Saturday, December 24, 2005

Sifting Through the Ruins of Broken Attachment

Reader Bryan has asked an excellent question about yesterday's post on the psychopathology of dailykos.

First, he observes that "This is a very interesting idea on what subconsciously motivates our current young leftists, and it makes intuitive sense to me because it reminded me of some encounters that I have had with a leftist friend. Observing how certain political issues would cause her to fly into a rage, I began to suspect that what she was really angry about was her unhappy childhood and that being perpetually angry about politics was a way of not facing her grief and anger toward her parents."

He goes on:

"However, one thing about this idea confuses me. Why is it that leftists complete the gestalt of 'abandoning parent' only with Republican leaders and not with Democratic leaders? Why, for instance, was it impossible to project the imago (if that is the correct term; forgive again my amateurishness) of the abandoning parent onto President Clinton?"

That is a very fair question, with no easy answer. I am actually reluctant to use psychology to simply pathologize those with whom I disagree, but in this case, how can you not? Kos acknowledges up front that he is not dealing in the realm of argument or ideas. Therefore, you cannot engage him on that level. As such, you really have only two choices--either descend to his primitive level of mid-brain noise, or "go meta" on him, as I have done.

I would never do this with someone posing a substantive argument or challenge--it would be insulting and condescending to do so. But some modern psychoanalysts, in particular W. R. Bion, have done extremely important work on what might be called "epistemological pathologies" of the mind. In many people, the thinking mind more or less fails to develop, and instead becomes an organ for the discharge and projection of primitive emotional elements (Bion called them "beta elements"). For those people it is not an act of condescension but an act of empathy to meet them "where they live," so to speak. This is an important lesson I learned early in my training.

If you are remotely sensitive, you can actually feel it when primitive elements are being projected into you. Obviously not all people on the left do this, but there are certain more primitive "psychoclasses" on the left that are quite prone to this type of aggressive projection--really, it's more of an expulsion and invasion of beta elements. It emanates from a psychotic (developmentally early) part of the mind, and when you are being used as a receptacle for someone's beta elements, it is difficult to keep your cool.

For one thing, one of the purposes of the projections is to "attack the links" in your own mind. Again, this is an idea developed by Bion; it may sound abstract or esoteric, but it is actually based on sound observation of what transpires when you are being projected into. You may subjectively experience a dismantling of your own cognitive structure, and be left with a sort of empty confusion, not quite knowing how to respond.

I would place someone like Randi Rhodes of Air America into the same category as the Kos contingent. Yesterday I decided to tune in and listen for the "beta elements," that is, projected bits of undigested anger and rage. I only listened for about ten minutes, because the remainder of her program was pre-empted by a Clippers basketball game. But in just those ten minutes I was overwhelmed with material, and there were more beta elements than I could even transcribe: Conservatives don't believe in freedom, but want to impose a theocracy. Conservatives don't really want to overturn Roe vs. Wade because it will threaten their fundraising. Bush wants to spread religious fundamentalism so that the rapture will come sooner. Jerry Falwell has a policy of never being alone in the same room with a woman other than his wife, and Republicans secretly wish to put this policy into law. Republicans want to make it against the law to be an atheist. Belief in intelligent design is code for imposing a Taliban theocracy.

It went on and on and on. With all due respect, I would say that it would be foolish to engage such an individual in rational debate. This is a cognitive pathology. But where is it coming from? Frankly, I don't know. However, within about two sessions on the couch, I believe I'd have a pretty good idea. Again, forget about the content of her thought, as objectionable as it may be. As a psychologist, I am actually more interested in the form of her thought, especially at this primitive level. In a neurotic one is more concerned with the content, but here we are dealing with damaged psychological structure, a very different thing. (One other fascinating observation by Bion is that these individuals tend to convert epistemological problems into moral problems, thus accounting for the stridently moralistic tone of contemporary liberals; this accords with the truism--again, a generalization--that conservatives think liberals are merely uninformed or foolish, whereas liberals think conservatives are actually evil.)

Are there people and groups on the right that do this? Undoubtedly. I'm just not plugged into those groups, nor are those groups particularly prominent on the right. I would be tempted to say that a Michael Savage falls into that category, but I'm pretty sure that what he's doing is just his "schtick." But these people on the left are true believers, plus they are normative for their group, not exceptions.

Are there generational psychopathologies, general patterns, or styles of group neurosis? I think so. In my generation, for example, the style of pathology was different. Unlike the present 18-35 group, we were probably the most indulged psychoclass in history. For example, my mother--along with so many other mothers--was a fanatical devotee of the child-centered parenting style of Dr. Spock, who was a disciple of the great psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott. Among the generational cohort of baby boomers, that indulgence led to a plethora of narcissism, entitlement, utopian fantasies, and other distinct problems. In fact, you could probably draw a distinction between the contemporary "old" and "new" left by noting the very different styles of narcissism (for you insiders, this might correspond with the Kohut vs. Kernberg models of narcissism--their models might describe different populations of narcissists, Kohut's more mature, Kernberg's more primitive).

Since the early 1970's we have, in fact, been engaging in a completely novel psychohistorical experiment with unknown cultural ramifications. Specifically, what is the effect of abandoning children to daycare very shortly after they are born, thereby disrupting the primordial attachment system bequeathed to us by evolution, the very system that ushers us into humanity? There are many provocative studies, all loudly attacked and suppressed by the feminist beta element crying machine.

But use your intuition, especially if you're enjoying the bonding experience with your infant, as I am. If it's so pleasurable for me, imagine how it feels for him. Actually, it's pretty obvious how it feels for him. It's more or less ecstatic. What are the long term effects of having this primordial joy of being alive short-circuited? What sort of worldview emerges from its ruins? Why do all of the studies show that happy people are more likely to be conservative, and vice versa?

I can't say with certainty, but I'm sure it will be an ongoing subject of future posts.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

Sometimes a child will blame a non-rescuing parent rather than the abuser. I admit I can't fit that into the current pathology you describe, but I raise it as the type of paradoxical pathologies human beings are capable of, hoping it with strike sparks in the mind of another.

Gagdad Bob said...

That's entirely true. We're dealing here with large generalizations that undoubtedly break down at the margins. Note as well that it would be possible for an abandoned child to adopt a facade of stoic independence as a defense, and perhaps be drawn to, say, libertarian political philosophy. But so long as such an individual is willing to deal in the realm of ideas, I am not about to subject them to analysis (if they were a patient, it would be a different story).

Again, I am reluctant to psychoanalyze ideological opponents, but in the particular case I addressed yesterday, there was really no other option. For whatever reason, they are speaking in the idiom of a develomentally earlier form of communication.

ShrinkWrapped said...

We also need to keep in mind the simpler explanation of pathological splitting as part of the genesis of their defective reality testing. The Democrats are the "good Mother/Parent" and the Republicans are the repository of all evil, the "Bad Mother/Parent". In this case, the actions of Democrats and Republicans do not matter; all actions are good or bad depending on from whom they derive. Clinton could drop bombs on innocent people, send troops to foreign lands without a UN mandate, sexually harass women and be relatively insouciant about AIDS, and there is no complaint because he can do no wrong, he is the idealized Good parent. Bush can free millions, spend more money fighting AIDS than any previous President, be perfectly respectable in his personal life, faithful to his wife, and yet all his actions are "bad" becasue they are tainted by being from the bad, devalued parent. His actions are evil, a priori. This precludes rational argunentation with the true believers on the left.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

That would suggest BPD, a thought I had not entertained. Certainly paranoid thought is not unknown in that group, and full psychosis can develop under enough stress, though it is less characteristic.

In my own post on Nations as Personality Disorders I suggest that France is BPD. I can't say the pieces are yet falling into place, however.

dilys said...

It's rare to hear about the likely result of interferences with bonding. Day care is major.

I think one unintended consequence of Brown v. Board of Ed., and the subsequent school busing programs, was to damage parental bonding. If I had to put my elementary school child on a raucous school bus, and know he was far away from home all day, my interior reflex would mute our bonding. Have to, or I'd go nuts with misery and anxiety. Ditto for schools being dangerous.

In addition, I've noticed that parents are often consistently relieved to be away from their children, and wonder if the lack of societal consent to requiring children to be courteous, quiet, etc. -- ie good company -- has created an aversion to their children on the part of parents, neighbors, etc., creating a downward, alienating spiral.

Even the requirement that parents/mothers drive with their babies strapped into the back seat, facing away. I suspect these things add up as semiotics of frayed bonding.