The Clare Spark Blog

November 16, 2009

When lobotomies cured the Romantic agony….

This blog begins with an eighteenth-century prescription for neoclassical “balance,”  the collage continues, my commentary ends with the victory of Jung over Freud. Has our society been lobotomized since the late 1930s?

Image (93)

Walter Freeman’s “cases” and a lonely American princess

[Lessing, quoting Winckelmann, Laocoön, p.7]  “As the depths of the sea always remain calm, however much the surface may be agitated, so does the expression in the figures of the Greeks reveal a great and composed soul in the midst of passions.  Such a soul is depicted in Laocoön’s face–and  not only in his face–under the most violent suffering….However, this pain expresses itself without any sign of rage either in his face or in his posture.  He does not raise his voice in a terrible scream, which Virgil was doing; the way in which his mouth is open does not permit it.  Rather he emits the anxious and subdued sigh described by Sadolet.  The pain of body and nobility of soul are distributed and weighed out, as it were, over the entire body with equal intensity.  Laocoön suffers, but he suffers like the Philoctetes of Sophocles; his anguish pierces our very soul, but at the same time we wish that we were able to endure our suffering as well as this great man does.

Expressing so noble a soul goes far beyond the formation of a beautiful body.  This artist must have felt within himself that strength of spirit which he imparted to his marble.  In Greece artists and philosophers were united in one person…Philosophy extended its hand to art and breathed into its figures more than common souls….”

[Eleanor Melville Metcalf, writing to boys and girls and published by the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union: The Horn Book, 1927:]  “My grandfather was a pilgrim by land and sea–not an adventurer gone out to see the world, but a pilgrim in search of the Regal Soul.”

[TIME mag, 1936:] SOUTHERN DOCTORS The night after the Southern Medical Association began its annual meeting in Baltimore last week there was not a respectable hotel room for rent in the city. Doctors with pocketbooks filled and minds agog commuted from Washington 40 miles away. No medical meeting had been so well attended since the 1920s.

Well rewarded were the troubled Southern doctors by two medical diversions at the convention: 1) an operation by which Drs. Walter Freeman & James Winston Watts of Washington actually cut the ability to worry out of the brain; 2) operations by which Dr. Hugh Hampton Young of Baltimore remodels anal, urinary and genital defects. Psychiatrists and brain surgeons stormed at each other concerning the good sense of Drs. Freeman and Watts’s work.

  Lobotomy. Dr. Freeman, a poetaster in his spare time, was nervous when he rose to tell a fascinated audience how he and Dr. Watts ameliorated chronic anxiety, insomnia, and nervous tension in six patients during the past two months. In addition the patients were relieved of various “disorientations, confusions, phobias, hallucinations, and delusions.” …All six Freeman-Watts “patients have become more placid, more content, more easily cared for by their relatives.”…Dr. Freeman withstood all heckling, asserted: “Our patients were treated by seasoned psychiatrists.  Then they came to us. The results are permanent, apparently, and not temporary…We have not removed the idea by this operation.  The idea is still there, but it has no emotional drive…I think we have drawn the string, as it were, of the psychosis or neurosis.” [1]

MOBY DICK A Reflection EARL HENDLER The pure and sacred evil that was Ahab/ split up the snapping seas. So absolute/ his pride, from pole to pole no whale could hide./ Another’s commerce, full of oil and drab,/ would never play his line strung like a lute/ with notes of harpoons struck in the whale’s white side.

A spout from Moby’s brow spilled some salt tunes/ that jarred his metaphysics to the point/ where God Himself could speak but in typhoons./ His world, lopsided, hobbled on one joint./ A lunatic’s integrity that fails/ on fish must justify itself to whales/ of meaning larger than the simple quest,/ and so his Pequod sailed abstractly West. [2]

 [NYT editorial, 1949:] EXPLORERS OF THE BRAIN  Quackish as their system of feeling bumps on the head and thus judging human capabilities, F.J. Gall and J.C. Spurheim, founders of phrenology, had the sound conception of a brain in which traits of ability and what we call character were realized. Since their time, every nook and cranny of the brain have been poked into, dissected, examined. The brains of animals have been electrically stimulated in spots and the areas and centers thus discovered that control movement, seeing, hearing, swallowing, winking, breathing, sweating and other functions. One of the bold explorers who discovered some of the brain’s correlations with bodily functions and explained why some of the functions are supposedly instinctive is Prof. Walter Rudolf Hess, director of the Physiological Institute at the University of Zurich.

The information that such explorers as Hess, Harvey Cushing, Walter Cannon and others clicked together about 1935, when the International Neurological Congress was held in London. Among those who attended was the Portuguese neurologist, Dr. Egas Moniz.  After listening to the papers that were read he decided on his return to Lisbon that the time had come to cut worry, phobias, and delusions out of the brain. He induced his surgical colleague, Dr. Almeida Lima, to bore through the skull and cut the connections of the prefrontal lobe with the thalamus, which is the seat of emotions and which lies deep in the head.  This sensational operation justified itself.  Hypochondriacs no longer thought they were going to die, would-be suicides found life acceptable, sufferers from persecution complexes forgot the machinations of imaginary conspirators. Prefrontal lobotomy, as the operation is called, was made possible by the localization of fears, hates and instincts.

It is fitting, then, that the Nobel Prize in Medicine should be shared by Hess and Moniz. Surgeons now think no more of operating on the brain than they do of removing an appendix. Hess, Moniz and Cushing before them taught us to look with less awe on the brain. It is just a big organ with very difficult and complicated functions to perform and no more sacred than the liver.[3]

[Political scientist/New Critic and 1960s hero, John Schaar; 1979:]  What does that balanced character and outlook look like: earlier…I suggested the formulation, “pessimism of intelligence, optimism of the will.”  It is something like the temperament of the person touched by grace, as the Puritans understood that: the one who has the almost divine or supernatural ability to hold incompatible qualities in harmony; the one who lives in the world fully and caringly, and yet with “weaned affections,” neither wildly raised up nor woefully cast down by victory or defeat but hewing to the middle line.  To try another formula, perhaps the right temperament for action is a stoicism blended of equal parts of self-assertiveness and self-denial: an assertiveness which gives one the resoluteness to act and accept responsibility; a self-denial which enables one to subdue one’s personal pain in a compassionate awareness of the general human lot, which is mainly a condition of shortage and failure.  If I read Melville correctly here, his real hero Jack Chase and his fictional hero Captain Vere most closely resemble this standard of the whole man and actor. Delano and Cereno represent crippled halves of the whole. (p.81.).

[Psychosurgeon Walter Freeman worries about excessive lobotomies:]  We are whittling down the ego-ideal.[4]  [end collage]

[Clare’s comments:]   ” No one pays to hear a bitter kvetch.” Man up!  Given the political context met by the academic Melvilleans, writing, like Melville, in an age of revolution and counter-revolution that was devastating man and nature alike, it would be surprising had Melville scholars not choked off the passionate curiosity of Ahab/Pierre and Isabel, elevating Captain Vere in their stead, for they were dependent upon institutions that had either caused wars or were impotent to stop the killing.  A Lessing-style Laocoön was needed in a postwar world shrieking with “shell shock” and other forms of human misery, with mutilated veterans demanding to be seen and heard, their sacrifices vindicated by the able-bodied.[5]  If Melville’s façade of classy stoicism (as Vere) were to prove only a false front, his usefulness to conservative nationalists wanting a solid monument linking democratic Greece and democratic post-war America would be negated.  As Lessing wrote of the need to suppress the scream in art,

” When a man of firmness and endurance cries out he does not do so unceasingly, and it is only the seeming perpetuity of such cries when represented in art that turns them into effeminate helplessness or childish petulance.  This at least, the artist of the Laocoön had to avoid, even if screaming had not been detrimental to beauty, and if his art had been allowed to express suffering without beauty.” [6]

[Clare, cont.]”I retch in private….”  With the exception of  Raymond Weaver, Melville’s revivers have generally minimized the permanence of his rage and suffering (the “insanity” read perhaps as a female complaint), generally limiting his spells to the mid-1850s, while contradictory textual facts and other inescapable biographical materials encroached upon their favored formulations.  It is an inside narrative.

Melville’s wished for mastery over his feelings, the artist fully in control of his materials, attests to the legitimacy of ruling elites, in this case their superior endurance in the face of adversity or upsurges from below.  But his outbursts (veiled or not) on behalf of the unjustly imprisoned and oppressed call forth answering murmurs: As their own words have testified, Ivy League professors are not leisured aristocrats in an exclusive club but servants of powerful interests, operatives in “a badly run factory,” complained John Dewey in 1917; they were no less in thrall to the big money than their parents, the workers or small businessmen they had left behind.  They do not command their own labor; their virtue has been pasted on, not somaticized through battle with ignorance.  They tingle with Melville as he turns his back on commercial success and easy fame; he has lapsed into “silence” while the blazing eyes remain fixed on illegitimate authority; he is able to write without plaudits.  A crescendo of indignation has shattered the illusion of academic rectitude and self-mastery; parts of themselves love this artist, but they do not follow his example.  Shadowed by Pierre’s surveillance, a grand national monument morphs into Isabel; cornered sculptors perform a witch hunt energized by vulnerable positions in middle management: beneath brave and placid surfaces, their deepest feelings toward their subject and each other marry fear and resentment: they cannot merge with their subject, will not know something definite of that face.  For a period, Melville’s famous manliness shores up the ruins of class identity, recomposes the disintegrating helplessness and petulance of Melville’s academic readers as the facts of their limited autonomy inevitably return.

Locating the systematic censorship of crucial facts in Melville’s life and art, I have proposed that the deepest layer of repression responds to the ideological imperatives of postwar corporatist liberalism, the vital center yet to be understood fully and repudiated by New Left intellectuals.  Social psychologists disassociated childish “romantic yearning” and “sentimental culture” from the critical realism of eighteenth and nineteenth-century bourgeois art.  Though fascists and New Deal liberals similarly viewed themselves as progressives and centrists, “fascism” became synonymous with extremism as American “moderates” increasingly distanced themselves from “the Far Right” and from Hitler and Mussolini, figures who were acceptable to upper-class policy-makers in the West until the late 1930s.  We have seen that the Bad Mother directed the sentimental family ever leftward; her red consummations and her consumerism were diagnosed as the source of totalitarianism; pre-war and postwar Melville scholarship connected with the grandeur of the corporatist liberal project, as lobotomists, by disconnecting Melville along with the rest of the critical thinkers, cutting the ties that bound analytic thought to feeling, then to (appropriate) corrective action.  Melville’s conservative characters and the corporatist liberals I have studied speak with one voice as they evacuate materialist “exotics” in the name of wholeness and integration.  Of course the Melville who mocked such antics as Plotinus Plinlimmon-ish “virtuous expediency” remains at large.  I have summoned him, the deconstructive psychologist, to help me understand his own mental processes and those of his champions who, ironically, identify most strongly with the bound, unfeeling parts of himself that his better angel passionately rejected.

[Dr. Kik meets Jeannie, The Snake Pit (novel):]  There was a high table, like an operating table, and she knew she was supposed to get up on it.  She got on it and the woman with the silly voice fussed around her.  This woman was in an R.N. uniform and the room had somewhat the appearance of an operating room.  I’d forgotten I was to have an operation. You don’t eat before an operation, of course.  I should have remembered.  I wonder what I am being operated on for.  What haven’t I had removed?  I believe I still have my gall bladder.

“Well, Jeannie.  And how is Jeannie this morning?

It was he, the Indefatigable Examiner, come out of the bushes.  He was wearing a white coat.  He had blue eyes and a hawkish nose, and very slender face and his hair was fair and curly, like Grace’s, only shorter.

“And did you enjoy being outside in the park yesterday? He said this with a heavy accent that you have never been able to place.  It wasn’t German, French, Italian or Scandinavian. Polish perhaps…Now the woman was putting clamps on your head, on the paste-smeared temples and here came another one, another nurse-garbed woman and she leaned on your feet as if in a minute you might rise up from the table and strike the ceiling.  Your hands tied down, your legs held down.  Three against one and the one entangled in machinery.

She opened her mouth to call for a lawyer and the silly woman thrust a gag into it and said, “Thank you, dear,” and the foreign devil with the angelic smile and the beautiful voice gave a conspiratorial nod.  Soon it would be over.  In a way she was glad. [7]

[Clare returns:]     After the second world war, Ahab returned as Freud, that foreign devil who looks like mother, the Indefatigable Examiner Dr. Kik; no longer the antipuritan libertine who, at times, had fascinated 1920s bohemians.  Freud’s ideal of autonomy and the critical awareness that never stops, made explicit in The Future of an Illusion (1928), and Moses and Monotheism (1939), was turned on its head by outraged aristocratic radicals; it is Jung’s concept of individuation that now informs moral relativists and multiculturalists. Why can’t Freudians and Jungians get along?    For Freudians, the neurotic in treatment retrieves and historicizes immemorial faces, becomes aware of the inflated primitive imagos that have unconsciously ruled his actions and made him anxious and overly defended; now consciously aware of his self-destructive impulses and, restoring proportion to parents and their mightily looming surrogates, he may be more self-possessed, his perceptions of other human beings are less distorted; he may evaluate ‘universalist’ ethics with less of an irrationalist undertow; he may imagine institutions and cultural practices that could uplift, instruct, and heal suffering humanity, that do not not merely serve the selfish interests of the golden few; as a tactician for change, he will think twice before he subordinates means to ends as an excuse to act out volcanic rage (rage which, at first glance, may look like sex); and most certainly will he not follow idealized leaders.  He is not perfectly free from suffering, perhaps he remains anxious, but he knows the multiple sources of his feelings, for he is an indefatigable self- and social examiner, separating objective from neurotic anxiety. Such nice distinctions confer balance.

But Jungians, for purely political reasons, adapting to amoral, pragmatic institutions, associate Freudian scrupulosity with the repressive Mosaic code, with “pathological puritanism” and “narcism” (Murray) and it is Jung, not Freud, whose archetypes inform the cultural histories of “the New Left.”  For Jungians, the restored son escapes Amerika (the switching mother’s Hebraic influence, embodied in Freud or the Mother State, healthy only in war) to merge with the racial group and its particularistic interests: he finds golden nuggets of creativity and liberation in the racially-specific unconscious: he finds out “who he really is.”  That individuated face is definitely not Hitler’s. [8]

[1] Time, Nov. 30, 1936, 66, 68.

[2] Commentary, Jan. 1949, p.44.

[3] Editorial, New York Times, Oct.30, 1949, IV, p.8.

[4] Quoted by Jack Pressman, UCLA, Nov.4, 1989.

[5] Bromberg, Psychiatry Between The Wars, 1918-1945, pp.5-7, makes the overly simplistic but not uninteresting claim that the millions of “insanities” created on the battlefields of the Great War were the impetus for the mental hygiene movement which followed and which shaped the course of twentieth century psychiatry.

[6] Lessing, p.20.

[7] Mary Jane Ward, The Snake Pit, 1946, 42-44. Is Dr. Kik[e], the Indefatigable Examiner, Moses/Freud, and is Jeannie the genius of Christianity?

[8] Academics should reassess their professional responsibilities, putting emancipation from unnecessary mental illness and other forms of preventable suffering on the academic agenda as professional objectives and standards of performance.  See Peter Loewenberg, De-Coding the Past (New York: Knopf, 1982) on graduate education, specifically the pretense that students and professors are “equals.” Cf. Pierre’s mother has mystified authority by encouraging the conceit that she and Pierre are brother and sister; this seems more illuminating than talk of an “Oedipus Complex.”

October 25, 2009

Panic Attacks


Pierrot and manipulative Mother? Or Mask?

Pierrot and manipulative Mother? Or Mask?

 I have resurrected an old KPFK program Panic Attacks, hosted by Dr. Etta Enzyme, December 12, 1994. It was first in a projected series exploring the ways specific historical explanations (especially the causes of World War I, World War II, the Holocaust, the Cold War, ecocide etc.) affect mental and physical health, hence the possibility of constructive social change.

 1.What is a panic attack?  Panic attacks are not fear responses to immediate threats like earthquakes.  Rather, harmless but symbolically laden internal body signals stimulate terror: of isolation, of loss of support, of loss of balance, of descent into madness; it is the state of mind most desired by practitioners of psychological warfare.  Persistent anxiety weakens the immune system.  Clinicians often see panic attacks as one instance of separation anxiety, itself symptomatic of an underlying narcissistic personality disorder.

 2.Comment on Dr. Joycelyn Elders firing: how have journalists explained opposition to masturbation?  For instance, see Gina Kolata, “America Keeps Onan in the Closet,” The New York Times, 12/18/94, p. E5 for an ooh-la-la description of masturbation phobia since the 18th century “when sex became medicalized.”  Laughable consequences are listed, but none resembles the fear of critical thought (i.e., of separation from abusive authority) in D.H. Lawrence.  In a Letter to the Editor 12/20, Frederic C. Thayer writes, “Traditionally, masturbation is condemned because it wastes energy and sperm necessary for procreation, and is for selfish pleasure rather than social duty.  Masturbation is described as “self-abuse” that causes mental derangement.”

    The hostile conservative response to masturbation is more complex than some timeless resistance to (anarchic) pleasure by ascetic, corporatist thinkers.  In Pornography and Obscenity Handbook for Censors, D.H. Lawrence rants on about the “self-abuse” he attributes to mass culture which, while apparently promoting “sex-secrecy,” “stealthily” inflames the flesh: the “mental energy” sometimes released leads solely to the “futility…nothingness…sentimentalities…self-analysis…impotent criticism…suppressed rage” which characterize (solipsistic) “modern literature” and “work[s] of science.”  “[Masturbation] is the deepest and most dangerous cancer of our civilization.”  Lawrence’s is a class-bound reactionary response to the “the grey ones left over from the nineteenth century,” i.e.,, to radical Victorian culture; his panicky diagnosis of [narcissism] reminds me of more recent, equally pessimistic, radical criticism.  What (other than the family) are the political and institutional sources of this anxiety?  How have mental health professionals accounted for panic attacks and related anxiety disorders, and what are some of the debates in the field?

 3.Object inconstancy and its discontents.  Since the pioneering work of Winnicott and Mahler, new thinking in clinical psychology and social work stresses the lifelong salutary effects of a strong and reliable maternal bond, experienced as object constancy.  Should there be a lack of steady parenting in early childhood, the damage may manifest itself later in panic attacks and related phobias and symptoms, especially during adolescence; appropriate separation is sometimes impeded by parents who ask their growing children to befriend them so as to contain the parents’ anxieties.  At all ages related symptoms may include insomnia (there is no internalized representation of the protective parent: only a surrogate close at hand will allow relaxation); hoarding; fears of being poisoned (e.g., by mass culture); school phobia (clinging to mom or exposure to “secular humanism”?); drug use to deaden the pain of loss; self-mutilation and adolescent suicide (only a violent act directed against the self can restore the maternal bond); agoraphobia; compulsive “taking care” of others to control them; clinging to masochistic relationships; the inability to cope with divorce; and in borderline personalities (close to psychotic), oscillations between depression over lost attachments and fears of being swallowed up and disintegrating.  One psychologist notes a common wish: the longing for the golden fantasy of a symbiotic [i.e., not draining?!!]) relationship with mother where all needs are met, hallowed by perfection.  (None of the dozens of psychology abstracts I consulted specifically alluded to authoritarian ideologies and peasant societies of the Right or Left where individuation would not force young people into agonized choices; cf. D.H. Lawrence, or T.S. Eliot and his hatred of “worm-eaten liberalism” aka “freethinking Jews,” the catalysts or enzymes of social disintegration.)

      Professionals disagree about the efficacy of antidepressants, or whether or not separation anxiety in infancy and early childhood explains panic attacks in adulthood.  To me, the most sensible suggestions for treatment were historical and sociological in approach: psychiatrist Terry Kupers says mental health professionals must be activists to provide public funding for the treatment of anxiety disorders; meanwhile in short-term care the patient should record the circumstances of every parting to detect lifelong patterns of separation anxiety in relationships.  Another stressed the need for family therapy to scrutinize the ways in which their interactions impede autonomy.  Another writer, in a similar vein, reminded me that the problems in separation cannot be described schematically, that particular families shape the difficult problem of growing up in their own unique and awful ways. [I doubt that there is an infinite variety of  histories.] In other words, individuals and their families are being taught to read themselves and the often subtle messages they communicate around issues of maturation and difference, to discover the patterns which contribute to serious mental and physical health problems, and which in turn will affect social action.

4. The larger institutional environment in which anxiety disorders have emerged.  Because the transition from pre-modern to capitalist social relations is incomplete, the humanities lag behind the hard sciences.  There are some sociologists, political scientists, and cultural anthropologists whose work is avowedly anti-science; Harold Lasswell was part of the moderate conservative movement of academics who explicitly separated the methodologies of the social sciences from the physical sciences in the 1920s.  In a related move, the history of science as an academic discipline was contrived by Harvard’s Robert Merton to demonstrate the socially constructed character of scientific knowledge; Merton’s project was candidly counter-Enlightenment and anti-Marxian.

    The legitimacy of the exploring, self-directing individual is advocated by only a minority of liberal and Left intellectuals; scientists are necessary but suspect, like rationalism in general.  We give lip service to “cultural freedom,” but few of us are willing to live with its consequences.  Yet our official ideology in “the West” asserts numerous civil rights and obligations to participate in democratic processes.  What critical tools are required to make popular sovereignty rational and humane?  How have threatened élites discouraged the development of critical skills through psychological warfare in popular culture?  Have upper-class radicals, in the name of socialism, served reaction, not popular education?  What public policy demands should be advanced by liberals to educate citizens for mental and physical health?

 5. On narcissism theory and recent prescriptions for its cure.  The derogatory term “narcissistic” denotes the selfishness of yuppies; for instance, some social democrats claim that “the culture of narcissism” (Christopher Lasch) has produced Generation X: abandoned, empty, confused and self-destructive.  The narcissistic disorder as I see it, is less moralistic in its diagnosis: Perhaps narcissism results from unreliable attachments in early childhood, and the repeated exposure to ambivalent systems of support inside and outside the family, in schools and other socializing institutions, including the media.  Because communication is often dishonest but unchallenged (“Be yourself, be original, but don’t make me too angry”), youthful egos are weakened while the source of domination is obscured.  Hence narcissists lack a sense of inner balance, competence in defending their interests (who dunnit to me?), and self-worth that would make them self-directed and socially responsible: creative, curious, lovable to others and effective reformers.  They may depend on omniscient others who feed their weak egos with flattery/conspiracy theories (we alone are the cognoscenti).  To restore the Golden Age, they will fuse with such heroic agitators, or with a glorified racial past, or with fetishized luxury goods.  As repressed facts of the material world return, idealizations are shattered.  The all-nurturing other (the object) may become a killer who must be destroyed (Otto Kernberg). [My reading:]  The switch occurs at the moment of disillusion, as artificially inflated self-esteem (grandiosity) ebbs or rushes away, leaving in its wake emptiness, uncontainable fear and anger.  The fear and anger (if suppressed) triggers the adrenalin that begins the panic attack; the ghastly irony lies in the misdirection of our anger toward the self; we may remain politely fastened to an object that was never there for us in the first place.  (Or perhaps as children we believed our anger caused the death of domineering or negligent parents and/or sibling rivals or the breakup of a family in divorce: any eruption of anger is unmanageable and world-destroying.)

      By contrast, some romantic conservatives account for the pervasive “narcissism” and related social problems (including the rise of fascism, a narcissistic disorder) as the result of weakened paternal authority in the family.  The newly triumphant figures of modernity have sapped the authority of the paternalistic father: vampirish specters appear as Goldfinger the international Jew (designer and profiteer of mass culture and consumerism) in cahoots with mad scientists, femmes fatales, and perfectionist puritan mothers.  Feminized and jewified, modernity has produced, what else?  The Masturbator!  Similarly, the terror-gothic genre (horror movies and gothic fiction) confronts the viewer with appalling images of the inquisitive, wandering, goal-directed imagination exploring the sensuous material world (D. H.Lawrence’s “nosy Hebrew”).  Persistently feeling one’s own unhappiness and the common pain of suffering humanity, asking authority “why” it devises particular damaging social policies, demanding access to state secrets, can lead only to bloody revolution, ripping and shredding of the social fabric, and finally, the Bomb (e.g., the theme of Pandora’s Box in Kiss Me Deadly, a classic of film noir).

      One would hope that progressive intellectuals would be alert to such right-wing tactics, but no.  As one KPFK listener put it, intellectuals today latch onto traditions which make them comfortable; the idea of the detached, disinterested seeker following the truth wherever it leads is held to be a bourgeois illusion, the Big Lie of objectivity and positivistic science that delivered scientific racism.  Some poststructuralists say that (relatively) accurate readings of the world are impossible, that there is only “intertextuality” for ballast, that the goals of “objectivity,” or of universally valid moral standards are (in fact!) a stealthy imposition of a totalitarian ideology.  Such irrationalist  [1] ideas should be vigorously opposed in the culture wars raging in our universities, and not just by the libertarian Right. Liberal Freudians are not irrationalists; rather they believe that rational processes (historical memory and the reconstruction of power relations in socializing institutions) can at least diminish the extent to which we are misdirected by self-destructive behavior. (Irrationalists have said that such fantasies are disseminated by Jews, consummate peddlers of false utopias; see the excellent description of the right-wing agitator in Leo Lowenthal and Norbert Guterman, Prophets of Deceit, 1949).

      Are panic attacks a health risk of middle-management?  Historians revise and reconfigure the past, finding material causes for socially-induced catastrophes; we seek clarity and balance, not chaos, but threaten illegitimate authority.  Because democratic pluralists seem to support critical thought (but in practice are unevenly committed to it), institutions are vague and abstract in their demands.  Be original, but not too destabilizing, we are advised, echoing the family.  But how far to go too far?  We don’t know the rules until we break them.  So, to keep our jobs, we may betray the real and the good, not daring to hold authority accountable; all relations remain shallow and there is, in fact, little reliable support.  In such a deceptive and self-deceptive society, anyone and everyone can turn on us–whenever we demand that our arguments be engaged, calling love and support into question.  People too attached to their creative work must be “monomaniacs,” like Melville’s Captain Ahab.

      If my analysis is valid, what are the implications for the treatment of anxiety disorders?  As long as institutions are unwilling to be tested and challenged, as long as they blunt critical tools, no amount of individual or group therapy or pills will alleviate our distress; perforce we will adjust to a world without many enduring attachments.  The fearful may continue to follow false friends and false prophets: screaming, hysterical demagogues and paranoids who will divide us when only species cooperation can protect the planet.  Idealizing the father-driven family will not solve the problems conservatives are (often rightly) worried about.  Accurate readings of our bodies, our histories, our loves and friendships, the origin and development of all institutions and of the natural world which we are fast destroying, should be the goal of education.  Workers in mental health cannot neglect these aspects of their training, lest the good work they do be nullified by the strange world outside the clinic. [12-27-94]

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