Freud Symposium: 13 November 1995
IS FREUD A REVOLUTIONARY FOR OUR TIMES? AFFIRMATIVE!
There are ten major points to be made in making the case for Freud today as relevant for students and academicians. They are interlocking breakthrough insights of his culminating in a thesis about our Zeitgeist and a general world view. He is a product of the Enlightenment; yet there is a Romantic subtext of the outcast/prophet revenging himself with his will to power against his very real enemies. The major themes and concepts then are underlined and capitalized below.
1. EGO AND ID. A provocative metaphor is that of the rider on the horse where the highly spirited horse more or less takes control of the rider. Of course the reference is to the ego in respect to the id where unconscious forces impinge upon an individual from the environment (really the gaze of the unknown Other), the superego, and the id to threaten the individual with overwhelming anxiety. The powers of the unconscious in repressed memories of alleged sexual traumas of early childhood and inhibited aggression from the civilization's "impinged" frustrations (Ananke--necessity) involve the study of correlational clusters of variables in the origins of neurosis.
2. SUBLIMATION. The child at birth is born polymorphous perverse--sexually charged his/her whole life. His sexuality must be socialized in order to raise a compliant and functional adult for the work world who will reproduce his kind to perpetuate civilization.
3. MEDICAL MODEL. Mental illness need not have an organic cause. He challenged the medical model in psychiatry successfully after a period of resistance not only to his ideas but toward his Jewish origins.
4. SEX AND AGGRESSION. Eros and Thanatos battle for the ego and its instinctual economy. He pointed out that the fusion of sex and aggression can result in sadism if turned outwardly and masochism if inwardly. He indicated that the death instinct worked through this mechanism at both the individual and collective levels.
5. TRANSFERENCE/COUNTERTRANSFERENCE. A "talking through" therapy works in which you recover lost memories by recreating in the office by the trained psychoanalyst a "new" edition of the old conflict. Transference and counter-transference relate to the economy of the recovery. You resolve the childhood and even archaic conflicts by giving the ego the enhanced strength to reality test. Freud effected his own recovery by self-analysis wherein he freed himself from his private demons. He analyzed his own dreams and engaged in an interior dialogue where he overcame his own resistances by auto-suggestion and self-hypnosis in a free association of words to reconstruct the archaeology of the primal struggle with his recently deceased father (the Oedipal conflict) and his feelings of ambivalency toward him. This self-examination requires a ruthless integrity and honesty about tabooed subjects that most humankind are not capable of sustaining. Critique and even more so self-critique wound the narcissism.
6. SOCIALISM. Even if there were socialism, human nature would not change because there would still be sexual competition. In totalitarian societies, Big Brother induces paranoia because of the identification with and introjection of the values of a man of the ilk of Joseph Stalin. Stalin and Hitler wanted breeders of many offspring. In both regimes, abortion was a crime against the state. The state owns your body and disciplines it. This is yet an explosive issue in our own society and even threatens our definition of democracy and basic freedoms.
7a. NATURAL SELECTION. With respect to natural selection, heterosexual monogamy is not beneficial for the species in the process of sexual selection and the variation necessary to assure the species chances (that is its potential utility) at plentiful reproduction (principle of inheritance). Humankind is naturally inclined toward having multiple sexual partners. To deny that option produces discontent in civilization because the resultant prohibitions evoke anxiety and consequent inhibition. The death instinct then becomes stronger and is certainly central in the inclination to wage war where these traditional inhibitions against killing are removed and man can behave according to the pleasure principle. Man is the only species whose members can have an orgasm in the act of killing for pleasure.
7b . ORGANIC REPRESSION. Freud believes that there has been a process in natural selection whereby the basic sex drive itself has become involuted (atrophied) so as to assure that these heteroforward sublimated instincts can be redirected toward work and sociable behavior in groups. Species' repression ensues. There arises an inherited species given taboo against killing the father in the male child in order to sleep with the mother. This is not necessarily literally true, but at least the nuclear inclination is there through our phylogenetic unconscious. The murdered father/totem is rendered a demigod who later modeled monotheism: A God in the heavens who sends his Son on earth to die for our sins. The church ultimately creates the libidinal ties of socialized sexuality in the community of believers (the murdering Oedipal horde), however tenuous the ties. These ties have a suppressed homoerotic undertone in a libidinal brotherhood, needed nevertheless to build civilization.
8 . MESSIANIC WORLD VIEW. The forces of Eros and Thanatos struggle for hegemony in the individual and his social units. Freud realized the dangers of racism and saw that Stalin and Hitler embodied a threat to civilization and Enlightenment reason. There is a messianic strain in Freud. He admired Moses as the lawgiver, as was Freud the lawgiver on the commandments of the unconscious. The Jews through their suffering embody the universal class. The life of the mind becomes a dominant theme in Jewish culture. Historically, they were barred from most of the usual professions by both religious and political anti-Semitism. This relentless persecution over two millennia, in Europe mainly, to this day gives them an "epistemically privileged" position to speak on ethical matters for the general humanity--a perspective not available to others because they embody the status quo and its parochial self-interests with all its historic abuses. Freud was very sensitive to his Jewish--ness and that of his besieged circle of followers. He tried to co-opt Carl Jung. Jung "betrayed" his teachings and became a fellow traveler with the National Socialists. Jung is to psychology what Heidegger is to philosophy.
9. PSYCHOANALYSIS AS CRITICAL HERMENEUTICS. Is it a metaphysics? In other words, is it grounded in first principles that simply have to be assumed on faith? Not quite. It is certainly not a true natural science whereby if you refute one hypothesis the paradigm collapses in the Kuhnian sense. But Freud did say that psychoanalysis is open to change whenever you can find a neurobiological basis for a particular mental illness, particularly what he called simple depression and mania. He said ultimately the work of psychoanalysis will be strictly reconnaissance and then orthodox medical procedures would be instituted, which I call "soft" positivism. Psychoanalysis I see as a critical hermeneutics to deconstruct literature, art, religion, law, and even politics. Particularly, we can unmask in the ideology of hate mongering and stereotyping the constituent drives in mass hysteria involved in examining and treating the processes of identification with the leader and the consequent introjection of his values. The love of the group heals the wounded narcissism of the marginal man of modern times.
10. PSYCHOANALYSIS AND MARXISM. My own research efforts involve an effort to combine psychoanalysis as metapsychology and Marxism as political praxis.
Example: A disturbing trend of our times is the significant increase in the diagnosis of the borderline/narcissistic personality. He is usually a marginalized male who because of structural defects in the capitalist political economy finds himself unemployed and then unemployable. He is impulsive, aggressive, sexually ambivalent, lacking in the capacity for discrimination in the boundaries between his ego and his environment, and consequently he "acts out" emotions violently against innocent third parties. He cannot express these anxiety provoking emotions appropriately in his lifeworld. He has unresolved attitudes toward acknowledging authority insofar as not accepting traditional norms of behavior.
We can trace this to his not successfully identifying with a father figure or sublimating his lack of talent into a successful career role in any of the major institutions of society: family, business, education, the army, or the church. He is an aggregate of lumpen anger. My supposition as to this type is that part of the problem is constitutional predisposition. However, I believe class and race analysis will show unemployment will precipitate the latent rage because the self-esteem of being a man in our capitalist culture is measured by his income.
His life instincts will drive him to seek a substitute gratification often in ethnocentrically defined organizations, and often with a quasi-religious basis in which there is a mass delusion in adhering to a fiction of a God who can only be articulated by a chosen and elect 'prophet", who is self-proclaimed. His followers bask surrogately in his glory. These demagogues can hysterically convert pariahs into mesmerized, compliant followers with grandiose feelings of entitlement to an unearned status in the pseudo-family which displaces traditional institutions of authority. In normal times, this partially sublimated borderline/narcissistic personality will be rendered relatively harmless to society.
of a great depression and/or war, he will desublimate his transference from the
idealized leader--or ego ideal--and present a criminal threat to political
order. That charismatic leader (charisma being the gift of grace), possessed
with the toxic will to power, can then suggest (literally hypnotize by his gaze
the gullible) courses of action to take against commonly conceived, artificially
created enemies: the government, helpless minorities (particularly what he
perceives to be "castrating" women), international Zionism, and yes even we
allegedly rootless, cosmopolitan intellectuals.
GENERAL CONCLUDING REMARKS
Freud realized that the neurotic prototype of our age cannot distinguish fact from fiction. In its relation to the political realm, the bigger the lie the more likely the bait is to be taken because well seeded lies attenuate anxiety and defy reality testing since mass man does not have the scientific training to make critical distinctions over a prolonged period of abstinent, critical evaluation. Sadly, in the end, the forced force of an argument is decided not by gentleman scholars but on the military battlefields. This potential and actuality of a war of each against all Freud realized only too well is lived in the here and now.