On Flushing Reality Down the Psychic Toilet (3.3.08)
Vertical man is born again “from above,” drawing energies from the cosmogonic center and radiating them to the horizontal periphery. But since Horizontal Man is trapped in the bewilderness of his contingent being (i.e., maya), he projects the above into the future, and constructs a faux spiritual life that attempts to draw psychic energies from this self-created illusion. In other words, he practices the religion of progressivism, in which belief in a transcendent heaven is immamentized and nourishes the place where his soul should be. In doing so, he receives a kind of existential consolation which may be compared to a form of counterfeit grace, in particular, when he imagines that he is in proximity to this heaven and therefore closer to being “saved” from the existential situation that afflicts all humans.
You can clearly see this mechanism of horizontal salvation in action. For if reality were actually what the fantasists of the left have been saying it was prior to the election, we would not see manic exaltation among their ranks. Rather, we would see great sobriety and moral seriousness, as they brood on the monumental achievement of having just barely prevented a theo-fascist takeover of America. If this self-evident fantasy had been real, the more appropriate reaction of the left would be sobbing, not fist-pumping and sack dancing.
The great psychoanalyst Melanie Klein divided human psychological development into two main stages, which she termed the paranoid-schizoid and the depressive positions. (I will try to avoid pedantry at risk of over-simplification.) For Klein, the primary goal of development was to move from the former to the latter, although in reality, the relationship between the two is more dialectical than linear, similar to the relationship that exists between the conscious and unconscious minds. In other words, we no longer think of an unconscious mind per se, but a dialectical relationship between the conscious and unconscious. This dialectic can be fruitful and generative, or stultifying and self-defeating, but you can no more rid yourself of the unconscious than you could speak without the deep structure of grammar.
Human beings are subject to the nuisance of intrusive thoughts long before they are capable of thinking them. The problem for development is to build a psychic structure in which one may think thoughts instead of merely being thought by them. Naturally, our earliest psychological reality is almost wholly fantastic, and it is actually the primary job of the parent to prolong this fantasy until the baby becomes capable of discovering reality.
This is why you cannot “spoil” an infant. Rather, you must indulge them until they are resilient enough to tolerate the painful and disappointing discovery of reality. Ironically, this can only be achieved if they have a firm foundation of entitlement and generative fantasy -- for example, the fantasy that one’s painful hunger causes a bountiful breast to magically appear out of nowhere. This loving breast must be internalized before the baby makes the disappointing discovery that it actually belongs to mother (let alone, father), or reality will have to be attacked or rejected in some form or fashion. We must be provided with, and then gradually disillusioned of, our infantile omnipotence, on pain of trying to hold on to it for the rest of our lives.
The paranoid-schizoid position takes place in the first year of life. Naturally there is no clear sense of psychological boundaries at this time, which is why the psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott made the famous remark that “there is no such thing as an infant.” Rather, there is only a harmonious, mixed-up fusion of mother and baby. The baby’s sense of individual selfhood will only gradually emerge from this primordial matrix.
Klein called this the “paranoid-schizoid position” because it is the source of our most primitive psychological defenses -- i.e., denial, splitting, and projection. These defenses are normative for a baby, but only become problematic to the extent that we fail to evolve into the depressive position. At this early age, we shouldn’t even think of them as defenses, but more as primitive modes of organizing otherwise chaotic experience. For example, splitting early experience into a “good” and “bad” breast is analogous to God’s separation of the primordial waters. It is an attempt to achieve safety by placing a distance between what are in reality different aspects of oneself. Projection obviously works the same way.
In the depressive position, the infant gradually integrates experience into a coherent self which is able to distinguish fantasy from reality. You might think that this is an unproblematic achievement, but you would be quite wrong. We all carry remnants of the paranoid-schizoid position, some much more so than others (in my book, I refer to these remnants as “mind parasites”).
For example, the borderline individual engages in severe splitting between good and bad. If you disappoint or frustrate them, they will suddenly perceive you as all bad, completely forgetting their many positive experiences with you. It is as if the “good you” no longer exists (this process should not be confused with garden-variety PMS). Likewise, a narcissistic individual only has use for you so long as you serve as a mirror for their primitive, paranoid-schizoid grandiosity. As soon as you fail to idealize them, they will react with anger or contempt in order to maintain their illusion of greatness.
The “manic defenses” are those defenses that prevent movement from the paranoid-schizoid to the depressive position, and include contempt, triumph, control and idealization. Basically, you can think of these defenses as coming into play when reality threatens to impinge upon fantasy. In fact, these defenses ultimately consist of attacks on a reality the individual has discovered but does not wish to perceive.
Yesterday we touched on the concept of “group fantasy.” In my view, the philosophy of secular leftism is very much rooted in the paranoid-schizoid position, whereas the classical liberalism embodied in the conservative intellectual movement is much more reflective of the depressive position. Here, I hope it should go without saying that I am not referring to individuals, as there are obviously many immature conservatives and mature liberals. Rather, I am specifically discussing the group dynamic.
If I am correct, then we will see in conservatism a much more sober and realistic assessment of mankind. As I have mentioned before, I am of the view that conservatism is as much an inclination, temperament, or “cast of mind” as it is any set doctrine. In fact, the doctrines follow from the temperament rather than vice versa. This would explain why normal people generally become more conservative as they mature and grow wiser, whereas leftism mostly appeals to the young or to the permanently immature of academia and Hollywood.
A while back, I wrote a post which summarized the main tenets of conservatism and liberalism. Let’s review them and see how they line up in terms of the paranoid-schizoid vs. depressive positions. I think they basically speak for themselves.
Russell Kirk summarized the six canons of conservative thought as
1. Belief in a transcendent order; and that most political problems are moral problems resulting from bad values. (To cite an obvious example, if Hispanic or Black Americans adopted Asian American values, they would be just as successful.)
2. Appreciation of the ineffable mystery of existence, and with it, opposition to the tedious uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of of most radical systems.
3. An understanding that liberty and equality are contradictory aims; a belief that there are distinctions between men and that classes will emerge naturally and spontaneously in a free society. “If natural distinctions are effaced among men, oligarchs fill the vacuum.”
4. A belief that property and freedom are intimately linked. “Economic leveling... is not economic progress.”
5. Distrust of radical schemes by liberal intellectuals “who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs” that simply mask the intellectual’s lust for power.
6. Recognition that change and reform are not synonymous, and that “prudent change is the means of social preservation.”
In contrast, contemporary left-liberalism has entirely different assumptions and attacks (manically, in my estimation) the existing social order on the following grounds:
1. “The perfectibility of man”; the belief that education, environment or legislation “can produce men like gods; they deny that humanity has a natural proclivity towards violence and sin.”
2. Contempt for tradition. “Formal religion is rejected and various ideologies are presented as substitutes.”
3. Political leveling: “Order and privilege are condemned,” accompanied by “an eagerness for centralization and consolidation.”
4. Economic leveling: “The ancient rights of property... are suspect to almost all radicals.”
In closing, here is a fine example of paranoid-schizoid thinking drawn from dailykos, with the edifying title The Bowel Has Moved. If we could give voice to the paranoid-schizoid position, this is exactly what it would sound like (although any infantile rant by Keith Olbermann or Bill Maher would do just as well). A mere three days ago, President Bush was a terrifying, omnipotent figure of pure evil destroying our democracy. But now, thanks to psychological splitting, he is “a weak man in over his head -- a Dan Quayle for our times.” And thanks to projection, Karl Rove, the “giant turd clogging the colon of American politics.... has been flushed.”
But there is one thing of which we may be absolutely certain: that the bad object will not stay down long, because, in the words of the great psychologist Dr. Beavis, “you can’t run away from your bunghole.”
Last night I dreamt of an angry, diapered mob chasing John Bolton with plungers....