The Clare Spark Blog

December 12, 2013

The Wall Street Journal discovers lobotomy craze for vets

VA quackeryAs late as today, December 12, 2013, The Wall Street Journal, has discovered that traumatized veterans of WW2 and even later conflicts were routinely lobotomized, a procedure that is said to have its greatest application in the 1940s and 1950s. Written by Michael M. Phillips (pages A1, A8-A9), the author relies on “dusty” boxes found in the National Archives.  The surgery was primarily applied to “depressives, psychotics and schizophrenics, and occasionally on people identified as homosexuals.”

Where have journalists been all these years? Even anti-science, anti-psychiatry students of the history of medicine consider this lurid chapter to be closed, though my blog index to lobotomies remains popular. See https://clarespark.com/2010/11/29/index-to-lobotomy-blogs/.

But even more relevant to the WSJ alarming discovery is the series on military psychiatry, which remains in a primitive state, perhaps owing to the assumption that wars are inevitable, and that fighting men are expendable, whereas blundering diplomats and governments are not. Above all, we must maintain hierarchies and obedience to our betters, a message amplified by such favorite television series as NCIS, where the good father (Gibbs, played by Mark Harmon) protects his cohesive fighting family, ever the uncomplaining “team.” https://clarespark.com/2010/04/22/links-to-blogs-on-military-psychiatry/. On blundering diplomats see https://clarespark.com/2013/08/31/the-devil-in-history-a-j-p-taylor-vs-r-palme-dutt/ (with an addendum by Niall Ferguson).

As I have argued before, WSJ, like Fox News Channel or Commentary is an outpost of the moderate men. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/11/06/moderate-men-falling-down/.) I had hoped that the WSJ article would exhibit some homework in other archives, hence pointing to our continued confusion over the causes of anxiety, depression, “shell shock,” “PTSD,” and other mental illnesses that might be preventable without the taboo associated with any of the “personality disorders” said to be curable now with cognitive behavioral therapy, guided by DSM-5.  (See https://clarespark.com/2009/11/16/nobody-is-perfect/, one of my items in the lobotomy blogs.)

Quacks

The point of this blog is that ordinary people take the rap when our “betters” give the orders and fail in their jobs to keep individual, social, and international peace. Is it possible that our world is run by quacks? Are we quacks for trusting them? If so, what can we do about it? Leave your comments on the blog.

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September 15, 2009

Making mobs with bad words and concepts

Few have left comments on my blogs. I take this personally. One friend tells me that my views are too unorthodox, even though I look at class interests, which should at least elicit some response from the left and from left-liberals. The same friend tells me that I use too many big words. What is a big word or a big concept today? Here are some words in common use that few fully understand, though they throw them around in political speech in the media and in schools, with the consequence that we create mobbish political emotions, not thoughtful individual citizens, teaching each other how to think like participants in an advanced democracy, or, better, a constitutional republic:

1. FASCISM. It seems that both statists (the “big government” Left) and anti-statists (conservatives, small businessmen, and libertarian economists) are “fascists” if we are to look at signs at protest demonstrations, whether these be tea-parties or antiwar demonstrations. How many of us, if asked what is meant by the corporate state, would know how to describe its ideology and institutions? Does journalist Jonah Goldberg know, whose Liberal Fascism is popular on the Right, but to me is a scandal? [Why is it a scandal? Because he is tarring social democrats with the fascist brush, even though he makes the disclaimer that of course we have free speech here, so he is really only nailing the American Progressives for their production of the nanny state, eugenics, and other crimes against humanity that had parallels in states we abhor. As I have said earlier (https://clarespark.com/2009/09/09/preventive-medicine-and-preventive-politics/), state investment or state sponsorship does not necessarily imply state control, and the arguments against any form of “statism” are often mounted by those authoritarians who fear losing control of their children to such theories as science, evolutionary biology, or evidence-based medicine, including psychiatry.* Why do we not all know about Hayek and Rose and Milton Friedman as they call for both a public and private sector? OMG, I must be a neoliberal.]

2. NATIONAL CHARACTER. I could have substituted “group mind” for this. Why do few pundits, in academe or in the media, squash this absurd formulation? It is true that a set of customary laws, or religious pluralism can create a large segment of the population bound by common cultural patterns (such as skepticism toward arbitrary authority in America), but those who devised the concept had collectivist mentalities, and were hostile to dissent and the very concept of the individual as a person with rights, not merely duties to a presumably like-minded “community.” [See prior blog “The Fallen Flesh Brigade (repaired).”]

3. MODERATE. One of the first books I read on psychological warfare was by a forgotten social psychologist, Ellis Freeman, author of Conquering the Man in the Street (Vanguard Press, 1940). It was about organicism through the ages, starting, as I recall, with Plato and ending with fascism and Nazism. It was a primer for me on how to do sykewar (or recognize it), and the strategy I remember best is “flogging the dead horse.” In this one, you call yourself a moderate, and everyone wants to be such a balanced person, though no one knows exactly what you mean by it. Unless you get down and dirty by specifying concretely what the conflict is that you are supposedly moderating, you are appealing to a fictional feel-good word, not to a specific policy proposal or tactic that can then be criticized on its merits. Richard Crossman also wrote a book along these lines: Plato Today (1938). The organic conservatives (the pseudo-moderate men) are those protofascist historians who don’t write materialist history, but write history as a subset of poetic natural history. (See for instance my blog https://clarespark.com/2009/09/06/the-hebraic-american-landscape-sublime-or-despotic/, or https://clarespark.com/2009/09/03/advice-for-the-lovelorn-with-thoughts-on-hero-worship/, retitled “Manifest Destiny or Political Liberty?”) They may be avowed “anti-racists” but their discourse is racialist; i.e., they believe in group character transmitted through heredity and rootedness in a specific environment. The enemy is the rootless cosmopolitan, that unreliable and uncontrollable wanderer.

4. MIDDLE-CLASS. Do you remember when this term was either mocked as absurdly vague and too comprehensive to be descriptive, and at best, referring only to status, as if class was a ladder? No, you are too young. Today, our President uses it to refer to what used to be called the WORKING-CLASS. Now like it or not, there was and is such a thing as an industrial worker, and to conflate such workers with owners of small businesses, or members of the service sector, or bureaucrats, is meshugah to use my favorite word when I am very frustrated.

5. WHITE MALE SUPREMACY. Here is another example of political degeneracy in the spread of “whiteness studies.” It rests on a view ofAmerika” as one marauding individual, raping the environment, slaughtering Indians, grinding the faces of the [non-white] poor, and performing patriarchy on hapless females. It is the chief arrow in the quiver of cultural nationalists who really do behave like fascists under the banner of “self-determination,” but who are given a pass by guilty liberals. That is why this entire series of blogs has been devoted to combating the premises of multiculturalism, which is not the same as the non-discriminatory equality of opportunity that we strive for in a secular state. And of course the term “white supremacy” conflates the entire white working-class with the worst nativists who really did hate Jews, immigrants from Southeastern or Eastern Europe, blacks, Mexicans, the Chinese, and anyone who did not “build this country” and cross the plains in covered wagons, or earlier, defeat the British. (For a prime example of the type, see anything by Thomas Dixon, author of The Klansman, and a champion of the Scots-Irish, the true American Heroes. Now there was a true American fascist, see his Flaming Sword.)

6. FREEDOM. Need I elaborate this one? Years ago, I heard a famous leftist explain to an art student that freedom was yielding to the laws of historical necessity. And what was historical necessity? Ask any dialectical materialist, or Leninist for that matter as he attempts to co-opt the authority of science. For Herder (mentioned above) freedom signified freedom from the French language in favor of the German vernacular–the native language that would create a people’s community, the Volk, so as to express the natural Zeitgeist. The same goes for “the oppressed” who long to be free from “the West,” the banks, big business, white people, men, you name it. Social historians believe that they are striking a blow for freedom when they study “the people” instead of “literary sources” (by which they mean the documents that describe the actions of elites, whether these are diplomatic records, memoirs and diaries, high culture, or anything else that powerful people create). But for any thoughtful, introspective person, it is always ambiguous to separate “structures” from “agency”–how do we know when we are exercising free will or whether we are reacting to inherited qualities or events from the past or present that shape our preferences?

When I refer to intellectual freedom in these blogs, I usually mean the freedom of access to all primary source materials that could help us reconstruct the lives of others assessing them as friends or opponents. Whether or not we have access to our own interior lives is the subject of literature and its allied psychotherapies. If Melville, speaking through his character Captain Ahab, couldn’t figure out the free will-fixed fate conundrum, how can any of us? We need to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty. Now that is a form of freedom I can live with. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/01/08/is-ahab-ahab-the-free-will-debate/.)

7. Rugged individualist. For a Democrat or a leftist, this is the worst thing you could call someone. It means a Randian and randy selfish money-mad s.o.b. who lacks compassion, will cheat you out of house and home and senior medical care. In fact, such a one is exactly what our Constitution protects. But the rugged individualist was erased in the 1930s in favor of “the individual-in- society.” For these collectivists, we are all embedded in our historical context, and any hope of relative autonomy and objectivity is the blackest of propaganda. For details, see https://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision-of-american-history/.

*A psychiatrist friend explains it this way: “Non-evidence based medicine is when a doctor or other health care provider orders a test or prescribes medicine for which there is no peer reviewed evidence to support the practice.  Some think it is equivalent to off-label prescribing but there can be evidence for some of that but it has not reached legal standards. Some of it clearly harms patients or at the least deprives them of recommended treatment options.”

July 31, 2009

More On The ABCs of Staying Alive and Preserving The Planet

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Simon Schaffer of Cambridge U.

I. Life is just a bunch of stories, or so sayeth some high-achieving men who were or are close to me: all “narratives” are idiosyncratic to individuals or groups, they believe(d). In the case of one trendy political scientist, his anti-science, irrationalist world view proved fatal, and he was dead at 64. Another friend/mentor was dead at age 55. Both men were academic stars whose careerist allegiance to anti-medical, anti-science views deprived them of the accumulated knowledge of medicine and hygiene, much of it achieved despite centuries of persecution by those reactionaries who are now sometimes called “traditionalists.” Postmodernists and multiculturalists would agree with my prematurely deceased ex-lovers, but few public intellectuals today seem interested in tracking down the sources of their quack belief systems, despite their professed love for “nature” and the preservation of the natural world. For them, science is “essentially a swindle” [Simon Schaffer, declared in a UCLA seminar that I audited] and cannot help us think and test our way out of the ecological catastrophe that they fear, for science and technology are the culprits who must be overcome.

I have written elsewhere on this site how the rule of law, the very foundation of what we call “civilization,” is undermined by such assaults on facts or the ranking of historical narratives so that the ordinary citizen has a basis for judging the worth and validity of contending “stories.” It is to me unbelievable that I have had to write of such basic conceptions in political and social theory as I have done over the last few decades, but such is the almost incomprehensible deterioration of our shared culture since at least the second world war, a dumbing down that was exacerbated during the 1960s counter-culture, that I find myself having to remind readers of historical developments, conflicts, and methods of investigation that they should have thought about and mastered in high school and college. So please bear with me, those of you for whom these arguments are old hat, or a not-so-fresh bowl of cherries.

I am arguing here for an ever-evolving but deepening objectivity as we contemplate conflict. To be sure, we experience the world through lenses that are often distorted by those ideologies or unhealthy family relationships that formed our personal subjectivities. But it is our life task as would-be enlightened and progressive liberals to reconstruct over time just how our personal stories or narratives wired our brains in a particular way, so that we are predisposed either to love or hate or feel indifference to those individuals, groups, and principles that compete for our attention and loyalty. To be less abstract, consider the case of the child caught in the middle between divorcing parents. Each party to the conflict, say mom and dad, has a different story about the cause(s) of the breakup and the character of the other parent, and the bewildered young child who does not, cannot at this stage of life (for s/he is dependent on a unified family for protection), favor one parent over the other, may throw up his or her hands and state, over and over, “there are only stories: there is no truth. I cannot bear the thought that one of my beloved parents is lying to me, or is a flawed person in any way.” In adulthood, that grown (but emotionally stuck) child of a messy divorce may embrace what is now called postmodernism, that is the radical subjectivism or “perspectivism” that permeates the humanities: it is argued in our “elitist liberal” schools that there is no universal truth, no compelling universal moral order, but that there are only points of view, and we should not intervene to establish which stories are in accord with facts or correct conduct, for now all “facts” are factoids, or are observations entirely dependent on context and the will to control wealth and hence those groups said to be oppressed. As for bourgeois “morality” (a.k.a. the rule of law, often blamed on Jewish “legalism”) it is a confidence game contrived by the rising middle-class (the modernists) to displace libertine monarchs, and it is the job of the postmodernist to rip off the mask of the new oppressors. Take that, Thomas Jefferson, you sanctimonious hypocrite!

II. Secularists versus traditionalists. Assimilation and its complications. The melting pot and its vicissitudes.
I watch Fox News Channel to see what Catholic rightists are dispensing to their populist supporters. O’Reilly and Hannity in particular are indignant with “secular progressives” who are destroying “traditionalism.” It seems to be a replay of the Reformation-Counter-Reformation argument (see https://clarespark.com/2009/07/04/unfinished-revolutions-and-contested-notions-of-identity/). For these spokesmen for the conservative movement, “secularism” has changed its meaning from what I once understood it to be; i.e., for the popular Fox pundits, secularists are now atheistic heretics (archetypally Hebraic/Protestant) out to destroy all religion, the better to enslave the credulous masses with materialism, the masses being “the folks” for whom these pundits purport to speak. But this was not the meaning of “secular” as I have understood it. Secularism was that Enlightenment pluralism that prevented the establishment of a state religion, and it was another term for tolerance—including toleration for the non-believer. It was a brilliant innovation in government that aimed to prevent wars of religion as had convulsed Europe with huge consequences for subsequent history, for instance, in the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). And secularism also signifies the “worldliness” also blamed on “the Jews” and their refusal of Christ and the promised eternal afterlife.

In one of my essays posted here (“Why Multiculturalists and Wilsonians Can’t Diagnose the New Antisemitism” https://clarespark.com/2009/07/11/multiculturalists-and-wilsonians-cant-diagnose-the-new-antisemitism/) I mention the conditions of assimilation for a certain group of upwardly mobile Jews, who may have felt that they had to conform to all the precepts of Christianity in order to find acceptance and earn a fine living. Since the “traditionalists” are dead set against liberalism tout court, (all the while defending “liberty” or “free will” and the God-loving Founding Fathers) I should explain my position, especially as what I found in my research on the origins of multiculturalism is relevant to this nation of immigrants and the descendants of slaves, many of whom as “cultural nationalists” and “anti-imperialists” now refuse “assimilation.” The turn to “culturalism” as a substitute for a scientific education, and yet, an education that would oppose racism (racism being a well-known feature of Nazi ideology), occurred during the Roosevelt administration, and here below is a revealing document that is conscious of the difficulties in adapting to the secular state—a liberal state that demands critical analysis of its operations by all its voters (blame Jefferson and the Enlightenment for this).

[Mordecai Grossman, “The Schools Fight Prejudice,” Commentary, Nov. 1945:] “To many school people and laymen, prevailing widespread intergroup antagonisms with their tensions and outbreaks, like the recent school strikes and riots, testify to the school’s failure to date to communicate America’s democratic heritage.

The intercultural education movement [begun with the New Deal Bureau for Intercultural Education, 1935] in which many teachers, schools and national organizations of teachers…are now joined, is based on two principal assumptions: first, that prejudices are culturally transmitted rather than biologically inherited, and second, that the school can, by one method or another, contribute significantly to the transformation of self-enclosed, mutually exclusive and hate-breeding cultures into open, interplaying and cooperating cultures. We have here a reaffirmation of the faith in education as a force for human progress and in the schools as the principal instrument of education in democratic ideals.
A democratic way of life…is one which seeks to provide every individual with the maximum possible opportunity for personal growth and community service, for sharing in the control over the economic, political, and social conditions of group life, and for mastery over his own destiny–for all individuals regardless of race, creed, or ancestry.
However, inter-individual (man-to-man) democracy is…only one aspect of the democratic way of life. The other is intercultural democracy [that] occupies a somewhat intermediate position between the ideals of “cultural pluralism” and of the “melting pot.” In contrast with the former, intercultural democracy denies both the possibility and the desirability of maintaining fairly intact the ancestral cultures of the varied ethnic groups that came here. But it also denies the possibility and desirability of stamping the 140,000,000 Americans in the mold of a uniform dominant culture–of a “melting pot” Americanism. For a democratic culture is an open culture, continually growing through individual and group interaction. Advocates of intercultural education recognize the survival of elements of old world culture in the new. Such elements of the old world heritage that are at odds with a democratic way of life are to be eliminated. But there are others which do not impede the growth of a common democratic culture, and which may even enrich it. These are to be retained…(35). [The Program:]…to contrast democracy with rival ways of life, say fascism…The thick walls which separate the social and ethnic groups in American society consist in large part of the stereotyped pictures that members of the “in” group have in their minds of individuals in the “out” group…[We must study] the tricks the human mind plays on itself, including those of “rationalization,” “projection,” and “scapegoating,” and which others play on us by means of propaganda techniques, etc.(37, 38)…[T]here is the risk that the gains likely to accrue from the school’s attempt to develop an appreciation of the sub-culture will be nullified by the possible heightening of the sense of difference. Much depends on the way the intercultural program is administered (42).”

All of postwar pedagogy fits into this impossible dream, a scheme to be realized by an artful administrator. But Grossman has distorted the meaning of “the melting pot” as it was previously understood and bodied forth in Israel Zangwill’s famous play of 1908. For Zangwill and his predecessors (including de Crèvecoeur and Jefferson), a new man would be created out of the religious and ethnic mix unique to America, and this rights-endowed individual new man and woman would be fit to judge their elected government representatives with the critical tools of the Enlightenment: analysis of propaganda and access to primary source documents, ending the monopoly of rulers whose affairs were conducted far from the public eye. By misreporting the culturally syncretic “melting pot,” Grossman was left with the cultural pluralism he was presumably replacing with a vaguely defined “intercultural democracy.” There are no autonomous free-standing individuals in his model, only interactive entities. Since he was actually reversing the Enlightenment by replacing individuals with groups (today we would say “community” as a substitute for the group and a corrective to hyper-individualistic loose cannons of all types),  he resorted to the contrast of “democracy” with “fascism,” all the while ignoring the statism and destruction of the dissenting individual that was common to both ideologies. And of course he underestimated the grip that authoritarian ideologies and ancestor-worship maintained in the offspring of his would-be democrats.

As I have argued in all my recent outpourings here, in my articles on History News Network, and in my book on the Melville Revival, the necessity of group cohesion (or “consensus”) trumped the critical processes that make a rational democracy possible, and here in Grossman’s well-meaning but irrational policy statement was only one example of a flood of crazy-making institutional practices from the late 1930s on, although the stage had been set from the Reformation and the invention of the printing press onward. Stay tuned.

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