YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

August 6, 2016

Krauthammer diagnoses Trump, long distance

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New Theater Hitler as narcissist, 1936

New Theater Hitler as narcissist, 1936

Read these short entries first. http://www.mediaite.com/online/krauthammer-diagnoses-trump-beyond-narcissism-has-infantile-hunger-for-approval/


I used to revere Charles Krauhammer as Fox’s resident genius, until I saw the homage documentary designed (?) to debut CK’s collected essays (Things That Matter); that “documentary” produced a blog that focused on CK’s search for unity https://clarespark.com/2013/10/26/krauthammer-fox-news-channel-and-the-search-for-unity/. This search for coherence in a polarized polity would suggest that he is an organic conservative, despite his claims to be a moderate, which would align him with other “moderates” on Fox News Channel. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Krauthammer), In other words, CK is a mystic, not a scientific materialist, as his medical training would suggest.

I learned from the Wiki entry that CK had indeed never been in independent clinical practice as a psychiatrist (he is board-certified), but had gone on from being chief resident in psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital (three whole years as a resident!), directly into politics, working for the Carter administration in “psychiatric planning.” (Wiki also states that CK contributed to DSM III, though they are not detailed.)

In other words, CK had little experience in clinical practice, yet he is a respected diagnostician of persons he seems not to have ever closely examined. (I have written extensively about another Harvard graduate, a Jungian: Dr. Henry A. Murray, who, like CK, made long-distances inferences about major figures; for instance, Murray testified at the trial of Whittaker Chambers, opining that Chambers had a “psychopathic personality” (based on reading! and linking him to CK’s highly respected opinions. (On Murray’s methods see https://clarespark.com/2012/03/26/henry-a-murray-and-the-tat/.)

Just as CK has labeled Barack Obama a “narcissist,” Dr. Krauthammer judges Donald J. Trump to be unstable, and more than a bit mad. Oddly, Adolf Hitler was judged to be a nutty criminal/psychopath by Dr. Henry A. Murray and assorted Stalinists, though none of these had any professional (psychiatric) relationship with the object of their scorn. Dr. Murray went so far as to infer that Hitler must have had Jewish blood, setting the stage for later Harvard social psychologists (https://clarespark.com/2009/12/13/klara-hitlers-son-and-jewish-blood/).

Dr. Krauthammer famously switched political allegiances mid-career. But his haughty opinions on the Republican nominee’s mental states, bear comparison with those of other “moderate men” seeking to be “fair and balanced.”


May 18, 2013

Friendship in the era of anti-Freud

Paul Prud'hon, 1793

Paul Prud’hon, 1793

The publication today of the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5 manual, reminds us that insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies alike have no interest in Freud’s “talking cure”—which simply meant that relief from psychogenic symptoms could be alleviated by telling a neutral party (the psychoanalyst) in a protected, safe (confidential) setting about the traumas and family relationships of early childhood up to the present; in the case of Freudian therapy, such memories were usually repressed but dredged up through free association and transference, in which the analyst was the recipient of feelings about the parent that gradually, under the guidance of the analyst, were traced back to the family of origin. Presumably psychogenic symptoms would abate.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talking_cure.)

The un-ambivalently bourgeois Freud and his methods are now not only under attack by postmodernists and Foucauldians, but by his old enemies, those who believe that human suffering is inevitable in this, the Devil’s realm, and that freedom from what are now deemed to be “personality disorders” can at best be alleviated with pills and behavioral cognitive therapy, a form of short-term “affordable” therapy that ostensibly rewires the brain. (It is derived from Behaviorism, and was seen as torture in Clockwork Orange.)

While I was briefly teaching at California Institute of the Arts, a form of therapy called “Re-evaluation Counseling” was in vogue and several marriages broke up as a result, for it was my theory at least that partners in “co-counseling” (never married to each other) had never experienced being listened to for one hour as they brought up troubling experiences from their past. Such rare attention to old troubles was an impetus to romantic love (as I speculated). (On this method and its origin, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Re-evaluation_Counseling.)

Which brings me to the subject of this blog: how even one intimate, strictly confidential friendship can partly substitute for the loss of Freud and his methods.

First, despite the romanticizing of the nuclear family by politicians and churches, the family of origin is a hotbed of potential trauma that can haunt the adult throughout life, poisoning all relationships and causing chronic illness. I have no doubt that rivalries for the favor of either Mother or Father are real, however out of fashion “Freudians” may be. But we must bury such rivalries (with either parent, or with siblings) for the sake of the “family unity” that is favored by demagogues of every stripe.  I refer not only to Oedipal feelings or to “the Elektra complex” but to the fierce resentments inflicted through sibling rivalry. Our feelings toward parents and siblings, however, must remain “pure” and unambivalent, for ambivalence is a no-no as we celebrate Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or the birthdays of childhood rivals whom we are not permitted to resent, even as they displaced us or bullied us in untold and/or repressed family dramas. (For more on this, see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/17/bondage-and-the-family/, and https://clarespark.com/2011/01/26/obama-and-the-rhetoric-of-the-political-family/.)

How can friendship alleviate these forbidden, often sick-making feelings? My first advice is not to expect family members to substitute for the undivided attention of a friend. Parents and siblings are the last persons who want to hear about their lack of parenting skills or other deficiencies, some structural and not their fault at all.

Second, the friend must be one who has been tested through time not to gossip and to keep confidences; also to be non-judgmental about the expression of negative feelings. Such a person will presumably  have enough self-knowledge to be an appropriate recipient of such personal confidences and not to be freaked out.

If we are so unlucky not to have such a buddy, then do what I do: cuddle up to the great fiction writers and poets. Most of them were Freud’s inspiration too, as he freely admitted. Besides the Greek dramatists, many of the greatest contemporary novelists of the last two centuries were such resources, whatever their politics. Personal favorites of mine are Benjamin Disraeli, Herman Melville, Philip Roth, and Saul Bellow. Melville, for instance, threw his inner feelings and ambivalence wide open for all readers to witness, to mull over, and to apply to one’s own closest attachments.

Above all, however, read the post-Freudian attachment theorists: you won’t find many feminists recommending them, for they  emphasize the danger of careless separations between mothers and infants: John Bowlby, Donald Winnicott and Margaret Mahler. (For my summary of how hasty maternal separation from infants and small children can cause panic attacks and separation anxiety, see https://clarespark.com/2009/11/16/panic-attacks-and-separation-anxiety/. For my blogs on Freud and anti-Freudians see https://clarespark.com/2013/03/16/blogs-on-freud-and-anti-freudians/. For an even more negative view of DSM-5 than mine see http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21578050-single-book-has-come-dominate-psychiatry-dangerous-shrink-wrapping?fsrc=scn%2Ftw%2Fte%2Fpe%2Fshrinkwrapping.)

Panic Attack George Grie

Panic Attack George Grie

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.

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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