Saturday, December 31, 2011

Theodor Reik Part 4: Dream Analysis & The Compulsion to Confession

Dream analysis for Reik, as for Freud, was of fundamental significance in self-analysis of the psyche. The emotional and iconic nature of the dream is one that is somehow closest to alchemy and analogical thought.

Described by Freud as "the royal road to the unconscious," Reik proposes dream analysis to be the cornerstone of self-analysis. He offers an analysis of his own dream (known as the "judgement" dream) to illustrate how an analyst goes about analyzing a dream of their own.

Reik remains faithful to classical Freudian dream interpretation and offers an analysis that brings us closer to his understanding of himself as a proud and vengeful person, who might feel somewhat inadequate (or falsely humble) in his contributions to psychoanalysis. The admission, as it were, of Reik's pride and desire to dominate (he takes great pains to point out that this is not physical, but intellectual domination) is repeated frequently. One wonders whom Reik was writing to in this chapter? It is almost a confession in itself. In this way, Reik points out that his dream was a confession, and that confession is a desire to re-experience the "guilty" action. In this way, Reik contends, a confession is way of emotionally reliving the act, and not without some sort of satisfaction.

Reik describes how dream images (emotionally loaded icons) at the unconscious, latent level, resonate with imagery and action in the waking life. Oftentimes the full exposure of the latent content of a dream is not immediate, but rather, unfolds over the course of months and years. Reik explains that the recollection of a dream, or portion of a dream, can be understood in the context of what is happening in the person's life at the moment of recollection. Emotionally charged symbols resonate with the imagery and context of the waking life, which elicits the the dream imagery to manifest in consciousness. Paying attention to the emotional, environmental, and intellectual events, preceding and following the recollection of the dream, will offer clues to its meaning. A dream continues to be analyzed and revised within the context of the conscious life.

The symbolic-emotional nature of dreams are archetypal, emotionally loaded, iconography that takes on general emotional relationships. The everyday interactions of objects in our life are experiences within a certain set of analogical archetypes that are amalgamated at the symbolic level. It is not the icon itself that holds significance in the analogical process, but rather, the emotional and relational phenomenon that cones forth from the interaction between objects. This is the wisdom of the analogical dream -the structure of the configurations of knowing, which is the outcome of dream analysis.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Reik Part 3: Sensical & Nonsensical Thought

In no place did Freud author the often misquoted, and misleading, notion that "biology is destiny". Freud's claim was that "anatomy is destiny," or more importantly, that gender is our fate. In fact, it seems that the struggle that Freud had in the 19th Century, the clashing against popular biological explanations of neurosis, is the very contest that the psychically oriented psychologist deals with today. We live in an age when experts consider mental life to be to be caused by organic reactions. The relationship between organic structures (such as nerve cells and hormones) and behavioral, cognitive, or emotional life, is taken to be cause and effect. There is a problem in thinking that hormones or cells cause emotion, thinking, or behavior. Following this logic, we would say that light waves cause color or that pixels cause video images. Reductionism is a false logic that confuses parsing with genesis. 

This fallacy is a symptom of a certain way of thinking that is prevalent today. The concept of reductive causation is a symptom of logic and a limitation in Western thought since the Age of Enlightenment. The real problem, though, is that reductive causation (genesis) is held as the crowning accomplishment of the Enlightenment -a metaphysical obsession with causation that is the hallmark of all religious thought.

Today we prize this sort of thinking, the logical, formulaic, procedure of science and mathematics. Thoedor Reik points out in Listening With The Third Ear that the IQ examination has become the barometer of human ranking. The sort of thinking that is measured by the IQ test is indicative of the variety of tasks that are found at school and most office jobs. However, Reik points out that as important as this logical might be, it is only a surface layer of intelligence, and that a deeper, often neglected, level of intelligence also exists. This aspect of intelligence is not rational, nor is it logical, and is often experienced as a hunch or a gut feeling. It is, as we know in psychoanalysis, the intuitive pre-notion that springs forth from the unconscious and serves the poet and artist, where as logic serves the scientist.

The important thing to note in Reik's judgement is that the two forms of thinking do not outstrip one another. There is a time for both rational and irrational thinking. Freud, Reik points out, had a hunch. Rejecting the expert view that neurosis and hysteria were organic conditions, Freud went against logic and reason and followed the hunch -that neurosis was a symptom of emotional conflict. In this way, psychoanalysis is not only the new science of the irrational, but came into being through the irrational. Reik tells us:
"It is obvious that the two ways of thinking have separate realms, with a border between them that neither may cross without creating disturbances of one kind or another. A corporation lawyer would reach no satisfactory result were he to follow every fancy in thinking about a difficult legal problem. A poet, on the other hand, would write a very poor poem if he were to examine each metaphor in his love poem to see whether it met the tests of strict logic. One way of thinking is not appropriate in the first case, the other would have no place in the second. The lawyer will do his work best when he thinks and concludes logically and uses all the reason at his disposal. The poet cannot write his verses after long reflection and mature consideration. If he should meditate and ponder about the expression of his feelings, they would lose all spontaneity. The French poet Paul Valery, said that thinking or reflecting means to lose the thread, "perdre le fil." The lawyer thinks he has lost the thread if he follows a capricious idea, a whim, while working on his brief. One man's meat is another man's poison."

The primary rule of psychoanalysis -do not censor yourself- frees the analysand from logical and rational thinking. Censorship of the irrational and the illogical is suspended and in so doing the individual is permitted to come into contact with themselves. This free association, Reik points out, frees us from the kind of thinking that our education has privileged to the neglect of intuition.

Reik seems to be touching here on the very stuff that Martin Heidegger explores in What is Called Thinking? Today we read of neuroscientific explorations of left and right hemisphere brain lateralization that fits with Reik's description of both intuitive and analytical intelligence.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Reik & Fromm on Dogma

The Dogma of Christ (1930)
In 1955 Erich Fromm reluctantly published an essay he had written as a student when he was 30 years old. The topic was a psychoanalytic discussion of Christ, inspired by his teacher, Theodor Reik. Whereas Reik made a traditional analysis of an individual Christ, we find here a young Fromm who takes a social-psychoanalysis some five years before his official proposal of the approach as presented in The Social Determination of Psychoanalytic Therapy. In The Dogma of Christ Fromm discusses the “function of religion as a substitute for real satisfaction and as a means for social control”.

Understanding ideology and dogma, Fromm examines the life of the individual who develops the ideology, rather than how the ideology influences the individual. In this way, ideology is a product of the socioeconomic conditions within which a person functions. In his 1950 foreword to the first English publication, Fromm writes “the main emphasis of this study is the analysis of the socioeconomic situation of the social groups which accepted and transmitted Christian thinking.” We find in this essay what Fromm calls the “nucleus” of his developed theory of ideology.

The year of the writing of The Dogma of Christ, 1930, found Fromm completing his psychoanalytic training and becoming associated with the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research. This writing was made five years after completing his doctorate, which examined “the function of Jewish law in maintaining social cohesion in three diaspora communities”. Whereas Fromm’s childhood and formative years were steeped in Jewish theology, his sociological interests continued to explore the function of belief and spirituality in the social person.

With his first psychoanalytic writings we find the same theme, only now interpreted through a Freudian lens. But even in this early essay, nine years before Freud’s death, Fromm is beginning to challenge core Freudian assumptions about sexuality and culture. Here we find a Fromm that is somewhat reverent of Freud, but not completely comfortable in Freudian ideology. The text is an overture to the thinking done in the 1935 paper The Social Determination of Psychoanalytic Therapy, as well as the later lectures/writings: Psychic Needs and Society (1956), Dealing With the Unconscious in Therapeutic Practice (1959), The Relevance of Psychoanalysis for the future (1975), and Psychoanalysis & Religion (1950).

Theodor Reik: Listening With The Third Ear, Part 2

In his 1982 contribution to psychoanalysis, Freud and Man's Soul, Bruno Bettelheim describes an American psychoanalysis that has become sanforized, impersonal, and theorized beyond any semblance of human empathy. Through an ideologically-driven (and Bernaysian promoted) translation by Strachey, self-serving presentation, and overt misrepresentation of Freud's thoughts and words, psychoanlysis had strayed far from Freud's intentions. Possibly the most noted example of this bastardization is the English translation of "das Ich, das Über-Ich, and das Es" as the ego, superego, and id," Latin terms that never appear in Freud's writing.

In the second chapter of Listening With The Third Ear, Reik discusses how Freud came about the "discovery" (we might consider it less of a discovery and more of a model or system) of psychoanalysis, and how the method Freud used came to shape the system that he established. Reik also shows us that the intimate nature of this method of exploration, namely self-analysis, is necessarily personal -and must remain personal once the analysis is turned towards objects.

Reik describes self-analysis as a requisite for anyone who intends to use psychoanalysis as a tool for modeling self understanding. Examples from Freud's own self-analysis run throughout his own works, disguised as case studies from his examination room. In fact, a good number of the vignettes and examples which Freud wrote on are more likely to be from his own self-analysis.

Reik points out the necessary distinction between undergoing analysis and undergoing self-analysis. The latter is, essentially, a more personal, convoluted, and difficult endeavor. However, Reik suggests, it is a required experience which makes analysis a more personal act.

"Psychoanalysts have not observed that psychoanalysis has, so to speak, two branches. One is the research into the symptomatology and etiology of neurosis, of hysteria, phobia, compulsion neurosis, and so forth. The other is the psychology of dreams; of the little mistakes of everyday life such as forgetting, slips of the tongue, and so forth; of wit and of superstitions -including all that Freud called metapsychology"

Reik describes here something that is essential in considering contemporary criticism of Freud's theories. In fact, most of the criticisms are leveled, from within and outside of psychoanalysis, at the former branch that Reik speaks of, namely the etiology of neurosis. Amongst therapists of most schools of thought, the defense mechanisms which Freud described are typically acknowledged, to some degree or another. Even when disputed they often resurface under new management and dressed in new nomenclature.

A Jungian psychologist at The New School, with whom I studied Jungian analysis, once lectured that "we choose to do in life that which we feel least competent in doing." This seems to be the lesson that Reik offers us from Freud. The necessarily personal aspect of psychoanalytic psychology is essential in the analysis of culture, people, or art. Our own active engagement with the phenomenon and our willingness to come out from behind the bulwark of "objectivity".

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Theodor Reik: "Listening With The Third Ear" Part 1

Photograph by G. Paul Bishop
Sigmund Freud's first generation of psychoanalysts, many of whom were European expatriates to the United States, are all but forgotten in American, undergraduate, psychology programs. A few names, mentioned exclusively in a theories of personality or history of psychology course are presented largely as historical figures. These early dynamic psychologists include Carl Jung, Karen Horney, Erich Fromm, Erik Erikson, and Anna Freud. As academic personality theory becomes increasingly dominated by quantitative trait theories, and experimentally focused psychologists choose to purge qualitative and non-experimental thought from their students' coursework, these psychoanalysts are becoming quickly forgotten. Even in undergraduate counseling programs, thoughts beyond the aforementioned theorists are rarely known beyond a footnote.

Amongst those psychodynamic psychologists who are becoming forgotten by the American college is the Austrian-American psychologist Dr. Theodor Reik.

Reik was born in Vienna in 1888 and is known as the first psychoanalyst to be trained as an academic rather than as a physician. His doctoral dissertation, defended at the University of Vienna in 1912, was the first to deal with psychoanalytic concepts. Although Reik was championed and even financially supported by his teacher, Sigmund Freud, he was not accepted into the medically dominated, American psychoanalytic community in New York. Many of the psychoanalysts, who avoided the horrors of mid-Twentieth Century Europe, made New York City their home in the 1930s and 1940s. At this time Greenwich Village became the geographical and intellectual center of psychoanalysis in America. Artists, academics, and intellectuals were enchanted by the new science which became the single most influential theory of art, literature, and life during the 20th Century.

Theodor Reik worked to fulfill Sigmund Freud's desire to separate psychoanalysis from medicine, making it a science, art, and profession on its own terms -distinct from medical psychiatry.  Reik, who trained in the academic rather than the medical tradition, made this his primary work. In 1948 Reik founded the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis in Greenwich Village, the oldest school for psychoanalysis in America. Some of Reik's most important contributions to psychoanalysis remains his work towards the expansion of non-medical psychoanalysis. Through Reik's work it became possible for doctors trained in the Ph.D. tradition to practice psychoanalysis, ending the half-century gatekeeping by medical doctors.

Listening With The Third Ear
I first became aware of Theodor Reik's work through David Shapiro,  with whom I studied psychopathology during my graduate work at The New School for Social Research. Listening With The Third Ear (1948) opened my eyes to a deeply intellectual psychoanalysis that did not lose sight of individual, human, practice. Listening With The Third Ear also served as a bridge to the work of French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, whom, as many scholars have noted, shared with Reik an interest in a feminist expansion of psychodynamic psychology.

Introduction & Chapter 1: How Does a Man Become Interested in Psychology?
"My book investigates the unconscious processes of the psychoanalyst himself; it shows the other side of the coin. It is an attempt -so far as I know, the first- to describe what an investigator into the unconscious mental processes of another person does and what he achieves." Reik is attempting to describe the psychoanalyst's unconscious processes in the act of psychoanalysis.

Reik begins by exploring the question of what psychology is. Experience is necessarily a participatory phenomenon. In this way, Reik points out that objective, quantitative research is not psychology. To be a psychology, Reik proposes, a theory must begin with the phenomenon of the self. "William James has described the puzzling phenomenon of self-observation in the words 'The I observes the me.' It is obvious that the precondition for such a phenomenon  -observation of one's own mental and emotional processes- must be a split within the ego. This split makes psychology possible." Reik continues, "your own psychical processes are inappropriate material for statistics, curves, graphs, tables, tests, and schedules."

The question of the birth of self (ego) is understood by Reik not as the moment of visual self-recognition in the Lacanian mirror phase, but rather as a moment when the child shifts from selfishness to self-consciousness. Reik proposes that self-consciousness is reflection from the thou; mother, father, and caretaker. "Stated otherwise, the I can observe the me because They -She or He- once observed the Me... Self observation thus originates in the awareness of being observed."

Reik insists that self-observation is not a primary function, but rather an acquired phenomenon through social interaction. Self-consciousness is a social phenomenon. Reik is struck by the lack of interest that most psychologists have in the phenomenon of the self. Reik might be the first psychoanalytic psychologist to confront the difficulties of integrating psychoanalysis with academic psychology.

For Reik the necessary moment of self-consciousness is not the reflection of a mirror, but rather the critical glance of contempt from an other.
"By primitive observation the child learns early in life to interpret the reactions of his parents or nurses as expressions of approval or disapproval, of pleasure or annoyance. Being observed and later on observing oneself will never lose its connection with this feeling this feeling of criticism. Psychology teaches again and again that self-observation leads to self-criticism, and we have all had opportunity to re-examine this experience. This self-criticism continues the critical attitude of the mother, father, or nurse. They are incorporated into the self -become introjected."
Introjection is the process by which the child's society (mother and father) are infused into the child's sense of self (self-consciousness). This places the conscious phenomenon of "me" not in the ego but rather in the superego, the integrated, often critical, aspect of the self that is an introjection of the mother and the father. "The ego is primarily an organ of perception directed toward the outside world. It is unable to observe the self. The superego is the first representative of the inner world."

In the first chapter of Listening With The Third Ear Reik offers a reconsideration of the experience of the self, a distinction between the psychic self that observes external object (ego) versus the self-conscious aspect of the psyche which is the superego. The superego is not merely the introjection of society into the self, but the seat of self-conscious, awareness of the me.

New School for Social Research "The Legacies of Theodor Reik" Seminar

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Evolution of Erich Fromm

"Fromm had an unparalleled ability to write for the public; the ability to express sensitive, complicated, and often paradoxical thoughts in a graspable way, while maintaining a very intelligent conversation. Fromm was a man interested in actively incorporating his ideas and making them accessible to the man on the street."

     Erich Fromm was a central figure of the American counterculture from World War II through the heart of cold war era. Beginning with his first English title Escape From Freedom (1941), through his final writings dealing with existential humanism, On Being Human, Erich Fromm created a unique convergence of psychoanalysis, Marxism, humanism, and Buddhism. Not holding dogmatically to any one of these life philosophies, he instead mined each for wisdom that could help in coping with the issues of the late 20th Century. Influences on Fromm’s thinking include the Talmud and the Torah, the teachings of Christ and the Buddha, Master Eckhart, and Goethe. His style of thinking was not singular, but rather, a plurality of convergences that resulted in a voice that helped to organize the voices of four decades of the conscientious.

     What distinguished Fromm from other thinkers of his time was his rejection of dogmatism in any form. This free-floating pluralism resulted in a voice truly independent from a school of thought. Most notably might be Fromm’s split from the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory. Through Fromm’s investigation and rejection of certain core, Freudian concepts, he found himself at odds with some of the Frankfurt School tradition. However, Fromm found this to be an experience of liberation, one in which he could retain much of what he found valuable in the Critical Theory tradition, while not being chained to it ideologically.

     The most notable shift in Fromm’s thinking came in his 1960 text Psychoanalysis and Buddhism. As a thinker who would not moor himself to anyone central piling, Fromm explored key concepts in the Eastern traditions. Not unlike his German predecessors Hegel, Schopenhauer, and Heidegger, Erich Fromm found Eastern thinking not only to enhance, challenge, and express many of the ideas of the Western tradition, but also to offer a new way of thinking about the issues that we face. Whereas popular figures such as Alan Watts would edify Zen and Tao, Erich Fromm integrated the Eastern ideas with the Western philosophical tradition. Fromm studied and practiced the life philosophy of Buddhism, however unlike others, it never became the life philosophy. Today the meeting of Buddhism and psychoanalysis has become a tradition of its own. This area of thought first found its voice through Erich Fromm.

     The 1930s through the 1960s found Fromm doing most of his American writing. This was a time when academic psychology, as well as pop-psychology, was entranced with American behaviorism. For most academic psychologists Behaviorism was the arrival of psychology as a pure, lawful science. For those psychologists and other thinkers, outside of experimental psychology, behaviorism was yet another manifestation of the Newtonian fantasy. Fromm was not only critical of a dogmatically experimental psychology, but he considered it to be a dangerous ideology. Fromm was informed of the dangers of a purely experimental or scientific worldview through the writings Martin Heidegger. In The Sane Society Fromm takes on experimental psychology with Heideggerian sensitivities.

     This discomfort with academic psychology continued when the cognitive movement began in the 1960s. Fromm became increasingly critical of models that overbearingly reduced human being into machines (in this instance computers). Fromm was not alone in this critique of behaviorism and, later, cognitive psychology. Humanistic psychology was the “third force” that reacted not only against experimental, but also, psychodynamic psychology. But Fromm was less interested in promoting any one school of thought than he was in integration of these schools. He was clearly critical of the movements in American, academic psychology, but he was equally as critical of Freudian psychoanalysis. Although Fromm considered his work to be humanist -he goes as far as to consider Marx as a great humanist- he is not the typical humanist of the period. Fromm’s writings and theories are far more developed and theoretical to be considered next to the typical, feel-good, representatives of the humanistic movement in psychology.

     Fromm formed a convergence of philosophy, economics, theology, psychology, sociology, and political science. His theories and writings are difficult to place in any one academic department and truly contend the tendency to organize thinkers by subject matter. In Fromm’s texts we find that being human is a social conglomeration of the philosophical, the political, the emotional, and the spiritual. This, of course, reflects the soil in which he first broke through. Frankfurt School thinkers like Marcuse and Adorno had laid out the interdisciplinary approach; the blending of Freud and Marx was necessarily an interdisciplinary project. Fromm continued this project by reinvesting into man as a spiritual being.

     Philosophically, Fromm dwells in that group of thinkers that come after the Kantian split. Clearly an existentialist, Fromm is informed not only by Kant but also Heidegger, Hegel, Husserl, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche. He finds camaraderie with Spinoza, Master Eckhardt, Leibniz, and Pascal and it is not uncharacteristic for him to draw on ancient Greek thinking. He does not, however, fetishize and romanticize Ancient Greece, instead he saves this honor for pre-enlightenment Europe.

     Politically and economically, Fromm was a Marxist. However, his radical, humanist reading of Marx set him apart from his cohorts. Although he shared this position with the Frankfurt School thinkers, Fromm took Marxist humanism to a new level. In his 1961 text Marx’s Concept of Man, Fromm presents and discusses the early Economic and Philosophical Manuscriptsalienation and private property. Through Fromm’s pen we find these ideas made practical for the Twentieth Century in critical issues of freedom and a self, based on having.

     Sociologically we find Fromm in the company of Marxist theorists. The ideas of Durkheim, de Toqueville, and Arendt resonate with the Frommian spirit. Psychologically, Fromm is a psychoanalyst. His rejection of Freud’s privileging of sexual drives is monumental and intelligent. His 1935 paper The Social Determination of Psychoanalytic Therapy alienated him from both orthodox psychoanalysis and the Frankfurt School’s harbinger, Max Horkheimer. Although Freud had focused on culture, society, and civilization in his later writings, he still held culture to be the sublimation of sexual drives. Fromm did not entirely reject this, he did however, show that culture had become a greater influence on human being than biological drives. For orthodox Freudians this was heresy, but for the new wave of thinkers such as Karen Horney, Erik Erikson, and even Wilhelm Reich, Fromm was the pioneer of social psychoanalysis.

     Erich Fromm was concerned not only with society and man as independent subjects, but rather of the Gestalt of the social person. Man and culture would not be parsed from one another as is customary in social psychology and sociology. Although he did not play-out the conversation of man and society, and the S/O split to its end, as did say, Jacques Lacan and the French thinkers of the 20th Century, he did introduce a widespread readership to the possibility of that kind of thinking. We can think of Fromm as someone who was completely aware of what was behind the curtain, but realized that pulling the curtain down too quickly would be uneventful. As a psychoanalyst, Fromm understood that nature resists sudden changes, and that to affect culture as a whole, new ideas were best presented in subtle chippings, rather than mammoth blows. In this way Fromm was much more effective at introducing the layperson to the ideas of Heidegger, Marx, and Adorno, than have been cultural icons such as Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Jean Baudrillard. Fromm had an unparalleled ability to write for the public; the ability to express sensitive, complicated, and often paradoxical thoughts in a graspable way, while maintaining a very intelligent conversation. Fromm was a man interested in actively incorporating his ideas and making them accessible to the man on the street.

     The issues that occupied Fromm’s thinking manifested during the pre-Nazi, modern world of political fascism, through the post-Vietnam War, postmodern world of culture marketing. His writings deal with individual freedom in the age political fascism through the age of technology. Many of his concerns continue to be the concerns of today, and where much of his thinking was premonitory, most of it has become more relevant than when it was written.

     Overshadowing the issues of Nazi fascism, the American Civil Rights Movement, cultural colonialism, the wars in Korea and Vietnam, and corporate fascism was the impending promise of atomic annihilation. The atomic question took center stage for much of Fromm’s life and became the most urgent issue to be addressed. But behind this external threat of a nuclear apocalypse was another issue of the problem of technology. Fromm was equally as concerned with the ideology, technology, politics, and capitalism as he was the atomic bomb. For Fromm, President Eisenhauer’s warning of a military-industrial-complex, a corporate incentive to go to war, was as threatening to mankind as the bomb.

     At the foundation, however, of Fromm’s concerns was a person’s relationship with herself. Based on the human need for a sense of self, Fromm described a modern, social personality that was alienated from an authentic life and enmeshed in an ideology of consumerism. Fromm’s best-known book To Have or to Be is an exploration into the trend of basing one’s sense of self on what they have rather than on what they do. This is the Fromm that dealt with ideology and complex intersection of politics, economy, culture, and psychology in what is called personality.

     Erich Fromm is a name that has not become forgotten, but perhaps has become overlooked, in 21st century thought. Fromm’s accessible, clearly written, and concise writing made him readable by nonprofessional thinkers. His ideas were comparable to those expressed by his Frankfurt School colleagues but did not assume or require a graduate degree to read. For this reason, a generation of revolutionaries came to embrace Fromm’s texts, while academic and public intellectuals have bypassed him for the more obscure writings of Herbert Marcuse, Theodore Adorno, and Max Horkheimer. Even those German, French, and American writers of poststructuralism hold much in common with Fromm’s writing, if not for his clear and understandable style. For this reason, Fromm has been neglected by the academy and forgotten by the aging generation of 1960s radicals.

      Erich Fromm’s thoughts and teachings are increasingly relevant to the issues of today. We will find that many of the issues remain, in addition to new manifestations of old problems. Much of his thinking, based on three thousand years of intellectual history, is timeless and reflects the core issues of human existence. What is unique about Fromm is not only how he presents his thoughts, but also, how he organizes and constructs them.

Monday, November 21, 2011

What do we Mean When we say “Freedom”?

Giobbi Photo, 2010.

As a child I can remember seeing a man on the television, I would later come to know him  as Jimmy Carter, talk of this word that I would repeatedly hear as the reason proclaimed for many actions. I came to wonder if we were all talking about the same thing when we spoke of freedom?

Somehow the words deliverance, salvation, and grace seemed to resonate with this idea of freedom. Eleven years before my birth (to the date) Martin Luther King Jr. declared his dream for freedom in a march on Washington. Listening to that speech, I began to understand just what people mean by those enigmatic words like deliverance.

Bondage, another word of Old English origin, refers to “anything that binds” –meaning sticks together. But the etymology of the word bond originally refers to both householder and husband. The Proto-Indo-European (known as PIE to linguists) origins of free is pri, which connotes to love. In fact, all of the etymological tracings of the word free, including the French and Latin equivalent liberty, eventually leads to the term love.

So, what is it that we mean when we utter the word freedom? What is this state that so many folks seek, the longing for deliverance, salvation, redemption, and grace? When you ask folks in the United States what they mean by freedom, they usually are talking about economic freedom. If you ask the rebel on the streets of some Middle Eastern state of the Arab Spring, they are speaking mostly of political freedom. The majority of folks, when asked about their idea of freedom, regardless of their geography, nationality, or ideology, will presume one of these two types of freedom in their response.

A third kind of freedom is personal freedom and is often what those in spirituality, philosophy, or psychotherapy are seeking. Personal freedom has been referred to as free will, autonomy, awakening, and enlightenment. It is this third category of freedom that might be what those who speak of deliverance, salvation, redemption, and grace are after. When asked what precisely it is they are looking for, these people tend to describe what seems more like a personal feeling or emotional state, than a right to act, as is central to political and economic freedom.

Political freedom and economic freedom are demonstrable, tangible, and physical. One can identify political or economic oppressors, oppressive systems, and oppressive policies and laws. Political and economic freedoms are the most visible and understandable to people. For the worker who scrapes together enough money to feed and shelter her family, economic freedom is easy to comprehend, and her oppressors seem right at hand. For the person marginalized for his physical features, or beliefs, political freedom is understandable and his oppressors seem easy to name. However, with personal freedom there is a difficulty that is not apparent (however present) in bothpolitical and economic freedom. The bully here is not so easy to identify and the effect of the oppression is often not understood in an expressible way. It is, rather,  felt as an emotion. Both political freedom and economic freedom are systematic and physical manifestations of the frustration of personal freedom.

Instead, the mechanism of personality, this thing we call the I or the me, is the very thing that we are simultaneously attempting to make free and be free from. This concept is difficult to penetrate, but is the quintessential link between all strivings for freedom as well as an answer to the curious search for transcendence, redemption, and salvation.

This intersection, where the restlessness for personal freedom finds its voice in the spiritual, political, economic, and the artistic, is simultaneously manifested in the personal relation with the self. In this way a person does not express themselves or their beliefs through an economic, political, religious, or philosophical ideology, nor do they adopt an ideological system to define themselves. Instead, the mechanism of personality, this thing we call the I or the me, is the very thing that we are simultaneously attempting to make free andbe free from. This concept is difficult to penetrate, but is the quintessential link between all strivings for freedom as well as an answer to the curious search for transcendence, redemption, and salvation.

There are a few words that appear when folks are asked to express their desire for redemption, deliverance, and forgiveness –e.g., personal freedom. Guilt and responsibility seem to be what most are seeking salvation from. In many religious systems, the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions in particular, the guilt and salvation are pre-established. One is guilty for being born and must submit to God in humble acknowledgement for the gift of being created. In other words, one is born into sin and can only be freed by God’s grace. Both transgression and transcendence are prearranged for the religious experience.

It seems to me that what the most adamant of the adherents  to these traditions are seeking is some kind of freedom from. I am not referring to everyone who is involved with religious practice, most of whom are involved nominally as a cultural or family tradition. I am not convinced that most feel guilty for their own existence. I do believe, however, that people with very real feelings of guilt and responsibility, over very real tragedies and experiences, find an outlet for those feelings in the religion’s system. It is not uncommon for people who have suffered through great abuses and traumas to feel a sense of responsibility for the event, especially when experienced as a child. The structure of the dogma of religion serves as a system of symbols that represent the multi-dimensional person themselves, offering a path towards transcendence and forgiveness through sublimation.

Personal freedom is not as conspicuous as political or economic freedom. What we find in the strivings for political and economic freedom are ideological systems that promise a state of freedom that is broadly defined as a freedom to. In political freedom we might find the freedom to speak or the freedom to vote. With economic freedom there is the promise that freedom to possess and to consume is being free. Whereas these two forms of freedom require some sort of doing, personal freedom seems to be some sort of freedom from, be that a memory, condition, or the very idea of I or me.

When those who seek freedom through the political or the economical achieve that system, it is not long until it is found that the state delivered is not exactly the freedom they were seeking. We see this in the massive occurrence of depression and lethargy in Communist states, and the anxious, manic-crazed need-to-consume in Capitalist systems. Each of these systems fails at the promise for economic freedom.

The promise of political freedom through a democracy or a republic, too soon becomes a façade that only those whom the system serves well, or those who do not look too closely, continue to believe in. What then, do we really mean by freedom?

Starting from the etymological origins of freedom, in both the Latin andPIE lineage, we arrived at love. As we saw, bondagebond, and binding all refer to a holding together into a whole. In the Old English, man became bound to his wife and home. This binding was experienced as freedom in that he was oriented towards the household or union. In this way, Freedom is not a right to act, a hesitation in doing, or autonomy from; rather, it is a feeling one gets when acting in accordance with an ideology that one holds deeply.

The Communist feels a great deal of freedom in putting community before capital, the Capitalist feels free with the fluctuations of the market (especially during the downturns, when there is a sense of honored commitment to the system), and the servant who believes in their monarch, feels free when they can serve that monarch (theologically as well as politically). The worker who gets his fair-price for his labor feels free within the system he believes in (after all most union protests are not against the system, rather for a sense of modest pay within the system).

Freedom, for most, is not the ability to act in any way, but rather, the love of a system that one believes in, or the satisfying of a personal desire through that system. The woman, who defines herself as a worker rather than as a person, will find freedom in a system in which she can work. Freedom is accepting and loving a system and the experience of freedom is an emotional state that one experiences when their desires align with a system. This is the core of both patriotism and dogma.

The feeling one gets from these systems is an emotional experience. Reduced to this, freedom is pleasure and control in displeasure. The feeling often described as freedom is not being able to choose what to do, but rather, not having to choose what to do. Freedom is felt when the system, environment, and people in our lives accord to our pleasure. When those things interfere with our pleasure, we feel a loss of freedom.

An illustration of this is the experience of freedom some describe in being controlled by others. There is a certain safety that some find in fascism, dogma, and masochistic abuse. A common example is found in abusive relationships between lovers.

In asking the question, what is freedom; we have arrived at a place where we understand freedom as an emotional experience that is less about the ability to do something and more about the ability to not have to do something. The experience can manifest as a political or economical endeavor, but ultimately reduces to a personal state that attempts to satisfy the constant tensions between me and myselfFreedom is, ultimately, a disregarding of the I.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Why changing the world can never be achieved on its own

It typically takes years of frustration, sadness, and despair before a person decides to become a patient of psychotherapy. The life situation finally becomes so unbearable that they are willing to change anything to escape the pattern. The patient (one who suffers) will often come to realize that their options are to either change their own worldview, or to change the world they live in. Both of these options are like a serum -at once curing and poisoning.

Changing one's worldview is the task of calling in to question each belief, understanding, and ground in which one understands themselves and their world. It is a frame of reference, the grounds for reality, or the context in which the information of life is integrated into. This worldview (known in psychodynamic theory as Weltanschauung) is the basis of how we, individually, organize information into systems of knowledge. Theorists describe how information becomes knowledge only when organized by a given framework. Knowledge must be contained within a certain system of rules that govern how the information may fit together to form, what is regarded as, facts. Facts cannot exist in isolation; a fact can only exist within a contextual grounding.

This insight is typically attributed to the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein but has existed long before his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. The idea that fact can only exist within systems of knowledge -a concept which Wittgenstein called language games- finds its origin much earlier, in sophistic and "Eastern" thought. From the sophists and thinkers to the East of Greece, the history of language games leads through to the mysticism of Western and Eastern hermetic alchemy. This mystical alchemy treated the transmutation of base metals into gold not literally, but rather symbolically, as the transformation of Platonistic bronze and silver personalities into gold, philosopher kings. This is the project Freud made manifest from Plato, the desires of das Es (bronze) and das Über-Ich (silver), controlled by das Ich (gold). Freud's dynamics of the soul (psychodynamics) is partly based on the system Plato laid out in the Phaedrus dialogue as well as in The Republic

From Hermetic Alchemy we find the thread that runs through much of continental philosophy, including Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Freud, Sartre, through to Jean-Francois Lyotard. We find a brief emergence in experimental psychology with figures in the Gestalt movement including Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Kohler, Kurt Kofka, and Rudolf Arnheim. The postmodern philosopher Jean-François Lyotard discussed much of the idea of contextual dependence of knowledge in his texts The Postmodern Condition and Just Gaming.

The influence on psychotherapy, primarily through psychodynamic theorists and "existential" philosophers, soon branched into the existential-phenomenological movement. Irving Yalom, Rollo May, Victor Frankl, Karl Jaspers, and Otto Rank are just a few of the pioneering researchers in this form of psychotherapeutic change. Although today's popular cognitive-behavioral therapy describes something called cognitive reframing, this method is grossly superficial and does not probe into the deeper soils described by psychodynamic and existential thinkers. CBT typically remains centered around and privileges behavior and cognition over emotion and can be understood as the morbid fear of the necessary significance of emotion in humanness (intellectualization).

This intellectualization has been considered to be the plague of modernity, and long before Max Weber spoke of disenchantment , Friedrich Nietzsche was describing the very same affliction. While Martin Heidegger was managing a convergence between the end of metaphysics and the leap into mysticism (Caputo), Carl Jung was exploring the clinical wisdom of alchemy at Bollingen. What he found regarding the metaphor of change in the human psyche was outlined in three, thick, texts: Psychology and Alchemy, Alchemical Studies, and, Mysterium Coniunctionis.

Whereas Jung openly (and not without ridicule) explored the model of alchemical change, Heidegger chose to represent the turn towards the mystical through linguistic alchemy. Heidegger had the foresight that Jung either lacked or disregarded -that the richness of the mystical could only be folded into contemporary life trough a process of reconfiguring itself. This is the ultimate ending (and beginning) of Heidegger's turn towards poetry.

At some point the patient (the student too) arrives at personal change. Oftentimes the personal change that the patient experiences, through psychotherapy, results in the changing of their environment. Seldom is the person who has achieved personal transformation willing to remain in circumstances that were established before the transformation. Quite literally, this is a new person that will necessarily form a new Gestell (or Gestalt) -the grounds by which the system is organized and grounded upon for under-standing.

The second option for the patient is to change the world they live in. This kind of change is illusory and brings only a temporary sense of newness through novelty. It is not long until this person finds themselves, once again, in their repeated narrative. Freud called this the repetition compulsion, or the tendency for us to play-out, over and over, the same scenario with different people and situations. This is the reason why changing the world can never be achieved on its own. The change is always temporary and ultimately the self (as Weltanschauung, personality, or ideology) forces the new objects into the old narrative. The only way to change the world is through collective personal transformation.

This has been outlined by many traditions of philosophy and spirituality. But it was not until Heidegger that a systematic approach beyond metaphysics was explored. The ideas of Heidegger, passed down from Meister Eckhart and the hermetic alchemy, was applied to society, politics, and economics by Erich Fromm.

Fromm's thinking is a conglomeration of Judeo-Christian theology, Marxist economic theory, Freudian psychoanalysis, Buddhism, and the thinking of Meister Eckhart. If one reads Fromm chrono-logically one can see the weavings of these five groundings converging into a unique life-philosophy.

After World War One Sigmund Freud turned his attention towards cultural psychoanalysis. In texts including Totem and Taboo, Civilization and its Discontents, and Moses and Monotheism, Freud became increasingly interested in understanding culture, politics, and economics through psychoanalysis. This is where Erich Fromm started, not from the standpoint of individual psychodynamics, but from the view of a social psychoanalyst. Fromm's doctoral dissertation was a psychoanalysis of the Jewish diaspora. He then went on to publish his first psychoanalytic essay on Judeo-Christian dogma. Although Fromm diverted greatly from Freud's psychosexual foundations, he did continue where Freud left off, developing social psychoanalysis.

Fromm diverted from Freud in a very simple, but enormously consequential way. His claim was that at some point culture becomes a greater influence on the individual than biology. This shifts the project of psychoanalysis from a psychosexual to a psychosocial conflict. As thinkers including Erik Erikson, Carl Jung, and Wilhelm Reich were expanding psychodynamic theory, to varying degrees, on a social versus biological continuum, each were discussing social manifestations of the psyche. It was Fromm who, perhaps, became the most accessible to the layperson and who was able to turn very complex theories into workable life-philosophy for the everyday person.

What Fromm taught is important to us when we attempt to understand how to enact social change by considering the therapeutic models of individual change. Erich Fromm's social psychoanalysis offers insight into how to make social revolution happen, what that change means, and how to maintain that change after it has occurred.

Individual Change as a Model for Social Change

There is an old joke about psychotherapy and change:
"How many psychotherapists does it take to change a light bulb?"
"One -but the light bulb must want to change."
This joke illustrates one of the fundamental rules of psychotherapy; change is first and foremost an individual choice. This is why therapists find that court-ordered psychotherapy seldom works. The individual who enters into therapy, usually after years of personal struggle, chooses to make volitional change with the help of a therapist. The therapist does not convince the patient to change, nor do they change the patient, the therapist offers a facilitating method of effective and lasting change to the patient.

If we look at social change through this principle something becomes apparent. Any change that is forced upon an individual, institution, or society through law may temporarily effect change, but eventually will manifest as symptoms within the society. For example, hate crime laws may temporarily diminish violent crimes, but they do not eliminate hatred. The hatred remains, suppressed, and will eventually manifest as a pathology of culture. True social change must come, like the individual change, from a social desire to want to change.

How does one get a society or institution to want to change? Individual psychotherapy offers a model. Psychotherapists understand that there is no "one-size-fits-all" approach to therapeutic change. Each patient establishes their own identity through their own structure of desires. Sometime the therapist must assist the patient in understanding what their desires are, and accurately defining those desires. Oftentimes what we think we want turns out not to be what we wanted at all, but rather a less threatening substitute. It is through this initial process of therapy that the psychotherapist helps the patient to establish exactly what it is they want.

Now this offers us two lines of thought regarding social change. We can explore each by using the corporate institution as an example. If we view the corporation as the social institution that we desire change (e.g. as the patient), we realize firstly that it is we who desire the social institution to change, not the social institution itself. This is an important difference in that it brings to our attention that meaningful, lasting change comes from the desire of the subject to change, not the desire of the facilitator of change. This means that significant, indissoluble change can only occur if the subject (corporation) itself desires to change.

In the current situation of oligarchy and corporatocracy, we find that protest and occupation can effectively bring attention to a social injustice, but the laws and regulations that could potentially result from such political pressure are typically short-lived, nominal, or legally sidestepped. The relationship between the government and the corporations is simply too enmeshed for this to be an effective option for social change.

The strategy for durable social change must include a blueprint for motivating the institution to want to change. In one-on-one therapy the psychotherapist would use the method of elenchus to guide the patient towards certain conclusions, including the sensible resolution and desire towards a specific change. But with institutions the method must be different, for the social institution, which we desire to desire to change, is not a willing participant in our dialogue. We must meet the institution on its terms and understand the dialogue that is present.

Every corporation produces a product or service that the population consumes. The dialogue that exists is that of producer and consumer. The corporation produces not only what the population desires, but also manufactures desire in the population for products made by the corporation. As long as the corporation can dictate a populace’s desire it has accomplished its goal of retaining the consumers’ resources. If the corporation produces a product that is not desired by the population, or cannot manufacture the desire within the population for the product, the producer willingly desires to change its behavior by ceasing to produce that product.

This is the key to changing the behavior of all institutions -the consumer holds the power over the producer of products, services, and laws. The key to changing the behavior of these institutions is by speaking within the dialogue of producer-consumer or government-citizen.

We complain of the oligarchies and inflated costs of their products -but continue to consume those very products. We complain about the manufacturing of desire through marketing and propaganda, but we continue to desire. The only way to initiate meaningful and lasting social change, over political and economic power structures, is to first control the political, economic, and libidinal desires within ourselves. We must want to change ourselves first, before the change in the corporatocracy will follow.

The institutions will cater to the desires of the masses, and this is power over the producer. But for this to be effective the masses of consumers must organize to firstly control their desires and secondly set the terms of their demands. Only when the terms of their demands are met will they enter into the production-consumption dialectic.

The language that is spoken is the language of commodity. Economic boycott (voluntary doing without) and buycott (targeted consumption) are two of the most effective methods of initiating the desire for change in a producer. This is true of both producers of goods and service providers. Setting the terms and conditions  for consumption might include a demand on price reduction, a self-imposed social contribution to the community, or a social justice tax which ensures that part of the producer's profit is invested into the community that is consuming (supporting) the corporation.

Boycotts and buycotts are effective but have not been utilized efficiently. A mass boycott on housing, health care, education, and insurance could redefine the economic landscape of today. For example, if university students en masse boycotted tuition or loan repayment, the institutions would be forced to reconsider their tuition fees. It is a simple method of the manipulation of supply and demand. For years producers have been using advertising to manufacture desire in consumers, the empowered consumer will now effectively use the same techniques to orchestrate and pressure the behavior of the producers. This can be done in any product or service provider. It is a matter of mass action of the empowered consumer. At the end of the day the consumer holds the purse strings of our economy.

Boycott can also be effective in political institutions. Mass boycott of a political election is one of the most forceful displays of democracy. Mass withholding of tax revenue is another potent option that the citizen has, albeit with potentially higher consequences. The key is mass action. Effective influence can only result from mass, orchestrated, action.

As individuals we possess the power over economic, political, and existential freedom. Over time we have become complacent, indifferent, fearful, and irresponsible with these three freedoms. We have wrapped ourselves in a cozy blanket of compliance that demands an exceedingly high price for its comfort. If we desire true social change, true social justice, and a society free of the social classes that come to plague it, we must first make a personal commitment towards sacrifice through freedom of desire and want. We must unshackle ourselves from desire of material goods and services, making do with the bare necessities, in order to take control of the powers which have come to enslave us through the manufacturing of desire through greed, jealousy, power, and licentiousness. The power that institutions have gained was not given by the hands of government or business, but rather, by the hands that are our very own. If it is political and economic freedom that we desire, we must begin with personal liberation -freedom from ourselves (desire).