PSYCHOANALYSIS, TERROISM AND FUNDAMENTALISM
by Robert M. Young
It is very difficult to characterize the interrelations between the inner world and the outer world, between intrapsychic dynamics, on the one hand, and larger-scale interactions – family, group, institutions, cultures, nations on the other. Today I will offer a schema for thinking about these things.
Freud was notoriously a reductionist, and it is easy to throw up one’s hands and say that he left us no way in psychoanalytic explanation to move from the individual to the group. He believed that all social, cultural and political phenomena were only the familiar phenomena of id, ego and superego, along with the Oedipal triangle, operating in a new sphere (Gay, 1988, p. 547). He even avowed that 'Strictly speaking, there are only two sciences: psychology, pure and applied, and natural science' (Freud, 1933, p. 179). There is, according to Freud, no place for truly social explanations; sociology 'cannot be anything but applied psychology' (ibid.).
You might think, as many social scientists do, that one can only smile, turn away and walk to the nearest compendium of genuinely social concepts. But stay! I don’t think we should move on so quickly. I want to draw your attention to the writings of two psychoanalytic theoreticians who sought to conceptualise social and political phenomena. The first was Harold Lasswell, an American political scientist who flourished in Chicago in the 1930s and then at Yale until he retired in the late 1970s He is the author of what is called ‘Lasswell’s Formula’ (Lasswell, 1930; Wolfenstein, 1981, pp. 17-18), which states that private interests get projected onto the public realm and then represented as the common good. This is a particularly socially harmful form of rationalisation. The ruthless economic self-interest of an oil baron, J. D. Rockefeller, is defended as generating good for all. He used the analogy of competition among roses leading to the American Beauty Rose, his pretty analogy for the competitive success of his firm, Standard Oil, a company which was later cosmetically renamed EXXON, presumably in an attempt to refurbish its tarnished corporate image, since Standard Oil was associated with ruthless monopolistic practices. (This soon backfired when the Exxon Valdeez oil spill occurred off the coast of Alaska. Another instance of this kind was the renaming of Windscale as Sellafield in a vain attempt to escape some of the opprobrium connected with nuclear pollution.) Versions of this rationalising maxim have been offered throughout history, for example, in the self-assigned civilising missions of colonialists or imperialists. It forms the basis of the self-justifications of factory owners throughout the history of the labour process in industrial capitalism (Braverman, 1974; Young, 1974, 1981, including, in our own era, Taylorist 'scientific management' (Haber, 1964; Kanigel, 1997) and softer versions of it in the 'human relations movement' associated with the work of Elton Mayo (Baritz, 1960; Trahair, 1984). At the individual level, politicians from time immemorial have rationalised their private interests and represented them as the common good Young, 1972.
A second psychoanalytic thinker, Victor Wolfenstein, who practices in Los Angeles and teaches Political Science at UCLA, rescues Lasswell’s Formula by looking behind or beneath it. That is, he starts the story further back. Where did the particular conception of private interests come from before they got rationalised as the public good? This is both a familial and an ideological question. It invites us to look at both the psychoanalytic and the socialising process of development. Freud famously pointed out that the child does not acquire the parents’ values but the parents' superego. This has an inherently conservative influence on the personality and provides a significant brake on social change (Freud, 1933, p. 67). It behoves us to look deeper than Lasswell's Formula and investigate how certain public values and structures got into the unconscious before they got projected and rationalised as the public interest.
Another aid in connecting the individual and social levels of explanation is adumbrated in a motto of Freud's which appears on the fronticepiece of his masterpiece, The Interpretaion of Dreams: 'If I cannot bend the higher powers, I will stir up the lower depths' (Freud, 1900, p. ix). Wilfred Bion takes us further into those lower depths to the most primitive and most refractory defences of all: defences against psychotic anxieties that arise in the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions. These positions are the two fundamental stances in the psychic lives of us all. In the paranoid-schizoid position we indulge in extreme splits, e.g., between love and hate, good and evil, us and them, treat others not as full humans but as part-objects and indulge in hostile accusation and attribute guilt in a brittle, punitive way. Mssers Bush, Chaney, Rumsfeld, Sharon and Hussain are among our most striking current exemplars of this way of thinking. Yet we are all in this psychological position a considerale part of the time, though it is better to be in the other position, the depressive one. It is characterised by being able to occupy the middle ground, to experience life as a difficult mixture of good and evil, changing friends and foes, where one treats others as whole objects of feelings, not bits, and associates guilt with the drive to make reparation and hold onto civility. Each of us will have his or her exemplars of this way of being. I suggest that Colin Powell is, relatively speaking, such a person in the present, as are some other world leaders, notably Nelson Mandela and Cofi Annan. It is also much sought after in the cinema. Thinking for a moment about the extreme split between cinematic heroes and villains will help to illustrate my point. Gary Cooper, Henry Fonda, James Stewart, Gregory Peck, Burt Lancaster and Paul Newman characteristically played roles in which they occupied the depressive position, as did Sophia Loren, while Joan Crawford, Jack Palance and Dennis Hopper were usually decidedly in the paranoid-schizoid position. ‘Now be reasonable’, we hear one camp say, while the other one’s exponents say, ‘Let’s do it to them before they do it to us’, to quote one of the sergeants in television’s ‘Hill Street Blues’.
To return to our delving below Lasswell’s Formula, Bion considered the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions and the psychotic anxieties associated with them to be the ‘source of the main emotional drives of the group’ (Bion, 1961, p. 188) and ‘the ultimate sources of all group behaviour’ (p. 189). As well as working through the problems posed by family patterns, groups must cope with splitting and projection and the part-object relationships to which they give rise. As Bion sees it, the move from understanding the individual to understanding the group does not raise new issues about explanation. He says, 'The apparent difference between group psychology and individual psychology is an illusion produced by the fact that the group brings into prominence phenomena which appear alien to an observer unaccustomed to using the group' (p. 169). To put the thing back together, we can now say that life’s experiences activate primitive reactions, leading us to rationalise and project our unconscious phantasies onto the world in the hope of assuaging them and getting control over the things that threaten us.
I want also to mention some of the work following on from Bion's experiences in groups. Elliott Jaques (1955) and Isabel Menzies Lyth (1988, 1989) conducted research in various organisations and found the same mechanisms at work, with the defences embodied in the mores and structures of the institutions. I believe that this model is at work in innumerable situations — neighbourhood gang, school, workplace, country club, religion, racial, political and international conflict. When one comes into contact with the group, subculture or institution, the psychic price of admission is to enter into that group's splits and projective identifications.
I certainly did. As a child I knew without ever thinking about it that Catholics, Jews, Mexicans and blacks were not trustworthy and were inferior and various other bad things, although there were always exceptions. Blacks were especially problematic. I could not play with or go to school with any of them, but my main carer and support was a black woman. I was six in 1941 when Pearl Harbor occurred and very soon got issued with a little book for savings stamps which bade me to ‘stamp out’ the dreadful yet risible monsters Hitler, Tojo and Mussolini (whose caricatured images appeared on the pages of the stamp book, waiting to be covered over) and to hate and despise Krauts, Japs and Wops. These prejudices were and remain deeply imbedded, no matter how one scrapes away at them and learns to live more civilly, hoping to free oneself from stereotyping, scapegoating and ostracising along nationalist and/or racist lines.
Projective identification is, according to Melanie Klein, the most basic and primitive of all psychic mechanisms, the basis of all relating. When she first wrote about it in 1946, she concluded seven pages on the fine texture of early paranoid and schizoid mechanisms as follows: 'So far, in dealing with persecutory fear, I have singled out the oral element. However, while the oral libido still has the lead, libidinal and aggressive impulses and phantasies from other sources come to the fore and lead to a confluence of oral, urethral and anal desires, both libidinal and aggressive. Also the attacks on the mother's breast develop into attacks of a similar nature on her body, which comes to be felt as it were as an extension of the breast, even before the mother is conceived of as a complete person. The phantasied onslaughts on the mother follow two main lines: one is the predominantly oral impulse to suck dry, bite up, scoop out and rob the mother's body of its good contents... The other line of attack derives from the anal and urethral impulses and implies expelling dangerous substances (excrements) out of the self and into the mother. Together with these harmful excrements, expelled in hatred, split-off parts of the ego are also projected onto the mother or, as I would rather call it, into the mother. These excrements and bad parts of the self are meant not only to injure but also to control and to take possession of the object. In so far as the mother comes to contain the bad parts of the self, she is not felt to be a separate individual but is felt to be the bad self.
'Much of the hatred against parts of the self is now directed towards the mother. This leads to a particular form of identification which establishes the prototype of an aggressive object-relation' (Klein, 1946, pp. 7-8). Note carefully that we have here the model — the template, the fundamental experience — of all of the aggressive features of human relations. Six years later Klein adds the following sentence: 'I suggest for these processes the term "projective identification"' (ibid.).
She goes on to say that if the infant's impulse is to harm, the mother is experienced as persecuting, and that in psychotic disorders the identification of the object with hated parts of the self 'contributes to the intensity of the hatred directed against other people', that this process weakens the ego, that good parts are also projected and that 'The processes of splitting off parts of the self and projecting them into objects are thus of vital importance for normal development as well as for normal object-relations' (pp. 8-9). In the course of all this, Klein makes it quite clear that the very same processes involve 'anxieties characteristic of psychosis' (p. 2). I am relating these matters in the way that I am in order to make it apparent that the very same mechanisms are at work in a wide range of internal processes, both aggressive and constructive, hating and idealising. What is crazy and murderous and what is essential to all experience and human relations are mediated by the same mechanism. The same. It is all a matter of degree, and all we can hope to do is attempt to find and hold onto something akin to Aristotle's ethical principle, 'The Golden Mean'. This is contrary to what we are taught in the classifications or nosologies of the psychopathologists, where normal and pathological are sharply distinguished and lie on either side of diagnostic dichotomies. As I understand the Kleinian notion of projective identification (as with much else in Kleinian metapsychology), there is no sharp line to be drawn between normal and pathological, between benign as compared to virulent or malignant projective identification. The relevant division concerns points on a continuum representing the force with which the projection is phantasied, along with other criteria that do not arise inside this primitive mechanism. I am not suggesting that good is the same as bad. There are all-important distinctions to be drawn between benign and virulent manifestations of projective identification. They are based on content, motive, situation and moral criteria, but the psychological mechanism involved in all of these is the same.
Tom Main makes the distinction clearly: 'It must be emphasised that externalising defences and fantasies can involve positive as well as negative aspects of the self; and that projection of impulses and projective identification of parts of the self into others are elements in "normal" mental activity. When followed by reality testing, trial externalisation of aspects of the self help an individual to understand himself and others... It is when projective processes are massive and forceful that they are difficult to test or reverse. In malignant projective identification this difficulty arises not only because of the forcefulness of the projection but also because, with the ego impoverished by loss of a major part of the self, reality testing becomes defective. Thus unchecked and uncheckable pathological judgements may now arise about oneself and the other, quasi-irreversible because of the pains of integration. Malignant projective processes are to be found in both neurotic and psychotic patients, and may be temporarily observable also in "normal" people suffering major frustrations.' In the temporary and benign cases, reality testing helps one to get over it. 'By contrast, in malignant projective systems the self is impoverished, reality testing fails, the other is not recognized for what he is but rather as a container of disowned aspects of the self, to be hated, feared, idealized, etc., and relations are unreal and narcissistically intense up to the point of insanity' (Main, 1975, p. 105).
Klein described schizoid mechanisms as occurring 'in the baby's development in the first year of life characteristically... the infant suffered from states of mind that were in all their essentials equivalent to the adult psychoses, taken as regressive states in Freud's sense' (Meltzer, 1978, part III, p. 22). Klein says in the third paragraph of her 'Notes on Some Schizoid Mechanisms' (1946), 'In early infancy anxieties characteristic of psychosis arise which drive the ego to develop specific defence-mechanisms. In this period the fixation-points for all psychotic disorders are to be found. This has led some people to believe that I regard all infants as psychotic; but I have already dealt sufficiently with this misunderstanding on other occasions' (Klein, 1946, p. 1). Meltzer comments that 'Although she denied that this was tantamount to saying that babies are psychotic, it is difficult to see how this implication could be escaped' (Meltzer, 1978, part III, p. 22).
I have been trying to show you how close and inevitable is the oscillation between paranoid-schizoid and depressive thinking and that projective identification is ubiquitous in human nature. If we now move from the intrapsychic to the public sphere, we should note straightaway that what we project is culturally and historically relative and contingent. The children in the schoolroom scene in he recent film ‘Kandahar’ were learning the Koran and being drilled and coached in hatred of Westerners and in admiration of the mujahideen. At their age I was admiring Superman, Batman and Robin, and Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Junior, along with Wonder Woman – all of whom were idealised, scourges of baddies and stood for American dominance. In fact, Superman said that he stood for ‘the American way’. British children had Kipling and more recently Dan Dare and now Tolkein and Harry Potter. Cubans and many admirers of their history have Che Guevara, whose picture is ubiquitous in that country, occupying the side of a whole building in the main government square in Havana.
This process of socialilzation into splits between the idealised and the denigrated has operated throughout history, for example, in our holiest texts. Seeking the origins of the concept of Satan, we find them in the precursors of Christianity. The proto-Christian group, the Essenes, introduced it to characterize the `other' – other tribes, threatening strangers. Things go full circle: this occurred in the turmoil of first century Palestine. (Pagels, 1995, p. xviii). Now the little town of Bethlehem gets occupied by Israeli tanks in a vain effort to stop Muslim fundamentalist suicide bombers. Satan defines negatively what we think of as human (ibid.). By characterizing our enemies as satanic or evil, as Bush routinely does, we can justify hatred, even mass slaughter (p. xix). In her book on the origin of the concept of Satan, Elaine Pagels says Satan mirrors our own confrontations with otherness, i.e., that he is a projection. He expresses quality of going beyond lust and anger and onto brutality (p. xvii). This is familiar territory. If we put this concept of projection together with extreme splitting, we find that history and theology have given us a fair account of projective identification in its most virulent forms as found in racism, sectarianism and holy wars, all with the oversimplifications of fundamentalism at their base.
In her study of fundamentalism Karen Armstrong tells us that ‘Fundamentalists have no time for democracy, pluralism, religious toleration, peacekeeping, free speech or the separation of church and state’ (Armstrong, 2000, p. ix). Fundamentalisms all follow a certain pattern. ‘They are embattled forms of spirituality, which have emerged as a response to a perceived crisis. They are engaged in a conflict with enemies whose secularist policies and beliefs seem inimical to religion itself. Fundamentalists do not regard this battle as a conventional political struggle, but experience it as a cosmic war between the forces of good and evil. They fear annihilation, and try to fortify their beleaguered identity by means of a selective retrieval of certain doctrines and practices of the past. To avoid contamination, they often withdraw from mainstream society to create a counterculture; yet fundamentalists are not impractical dreamers. They have absorbed the pragmatic rationalism of modernity, and, under the guidance of their charismatic leaders, they refine these ‘fundamentals’ so as to create an ideology that provides the faithful with a plan of action. Eventually they fight back and attempt to resacralize an increasingly sceptical world’ (Armstrong, 2000, p. xi, quoting The Fundamentalist Project). There are, of course, various forms of fundamentalism around, but Karen Armstrong suggests that they have certain common features — common fears, anxieties and desires — and that they share a reaction against scientific and secular culture. This is certainly true of the Protestant fundamentalism with which I am familiar in America and the Muslim fundamentalism implicated in recent events.
Thinking about the dynamics of this way of thinking intrapsychically, why do people become fundamentalists? People or peoples or groups somehow come to feel deeply threatened. Poor people, disenfranchised people, displaced people, embattled people, refugees. In a reduced state people cannot bear uncertainty. What people do when they feel under threat is to simplify. To simplify in psychoanalytic terms is to regress, to eliminate the middle ground, to split, dividing the world into safe and threat, good and evil, life and death. To be a fundamentalist is to see the world perpetually in these terms to cling to certainties drawn from sacred texts or the pronouncements of charismatic leaders.
The baby whose needs are not met blames the mother/carer who has not provided or who has removed what one needs and is experienced as abandoning or withholding. One feels attacked, as it were, by lack, hunger, and one wants to retaliate. It is so tempting to defend oneself from feeling so abject by becoming in phantasy the opposite and attain a position of complete self-sufficiency or certainty. Osama Bin Laden’s father died when he was still a boy; his mother, not one of the father’s main wives, was looked down upon. The young Hitler had an unhappy childhood and was a failed painter. ‘I am nobody and am sure of nothing’ becomes ‘I am powerful and sure about everything: it is in the book’. If fundamentalists were really sure they would not have to be so intolerant. People who feel threatened in this way see others in very partial terms — as part-objects. They suffer from phantasies of annihilation and defend themselves against these psychotic anxieties with rigid views. They lose the ability to imagine the inner world and the humanity of others. Sympathy, compassion and concern for the object evaporate, and brittle feelings of blaming and destructiveness predominate. They act out. Where acting out is, thought cannot be.
Terrorism is the institutional violence of the fundamentalist. It has been used throughout history. Some will recall the Spartacist slave rebellion in 73-71 BC, which at one time numbered 90,000. It was defeated by the Roman legions led by Crassus (played by Lawrence Olivier in the film), who crucified over 6000 Spartacists and placed them all along both sides of the Appian Way to frighten others from rebellion. Blacks were terrorized by the Ku Klux Klan. Israelis are terrorized by suicide bombers, as are the Spaniards by Basque bombs.
Of course there are differences of merits among different terrorists. It has rightly been said that one person’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist. Black South Africans blew up oil depots under apartheid. Zapastista rebels wreak havoc in Mexico, as do other subversives in many Third World countries — seeking freedom for their people and/or freedom from the baleful consequences of capitalism and imperialism.
Different takes on terrorism also apply to Israel, where Zionists fought against the British mandate. Menachem Begin was the leader of one terrorist gang, Irgun, during the period 1938-47. He went on to become Prime Minister of the country and to share the Nobel Peace Prize with Anwar Sadat (who was murdered by Muslim fundamentalists for trying to make peace in the region). Irgun blew up a wing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on 22 July 1946, killing 91 soldiers and civilians — British, Arab and Jewish
I should add that among others, the hotel housed the British military command and the British Criminal Investigation Division, and that warning was given to evacuate. The same organization raided an Arab village on 9 April 1947 and killed all 254 of its inhabitants (http://members.eb.com/bol/topic?eu=43721&sctn=1#s_top). (On Zionist terrorism, see Koestler, 1949, pp. 137 sqq.) Yitzhak Shamir was a leading member of another terrorist group, the Stern Gang, fighting for the creation of Israel. He went on to be Prime Minister of Israel on two occasions (http://search.eb.com/bol/topic?eu=68844&sctn=1#s_top). The current Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, was the chief architect of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and was criticized for allowing Lebanese Christian forces into Palestinian refugee camps in West Beirut and held responsible for the subsequent massacre of civilians.
Just to complete this sketch of non-Muslim terrorists, it is worth recalling, as Alan Dershowitz did in Monday’s Guardian, that ‘The US has financed, supported and trained groups that are widely regarded as terrorist, such as the Contras in Nicaragua, the mojahedin in Afghanistan, Unita in Angola and Samuel K. Doe in Liberia/Sierra Leone’ (Guardian G2 09.09.02, p. 4). The US has also blockaded Cuba for decades and helped to destabilize the socialist Allende government of Chile, leading to the horrific seventeen-year Pinochet dictatorship.
The fundamentalist terrorist lies at the extreme end of people killing in a higher cause. What they do from hatred is to act out unconscious phantasies. They tear, maim, torture, disembowel, put victims’ genitals in their mouths, eviscerate — horrible things (I am thinking of accounts of Argentinian, African, French, Algerian and British torturers). When the Taliban overthrew the head of state of the previous regime they hung him in public and stuffed his genitals into his mouth.
Let us also note that the loyalties for which people fight and kill are themelves historically relative and contingent. There is a lovely little book entitled Imagined Comunities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (pb, 1991) in which the author, Benedict Anderson, pointed out that modern states did not exist until the nineteenth century and that the geographical divisions which demarcate most of them cut across ethnic and tribal lines. Look at the Balkans, at the states of Africa and Central and South America – all carved out by historical and geopolitical forces that only partly derived from enduring ethnic origins. Anderson makes the further point that the kinds of affiliation associated with modern warfare did not even exist before mass-market communications, beginning with the mass circulation newspaper and extending to other media in the very recent past. Radio became widespread beginning in the 1920s, television in the 1950s and the internet is barely a decade old. So – we kill in the name of loyalties very recently acquired, but we do so no less enthusiastically for all that.
As I sat down earlier this week to reflect on these issues for today’s lecture I came across an email sent to several psychoanalytic discussion forums. It is by the distinguished writer on racism and the holocaust, Richard Koenigsberg (1975. 1977, 1996). It seems to me to capture eloquently many of the points I have been trying to make. I’ll quote it in full:
‘We resist applying the principles of unconscious determinism to events occurring on the stage of cultural and political reality. Persons prefer the vision of liberal humanism or "Realpolitick" or "evolutionary psychology." Anything to save delusion of "rationality." Contemporary thought revolves around denial of the psyche.
‘We resist LINKING our internal worlds to the external one. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that we do link the internal to the external, but then perceive the former as if emanating from the latter. Our psyche is projected back to us by that which we create and project. Our grandiose fantasies become "politics."
‘We say that human behavior is "culturally constituted." We take note of the "discourses" that push and pull us. We provide detailed "thick description" and historical "contextualization." The purpose of this erudition is to avoid noticing that the human mind is the source of every thing.
‘An October 13 article in the New York Times traces the intellectual roots of AI Qaeda to the Egyptian writer and activist Sayyid Qutb. Mr. Qutb, who began his career as a modernist literary critic, was radicalized by a yearlong stay in the United States between 1948 and 1950. In a book about his travels, he cited the Kinsey Report, along with Darwin, Marx and Freud, as forces that had contributed to the degradation of the country. "No one is more distant than the Americans from spirituality and piety," he wrote.
He also narrated, with evident disgust, his observations of the sexual promiscuity of American culture. Describing a church dance in Greeley, Colorado he wrote: "Every young man took the hand of a young woman. And these were the young men and women who had just been singing their hymns! Red and blue lights, with only a few white lamps, illuminated the dance floor. The room became a confusion of feet and legs: arms twisted around hips; lips met lips; chests pressed together."
‘For much of the Muslim world, Americans are "the Other"--symbolizing and stimulating repressed jouissance. An article in Business Week observed that groups such as bin Laden's AI Qaeda network view America as "The infidel power that is spreading its permissive, secular culture, the Great Satan that pollutes the world with its pornographic cinema, its alcohol, and its equal treatment of women. As one terrorist put it, "We will destroy American cities piece by piece because your life style is so objectionable to us, your pornographic movies and TV." Osama bin Laden himself while in college frequented flashy nightclubs, casinos and bars (and) was a drinker and womanizer. He soon felt guilt for his sins, and joined the extreme fundamentalist movement, preaching killing Westerners for their freedoms and enticements of Muslims.
‘In an article in the New York Times Magazine, Andrew Sullivan observed that as modernism takes hold throughout the world, the once dominant Islam culture now is in a defensive mode. One cannot help thinking of this defensiveness, he says, when reading of the suicide bombers sitting poolside in Florida or racking up a $48 vodka tab in an American restaurant, or I might add when soliciting prostitutes in Boston the day before their mission.
‘We tend to think that assimilation into the West might bring Islamic fundamentalists around somewhat, temper their zeal. But in fact according to Sullivan the opposite is the case: "The temptation of American and Western culture--indeed, the very allure of such culture -- may well require a repression all the more brutal if it is to be overcome." Sullivan goes on to say:
‘There is little room in the fundamentalist psyche for a moderate accommodation. The very psychological dynamics that lead repressed homosexuals to be viciously homophobic or that entice sexually tempted preachers to inveigh against immorality are the very dynamics that lead vodka drinking fundamentalists to steer planes into buildings. It is not designed to achieve anything, construct anything, or argue anything. It is a violent acting out of internal conflicts.
‘Norman O. Brown stated that "culture exists in order to project the infantile conflicts into external reality." It seems "oh so real" all that stuff going on out there-- so portentous. Actually, it doesn't have to do with anything. Yet, it does have to do with something. It's our momentous struggles with our desires and conflicts transformed into grandiose "world historical events."
I have one or two further thoughts and passages that I have drawn from the recent press. As you listen to them I hope that you can hear them in an enhanced way, illustrating, as I think they do, some of the psychoanalytic concepts I have been discussing.
The thoughts concern just how hard it is to get Americans (and to some extent Britons) to take in the reasons, the grounds, the justification for the glee that so many felt last September. Shocking though it was, it must be taken in and reflected upon and should serve as a basis for rethinking global relations. The Chilean playwright, Ariel Dorfman, points out that we do not know ’the precarious pit of everyday fear’ (Observer, 8 Sept. 2002). Nor have we had our culture traduced by one that defiles our customs and values or had our sacred lands used as staging places for the armies of people who do not share our beliefs, as the Saudis have. Nor have we been the victims of geopolitical arrangements solely designed to secure raw materials for richer countries, most notably oil, the word that holds the most basic key to understanding the recent history of the Middle East, but it also applies to many other ones and to cheap labour. Western leaders did not ask why in the wake of the attacks, and they have not done much soul-searching since, though others have been eloquent in challenging this complacency. Bush literally said, ‘The forces of evil have chosen to destroy us, because we are good’ (CNN 13 September 2001). We are, it appears, blind to the immiseration of peoples throughout the world to which we contribute or turn a blind eye and surprised by the retaliation it evokes. How else can we explain why young people flock to al-Qaeda and queue up to be Palestinian suicide bombers, thereby gaining an idealised reason for living and dying? What we have here is re-projection with amplification coupled with the astonishing other-worldly idealisation of the voluntary martyr.
Of course, we can continue to fail to address or address inadequately the basic causes of human miseries which can be ameliorated, as recently happened when the Earth Summit did not manage to set concrete goals and deadlines on many issues. The result will be that the motor of hatred and revenge will continue to run.
My last passage comes from an article entitled ‘My Vision for Peace’ by Bill Clinton, whose intelligence and conciliator qualities I, for one, sorely miss. He writes, as I read him, as if he has taken a short course on splitting, projective identification and the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions. He says, ‘These dilemmas present perhaps the most enduring conundrum of human history: can people derive their identity primarily from positive association or does life’s meaning also require negative comparison to others? From the time people came out of caves and formed clans, their identities were rooted both in positive associations with their own kind and negative views of those who were outside their community. This kind of self-definition has dominated human societies for most of the 6000 plus years of organized civilization.
‘For all the progress of the past, we nearly destroyed the planet in the first half of the twentieth century. The idea of a global community of co-operating members was not institutionalised until the United Nations was founded in 1945. Achieving it was not a practical possibility until China decided in the 1970s to move toward the rest of the world and the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. Since then, the world has been consumed with religious, racial, tribal and ethnic conflicts’ (Observer 8 Sept. 2002, p. 29). Take away the big splits of the Cold War and you open the way to lots of smaller, though perhaps cumulatively more dangerous, smaller ones. So-called ‘rogue states’ are no longer so constrained by their big power patrons. The proposals Clinton goes on to sketch are not miraculous. They are concrete and realistic, but they are based on the principles that splits must be healed and grievances must be heeded and addressed by generous inclusions More inclusion means less terrorism.
What conclusions can we draw from the psychoanalytic ideas I have been sharing with you? First, I suggest that we are not in the trouble we thought we were in relating the personal and the political. The political is inside he inside. Freud and Lasswell and Wolfenstein and Bion and Klein are like Chinese boxes or Russian dolls, embedded in the self, with the features of the mind and of the historical contingencies of culture and politics of a piece. We don’t have to reduce the individual to the social or the social to the individual; they are mutually constitutive. Second, ordinary psychological life is more primitive, more scary, crazier than most commentators on the public sphere are prepared to grant. Change is up against more than we thought – more fraught. Behaving well cannot be taken for granted. It is not the norm. It has to be fought for, not hopefully, by knives, bullets, bombs, gasses and chemicals but by reflection, temperance, patience, generosity, plodding application of reasonable norms. Alas, this is no guarantee that we will not have to fight wars.
I close with a very personal coda. I want to kill Ian Huntley, the man presumed to have murdered two ten year old girls, Jessica and Holly, in Cambridgeshire – to strangle him with my own bare hands. I have four daughters. The youngest, Jessie, is six years old, and her best friend is called Holly. I want Saddam Hussein dead, too – splattered. But these are not the only things I want. Aside from being a parent who identified with those girl’s families and in addition to being someone wanting to blow away an evil, monstrous dictator, I am a psychotherapist, a colleague of the people at Rampton Hospital trying to fathom and hopefully to treat Ian Huntley. I am also a lapsed Christian who still values the ethics of forgiveness and a believer in the ideals of the United Nations.
My point is that I am painfully and extremely ambivalent about these and many other matters. I have potentially overwhelming gut reactions to deeply primitive and genuine threats to people and things I hold dear. These threats evoke psychotic anxieties. My retaliatory feelings are not eradicable, but being civilised means that those violent and recurring impulses can be curbed, repressed, sublimated and the energy behind them can be redirected to restrained and constructive impulses, for example, writing this lecture, working with my patients, living wholesomely with my family, creating and maintaining enabling and formative email discussion forums and web sites. These activities are banal and ordinary compared with giving in to blood lusts. They are not suitable fare for thrillers or westerns, so those outlets for my violent feelings will have to remain vicarious and in the realm of fiction.
As I was concluding the writing of these remarks on Wednesday I was watching the memorial services in America and at St Paul’s in London. One could only weep at so much grief, feel ambiguous about so much jingoism and smile as Brits sang ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’, which, you may recall, was composed as their Redcoat forbears burnt the American Capitol in the War of 1812.
Over this past year I have found myself recurrently returning in my mind to the Christian concept of the redemptive value of unmerited suffering. I no longer have that consolation. In its place I can only put a less fulsome belief, stoicism, a doctrine about endurance of suffering and injustice and holding onto the value of the human spirit, while carefully distinguishing what one can and cannot change. Not a lot, you may say, but it’s an advance on the splits and vengeance of virulent projective identification and the cycles of amplified re-projection of intemperate retaliation.
These are sombre times. I believe that the future of civilization and perhaps of humanity hangs in the balance. I also believe that psychoanalytic and related ideas about human nature and its frailties have much to contribute to sophisticated approaches to maintaining the fabric of civilization. Moreover, psychodynamic ideas about groups, institutions and other social structures represent a huge advance over the rhetoric of good and evil, hate and revenge. Hope for the future needs this way of thinking about our decidedly mixed natures and especially our exceedingly labile vulnerability to psychotic anxieties leading to dangerous projective identifications that do so much to create what they fear. The last word goes, somewhat to my surprise, to Chris Patten, a Tory ex-minister, now a European Union statesman. He commented on CNN during the reflections a year after 9/11, a day on which, in Simon Schama’s memorable words, ‘a gaping blackened ground zero… opened up in every’ one of us (Guardian 11.09.02, p. 1). Patten says, musing succinctly but so truly about what we should now do, ‘We must be careful not to undermine our own values’.
This is the text of a talk delivered to the Distance Learning MA students in Psychoanalytic Studies, University of Sheffield on 14 September 2002. It draws in places on some of my other writings, in particular, Mental Space (1994) and ‘Fundamentalism and Terrorism’ (2001).
(Place of publication is London unless otherwise specified.)
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