YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

November 21, 2015

SCANDAL’s “inclusive” feminism


Shonda Rhimes with cast members


November 14, 2015

No boundaries

David K. Flowers blog, photo credit 123rf.com

David K. Flowers blog, photo credit 123rf.com

It is difficult to wrench my focus away from the massacre in Paris, to concentrate on the ongoing turmoil in our most important universities, but try I must.

(First read this blog: http://clarespark.com/2014/11/27/what-black-community/.) By far the best course I took at UCLA while I pursued my doctorate was a seminar on slavery and Reconstruction taught by Margaret Washington (now at Cornell University but known as Maggie Creel when I studied with her).

Margaret Washington

We read histories written by Kenneth Stampp, Stanley Elkins, Herbert Gutman, Eugene Genovese, James Oakes, Peter H. Wood, Frank Owsley, and many more specialists on the history of the antebellum, Civil War, and postbellum South, looking often at opposing views regarding institutions and events. Dr. Creel was a strong feminist, and at least when I studied with her, she was no black nationalist. UCLA’s famously “Red” history department did not appreciate her many merits, and she left after receiving the offer from Cornell University.

It was obvious from all my graduate studies that the history of the “peculiar institution” was central to the study of US History, and in later reading, I read the major novels of Thomas Dixon, and caught up on the most recent thinking of such academic superstar historians as David Brion Davis, David Blight, Seymour Drescher, Eric Foner, and their contemporaries, all of whom were writing during the rise of black nationalism (the latter ideology a departure from Martin Luther King Jr.’s focus on integration).

I remain puzzled over their reluctance to study the transformation of the 1960s civil rights movement from integrationism to (divisive) nationalism, though I believe that the transformation of the leftist line against the very concept of “race” was central to their silence on a subject of central importance to their profession, not to speak of contemporary social movements that accept without demur separatist and “multicultural” “African-American” histories. (Do we really want to legitimate Pan-Africanism?) These eminent intellectuals accepted without protest the lack of boundaries between MLK Jr. (and his contemporary Ralph Bunche) and their most famous opponent, the now glorified Malcolm X.

In short, I believe that these prominent professors had gone with the flow. No boundaries, unlike the line drawn by Maggie Creel in 1984.

Prize-winning book by Margaret Washington on Sojourner Truth

Prize-winning book by Margaret Washington on Sojourner Truth

It was also in graduate school, that I witnessed an angry black student walking out on a lecture by Ira Berlin (by then, another prominent scholar of slavery, whose talk was focused on the creativity of many slaves, who planted their own vegetable gardens to supplement an inadequate diet furnished by their owners). This furious militant did not want to hear about slavery at all. He was obviously a warrior of the type presaging “Black Lives Matter.”

Turn now to Peter H. Wood’s major contribution, The Black Majority (on South Carolina), that I reread a short time ago. My major take away from that impressively researched work was the ongoing rivalry between black and white workers; i.e., bitter labor competition was the lingering effect of slavery. This focus on class was a welcome diversion from the now constant concentration on a supposed “institutional racism,” not to speak of the endless leftist attack on “American exceptionalism,” as if, for the protesters, blacks were still toiling on plantations. Labor competition also explains why some white policemen (themselves often of working class/urban ethnic origin) might be quick on the trigger.

Back to boundaries and the lack of them. The cry of black militants (and their lefty allies) against an obviously overstated “white supremacy” suggests that they too have no boundaries between past and present. It is clear that the fights over slavery shaped American history, but many Americans have given their lives to stop the racist practices of the past, not least in the Civil War and in the 1960s too..

One can only speculate on the parenting that misshaped today’s “social justice” warriors demanding reparations and revolution. Their liberal professors and various delinquent parents should take responsibility for their children’s deficient educations. In a misguided revolt against “puritanism” (New England is often blamed for the introduction of slavery) professors and parents alike have driven their students and children into primitivism and a misguided life that celebrates the escape into terror.

It is not only Islamo-fascists we should fear today.

More boundaries, please.

David K. Flowers blog, photo credit 123rf.com

David K. Flowers blog, photo credit 123rf.com

November 12, 2015

The “free speech” muddle, or cherchez la femme

Student protest, Philipp Arndt photo, Business Insider

Student protest, Philipp Arndt photo, Business Insider

[The following blog is a lengthy excerpt from my unpublished ms. Eros and the Middle Manager. Footnotes not included, but note quotes from primary sources. This ms. excerpt is intended to clarify the problem of “free speech, by analyzing how recent (idealist) sociology has created a muddle where rational discourse is hard to find.] 

The New Pluralism-without-Snakes-and-Spiders, the “multicultural” condition of the postwar progressivism, is stressful for everyone.  Progressive institutions are only vaguely and intermittently committed to the no-holds-barred search for truth, while the very fact of any pluralism and relativism frighteningly destabilizes authority for the vertiginous veteran of authoritarian families.  The persons I have studied, Herman Melville, the Victorian poet James Thomson (“B.V.”), Columbia professor Raymond M. Weaver, Picasso, Hitler, Jungian psychoanalyst Henry A. Murray, Charles Olson, and other Symbolists, are all disturbed by Mother, the emblem of inscrutable modernity; it is Mother who sows confusion with mixed signals.  Melville has described such behavior in Pierre, or the Ambiguities (1852), exhibiting the institutional double binds that demanded both artistic truth and corporatist order, independence and loyalty, making it impossible for him to please authority whatever he did and terrifying him with the scowl that marred the placid maternal gaze, the cloud that scudded before the sun.  For Melville, one defense against such lingering big chills was to divide people (or himself) into all good or all bad (switching objects); he patrolled the wall that prevented the sadness of his own black bile from leaking into and depressing the happy mother giving her all to the “perfectly happy” family.  It is her failure that must be denied, her secrets that must be kept to spare the already overburdened mother further suffering.

Ideally (for the Symbolists) authority should be rational and lucid: the good objects are predictable; they are not hypocrites; they would not suddenly turn on the child who valiantly has been trying to please them.  For Melville’s Ishmael it was the noble savage Queequeg who provided such a rescue; several Leninist critics have seen, not Ahab, but Queequeg and other non-whites on board the Pequod potentially leading the revolution (C.L.R. James, 1953, H. Bruce Franklin, 1978).  In the attempt to recapture an image of innocence, the Symbolist will defend the self from unfair and unmerited accusations.  Such crimes include soiling oneself in infancy or early childhood before one was physically ready to be “clean”; later, the budding scholar’s (solicited!) criticisms of illegitimate authority.  For the bewildered child/student, then, the bad object is above all the one who has switched, perhaps in retrospect seen as the peddler of false utopias (Mother the switching Jew of the Home) who encouraged her victim to let down his guard and then put him on trial for unpremeditated, unremembered, indescribable, but gruesome crimes.  In other words, here the urge to split has a rational component: It is the “liberals” who make us “crazy”; there was a different problem in families that demanded moral purity, conformity, and obedience.  Such environments were repressive in the sense that renunciations were excessive, but, theoretically at least, one conformed to a clear set of rules.  There were myths and rituals that channeled aggression away from the adorable new baby to defeat clearly defined enemies.  I use the past tense, because the localism of traditional societies has been destroyed by the penetration of cosmopolitan mass media and an expanding global market; the corrupting city, moral ambiguities in tow, has invaded the country.

The Symbolists are complaining about socialization in families or universities that seem to demand autonomy and unbounded criticism of their practices, but turn on the child/student when “difference” turns into opposition; again, opposition not to core values, but to hypocrisy, or what appear to be two sets of rules.  The frantic “paranoid” maintenance of firm, impermeable boundaries between good and evil might be understood in this context.  So might be the eagerness of radicals to defend blackened oppressed groups from distorted and hostile representations–other innocent children unfairly stigmatized by “Victorian culture” or “bourgeois morality.”  As academics, these radicals will pursue image studies and other variants of idealist sociologyBelieving that images, like “hegemonic” institutional forces, mold and stamp their victims, these radical pluralists move the furniture around to prevent wild “outbursts” from either Right or Left.  For this they are handsomely rewarded by élite universities invested in preventive politics.  The pluralists write funny:

[Maurice H. Krout outlines the province of social psychiatry, 1933-34:]  “It is concerned with the motivation of the hobo, the delinquent, the would-be-suicide, the prostitute, the drug-addict.  From the point of view of individual participation social psychiatry is interested in mass movements, viz., financial crazes, booms, migrations and rushes, panics and stampedes, war manias.  From the point of view of adjustment effected by deviate personalities it studies revivals, mob action, political campaigns, and organized gang rule.”

[Neil Smelser, Talcott Parsons’ collaborator, declares his fitness to the Harvard Society of Fellows, 1959:]  “At the present time my research interests have turned toward the field of mass behavior–those occasions on which organized human activity gives way to outbursts such as riot, panic, fad, boom, craze, hysteria, revivalism and revolutionary activity.  The aim of this study is to locate some of the determinants of these kinds of behavior in the social structure, and thereby attempt to distinguish the occasions on which one, rather than another, type of mass outburst is likely to occur.  The intended contribution of the study is to assemble much of what is known about mass behavior into a more satisfactory theoretical framework.”

The Tory biases of Krout and Smelser are obvious: for Krout, evangelical protestantism, criminality, politics, and mob action are similarly deviant.  Smelser adds revolution to the witch’s brew.

If institutional double-bind theory is more explanatory than the Krout-Smelser idealist sociology, the implications for psychological counseling would be clear: the issue for “splitting” liberals and radicals would not be owning up to one’s angry but forbidden impulses against authority, the repressed childhood memories to be retrieved in treatment so as to live with appropriately “mixed feelings” or “ambivalence.”  Probably this is the relevant problem for explicitly authoritarian families (Catholics,  evangelical Protestants, Marxist-Leninists) whose veterans have been forced to idealize authority and who may not criticize the rules, not even in fantasy.  But the more heimlich approach to splitting would recognize double-binds in pseudo-liberal institutions, the Kafka-esque worlds that may not disclose their rules until they are broken, which trap parent and child, professor and student alike, and which send some of us scurrying away from “bureaucratic domination” to “alternative” “simpler” cultures or subjectivist epistemologies or levelling S-M rituals that affirm human weakness and brutality, mocking hopes for enlightenment and universal tenderness.

We have become “self-consumer[s] of [our] woes,” tubercular addicts of the disappearing body (Schwindsuchter).  I am quoting from “I am,” by the nineteenth-century “mad” peasant poet, John Clare:

“I am–yet what I am, none cares or knows;

My friends forsake me like a memory lost:

I am the self-consumer of my woes–

They rise and vanish in oblivions host,

Like shadows in love frenzied stifled throes

And yet I am, and live–like vapours tost

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,

Into the living sea of waking dreams,

Where there is neither sense of life or joys,

But the vast shipwreck of my lifes esteems;

Even the dearest that I love the best

Are strange-nay, rather, stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man hath never trod

A place where woman never smiled or wept

There to abide with my Creator God,

And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,

Untroubling and untroubled where I lie

The grass below, above, the vaulted sky.”

The “mad poet” laments the abandonment of intimates who trouble him because he has troubled them: they did not wish to know him as he was, really, to himself.  He yearns for a virgin nature (his own), neither touched nor touching, where he would be neither crushed by father’s disapproval nor confused and made guilty by mother’s switching emotions.  In The Future of an Illusion, Freud did not blame the unruly masses for acting out if their societies were economically exploitative; such class societies did not deserve to exist.  Moreover, his unambiguous allegiance to scientific method deflects charges of orthodoxy and reproaches those followers who ignore institutional sources of social violence or refuse to revise psychoanalysis.  Compare both John Clare and the radical Freud to conservative Freudians and Kleinians as they explain ambivalence and violence.

Persecuting parents or their surrogates are containers of the denied and split-off (Oedipal) rage of the child; the switch from friend to fiend is what Freud meant by “the uncanny,” the heimlich object which disconcertingly becomes unheimlich; it is the return of the repressed.  In the Kleinian formulation, the loved one becomes threatening because s/he is invested with forbidden (pre-Oedipal) hostile feelings projected into her/him by the child.  As the child becomes more upset, the “angry” parent/love object appears to be more and more hostile and must be controlled; thus the troubled patient has a boundary problem, confusing the Self and Other.

The usefulness of the concept of displacement and projection is said to have been born out in clinical treatment of anxiety hysteria, phobias, obsessive-compulsive neurosis, etc., but I question its application to all violent social interactions as numerous “progressive” social psychologists analyzing the “scapegoating” of blacks by whites, Jews by Christians, and “business” by “labor” had implied in the 1930s and 1940s.  Such cultural anthropologists and social psychologists were, like Ruth Benedict, adjusting society to the New Deal and circumscribing the proto-socialist imagination while deploying Marxian language.  If gut perceptions of danger are denied, will we not doubt our grasp on reality?  Is it not also possible that the troubled patient with fluid boundaries, thus unable to differentiate the self from the parent and hence experiencing “projective identification” has not developed (or has not been allowed to develop) autonomy; has not established a boundary that protects the legitimacy of personal rights and entitlements from the assaults and confiscations of authoritarian parents or parental surrogates, primarily because the culture is premodern or covertly protofascist or fascist, i.e., its corporatist rulers view “bourgeois individualism” (a.k.a. “mechanical materialism,” the body free of original sin) as the source of vanitas, feminization and decadence; that what is really threatening about “individualism” is the stubborn notion advanced by recent “mechanical materialists” that there are social-economic antagonisms that cannot be ignored or passed off as delusional; universal facts perceivable by anyone that are not “group facts” dependent on blood, soil, and institutional context as Frederick Jackson Turner and other “materialist” social historians or “new historicists” would insist?

[A former paranoid schizophrenic diagnoses modernity and fascism:]  “Protestantism has indeed its share of responsibility for the tragic situation of today, but that responsibility is largely a result of its very successes.  It has helped to produce a new mechanized and urbanized and depersonalized world with which it is unable to cope.  Its exaltation of freedom of inquiry and freedom of trade has unlocked a Pandora’s box of uncontrollable furies.  The hope of the future, as I see it, lies in the development of the inner control of conscience which is so repugnant to Dr. Fromm and of the loyalty to that which transcends the Hitlers and Mussolinis of this war-stricken world.”

“[On persecution delusions: the paranoid fantasy contains a “kernel of truth”: the patient may experience empathy with an unconscious wish of the persecutor; also]  The ‘truth’ may also relate to the observations of events during childhood that were denied at the time.  These elements later return to consciousness distorted and magnified in an irrational, delusional form.”

“Paranoid character is the term applicable to an individual whose personality structure is dominated by marked suspiciousness, querulousness, and persistent rationalized hostility against other persons or groups.  The use of scapegoats or “enemies,” the need to ‘defend’ against a hostile world (representing externalized aggressive impulses within the individual himself), the tendency to fight excessively over minor causes (often becoming litigious), and frequent contempt for others are the traits usually observed in this disturbance.  Here the characteristic and most frequently observed defense is projection–the displacement of the individual’s unacceptable wishes and thoughts onto others, who then are felt to direct these ideas back to their source (i.e., I hate him; no, he hates me, and therefore I am justified in attacking and beating him).  This permits the rationalization of the individual’s hostility, and allows him to defend his megalomanic image and fantasies.  In spite of their pathology, however, certain paranoid characters have contributed to some of the basic systematic research in science, as well as classic works in art, music and literature.

“…No personal experience has come to light which could help to explain the intensity of Hitler’s hatred of the Jews…It is a disturbing question to consider when was the last occasion on which this man, who was responsible for the death of six million Jews, actually spoke to or met a Jew in person.  But “the Jew” as one encounters him in the pages of Mein Kampf and Hitler’s ravings bears no resemblance to flesh-and-blood human beings of Jewish descent: he is an invention of Hitler’s obsessional fantasy, a Satanic creation, expressing his need to create an object on which he could concentrate his feelings of aggression and hatred.” [The last two paragraphs from Alan Bullock, writing about Hitler.]Melissa Click

 The Kernel of Truth.  For conservative Freudians the return of the repressed marks a paranoid episode; for purposes of my argument here, reading Melville, reading myself, reading my friends, the return of the repressed may be the empirical reality that we have screened out while longing for good objects to rescue us from brutality and alienation.  In the discussion of stereotypes that follows, I do not want to be misunderstood as reinforcing the “truth” of “negative images”; rather I want to defend the common sense of “ordinary people” asking for realism; I want to criticize the tactics of recent media and curriculum reformers seeking “balance” through “positive images” rather than the thoroughgoing, unbounded pluralism that makes the achievement of more accurate histories a possibility.

Social critics (including some feminists) condemn some or all of Freud’s ideas as neurotically or opportunistically formulated, while the rough formulations of anti-Freudian, Jungian social psychologists go uncriticized.  In order to demonstrate that group prejudice is irrational, the latter postulate an entirely socially constructed “Other” and, when it suits them, they deplore “scapegoating.”  Nor is it common to decry their definitions of fascism.  It is argued that the armored fascist/authoritarian personality projects his negative identity onto the Other or Alien.  We should be very suspicious of these tactics in “left” cultural criticism.  Such analyses are not only reductive, collapsing the various fascisms of the 1920s and 1930s into one vague and ahistoric hyper-nationalism and hyper-racism, moreover conflating negative images reinforcing sexism, racism, antisemitism, homophobia, xenophobia, and class resentment into one all-purpose, “dirty” or “inferior” Alien (what an insult to protean Devils!).

The theory of “projective identification” (a name object-relations psychoanalysts use instead of scapgoating or projection) can be a victim-blaming maneuver that implicitly requests the “prejudiced” person to cleanse himself  by embracing and then incorporating the evil he attributes to others; by regressively and primitivistically merging with his real “nature”as a diversion from possible political action.  (Hence the vogue for sadomasochistic forms of eroticism as mass media bring more and more of the world’s suffering to our attention, situations begging for intervention?)  Gordon Allport and his Harvard colleague Henry Murray criticized scapegoating as irrational when the target of lower-class wrath was upper-class or member of a protected group; scapegoating was encouraged when conflict managers needed to redirect resentment away from themselves toward a common enemy to enhance “group morale” or “group cohesion” (See worksheets for their seminar in Civilian Morale, Harvard 1941).  To be awarded the blue ribbon for social responsibility, then, the tolerant citizen must believe that his common sense evaluations of stubbornly hostile others are only projections of his own inner conflicts and deficiencies: there are no real individual or group conflicts out there resistant to mediation.  Sadly, the unwary youth who falls for such corporatist liberal ruses is already marching down the road to herrenvolk democracy and fascism.

By contrast, the theorists of democracy, from Locke to Jefferson to Walter Lippmann, have argued that the senses and universal reason produce useful knowledge of the visible world.  For Enlightenment rationalists the problem lay not in necessarily deluded perception by ever-passionate People, but in the invisible world erected or blanketed by arbitrary, secretive authority.  For Lippmann, stereotypes (“the pictures in our heads”) exist where we have not first-hand experience with the faraway or sequestered; such distortions were inevitable in complex industrial societies, but could be corrected by political scientists who would serve the public interest as independent fact-finders (i.e., experts separated from the policy-making function), who would then pass on their accurate pictures of reality via newspapers to laymen and their elected representatives.  Lippmann referred only to situations where people could not encounter each other face-to-face over time.  Of course, for ordinary people today, unflattering “stereotypes” opposed by the media reformers are not confined to second-hand impressions, but are felt to be verified in everyday life; such shared perceptions have been the basis for popular humor and common sense.  The problem with such stereotypes may lie in their interpretation.

The angry, frightened “bigot” or “paranoid” imagines class, gender, racial or ethnic “character” as the primary source of threatening social evil (the bloated capitalist, the deceitful woman or “Oriental” or Jew, the lazy/violent black or brown person).  But this is a misconception: people are not born to be cunning or greedy; they respond to historically specific, systemic institutional imperatives; no one has yet demonstrated genes for troubling behavior resistant to self- or social correction.  Therefore to the extent that “negative” stereotypes are accurate, their “kernel of truth” is situational, a reflection of structural position (business or job competition, exclusion, dependency) not a typical or imperishable attribute like fallen flesh necessarily to be erased through mass death or iconoclasm, or its rage diverted into Sade’s/Gorer’s “constructive Sadism.”  So denying the validity of at least part of the cultural “stereotype” by labeling and ostracizing the frightened person as “hysterical” or “paranoid” or “racist” or “misogynist” disarms persons who need to defend themselves now against real (partly) hostile adversaries, who should not be asked to wait for the structural change (the reform or revolution) that promises relief.  The antidote to “negative” images of “The Other” is not a switch to a “positive image” or to an impossibly benign pseudo-pluralistic society, a “multicultural curriculum” curiously lacking dissenting individuals, structural antagonisms, or hierarchy.  Rather, as Lippmann insisted in 1922, we must “see the world steadily and see it whole”; to be informed of current events is not the same as knowing the truth.  We urgently require an historical analysis which reconstructs all the institutional structures and the social relations such structures necessarily call forth, precisely recording the measurable behaviors of the state, the family, the market, education, and the media.  How do these institutions legitimate authority or create and discover new knowledge?

Only after this question is answered, will we understand the opportunities and constraints within which individuals or artists are asked to make political, moral, or “aesthetic” choices in order to function and survive.  An historian might argue that moral choices are ultimately produced or limited by abstract and impersonal social property relations; hence “stereotypes” are personified or frozen (“reified”) social processes.  Crucially, our analysis should note the presence or absence of social movements offering realistic options for more humane behavior and more cultural freedom by achieving the material preconditions for universal creativity, meaningful participation in decision-making, equality and tolerance.  The longed-for “self-esteem” that upper-class reformers would bestow upon “the oppressed” comes with increasing understanding and mastery of the material world, not moralistic admonitions and glorious ancestors.

November 7, 2015

The “change of heart” explanation for Dr. Ben Carson’s “redemption”

ben-carson-one-nation_bookThis blog addresses the most effective theme in American popular culture: religiously based sentimentality. It tries to explain how The Kelly File (hosted by Sandra Smith November 6, 2015), attempted to exonerate Dr. Ben Carson from charges of inventing an autobiography, first introduced by CNN, Politico, and the Wall Street Journal, this week: the famed neurosurgeon conquered his urban black rage/poverty through a “change of heart.” (I wrote about Carson’s appeal to many conservatives here: http://clarespark.com/2015/11/06/ben-carsons-appeal-to-republican-primary-voters/. For a related blog noting the meme of “one Nation” see http://clarespark.com/2013/09/17/the-illusion-of-national-unity/.)

What follows are the liner notes “About the culture” that I wrote for the Yankee Doodle Society’s first recording, “Sentimental Songs of the Mid-19th Century” (Takoma Records A-1048, 1976; songs by composers Stephen Foster, Henry Clay Work and George Root).

[Liner notes:] The music of this recording is the sheet music of the mid-century parlor, songs performed by the genteel family at leisure. The self-improving impulses of these log-cabin graduates found satisfaction in decorous language freed from frontier crudity, boisterousness, and sexual innuendo. Gathered around the piano, the entire family could join in the harmonized chorus, affirming the values and sentiments suited to their new station, and experiencing the reassuring world invoked by the sentimentalists.

For the American Eden had been shaken by the tremors of industrialization. The system of laissez nous faire or unfettered economic competition in an open marketplace had promised both personal freedom and social harmony. Instead, the 19th century witnessed the growth of an alarming gap between rich and poor, with terrifying social strife: depressions, panics, riots, class, race and sex antagonisms. The Puritan’s “heavenly kingdom on earth” had frequently turned out to be “hell with the lid off” — as Dickens described Stephen Foster’s Pittsburgh.

Rather than scrap the entire economic kit and caboodle, as various utopians were urging, middle class Americans tinkered and fussed, relegating hopes and memories of personal happiness to a sacrosanct Home Sweet Home, nestled in benevolent, maternal Nature.


Protected from the unpleasantness of business, the genteel woman guarded the hearth: priestess to the cult of domesticity.  From her privileged position as the national repository of moral purity, she led the crusade to clean up society, the untiring foe to alcohol and prostitution: home wreckers in whatever guise.

Social evil, all of it, was viewed by the reform-minded gentility as the product of individual corrupt hearts, a coronary lapse in social empathy. Clogged by the polluting passions, the offending heart required purging through exposure to the Noble and the Pathetic, with tears and sighs conferring absolution upon the wayward self.

What constituted the Noble and the Pathetic, the preponderating subjects of sentimental song? They were teen-aged soldiers defending the Flag, “happy darkies” and steadfast maidens contented in service to their masters: doomed draftees and perfect angels consigned to the shadows of public life. Those who were about to die, or who had barely lived, were saluted by the millions…whose own capacities for action were increasingly crippled as wealth and power were concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.

The sentimental song, like the chaste ministrations of genteel mothers and sisters, served to reconcile ordinary Americans to loneliness and social impotence. Dreaming of curatives, their condition was eased with the catharsis of a good cry, and the glimmer of Union provided by a well-made song in the fellowship of performance. [End, liner notes by CS, emphasis and quotation marks added]


November 6, 2015

Ben Carson’s appeal to Republican primary voters

Ben Carson valuesThis blog (supplemented by http://clarespark.com/2015/11/07/the-change-of-heart-explanation-for-dr-ben-carsons-redemption/) attempts to lay out reasons for the politically inexperienced neurosurgeon’s broad appeal to segments of the Right.

  1. The conversion narrative is always a winner to conservatives; the claim that divine intervention changed Dr. Carson from a pathologically violent adolescent to the mild figure he cuts in the debates, is of obvious appeal to many religious conservatives.
  2. Detroit’s Dr. Carson may stand for the urban black population as a whole; many conservatives hope to solve the problem of the decadent black underclass through a religious revival, perhaps led by the nuclear father-led family. The rags to riches theme is a staple of conservative ideology.

Many Republican voters seek to remove the stigma that they, as a whole, are racists and/or anti-science; with Carson there is a double pay-off: not only will Republican voters support a black President, there is no conflict between science and religion. Hence Fox News Channel leaped to Dr. Carson’s defense on the Megyn Kelly show on November 5, 2015, interviewing him sympathetically and without skepticism or much curiosity regarding his proclaimed innocence of the CNN charges.

What remains to be explained is why the connection between Dr. Carson and Armstrong Williams, his close adviser and promoter of the allegedly “moderate” Nation of Islam as a solution to urban violence in Chicago , has gone virtually unexamined, even though the conservative journals American Thinker and The Daily Caller have raised the issue. Certainly, no one on Fox News Channel in the prime time shows has explored such a troublesome connection, but then presumably “moderate” Fox has generally ignored the alarming rate of rising antisemitism/anti-Zionism, preferring either silence or the moral equivalence narrative favored by President Obama (see this widely read blog http://clarespark.com/2009/09/11/oil-politics-and-obamas-view-of-israeli-history/).











October 31, 2015

UCLA and the “Depression Grand Challenge”

Malcolm McDowell photo Robert Grant Archive

Malcolm McDowell photo Robert Grant Archive

“U,” the latest publication of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA (Fall 2015), has just proclaimed a new genetic research program that promises “The End of Darkness.” The cover shows a cartoon male escaping from a coiled space with his arms reaching toward the light, hands open to optimism. But without this intervention by geneticists, there is a dire warning, “By 2030 depression will be the single largest contributor to the global burden of disease.” And it will cost plenty, which may be the reason for the Latest Big Thing for us to worry about.

Since the most provocative sidebar to this lengthy piece makes a nod toward influences outside inherited genomes, the reader learns that environmental factors will not be neglected in this project:  “None of us live [sic] in a vacuum. …The way to think about depression is not only individually, but also how does the individual relate to the social space and how does the social space relate to the individual.” (my emph.)

Huh?! Social spaces are now individualized, rather than being identified as distinct and multiple, each demanding historical analysis? For instance, there is the family, the site of primary conditioning and emotional learning, but also schools that may bore the student or may be irrelevant to the development of critical thought. There are also churches, synagogues, mosques, etc. that either demand or undermine the “respect for authority” that Fox’s Eric Bolling (trained in a Jesuit school) lamented was being lost these days as police become targets of criticism rather than admired representatives of law and order. I have mentioned two of many institutions that affect our moods. These are nowhere enumerated or analyzed in all their variability, but condensed into the one and only “social space,” now likened to a person.

Worse, by ignoring the non-inherited predisposition to depression, anxiety, and anhedonia (the latter two conditions appear late in the article), this clearly fund-raising essay erased the many relevant contexts that interact with genes. But wait, I don’t want to be unfair to the project, grand in its results as promised. Its last paragraph somewhat repairs the prior sole emphasis on genetic inheritance: “Through dialog and scientific discovery, the Depression Grand Challenge hopes to lift the veil of depression. ‘It’s like being an explorer on a globe that nobody has traveled on before,’ says Dr. Martin. ‘We may not know exactly how the answers will affect the treatment of depression, but by understanding how the brain functions and changes with experience, we will understand how it can be changed in a positive way.’”

Is it time to take another look at  A Clockwork Orange? (http://clarespark.com/2010/05/17/beethoven-and-some-rosy-prometheans/). Or, give a listen to this Doris Day version of “I want to be happy.” (1961) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31ifejRMVvg. (My deployment of this song is intended to be ironic, not celebratory. I am happy to think positively when conditions warrant it, but the world outside hardly warrants daily affirmations. Sorry.)


October 17, 2015

The October 2015 Political Scene in a few words

Credit SodaHead

Credit SodaHead

I apologize for the satirical, repulsive picture of Mrs. Clinton, but Hillary is turning into a hag/Medusa/Gorgon because aging women can’t yell as she often does. They are already suspect as crones. I noticed that the 1960s rallies featured speakers who hollered. The more feverish part of the Sixties are partly over, though their effects linger in the Democrat Party.

Hillary is also evoking the image of the unreliable mother: too many switches from smiling protector to scolding and disapproval, turning her opponents to stone. She has flip flopped frequently in her move to out-“socialist” Bernie Sanders: gay marriage, free trade, and the Keystone Pipeline (that the State Department approved under her watch as Madam Secretary).

Bernie. The idea that he is a communist or some kind of ultra-leftist boring from within is absurd; real communists abolish private property altogether, would never tweak the system as vindictive populists would. He is a regular social democrat, imitating the (failing) West European states. The Old “McCarthyite” Right was understandably confused. Statist New Dealers, statist Stalinists, and statist Fascists were all conflated in the notion of “totalitarianism,” a notion perpetuated by social democrats and other New Dealers. (On their secret thoughts see http://clarespark.com/2010/02/10/a-brooding-meditation-on-intimacy-and-distance/, retitled “Balance, equilibrium, and psychological warfare.”)

Black Lives Matter. Anyone reading the history of black people in this country may be tempted to erase boundaries between past and present. Our transformation to a non-racist society creeps along, but it is untrue that there has been no black progress. Dems still push the idea of white supremacy to mobilize the black base, all the while ignoring labor competition as a factor not to be ignored, lest they be labeled as Reds, which is a no-no for social democrats. For origins of the movement, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Lives_Matter. They don’t mention black nationalism, however.

Renee Jones Schneider Star Tribune 4/29/15 Minneapolis

Renee Jones Schneider Star Tribune 4/29/15 Minneapolis

The Mid-East. Fox News Channel continues its moderate approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict, criticizing POTUS for not seeing that Israelis are victims, not morally equivalent perpetrators. But they don’t review the history of the region: Arab elites were horrified that Europeans were cooperating in parking modernizing Jews in “their” neighborhood. “Palestinians” still insist on the Right of Return, which would destroy the notion of a Jewish national home. Oil politics matter too.

October 10, 2015

Is there life after birth? State’s rights and controlling our children

“Halloween 2013” by unidcolor (Deviant Art)

I have come to suspect that the current fights over “local control” versus “Big Government” are greatly about controlling the education of our children (seen as an extension of constructing the curriculum).

State’s rights used to be code for the defense of slavery both before and after the Civil War. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/States%27_rights).

What I am about to argue will offend many conservatives, perhaps less so Independents. I’m sorry, but we are talking about not only the emancipation of women, but about self-determination in our children, and the current imperative to defend “the family” against all allegedly disintegrating influences, whether these be (liberal) feminism, or enforcing national education standards, both hotly contested by some Rightist factions.

What do children want and need from parents? In no particular order:

  1. Safety. I have stated before that if parents are not willing to stay together, despite the fading of romantic love, they should not have children. [update: owing to reader feedback and recent research in parenting, divorce in some cases may be beneficial to children; of more relevance are the parenting skills of the single parent]. I have never heard of an instance where children did not blame themselves for parental discord, let alone separation and divorce (though this is rarely admitted). I have already expressed my opposition to divorce here: http://clarespark.com/2012/09/16/thought-crimes/. A true confession: my own parents divorced when I was nineteen years old, and I never got over it. The world was never experienced as safe for me after that, and I made a lot of hasty decisions that I have come to regret in recent years. Obviously, there are cases where divorce is absolutely necessary, but be prepared to take the consequences if you have children. As one respondent to my blog wrote, strong, emotionally honest communication is desirable at every stage of life. (If only we knew when we are entirely honest with respect to our emotions.)
  2. The careful management of each stage of child development. It used to be acknowledged that the early years of childhood are “the magic years.” Why do grownups persist in such irrationalism, inventing magical escapes into apocalyptic fantasies or beliefs in various monsters?  (The fight between science and religion cannot be conciliated unless the religion in question favors empiricism and a realistic view of what is (dogmatically) called “human nature.”)
  3. Talking about “evil” as an independent force in the universe fortifies demoralization and escapism. I.e., we will always be too weak to overcome such diabolical forces. That way lies authoritarianism of every variety. (See http://clarespark.com/2013/06/21/apocalypse-and-the-escape-artist/.)
  4. A realistic appraisal of the differences between men and women, including the strengths of each gender. No one who has had boys AND girls will doubt this truism. (See http://clarespark.com/2014/06/14/is-the-us-feminized-a-fathers-day-blog/)
  5. Children model their parents’ behavior. If we want to raise political awareness in our children, the parents’ involvement in the world beyond the home is crucial. This is how elites reproduce themselves, by frank talk. The more sophisticated elites talk about sharp differences with competing ideas about social organization with empathy and historically grounded understanding. This is probably the hardest thing to accomplish of all my categories of ideal parental conduct, for it possibly entails both affirmation and rejection of our own parents’ foibles and accomplishments.

If this sounds utopian to most readers, it is, but then the great historian Frank E. Manuel once alleged that the utopian element is a part of the human personality. At least the blog sets out what I take away from my own experience in families. There never was nor will there be a “golden age” with no conflict, but we can imagine alternatives… or can’t we?

The Golden Age, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1530

The Golden Age, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1530

October 7, 2015

The Patriarchal Family: what could possibly go wrong?

patriarchal-familiesFirst read this account of patriarchy as contrasted with feminism: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patriarchy.

The call for the strong father-led family did not originate with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s call for the [patriarchal] family: Jindal’s antidote to the Roseburg, Oregon massacre. Like other conservatives, he blames social decadence on moral laxity, accelerated by abortion rights, bad mothers, and video games. “Garbage in, garbage out,” he proclaimed. (https://www.bobbyjindal.com/jindal-we-fill-our-culture-with-garbage/)

This battle cry did not originate with social conservatives like Jindal, but with such mavericks  as D. H. Lawrence, Gregory Bateson and Henry A. Murray, all of whom worried that relationships in the modern family were gravely flawed, as I showed in these blogs: http://clarespark.com/2011/03/27/progressive-mind-managers-ca-1941-42/ (especially the material in bold face type on Gregory Bateson, objecting to mother-son bonding), this collage taken from various 20th century masculinists, including Henry A. Murray warning about the feminization of American culture, Picasso, and another writer for Survey Graphic: https://yankeedoodlesoc.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/image-861.jpg, and http://clarespark.com/2009/11/16/panic-attacks-and-separation-anxiety/.  Double binds inherent in social democracies (the unstated conflict between Truth and Order) were blamed on feminization, particularly the rise of the moral mother as husbands left home for offices and factories: http://clarespark.com/2009/10/24/murdered-by-the-mob-moral-mothers-and-symbolist-poets-2/

Here are some of the other complications that can emerge with the stern, disciplinary father who compensates for the too-attaching, seductive mother:

Corporal punishment. It was not long ago that whips, belts, and other paraphernalia were wielded by the male. “Wait until your father gets home!” warned the unconditionally loving mother. But even if father eschews beatings, there is much evidence that parental quarreling in front of the children is also traumatic. At every stage in development, we search for safety and family division can be terrifying.

What might be the consequences of spanking and whipping? Over-identification with “authority” at the least. Any form of social protest will be viewed as illegitimate and dangerous to the adult veteran of harsh childhood discipline. Adult sexuality is likely to be sadomasochistic in practice.

Catting around for him, but not for her. I need not belabor the double standard.

Divorce. No-fault divorces, easy to get, may result in the high rate of failed marriages and traumatized children. Romantic love may fade as pre-marital idealizations are shattered by the boredom of everyday life, despite television commercials to the contrary. Community property states are deterrents, so pre-nuptial agreements are demanded before assuming the risk of dividing property half and half. [Update: some readers took this to mean that I am against all divorces, but recent research suggests that single mothers are not to blame for delinquent children; that it depends on the skills of the single parent whether or not children are raised without trauma (look up Rebecca Ryan’s research at Georgetown U.)]

Need I go on? The irony is that authoritarian families (located in either Left, Right, or middle) engender revolt in the children, especially after puberty as the peer group more and more takes over in the inculcation of “values.” Conservatives do what they can to ignore this platitude, but no study in child development will deny its validity. (For a related blog, see http://clarespark.com/2014/08/14/understanding-obamas-ongoing-appeal/.)



October 5, 2015

Chris Harper-Mercer and the evasion of family dynamics

Ian-Mercer-CNN-interview[This is the second of my blogs on the Chris Harper Mercer story. The first one was based on early reports, and had blind spots and errors, which have since been corrected. See http://clarespark.com/2015/10/02/unasked-questions-about-chris-harper-mercer-and-barack-obama/.)

The Roseburg, Oregon massacre may have come and gone, with either gun control or the shooter’s [narcissistic “loner’s” ] drive for fame or antagonism (“hate) toward “Christians” being the focus of such sensationalist and brief media coverage as there was, with the exception of Ian Mercer’s coldness regarding his son’s suicide and shooting spree as reported by Daniel Greenfield and others here: http://www.frontpagemag.com/point/260343/oregon-killers-father-guns-are-killers-daniel-greenfield, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/ian-mercer-father-guns_56116d7ae4b0af3706e12525, and http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/03/us/chris-harper-mercer-umpqua-community-college-shooting.html?smid=fb-share, and http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-chris-harper-mercer-oregon-shooting-20151002-htmlstory.html.

I have often noted that Freud is far more controversial than Marx or Lenin in academe. After all, our primarily populist politics can find shelter in either of these social theorists and antagonists to capitalism, whereas Freud’s revolution is at best ignored or diminished in significance. (http://clarespark.com/2013/03/16/blogs-on-freud-and-anti-freudians/.)

I remember a seminar that UCLA historian and psychoanalyst Peter Loewenberg invited me to. Robert Brenner, a leading Leninist, started his remarks appalled by the focus on the family, as opposed to capitalist institutions, that he attributed to “psychohistorians” as they used to be called, usually derisively. Feminists, of course, find this neglect of family dynamics to be detrimental to the cause of female equality, and this blog will reflect the concern that I and other feminists feel where parenting is involved. We are particularly concerned about the idealization of the patriarchal family, a concern not shared by prominent male leftists or by those conservative reformers who seek to solve the deterioration of urban black life by recovering a golden age of Good Black Fathers (http://clarespark.com/2015/08/08/the-moynihan-report-march-1965-and-instability-in-the-black-family/)

We know now that CHM had a black mother and a white father, of British origin. We don’t know how old Chris was when the divorce occurred, or how he reacted to the shattering of his world. We do know that he lived with his mother. Was this his choice, how old was he when the divorce occurred, and to what did he attribute it? We know that many children blame themselves for such catastrophic events. Are there no court records? Did the father abandon his son? Did mother work?

Nor do we know anything about the socialization of young Chris. Was the family religious? Were either of them political? How was he disciplined? We do know that he attended a special needs school, but have not learned why, though several sources blame Asperger’s syndrome. Why was he reportedly celibate at the age of 26? Was he a misogynist? Was he overly attached to Mother, who accompanied him to shooting ranges, and perhaps infantilized him? Did he ever get the benefit of counseling by a mental health professional? What did he make of the concept of “race”? (I have heard that he rejected such extremist organizations as “Black Lives Matter,” though the Los Angeles Times article tries to tie him to white supremacist doctrines and Nazism, which is suspect.)

Besides these obvious questions, we note that various media outlets are in disagreement over his politics; was he a conservative Republican as some reported, or a registered Independent? Does this even matter, given his obvious rage, in the end, turned against himself?

The public has a right to know these details, for they are germane to our understanding of the family, and why young adults go off the deep end, but the press has moved on to other topics, leaving the murders/suicide unexplained as undoubtedly too “divisive.”

As long as we refuse a national conversation on child-rearing and how we can promote mental health, expect more mass shootings and even more unanswered questions.

Is this framework complete enough? Does it suggest gun control?

Is this framework complete enough? Does it suggest gun control?

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