is the context of community. Placebo effects heal people (belief in the power of science), but so does laughter (which requires other people- both to tell the joke and because laugher is contagious). And so does a strong community.

I know you absolutely loathe Gladwell, but I still remember the story about the town of Rosetta, where everyone has a terrible diet but they also have the longest life expectancy of any place in the US, and that’s because they spend all their time sitting on rocking chairs and chatting each other up, even the passersby on the street.

Likewise, I’ve learned from being an EMT that the biggest deterrents to suicidal are 1) a cultural identity 2) relationships (friends, family, even pets) and 3) a reason for living (a purpose). All of those relate to community and grand narratives.

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Oct 13, 2023Liked by James Taylor Foreman

I was thinking about the narratives I unquestionably assume in my own life, and I realize it cuts both ways-- We can be harmed by excessive doubt, but also by excessive hubris.

Am I really a writer? Sometimes I doubt it. That may be holding me back, but also makes me try harder.

Do I really have Achilles tendinitis? That makes me opt out of a lot of activities, something that makes me feel a baby. Maybe if I just believed I was healthy, I’d be fine.

But on second thought, no. That was the mistake I made earlier. I kept thinking I was fine, that I’d heal. It only got worse. Now the damage is structural, and it’s going to take months of focused rehab to bring them back. I have to keep reminding myself-- no, you are not healthy. You are damaged. Take it easy. Take it slow.

I think that’s one useful part of Christianity and 12 step programs-- they remind us that we are damaged. That we are sinful and broken people. Our culture doesn’t like that kind of “negativity.” But the alternative is to believe that we are fine, that we don’t need God, and that’s when the trouble starts.

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Yes, we really can.

My call to people is to notice more patterns in their life and understand they are real.

At the extreme, though, you become hyper-paranoid about patterns, like the schizophrenic girl you mentioned in your piece who saw patterns in her coat hangars.

Christianity and its practices has managed to stay the final word on this because of its extreme emphasis on healing ourselves from within to radiate that pattern outward -- to the extent that we should be willing to lose everything, even our life, in the name of that ideal.

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Yeah we are excellent pattern recognizers. The tricky part is to recognize what is causing the pattern-- randomness, our minds, economics, God?

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Haha no I don't hate Gladwell (nor most of the other thinkers I complain about). I just enjoy their work enough to be annoyed by it.

This reflection strikes me hard and I very much agree.

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Another brilliant piece, Taylor. This one made me connect the dots in unexpected ways. The idea of a grand narrative, of a collective placebo effect, is powerful. I'll have to think about this much more, as I always do after reading you. I like to read your essay slowly, they're something to savor while thoughts and idea wander about. So grateful to find you in my inbox every week. Thank you.

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The conversations and texts I we had over the past few days leading up to the birth of this essay were special for me. Watching you unearth that title was so fun man. love this piece and being apart of your journey!

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Loved those conversations man. Appreciate your help on this one

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I always remember getting my first accupuncture treatment in my early 20s and asking, "does this work because I think it works or because it does?". And my accupuncturist replied, "what does it matter." 💥

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Haha. Yeah, sometimes, if it works, it works

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