The Clare Spark Blog

December 12, 2012

White Rage, Black Surrogates

Jamie FoxxThis blog started out as a meditation upon a book about “caste sanctions” on the Negro written during the late 1950s, by Bertram P. Karon, a highly regarded Freudian clinical psychologist and psychometrician, who was writing about The Negro Personality: a rigorous investigations of the effects of culture (N.Y.: Springer Publishing Co., 1958).

Since Karon appeared to be yet another corporatist liberal, managing those blacks who were potential troublemakers, and since he cited psychologists and sociologists working in the Harvard tradition personified by Talcott Parsons, Gordon Allport, Henry A. Murray, and other propagators of adjustment to a society mottled by structural problems and deeply flawed institutions, I expected to assess his book negatively, focusing on his collectivist categories (the Southern Negro, the Northern Negro). Then I would refer the reader to those liberals who had enabled black nationalism, for reasons having little to do with improving the material condition of the black population. ( See

Particularly, I wanted to suggest that white people (and all women) were often angry and bottled up too, and might be using black rage as expressed say, by ‘comedians’ such as Jamie Foxx (who joked about killing all white people in a recent movie), or by the numerous gangsta rappers as surrogates for their own inexpressible rage. And this is a thought I hold to, for probably everyone has reasons to be angry, whether at “stable” families, divorcing parents, bosses, the government, schools, the human condition, etc. But, such strategies are yet another injustice perpetrated by white people and cooperated with by opportunistic, politically unserious black persons. As for violence and catharsis, it is an ancient technique deployed by elites to keep the lower orders in line. (For a blog on such “ritual rebellions” see, retititled “Rappers, Primitivism, Ritual Rebellion.”)

But then I came upon some remarks in Karon’s conclusion that softened my own annoyance with his structural-functionalist pedigree. For instance, he responds to those who believe in a hopelessly imperfect “human nature” and hence are pessimistic about any amelioration in our condition (or worse, preposterously deny that there remains racism).

[Karon:] “…it is not necessary to create a perfect world, it is only necessary to create a perfectable one, in which things can be a little better than they are. Any partial improvement, it seems, will be reflected in a decrease in the human cost.” (p. 173)

I was especially moved by his concluding paragraph: “The contrast between northern and southern Negroes is striking: we are led to ask what protects the northern Negro’s personality. Perhaps the southern Negro, whose whole society tells him he is wrong even to resent his treatment, can never be completely sure that he isn’t wrong, nor can he bring himself to completely accept the treatment he receives. The northern Negro, on the other hand, may be made to suffer, but he feels that those who make him suffer are wrong, and he has a right to resent it. He is engaged in an unequal struggle which he may never win, but he knows that he is engaged in a struggle which is not hopeless. Apparently, being able to face the fact that one is being mistreated preserves a sense of personal integrity which, in turn, serves to ward off much of the destructive impact of oppressive experiences. It would seem that when we face the truth, the truth really does, to a large extent, set us free.” (p.175) Which is fine: we will be in touch with our angry feelings, but with no way forward to remove causes of oppression. ‘Free’ for what? If we want ameliorative politics, then we should not fail to address the structural causes of suffering, which entails stringent evaluation of all our institutions. Or is classical liberalism the best we can hope for?

Bertram P. Karon, Ph.D.

More recently, Dr. Bertram P. Karon has voiced unorthodox views on the possibilities of treating and curing schizophrenics with psychoanalytically oriented therapy, rejecting entirely the notion of genetic causes for paranoid schizophrenia. You can see his acceptance speech for an empathy award here, where he lays out his alternative treatment for schizophrenics. Big pharma won’t like it.

July 15, 2010

Index to Black Power blogs

Judith Bernstein’s allusion to Black Power

Illustrated is an invitation to feminist artist Judith Bernstein’s new exhibition of work not seen since 1973. Her work was famously censored by the Philadelphia Museum of Art because it was seen as incendiary and a representation of black (phallic) power.

What follows is an index to blogs dealing with source materials that demonstrate the upper-class enabling of the black power movement, thus co-opting the integrationist civil rights movement. It is worth noting that when Ralph Bunche was on the board of trustees of the Rockefeller Foundation, he suggested a pilot program that would begin to break up urban ghettoes by gradually integrating them into small towns and cities. If memory serves (I refer to Sir Brian Urquhart’s biography), the Rockefeller Foundation did nothing and Bunche resigned.

It is also important that the Bunche Center at UCLA has predictably become an advocate of separatism, with Charles Henry, UC Berkeley professor and keynote speaker at the conference I participated in (2004), insisting that Bunche had converted to black power at the end of his life. There is no evidence for that in Bunche’s papers: quite the contrary. Was he angry at the slow pace of progress? Yes. Did he renounce integrationism? No. Would he approved of the term “African American”? No way: he was a proud American who believed that blacks had helped build this country and wanted no other label than that of  “American.” His biographer understood this and subtitled his life of Bunche with this: “An American Life.”

August 20, 2009

“Shakin’ The Blues Away”: primitivism, rock ‘n roll and mental health

   Everyone is excited now about the proposed initiatives to reform mental health care, and though there are numerous references to “mental health services” in H.R. 3200, I have seen little or no discussion about the debates within the fields, for instance, who exactly is qualified to mess with our brains and endocrine systems by treating everything from marital spats to incipient schizophrenia, OCD, or the numerous “personality disorders” covered in DSM IV (soon to be DSM V: I can’t wait). According to the House bill under consideration, mental health services are to be reimbursed as long as the provider has either a doctorate or a master’s degree (i.e., is a clinical psychologist or a social worker), has had two years of supervision in treating clients, and is licensed by the state. I have already asked one psychiatrist friend to comment on how M.D.s are viewing these proposals, and know from personal experience and study in both older practices and more recent cultural history treatments of “madness” (heavily influenced by Michel Foucault) that there is zero agreement among “counselors” (as H.R. 32oo calls these providers) as to what causes mental illness, let alone how to treat, manage, or cure it/them. Meanwhile the Foucauldians instruct the hip young at the better universities that madness is a social construction invented by the bourgeoisie who want to control everyone else. And the writing of history itself is under suspicion: it is a narrative “written by the plebs” to punish geniuses like himself.

    Readers of my prior blogs will notice that all of them deal either directly or tangentially with how we feel and act/don’t act in the world, and how we identify the source of evil or account for our own unhappiness or failure, often blaming “the Jews” or modern women (these are conflated in the idea of the femme fatale). Like Freud, I take instruction from the arts, for the major literary figures of the last several centuries were all concerned with what passes for sanity, adjustment, or vigorous, righteous resistance to arbitrary authority, and one recurring theme is the incarceration by conservative families of their dissident young)–a major theme in early nineteenth-century literature.. In this one, short I hope, I want to comment on  what I learned from reading passages from Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain (1922), particularly in one of the debates between “Naphta” a Jew turned authoritarian Jesuit, and Settembrini, an optimistic bourgeois humanist who believes in amelioration, health, and progress. (Mann is obviously arguing with himself, trying to reconcile or at least examine the warring parts of his own personality: read Dr. Faustus as another case study of Mann’s preoccupation with this theme, as was Herman Melville before him.) Here is an excerpt from Magic Mountain:

 [Hans Castorp thinks that “disease was unhuman”:] “On the contrary, Naphta hastened to say. Disease was very human indeed. For to be man was to be ailing. Man was essentially ailing, his state of unhealthiness was what made him man. There were those who wanted to make him “healthy,” to to make him “go back to nature,” when, the truth was, he never had been “natural.” All the propaganda carried on today by the prophets of nature, the experiments in regeneration, the uncooked food, fresh-air cures, sun-bathing, and so on, the whole Rousseauian paraphernalia, had as its goal nothing but the dehumanization, the animalizing of man. They talked of “humanity,” of nobility—but it was the spirit alone that distinguished man, as a creature largely divorced from nature, largely opposed to her in feeling, from all other forms of organic life. In man’s spirit, then, resided his true nobility and his merit—in his state of disease, as it were; in a word, the more ailing he was, by so much was he the more man. The genius of disease was more human than the genius of health. How, then, could one who posed as the friend of man shut his eyes to these fundamental truths concerning man’s humanity? Herr Settembrini had progress ever on his lips: was he aware that all progress, is so far as there was such a thing, was due to illness, and to illness alone? In other words, to genius, which was the same thing? Had not the normal, since time was, lived on the achievements of the abnormal? Men consciously and voluntarily descended into disease and madness, in search of knowledge which, acquired by fanaticism, would lead back to health; after the possession and use of it had ceased to be conditioned by that heroic and abnormal act of sacrifice. That was the true death on the cross, the true Atonement.” [Knopf, 1968 edition, pp. 465-66]

     I was astonished to read this paragraph, for it gave me a new clue as to why Melville had written to Hawthorne shortly after he completed Moby-Dick, “I have written a wicked book, and feel as spotless as the lamb.” And does not “crazy” Ahab carry “a crucifixion in his face”? As writer, Melville’s primitivist descent into madness (into the world controlled by the Devil?) accomplished several things for him: 1. as in Typee, he could safely criticize his conservative family and certain missionaries from a distance; but 2. as romantic artist he took the risk of destroying religion, and religion was the route to social cohesion and conservative notions of “order.” And it must be said here that “Naphta” and his predecessors (Nietzsche) knew very little about real “madness” and its multiple causation in genetic inheritance, belief systems that distort reality (and somewhat described in prior blogs here), overwhelming stress, and other factors that physicians have studied and continue to explore with emphasis on the physiology of the brain.

    And remember R. D. Laing and the 1960s-70s vogue for his romantic views of madness as a source of connection with the real world? I was reminded too of Diderot’s primitivism in his Supplement to the Voyage of Bougainville (centuries before Laing’s ravings), a fantasy of life in Tahiti where there are no sexual prohibitions whatsoever. Which takes me to the 60s counter-culture/New Left appropriation of primitivism in their astonishing and still existing devotion to rock ‘n roll and/or hip-hop culture as a form of rebellion and self-assertion against the hypocritical dowdy and classical-music, old-standard loving prior generations–the generation they blamed for the Viet Nam war and the election of Richard Nixon.

    It is my view that primitivism is no solution to racism, but rather a ratification of the old stereotype conveyed by Diderot: that (perpetual?) adolescents  can escape “surplus repression” (Marcuse), or the Performance Principle (Freud) by going native. But in the elevation of black criminal elements (e.g. the Panthers or the Afrocentric pseudo-historians, one of whom repeatedly produced the viciously anti-Western and antisemitic “Afrikan Mental Liberation Weekend” for KPFK in Los Angeles), they are maintaining the stereotype of the black person as savage yet entertaining minstrel, a minstrel supposedly ragging on the upper classes. So sensible black intellectuals who identify with a supposedly (jewified) puritanical and genteel middle-class and the American Dream are seen as uncool killjoys and can be safely ignored.

   The primitivist strategy, like pornography, is controversial. For its defenders, though appearing crazy,  primitivism is a harmless catharsis for anti-social impulses. I suppose one would have to study individuals and their ideological leanings, including the ability to form and maintain enduring attachments, or conversely, to change their minds as they travel along the road to “objectivity” to make inroads on this judgment. (See Lippmann’s writing on this beneficent transformation, emphasized in my last blog.) More later as I survey existing debates within the field of mental health. Surely the narratives that are constructed for us by our families and teachers relating to our own biographies, to the national biography, and to America’s relations to other groups or societies, are of concern for all workers striving to enhance what is all too loosely described as mental health.

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