Tuesday, October 18, 2005

When Intellectuals Attack! (or Reality Happens When You're Busy Making Tenure)

Yesterday we discussed the Islamist fantasists whose real purpose is to wage jihad in order to make their transformative fantasy seem more real to them. Far from being caused by poverty or inequality, this Founding Fatwa was specifically developed by the intelligentsia -- not by the ignorant masses, but by Muslim intellectuals who have often, not surprisingly, been educated in the self-loathing ideologies of the leftist west. The Islamist fantasy of a worldwide caliphate, like psychological development, spirituality, and art, is at a right angle to history, so to speak. It is “vertical,” not on a higher plane, but a lower one. (For the vertical dimension extends above and below the flow of horizontal events.)

Destructive fantasies can come from intellectuals of all types, but they are particularly common on the left. First, it is the left that dominates academia, which is actually an idea factory for those who toil in its service, no different really from any other factory (except that it produces abstractions that may or may not have any actual utility). In order to become known and achieve tenure, the intellectual must come out with a fashionable “new model,” even if there’s nothing wrong with the old one. Truth, even if inadvertantly stumbled upon, is quickly bypassed in favor of a provocative or edgy alternative.

Fortunately, unlike Europe, America has never fully trusted (leftist) intellectuals, and with good reason. America is the only nation on earth that is consciously steeped in the Judeo-Christian tradition, which has an entirely different intellectual genealogy than leftism. That is, as I have touched on in previous posts, its epistemology and ontology are pragmatic and logoistic, meaning that truth is embodied in concrete reality: reality is both “real” and intelligible -- it is the incarnation of a logos, or “word made flesh.”

Our job is to understand reality from the bottom up, not to impose our abstractions upon it. Concepts are fine, but only if, like bank notes, they can be cashed back in and exchanged for the Real Thing. In other words, they must be backed by the full faith and credit of reality. Deconstruction, multiculturalism, cultural relativism, various revisionist histories and leftist ideologies -- all of these attack the immanent word that makes the world intelligible, and thereby sever the sacred bond between reality and truth.

Ironically, in order to arrive at their materialism, leftists must start in the opposite direction -- away from the concrete and toward the abstract. Intellectuals tend to live in a platonic world of abstract reason, as if their abstractions are more real than the concrete world they are intended to describe.

As Lee Harris notes in Civilization and its Enemies, the educated man, in order to become “educated,” simply internalizes a set of predigested concepts that are presented to him as finished products. The mind is not trained to first deal with the practicalities of the concrete world, but to immerse itself in abstractions, which are then projected onto reality. As a result, reality is constantly coming up short for the leftist, so it becomes his responsibility to “force the issue.” (In case it isn’t clear, I am not talking about science, but the the traditional humanities and the newer subhumanities, such as Gender Theory.)

That is, if reality falls short of the abstraction, it is reality that is at fault. Petey says that this is when you need to reach for your revolver, because there is usually hell to pay when peace-loving leftist intellectuals are pissed off at reality. As Harris writes, the 20th century was the first time in history that “intellectuals had sought and gained power, with catastrophic results. No other social class in mankind’s history had ever initiated horrors on the scale of the Nazi holocaust and the black book of communism.” Repeatedly, throughout the century, we saw a group or “vanguard” of intellectuals who “believed that the world had been waiting for their appearance in order to set itself right,” and decided to “make a clean sweep of things.”

On Dennis Prager’s radio program yesterday, he noted that, to the left, there is no way that we can win the war on terror, because they compare the messy reality on the ground to their leftist utopian ideal. No matter what happens in Iraq, it will by definition be at odds with the unrealistic ideal. Over the weekend, I believe it was Dick Durbin who said that if the Iraqi constitution passes it will be bad, and if it doesn't pass it will be equally bad.

Likewise, no economy can ever compete with leftist fantasies of full employment, high wages for everyone, and an absence of poverty -- of “sugar candy mountain.” In reality, by any historical standard, our present economy is about as good as reality gets: five percent unemployment, three or four percent annual growth, low inflation, low interest rates, record home ownership, and record tax revenues leading to a shrinking deficit between three and four percent of GNP.

But to the left, this is “the worst economy since Herbert Hoover,” since it compares so unfavorably to their utopian fantasies. By comparison, European socialist economies are mired in unemployment and stagnation. However, there is no question that their economic ideas are more beautiful.

This also explains why controlling the Supreme Court is so critical to the left, for it has become the primary means of forcing their abstractions onto an unwilling world by judicial fiat. To paraphrase Justice Scalia, the left wants "moderate judges," which apparently means people who will strike a balance between what the constitution says and what they would like it to say. In reality, they want judges who would redefine my aunt as a trolley car if they thought it would reduce greenhouse gasses.

And this is where the left converges with the Islamists. They share a common enemy, which is not just the United States, but the embodied truth it represents, that is, the Judeo-Christian tradition. Both leftists and Islamists worship at the altar of their sacred abstractions, and see reality as a defective form of their fantasies. When a Cindy Sheehan or Michael Moore refers to the terrorists as “freedom fighters,” they aren’t kidding. They are cheek to jowl with the Islamists, hunkered in the safety of their delusions, fighting against the tyranny of reality.

Monday, October 17, 2005

How do you Conquer a Fantasy?

Projective identification is one of the most important concepts in psychoanalysis. Whereas projection is a defense mechanism through which we unconsciously project something from ourselves into someone else, projective identification goes deeper. It involves first projecting into someone else, and then forcing the other person to actually take on the quality that has been projected into them. While projection is a neurotic defense mechanism, projective identification is much more primitive and troublesome.

It is actually not difficult to tell when one is on the receiving end of projective identification. That is, you suddenly feel is if you are unwillingly being enlisted into someone else's psychodrama, and being forced to play a part. The person acts toward you as if you have the qualities they have projected into you, and may goad you into responding in ways that confirm to the projector that you actually have those qualites -- that they aren't projections at all.

Psychologists see this all the time in more primitive "borderline" patients, who may suddenly experience the therapist as, say, an abusive or witholding parent. It is also ubiquitous in marriages, because intimate relationships bring more primitive parts of ourselves closer to the surface. And it is the primary mechanism of the Islamists.

Although he doesn't use the term, Lee Harris's excellent book "Civilization and Its Enemies" describes the phenomenon perfectly. First, he points out why the process is invisible to us. That is, people who have gone through the "civilizing process" forget that this took millennia, and have no understanding of those who have not completed the journey. They "forget how much work it is to not kill one's neighbors, simply because this work was all done by our ancestors so that it could be willed to us as an heirloom" (Harris).

Just because we no longer have any enemies that we need to primitively project our bad qualities into, we are deluded into thinking that we actually have no enemies, or that if we do, there is some rational, logical, "root cause" that can explain it--that if we are only nice enough, or compassionate enough, they will come around. But this is completely ineffective with projective identification, because the projector emotionally needs you to have the qualities they are projecting.

In reality, an enemy is someone who regards you as an enemy, whether or not you deserve the title. We clearly had an enemy for thirty years before 9-11, not because Islamists were our enemy, but because we were their's. We couldn't see it because it was a completely irrational process, based on projective identification.

But with sufficient provocation, we have finally been enlisted into the Islamist's psychodrama, taking on the role so vital to their psychological equilibrium. In other words, we are not their enemy because we are evil--because we have done anything in the real world, such as placing our soldiers on Saudi territory, or supporting Israel. Rather, as Harris points out, we are evil because we are their enemy.

If we do not realize the depth to which we are the enemy of the Islamists, it is almost a sort of condescending insult to them, just as it would be to a patient in therapy if the therapist dismissed their experience of us as deluded or immature. First, there is an obvious psychological need for the projective fantasy, or it wouldn't be there to begin with.

As Harris explains, a fantasy ideology such as Islamism is not a rational response to the world arrived at in a logical, sober manner. Rather, it is a transformative belief, meaning that its primary purpose is to psychologically transform the person who believes the fantasy. And believing the fantasy is an end in itself--it has no purpose other than to make the fantasy seem like reality. Therefore, the real reason for 9-11 wasn't actually to bring down western civilization. Rather, it was to further the fantasy by getting us to play along with it.

Ironically, what this means is that, even though we have no real enemy and the Islamists have only a make believe one, because of projective identification, we end up with a real enemy. However, underneath it all is a fantasy that we must eradicate, and the only way to do that is to bring reality to the Islamic world. Saturday's referendum in Iraq was a step in that direction.

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