The Clare Spark Blog

December 16, 2015

The Depression Grand Challenge: UCLA style

Human brain, conceptual computer artwork. HuffPo

Human brain, conceptual computer artwork. HuffPo

The well-funded David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA has issued its monthly fund-raising magazine, this one titled “The Golden Age of Brain Science.” Removing the stigma from genetically transmitted “depression” is one of their major themes. Turns out that “depression” is entirely inherited, and their interdisciplinary team includes no historians or even anthropologists, but not to worry, psychiatrists are included.

Lest the reader think that social responsibility has been abandoned by the new neuroscientists, note that final paragraph in the featured article: it is a typical liberal double bind/mixed message. Has the Nature-Nurture controversy been resolved?https://clarespark.com/2016/02/09/is-the-nature-nurture-debate-over/

As the Golden Age progresses, neuroscience will transform society: Artificial limbs controlled by thought. Enhanced cognition. Drugs precisely targeted to individuals. Understanding of how external forces like poverty affect the brain.

And a looming new responsibility.

Our brain is not just a reflection of our genetics but is also very much a reflection of our environment,’ says [Kelsey] Martin [interim Dean of the David Geffen School of Medicine]. We have a social responsibility to make sure that the environment is one in which human beings flourish.’

Forget socially-induced trauma, forget [Freudians or Kleinians or socially irresponsible Republicans and Milton Friedman-esque advocates of free markets/upward mobility]. UCLA’s message of genetically engineered and psychotropic-drug-induced “hope” will usher us into the Brave New World.

BraveNewWorld_FirstEdition

As for myself, between the bread and circus atmosphere of political “debates” this election season, or the rise of ISIS and the general incompetence of the political class, I hold on to my environmentally-induced anxiety and depression like Captain Ahab’s red flag.

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February 23, 2015

Depression in the next generation of artists?

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 7:36 pm
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"Forlorn and Forsaken" photo by Barry Winters

“Forlorn and Forsaken” photo by Barry Winters

June 6, 2013

Morale in the time of crisis overload

MORALE_G_20110814213222[This blog is dedicated to the thousands of Americans and allies who gave their lives in the invasion of Europe: D-Day, June 6, 1944. They knew what a fascist was.] Here is an excerpt from my research in the Harvard University Archives that seems especially relevant today, in the light of multiple scandals, even panic, descending upon our electorate, for we may be in danger of losing the will to resist the juggernaut of anti-Americanism, surveillance, and corruption that has been revealed since the Benghazi affair last September:

[Book excerpt, Hunting Captain Ahab, chapter 2:] In the case of the [Henry A.] Murray-[Gordon] Allport worksheets [distributed nationally to progressive groups ca. 1941], those limits were scientistically delineated; the Jeffersonian tradition was co-opted and redefined in the indispensable “Values of the Past”: “The more awareness there is of the group’s heroic past the better the morale. (Freedom from Old World Oppression, Jeffersonian Democracy, etc.) The more awareness of a national tradition of which the group is ashamed or guilty, the worse the morale…The slogan “Make The World Safe For Democracy” was anchored neither in the historical past or future. A durable morale must be historically anchored in the past and in the future, as well as in the present (Worksheet #4, 4, 5).” So much for the messianic republican mission…. The ever-questioning, self-critical temper of the Enlightenment, the very Head and Heart of the libertarian eighteenth century, could only lead to bad morale. … they went on to say that racial or economic discrimination were bad for morale, that there could be no doubt about the prospects for a better postwar world. A hodge-podge of factors: “communism, fascism, economic chaos, depression, or uncertainty,” all would impair morale (6). Peace aims were suggested: an International Police Force would ensure that “There will be a better distribution of the goods of the earth; all classes will be benefited” (Red-bound typescript, 13).” But war aims must remain vague, for we were a “pluralist society,” not a “unified society”; there were different strokes for different folks: “Disparities of statements shouldn’t be too obvious or made visible” (#4, 7).Properly guided we would be historically anchored in promises of abundance and an illusion of unity, yet we were not fascists. [end excerpt https://clarespark.com/2011/03/27/progressive-mind-managers-ca-1941-42/.]

I have been in red-hot conflict with some internet comments that insist we are already under the thumb of fascists (as opposed to, say, proto-fascists as the Murray-Allport worksheets suggested), and that civil war is inevitable. My line is this: as long as the internet and dissenting publications and television stations exist, the republic is not finished, and certainly not comparable to Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, or Franco’s Spain, at least not yet. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/04/21/fascism-what-it-is-what-it-is-not/.) These persons whom I oppose are either trolls, agents provocateurs (same as trolls), or paranoid. They have been egged on by the doom and gloom contingent of internet rightist magazines, that ask for our financial support in the emergency that never goes away. I am familiar with this technique having participated in innumerable Pacifica Radio fund drives.

However, I do remember David Dellinger at one of our KPFK teach-ins warning other post-60s activists not to lead “emergency lives” (his exact words). In warning against burn-out Dellinger echoed the advice of Murray and Allport, quoted above: too much emphasis on failure in the nation’s past is bad for morale. Instead they recommend that moral failures be corrected. (I didn’t care for their particular nostrums, but that is another story.)

There is something obscene in the claims of these trolls or deluded rightists that all is lost, and those who would stop this administration must mount the barricades.  It is true that thanks to checks and balances and the internal reformation of the Republican party (still in process), that there are reputable journalists who have uncovered lawbreakers and liars in the current administration. But there has been no military coup to shred the Constitution or any demonstrable move by POTUS to remain in office past his second term.

Instead, we have the most vigorous debates over key issues, possibly the best writers on the once impenetrable Middle East (Barry Rubin, David P. Goldman, a.k.a. “Spengler”) that I can remember. It is true that some conflicts seem confused and murky (such as the arguments pro and con immigration reform), and that not enough attention is paid to public education, but that too is changing.

Political affiliations are not carved in stone. We can collapse in exhaustion and depression, or we can take heart that our institutions have been exposed, which gives an opening for new political choices. Our future will depend on our ability to be flexible and alert for fresh coalitions, perhaps even to relegate the distractions of the culture wars to the bottom of our list of “must think about now.” (For my defense of secularism see https://clarespark.com/2012/04/01/secularism-and-the-affordable-care-act/.)

De Chirico: The Terrible Games, 1925

De Chirico: The Terrible Games, 1925

November 3, 2012

The social work of Progressives

Anna Andlauer

Review: The Rage to Live: The International D.P. Children’s Center Kloster Indersdorf 1945-46. By Anna Andlauer, transl. and revised by Tobe Levin. (E-book, 2012, ISBM 978-1479322893) (Originally publ. in German as Zurück inse Leben. Das international Kinderzentrum Kloster  Indersdorf 1945-46, Antogo Verlag, Nuremberg, 2011.

 Since this harrowing and yet optimistic book is a tribute to the unsung heroic social worker Greta Fischer, primarily for her work in Germany on behalf of UNRRA (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UNRRA) ,  I begin this short review with an overall look at progressive/postmodern views of the human psyche and social organization. We shall see that though the author nods to Anna Freud as major proponent of the lifelong benefits of a tight mother-infant bond (p.173), the general approach of the Kloster Indersdorf D.P. Children’s Center was “behavior modification” toward the goal of “physical health and the beginning of a moral and spiritual rehabilitation” (p.160, quoting Greta Fischer, p.161). The notion that Anna Freud would have approved of the appropriations of her work for the encouragement of either ego psychology or behavior modification is misguided. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Freud.  Did Anna Freud ever recover from her depression and/or her inner conflicts?

Anna Freud

Which raises crucial questions about the overall ideology guiding the immense field of “social work,” especially given the triumphalist tone of Anna Andlauer’s book, which tells the stories of hundreds of severely traumatized displaced children, uprooted during World War 2 (many of them Holocaust survivors), but identity politics inform Andlauer’s view of recovery, and she uses the code words we associate with that ideology: a healthy “identity” is understood as “rootedness,” hence a reconstituted self is maintained through renewed contact with native language and local cultures. Indeed, Andlauer provides numerous photos of individual survivors of varied nationalities, smiling broadly and showing their names in placards covering their presumably healed hearts, but she is less enthused about the value of “assimilation”, for the youngsters who made it to Palestine/Israel and various kibbutzim are mildly criticized for accommodation to a “sabres”[sic]  identity (p.167). Especially troubling to this reviewer is the notion of “resilience” as applied to these survivors, given to the “rage to live,” notwithstanding watching or learning about the destruction of their entire families, then the deplorable waiting for the Western Democracies to either allow them into their countries or to go to the newly constituted Jewish State.

With respect to “behavior modification,” although that term is not used until the last pages of the book, we understand that cleanliness, medical treatment for scabies, lice, and infectious diseases, family-style meals, plentiful food, different china for different courses, vocational training for farming and other “trades,” behavioral boundaries intended to return the often aggressive youngsters to traditional  notions of order, plus contact with kindly but firm and trustworthy mentors listening to the children’s stories (over and over), presumably prepared the deeply traumatized children for a healthy adjustment to life in either their countries of origin or in the few societies that allowed them entrance (for the Jews, Palestine/Israel, or the U.K., Canada, Australia, and the U.S.).

Another project of the Kloster Indersdorf Displaced Persons Center was to reverse “Germanization” in those children who had been performing forced labor either in Germany or in the Third Reich’s occupied zones. It is unclear what this means: were some of the children not only replacing their original mother tongues with German, or was it necessary to de-Nazify them?  I have asked the translator for the original German word, and am awaiting her response. This is no minor point, for the overall project of “identity politics” is indistinguishable from Nazi Blut und Boden racialist theories. [Added 11-4-12: Tobe Levin tells me that the original German word in Andlauer’s text was Germanisierung. The Wikipedia gloss of this word explains that under Nazi rule, this conception signified the extinction of all other languages (e.g. Polish), as an outcome of Nazi expansion for the purpose of Lebensraum. Hitler, writing earlier in Mein Kampf, rejected the notion that other races could become German. In my own research, I found that in Hitler’s second “secret” book, he called for a global völkisch form of social organization, without racial mixing. Compare to völkisch multiculturalism as social policy.]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_work

Here is the Wiki quote that aligns “social work” with the major tenets of postmodernism, multiculturalism, and the contemporary writing of cultural or social history: “The International Federation of Social Workers states, of social work today, that

‘social work bases its methodology on a systematic body of evidence-based knowledge derived from research and practice evaluation, including local and indigenous knowledge specific to its context. It recognizes the complexity of interactions between human beings and their environment, and the capacity of people both to be affected by and to alter the multiple influences upon them including bio-psychosocial factors. The social work profession draws on theories of human development, social theory and social systems to analyse complex situations and to facilitate individual, organizational, social and cultural changes.’”

In one part of my book on Herman Melville and his 20th century revivers, I included this excursus that delineates the organicist methodology underlying contemporary theories of pedagogy and psychiatry: https://clarespark.com/2010/02/10/a-brooding-meditation-on-intimacy-and-distance/. (This was a controversial inclusion to the late Roy Porter, the famed historian of science, medicine, and psychiatry, himself torn between materialist and idealist pictures of the human psyche, but I finally brought him around, or perhaps wore him down.)

To complete this compressed survey of Anna Andlauer’s book, I remind the reader of Herman Melville’s bitter chapter on the interactions between the Invalid Titan and the “herb-doctor” in The Confidence-Man (1857). Melville’s relatives were impatient with his own brooding and prolonged suffering, probably adding to his malaise. It is ever so much more comforting to believe that all psychic wounds, no matter how profound, can be healed and managed with positive thinking and other progressive nostrums. One of the more entertaining ones is appended below.

Appendix: Henry A. Murray advises FDR, 1943:

[Dr. Henry A. Murray, Director of the Harvard Psychological Clinic, advises FDR, October 1943, on the best ways to apply the lessons of (patrician) psychoanalysis to the postwar treatment of the German people:]

It can be predicted that we will find the German people profoundly humiliated, resentful, disenchanted, dejected, morose, despairing of the future. Accustomed to obeying an arbitrary external authority, they will have no dependable inner guides to control behavior. There will be a wave of crime and suicide. Apathy will be wide-spread. Having passed through a period of intense unanimity and cooperation, Germany as a social system will fall apart, each man to suffer pain and mortification in private.

Disorganization and confusion will be general, creating a breeding ground for cults of extreme individualism. A considerable part of the population will be weighted down by a heavy sense of guilt, which should lead to a revival of religion. The soil will be laid [sic] for a spiritual regeneration; and perhaps the Germans, not we, will inherit the future.

It is assumed that the Allies will demilitarize Germany, will insist on efficient guarantees against future conspiracies, will take steps to liquidate the Junker Class, will prevent rearmament and the misuse of raw materials. As Dr. Foerster has said: a soft peace for Germany will be a very hard peace for the German people, delivering them to the Prussian caste who led them astray.

Nothing permanent, however, can be achieved by such measures alone. What is required is a profound conversion of Germany’s attitude: abandonment of the idea (1) that they are innately superior; (2) that they are destined to govern the earth; (3) that there is no human law or authority higher than the good of the German State; (4) that power is to be admired above everything; and (5) that Might makes Right.

In treating the Germans psychologically we must realize that we are dealing with a nation suffering from paranoid trends: delusions of grandeur; delusions of persecution; profound hatred of strong opponents and contempt of weak opponents; arrogance, suspiciousness and envy–all of which has been built up as a reaction to an age-old inferiority complex and a desire to be appreciated.

Possibly the first four steps in the treatment of a single paranoid personality can be adapted to the conversion of Germany. In attempting this we must not forget that the source of their psychic sickness is wounded pride.

3.(a) First Step.-The physician must gain the respect of the patient. (i) Individual paranoid.– Paranoids cannot be treated successfully if they are not impressed (consciously or unconsciously) by the ability, knowledge, wisdom, or perhaps mere magnetic force, of the physician. Special efforts must sometimes be made to achieve this end, since paranoids, being full of scorn, are not easy to impress.

(ii) Germany. The regiments that occupy Germany should be the finest that the United Nations can assemble – regiments with a history of victories, composed of tall well-disciplined soldiers commanded by the best generals. Rowdiness and drunkenness should not be permitted. The Germans should be compelled to admit: “These are splendid men; not the weak degenerates (democratic soldiers) or barbarians (Russian soldiers) we were led to expect.” The Germans admire orderliness, precision, efficiency.

3. (b) Second Step. The potential worth of the patient should be fully acknowledged. (i) Individual paranoid.-The indwelling burning hunger of the paranoid is for recognition, power and glory–praise from those he respects. This hunger should be appeased as soon as possible, so that the paranoid thinks to himself: “The great man appreciates me. Together we can face the world.” It is as if he thought: “He is God the Father and I am his chosen son.”

(ii) Germany.– Germany’s countryside, its music, historic culture, and monuments of beauty should be appreciated and praised. The army of occupation should manifest intense interest in the culture of Old Germany and complete indifference to all recent developments. The troops should be instructed and coached by lectures and guide-books covering the district they will occupy. They should be told that the war is not won until the heart of the German people has been won.

Germans of the old school should be hired to teach the German language, to guide the soldiers on tours of the country and of museums, to teach native arts and skills. Concerts should be arranged, omitting pieces that have been specially favored by the Nazis. Editions of books burned by the Nazis should be published and put on sale immediately.

All this will serve a double purpose. It will provide education for our troops and occupy their time; thus helping to maintain morale. Also the submerged inferiority feelings and resentments of the Germans will be alleviated.

3 (c) Third Step.Insight should be tactfully provided, a little at a time. (i) Individual paranoid.– Very gradually, step by step, the patient is enlightened as to his own paranoid mechanisms. Pride in being uncriticizable and always in the right must be gradually replaced by pride in being able to rise above his own mechanisms and criticize himself, pride in being strong enough to admit some weaknesses and erros [sic]. He should be made to understand that he has been victimized by unconscious forces which gained control over his proper self. During the course of these talks the physician should freely confess his own weaknesses and errors, the patient being treated as an equal.

(ii) Germany. The last ten years of German history should be interpreted as a violent infectious fever, a possession of the spirit, which took hold of the people as soon as they gave ear to the false prophets of Fascism.

A series of articles, editorials, essays and short books should be written now by Germans in this country (Thomas Mann, Reinhold Niebuhr, Foerster, and others), aided possibly by suggestions from psychiatrists, to be published in German newspapers and distributed soon after the occupation. They should be therapeutic essays essentially- perhaps signed by a nom de plume as if written by a minister, physician, or writer in Germany.

Not too much should be said in any one paper; but, in time, the lies, delusions, treacheries and crimes of the Nazis should be reviewed objectively and in historical sequence. The German people should be made to understand that the world regards them as unwitting and unhappy victims of instinctual forces. The Allies should be magnanimous enough to admit their own errors and misdeeds.

3. (d) Fourth Step. The patient should be insociated in a group. (1) Individual paranoid. Having attained a measure of satisfaction by winning the respect and friendship of his physician and then having gained some insight and control, the patient is ready for group therapy. Later, he can be persuaded to join outside groups. Gradually he must learn to take his place and cooperate on an equal basis with others. The group he joins should have a goal.

(ii) Germany. If Germany is to be converted, it is of the utmost importance that some strong and efficient super-government be established as soon as possible, providing a new world conscience, that her people can respect. As said above, Germans must have something to look up to – a God, a Fuehrer, an Absolute, a national ideal. It can not be a rival nation, or a temporary alliance of nations. It must be a body – a strong body with a police force–which stands above any single state. A supranational symbol would eventually attract the deference that is now focussed upon Hitler. Lacking such a symbol, many Germans will certainly fall into a state of profound disillusionment and despair. At the proper time Germany should be insociated as an equal in whatever league or federation of nations has been established.

From here on the therapy of a single paranoid personality fails as an analogy, principally because the German people will not be in the position of a patient who comes willingly to the physician’s office. The Nazis will be in no mood to be educated by their enemies. Furthermore it would be very presumptuous of us to try it. The most that the Allies could do would be to close all schools and universities until new anti-fascist teachers and faculties had been recruited. The greatest problem will be in dealing with a whole generation of brutalized and hardened young Nazis. (Perhaps exhibition games of soccer, football, lacrosse and baseball between American and English regiments would serve to introduce ideas of fair play and sportsmanship; but much else must be done – by German educators).

For the conversion of Germany the most effective agency will be some form of world federation. Without this the Allied victory will have no permanently important consequences.[3]

(For how I contextualized Murray’s report on the website see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/20/jungians-on-the-loose-part-one/.)

February 12, 2010

Harvard U. on Paul Fussell’s rage and depression

Filed under: 1 — clarelspark @ 7:57 pm
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From Harvard Magazine, 1997

September 7, 2009

Melancholia as a way of life

Thos. Cole, The Course of Empire: Desolation, 1836

For other apocalyptic landscapes, see https://clarespark.com/2013/06/21/apocalypse-and-the-escape-artist/.

This week the President will be offering his own version of  health care reform, a subject that I have been addressing in all my recent blogs, though usually through the prism of intellectual history, rather than medical economics or legislation (subjects in which I am not competent). And today is Labor Day. I am almost at a loss for words.

I am wondering if our “public intellectuals” (including political journalists, some blogging academics, media pundits, teachers, movie reviewers, and more) have anything constructive to say about “labor.” Are those workers who provide the material basis that gives us the “leisure” to read and make pronouncements about reality, history, antidemocratic propaganda, and so on, being served or betrayed by the current “culture wars?” I confess to deep anxiety about 1. The growing numbers of Americans on antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication, whose physicians or therapists are undereducated with respect to the political, economic, and institutional causes of their clients’ fatigue and withdrawal from an active (but fully informed) engagement with either public or private affairs; and 2. The increasing stridency and polarization as opponents dig in their heels and hurl epithets at “liberals” or “conservatives,” eschewing careful, detailed historical analysis of rhetoric and ideology, while conspiracy theories proliferate like cartoonist Al Capp’s shmoos, giving only imaginary succor to the perplexed and overwhelmed escapee to this or that elite-hating populism, and many of the latter could hail from the ranks of labor, but who counts them nowadays?
shmoos
Death Valley. In today’s blog (September 7, 2009) I offer one possible explanation for the immobility and escapism, not to speak of hard-heartedness, that has afflicted our society: the antimodern narrative, perpetrated by some artists and intellectuals who are false friends to labor (labor, big or small, needs all the science and education it can get). Before the second world war, labor’s false friends were widely recognized as reactionaries; today, not so much: just look at the apocalyptic “Red-Greens.” The antimoderns included such as T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, D. H. Lawrence, William Butler Yeats, and a host of followers in the humanities who, in turn, influenced manufacturers of popular culture. Their common enemy, the free-thinking scientist or “mechanical materialist” whose cultural practice mocks organic conservative formulations of society and nature. The “materialists,” seen through the eyes of their critics, turn gardens into wastelands, while “Americanization” signifies total renunciation of beloved ancestors and the loss of “individuality” as we are turned by “Fordism” into cogs in a machine.*  (Does not the S-M ritual attempt to reverse this process, of course never succeeding in reinstating the lost paradise?)
FLASHBACK
“The fact is, we have all been a good deal puzzled because the affair is so simple, and yet baffles us altogether.”
“Perhaps it is the very simplicity of the thing which puts you at fault,” said my friend.”
“What nonsense you do talk!” replied the Prefect, laughing heartily.
“Perhaps the mystery is a little too plain,” said Dupinstein.
“Oh, good heavens! who ever heard of such an idea?”
“A little too self-evident.”
“Ha! ha! ha!–ha! ha! ha!–ho! ho! ho!–roared our visitor, profoundly amused, “oh, Dupinstein will be the death of me yet!” [1]

Sweet Mystery of Life. The antimodern narrative is frequently transmitted in popular culture but rarely identified.   For instance, the critically acclaimed film, The Fly (1986, directed by David Cronenberg), carried a blatantly reactionary message, yet no one seems to have noticed; instead The Fly has become a cult favorite, its ads telling viewers to “Be afraid, very afraid.”  Here is the plot: Seth Brundle, a bug-eyed brainy Jewish-looking physicist employed by Bartok Industries (a company linked to abstract modern art in the opening scene) is having a problem with his computer program that is to “change human life as we know it” through a new technology called “teleportation.”  The object to be transported is disintegrated in one “telepod” (which resembles a high-tech phone booth) and reintegrated in another.  One baboon has already been reduced to a red mess; the scientist (a “systems manager” who does not fully understand his project because of the divided labor which has conceived it) solves his problem with the knowledge of the flesh provided by an ambitious, liberated, sexually assertive female journalist (Veronica, a brow-wiper, but androgynously nicknamed “Ronnie”).

While drunk (Ronnie seemed to have abandoned Seth, and this dependent type can’t handle alcohol, he is so Jewish), the scientist tests the new computer program on himself after a second baboon survives the teleportation.  But Brundle fails to notice the fly buzzing around the telepod; he ends up “teleported” (transported, Americanized?), but spliced genetically with the fly’s chromosomes.  Soon Brundle talks like Hitler (enunciating cruel, brutal and uncompromising “insect politics”); he is sexually insatiable and superstrong, then begins loathsomely to degenerate, drooling nauseating and lethal bodily fluids, getting redder by the minute.  At the climax, there is a near parricide: the Fly’s milky fluids dissolve the hand of Ronnie’s bossy editor (holding a rifle intended to kill the Fly and rescue his defiant employee, now impregnated with Fly-semen).  After failing to trap Ronnie into bonding her (and her foetus’) genes with his to save him and create a new superbeing in the telepod, the all-Red Fly’s mournful eyes plead with his terrified but ever-sympathetic, contaminated girl friend, “Please shoot me.”  She picks up her boss’s rifle and fires.  Euthanasia (to be followed by a therapeutic abortion) has restored order.

Teleportation may be compared to Romantic Captain Ahab’s red flag of revolt[2]; while Seth Brundle’s fatal hubris linked to transformative technology, recalls the cataclysms generated by Melville’s character Margoth, an apostate German-Jewish geologist who desacralizes the Holy Land of Palestine in Melville’s late poem Clarel.  The opposition between (disruptive, death-dealing) critical thought and (stabilizing, liberating) mysticism is one which fans of The Fly may apprehend as distinct, but in all candor, I cannot point to an individual, society, or social movement as all Head or all Heart; I see “Reason” and “Feeling” as interpenetrating, but not as a feature of the unchanging human psyche. Rather, defending our socialization in societies moving from tribalism or feudalism to capitalism and beyond as we either tweak capitalism or formulate alternatives, we may be torn between a darkening romantic conservatism and a motion toward the light.  Growing up may not remove the contradiction, but it should alert us to the ways in which the imagos of childhood (which we may take to be accurate representations of social reality, since they are reinforced in popular and high culture), drag us backward toward hierarchy and despair.  Melville has dramatized this tension with cubist clarity and poignancy; the grieving Isabel’s long black hair “arbored him with ebon vines” in the last sentence of Pierre; at the same time the black mask protects his privacy and the vulnerable body.  But critics have generally lacked (or refused) the social imagination to bring his “religious” or “sexual” conflicts home to politics.

This is scary, because the institutions and social processes that produced Melville’s sometimes violent rebels are related to those that exterminated other surrogates for capitalism and its allegedly cruel, brutal and uncompromising market forces.  Mystical thinkers want capitalism without tears; mystical thinking produces moralistic social criticism and the obligatory purge.  Critical thought does not identify the source of evil in the Devil, in “human nature” or in whatever group is designated as the enemy, but recognizes the abstract and impersonal institutional rules and relationships that structure and limit moral choices; critical thinkers propose either structural or incremental reforms to transcend the limitations of capitalism (as we know it), one which points us toward true liberalism and goodness, however imperfectly.  Critical thinkers would never acquiesce to negative reference-group politics as an inevitable feature of the landscape of pluralism: That we may grow only by fits and starts, need not be an occasion for despair, but a warning against complacency and sectarianism.[3]
* “At the end of the issue [National Affairs] Leon R. Kass delivers an unforgettable article on why he decided to give up a career in the sciences to devote himself to the humanities. It nicely captures the spirit of the magazine — the fierce desire to see the human whole, to be aware of people as spiritual beings and not economic units or cogs in a technocratic policy machine.” –David Brooks, NYTimes, 9-8-09. Dear reader, don’t say I didn’t warn you. C.S.

[1] This is a rectified readymade gleaned from Edgar Allan Poe, “The Purloined Letter.” C. Augusta Dupinstein is one of Dr. Etta Enzyme’s alter egos.

[2] Naive historians who believe there is an author behind the blankness of “the text” are linked to Ahab in David Harlan’s article in American Historical Review 94, p. 592. On Ahab’s red flag: I interpret it to mean the romantic gesture of piercing through the mask of imposed neoclassical  pictures of “things as they are,” not only to reconfigure the real world, but to re-imagine human possibilities for constructive change.
[3] For instance, Sander L. Gilman, Difference and Pathology: Stereotypes of Sexuality, Race, and Madness (Ithaca: Cornell U. P., 1985): 240.

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