June 23, 2016
November 12, 2015
[The following blog is a lengthy excerpt from my unpublished ms. Eros and the Middle Manager. Footnotes not included, but note quotes from primary sources. This ms. excerpt is intended to clarify the problem of “free speech, by analyzing how recent (idealist) sociology has created a muddle where rational discourse is hard to find.]
The New Pluralism-without-Snakes-and-Spiders, the “multicultural” condition of the postwar progressivism, is stressful for everyone. Progressive institutions are only vaguely and intermittently committed to the no-holds-barred search for truth, while the very fact of any pluralism and relativism frighteningly destabilizes authority for the vertiginous veteran of authoritarian families. The persons I have studied, Herman Melville, the Victorian poet James Thomson (“B.V.”), Columbia professor Raymond M. Weaver, Picasso, Hitler, Jungian psychoanalyst Henry A. Murray, Charles Olson, and other Symbolists, are all disturbed by Mother, the emblem of inscrutable modernity; it is Mother who sows confusion with mixed signals. Melville has described such behavior in Pierre, or the Ambiguities (1852), exhibiting the institutional double binds that demanded both artistic truth and corporatist order, independence and loyalty, making it impossible for him to please authority whatever he did and terrifying him with the scowl that marred the placid maternal gaze, the cloud that scudded before the sun. For Melville, one defense against such lingering big chills was to divide people (or himself) into all good or all bad (switching objects); he patrolled the wall that prevented the sadness of his own black bile from leaking into and depressing the happy mother giving her all to the “perfectly happy” family. It is her failure that must be denied, her secrets that must be kept to spare the already overburdened mother further suffering.
Ideally (for the Symbolists) authority should be rational and lucid: the good objects are predictable; they are not hypocrites; they would not suddenly turn on the child who valiantly has been trying to please them. For Melville’s Ishmael it was the noble savage Queequeg who provided such a rescue; several Leninist critics have seen, not Ahab, but Queequeg and other non-whites on board the Pequod potentially leading the revolution (C.L.R. James, 1953, H. Bruce Franklin, 1978). In the attempt to recapture an image of innocence, the Symbolist will defend the self from unfair and unmerited accusations. Such crimes include soiling oneself in infancy or early childhood before one was physically ready to be “clean”; later, the budding scholar’s (solicited!) criticisms of illegitimate authority. For the bewildered child/student, then, the bad object is above all the one who has switched, perhaps in retrospect seen as the peddler of false utopias (Mother the switching Jew of the Home) who encouraged her victim to let down his guard and then put him on trial for unpremeditated, unremembered, indescribable, but gruesome crimes. In other words, here the urge to split has a rational component: It is the “liberals” who make us “crazy”; there was a different problem in families that demanded moral purity, conformity, and obedience. Such environments were repressive in the sense that renunciations were excessive, but, theoretically at least, one conformed to a clear set of rules. There were myths and rituals that channeled aggression away from the adorable new baby to defeat clearly defined enemies. I use the past tense, because the localism of traditional societies has been destroyed by the penetration of cosmopolitan mass media and an expanding global market; the corrupting city, moral ambiguities in tow, has invaded the country.
The Symbolists are complaining about socialization in families or universities that seem to demand autonomy and unbounded criticism of their practices, but turn on the child/student when “difference” turns into opposition; again, opposition not to core values, but to hypocrisy, or what appear to be two sets of rules. The frantic “paranoid” maintenance of firm, impermeable boundaries between good and evil might be understood in this context. So might be the eagerness of radicals to defend blackened oppressed groups from distorted and hostile representations–other innocent children unfairly stigmatized by “Victorian culture” or “bourgeois morality.” As academics, these radicals will pursue image studies and other variants of idealist sociology. Believing that images, like “hegemonic” institutional forces, mold and stamp their victims, these radical pluralists move the furniture around to prevent wild “outbursts” from either Right or Left. For this they are handsomely rewarded by élite universities invested in preventive politics. The pluralists write funny:
[Maurice H. Krout outlines the province of social psychiatry, 1933-34:] “It is concerned with the motivation of the hobo, the delinquent, the would-be-suicide, the prostitute, the drug-addict. From the point of view of individual participation social psychiatry is interested in mass movements, viz., financial crazes, booms, migrations and rushes, panics and stampedes, war manias. From the point of view of adjustment effected by deviate personalities it studies revivals, mob action, political campaigns, and organized gang rule.”
[Neil Smelser, Talcott Parsons’ collaborator, declares his fitness to the Harvard Society of Fellows, 1959:] “At the present time my research interests have turned toward the field of mass behavior–those occasions on which organized human activity gives way to outbursts such as riot, panic, fad, boom, craze, hysteria, revivalism and revolutionary activity. The aim of this study is to locate some of the determinants of these kinds of behavior in the social structure, and thereby attempt to distinguish the occasions on which one, rather than another, type of mass outburst is likely to occur. The intended contribution of the study is to assemble much of what is known about mass behavior into a more satisfactory theoretical framework.”
The Tory biases of Krout and Smelser are obvious: for Krout, evangelical protestantism, criminality, politics, and mob action are similarly deviant. Smelser adds revolution to the witch’s brew.
If institutional double-bind theory is more explanatory than the Krout-Smelser idealist sociology, the implications for psychological counseling would be clear: the issue for “splitting” liberals and radicals would not be owning up to one’s angry but forbidden impulses against authority, the repressed childhood memories to be retrieved in treatment so as to live with appropriately “mixed feelings” or “ambivalence.” Probably this is the relevant problem for explicitly authoritarian families (Catholics, evangelical Protestants, Marxist-Leninists) whose veterans have been forced to idealize authority and who may not criticize the rules, not even in fantasy. But the more heimlich approach to splitting would recognize double-binds in pseudo-liberal institutions, the Kafka-esque worlds that may not disclose their rules until they are broken, which trap parent and child, professor and student alike, and which send some of us scurrying away from “bureaucratic domination” to “alternative” “simpler” cultures or subjectivist epistemologies or levelling S-M rituals that affirm human weakness and brutality, mocking hopes for enlightenment and universal tenderness.
We have become “self-consumer[s] of [our] woes,” tubercular addicts of the disappearing body (Schwindsuchter). I am quoting from “I am,” by the nineteenth-century “mad” peasant poet, John Clare:
“I am–yet what I am, none cares or knows;
My friends forsake me like a memory lost:
I am the self-consumer of my woes–
They rise and vanish in oblivions host,
Like shadows in love frenzied stifled throes
And yet I am, and live–like vapours tost
Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life or joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my lifes esteems;
Even the dearest that I love the best
Are strange-nay, rather, stranger than the rest.
I long for scenes where man hath never trod
A place where woman never smiled or wept
There to abide with my Creator God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie
The grass below, above, the vaulted sky.”
The “mad poet” laments the abandonment of intimates who trouble him because he has troubled them: they did not wish to know him as he was, really, to himself. He yearns for a virgin nature (his own), neither touched nor touching, where he would be neither crushed by father’s disapproval nor confused and made guilty by mother’s switching emotions. In The Future of an Illusion, Freud did not blame the unruly masses for acting out if their societies were economically exploitative; such class societies did not deserve to exist. Moreover, his unambiguous allegiance to scientific method deflects charges of orthodoxy and reproaches those followers who ignore institutional sources of social violence or refuse to revise psychoanalysis. Compare both John Clare and the radical Freud to conservative Freudians and Kleinians as they explain ambivalence and violence.
Persecuting parents or their surrogates are containers of the denied and split-off (Oedipal) rage of the child; the switch from friend to fiend is what Freud meant by “the uncanny,” the heimlich object which disconcertingly becomes unheimlich; it is the return of the repressed. In the Kleinian formulation, the loved one becomes threatening because s/he is invested with forbidden (pre-Oedipal) hostile feelings projected into her/him by the child. As the child becomes more upset, the “angry” parent/love object appears to be more and more hostile and must be controlled; thus the troubled patient has a boundary problem, confusing the Self and Other.
The usefulness of the concept of displacement and projection is said to have been born out in clinical treatment of anxiety hysteria, phobias, obsessive-compulsive neurosis, etc., but I question its application to all violent social interactions as numerous “progressive” social psychologists analyzing the “scapegoating” of blacks by whites, Jews by Christians, and “business” by “labor” had implied in the 1930s and 1940s. Such cultural anthropologists and social psychologists were, like Ruth Benedict, adjusting society to the New Deal and circumscribing the proto-socialist imagination while deploying Marxian language. If gut perceptions of danger are denied, will we not doubt our grasp on reality? Is it not also possible that the troubled patient with fluid boundaries, thus unable to differentiate the self from the parent and hence experiencing “projective identification” has not developed (or has not been allowed to develop) autonomy; has not established a boundary that protects the legitimacy of personal rights and entitlements from the assaults and confiscations of authoritarian parents or parental surrogates, primarily because the culture is premodern or covertly protofascist or fascist, i.e., its corporatist rulers view “bourgeois individualism” (a.k.a. “mechanical materialism,” the body free of original sin) as the source of vanitas, feminization and decadence; that what is really threatening about “individualism” is the stubborn notion advanced by recent “mechanical materialists” that there are social-economic antagonisms that cannot be ignored or passed off as delusional; universal facts perceivable by anyone that are not “group facts” dependent on blood, soil, and institutional context as Frederick Jackson Turner and other “materialist” social historians or “new historicists” would insist?
[A former paranoid schizophrenic diagnoses modernity and fascism:] “Protestantism has indeed its share of responsibility for the tragic situation of today, but that responsibility is largely a result of its very successes. It has helped to produce a new mechanized and urbanized and depersonalized world with which it is unable to cope. Its exaltation of freedom of inquiry and freedom of trade has unlocked a Pandora’s box of uncontrollable furies. The hope of the future, as I see it, lies in the development of the inner control of conscience which is so repugnant to Dr. Fromm and of the loyalty to that which transcends the Hitlers and Mussolinis of this war-stricken world.”
“[On persecution delusions: the paranoid fantasy contains a “kernel of truth”: the patient may experience empathy with an unconscious wish of the persecutor; also] The ‘truth’ may also relate to the observations of events during childhood that were denied at the time. These elements later return to consciousness distorted and magnified in an irrational, delusional form.”
“Paranoid character is the term applicable to an individual whose personality structure is dominated by marked suspiciousness, querulousness, and persistent rationalized hostility against other persons or groups. The use of scapegoats or “enemies,” the need to ‘defend’ against a hostile world (representing externalized aggressive impulses within the individual himself), the tendency to fight excessively over minor causes (often becoming litigious), and frequent contempt for others are the traits usually observed in this disturbance. Here the characteristic and most frequently observed defense is projection–the displacement of the individual’s unacceptable wishes and thoughts onto others, who then are felt to direct these ideas back to their source (i.e., I hate him; no, he hates me, and therefore I am justified in attacking and beating him). This permits the rationalization of the individual’s hostility, and allows him to defend his megalomanic image and fantasies. In spite of their pathology, however, certain paranoid characters have contributed to some of the basic systematic research in science, as well as classic works in art, music and literature.
“…No personal experience has come to light which could help to explain the intensity of Hitler’s hatred of the Jews…It is a disturbing question to consider when was the last occasion on which this man, who was responsible for the death of six million Jews, actually spoke to or met a Jew in person. But “the Jew” as one encounters him in the pages of Mein Kampf and Hitler’s ravings bears no resemblance to flesh-and-blood human beings of Jewish descent: he is an invention of Hitler’s obsessional fantasy, a Satanic creation, expressing his need to create an object on which he could concentrate his feelings of aggression and hatred.” [The last two paragraphs from Alan Bullock, writing about Hitler.]
The Kernel of Truth. For conservative Freudians the return of the repressed marks a paranoid episode; for purposes of my argument here, reading Melville, reading myself, reading my friends, the return of the repressed may be the empirical reality that we have screened out while longing for good objects to rescue us from brutality and alienation. In the discussion of stereotypes that follows, I do not want to be misunderstood as reinforcing the “truth” of “negative images”; rather I want to defend the common sense of “ordinary people” asking for realism; I want to criticize the tactics of recent media and curriculum reformers seeking “balance” through “positive images” rather than the thoroughgoing, unbounded pluralism that makes the achievement of more accurate histories a possibility.
Social critics (including some feminists) condemn some or all of Freud’s ideas as neurotically or opportunistically formulated, while the rough formulations of anti-Freudian, Jungian social psychologists go uncriticized. In order to demonstrate that group prejudice is irrational, the latter postulate an entirely socially constructed “Other” and, when it suits them, they deplore “scapegoating.” Nor is it common to decry their definitions of fascism. It is argued that the armored fascist/authoritarian personality projects his negative identity onto the Other or Alien. We should be very suspicious of these tactics in “left” cultural criticism. Such analyses are not only reductive, collapsing the various fascisms of the 1920s and 1930s into one vague and ahistoric hyper-nationalism and hyper-racism, moreover conflating negative images reinforcing sexism, racism, antisemitism, homophobia, xenophobia, and class resentment into one all-purpose, “dirty” or “inferior” Alien (what an insult to protean Devils!).
The theory of “projective identification” (a name object-relations psychoanalysts use instead of scapgoating or projection) can be a victim-blaming maneuver that implicitly requests the “prejudiced” person to cleanse himself by embracing and then incorporating the evil he attributes to others; by regressively and primitivistically merging with his real “nature”as a diversion from possible political action. (Hence the vogue for sadomasochistic forms of eroticism as mass media bring more and more of the world’s suffering to our attention, situations begging for intervention?) Gordon Allport and his Harvard colleague Henry Murray criticized scapegoating as irrational when the target of lower-class wrath was upper-class or member of a protected group; scapegoating was encouraged when conflict managers needed to redirect resentment away from themselves toward a common enemy to enhance “group morale” or “group cohesion” (See worksheets for their seminar in Civilian Morale, Harvard 1941). To be awarded the blue ribbon for social responsibility, then, the tolerant citizen must believe that his common sense evaluations of stubbornly hostile others are only projections of his own inner conflicts and deficiencies: there are no real individual or group conflicts out there resistant to mediation. Sadly, the unwary youth who falls for such corporatist liberal ruses is already marching down the road to herrenvolk democracy and fascism.
By contrast, the theorists of democracy, from Locke to Jefferson to Walter Lippmann, have argued that the senses and universal reason produce useful knowledge of the visible world. For Enlightenment rationalists the problem lay not in necessarily deluded perception by ever-passionate People, but in the invisible world erected or blanketed by arbitrary, secretive authority. For Lippmann, stereotypes (“the pictures in our heads”) exist where we have not first-hand experience with the faraway or sequestered; such distortions were inevitable in complex industrial societies, but could be corrected by political scientists who would serve the public interest as independent fact-finders (i.e., experts separated from the policy-making function), who would then pass on their accurate pictures of reality via newspapers to laymen and their elected representatives. Lippmann referred only to situations where people could not encounter each other face-to-face over time. Of course, for ordinary people today, unflattering “stereotypes” opposed by the media reformers are not confined to second-hand impressions, but are felt to be verified in everyday life; such shared perceptions have been the basis for popular humor and common sense. The problem with such stereotypes may lie in their interpretation.
The angry, frightened “bigot” or “paranoid” imagines class, gender, racial or ethnic “character” as the primary source of threatening social evil (the bloated capitalist, the deceitful woman or “Oriental” or Jew, the lazy/violent black or brown person). But this is a misconception: people are not born to be cunning or greedy; they respond to historically specific, systemic institutional imperatives; no one has yet demonstrated genes for troubling behavior resistant to self- or social correction. Therefore to the extent that “negative” stereotypes are accurate, their “kernel of truth” is situational, a reflection of structural position (business or job competition, exclusion, dependency) not a typical or imperishable attribute like fallen flesh necessarily to be erased through mass death or iconoclasm, or its rage diverted into Sade’s/Gorer’s “constructive Sadism.” So denying the validity of at least part of the cultural “stereotype” by labeling and ostracizing the frightened person as “hysterical” or “paranoid” or “racist” or “misogynist” disarms persons who need to defend themselves now against real (partly) hostile adversaries, who should not be asked to wait for the structural change (the reform or revolution) that promises relief. The antidote to “negative” images of “The Other” is not a switch to a “positive image” or to an impossibly benign pseudo-pluralistic society, a “multicultural curriculum” curiously lacking dissenting individuals, structural antagonisms, or hierarchy. Rather, as Lippmann insisted in 1922, we must “see the world steadily and see it whole”; to be informed of current events is not the same as knowing the truth. We urgently require an historical analysis which reconstructs all the institutional structures and the social relations such structures necessarily call forth, precisely recording the measurable behaviors of the state, the family, the market, education, and the media. How do these institutions legitimate authority or create and discover new knowledge?
Only after this question is answered, will we understand the opportunities and constraints within which individuals or artists are asked to make political, moral, or “aesthetic” choices in order to function and survive. An historian might argue that moral choices are ultimately produced or limited by abstract and impersonal social property relations; hence “stereotypes” are personified or frozen (“reified”) social processes. Crucially, our analysis should note the presence or absence of social movements offering realistic options for more humane behavior and more cultural freedom by achieving the material preconditions for universal creativity, meaningful participation in decision-making, equality and tolerance. The longed-for “self-esteem” that upper-class reformers would bestow upon “the oppressed” comes with increasing understanding and mastery of the material world, not moralistic admonitions and glorious ancestors.
October 7, 2015
February 27, 2015
Last night, being bored by Hannity’s love fest with conservative potential candidates for President at CPAC, I switched to NBC, which broadcasts EXTRA and ACCESS HOLLYWOOD at that time (7-8pm West Coast ST). And so this blog.
I was not surprised by the glamour girls, the culturally correct blue jeans (that will hug the body all day, including at the office), or the dread of aging, with homage to (entrepreneurial) “ageless” Christie Brinkley and Cindy Crawford. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/25/christie-brinkley-skincare-cindy-crawford-unretouched-photo_n_6753130.html.) That’s business as usual. (There was also an obeisance to Madonna’s ageless beauty and pluck in finishing her song at the London pop music version of the Grammys after she fell off the stage, which has aroused the networks to fulsome coverage, including Fox.)
What shocked me out of my snooze was the segment in which a pretty young woman described her initial resistance to submission in sex (she mentioned “bondage”), which she was successfully coached out of. Appreciative smiles all around.
It turned out that my blog on the fabulous success of the movie and novel Fifty Shades of Grey was the most viewed in February, thanks partly to its being posted on a website devoted to the history of women. (See https://clarespark.com/2015/02/14/fifty-shades-of-romantic-necrophilia/.)
Sadly, a tiny number of these viewers used the reference to my analysis of middle-aged women (MOM) being the target of the sadomasochism that I have studied. (https://clarespark.com/2009/07/13/eros-and-the-middle-manager-s-m-with-implications-for-multiculturalism/.)
Perhaps more interesting was the next show on NBC, “The Slap” in which Uma Thurman was the lead character in this episode, and sure enough, she had a bad mother (an English professor of great note, who turns out to be dying: played by the ageless Blythe Danner) who, it is suggested, has thwarted her daughter’s desire for marriage and motherhood. The Los Angeles Times synopsized this episode as “Anouk” attempting to “balance” her contending alliances with mom and younger boy friend (a hip singer), while yet another post mortem sees Thurman’s character as “the voice of reason” (criticizing her hippie friend for pursuing revenge against the hyper-masculine Greek-American slapper of her obnoxious, unsocialized, violent little boy. See http://2paragraphs.com/2015/02/uma-thurman-voice-of-reason-on-the-slap/). That “Anouk” is a successful writer for television gets left out, for these culture critics are dead to the world, and to the crucial details of plot lines.
Moderation wins again, and Thurman is yet another ageless beauty, likely to appeal to the NBC demographic (18-49), who may be themselves torn between motherhood and abortion rights; Anouk decides to keep the child, leaving us with a note of optimism, reason, and balance. (For more on The Slap see https://clarespark.com/2015/04/03/the-slap-and-pop-culture-during-easter-week/.)
Needless to say, in the lead up to the well-written Slap, I wandered into an alternative universe, where Brian Williams’s oddities are of no concern, for he is drowned out by the toasts to the glamorous Kardashians, Madonna, and suchlike nonsense, some of it sinister for what it portends for the next election.
September 21, 2014
On his Friday “live audience” program, September 19, 2014, Sean Hannity went over the NFL controversy, his attention frequently wandering to child abuse, which he read as part of “Southern culture”; hence the stigmatizing of “child abuse” is discriminatory toward a region where corporal punishment is the norm. (Hooray for “Southern culture”—that always had a reputation in the North for pseudo-aristocratic conduct, violent manliness, and dueling. I am not fond of theories of regional character any more than I am of theories of national character. See https://clarespark.com/2014/07/20/national-character-does-it-exist/.)
I then commenced to plotz. For Hannity repeated over and over that his own father had taken the belt to him when he was bad, but he, Sean Hannity, had never laid a hand on his own children. Moreover he had lived in several Southern states where other kids got “whooped” and look how well he turned out, in spite of his childhood travails, which are apparently part of a regional culture, and resistant to change. (For the left-leaning BBC’s view of the controversy, foregrounding black modes of punishment, see http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-29261462. For an entirely different view see this infographic disseminated by an online psychology degree outfit: http://www.online-psychology-degrees.org/psychology-of-spanking/, which I recommend highly.)
Back to the Hannity show. My mind immediately wandered to the sadomasochism collection at UCLA, where I spent two anxiety-ridden weeks looking at the misogynistic and often pornographic collages, photographs, and drawings of Steadman Thompson, a now deceased middle-manager employed by a Pennsylvania corporation. There are 52 boxes of his stuff.
Here is what I learned about spanking from two weeks in another’s sick brain. Children who are spanked cannot have orgasms in adulthood without being spanked by their partners. It was as simple as that—at least in the materials collected by S.T.
Similarly, on the last episode of Masters of Sex, Dr. William Masters gets over his two-year bout of impotence after his alcoholic brother slugs him hard on the jaw. Bleeding, with perhaps a broken nose, “Bill” refuses nursing attentions from his mistress Virginia Johnson, and returns to his former manliness and the performance principle. Meanwhile, his icy wife, Libby Masters is volunteering at the local office of CORE in St. Louis. Let’s see if she warms up after consummating what looks like a budding relationship with a black man.
For more on what I found in the Steadman Thompson collection, see https://clarespark.com/2009/07/13/eros-and-the-middle-manager-s-m-with-implications-for-multiculturalism/.
June 8, 2014
http://psychology.about.com/od/psychiatricdisorders/a/history-Of-narcissistic-personality-disorder.htm (NPD excluded from DSM-5.)
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22729454 (on narcissism and S-M behavior)
None of them steps outside of personal psychosexual development in the family to explore the institutional or ideological context in which “narcissistic personality disorder” either occurs or never shows itself.
My blog on the subject constitutes my personal experience and is not the result of clinical training, though the word “narcissistic” is thrown around in popular culture, sometimes to characterize women, but lately to characterize the grandiosity attributed by classical liberals and conservatives to Barack Obama. “Progressives” return the favor by describing all classical liberals and conservatives as heartless, uncompassionate individualists, oblivious to cries from their [imagined communities].
First, “healthy narcissism.” All my work has been driven by the search for creativity and how to impart it to students of all ages. In my view, such originality and discovery is linked to a healthy sense of self, that is, a person with healthy narcissism is not afraid to plunge into deep and uncharted waters to gain an accurate picture of ourselves and the institutions in which we function, no matter what pathology powerful professionals attribute to this search for truth.
But in the [neoclassical] Greek myth, Narcissus is so captivated by his image in a pond, that he is oblivious to the voice of Echo (society), so that he thoughtlessly falls into the pond and drowns. That is how Melville’s character “Ishmael” (the foil to narcissistic Captain Ahab) describes the tale in the first chapter of Moby-Dick: “Narcissus is the key to it all.” And indeed, Ahab does drown, strangled by the rope with which he would revengefully harpoon the White Whale, oblivious to the crew who will also perish. (The link to progressivism’s emphasis on social relationships as opposed to personal self-absorption should be obvious.) [Wikipedia dates the painting by Waterhouse as painted in 1903, after Ovid, in time for the progressive movement: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Echo_and_Narcissus_(Waterhouse_painting.%5D
The insult of the narcissism label is often felt by women. On the one hand, women are supposed to be protective mothers and wives, attuned to the most subtle emotions and symptoms of their charges, while they are simultaneously driven to defy aging and yet to be well turned outward to the opinions of relatives and then future mates. When the late academic Christopher Lasch wrote his famous The Culture of Narcissism (Norton, 1979) I bristled. It was an obvious slap at the fashionable notion that “culture” had been “feminized” since the emancipation of women. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Culture_of_Narcissism which argues that Lasch was reacting to militant student activists and to the decline of the family.)
Narcissism and attachment theory. It cannot be emphasized enough that pathological narcissists are unable to form attachments to others, whether these be persons or causes. In order to maintain their self-images as high achievers, for instance, they need a steady stream of “narcissistic supplies” from an adoring public. Although they tend to vacillate between idealizing and demonizing other persons, they can’t take criticism, even of the most tactful kind. For as “perfectionists” in the face of deflating errors or rejection, they are incapable of soothing themselves, for they are devoid of internal good objects (i.e., the mother’s unconditional approval).
I don’t know what a psychoanalyst would say about my claim, but every mother knows that the management of separation from young children so that they may attend nursery school or play with other children (out of mother’s sight), is a challenge. This process gets even more complicated when weaning is premature, or when a succession of nannies are the primary caretakers of children, for “object constancy” is vital to building self-confidence in the child who is expected to stand “alone” apart from mother. The resultant “separation anxiety” can be experienced by either the child or the mother or both. (See my essay https://clarespark.com/2009/11/16/panic-attacks-and-separation-anxiety/.) I often wonder how many Sixties radicals embraced collectivist ideologies in hopes of finding a stable, nurturing family that would compensate for feelings of abandonment by parent(s) and society alike. Had socializing institutions not idealized authority, would these often privileged youngsters identified with causes that were seemingly designed to punish them by losing caste?
Second, which leads to me the question of narcissism and sadomasochism. I have known several men of high intellectual attainment who were 1. panicked at the thought of criticism but who sought punishment in sexual situations. (They might take the role of sadist or masochist, depending on their personal histories with mom), and 2. lived with simultaneous feelings of grandiosity and worthlessness in their psyches, hence were unable to enjoy their achievements in the eyes of others; moreover they were exceedingly manipulative in personal situations. Whether these symptoms were caused by particular family practices and configurations or are institutionally-induced, are beyond my capacities to identify. But here is one quote from my research in the Sadomasochism Collection at UCLA, that sums up the gratification that follows the beating administered by a mother-substitute:
[excerpt from a fantasy by Steadman Thompson, middle-management at the Armstrong Cork Company, Akron, Pennsylvania, in the Sadomasochism Collection, UCLA:] “As I stood up, she came forward with the silver collar. I was aghast at what I had said and done but I stood still and let her fit the cold metal around my neck. As the lock clicked with an icy finality my misgivings rose to an apex.
“Now look, Vivienne,” I whined.
The wand whistled and struck stingingly before I could flinch. “Speak when spoken to, slave and address me as “Mistress” unless I give you another title to use. Now take a hold of the back of my robe.
As I timidly obeyed, she raised her wand and from the wand and the ball on her crown came a light so intense it washed away all our surroundings.”
Steadman Thompson had been subjected to a magic wand, to a “switch” and after taking his punishment, he was returned to the lap of benignant authority, or what I have called elsewhere “Conservative Enlightenment” (a form of pseudo-enlightenment that fails to liberate us from illegitimate authority). How many of our “professionals” in middle management are sadistic with respect to the students (or others) in their charge, while being masochistic with respect to the orders and curricula dished out by their powerful superiors in administrative capacities?
Or, as Melville’s Ishmael queried? “Who ain’t a slave? Tell me that.” (https://clarespark.com/2011/04/10/who-aint-a-slave/, and/or https://clarespark.com/2012/12/02/index-to-sadomasochism-blogs/.)
April 26, 2014
In the month of April, the Yankee Doodle Society website saw an unexpected drop in visitors. The numbers are still good, especially given the amount of competition in the blogosphere. To date (since the summer of 2009 when the Obama administration introduced much drama into the political culture) there have been 366,029 views, a number that always astounds my family and acquaintances.
But given the cultural emergency we find ourselves in, I am disappointed and dissatisfied, especially since I have shortened the blogs to reach an audience that is distracted and possibly frantic regarding the future of our ostensible representative republic, a condition I have represented as proto-fascist. The rest of this blog speculates about the many causes for the April drop. I cannot know, on my own, why I get between 150-250 views/day, compared to the prior record of between 250-350/day. What follows amounts to a meditation regarding the state of our political culture and my own persona as a kind of Nanki-Poo (“A wandering minstrel I, a thing of shreds and patches….” For a recent rendition see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fN6S8g1QrqU.)
First, like the masked Nanki-Poo, I am a misfit, a representation of the “uncanny” or “unheimlich.” Most of us crave for some stable group affiliation. My insistence on irreconcilable conflicts, both internal and external, contradicts the “moderate” tone of much public discourse. Such blogs as “The Illusion of National Unity” may make some of us squirm (https://clarespark.com/2013/09/17/the-illusion-of-national-unity/), especially as we are taught to respond to identification with “the American people.” True, there are the rulers and the ruled, but the entire discourse of the organic conservatives (i.e., social democrats and various Burkean rightists) offends my sense of reality. As a materialist sharply opposed to mystical bonds, I see disunity within myself, within most families, and certainly within the various ideologies of modern politics: who can readily distinguish between communists and social democrats, or between “ultra-conservatives” and “compassionate conservatives”? Are the dreaded “neocons” easily classified, or do they vacillate? (I am one of them, or so some believe.) I would rather see myself as a striving scholar, living with only provisional judgments and very curious about those archives that remain outrageously sealed to the public.
More than “unity” (a rarely achieved perfect meeting of minds), I value the creative imagination that sees through the “harmony” imposed by the State and by other institutions pushing groupiness (my word) as the route to “social stability” and “cohesion.”
Second, my most popular blogs seem to appeal to those using the internet to vent their intense dislike of POTUS. How many are given to paranoid conspiracy theories, I cannot tell.
Third, when I post my blogs on academic websites, I find that my numbers diminish as readers get to know me. The research or opinions I post often contradict the current line that keeps academics in line and predictable to their employers. One would think that academic readers would value an open mind and be willing to revise their past judgments, but apparently not.
Fourth, I am an unreconstructed feminist; I see the battle of the sexes as interminable and permanent. Men and women are put together differently, which is fine with me, and so are gays. But I cannot go along with conservative nostrums that imagine father-led families as the solution to poverty and crime. Nor do I gasp that American culture has been “feminized” as do the masculinists. The more both genders move toward androgyny, the better. Girls will stand up for themselves and accept leadership roles, while more “sensitive” men might become less patient with subordination to abusive superiors in the various hierarchies that help them defend the nation and/or earn a living.
Fifth, I am quite certain that the culture wars are not only a waste of time, but defy the cultural pluralism for which we supposedly strive. We should be putting more focus on the schools, on the regressive direction of teachers unions, and asking more of our schools, especially in the teaching of critical thought, contrasting theories of economic growth, science, and competing narratives for how we got to the current state of fragmentation and polarization—not only between political parties and “races,” but between rural/small town inhabitants and the large cities.
Sixth, and perhaps most important, I live with ambiguity regarding such basic contradictions as objectivity vs. radical subjectivism, or free will versus determinism. Part of growing sadder and wiser is this ability to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty. Most people seem to want unchanging rules and hence relief from doubt, including self-doubt.
Some may see this blog as a tiresome kvetch; perhaps it is. But I am grateful for those thoughtful and courageous readers who have stuck with me. Some are on Facebook, but others come from parts unknown. There seem to be fewer and fewer sadomasochists, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis than was the case when I started the blog—surely a cause for celebration.
March 6, 2014
“What, me worry?” Someone looked up this blog, written last year on the D-Day anniversary. https://clarespark.com/2013/06/06/morale-in-the-time-of-crisis-overload/. D-Day, 6 June, 1944, was a true crisis, not a mass media manufactured one. This blog is about both real crises and those emergencies that are ideological in origin.
Giving too much weight to crises that are not “real” can affect physical and mental health, not to speak of where we should put our primary efforts in coping with problems, both personal and social. I got the idea for this blog after reading all of “U” a periodical put out by the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Although positive in outlook, this important public health magazine is worried about the size of the Baby Boomer generation and the shortage of trained physicians who understand the needs of geriatric patients that is likely to result. It should be mentioned that this is a generally liberal magazine, optimistically progressive, reformist in tone, and certainly not alarmist, as they support ACA without reservation, including a warning about the pointless excessive cost of end of life critical care (i.e., death panels are not mentioned). As good multicultural liberals, they write to everyone (including veterans with PTSD and brain injuries), celebrating both recent discoveries in medicine (e.g. the Genome project, genetic sources of schizophrenia), and the healing power of “faith” and “happiness.”
And as good liberals, they published a letter from a doctor irate with the notion that faith heals, as opposed to science. But that letter is immediately followed by another celebrating faith and spirituality. There is no problem with the marketplace of ideas at UCLA, not here at least.
The rest of this blog lists some emergencies that I, from the distance of my years, can identify as real crises. Some are personal, some are social in origin. All affect personal and public health. As one example of a manufactured crisis, think of “anxiety and depression.” What sane person is not anxious and depressed given the real intertwined crises listed below in capital letters.
True of false? According to Marxist-Leninist theory, capitalism is in a permanent state of crisis, being a “weak and unstable system” [Hyman Minsky’s diagnosis]. For lefties I have known, such an emphasis on the past and future crises (that either should have led to socialism/communism, or are guides for future action, sans errors), can lead to a carelessness or minimizing of personal crises: the ageing and death of parents, divorces, troubled attachments to lovers, families and children. Such persons, it has been widely observed, are living in hopes of a future utopia, not a past Golden Age, as reactionaries do. Their Leninist critiques of the present tend to be framed as “will it advance the working-class revolution?”, or will this or that movement advance such disasters as “false consciousness” allegedly caused by mass media and consumerism. Or, they may infiltrate reformist groups such as environmentalism, in order to turn “Greens” into Reds. Such tactics can lead to alarm over irreversible climate change, an alarm that is intended to delegitimize current types of energy usage. Or, and this is the worst: leftists have bonded with Islamic jihadists on the theory that they are correct to destroy “imperialist” Israel.
Here are some crises that should receive more attention from those of us who give at least lip service to capitalism as either social democrats, neocons, libertarians, or conservatives. Each of these has preoccupied me for the last four or five years on the website. I will not attempt to specify the causes of the intertwined crises that I have emphasized, but I have no love for the progressive activist reading of the “living” Constitution.
DUMBING DOWN. THE CONFUSION OF PAIN WITH PLEASURE (systemic masochism). LOSS OF FOCUS (CHANGING THE SUBJECT). THE LEFTIST TAKEOVER OF THE HUMANITIES AND MASS MEDIA. USE OF THE INTERNET TO FIND PARANOID CONSPIRACY THEORIES OR TO VENT RAGE. COUNTER-ENLIGHTENMENT/ANTI-SCIENCE. POSTMODERNISM. NEEDLESS POLARIZATION. NONCHALANCE and DROPPING OUT. THE ADMINISTERED STATE.* MULTICULTURALISM/IDENTITY POLITICS. INDIFFERENCE TO TERRORIST THREAT FROM ISLAMIC JIHADISM.
August 8, 2013
A welcome voice of moderation and self-examination has crept into some writing on the internet and other mass media. Yesterday, Frontpagemagazine.com published Ronald Radosh’s “take-down” of Diana West’s new book that in his view revived the take-no-prisoners approach of Joseph McCarthy and the John Birch Society (See http://frontpagemag.com/2013/ronald-radosh/mccarthy-on-steroids/#idc-container.) Today, August 8, 2013, I have been in touch with other writers who are calling for a renewed attention to the style in which various commentators who write for a generally conservative audience are addressing their concerns. [Added 8-11-13: Clarice Feldman quoted passages from this blog here: http://www.americanthinker.com/2013/08/demagogic_writers_and_the_people_who_love_them.html.]
(At the same time, a major realignment seems to be underway within the Republican Party as libertarians and “moderates” or “RINO”s slug it out. I find the “neocons” in this debate to be more appealing, though I understand the outrage of those libertarians who have had it with authoritarian governments, leaders, and families, even as I disagree with their sometimes illiberal views on such questions as gay rights and feminism.)
Since I have been critical of those “moderate conservatives” who masked themselves as New Deal liberals on this website, I think it is time I clarified my own stand on “moderation.” (See https://clarespark.com/2010/11/06/moderate-men-falling-down/.)
True moderation is linked to balance. These are powerful words that send a signal to the emotions of the reader that s/he will not be humiliated or stomped underfoot with ridicule. The reader will not fall down or be tossed over a cliff. So far, so good. I have tried to be forthright and scholarly, specifying my sources and giving weight to those opponents whose considered opinions clash with mine. The key word here is “considered.” I have little patience with amateurs who take advantage of the internet and cable news to delve into political and diplomatic history willy nilly, taking advantage of the poor educations of their target audience—an audience that is hurting, confused by conflicting truth-claims, and looking for guidance. It is possible to be moderate without being wishy-washy or wavering. We are all limited by limited access to documents and to our own inner psychodramas. And yet we strive for objectivity and for truthfulness. But the heated political language of our time, playing on our emotions, makes moderation a wish, rarely achieved. Some of our “unmaskers” are self-righteous opportunists, unbalanced and averse to even friendly criticism. True, they seek your financial support, but there must be more to it.
Here is a tentative suggestion: Popular culture is often expressed in a language of melodrama that turns us back into the dependent states of childhood, even infancy. How ironic that a wildly popular book that celebrates sadomasochism is entitled “Fifty Shades of Grey.” For the images of S-M are black and white, elevating domination and submission, sometimes simultaneously. In this regressive alternative universe, we are Heroes, Villains, and Victims, switching places at alarming speed. Insofar as we are attuned to these archetypes, we are stuck and dependent on demagogues.
There is no place for true moderation in the S-M universe, or in the language of paranoid populists who hate the more emotionally and intellectually responsible and mature. There is something to be said for the moderate tone and demeanor of the public intellectual/statesman, self-revising, self-critical, and attuned to the worries and fears of the reader. (For part two of this analysis see https://clarespark.com/2013/08/09/melodrama-and-its-appeal/.)