Friday, December 16, 2005

The Envy of the Left (or No Good News Goes Unpunished)

One of the most important but little known concepts in psychoanalysis is that of envy. It is a term of art, not to be confused with the dictionary definition. While potentially present in all people, it becomes much more problematic when aggravated by primitive defense mechanisms such as splitting and projective identification. It is one of the most important "mind parasites" discussed in my book, One Cosmos Under God.

According to Webster's, envy is defined as "malice," and a "painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another, joined with a desire to possess the same advantage." The psychoanalytic understanding of envy is that it is an unconscious fantasy aimed at attacking, damaging, or destroying what is good, because of the intolerable feeling that one does not possess and control the object of goodness. As such, it is an aspect of what Freud called the death instinct, since it ultimately involves a destructive attack on the sources of life and goodness. Particularly envious individuals cannot tolerate the pain of not possessing and controlling the "good object," so they preemptively spoil it so that they don't have to bear the pain.

What is critical--and so perverse--about envy, is that it is not an attack on "the bad" or frustrating, but a hateful attack on what is good. As a result, the psyche of such individuals confuses what is bad and what is good, and cannot experience a sense of gratitude toward the good, the sine qua non of happiness and mental health. The envious person does not want to have a relationship with the good object, but wants to be that object. If it cannot be the object, then it attacks it to eliminate the tension.

Yesterday was an instructive but disturbing case study in the many ways of envy. Here we had such wonderful news coming out of Iraq, but the left found a multitude of ways to devalue, attack, and "spoil" the news through their excessive envy--by ignoring it, by downplaying it, by qualifying it, and by completely assaulting it with near-psychotic delusions.

I went trolling around the darker precincts of the blogosphere yesterday in search of envious attacks on the good news, and they weren't difficult to find. These samples are mostly taken from dailykos and the Huffington website. Note the specific quality of infantile spoiling:

--"Both sides are participating in these elections to screw the other side and not for any real reason beyond that (although promises to end the occupation, even if lies, represent a tasty carrot)."

--"This is our last chance to leave on terms where we can still claim some marginal success. Because it's all downhill from here. It's the Joke of the Week. An inside joke that few seem to get."

--"Democracy isn't elections. Many a dictator has won an 'election' by overwhelming landslide."

--"This is precisely what BushCo want us to believe. Distract us from the violence and the deaths, of both U.S. and coalition forces and the Iraqi people, by staging these phony elections and giving us these photo ops."

--"Earlier this week, on Air America, I heard about a truck of ballots being intercepted on it's way from Iran.  With Iran & the U.S. both wanting a desired outcome, I don't think it matters what the Iraqis want.  Either Iran or the U.S. is going to win this election, votes be damned."

--"As far as the election goes, the whole thing stinks to me... purple fingers be damned... I've become a bit of a cynic in the last five years..."

--"Bush’s false claims of 'bringing democracy to Iraq' cannot be the prerequisite for ending the occupation and bringing home all the U.S. troops. The invasion and occupation were and remain illegal, and it is our obligation to fight to end it now."

--"This Election is to Make People Forget about the Occupation

--"If the election was successful, troops will come home immediately. Otherwise 'success' is just a Bush lie. Another lie. Bring the troops home now."

--"If Kerry were president, this day would have come much sooner. And far less money and human life would have been wasted."

--"You warmongers cannot have it both ways. If the election was a success, the U.S. is done. If there is a democracy there, the U.S. has no business staying there. It's either a democracy, or a country occupied by the U.S."

--"The IRAQ Elections are rigged... rigged elections is THE ONLY THING repugs are good at!"

--"This time the sunnis participated"... wonder why? No purple finger = no food... You didn't know that? That's right, goebbel's nazi US MSM never tells you that... or anything of value for that matter."

--"This election, as the others, is a farce. The 'victory' Bushpigs are crowing about hasn't happened, and can't happen unless we leave Iraq and they're able to carry out peaceful elections on their own. Does anyone think that they're anywhere near being able to do that? I certainly don't, but then unlike the Bushpigs, I don't have my head up my ass.

--"If the supreme traitors had not stolen your and my vote on 12-12-2000, of course none of this would have happened.... especially 9-11 which was perpetrated by bush. I know, it's a tabou subject in nazi US, but NOBODY in the rest of the world believes the 9-11 fairytale (Why did wtc 7 come down?)."


Envy is such an important but generally ignored concept, probably because people don't want to consider the sinister ways it operates in their own lives. But it is a key that unlocks many mysteries, particularly in politics. So strong and ubiquitous is envy, that you cannot have a political system that doesn't accommodate or find some way to manage envy. You might say that one party will generally represent the envied, the other the envious. Guess which ones.


Victor Davis Hanson has a typically outstanding piece today that highlights the power of envy in shaping people's perception of reality--of their need to spoil the good. He writes:

"For some time, a large number of Americans have lived in an alternate universe where everything is supposedly going to hell. If you get up in the morning to read the New York Times or Washington Post, watch John Murtha or Howard Dean on the morning talk shows, listen to National Public Radio at noon, and go to bed reading Newsweek it surely seems that the administration is incommunicado (cf. “the bubble”), the war is lost (“unwinnable”), the Great Depression is back (“jobless recovery”), and America about as popular as Nazi Germany abroad (“alone and isolated”).

But in the real adult world, the economy is red-hot, not mired in joblessness or relegating millions to poverty. Unemployment is low, so are interest rates. Growth is high, as is consumer spending and confidence.... The military isn’t broken. Unlike after Vietnam when the Russians, Iranians, Cambodians, and Nicaraguans all soon tried to press their luck at our expense, most of our adversaries don’t believe the U.S. military is losing in Iraq, much less that it is wise now to take it on....

Nor are we creating new hordes of terrorists in Iraq — as if a young male Middle Eastern fundamentalist first hates the United States only on news that it is in Iraq crafting a new Marshall Plan of $87 billion and offering a long-oppressed people democracy after taking out Saddam Hussein. Even al Jazeera cannot turn truth into untruth forever....

The world does not hate the United States. Of course, it envies us. Precisely because it is privately impressed by our unparalleled success, it judges America by a utopian measure in which anything less than perfection is written off as failure."


To put it in psychoanalytic terms, I would simply change that last paragraph to read, "The world hates the United States because it envies us. Precisely because they cannot tolerate our unparalleled goodness and success, they attack it and turn America into a uniquely bad object. In doing so they have destroyed the good and conflated good and bad, but at least they don't have to feel the pain of envy."

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Moral Inversion

Yesterday Michael Medved made a somewhat passing comment as to how one of the biggest hurdles for the left is that so many people are repelled by their habitual "moral equivalency." For example, I well remember back in the '70's and '80's, when leftists argued that the United States and Soviet Union were morally equivalent--that they were just two giant empires that ran things slightly differently (which is why they were outraged--morally outraged, I might emphasize--when President Reagan had the audacity to refer to the Soviet Union as an "evil empire").

And the left had a ready response to any objection. What about exploitation of the population? "We do the same thing, except that we hide our exploitation in third world countries--El Salvador, Nicaragua, The Philippines, etc." What about economic freedom? "Meaningless. In Cuba and the USSR they have free health care and no illiteracy." What about political prisoners? "Don't be naive-fifty percent of our prison population is black. Most of these are political prisoners, like Tookie and Mumia." What about their aggressive, expansionist military policies? "Hey, we're the only country that's ever used the nuclear bomb. We're the biggest terrorist on earth."

In my opinion, this kind of thinking goes beyond moral equivalence--it is moral inversion, or literally turning the moral order of the world upside down. "Moral equivalence" sounds too bland and passive, whereas these moral inverts may well be more passionate about their morality than you or I, just as a child molester may be more passionate about his sex life than you or I. All emotionally mature people understand that sexuality can be a dangerous and destructive force when unhinged from any moral framework. But few people seem to understand that a much worse type of destruction can occur when the moral impulse becomes unhinged.

People typically think that the right represents the party of sanctimonious and judgmental morality, but this is hardly the case. In fact, this is an exact reversal of the situation. Morality in and of itself is neither moral nor immoral. Sometimes--perhaps more often than not--a moral system can actually be a source of great evil. One of the things that sets human beings apart from animals is that we cannot avoid making moral distinctions. There seems to be a built in need to distinguish between right and wrong. This impulse is just as strong and ubiquitous as the sex drive, and, just like the sex drive, can become distorted and perverted. With the left, we are generally not dealing with immoral people, but with quite serious moral perversion. And I say this in all seriousness and with all due respect.

For example, yesterday on LGF, Charles linked to a photo gallery of the anti-death penalty demonstrators outside San Quentin Prison Monday night. Here are examples of some of the signs that were carried by protesters: "Tookie Has Done More For Kids Than Arnold." "Arnold is a Nazi. Terminate Him Now." "America is Still Murdering Blacks. Slavery: 1492-Present." "Tookie = Greater Integrity. Worth 100 Times as Much to Our World as All of the Neocons, Hypochristians & Fascist Pigs of Profit."

So clearly, there is an extraordinary amount of moral passion behind these sentiments. And yet, it is an insane and deranged moral passion. The philosopher Michael Polanyi pointed out that what distinguishes leftism in all its forms is the dangerous combination of a ruthless contempt for traditional moral values with an unbounded moral passion for utopian perfection. The first step in this process is a complete skepticism that rejects traditional ideals of moral authority and transcendent moral obligation--a complete materialistic skepticism combined with a boundless, utopian moral fervor to transform mankind. However, being that the moral impulse remains in place, there is no longer any boundary or channel for it.

We can see the deadly combination of these two--“skepticism and moral passion,” or “burning moral fervor with hatred of existing society”--in every radical secular revolution since the French Revolution--from the Bolsheviks to nazi Germany to campus unrest in the 1960s. If society has no divine sanction but is made by man, men can and must perfect society now, while all opposition must be joyfully crushed--with moral sanction, of course. We saw this Monday night, with the peaceful anti-death penalty protestors joyfully intimidating and attacking those few proponents of capital punishment in the crowd, and with cadres of Nation of Islam goons intimidating anyone in the crowd who looked or behaved normally.

I was trying to think of all the ways the contemporary left are morally inverted. I'm sure you will be able to think of many I have missed. I'm a little pressed for time at the moment, but I'll add some during the day, as they come to me.

For example, John Murtha insists that there is a sharp distinction between terrorists and the "insurgents" we are fighting in Iraq--even (or especially) when these "insurgents" have no other purpose but to murder innocent civilians. But this has long been a policy of the left--for example, insisting that Palestinian terrorists somehow belong to a different category than other terrorists.

Of course, seeing any similarity between President Bush and Hitler, or Ariel Sharon and Hitler, is quite morally insane. One hardly knows how to respond to such individuals. And yet, there are millions of leftists in America and Europe who believe it.

In promoting his new movie Munich, Steven Spielberg has made a number of comments indicating his belief that there is no real distinction between terror and Israel's response to it. In general, leftists are genuinely unable to see the vast moral gulf that exists between Israel and her Arab enemies.

Or how about our elite universities, who are fighting to prevent military recruitment on campus, but welcome anti-Semites and terrorist sympathizers of all stripes, many of whom are on their faculties?

A "lie" has now been redefined to mean a statement one believes to be true at the time, but is later unsubstantiated. I believe any morally intact child would be able to understand the immorality of this kind of perverse morality, but the left are again genuinely unable to draw the distinction.

Or Ted Kennedy says that nothing has changed in Abu Ghraib prison--that it is simply "under new management." Dick Durbin says our military is no different than Pol Pot or Stalin.

Of course, leftists routinely compare Islamofascists to Christians whom they believe wish to impose a theocracy on the United States.

We are in danger of failing as a society if we cannot equip half of our citizens to reason coherently in the most rudimentary moral categories.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Paranoia Runs Deep, Into the Left it Will Creep

One of the hallmarks of paranoia is that the paranoid individual becomes inordinately frightened of the object into which they have projected their paranoia. That is, paranoia is fundamentally an infantile defense mechanism through which the "bad" or unwanted content of one's own mind can be displaced and located elsewhere, so that one may gain a spurious sense of comfort and safety.

However, we can't really "project" what we don't want out of our own minds. In other words, paranoid projection is an unconscious fantasy in which one part of the mind is actually projected into another part of one's own mind. For example, if I project all evil into Shrinkwrapped, that doesn't mean my projections have actually left my head and lodged themselves in him. Rather, I simply imagine that my own "badness" is outside of me, while in actuality it is now located in another part of me.

Because we cannot actually project our badness out of ourselves, it always returns in a hypertrophied, monstrous form (I won't go into all of the technical details as to why this happens). Paranoids always think that they hate the object of their paranoia because the object is evil. But it's the other way around: they believe the object of their paranoia is evil because they hate them, and simply fear the "boomerang" of their own hatred coming back to them. This process is very transparent in children, but if you are perceptive, you have undoubtedly observed it occasionally operating in yourself. Think of someone you've been very angry with, and the discomfort you might have felt in being around them, as if they are going to lash back "in kind." (For example, once I was very mad at Petey, and began thinking he was going to put in an anonymous complaint about me to the Board of Psychology.)

This process is pretty much at the core of Bush Derangement Syndrome. In fact, the further leftward you travel, the more it becomes the central organizing principle of their political life: projection of hatred and a near delusional fear of backlash. For the more intensely you project into the other, the more intensely overblown will be the resultant paranoid fear: the object of paranoia will be capable of anything: lies, deceit, civil rights violations, wiretapping, tax audits, imposition of theocracy, murder, you name it. (You will note that the identical process occurred with certain loony elements of the right during the Clinton presidency. Most on the right simply regarded him as a poll-driven narcissist with an extremely elastic set of values, whereas people on the extreme far right actually believed that Clinton had left a pile of murder victims in his ruthless wake. To them he wasn't just a rudderless opportunist, but a serial murderer who eliminated anyone who got in his way!)

One of the hallmarks of the paranoid style is a distorted conception of the power of the fantasized enemy. At times, the enemy is seen as an omnipotent, tireless, demonically competent adversary (The Republican Attack Machine! The Rovian Puppet Master Orchestrating World Events!), while at other times the same enemy is felt to be weak, decadent, and on the verge of collapse (Bush is stupid, his second term is over, he has lost the support of his own party, etc.). Likewise, the image of one's own self (or country) may vary between a godlike supremacy and a terrible, childlike vulnerability, with no ability to integrate (or even notice) these contradictory images.

This same paranoid style absolutely dominates the mindscape of the Muslim Middle East in a completely unchecked way. Obviously, the psychic economy of radical Islam has a special place for Jews and for Israel. Indeed, Arab discourse on the subject of Israel is so psychotically violent, so grotesquely distorted, that their perennial desire to "liquidate the Zionist entity" can only be understood in developmental terms as the lost entitlement of a wrathful infant. In his book The Hidden Hand: Middle East Fears of Conspiracy, Daniel Pipes provides example after example of the type of preoperational, magical, paranoid thinking style that pervades the Muslim world. Even sophisticated Middle Easterners "interpret great public issues through the prism of conspiracy theories" which are "virtually immune to rational argument."

Just like the typical paranoid one might encounter in a mental health clinic, these Muslim conspiracy theorists don't employ what we would call the usual methods of logic, critical thinking or analytical rigor. Contradictory beliefs are freely entertained, with no seeming discomfort or even awareness of the cognitive dissonance. There is a tendency to divide the world into absolute categories of good and evil, followers and infidels. There is a decided lack of a sense of humor, a dour sensibility--almost as bad as Air America, but not quite. Conspiracy seekers also believe that appearances are always deceptive and complex, and that there is no such thing as a coincidence. And yet behind it all there is a simple explanation: a demonic, omnipotent, clever and far-sighted, and yet somehow vague enemy, motivated by a malevolent desire to destroy Islam.

Thus, many in the Muslim world believe that Zionism is a bloodthirsty, expansionist conspiracy bent on world domination. For example, the cartoon-like charter of the PLO reads that Zionism is a "constant source of threat" to the entire world, "racist and fanatic in its nature, aggressive, expansionist and colonial in its aims, and fascist in its methods," "strategically placed" to combat Arab liberation and progress. During a recent weekly televised sermon, a Palestinian cleric taught that among the evil deeds of the Jews was the Holocaust itself, which was "planned by the Jews' leaders, and was part of their policy."

Similarly, the charter of Hamas, the Islamist terror gang, informs us that wealthy Zionists have taken over "control of the world media . . . they stood behind World War I. . . . They also stood behind World War II . . . They inspired the establishment of the United Nations and the Security Council . . . in order to rule the world by their intermediary" and "liquidate Islam." But at the same time, Jews are seen as corrupt, feeble and morally weak. For example, an Egyptian high school textbook noted that Israel "shall wither and decline. Even If all the human race, and the devil in Hell, conspire to aid her, she shall not exist."

Can you see how the delusional fear of Israel--which craves nothing more than peaceful coexistence with her neighbors--results from the projected hatred, not vice versa?

Let's take a random example from our own country. I plucked this from on Sunday. It's by Joan Vennochi, a columnist for the Boston Globe, entitled It's Macho Time in America.

She starts of with the familiar paranoid refrain that "When Democrats challenge the Bush administration regarding its policy in Iraq, Republicans challenge their patriotism and toughness." This statement by Vennochi represents unvarnished paranoia--I have yet to see a single example of President Bush or anyone in his administration questioning anyone's patriotism, no matter how deserving. However, the left has engaged in nonstop questioning of Bush's patriotism, for if it isn't unpatriotic to intentionally deceive the country in order to lead it into a needless war and kill American servicemen, what is? That's beyond unpatriotic, it's a high crime, a misdemeanor, and frankly treasonous. So naturally, if one projects murder and treason into President Bush, it shouldn't be surprising that the projector will experience a fantasied backlash.

Next, Vennochi complains about the new Republican video, featuring a white flag of surrender accompanied by the statement: ''Our country is at war. Our soldiers are watching, and our enemies are too. Message to Democrats: Retreat and Defeat is not an option." The video highlights recent critical comments about the Iraq war made by Howard Dean, John Kerry, and Barbara Boxer. No tricks or distortions at all, just their actual words, and yet, this somehow represents a sinister ploy designed to castrate Democrats and depict them as cowards. In fact, many prominent Democrats are calling for surrender. Vennochi's claim that the ad is calling Democrats "cowards" is a classic case of "methinks thou dost protest too much," Shakespeare's clumsy way of saying "I'm rubber and you're glue."

There are further paranoid hallucinations in this editorial. For example, Vennochi states that the Bush administration has similarly attacked "opponents of torture" (a double hallucination, for there is no evidence whatsoever of the widespread so-called torture she is fantasizing about). She suggests that "opponents of torture" are "labeled as weaklings and cowards if they suggest that stooping to the enemies' tactics is poor policy that so far achieved poor results." Again, I don't believe she could identify a single example of anyone in the Bush administration labeling opponents of torture "weaklings and cowards." But if you're attacking Bush for something he didn't do, it's likely that you will fantasize that he is attacking you in a similarly delusional manner.

Vennochi then veers into embarrassingly transparent psychosexual material, complaining that "Democrats who question administration policy regularly find their manhood under attack. It happened to Kerry during the last presidential contest, even though he was the Vietnam War veteran running against an opponent who served stateside in the National Guard.... Just last month, Vice President Dick Cheney thought nothing of questioning the backbone of Representative John P. Murtha.... " Of course, no one questioned Kerry's or Murtha's "manhood," but that is entirely beside the point. It is simply the boomerang effect of having spent five years questioning Bush's manhood: childish mind, immature world view, petulant, stubborn, living in the shadow of his Daddy, all-around simpleton.

I long ago stopped reading the paper--that is, liberal papers--in a conventional way. Rather, as James Joyce might have done, I look at the paper as a sort of crazy dream that the liberal world had the previous night. As with any patient, it's my job to interpret the dream, to make sense of the distortions, symbolic displacements, fundamental conflicts, repetitive themes, etc. A few years back, a clever fellow wrote a book called A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper, chronicling all of the statistically illogical ways that people interpret the news. A psychologist ought to do the same thing with the liberal media. I can't do it, because I'm afraid they'll come after me, inspect my library records, and question my manhood.