YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

October 2, 2015

Unasked questions about Chris Harper Mercer and Barack Obama

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 5:07 pm
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HarperI am scratching my head in wonder that the press, fixated on the Oregon shooting (October 1, 2015) and all those that preceded it (committed by white boys in their late adolescence or early adulthood) is not asking the most obvious questions.

The first of these would focus on his specific family history, the most relevant being his half-black inheritance (as the Daily Beast and others mentioned). Where is his father? The media have mentioned a mother living in California, but we know nothing about her: her work, her values, how she raised her only child. How was he punished growing up, and who was responsible for disciplining him: the mother or the father? Did the father use corporal punishment? Or some other method, such as threats or grounding. Was there a divorce? Was mom even ever married?

I have an idea why such obvious questions are not being asked. The Right insists on the father-led nuclear family as the ideal unit to lift the masses out of poverty (and even the Moynihan Report did this with respect to blacks, and Moynihan was a staunch liberal). They also imply extreme sex-role differentiation. Supposedly, males are rational, females are irrational and likely to spoil the child, even feminize him.

Second, was it simply chance that Chris Harper Mercer chose a science classroom to embark on his killing spree? The first victim is said to be the science teacher. The hostility of some “Christian” sects to science is too well known to dwell upon. [Update: it was an English class, not a science class as had been reported earlier. Thanks for the correction, Jon!]

And who were Mercer’s victims? Were they all white people like himself? Or might there have been a sprinkling of Asians (at UCLA, nearly all the students studying science were some variety of “Asian”). [Also now irrelevant as the shooter was half black.]

Finally, we come to Obama’s almost instantaneous response to the event, not to speak of his startling passivity in the face of concrete threats to the nation. The media have emphasized his “passion” and opportunism. What if he is not merely a “narcissist” as even Krauthammer insists, but enraged about gun ownership because it signifies the rage at having been abandoned by his real father, and who knows how his grandparents disciplined him?

I attribute these glaring lacunae in the press coverage to the abandonment of depth psychology. Instead of taking specific family histories, noting traumas where they exist, mental health professionals are dedicated to downplaying the permanence of trauma, let alone such antique notions as Oedipal rage. It is all happy talk now along with CBT, in the short, cheap cut to rewiring the brain through the power of positive thinking, or maybe prayer: we should beat the Devil within all of us in this fallen world.

Don’t expect anything to change, or a return to supposedly discredited psychoanalytic explanations for deranged mass shooting events by young males, or even more obvious ones, such as adolescent rebellion against authoritarian parents. We are too dumbed down for that.

Our society indulges in escapism even as it fecklessly searches for a “motive.” Those who love “families” but refuse to look too closely into their inner dynamics, are bound to fail. (See related blog: https://clarespark.com/2013/01/17/bondage-and-the-family/) Or, since NPR is touting the (loveless, hence hate-filled) “loner” theory out for fame/revenge: see https://clarespark.com/2012/07/24/the-cracked-and-cracking-loner-as-mass-murderer/.


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/2013/03/28/power-and-aristocratic-radicals/ (on the Foucauldians)



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




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






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)



January 15, 2011

Healing, Trauma, Mystery

Jared Loughner's backyard shrine

I have closely followed the media coverage of the Tucson massacre and listened intently to the President’s speech at the U. of Arizona. Much praise was heard throughout the punditry for his message of healing (including Fox News!), and though he separated uncivil speech from the actions of the (unnamed) “shooter,” still his message was received as “spiritual” and gave a sense of closure to many listeners (probably the press who longed to move on). (Meanwhile, many of my Facebook friends viewed the event as a campaign speech and a circus.) The point is that the President fortified his centrist credentials in the eyes of many.

    If you have followed my blogs on this website, you will know that I have been verbally apoplectic over the notion that “moderation” can “heal” irreconcilable conflicts, whether they are within ourselves or out in the world. The word “trauma” was rarely heard over the air waves or in the blogosphere this week, though clearly the numerous victims were traumatized, and though faith may help some of the victims and their families “heal”, I remain skeptical. Wounds may heal. Irreparable losses and deficiencies in families or in our political actions may not, notwithstanding the promises of professional “healers.”*  In my view, conflicts can often be managed; sometimes they are not manageable.

     There is now talk of “toning down” the more raucous talk-radio hosts: Obama warned us not to “turn on each other.” I’m all for that as a civilized person and opponent of all forms of demonization, since the Devil is not a character who inhabits my psyche or anywhere else in my belief system. But I wonder about the social function that the “haters” perform in society in helping others vent their rage, rage that has many possible causes: coming back from war, endless bullying in school without intervention from the authorities, horrible incidents in childhood and a general lack of knowledgeable, responsible parenting. I have written endlessly here, too, of my opposition to apocalyptic thinking that is so typical of demagogues–no matter where they stand on the political spectrum. The constant invocation of irreversible environmental changes, for instance, is a form of terror, and one can only speculate about how such talk distorts our political culture. In the case of “climate change,” propaganda can be so extreme that a pause to consider scientific evidence pro and con is forestalled because we become invested in one outcome or the other, just to defend ourselves against the worst case scenario. The alternative to either idealizing the effects of technical progress or of turning back to an imagined  Golden Age is the intensive labor of investigation and hard thought.

   I have also written about “mystery”–another concept invoked by the President last week, when he said we would never understand what the shooter was feeling (or words to that effect). The notion of limited human understanding is sometimes appropriate, but more often comes with a strong attachment to those religions that emphasize the weakness of the human sensorium, and the limited understanding that will be repaired in paradise or the underworld for the deserving (Plato speaking through Socrates!). Actually, we know quite a bit about mental illnesses of the extreme forms, and there are treatments available for such sufferers, while pathbreaking research proceeds apace and needs our support. In my view, the President missed an opportunity when he did not name Jared Loughner and his parents as victims in the massacre, for he could have opened a national discussion of social policy in the various states regarding treatment or institutionalization of the hopelessly mentally ill, including the shame attached to all kinds of emotional problems. Indeed, it is widely held that only (sex-obsessed, carnal, worldly) Jews believe in or practice psychoanalysis and related therapies. We don’t give enough weight to the power of antisemitism itself to induce what historian Richard Hofstadter called “the paranoid style.”

   To sum up: the rift in our country was not created by the language used or abused by politicians and pundits. Two economic philosophies face one another and only empirical investigation of the most stringent kind will support the arguments of either the proponents of progressivism or the proponents of libertarianism/laissez-faire/the self-regulated free market. Let us hope that our country eschews the demagogic comforts of conceptions like “healing” the permanently traumatized, and that we adhere to the most precise and rigorous investigations–no holds barred– of what ails us.

*Recommended reading: Herman Melville’s The Confidence Man (1857), the scene in which the Invalid Titan confronts and strikes the Herb Doctor. There is no doubt where Melville stood on the permanence of trauma, nor is there any doubt that his family resented his suffering and inconsolability.

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