Why on Earth is Man on Earth?
I remember back in film school, one of my professors mentioned that when they remake a film, it's almost always one that was already a classic and cannot be improved upon. Instead, why not remake a noble failure that had a lot of missed potential? In this case, I have meditated upon what I previously wrote line-by-line, and altered it accordingly, based upon up-to-the-minute dispatches from just over the vertical horizon.
What is man that the electron should be mindful of him! --E. Becker
In Goldberg's Liberal Fascism, he goes into the inglorious history of the left's attempts to pathologize its enemies (e.g., the embarrassing Frankfurter school of bitesized intellectual wieners). This is something that was practiced in the Soviet Union, just as it is done today in left wing university psychology departments. It is one of the ways they enforce political correctness, by pathologizing anyone who, say, believes that the government should not force us to discrminate based upon race.
But in order to even begin discussing the question of psychological health -- and its relationship to politics, if there is any -- one must first determine what the mind was designed to do. Everything is based upon this initial determination, so if you get it wrong, your entire intellectual edifice will be built upon pounding sand. You simply must know what a human being is "for," or your understanding of politics, history, economics, law, and other disciplines will be fatally flawed.
Another way of saying it is that we must first understand what on earth man is on earth for. For there really are only two choices, which come down to nihilism or pleromism (to coin a word), existentialism or essentialism, relativism or Absolutism. Humans are either an ultimately worthless cosmic aberration, or the very peophole through which the Absolute may contemplate itself. The bloody stakes are that rare, which is why the debate is so meaty.
All leftists, following Marx, believe that "existence precedes essence." Leftism in all its forms is based on man being "nothing," which is why the leftist believes that the god-state may manipulate him into being something less than a man.
For the secular humanist, human beings can be nothing more than a late-model beast -- a recent arrival to the cosmic manifestival with a few interesting tricks programmed into us by father Darwin. But for the religionist, man carries a trace of the origin and center of the cosmos within his very being, so that what a human being truly is is the key to fathoming the implacable mystery of the cosmos itself. Again, these views are absolutely irreconcilable (which is one way we know of the Absolute).
To back up a bit, we cannot begin to discuss this question without bearing in mind the importance of complementarity, as discussed a few posts back. Man lives within various dialectical tensions that cannot be resolved, the most important of these being the celestial and terrestrial, or vertical and horizontal. In turn, each of these contains within it various tensions and relations that cannot be resolved, so long as we exist on the relative plane -- which we must do on pain of not existing at all. "Health" lies in the dynamic equilibrium between various complementary opposites.
With a few exceptions, psychology mainly deals with horizontal health, whereas religion addresses what we might call “vertical health,” so this is one of the first confusions that will arise in any attempt to deal with man in wholly material terms. If your metapsychology reduces man to mere horizontality, then your psychological model will necessarily be incapable of producing real health or wholeness in a wider (and higher) sense.
Let’s begin with the horizontal, because that will be the easiest to comprehend. Within the horizontal, there are several complementarities that have to be balanced in order to be healthy and happy. These would include the poles of narcissism (or individualism) <---> social-ism, conscious <---> unconscious, and thought <---> feeling (or head and heart).
Regarding the complementarity that distinguishes between our individuation and the more primordial “groupishness” out of which it must be won, the first thing you will notice is that most cultures throughout most of human history have failed to resolve this in a healthy way. Perhaps this is understandable, because as mentioned a few days ago, man was a group animal long before human groups began producing true “individuals.”
In my book, I discuss this “interior revolution” that only began on a widespread scale in around the 17th century (and only in the Christian West, mind you). What we call the modern self -- something that seems so self-evident to us -- was not the norm prior to that, any more than wealth was. Obviously, man is born stupid and poor, both individually and collectively.
Probably the most (excessively) thorough documentation of this is in Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Self. By 1700 or so, he writes, “something recognizably like the modern self is is in the process of constitution.... Thought and feeling -- the psychological -- are now confined to minds. This follows our disengagement from the world, its ‘disenchantment’....”
Here you can see that this process of historical individuation almost exactly parallels the personal individuation that is described in the latest models of psychological development. These models track what is called the separation-individuation process, as we grow from our primary merger with the mother toward our unique identity. In the past couple of decades there has been a tremendous amount of research that confirms the importance of early attachment and bonding to the outcome of this process, probably most ably summarized for the lay person in Dan Siegel’s The Developing Mind.
For any psychoanalytically informed psychologist, this is where it all goes down, for there are any number of things that can go wrong on the way from dyadic merger with the Great Mother to that little island of the self that will stand out from the ocean of conscious being.
We’re covering a lot of ground here, so it’s impossible to go into a great deal of detail, but my best psychoanalytic teacher summed things up when he said that the unhealthy person wants to go from twoness back to primitive oneness, whereas the healthy person wants to go from lonely oneness to intimate twoness.
In other words, the unhealthy person has not resolved the issues of separation and individuation and cannot tolerate his or her separateness (“twoness”). Therefore, they seek to maintain or recapture primitive merger (“oneness”) with another person or with the group at large, in order to ward off separation anxiety and abandonment depression. All people can exhibit this regressive tendency under stress, but there are many cultures that entirely revolve around it. What you call “blessed solitude,” they would call a lonely and frightening hell. And what they call “family” or “community,” you would call psychic suffocation. The kinship (not to mention gynephobic) structure of the Islamic world is not just "another way to be human," but a major barrier in becoming a fully actualized human.
In my work in forensic psychology, I have had the opportunity to evaluate people from cultures all over the planet, and one of the first things that jumps out is how differently various cultures resolve the issue of separation and individuation. It may be politically incorrect to say so, but it is quite clear to me that with many cultures, you will not so much be dealing with an individual as a type. It is as if they all have the identical life story, the same values, the same parents, the same knowledge base, the same goals, the same way of looking at the world.
Now, an academically correct anthropologist would say that there is no developmental axis in culture -- that all cultures are equally beautiful and worthwhile, and that there is no objective measure of cultural health or pathology. Indeed, they might even make the idiotic charge of racism against people who believe otherwise, even though we are specifically dealing with psychology, not race. (Which is odd anyway, for what if one belongs to a racist culture? Isn't it wrong to judge the culture?)
But I maintain that the health or pathology of a culture can be evaluated in terms of how effectively it allows people to pass through the separation-individuation process and become themselves. Because in a primitive culture, you will have no opportunity to become who you truly are. Differences are not tolerated, or will be persecuted so as to maintain conformity -- somewhat like our stage of adolescence, which produces such abject conformity, or those tattooed leftist rebels who all look and sound the same.
To a very real extent, you can see this issue reflected in different political ideologies. For example, you will often hear leftists accuse conservatives (i.e., classical liberals) of being self-interested. Exactly! If you value the self, then you are going to value the system that most effectively nurtures it and allows it to develop. And without a doubt, the system that most effectively accomplishes this is the system of ordered liberty enunciated by America’s founders.
Likewise, as discussed a couple of days ago, the psychospiritual left has always been uncomfortable with the idea of “rugged individualism,” of competition, of winners and losers. You might think that this clashes with their extreme selfishness and pseudo-individualism -- e.g., the art world. But an astute observer can know in a glance that this primitivism is neither art nor an expression of the higher self. Beethoven’s fifth symphony is the expression of a unique self. On the other hand, most modern art is just “poopy diapers,” which, if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all... no, check me on that... there are definitely degrees of disgusting diaperdom. In any event, while this pseudo-art may resemble extreme individualism, it is thoroughly typal. I only have to see one Robert Maplethorpe photo to know that some things shouldn't be seen at all.
Remember a couple of posts back, I discussed the manner in which envy-fueled egalitarianism was natural to primitive mankind, and that, to quote Cassell, “to have an intuitive grasp of economics, you might just need to take a step or two up the evolutionary ladder." Precisely. Here you can see why I would dismiss a study out of hand if it equated emotional health with what I see as primitive regression, and pathology with what I regard as the system that best allows for true psychological growth.
Now, leftists will no doubt argue that liberty is a dangerous invitation to selfishness and greed. Our system simply unleashes the beast in man, and must be countered by a huge “maternal” government upon whose teat we may all suckle for comfort and security. But this is foolishness. For narcissism is not a healthy outcome of the separation-individuation process. Rather, it is specifically one of the many things that can go awry with attachment and bonding, leading to a caricature of true selfhood. Narcissism is always a caricature of individuation.
In short, leftists confuse a system that allows for narcissists with a system that creates them. But the narcissist is created mainly as a result of the conditions of childhood, conditions that the leftist is generally blind to -- for the same reason he is blind to, say, the conditions that produce the quite evident pathology of black culture. The leftist will reflexively say that the problems of black America are rooted in poverty, even though this is demonstrably false, because those many blacks who rise above the pathology of black culture do as well economically as any other group. It is a matter of healthy values, not race or poverty. Likewise, if you transferred Palestinian values to Israel, it would produce a barbaric and infrafuman swamp of depravity in less than one generation.
But with regard to what that great liberal Daniel Patrick Moynihan called the "tangle of pathology " of black culture, the leftist will see a “victim of selfishness” instead of the sine qua non of selfishness, for it is difficult to imagine a more selfish and narcissistic act than bringing a child into the world without benefit of marriage and a father, just because you want someone to love you unconditionally for the first time in your life. But once the baby is born, it is too late to realize that he or she is about the last person in the world who is going to love you unconditionally. So you will end up creating yet another generation of damaged narcissists who have foundered on the rocks of attachment and bonding.
And if you are a leftist, you create special university departments for such damaged individuals, and give them tenure instead of psychotherapy.
To be continued...