The Clare Spark Blog

December 18, 2012

Blogs on mental health

Virginia Woolf, suicide

Virginia Woolf, suicide

Most of this website is devoted to our political culture and its bizarre evasions of mental health issues. I blame this on an aversion to anything smacking of [the Jew] Freud and his followers in psychoanalysis and psychoanalytically-oriented therapies. We would rather look to religion, myths of the happy family, the notion that this is “the best of all possible worlds,” and pills as prescribed by much of the psychiatric profession. Our continued blindness to the psyche, our obliviousness to problematic institutions, and to problems in families will only lead to more mass deaths of the shocking character of Newtown, December 14, 2012.  We will continue to “undo” these preventable catastrophes in a desperate and fruitless attempt to escape from reality–whether from scapegoating or from premature diagnostics.

https://clarespark.com/2014/03/20/role-models-talcott-parsons-and-structural-functionalism/ (the ruling paradigm for mental health today)

https://clarespark.com/2013/01/16/gun-control-laws-quick-fixes-undoing/

https://clarespark.com/2013/03/18/babel-vs-sinai/

https://clarespark.com/2013/03/28/power-and-aristocratic-radicals/ (on the Foucauldians)

https://clarespark.com/2013/02/23/peter-gays-freud/

https://clarespark.com/2013/03/16/blogs-on-freud-and-anti-freudians/

https://clarespark.com/2012/12/09/neurotic-vs-objective-anxiety-dsm-iv-and-beyond/ (retitled Holiday blues and unhappy families)

https://clarespark.com/2012/12/22/my-oppositional-defiant-disorder-and-eric-hobsbawm/

https://clarespark.com/2012/12/15/sandy-hook-massacre-and-the-problem-of-evil/

https://clarespark.com/2012/12/13/the-brain-trust-at-ucla/

https://clarespark.com/2012/12/12/white-rage-black-surrogates/ (takes up the recent flap on Jamie Foxx on SNL)

https://clarespark.com/2012/12/09/neurotic-vs-objective-anxiety-dsm-iv-and-beyond/

https://clarespark.com/2012/07/24/the-cracked-and-cracking-loner-as-mass-murderer/

https://clarespark.com/2012/12/02/index-to-sadomasochism-blogs/

https://clarespark.com/2011/01/15/healing-trauma-mystery/

https://clarespark.com/2011/03/27/progressive-mind-managers-ca-1941-42/

https://clarespark.com/2010/11/29/index-to-lobotomy-blogs/ (don’t miss case 123, before and after: truly remarkable and awful)

https://clarespark.com/2010/02/10/a-brooding-meditation-on-intimacy-and-distance/ (some on military psychiatry, some on ideology of progressive psychologists and writers)

https://clarespark.com/2009/11/08/is-the-history-of-psychiatry-a-big-mess-2/

https://clarespark.com/2009/08/25/t-w-adorno-and-his-funny-idea-of-genuine-liberalism/

December 9, 2012

Holiday blues, Unhappy families

norman-rockwell-coupleOne of Freud’s primary themes in treatment of his patients was the separation of (idiosyncratic) neurotic anxiety from objective anxiety. Since anxiety disorders (along with depression and post-traumatic stress disorders) are widely present in our culture, I thought that the general subject was worthy of focus and exploration.

Keep in mind that many of Freud’s original writings were published before the events of the 20th century, with horrors such as the Great War leading to innovations in his repertoire, for instance “the death wish” or a general pessimism regarding the human condition (“everyday unhappiness”), not to speak of his attack on all religion as infantile regression in The Future of An Illusion (1928). But the Freudians today are few and cater to an older, usually moneyed urban clientele, while it is the Jungians whose influence has penetrated into popular culture and even school curricula, owing perhaps to Jung’s postulation of a racially-specific unconscious that blends well with racialist theories of multiculturalism. (For my numerous blogs on Jung and Jungians, see https://clarespark.com/2010/05/10/jungians-rising/.)

It is more often the case that Freud’s influence, if any, is filtered through the structural functionalism of Talcott Parsons and similar social theorists who are more interested in adjustment and functionality (stability in interpersonal and international relations), than in the tracking of personal traumas and intertwined social traumas that lead to troubling “symptoms” such as the anxiety disorders. Indeed, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders  has been funded by liberals and their foundations and related organizations, including the MacArthur Foundation, U.S. government agencies, the World Health Organization, and the American Psychiatric Association. Their approach is managerial, as opposed to an orientation to cure, for that could lead to radicalization or other postures deemed destabilizing to social order imagined by the moderate men.

NPR recently interviewed a psychiatrist in the know about changes to DSM-V, the diagnostic manual used by physicians of every kind in labeling and prescribing treatment for their patients. This psychiatrist stated that it was likely that grief (a subject that has not been previously “medicalized” as abnormal) would be limited to two months, after which antidepressants might be indicated. (For a general summary of proposed changes in DSM-V see http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/controversy-changes-dsm-diagnosis-1205127, posted December 6, 2012.)

Some passages from the Introduction to DSM-IV bear quoting, especially as they are not only as indecipherable as Parson’s own famously awful prose, but are careful to avoid positing dualisms between mind and body, or labeling suffering “individuals”:

“In DSM-IV, each of the mental disorders is conceptualized as a clinically significant behavioral or psychological syndrome or pattern that occurs in an individual and that is associated with present distress (e.g., a painful symptom) or disability (i.e., impairment in one or more important areas of functioning) or with a significantly increased risk of suffering death, pain, disability, or an important loss of freedom. In addition, this syndrome or pattern must not be an expectable and culturally sanctioned response to a particular event, for example, the death of a loved one. Whatever its original cause, it must currently be considered a manifestation of a behavioral, psychological, or biological dysfunction in the individual. Neither deviant behavior (e.g., political, religious, or sexual) nor conflicts that are primarily between the individual and society are mental disorders unless the deviance or conflict is a symptom of dysfunction in the individual as described above.” [I have not yet found a definition of “the individual”; rather, progressives are careful to define the “individual-in-society.”  See https://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision-of-american-history/. CS]

[DSM-IV, cont.:]  “A common misconception is that a classification of mental disorders classifies people, when actually what are being classified are disorders that people have. For this reason, the text of DSM-IV (as did the text of DSM-III-R) avoids the use of such expressions as “a schizophrenic” or “an alcoholic” and instead uses the more accurate, but admittedly more cumbersome, “an individual with Schizophrenia” or “an individual with Alcohol Dependence.” ( my emphasis, pp. xxi-xxii)

This is the language of progressivism, pretending that these experts believe in the discrete, unique individual, while all along using quantification and statistics that attempt to describe disruptive (mal-adjusting) group behaviors: “disorders that people have.” Moreover, their language is so vague and abstract that I for one, can barely decode their language. But I suspect that “defiant” individuals (who have their own section in DSM-IV) are deemed dysfunctional no matter how rationally based their nonconformity may be. (I was considered to be “defiant” or excessively “experimental” in graduate school by leading professors, sometimes in private, sometimes in public. See https://clarespark.com/2012/12/22/my-oppositional-defiant-disorder-and-eric-hobsbawm/.)

The language that I have quoted is so abstracted from the real life experience of classes, genders, or other groupings that one wonders if the suspicions of the anti-psychiatry theorists are not themselves more rational than the mental health practitioners who rely upon DSM’s diagnostic codes to prescribe pills and other remedies for symptoms that are imposed by the concrete life experiences of soldiers, abused and neglected children, or simply members of families that do not meet their individual emotional and biological needs.

But as I read the section in DSM-IV on post-traumatic stress disorders, I was struck by the usefulness of these causal situations to current day problems that are often global in nature: the direct experience of war and falsifying propaganda; the demoralizing teaching of history as non-stop atrocity; the hyper-sexualization of American culture that exposes children to sexual scenes at early ages; the crime shows on television or in the movies that are graphically violent and sexual in nature; the constant broadcasting of apocalyptic scenarios that blame industrialization for the imminent end of life on our planet; “rage against the machine” by rock bands and other counter-culture wannabe stars; gangsta rap; the barrage of images of the happy gift-giving, problem-solving family (especially from Thanksgiving on through Christmas)–families untroubled by generational conflict, misunderstanding, or sibling rivalry.

While I object to the introductory material that I have quoted, the many social-cultural-political sources of PTSD are useful to the understanding of “objective anxiety.”

How neurotic are we, or are most of us rationally reacting to an objectively terrifying world? (For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2009/11/16/panic-attacks-and-separation-anxiety/. For a description of the controversy surrounding revisions of DSM-IV, see http://www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2012/12/inside-controversy-over-bible-mental-disorder/59849/.)

Why does Norman Rockwell have a German helmet circa WW1 perched on top of his easel?

Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell

November 19, 2012

Abandonment anxiety and “moderation”

Over the weekend, I discovered that my computer had been hacked. It set me into waves of panic. The panic was about abandonment, and the subject leads me back to certain themes on my website that have been discussed at length: attachment theory, panic attacks, the neutral state, rival conceptions of managing conflict, and the psychiatry wars between Freudians, Jungians, and anti-“talking cure” pill-dispensers.

As my Facebook friends are aware, I live in Southern California, which is home for New Age mystics and those who seek “healing” of conflicts that have lodged in the material body, or, worse, conflicts that are omnipresent in the (mis-named) “body politic.” It is to these latter seekers after “peace of mind” that this blog is mostly addressed.

It has long been my position that traumas inflicted in early childhood can never be healed, no matter how much insight into family dynamics, the poor parenting skills of our caretakers, or knowledge of world, national, and local history. For instance, I could dwell on women as particularly susceptible to abandonment fears, but men have abandonment fears too, whether they go beyond the typical feminine fear of aging and being dumped for a younger woman, or not.

This blog is not consoling, except in one respect: as mature persons looking at conflict inside or outside our own psyches, we may learn to manage conflicts, even if they can never be resolved. In the public sphere, we should beware of politicians and pundits who preach the opposite: that a neutral, artful, manipulative mediator can get warring parties to agree on compromise.

We are facing two particularly unresolvable conflicts today: 1. Israel and the Palestinians; and 2. Republicans and Democrats (the political parties not only have divergent views on capitalism, but are internally incoherent). The term “moderation” is a favorite conception of psychological warfare practitioners. “Moderation” is something that every healthy person strives for, but the word is too abstract, taken by itself, to be useful.

When we look to “moderation” are we talking about the portions of pasta that we consume, or “compromising” with the person with a gun or missile pointed at our home? We have seen how ineffectual appeasement has been in the past, while through the 1930s, Hitler constantly tested the democracies who were loath to embark upon another war after the war-weariness that ensued after the Great War. There are times when the enemy must be resisted and defeated, not pacified.

Families and family histories are a different matter. Paraphrasing Tolstoy, each family is miserable in its own unique way, whether over political differences, memories of past injuries, generational conflict, sibling rivalry, or marital strife. Liberals recommend better “communication skills” as if these techniques actually soothed the savage beast that often emerges at such moments as Thanksgiving or similar holidays. Some religions advise “forgiveness” as if such a gesture would confer “closure”, restoring a harmony that never existed, maybe not even in the womb.

My own view is that no amount of appeasement, compromise, or reparations can cure ancient hurts, but that self-knowledge (including knowledge of those organs where rage is stored), knowledge of our relatives’ sore spots, and particular needs, are skills that everyone can acquire in time. “Healing,” like the sentimental songs that the Yankee Doodle Society have reconstructed, is a utopian fantasy, but wise management of irreconcilable conflict is realizable.

Happy Thanksgiving, and work on your deep breathing. (For a different take on Thanksgiving, see https://clarespark.com/2011/11/24/thanksgiving-the-power-of-a-national-symbol/. Especially timely given the new Spielberg movie on Lincoln.)

September 22, 2012

Materialist history and the idea of Progress

Rerum Novarum by gercalher

[This is the second of two blogs on the ambivalence surrounding the First Amendment. The first is https://clarespark.com/2012/09/21/milton-mason-melville-on-free-speech/. For an interview with David Horowitz about the book reviewed here, see http://tinyurl.com/adtw9c2. ]

Another marker in the culture wars has been laid down by David Horowitz’s new book Radicals (Regnery, 2012). The chapters recount the careers of Christopher Hitchens, Bettina Aptheker, Cornel West, assorted Weathermen bombers (mostly female), and Saul Alinsky’s power-grabbing, crypto-Leninist nihilistic ideology.

But it is the last chapter wherein Horowitz lays his cards on the table. As a traditionalist (i.e., Burkean, Disraelian) conservative, he assails the “progressives” described throughout the book, lauds “compromise” as the alternative to “progressive” atheism, puritanism, perfectionism and futurism, and then declares, pessimistically in my view, that all civilizations are cyclical: they rise and fall. This view is of course associated with Counter-Enlightenment organic conservatives, who impose the life cycle of plants (Goethe famously did this), onto human organization.

In short, with his apparent view that all conflicts can be compromised, David Horowitz is aligned with the moderate men. Though he is dismayed by aggressive radical atheists, whose foibles include a Manichaean distinction between Good and Evil, DH’s essentially religious orientation to conflict resolution seats him at the same table as the radicals he vigorously criticizes throughout. I can only infer that anyone who discerns irreconcilable conflicts must be an Evil extremist who destroys [ neoclassical] social order. His vision is antagonistic to “puritans” (i.e., Hebraic Protestant voluntarism, worldliness, and free-market capitalism, which he links to the Satanic). Such a posture is in agreement with the Elizabethan compromise of Anglo-Catholicism or even the liberal Catholicism promoted by Pope Leo XIII in his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rerum_Novarum), a landmark pronouncement on the necessity of class harmony.  In other words, class harmony is Good, while unfettered materialism/atheism destroys and demoralizes families and all ordering institutions, in effect abandoning children to body- and spirit-crushing factories, nihilism and the terrifying immensities of an empty universe. Only a Satanist (or Promethean Romantic?) would commit such Evil acts.

Rerum Novarum Cupidus

I did not recognize myself as a materialist historian in any of Horowitz’s radicals.  Nor does he engage the battle of the sexes, putting quotation marks around the word “sexist”* (p.194)as if women have nothing to complain about.  I am a feminist, a materialist, and a secular Jew, who puts aside my private beliefs as I read archival materials and attempt to get inside the head of historical actors. DH is attuned to family relationships, as am I, and indeed faults Hitchens for failing to address his relations with his suicidal mother, a crypto-Jew.  But his criticism is not Freudian in any sense, but looks like a rebuke to the Mother’s dire “romantic” influence on her son, who never severed his ties with the [Romantic, Satanic] Left.

I have throughout this website carefully marked the original Progressive movement’s aims in addressing the red specter (through selective co-option), and in creating institutions that would soften relations between labor and capital—in order to prevent red revolution spurred by laissez-faire capitalism. I have also recognized the Communist infiltration of the progressive movement, taking advantage of New Leftism and its anti-anticommunist agenda, that further enabled the takeover of the humanities by the social justice avatars. But I cannot give all weight to the New Left for the deranged politics that confuse our political culture. We remain resistant to science and imagine that we are free when we are submissive to impulses laid down in early childhood, and reinforced in much of popular culture and/or partisan propaganda.

It is curious that nowhere in his book, does DH look at economic history or the conflicting models for wealth-creation offered by Keynesians as opposed to the followers of Milton Friedman, Hayek, et al. Nor does he get down and dirty in exploring generational conflict of the [Freudian] kind so tellingly explored by Herman Melville and a host of other authors. For that would be dipping into materialist history, facing “things as they are,” and perhaps delineating too disruptive, ambiguous, and kaleidoscopic views of how we got into this mess.  (For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2013/05/30/nostalgia-for-the-middle-ages/.)

[Added, 9-23-12: Compare DH’s view of “human nature” to this passage from John Dos Passos’s post-radical period:

Responding to German students as to what is admirable about US, “I told them they should admire the United States not for what we were but for what we might become. Selfgoverning democracy was not an established creed, but a program for growth. I reminded them that industrial society was a new thing in the world and that although we Americans had gone further than any people in spreading out its material benefits we were just beginning, amid crimes, illusions, mistakes and false starts, to get to work on how to spread out what people needed much more: the sense of belonging, the faith in human dignity, the confidence of each man in the greatness of his own soul without which life is a meaningless servitude….Faith in self-government, when all is said and done, is faith in the eventual goodness of man.” (p.508, Virginia Spencer Carr’s bio of John DP)

*The complete paragraph begins on p.193: “It is not because radicals begin by being unethical people that they approach politics this way. On the contrary, their passion for a future that is ethically perfect is what drives their political agendas and causes others to mistake them for idealists. But the very nature of this future–a world without poverty, without war, without racism, and without “sexism”–is so desirable, so noble, so perfect in contrast to everything that has preceded it as to justify any and every means to make it a reality.” I thank David Horowitz for welcoming discussion and catching my error. In a second communication, DH explains that the quotes around “sexism” expressed his dislike of viewing sexism and racism as comparable discriminations. Many readers will agree with him, but in a recent publication (Created in the Image of God)  David Brion Davis, a liberal, devotes an entire chapter to the subjugation of women, which Davis does compare to slavery.

September 3, 2012

Eros and the problem of solidarity

Rothschild and the money power

This is for Labor Day, September 3, 2012. I am trying to understand why a political party with such obvious internal conflicts of interest as the Democratic Party, is able to allege solidarity within what they now call “the middle class” (hence departing from their older appeals to the working class and forcing together groups with conflicting interests: see https://clarespark.com/2012/04/06/diagnosing-potus/).

One can only conclude that our political culture is entirely irrational, and that appeals to economic interest and independence from collectivist demagoguery butters no parsnips in the American electorate—except for those louts who venture into the risky world of the market. These days everyone in “business” is a grasping, mendacious moneybags who should be punished by his victims. Who wants to be “jewified?” No wonder anxiety is the mental ailment of our time. But there is objective anxiety and neurotic anxiety, and the latter is encouraged by the mass media with their elevation of team spirit and hatred of “success”—an outcome that inevitably alienates those who stray from the reservation of political correctness.

Freud had something valuable to say about fears of separating from the group in 1922: “Dread in an individual is provoked either by the greatness of a danger or by the cessation of emotional ties (libidinal cathexes [Libidobesetzungen]); the latter is the case of neurotic dread. In just the same way panic arises either owing to an increase in the common danger or owing to the disappearance of the emotional ties which hold the group together; and the latter case is analogous to that of neurotic dread.” Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, Chapter V, transl. James Strachey. Apply this suggestion to the assimilating immigrant or upwardly mobile ethnic individual or group. This view leaves out the anxiety stemming from mismanaged separation of child from mother, but reminds us that there are other equally problematic social bonds. Freud extends panic and anxiety to situations in any society with fluid class boundaries, such as our own.

Imagine the fear of loss of status during an economic downturn. Imagine the fear of abandoning one’s neighbors and ancestors when forced to “uproot” one self in moving to a different town, city, or state where employment is more attractive. Imagine the fear of losing touch with a family where you were the first one to get an advanced education, and where those left behind call you “uppity.” This is why “multicultural” appeals to “community” or “race” or “ethnicity” work, though they are weapons in the hands of demagogues. Might there be less anxiety, even less panic, in the false utopias that union bosses, race hustlers, or corrupt politicians and their ilk promise to voters? Have we not here the inefficacy of competing appeals to “individuality” and “equal opportunity” from anticommunists on the Right, even as conservatives and moderates alike strive to protect the integrity of families and voluntarism over bureaucratic strategies for an ever elusive unity? (For a recent blog on this subject see https://clarespark.com/2013/09/17/the-illusion-of-national-unity/.)

[For a popular blog that deals with separation anxiety from the mother, with remarks on modernist rejections of Victorian culture see https://clarespark.com/2009/11/16/panic-attacks-and-separation-anxiety/.]

February 27, 2012

Chardon High School, “negativity” and depth psychology

I woke up to the news of the shooting of several students at Chardon High School, Ohio. As I write this, pundits are already attempting to add to the paucity of concrete detail regarding this student shooter with reassurances and/or warnings to parents. All we know as I write this at 12:20 PST, is that the shooter is a male, that he had made his preoccupation with death and vengeance known on Facebook last December, and that he shot his ex-girl friend’s new boy friend, Daniel Parmertor, now killed. Four other students are wounded. There may be more deaths. [Added 2-28: two more students have died, and the shooter was a student at a special school for “at risk” students; also described as “outcast.”]

Ever since I started reading about the history of American culture, I have heard endless repetitions on the theme that we are a violent people, owing to our history. And yet, polls seem to show that “negativity” in political ads is often rejected by a populace that is notoriously bloodthirsty and amoral. (Ask Cormac McCarthy about this.)

In prior blogs I have ruminated about the strong lobby against psychiatry and other mental health services, although we know a great deal more about child development than, say, our forebears at the beginning of the modern period in about the 16th century and 17th centuries, when witch burnings and other forms of torture were common in popular and high culture alike.

I have also argued that the particular form of co-optation of 1960s protest movements produced a willed refusal to look at what was common in human nature. Multiculturalism asserted that only members of a race or gender were able to opine about groups in which they did not belong, owing to the group “character” of the oppressed group du jour. Multiculturalists, along with their Stalinoid enemies, also made great generalizations about our national character. Amerikka was held to be essentially imperialistic, money-mad, racist, patriarchal, ecocidal, genocidal, and so on. Graduate students in  history were more likely to get a job if they adhered to this catechism, especially if they could prove their competence in “whiteness studies.”

It happened that the psycho-historian Peter Loewenberg (illustrated) was a professor in my department at UCLA, but his focus on power relations in numerous types of  “families” was considered to be a specialty beyond the ken of ordinary graduate students like myself, who were told by the numerous social historians that it was better to identify with the grass roots or mobs and their laudable resistance to upper-class atrocities, than to follow the path cleared by Freud, and before him the acute insights into individual and group psychology offered by every great writer in the history of the West, starting with Greek tragedy, and going on through Shakespeare, Milton, Goethe, Schiller, and many others. (And I have not mentioned the revelations of the great visual artists, and before them, archaic religions, all of which interested Freud and his better followers.)

It is not likely that even our best private schools, aimed at training leaders, delve into the affective lives of their students, other than to preach against “hate” and to promote “tolerance” of those who are “different.” What would Freud have said? What did our Founding Fathers think? Where did the notion of childhood innocence come from? I will leave that last question unanswered for now. (Don’t blame the Jews. The better educated among us have no illusions about benevolent human nature, agreeable to shaping by social engineers educated by Rousseau.)

Clearly, there is a dark side to human nature, and it is common to every one of us. But the anti-psychiatry and anti-capitalist culture in which we swim does not consider our material bodies appropriate objects of study. Yet we are seething with rage, jealousy, and longings for revenge—emotions that are part of our human equipment from birth. In the medieval past, these common qualities were attributes of the Devil, and in this life, we were in his snares and subject to his constant lying. Madness was attributed to demonic possession, and many the death-dealing remedies that were offered to purge us of his maleficent urges.

Many pious Americans still believe in the Devil, and believe that “secularists” (include in that category psychologists, feminists and Jews) are in his serpentine grasp. But because teaching children how to manage their “negative” emotions is considered to be a violation of parental rights, schools back away from challenging the medievalists among us. Meanwhile, kids are flooded with terrifying images of monsters, vampires, zombies, and other projections of their forbidden anger—anger at being bullied, lied to, overestimated, underestimated, pushed, neglected, abandoned to the mass media (including comic books)– but make your own list of treacherous adult conduct.

Similarly, “narcissism” is now considered to be a personality disorder and also the chief feature of laissez-faire (a.k.a. free market) capitalism, according to many progressive intellectuals. Yet little girls are taught from early childhood to emulate the glitterati, turning themselves into decorative objects for the sexual delectation of strangers, men, and even family members.

It is now “cool” to identify with the demonic and with criminals. It is one way to defy authoritarian parents and authoritarian ideas, one desperate way to feel a modicum of power.  We are committing mass suicide in our resistance to taking a detailed family history, including how every institution we inhabit deals with the dark side of human nature.

February 25, 2012

Moral atheists?

Blake's Ancient of Days, 1794

[This blog is dedicated to my daughter Jenny, who called my attention to the missing father in the Whitney Houston death coverage. See https://clarespark.com/2012/02/13/whitneys-spectacular-demise/.] Fox News Channel is usually vigilant in exposing atheists and watching out for threatened family values and “the folks,” who may be waylaid by “secularists”; i.e., nihilists and cultural relativists. It is often imagined that feminists, like communists before them, are adherents to such destructive beliefs, beliefs that send its adherents to hell in this world and/or the next.

I noticed yesterday that one Republican operative who posts on Facebook had asked the question, “does not atheism lead to the breakdown of society”—or words to that effect. I engaged the question and realized I had the germ of an idea for a new blog.

On a recent blog (https://clarespark.com/2011/10/19/sex-without-freud/), I have noted that the “Jew” Freud was more controversial than the “Jew” Marx as I researched literary criticism and the reconstruction of the humanities curriculum between the wars. It was probably Freud’s The Future of An Illusion (1927) that was most offensive to the progressives I was studying, for Marx’s anticapitalism was not far from their own. Though many of these academics were not overtly religious and may have been agnostic or atheistic or primitivist followers of “the Greek Way,” they were strongly defending the notion of “the good father” (e.g., FDR) as “the focus of veneration.” Hence, Melville’s straying father as depicted in his “crazy” novel Pierre, or, the Ambiguities (1852) had to be defended against excessive [female, Hebraic] puritanism, while Melville himself, a covert sympathizer with Captain Ahab, had to be denounced as murderer and/or abuser of his wife and sons. (See https://clarespark.com/2011/06/12/call-me-isabel-a-reflection-on-lying/.)

[It is well known that antisemites and anti-imperialists have pictured the Hebrew God (whose name may be spoken or written only as Yahweh) as brutal, warlike, and domineering, in contrast to themselves, who walk in the steps of the gentle, peacemaking, even maternal, Christ, (or perhaps they reject all religion along with their families of origin, turning themselves into Nietzschean man-gods and goddesses). Only a selective, ahistoric, and misguided reading of the Christian Bible could support such a sharp antithesis between Jew and Christian. See https://clarespark.com/2010/11/14/the-abcs-of-antisemitism/, especially the note on Harvard historian Crane Brinton, who associated Jacobins with “Hebraic fury” and Calvinism.]

To return to my chat with the Republican operative: I argued that it was not belief in God that was decisive to a moral, law-abiding, politically engaged, creative adulthood, but rather family structure. I referred to such issues as the presence or absence of a strong, loving, protective, emotionally present father, and such relatively unstudied questions as sibling rivalry and birth order (mental health workers will know what I mean. Some economists and sociologists will strongly disagree, arguing that it is the amount of money in the family that most affects life chances for the children. I don’t know how this could be proven one way or another.).

A weak, mostly absent father, averse to domesticity and to close contact with children in their most crucial period of brain development (starting at birth but continuing through their 20s!) is more likely than not to incite cult-like behavior and nihilism in his children. Without that introjected paternal superego, we are adrift in a sea of competing ideologies, and well may seek an anchor in a repressive dictatorial father-substitute, or, as in the case of the French Revolution, we may seek direction in a vindictive mob.

As I studied misogyny in 19th century and 20th century authors, including poets, I saw frequent terror of the modern woman, a figure most notable for her switching from indulgent, constant comforter to horrifying, death-dealing witch. (https://clarespark.com/2009/10/23/murdered-by-the-mob-moral-mothers-and-symbolist-poets/).  Single mothers today are expected to be both disciplinarian and bearer of unconditional love. I wonder if this double role is not too much to expect from single mothers, indeed the double role may be the precursor to misogyny, yet some counter-culture figures, including some feminists, are not daunted by the possibility that the male-free home is not the mark of progress they imagine. Is it not likely that “the kids are not all right?”

February 4, 2012

Blue Bloods, Freud, trauma, 9/11

Poster for Blue Bloods

I have seen every episode of the CBS drama Blue Bloods, starring Tom Selleck as a Catholic family patriarch. Selleck plays Frank Reagan, New York City ex-cop who has risen to police commissioner, where he is an avatar of civic resolve, duty, self-control, piety, and rectitude. The episode of 2-3-12 was of special interest, because it showed Reagan dissatisfied with his psychiatrist, played by F. Murray Abraham. The psychiatrist is not dwelling on sexual history (as the stereotype would have it), but rather on his client’s response to recent multiple traumas, which turn out to include 9/11, but before that, the loss of Reagan’s wife, the dirty-cop murder of one of his three sons, and possibly the shock of his youngest son, a graduate of Harvard Law School, abandoning his profession for the family business, where he is reduced to being a rookie cop on the beat. It is only in this episode that we learn that Reagan was in the North Tower on 9/11, and that his ex-partner is dying from a lung disease caught while breathing the noxious air that followed the bombing of the Twin Towers. (Viewers will easily identify “survivor’s guilt” as did Reagan himself.)

The [Jewish?] psychiatrist’s questions anger Reagan, who walks out of his (secret) session, his inner feelings unexamined and undisclosed. His assistant guesses that he has disappeared because of an affair. When queried as to why the affair has ended,  Reagan replies that “she asked too many questions.” (I.e., the focus in therapy is on this world, not the next one.) The rest of the episode deals with an incident in which a neighbor of Danny Reagan, angered by the presence of a half-way house in his neighborhood, causes a former child-molester to run out in the street, to be hit by Danny’s car, containing his wife and two sons.  The neighbor then shoots into Reagan’s car, traumatizing his wife and one of the sons. Linda Reagan, the wife, is horrified by the close call, and is in a snit for most of the episode. She is not used to “bullets flying around” as her husband explains to his partner. But Danny, though sometimes a loose cannon, wants above all to preserve his marriage, so he offers his badge to the now mollified Linda. She refuses it, for Danny has caught and handcuffed the shooter,  obviously a bigot who, with his loudmouth wife, resents the airs put on by this blue blooded police family, and unlike the Reagan family, lacks compassion for the fallen.

But it is the climax that prompted this blog. At the funeral of Reagan’s partner (another “Irish-American”), Reagan gives the eulogy, and expresses a central tenet of Catholic theology. We can’t know why he, Frank Reagan, survived 9/11, while his colleague did not. It is beyond human ken. The implication is that 9/11 and its tragic toll in human life is incomprehensible, but, like other difficult questions related to human suffering, must be “part of God’s plan.” He actually used those words. We question, but there are no answers to be had in this world.

When I first started my dissertation research, I noticed that the most influential Melville scholars (including both Protestants and Catholics) had thrown up their hands at the “mystery” of Melville, who takes his place with the Holy Trinity that is yet one God, and, like 9/11, with its victims and survivors, unknowable, no matter how carefully we read him (Melville) and his biography. So it is with millions of others who resist psychiatry and various forms of psychoanalysis, social work, and counseling. For these stoics, human suffering is unfathomable in its causes. Taking a family history and digging inside our own responses to traumas possibly inflicted by even the most well-meaning of parents, is tantamount to parricide and deicide. And Frank Reagan’s father, a former cop and police commissioner, is off limits, as is Reagan’s mother. Honor, family, and justice are transmitted in the blood. Just look at the poster for the show.

Can we survive as a representative republic when vast segments of our population resist those critical processes that would make us independent and appropriately curious and critical of the persons and events that help shape our lives? Must our politics be seen only “through a glass, darkly?” For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/22/managerial-psychiatry-jung-henry-a-murray-and-sadomasochism-3/. (The episode in question was repeated 6-17-12.)

Note: I have seen this episode twice and have corrected the error that Reagan might be grieving for a competitor, not his former partner.

June 13, 2011

Weinergate, Papa Freud, and the Imperfect Father

Henry A. Murray’s story as told by a political ally

While I was doing my dissertation research on literary history in America between the wars, I noticed that Freud and Marx were usually paired together, and that both were anathema to the “moderates” who reconstructed the humanities curriculum, mostly at the end of the 1930s. Marx and Freud were regarded as intruders into the canon, for both were taking an inventory of personal history and the big picture (such as the material and ideological conditions under which works of art were created)  in ways that threatened the “natural harmony” that the moderate men wished to restore.

But of the two “Jewish” intellectuals (both were atheists and hence deficient in unifying “spirituality”), Freud was probably the more threatening, for after all, populism was an important thread in American political history, and Marx’s dim view of big business and finance capital was attractive to small businessmen and many professionals, including poorly paid teachers and other academics. But to think that the pursuit of happiness might be sullied by “everyday unhappiness” (as Freud argued throughout, but especially in his thoughts about the Great War, in which he asserted how lightly civilization sat upon the overpowering demands of sexuality and aggression), was a real downer.

But more, Freud’s jaundiced eye at perfect fathers (and of course religion) threatened already weakened paternal authority in the family, and restoring such paternal authority was a major aim of the social psychologists who were allied to the Roosevelt administration.

Perhaps that is why one of the chief left-liberal propagandists, Henry A. Murray, Director of the Harvard Clinic, Jungian, and long-distance psychoanalyst of Hitler, came down so very hard on Melville’s great novel that followed hard on the heels of Moby-Dick. I refer to Pierre, or the Ambiguities (1852), and partly discussed in my last blog. Murray was one of those who advocated conflating the images of Washington, Lincoln, and FDR, so as to improve “morale”—in his view, the morale that kept Americans loyal to the “moderate conservative” agenda (i.e., the New Deal). Perfect father figures were necessary as the  “focus of veneration” and he deemed Melville to be “pathologically puritanical” in judging his own father so harshly for his amorous peccadilloes. (Actually, Melville was not complaining about sex as such, but rather about the abandonment of an illegitimate half-sister by his supposedly Christian family. But Murray was himself a womanizer, and focused on sex alone, as indeed, did his authorized biographer, Forrest G. Robinson.)

Throughout this website, I have come down very hard on both idealization and demonization. Psychoanalysts call this separation of other people into all good or all bad, “splitting”. Splitting is very bad for mental health, as the inevitable disillusion that follows idealizing our parents or other love objects as real human frailties are revealed, can lead to rage and depression.  We don’t expect children to see their parents as imperfect human beings, struggling with sometimes overpowering emotions, such as sexuality that can be wayward in male and female alike. Demagogues count on transferring childish idealization of parental figures to themselves.  And what demagogues do is demonize their opponents, while promising the restoration of pre-adolescent family harmony to their audiences.  In other words, demagoguery leads to mass regression; to a dependent childhood state where the critical faculties are not yet developed.

There is a remedy to the siren call of the demagogue. It is an education in economics, and in the skills that enable adults to analyze the costs and benefits of proposed public policies as they emanate from either political party. But before we can do that we have to summon the courage to look inside ourselves and to try to get to the sources of our deepest motives that determine loves and hates. In the case of Weinergate and the huge emotions evoked in many, we might visit our images of ourselves as holier-than-thou (and most certainly holier than the damned Weiner). I admire every writer with the nerve to do this, as Melville surely did in his great, much-abused, and under-rated novel Pierre.  Some call this looking inside without covering our eyes as demonic (in the cover to the paperback edition that I have, Pierre’s face is darkened as he merges with Isabel –the latter an emblem of suffering humanity). I call this intense self-scrutiny sanity and moderation.

April 8, 2010

Racism, Modernity, Modernism

Columbus taking possession of the New World

[Added: Columbus Day, 2010. Because Herman Melville’s great-grandson Paul Metcalf had associated Columbus with Captain Ahab, it occurred to me that what the “anti-imperialist” anti-expansionists feared most was discovery as such. Finding out new things–for instance that admired authorities have been lying to you, or painfully over time finding out new truths in science and medicine–can get you fired, not hired, thrown out of graduate school or your profession or worse, much worse. So let us celebrate today the risky process of discovery, and honor those of our ancestors and contemporaries who are making the Ahab-ish leap from light into darkness that few of us would imitate. This is such a big subject that I wrote a recent blog about it: https://clarespark.com/2013/02/21/discovery-anxiety/.]

I have linked the problem of “race” and “racism” to “modernity” because numerous scholars and other writers on the Left blame modernity for racism. For them, the modern world begins with, and is defined by, the gold and resource-driven Western expansion into Asia, the New World, and Africa. Hence the primary feature of expansionism (i.e., imperialism) is the subjugation and exploitation of non-Europeans. Racism was said to originate in the need to explain the contradiction between Christian ethics and the cruelty and degradation visited upon native peoples, for example in the notion of “the White Man’s burden”—the moral imperative to uplift and rescue pagans through the superior religion of Christianity. But other voices would have preserved the pagans, either as primitivists or perhaps holding to the theory of polygenesis: the idea of separate creation. In that theory, humanity evolved separately in the different regions of the world—hence “races.” For these racists, there was no original set of homo sapiens in Africa that wandered the earth, mutating and adapting to drastically different environments. There are some white supremacists today who probably adhere to this polygenesis view of human evolution, and I have come across some on Facebook who call themselves by evocative names including the word “renaissance” but their aim is not humanism or the unity of our species, but the secession of white people from a multiracial polity (they are also interested in the subordination of women). These latter men are impressed by such as Carleton Coon, and the specter of miscegenation must give them hives.

Although it is true that the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries A.D. witnessed European expansion, there is another way to define modernity, and when I use that term, I refer to the transition from feudalism or other pre-capitalist economics to market economies.  That transition remains far from complete, as I have written here numerous times. The postmodernists/post-colonialists  believe they have not only dredged up the “submerged” cultures of native peoples, but have transcended the modernity that spun nativism (WASP supremacy), bureaucratic rationality and hence the Holocaust, but have they?  Was Nazism “the revolt of the masses” and the excrescence of modern Jacobins? Moreover, the Great Chain of Being or similar hierarchies of “interdependence” remain intact because the scientific revolution and the rise of industrialism and a burgeoning middle-class challenged  former ruling aristocracies with a newly literate class that was educating not only itself, but the lower orders. Enter team playing, the lovable fatherly Leader, and hierarchies would be preserved against the threat posed by the too-curious literate masses, including women. (For a perfect example of a model hierarchy see https://clarespark.com/2009/10/15/the-christianization-of-ziva-david-ncis/.)

Don’t scratch your head about the deficiencies in our public school education.  There is no moral imperative for those who identify with aristocracies, new or old, to give students the analytic tools they need to judge their superiors or elected officials. If there was serious education in our country, all students would study the sciences, economics (including the basic elements of accounting), the history of every social movement in the U.S. and the conflicts that they addressed, the wily ways of those who have governed us, and how to decipher the propaganda that urges deference to corrupt authority—from pre-school on through graduate school! (And I am not exempting the scrutiny of both high and popular culture from this menu. See the Ibsen excerpt here: https://clarespark.com/2009/11/02/a-ride-through-the-culture-wars-in-academe/.

Modernity, then, is founded upon the invention of the printing press and the spread of mass literacy and numeracy. It is about the growth of competitive markets, and the hatred of the bourgeoisie expressed by aristocrats threatened by displacement. Many a New Left “cultural radical” was a would-be aristocrat, spurning the middle-class, and getting down with the lower orders (who were viewed as less uptight—indeed as the source of instinctual liberation). In came George Orwell, folklore and rock ‘n roll, out went classical music and the bourgeois entertainments that were related.

    Primitivism—a habit of mind in both the pre-war and post-Great War modernist movement in the arts—is a form of racism, though it is not the nasty kind that we associate with lynch mobs, institutional exclusion, segregation, and worse. Primitivism and irrationalism are overlapping categories: we let in what Freud called the Id forces to relax that persecuting, insomniac, maternal Hebraic puritan superego, just enough to keep us “balanced” and ecologically hip.

(See Freud’s 1933 topography of Superego, Ego and Id: the Superego reaches down and connects to the Id.* Or see the sequence of Picasso drawings elsewhere on this website: https://clarespark.com/2009/11/02/picasso-drawings-dreamy-mother-and-son-to-entwined-peasants/.) But since primitivism is a release, not a way of life that takes up the challenge of modernity in order to improve everyone’s material condition, it cannot help non-whites achieve the American Dream: rather primitivism idealizes the lives of “carefree” non-whites and helps recruit middle-class kids from authoritarian families (or subtly authoritarian) to support for “wars of national liberation.”  At least that was the 1960s-70s protocol. So when the elite universities and the national government instituted multiculturalism, accommodating and supposedly defusing militant cultural nationalist movements among minorities, the hipper white kids got on the bus, not bothering to look back upon the history of racial theory.

Had they done so, they would have quickly discovered the origin of “multiculturalism” and its associated moral relativism in the theories of J. G. von Herder and the German Romantics who followed. They would have discovered that there were two Enlightenments: one promoting the careful and exhaustive empirical study of this world; its competition—the pseudo-Enlightenment–reacting to the proto-jacobin “mechanical materialism” of the Enlightenment with corporatism and the notion of national or racial character, a “different” Enlightenment or Aufklärung that preserved hierarchies, favoring the Greek way also known as “socially responsible capitalism.” There was nothing democratic or egalitarian in the rooted cosmopolitan thought of Herder, Goethe, Fichte, and the hordes of social theorists who followed. The omnipresent word “diversity” today refers to the mystical organicism of Herder, Goethe, and their neoclassical, “tolerant” successors (e.g., Saint-Simon as elucidated by Frank E. Manuel, in his The Prophets of Paris). As I have said before, multiculturalism is an elite strategy to micromanage group conflict with their version of reparations; MC has nothing to do with unifying our species or spreading the skills that will help all of us to survive the numerous looming emergencies that beset us. It is collectivist and pseudo-functionalist at its core, does not lift up non-whites (but demeans them with administrative pseudo-remedies like affirmative action that recognize “race” as something real in the world, not as a category that has been socially constructed and reconstructed), and will marginalize or destroy discovery, other innovations, and all dissent.

*The (tentative) diagram may be seen in Sigmund Freud, New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (Hogarth Press, 1967): Lecture 31, p.105. “You will observe how the super-ego goes down into the id; as the heir to the Oedipus complex it has, after all, intimate connections with the id” (p.104).

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