Neurotic is to Psychotic as Leftism is to ?
This is one of the many truisms that occurred to me in reading through the essays in The Great Lie: Classic and Recent Appraisals of Ideology and Totalitarianism.
I believe I've mentioned in the past that I was trained in a school of psychoanalysis (let's call it neo-Kleinian object relations) that regards neurosis and psychosis as being more on a continuum, as opposed to being completely distinct and unrelated clinical entities. (There are obvious exceptions, e.g., purely biochemical conditions, but we won't get into that discussion.)
Because of this continuity, I was taught that one could learn a great deal about the workings of the normal/neurotic mind by studying and observing the psychotic mind.
It is as if the psychotic patient has all of the same psychological defense mechanisms as the neurotic, only "writ large," so to speak. Mechanisms that are subtle and difficult to detect in a normal person become all too obvious in the psychotic (or in the normal person under stress) -- which, if you think about it, is true of most pathology. Only when something goes wrong with an organ does one become aware of what it silently and efficiently does under normal conditions.
For example, if you doubt that projection exists, just spend a little time with a psychotic person who is capable of verbalizing his experience. Likewise denial, splitting, distortion, idealization, evacuation, fantasy, somatization, support for Ron Paul, etc.
Or, think of the advances in medicine that occurred as a result of such epic bloodbaths as the Civil War and World Wars I & II. The crazed barbarity of these killing fields nevertheless resulted in important advances in medical know-how. Irony thy name is history.
Bion in particular reconceptualized the conscious/unconscious distinction into more of a psychotic/non-psychotic complementarity. As a result, we are all -- quite literally -- "a little bit crazy," except that the crazy is in a dialectic relationship with the "normal."
However, this implies that "normal" is not opposed to psychotic; rather, normality involves a healthy balance between the two. In order to be normal, one has to be a little crazy. I think this is one reason why people instinctively doubt Mitt Romney's normality. He's just too normal. Conversely, Herman Cain, whose infectious crazy leaks out all over the place, is instinctively seen as refreshingly normal. (One of the problems with politicians is that they have to pretend to be so normal. The most dangerous ones actually believe it.)
Indeed, one can be "too normal," which is the tendency of most adults. Something occurs in their development that causes them to repress or deny the crazy and renders them completely conventional.
In the past, I have noted how ironic it is that my generation -- the baby boomers -- should begin as such self-styled rebels and non-conformists, only to settle into pathetically reactionary liberalism in their geezerhood.
I remember reading an excellent paper called The Normotic Personality that touched on this "disorder of order." (I just remembered that it is actually a chapter in this book, which I hope to discuss in more detail as we go along.)
In a way, the normotic personality is analogous to an auto-immune disorder, or allergy. What is an allergy? It is an overreaction of the body's defense mechanisms to the presence of the not-body. Similarly, the normotic personality scans the psychic environment to shoot down any "not self" -- anything that might threaten one's consciously constructed identity and its narrow reality tunnel.
If we weren't a little bit crazy, the world would be drained of most of its deeper meaning and resonance. We would be like machines, or robots, or atheists. We would be completely boring, in a boring world, like talk radio before Rush Limbaugh, or one of reader William's blogs.
One of the reasons people idealize celebrities and artists is that they seem to live lives in which they are able to give free reign to the crazy. But one doesn't have to read too many biographies to discover that they didn't usually have much of a choice in the matter, and that the crazy eventually swamps the enfeebled non-crazy part of the personality. This was an occupational hazard for jazz and rock musicians, back when those genres were living realities and not just safely contained museum pieces.
In Introduction to the Work of Bion, the authors write that "The multiple experiences of the individual in his contact with himself and with others imply an unavoidable confrontation between his tendency to 'have consciousness' and not to have it, between his tendency to tolerate it and to avoid it." In this context, "the psychotic personality is not a psychiatric diagnosis but designates a way of mental functioning that coexists with other ways of functioning."
As alluded to above, Bion assumes "that all individuals, even the most developed, potentially contain mental functions and responses derived from the psychotic personality, manifesting," among other ways, in hostility toward the mental apparatus.
That latter observation is a key, since one of the ways to most easily detect the psychotic mind in action is via its assault on unwanted meanings. As we have discussed before, meaning results from a union of particulars -- i.e., "facts" -- into a higher principle.
But what if this higher principle is disturbing to the conscious mind, say, the principle that socialism always fails, or that AGW is far from "settled science"? It can easily be dispensed with by attacking any links that lead to that conclusion. Which is why the left's principle method is and always has been attack, slander, defamation, smearing. Paul Krugman's editorials are as clear a contemporary example as one might find of this psychotic mechanism in action.
Reader William inadvertently reminded us of another excellent example of this mechanism, when he (approvingly) linked to a silly Bill Maher monologue suggesting that America's founders would have "hated" the tea party because they were all anti-religious.
To the extent that Maher actually believes such an easily disproved lie, it is only because the left has a whole publishing industry dedicated to legitimizing what leftists wish to believe. But truth infected by desire immediately becomes something less than truth. One of the first things we should learn in life is that the world could care less how we wish it to be.
But there is an intimate relationship between "wishing" and psychosis. I believe this is ultimately traceable to the boundary-less condition of infancy, the one time in our lives when dreams and wishes really do come true, as if by magic.
For example, I have an uncomfortable sensation in my abdomen. I don't know what to call it yet, since I don't have language. Therefore, I begin crying out to the cosmos, and what do you know, a bountiful breast appears, right where I need it! Some people never get over that feeling of omnipotence, which comes down to feeling entitled to the ministrations of the world. The other 90% learn that the world does not owe them a living, that life is unfair, and that it is dangerous (and deluded) to think otherwise.
Another key aspect of the psychotic personality is hatred, or what Bion symbolized as the (H) link. In other words, two subjects can be equally linked by (L) or (H), but the link is just as strong -- and just as needed -- in both cases.
For the psychotic part of the personality, the intolerance of frustration "manifests itself as violent hatred of internal and external reality" (ibid.). Furthermore, the hatred extends to those parts of the personality "that are used to establish contact with this reality and its recognition, that is, extends to everything that has the function of linking."
In The Great Lie, there is a whole section devoted to what the author calls seduction, that is, how so many intellectuals were -- and are! -- drawn to leftism despite its failures and outright horrors. The various chapters touch on what these "thinkers" have to do to their own minds in order to continue their belief in the unbelievable.
In one sense, it is simply the secular analogue of the conversion experience, whereby one has a sudden insight into the redemption of a hopelessly fallen world (indeed, this pseudo-religious aspect is one reason why its adherents have such difficulty with critical thinking and self-awareness).
Russian victims of Soviet tyranny knew all about the reality of Marxism, which is why they could have nothing but contempt for western apologists such as Sartre, Chomsky, and all the rest. Ironically, an imprisoned Solzhenitsyn was at least (spiritually and intellectually) free enough to know that "Marxism has fallen so low that it can now arouse only contempt. No one in our country who wishes to be taken seriously, not even a schoolboy, can talk about Marxism today without a smile."
But western intellectuals still haven't gotten the memo. Or, more likely, consistent with Bion's theories, they simply attacked it away via their unsane principle that anti-communists were more dangerous than communists. The hate is still there, of course, just directed at the wrong people -- much as the left hates George Bush much more than the Islamists.
Well, what was intended to be a very brief introduction has metastasized into a post. To be continued.