YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

May 9, 2015

Monster Moms

sweet kaulitz09, Deviant Art

sweet kaulitz09, Deviant Art

Ever since I read Philip Wylie’s Generation of Vipers (1942) I have been racking my brains for the origins of his diatribe against MOM. Here is how Wylie, later to be matched by the fictional mother in Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint (1969), or the frequent naming of the welfare state as “nanny state” by conservative journalists, described the transformation of the faultless Cinderella into a (secret) monster:

[Wylie:] “MOM is the end product of SHE. She is Cinderella…the shining-haired, the starry-eyed, the ruby-lipped virgo aeternis,  of which there is presumably one, and only one, or a one-and-only for each male, whose dream is fixed upon her deflowerment and subsequent perpetual possession. This act is a sacrament in all churches and a civil affair in our society. The collective aspects of marriage are thus largely compressed into the rituals and social perquisites of one day. Unless some element of mayhem or intention of divorce subsequently obtrudes, a sort of privacy engulfs the union and all further developments are deemed to be the business of each separate pair, including the transition of Cinderella into mom, which, if it occasions any shock, only adds to the huge, invisible burthen every man carries with him into eternity….Mom is an American creation.” (Chapter XI, p.184)

[Clare:] Here are some of my prior musings upon the origin of the Bad Mother, ambivalently celebrated in film noir and pop culture: First, Freud described the Oedipus complex, in which daughters would inevitably compete with Mom for the favors of Dad. This can’t end well.

Second, the Switch from smiling caretaker to Bitch Goddess, of good Mother to bad: (This is an excerpt from an MLA paper I delivered in 2002 to the Melville Society):

“Extrapolating from his texts (and from the writings of other Symbolists) perhaps Melville’s demonic clouds are related to the “ruffled brow”: the sudden pained and searing glance that mars the happy mother’s smooth placidity when her child vomits, wets his bed, soils his clothing, touches his genitals, blurts out a dirty word: the glance that makes him feel so poisonous to her, he imagines she would like to spit him out…and yet, she molded and branded him in her womb-factory: she is his double and his shadow.  Ever entwined, they are Eve/Cain, the Wandering Jew, Beatrice Cenci, and Pierrot: over-reachers whose self-assertion and gall will be rendered innocuous in the final scene.  The thick black eyebrows of the Gothic villain (like the mark of Cain or Pierrot’s black mask) will trigger the memory of Mother’s distress and her child’s shame.  Romantic defiance, in its identification with the designated enemies of authority, portends only degeneracy and decline; as Melville has shown us, it brings remorse and cleansing punishment, not better forms of social organization.  The cancellation of early childhood “dirt” and parental disapproval (which may be registered as sadness–Mortmain’s “muffled” “moan”–as well as anger), then the return of the repressed in the ostensibly opposed symbols, “archetypes” and “types” of popular culture, undermines emancipatory politics.” [This was an inference only. I have never seen it described in the psychoanalytic literature, let alone by feminists.]

Third, political scientists and historians agree that since the Industrial Revolution, paternal authority in the home has diminished, giving rise to “domestic feminism.” Men would be the absent breadwinner, no longer paterfamilias (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pater_familias), while Mom now (seemingly) ruled the roost, then, in her moralistic way, going on to invent progressivism and its welfare state. Simultaneously, Jesus became feminized, as Ann Douglas pointed out in her overwrought defense of traditional, masculinist Calvinism in The Feminization of American Culture (1977).

Fourth, “splitting” as the Kleinian object relations analysts describe it: Romantic attachments, whether to the family or to other love objects, often entail idealization. The [narcissist], depleted of “narcissistic supplies” demonizes what was once a perfect creature. Which brings us back to Papa Freud, who had already figured this out in his descriptions of romantic love and idealization.

Fifth, and perhaps the most current and relevant. Mom’s are supposed to keep us safe, but I hear reports that pre-teens and teens are suffering from OCD and related problems (e.g. eating disorders) because the world is perceived as just too dangerous. Even omnipotent Mom is helpless against these real-life monsters: jihadism, global warming, race relations gone wrong, etc. Hence the pop culture vogue for zombies, werewolves, vampires, etc. who have nothing to do with the return of the repressed but are signs of objective media-fortified anxieties.

There is no escaping from the Good-Bad Mother (or Father either), for these imagos are reinforced in popular culture, but rarely analyzed in journalism, not even by many feminists.

All attachments are problematic. Get used to ambivalence, and if your parent is gone, my advice is to focus on her or his strengths, not her weaknesses. (https://clarespark.com/2013/05/12/i-remember-mama-betty-spark/.)

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December 13, 2013

Culture wars, religion, and the (neurotic?) historian

modernity1One reason for the endurance of the American experiment is cultural and religious pluralism as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. And yet, every year about this time, renewed angst and outrage is expressed that “secular progressives” are out to remove the Christ from Christmas. I have written endless blogs on the culture wars; see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/02/index-to-blogs-on-culture-wars/.

But I have not always spelled out in plain language how a historian differs from an organic conservative or a leftist whose ideology is a substitute for religion. [Note: this blog is not intended as an attack on either religion or leftism as such. It is about the tools in the historian’s tool box, and what may not be used in our analyses. I admit that the writing of history is an enlightenment science.]

First, a historian may choose to write a history of a religion or of religious conflict. But if that writer is making judgments within a particular religion, and defending that religion against competitors, that person is not a historian, but a special pleader or advocate. Such a one is Bill O’Reilly, one of the most popular and prolific of the would-be “moderates” and healers, but whose world view is possibly tempered  by Rerum Novarum (see the encyclical by Pope Leo XIII, 1891), by his desire to maintain his audience ratings, and the protection of his own considerable wealth. It is no accident that O’Reilly becomes especially heated when “atheists” attack Christmas.  Or, for another example, see my essay on “cultural historian” Nicholas Boyle: https://clarespark.com/2009/07/04/unfinished-revolutions-and-contested-notions-of-identity/.

Second, a religious framework may implicitly deny human agency and institutional structures, relying instead on “Providence,” “God’s plan,” or any other superhuman force (e.g. “dialectical materialism” or any other telos) that determines the destinies of humans and planets. There are some deep ecologists who view “Nature” within a religious framework, hence tend to be allergic to facts that contradict their often apocalyptic predictions.

Third, as in the case of Goethe scholar Nicholas Boyle, such an organic conservative in historian’s clothing may refuse to mark turning points in world history: historians call this marking of “change over time”  “periodization.” Current organicist/mystical examples are nostalgic for the Middle Ages, when troublesome challenges to authority are believed to have been alleviated by the Good King or “the King’s touch.” See https://clarespark.com/2013/05/30/nostalgia-for-the-middle-ages/.

Another feature of the Middle Ages was the absence of feminism, for birth control in its modern forms was unknown at that time, and women were lucky to live beyond child-bearing age. Television pundits or even fictional characters in the media may view themselves as good Kings, uniting warring factions/taming the wild man within, as Good Kings were imagined to do. For instance, the episode of Blue Bloods broadcast December 13, 2013, served the multicultural agenda by showing sympathy for a disaffected Muslim, who had already bombed his local mosque and was determined to bomb thousands of fellow Muslims in a big parade. Why? Losing his job as a computer technician had alienated the terrorist from God and Allah’s plan for his life. But the good King, in the guise of a NYC Catholic policeman, returned him to peace and tolerance by showing him his daughter, a symbol for all the other innocent children who would be harmed were the Muslim not to divulge where he had planted the fatal bomb. Order and inter-religious comity was restored to interchangeable persons of “faith.” (For a related blog emphasizing the power of “family” rhetoric, with the family/tribe headed by the charismatic leader see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/07/charisma-and-symbolic-politics/.)

Modernity is a distinct period in world history, and remains hotly contested. Why? Because technology has wrested control from the old elites, who are now routinely criticized by dissenters.  Historians are, or should be, professional dissenters. It is our role to unearth materials that change our view of past and present.  We do not throw up road blocks to such adventures into the unknown, nor do we claim that earthly knowledge is inevitably distorted and unreliable, nor do we fail to identify terrorists as a sop to the levelers of multiculturalism. That does not mean that it is child’s play to assign causes and effects, or that there is no ambiguity in separating human agency (free will) from structural imperative. Indeed, Herman Melville wrote a classic book about just that subject: see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/08/is-ahab-ahab-the-free-will-debate/ That is why (necessarily secular) historians are troublemakers, and must face public and often professional obloquy, for many powerfully placed historians are protecting their jobs, and, sad to say, the early work that got them tenure. It is they who usually control academic publication. And many a ‘modern’ artist resents the “mechanization” they see everywhere. For that reason, I call them primitivists. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/04/16/blogs-on-anarchismpunkprimitivism/.) modernlife Reconfiguring the past is not yet classified as a personality disorder, but it is a source of very objective anxiety. And such kaleidoscopic new looks may have nothing to say about “progress.”

February 23, 2013

Peter Gay’s “Freud”

gustav-klimt.JudithI 1901I have finally read all of Peter Gay’s Freud: A Life for our Time (Norton, 1988). (Counting notes and index, it comes to 810 pages.) It told me less about Freud in his time, than it did about the American appropriation of Freud during the time when Peter Gay, a refugee from Hitler’s Germany, was making his way in psychoanalysis and academe, for Gay had adapted to the progressive movement’s halt to the Enlightenment (see https://clarespark.com/2009/08/25/preventive-politics-and-socially-responsible-capitalists-1930s-40s/, especially the sentences in bold face, quoting Talcott Parsons in the early 1940s). Progressives decreed that there would be no more “romantic” defiance of authority (i.e., experts), religion would occupy a different sphere of life than science, and Freud’s last (pessimistic) works (The Future of an Illusion, Civilization and its Discontents, and Moses and Monotheism*) would be roughed up as products of old age, illness, and the shock of the Great War.

For the progressives are, above all, optimists about social engineering. Hence we learn that Freud was in part a Lamarckian with a strong belief in social psychology and national character. Moreover, he declared “a plague on both your houses” when referring to Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union. Thus Gay can use the word “totalitarian” knowing that he will get no argument from other progressives (i.e., social democrats/left liberals: see https://clarespark.com/2013/02/02/totalitarianism-polarization-and-single-issue-politics/).

Peter Gay is an intellectual historian and a trained lay analyst, so we are somewhat bullied in taking his judgments as an authoritative, fearless account of one of the great interventions in the treatment of neurosis—for instance, of hysteria, anxiety, phobias, and all illnesses with psychosomatic causes (today we call this “stress”). Yet his imagination is curiously circumscribed. For instance, at no point does he deploy anything like a class analysis to Freud’s topography of the mind: the interconnected superego, ego, and Id. (On the long-term effects of bullying see http://www.medpagetoday.com/psychiatry/anxietystress/37467.)

Were Peter Gay an appropriately daring lone wolf, as audacious as his subject, he would surely have recognized the lasting impact of the “Jacobin” controlled French Revolution as the Red Specter par excellence. He might have seen Freud’s “Id” as the rampaging People, known throughout Europe and America for their la-dee-da attitudes toward sexuality and ever available aggression against bullying superiors (i.e., the People as the embodiment of the Pleasure Principle); similarly the “the Superego” (internalized paternal conscience) could have stood for an aristocracy/haute bourgeois elite that could be either rigid or accommodating to the new industrial working class that threatened ancient elite prerogatives, while the Ego (or Reality Principle) would be the professional layer of healers and professors who espoused “moderation” in all things, and never, ever, bullied their patients or students to adopt those practices that served “social cohesion” and “political stability;” rather for the ego psychologists among them, it was “therapy” or practices that enhanced “civilian morale.” (For the alliance of aristocracy and working class against the ‘laissez-faire’ modernizing bourgeoisie, see https://clarespark.com/2011/07/16/disraelis-contribution-to-social-democracy/.)

Peter Gay 2007

Peter Gay 2007

Hyper-individualistic Puritanism (Moralizing Mothers?! See https://clarespark.com/2009/10/23/murdered-by-the-mob-moral-mothers-and-symbolist-poets/.) would have to go, for a harsh Superego would likely call forth world-destroying rebellion in the sons; and indeed Gay’s agitated portrait of Nazis in Vienna, the thieving, brutal mob, is indeed scary, and finally drives the deeply rooted Freud to England where he will end his 83 years in an assisted suicide, but after coming out as an anti-Semite in Moses and Monotheism. (Was it any wonder that Talcott Parsons of Harvard described the analogues of Nazis in America “romantic Puritans”? Harvard sociologists would be sure to tame that harsh superego, along the lines recommended by other moderate men, appropriating “Freud” for their mind-management techniques in the interest of “civilian morale.” See https://clarespark.com/2011/03/27/progressive-mind-managers-ca-1941-42/.** )

Personally, I remain fond of Freudian concepts such as the distinction between neurotic vs. objective anxiety, the ambivalence inside ourselves in our primary attachments to parents, siblings, and other love-hate objects, a subject developed by such as John Bowlby and other attachment-theorists. And without understanding regression, we are helpless in the face of fairy tales, Oscars weekend, pornography, and popular culture in general (See https://clarespark.com/2010/04/22/links-to-blogs-on-military-psychiatry/.) But I am not so fond of Peter Gay, who failed to interrogate his own class position/careerism in writing this supposedly authoritative, no-holds-barred biography, intended to instruct a crossover readership in the life of Freud and of his polymorphous perverse sex-obsessed (?)  followers, modernist followers who are leading us into decadence and the abyss (see https://clarespark.com/2013/03/22/traditionalists-on-the-culture-front/).

*I have read Moses and Monotheism three times, and have failed to find anything antisemitic about it, as some scholars have claimed. Freud explicitly states that antisemitism may be a displacement of resentment against Christianity, and that pre-Jewish, pre-Christian barbarism remains powerful. It may be that Peter Gay’s allergy to Freudian pessimism indicates his desire to appeal to progressive gentile American sensitivities. Here is what Freud actually wrote about antisemitism: “We must not forget that all the peoples who now excel in the practice of anti-Semitism became Christians only in relatively recent times, sometimes forced to it by bloody compulsion. One might say they all are ‘badly christened’; under the thin veneer of Christianity they have remained what their ancestors were, barbarically polytheistic. They have not yet overcome their grudge against the new religion which was forced on them, and they have projected it on to the source from which Christianity came to them. The fact that the Gospels tell a story which is enacted among Jews, and in truth treats only of Jews, has facilitated such a projection. The hatred for Judaism is at bottom hatred for Christianity, and it is not surprising that in the German National Socialist revolution this close connection of the two monotheistic religions finds such clear expression in the hostile treatment of both.” (Moses and Monotheism, transl. Katherine Jones (Knopf, 1949), pp. 144-45)

**[From Hunting Captain Ahab:] For Parsons, maladjusted neurotics were fomenting conflict and fragmentation, not adaptation and interdependence. But froward rebels could be cured in the socially responsible psychiatrist’s office through “steady discipline to which the patient is subjected in the course of his treatment. While the fact that he is required and allowed to express himself freely may provide some immediate satisfactions, he is not really allowed to ‘get away’ with their implications for the permanent patterning of his life and social relations, but is made, on progressively deeper levels, conscious of the fact that he cannot ‘get away’ with them. The physician places him in a kind of ‘experimental situation’ where this is demonstrated over and over again (561).”

Egon Schiele 1915

Egon Schiele 1915

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 15, 2009

“…and was this little boy YOU?” (2)

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Image (91)I. Here is an excerpt from chapter two of my book/collage, Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival (Kent State UP, 2001, 2006). Gordon Allport collaborated with Harvard colleague Henry A. Murray to create programs of “civilian morale” that were nationally disseminated to progressive organizations. I presented these quotes to illustrate the double-binds that Melville exposed in such works as Pierre, or The Ambiguities (1852).

[Richard Evans to Gordon Allport:] Since most of our students [at Harvard] begin the study of psychology by reading Freud, it might be profitable to begin by hearing your reaction to some of Freud’s ideas and work. I understand you actually met Freud on one occasion, and I wonder if you would tell about this meeting.

[Gordon Allport:] My one encounter with Freud did not turn out to be very significant for my professional development, but I’ll tell the story briefly. Not long after I finished college, I found myself in Vienna where Freud was not as renowned as he became later. At any rate, I wrote him a note announcing that I was in Vienna, and that he no doubt would be very glad to know it. He was very courteous and sent me a hand-written note inviting me to his office at a stated time. So I went to the famous Burggasser office which was papered in red burlap and decorated with pictures of dreams. At exactly the appointed time, Freud opened the door of his inner office, invited me in smilingly, sat down, and said nothing. It suddenly occurred to me that it was up to me to have a reason for calling on him, but I actually didn’t have any. I was just curious.[i] I fished around in my mind and came up with an event which occurred on the tramcar on the way to his office that I thought would interest him. There had been a little boy about four years old who obviously had already developed a dirt phobia. His mother was a Hausfrau, well starched and very prim, and the little boy would say he didn’t want to sit there; it was dirty. He didn’t want that man to sit next to him; he was dirty. And so it went throughout the whole trip. I thought this might interest Freud since the phobia seemed to be set so early in this case. He listened till I finished; then he fixed his very therapeutic eyes on me and said, “and was this little boy you?” It honestly was not, but I felt guilty. At any rate, I managed to change the conversation. In thinking over the experience, it impressed me that Freud’s tendency was to see pathological trends, and since most of the people who came to see him were patients, it was natural that he’d think I was a patient and break down my defenses in order to get on with the business. Actually, he mistook my motives in this case. Had he said to himself that I was a brassy American youth imposing on his good nature and time, he would have been fairly correct. But to ascribe my motivation to unconscious motives as he did in this case was definitely wrong. As I thought over the experience in subsequent years, it occurred to me that there might be a place for another type of theory to account for personality and motivation. (my emph.)

[Allport reflecting upon the 1950s concerns with conformity:] I’m inclined to think that the challenge to the healthy person is to learn to play the game where necessary, to meet the requirements of the culture, and still to have integrity, to maintain some self-objectification, and not to lose his personal values and commitments. It becomes more and more difficult to do, but I believe it can be done. It implies that the personality of the future will operate under more of a strain, but we don’t know yet what the actual potentiality of human development can be. We may be able to eat our cake and have it too by playing the organization game while remaining the individual of integrity and personal commitment.[ii]

Gordon Allport

 

I have attempted to create a political context for the controversies surrounding the life and art of Herman Melville. Ahab became “Melville” in institutions held to be implicitly critical and self-critical, but where the perimeters of dissent were not always explicitly delineated, or where “individuality” was flaunted in one breath, taunted in the next. The consequence was the construction of a crumbling national monument to American literature, unable to withstand the delegitimating gaze of its radical critics suspicious of claims to unbounded cultural freedom in the playgrounds of the new social sciences. [end book excerpt]

II. Anyone who has survived childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood knows that all professionals claiming the mantle of “science” are not equally competent and are never infallible. Still, they may cover up each other’s errors to protect themselves from the wrath of clients when and if they do mess up. I am saying this because of the furor over the Nidal Hasan jihad, and the blame being assigned to “psychiatry” and related fields in mental health as somehow culpable on account of an innately flawed methodology.

As I showed in my blog on the 1920s pseudo-Freudians, the unconscious mind, held to be the invention of Papa Freud himself, was probably the realm of the lower orders, whose success in American was dependent on accepting the definitions of harmony and conflict handed down by the Platonic Guardians of immigrant youth. Upon reflecting upon the gallons of wrathful ink spilled to discredit the founder of psychoanalysis, I believe his greatest sin was not his atheism (though that was a major crime for critics whose religion had purified themselves of original sin, death, and a future in hell), but his view of conflict. As I have shown on this website, the “progressives” either imposed harmony from above (a habit sometimes denounced by the pre-Freudian Herman Melville), or in the case of Freud, they objected to his notion that self-control was a constant struggle, and that childhood traumas and difficult relationships with the family of origin could leave permanent scars, manifesting themselves as neurotic anxiety (add to this depression), or a tendency to idealize objects (lovers and leaders, for instance). [This is a very crude and compressed summary of what I think Freud’s main argument was.]

Here are two currently relevant and useful examples from Freud’s contributions, and for those followers who have corrected his errors of emphasis and contributed to our understanding of such crucial matters as separation-anxiety for instance. (See my blog on Panic Attacks.)

1. Separating objective anxiety from neurotic anxiety. Anxiety is a common-sense approach to objective dangers in the world. When an opponent declares intentions to destroy oneself or one’s country, it is not neurotic to take steps in self-defense. But if one misreads those who make us anxious because some aspect of their appearance or conduct reminds us of hurtful parents or other intimates, we have to separate fantasy from reality. As long as the hurtful parent or mate or sibling remains “perfect” and always benevolent in memory, we cannot make the necessary separation from fantasy. Demagogues play upon this desire for the return of the perfectly protective parent and rescue us from enemies who may or may not be real antagonists. Hitler’s first speech as Chancellor  (Feb.10, 1933) with its introduction by Goebbels is an example of this technique: Goebbels and Hitler promised to millions the restoration of the conflict-free family, in his case understood to be “the people’s community” that was free of lying Jews and their lying press and their decadent Weimar Republic, the spawn of November 1918.

In chapter 7 of my Melville book, I show how powerful this longing for the perfectly happy “pluralist” family has been in the psyches of Melville’s revivers. Melville himself would vacillate between the explorer of “rifts” and the proponent of family harmony, sacrificing his own “mutinous” sensory perceptions and sense of individuality for their sake: see “Billy Budd” as an example.

2. Recognizing conflict that is susceptible to mediation or arbitration and not assuming that all conflict is reconcilable. In the case of irreconcilable conflict, one must either slug it out with hostile enemies, or tolerate real differences grounded in the material world of classes and genders, meanwhile scrutinizing one’s own contribution to conflict, for instance, in inconsistent or negligent parenting, or inattention to the rights and feelings of others. Where Allport or Talcott Parsons and the other functionalists went wrong was in assuming that “the system” could be manipulated by them and other experts so that “natural harmony” prevailed, and all conflict therefore, must emanate from outsiders, for instance the troublemaking (destabilizing) Jewish capitalist or communist. Freud would suffer from the same stigma—he became the outsider who created ruptures between past and present, who encouraged one to reconfigure the past, and to constantly revise one’s own view of personal and national histories with appropriate curiosity, then to take responsibility for misperceptions and to attempt to correct them in the future. What he did not advocate was excusing miscreants as the products of evil parents, but as moralist, he most certainly held “authority” responsible for abusing those in its care.  (to be continued)


[i] 101. I.e., for Allport, curiosity is a passion, not an aspect or component of reason. Cf. Hobbes, Leviathan, 1651, Part One, Chapter 6.

[ii] 102. Richard I. Evans, Gordon Allport: The Man and His Ideas (New York: Dutton, 1970), 4-5, 104. The interviews with Allport are undated. Nothing is mentioned about his work on civilian morale, though the role of the academic psychologist in society is briefly explored. The interviewer never asks Allport to reflect upon the possible influence of his intense (German) Protestant religious commitments upon his social ideas. That he was indeed religious was stated by a former student speaking from the floor in a memorial symposium (1969) two years after Allport’s death.

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