This blog started out as a meditation upon a book about “caste sanctions” on the Negro written during the late 1950s, by Bertram P. Karon, a highly regarded Freudian clinical psychologist and psychometrician, who was writing about The Negro Personality: a rigorous investigations of the effects of culture (N.Y.: Springer Publishing Co., 1958).
Since Karon appeared to be yet another corporatist liberal, managing those blacks who were potential troublemakers, and since he cited psychologists and sociologists working in the Harvard tradition personified by Talcott Parsons, Gordon Allport, Henry A. Murray, and other propagators of adjustment to a society mottled by structural problems and deeply flawed institutions, I expected to assess his book negatively, focusing on his collectivist categories (the Southern Negro, the Northern Negro). Then I would refer the reader to those liberals who had enabled black nationalism, for reasons having little to do with improving the material condition of the black population. ( See http://clarespark.com/2010/07/18/white-elite-enabling-of-black-power/.)
Particularly, I wanted to suggest that white people (and all women) were often angry and bottled up too, and might be using black rage as expressed say, by ‘comedians’ such as Jamie Foxx (who joked about killing all white people in a recent movie), or by the numerous gangsta rappers as surrogates for their own inexpressible rage. And this is a thought I hold to, for probably everyone has reasons to be angry, whether at “stable” families, divorcing parents, bosses, the government, schools, the human condition, etc. But, such strategies are yet another injustice perpetrated by white people and cooperated with by opportunistic, politically unserious black persons. As for violence and catharsis, it is an ancient technique deployed by elites to keep the lower orders in line. (For a blog on such “ritual rebellions” see http://clarespark.com/2011/05/12/the-great-common-goes-to-the-white-house/, retititled “Rappers, Primitivism, Ritual Rebellion.”)
But then I came upon some remarks in Karon’s conclusion that softened my own annoyance with his structural-functionalist pedigree. For instance, he responds to those who believe in a hopelessly imperfect “human nature” and hence are pessimistic about any amelioration in our condition (or worse, preposterously deny that there remains racism).
[Karon:] “…it is not necessary to create a perfect world, it is only necessary to create a perfectable one, in which things can be a little better than they are. Any partial improvement, it seems, will be reflected in a decrease in the human cost.” (p. 173)
I was especially moved by his concluding paragraph: “The contrast between northern and southern Negroes is striking: we are led to ask what protects the northern Negro’s personality. Perhaps the southern Negro, whose whole society tells him he is wrong even to resent his treatment, can never be completely sure that he isn’t wrong, nor can he bring himself to completely accept the treatment he receives. The northern Negro, on the other hand, may be made to suffer, but he feels that those who make him suffer are wrong, and he has a right to resent it. He is engaged in an unequal struggle which he may never win, but he knows that he is engaged in a struggle which is not hopeless. Apparently, being able to face the fact that one is being mistreated preserves a sense of personal integrity which, in turn, serves to ward off much of the destructive impact of oppressive experiences. It would seem that when we face the truth, the truth really does, to a large extent, set us free.” (p.175) Which is fine: we will be in touch with our angry feelings, but with no way forward to remove causes of oppression. ‘Free’ for what? If we want ameliorative politics, then we should not fail to address the structural causes of suffering, which entails stringent evaluation of all our institutions. Or is classical liberalism the best we can hope for?
More recently, Dr. Bertram P. Karon has voiced unorthodox views on the possibilities of treating and curing schizophrenics with psychoanalytically oriented therapy, rejecting entirely the notion of genetic causes for paranoid schizophrenia. You can see his acceptance speech for an empathy award here, where he lays out his alternative treatment for schizophrenics. Big pharma won’t like it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tisFkl5gdtc.