The Clare Spark Blog

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).

November 8, 2009

Is the History of Psychiatry a Big Mess? (2)

Image (90)

Henry Fuseli, “Thor Battling Jormungander, the Midgard Dragon,” (1788)

Since I wrote part one of this blog, there have been several developments. First, a chasm has opened between those who see Nidal Hasan as a mental case, for instance, suffering from “harassment” directed against him as a Muslim, and those who see the Fort Hood event as an episode in radical Islamic jihadism. Second, I have attempted to find out more about “military psychiatry” and its philosophy.

Here is one article from 2002 that lays out its managerial philosophy: http://pb.rcpsych.org/cgi/reprint/26/6/227.pdf. Sociologists will recognize a classical structural-functionalist and behaviorist model. (For the still powerful Talcott Parsons cohort at Harvard and elsewhere see my blog https://clarespark.com/2009/08/25/preventive-politics-and-socially-responsible-capitalists-1930s-40s/. As I understand “functionalism,” society is viewed as a well-oiled machine, all its moving parts integrated to form a harmonious whole: any disturbances will emanate from outside “the system”–“outside agitators” or “Jewish” troublemakers, for instance.) In the explanation of military psychiatry (cited above) I was taken especially by the inception of military psychiatry in Russia diagnosing “evacuation syndrome” following the revolutionary situation of 1905 (the date meant nothing to the authors, apparently; Russian soldiers were joining Soldier’s Councils), and the suggestion that research today (2002) is being conducted in “computer administered cognitive therapy for affective and anxiety disorder.” I may have gone way more libertarian in my latter years, but my mind-management antennae are quivering anew and my head is ringing with alarm bells, notwithstanding the supposed adherence of military psychiatry to the “evidence-based practice [of medicine].” We should all be more attentive to this peculiar medical “culture” as its own advocates describe it, and it promises to be a fine subject for historians of science and investigative journalists, especially those with an interest in robots and their construction.

Third, one Facebook friend believes that Freudian and perhaps other approaches to depth psychology are obsolete and were always grievously mistaken anyway. He is not alone, and I have met few psychiatrists who do not distance themselves from psychoanalysts, even those analysts with medical degrees. Very briefly, I will sketch what contributions of Freud remain interesting, and how he was received in the early 20th century. The valuable part of Freud, for me at least, is that which asks us to piece together a narrative of our lives, first to identify patterned responses to difficult persons and situations, and second to examine our loves and hatreds toward the end of overcoming idealization or its opposite, demonization, of others; finally, to identify traumas and how to manage their lingering effects on psyche and soma, for instance, panic attacks on persistent anxiety. What Freud does not do is paint a rosy picture of life or any kind of “social engineering,” though as Nathan Hale has shown in his Freud and the Americans, he was deliberately turned into a Progressive in the USA. The real Freud would not have drawn a smile on Leviathan, but Henry Murray did (see “Leviathan Altered?” https://clarespark.com/2009/11/08/leviathan-altered/. Murray added a smile to the whale image).

“Where Id was, let Ego be!” As I have mentioned before on this website, Freud wrote a major essay during the Great War describing the difficulty in becoming a civilized person or society, “Thoughts for the Time of War and Death” (1915). Indeed, in his still deeply controversial anti-religion book, The Future of An Illusion (1927), he began by stating that any society that abused many of its less advantaged members deserved to be overthrown: he was ever the moralist. In sum, he demands that we remember every significant detail of our past, and how relationships in the family of origin could have affected later object choices as an adult. No one who attended this call to constructing an accurate narrative would be susceptible to demagoguery or mind-management by others, including those in the press or government.

Those who are anti-Freud should be interrogated as to whether or not they reject the relevance of early childhood experiences and family deficiencies to persistent adult distress or gullibility. Also, whether or not they believe that the artists and writers who inspired Freud are of no consequence today (I include Sophocles, Shakespeare, Milton, Schiller, Goethe, Nietzsche, and many more; certainly Melville, writing in the 1850s, was as interested as Freud in family relationships). But that is not how Freud as historian (and literary critic) was received by the bohemian upper class after the war. Rather, libertines seized upon his theory that sexual repression causes neurotic symptoms and behavior. Let the acting out begin! (See Herbert Marcuse in Eros and Civilization for one of many examples. In Berger and Luckmann’s The Social Construction of Reality (1966), they dismiss psychoanalyst as suitable only for (New York?) Jews, with the implication that only sex-obsessed Jews would benefit from Freud. I was assigned this book in graduate school. )

In the 1970s, radical feminists pounced upon Freud’s cover-up of the sexual abuse of minor girls by male relatives, claiming that he had sold out, contradicting the testimony of his hysterical patients by postulating sexual fantasies in his analysands; these young women were thus made the victims of patriarchy (by the feminists). In that hostile reading, the victim became the perpetrator, i.e., “she asked for it.” I could spend a lifetime studying Freud and his interpreters/misinterpreters (some of whom are blatant antisemites, blasting Freud-the-carnal-Jew, not to speak of his atheism), and all the reasons he remains controversial today, so I apologize for the brevity of this blog on such a momentous subject. My own view is that any psychological treatment 1. must be anchored in the materiality of the human brain; and 2.must respect the autonomy of the patient or client, rigorously opposing brainwashing, interpretations that make sense only to the therapist, or any other type of indoctrination, and 3. cannot ignore the institutional context in which mental illness arises. Idealist (mystical) formulations that fail this test are simply ideological, and deserve the suspicion of their harshest critics. Mystification has no place in an enlightened profession.

As for soldiers, they deserve to know exactly why they fight: as a tight unit, they will give up their individuality, but it should not be a permanent loss of self. It cannot be an easy task to integrate them back into a society (ours) that is viciously polarized, often deceptive in the utterances of its leaders, and divided into fragments defined more by the group-think of race and ethnicity than by loyalty to a set of common democratic principles.* The more honest and capable psychiatrists of the military may have an impossible task on their hands.

*Here, in an excerpt from my article on Bunche and Myrdal,  is what was promised to enlisted men during the second world war:

[From my article:] Louis Wirth’s insistence on wise progressive planning and foresight, including the sighting of threats to order, was reiterated in a Q. and A. booklet from the Office of War Information, “What Do Students Do In The War and After” (numbered M-3227,  slipped into the Ideologies volume in the Bunche Papers at UCLA, though not bound). On page 8 the Committee for Economic Development [business leaders adopting Keynesian economic policies, created in 1942, C.S.] is mentioned as promising “maximum employment and high productivity” after the war. Page 9 quotes Ambassador Winant in a speech to English miners: “Anti-Fascism is not a short term military job. It was bred in poverty and unemployment. To crush Fascism at its roots we must crush depression. We must solemnly resolve that in the future we will not tolerate the economic evils which breed poverty and war. This is not something that we solve for the duration. It is part of the war.”  Page 10 announces “There is a growing sense of social responsibility among business leaders and a wide-spread acceptance of the inescapable duty of business to maintain full production and continuous employment to maintain the purchasing power upon which prosperity depends.” Page 11 ff., states that the curricula for history, the social sciences and the liberal arts will be revised and adjusted accordingly: Education must stress science, interpersonal human relations, and international affairs, the “larger world of other peoples and other cultures with whom we must collaborate in establishing world order.” [end excerpt] In other words, multiculturalism and internationalism were not an imposition by the Left but an upper-class “progressive” response to heightened expectations among soldiers for more equality, peace, meaningful work and education after discharge from the armed services.

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