It is no small labor to rescue all mankind, every mother's son
September 26, 2007 8:14 AM   Subscribe

The MacArthur Foundation awarded its "genius" grants yesterday. Among the winners was Jonathan Shay, a a VA psychiatrist whose midlife discovery of the Homeric epics inspired him to use their depictions of soldier bonding and cohesion, leadership, trust and betrayal, and terror and rage to treat the psychological disorders and transition difficulties of combat veterans. NPR interview.
posted by Miko (17 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Sing, (foxnews), the rage of (bush) the son of (bush),
the destructive rage that sent countless pains on the (iraqis).
posted by kuujjuarapik at 8:31 AM on September 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm glad he went with Homer and not Virgil. Homer is actually interesting; the Aeneid is a weak imitation and blatant ripoff of the Odyssey.
posted by Doohickie at 8:48 AM on September 26, 2007

reviewing the list of macarthur selectees over the years has always left me with a sense of political perspective in the selection process. most are very bright folks, some may be geniuses, others have little but the foundation's say-so to offer toward the case for their geniushood.
posted by bruce at 9:21 AM on September 26, 2007

Private foundations are not public programs, and have no requirement to be politically 'balanced' in their grantmaking programs. The MacArthur Foundation has its own set of interests, which you can see listed on their front page: sustainability, community development, etc. Their Purpose Statement is available here. And here are details on the Fellows program ("genius grant" is colloquial - it's not a term MacArthur uses). From my point of view, their grantmaking choices are in excellent alignment with their stated goal of "improving the human condition."

Private foundations are unique and idiosyncratic. It should never be surprising to see foundations use their grantmaking programs to advance the causes they believe in. Anyone with gobs of money is entitled to put the structure in place to try to change the world in the way they believe it needs to be changed. There are MacArthurs on the one hand, and if you're concerned about balance in the grantmaking arena, then there are these.
posted by Miko at 9:46 AM on September 26, 2007

Jonathan Shay's work really does deserve to be better known--and I'm thrilled that he won the MacArthur. Achilles in Vietnam is on a very short shelf of great books about war (along with Fussell's books and Sam Hynes' The Soldiers' Tale) and is on an equally short shelf of elegant, powerful books that combine science and art in one strong narrative (like, say, Hofstadter's Goedel, Escher, Bach).

I was writing my first book when I came across Achilles, and have been thrilled to become friends with Jonathan over the years: truly, he is a sweet, brilliant man. Bravo!
posted by minnesotaj at 9:48 AM on September 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

But is this "soldier is a replaceable cog" of a larger war machine and its effect on troops

1. an undesiderable outcome of a production model, like for instance CO2 in combustion
2. an undesiderable cultural outcome , of people realizing their desires and personal priority shouldn't be just _simply_ ignored for the good of the group
3. a desidered outcome, politically desiderable as troops will be always perceived as potential dangerous Pretorians, cinically appreciated as troops no longer seem to be bonded _enough_ to react to misleading (vietnam, iraq) in a organized fashion.

After all the problem with war is fighting the fight of _others_
Naturally the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.
posted by elpapacito at 9:53 AM on September 26, 2007

elpapacito: What in the hell are you talking about? Shay's book is not about politics (though reading it may well make one more political in their stance about war)--it's about the moral lives of soldiers, about what they go through in war, how their sense of their moral lives is fragile and may be betrayed, and how they're changed by both the physical brutality of war and this betrayal of trust. Shay doesn't really dwell, even, on how they get better (saved that for Odysseus in America)... but that's OK, his intertwined readings of Homer and of his counseling patients, his interleaving of psychiatry and neurophysiology (he's an M.D./Ph.D.) are handled with such care, such grace, that you will quickly forget larger political issues (again: for the moment) and see, feel, and want to touch the veterans--as Shay's narrative of their experience will touched you (or even: blown you away, so to speak) in profound ways.
posted by minnesotaj at 10:14 AM on September 26, 2007

I have to say, I bet there is a lot of better ways to spend this money, such as alternative fuels research, or perhaps medical research.
posted by gandledorf at 10:30 AM on September 26, 2007

I have to say, I bet there is a lot of better ways to spend this money, such as alternative fuels research, or perhaps medical research.

There are always better ways for money to be spent regardless of what it is being spent on, that doesn't mean the MacArthur Foundation shouldn't do what it does, especially considering that many of the people it did give grants to aren't normally in positions that get very many grants.
posted by drezdn at 10:39 AM on September 26, 2007

I have to say, I bet there is a lot of better ways to spend this money, such as alternative fuels research, or perhaps medical research.

You do know that a psychiatrist is an MD, right? This is medical research.
posted by stet at 11:01 AM on September 26, 2007

Damn, denied again.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:03 AM on September 26, 2007

Must be AggravationFilter... gandledorf: Shay is doing medical research. As are several other MacArthur Fellows for 2007. In fact, if you look at their list, there are usually very few artists, per se: it's a nice mix of social activists and social scientists, pure and applied hard scientists, and a few artists thrown in for good measure.
posted by minnesotaj at 11:03 AM on September 26, 2007

I have been reading about the local winners this year, nice to hear more about Shay as well.

It took three re-reads for "Homeric *****" to resolve as "epics" and not "apes". Must remember not to sit in front of window with laptop.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:59 AM on September 26, 2007

I have to say, I bet there is a lot of better ways to spend this money, such as alternative fuels research, or perhaps medical research.

Sure, research into the prevention of PTSD is such a waste! I mean, it's not like there will be tens of thousands of soldiers coming home from a fucked-up war within the next ten years or so, right?

This guy has practical, affordable solutions for the problems that have plagued our military since WWII. Personally, I think he deserves a hell of a lot more than a grant.
posted by vorfeed at 2:56 PM on September 26, 2007

Goddamn, I know Paul Rothemund at Caltech. Couldn't go to a nicer guy - Pretty frikkin smart too.
posted by lalochezia at 3:24 PM on September 26, 2007

Minnesotaj, if you've not read it, you might be interested in George MacDonald Fraser's memoirs Quartered Safe Out Here for no other reason that he is at such great odds with Fussell, whose work he appears to have read and thrown against the wall in disgust. (You may do the same with him, but he does give an interesting perspective, and he has the personal experience to give it weight. Me, I like both books, albeit for different reasons.)

I am now going to get Dr. Shay's book (and that of the medieval historian as well, for that matter). Oh, and Mr Hyne's book also, thanks for the citation.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:21 PM on September 26, 2007

I read Achilles in Vietnam when it came out and was deeply impressed at what a logical, intuitive step he had made, yet which revealed so much - both about the Illiad and PTSD. A brilliant book and I'm glad he's made the list.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:05 AM on September 27, 2007

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