Saturday, April 15, 2017

Freud and Nietzsche: Psychiatry between Existentialism and Scientism

Art by Andrew Baines
In The Denial of Death, the anthropologist Ernest Becker defends and broadens Otto Rank’s view of psychotherapy. Rank was one of Freud’s colleagues who broke with Freud, like Jung. Jung and Rank both interpreted psychological problems in spiritual and philosophical terms, whereas Freud clung to a narrower, sexual theory of mental dynamics. For Rank, the human mind is torn between opposite tendencies, towards separation and greater individuation, on the one hand, and towards union with a collectivity, on the other. This is an absurd, dangerous foundation for personal growth, because it threatens the person with the fate of being forever internally conflicted and with the anxiety of oscillating blindly back and forth between the poles. For example, a person might demonstrate her ego’s distinctiveness with displays of conspicuous consumption, while pretending to worship a deity that demands humility and submission to its greater power. The opportunity for what Becker called “heroism” is found in creative solutions to this existential predicament of having an unstable mental structure, stemming from the trauma of separation at birth, and of being propelled by the fear of the final separation at death. Art, love, and a mystical hope for cosmic reunion with a divine being that somehow encompasses all natural things are Rank’s recommendations for avoiding the stalemate of neurosis, of failing to learn how to unlearn past experience or to find a balance between the desire to stand out and to fit into a greater whole.

Freud from Nietzsche

Becker’s presentation of this theory emphasizes its existential aspect, and indeed Rank’s ideas are much more plausibly universal than Freud’s positing of infantile sexuality. But Becker’s criticism of Freud neglects Freud’s direct connection with existentialism. Freud, after all, was aware of Nietzsche’s writings, although he professed to having avoided reading them in depth, even while Freud’s work betrays his familiarity with several Nietzschean themes (as well as with Darwinism). As a relevant Wikipedia article says, “in the 1890s, Freud, whose education at the University of Vienna in the 1870s had included a strong relationship with Franz Brentano, his teacher in philosophy, from whom he had acquired an enthusiasm for Aristotle and Ludwig Feuerbach, was acutely aware of the possibility of convergence of his own ideas with those of Nietzsche and doggedly refused to read the philosopher as a result.” However this may be, Nietzsche must have rubbed off on Freud. This study, for example, summarizes what the two approaches share:
(a) the concept of the unconscious mind; (b) the idea that repression pushes unacceptable feelings and thoughts into the unconscious and thus makes the individual emotionally more comfortable and effective; (c) the conception that repressed emotions and instinctual drives later are expressed in disguised ways (for example, hostile feelings and ideas may be expressed as altruistic sentiments and acts); (d) the concept of dreams as complex, symbolic "illusions of illusions" and dreaming itself as a cathartic process which has healthy properties; and (e) the suggestion that the projection of hostile, unconscious feelings onto others, who are then perceived as persecutors of the individual, is the basis of paranoid thinking. Some of Freud's basic terms are identical to those used by Nietzsche.
The Christian psyche famously provided Nietzsche with his case study in repression and paranoia, just as Nietzsche demonstrated his “genealogical” form of explanation in his account of master-slave morality. Instead of dictating principles or arguing systematically, Nietzsche sought to undermine various philosophies and perspectives by purporting to trace their psychological causes back to either “noble” virtues or to unheroic, “weak” acts of self-deception. For example, instead of celebrating the will to power, a Christian might passive-aggressively cloak her predatory instincts with a show of false humility. Logicians typically regard Nietzsche’s whole approach as resting on the genetic fallacy. Moreover, his philosophy seems self-contradictory, since he presupposes the universal truth of his metaphysics of power, even while he maintains that knowledge depends on perspective and that all truth-claims are surreptitious attempts to overpower others. All living things are beasts, for Nietzsche, and beasts have no sound basis for believing they’re in touch with objective, nonpragmatically-construed reality. Reasoning is a sham, and displays of power are the only demonstrations that matter in that they testify to the greatness of heroic individuals who distinguish themselves from the prosaicness of the herd mentality.

In any case, Freud does add much to the structure of Nietzschean thought: whereas Nietzsche’s arch concept is power, Freud’s is sex. But while Nietzsche’s corresponding image of people as animals led him to write only aphoristic or literary appraisals, Freud’s single-minded interpretations were in the service of his drive to pioneer a science of the mind. Freud reduced every desire or impulse, every conscious or unconscious image, every mental or social event to a sexual cause originating in the Oedipal or castration complex. Whereas power is vague and can take myriad forms, sex is concrete and objective. The Id or unconscious may be irrational, but if it desires sex with the mother, expressions of that desire can theoretically be confirmed, because the sex act provides a benchmark for comparisons. Thus, in a dream a cigar might unconsciously symbolize a penis. Likewise, had Nietzsche identified a particular powerful act as all-important in human relations, as Freud had done in Chapter Four of Totem and Taboo (a prehistoric killing of a father figure, or alpha male), Nietzsche’s thought might have taken on the power of a science. However, like the phony spirituality of Christian religion, psychoanalysis is only pseudoscientific in the Popperian sense of being unfalsifiable. You can posit an infantile, unconscious sexual urge to explain any action, but the merit of that explanation isn’t tested in practice. Indeed, in so far as the applications of psychoanalysis testify to its power, the theory fails the test of being technoscientific, because the analyst-analysand relationship is typically endless. The talking never ends, because the imagination can always conjure new sexual fantasies and interpretations of events in the person’s formative years. Moreover, the theory is awkwardly implausible: sexual impulses are hormonal and the relevant hormones are released in puberty; thus, children have no sexual desires. 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Hotheads’ Violence caused by Hot Climates, Study finds

Dateline: GREENLAND—A sociobiological study from Bigwig University in Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland shows that the areas around the world with the hottest temperatures tend to be inhabited by more aggressive, bellicose peoples, or “hotheads,” as the study calls them, while colder zones are home to more peaceful, even timid populations. 

The team of scientists concludes that collective belligerence is a form of literal hot-headedness in which a screaming-hot environment transfers its heat to the human head and turns the mind into a stew of animal reactions, bypassing the brain’s rational faculties and driving the population as a whole to childish displays of wonton irrationality and brutality.

The deserts of the Middle East and Africa, along with Southeast Asia, Central America, Mexico, and the southern (Republican) United States are marked by dictatorships, perennial civil wars, gang wars, coups, chaos, rampant crime, riots, bloody uprisings, bigotry or fundamentalist lunacy. 

By contrast, Canada, Alaska, the northern (Democratic) United States, and Europe are known for being sober, peaceful, and stable to the point of being infamously dull.

“It’s hard to stir up trouble,” said the team’s lead researcher, Professor Francesca Bobbins, “or to get all offended and hot-headed when there’s a foot of snow outside your door or when you know the snow will come in a matter of weeks or months. I mean literally, it’s hard to heat your head enough to sustain animal rage when it’s often super-cold out.

“But just imagine living in a desert that fries and scrambles your brains. How can you stop to think when you’re always stinking and soaking wet with sweat? Haven’t you got to take your rage out on someone, like the government or a rival sect or some other scapegoat? Mustn’t the excess heat that bubbles up in the heads of those dwelling in a humid environment be vented back into the world by some series of violent outbursts to prevent those heads from exploding?”

The researchers tested their hypothesis by observing the facial expressions and by measuring the heat steaming off of the heads of subjects who agreed just to stand for hours in the streets of altogether too-hot places, including San Antonio, Mexico City, Khartoum, Riyadh, and Bangkok. Invariably, the test subjects became increasingly agitated as the sweat streamed down their faces, dampening their shirts and messing up their underwear.

Subjects reported feeling their blood boil when strangers stopped merely to say “Hello” and were unable to concentrate when the researchers posed simple problems to them to determine whether heat negatively affects cognition.

“The sociobiologist asked me, ‘What’s two times four?’ and I swear I blanked,” recalled one test subject. “Back home in Halifax, Canada, I could have answered that with no problem, but standing there in Riyadh in that dreadful heat, my fevered brain was racing from one impulse and nonsensical notion to the next, as if the desert were boiling my neurons. All I could think was: ‘Get me the fuck out of this oppressive heat!’ And failing that, ‘Whom can I take out this aggression on?’” 

As one of the researchers explained, “It’s like the difference between cold and boiling water. When water is very cold it’s frozen and so it tends to stay put, going nowhere; but when it boils, it spills out and bubbles up everywhere from the transfer of energy.”

Critics point out that the experiment was conducted in large cities, which suggests that the aggression may have been caused not by the blazing heat, but by the nearby presence of way too many people, the principle being as Sartre said, that “Hell is other people.”

The researchers replied that there are large cities in peaceful nations too, such as Toronto, Canada. What turns one large population into “placid, mousey little nobodies” and another into “a horde of raging orcs and barbarians” is largely the climate, said Professor Bobbins. “For example, the infusion of Middle Eastern immigrants into France and the UK and the conflicts this has stirred up there can be interpreted thermodynamically. The immigrants’ heads store the excess heat from their native lands and disperse it in the cooler climates of Western Europe. That transfer of heat causes social chaos.”

The report has also been criticized for failing to take into account the counterexample of Australia. Australians are known for being friendly and laid back, and yet much of that continent is as hot as anywhere else on the planet.

The researchers credit this apparent discrepancy to Australia’s British heritage. Like Canada, modern Australia was colonized by the United Kingdom. The team theorized that abundant rain can function like snow in dissuading a population from wanting to go outdoors to kick up a mighty ruckus.

“The rain-soaked temperament of Brits was passed onto Australian culture, making Aussies as tranquil and bloodless as Canadians,” said Professor Bobbins. 

“As for Russia,” she continued, “while it’s true that Russians have historically preferred authoritarian rulers and been as brutal as all get-out, as in their laying waste to the Nazis, it’s notable that the soviets saw their ideology as being especially rational, even scientific. The Nazis, too, looked to science to support their social Darwinian prejudices.

“Temperature is only one factor in determining a population’s passivity or aggression, not the only one,” she conceded. “But while European and North Asian forms of violence are couched in rational or pseudoscientific terms, those forms that break out in scorching-hot zones are chaotic or primitive, showing similarities to the sort of genetic tribalism we see in other species.

“This is because the sweltering heat shuts down the cerebral cortex, leaving mainly the older, emotional and reactionary parts of the brain to steer the ship—and to pick up the pieces when those primitive forms of thinking crash the ship into a cliff.”

The team’s research has also been criticized for being flat-out racist. Professor Bobbins said in response that she “doesn’t care about skin colour. It’s not about innate differences between people, since even an annoyingly-polite Canadian will start to act like a jihadist nut job if he’s forced to live for years in a desert. Like they say in real estate, it’s ‘location, location, location.’”

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Man with Skin Cancer loathes Doctors, Dies without Medical Treatment

Dateline: NEW JERSEY—Morris Berbowski, a 53 year-old man, died from skin cancer after refusing to be treated by any doctor for seven years, because he couldn’t find one who wasn’t “a condescending douchebag.”

Seven years ago, Berbowski did show a doctor an embarrassing rash that had developed on his legs and backside, but was traumatized by the experience.

Speaking to a film crew shortly before his death, who produced a documentary about his conflict with doctors, called “Is there a Non-Obnoxious Doctor in the House?” Berbowski said that that doctor—the last he would ever be treated by—used him as “a guinea pig.”

“He was a skin specialist,” said Berboski, “who needed to be summoned by a referral from a general practitioner. The field of doctors is split into a hierarchy, don’t you know. That’s what feeds their god complex, and they inflict that mental disorder onto the rest of us who just want to be given the treatment for our illness, without having to be entangled in the doctor’s power games.

“So I got the referral, waited in line for an hour and a half, and was finally shown to the specialist. He was middle-aged but in flawless physical condition. That was because he was rich, of course, and that too feeds their god complex, the fact that doctors are always overpaid.

“Anyway, there was also an attractive young lady who sat beside the specialist. It turned out she was a medical student who was being trained by the expert. When the doctor told me to lower my pants to show him my skin condition, I felt humiliated because I’d have to show her my naked rear end which was covered in rashes and blisters. But because the doctor spoke with authority and I felt I had no choice, I did as I was told, and the pair of them proceeded to investigate my buttocks, chatting and chuckling as they did so. He used my painful skin condition to illustrate to her the finer points of the textbook definition of my ailment.

“When they had their fill of schadenfreude and no doubt felt sufficiently superior to me, he told me to raise my pants. I did so and when I turned around to face them, they were both smiling like nothing untoward had happened. He wrote out a prescription for an ointment he said might relieve the symptoms for a while. But there are dozens of expensive skin creams out there and I would have to keep purchasing them to find one that works best. The scams in the medical profession are never-ending.

“I left humiliated and vowed I would never again let an arrogant doctor gratify his vanity at my expense.”

Some months later, Berbowski contracted skin cancer. He went to a doctor but as soon as he detected that the doctor had an unbearable attitude, Berbowski left in great haste without receiving treatment.

“That first doctor I saw to treat my cancer began talking to me about his sports car. Instantly I was out the door. And so began my odyssey to find a doctor in North America who isn’t insufferable. I drove all across the continent and left empty-handed.”

The cancer-ridden victim spoke of how “most doctors don’t even want to see you. You have to beg and plead just to be accepted by a general practitioner, before you can get the golden ticket to be shown into the hallowed halls of a specialist. That’s how the medical system trains patients to be passive and to overlook the hubris and haughtiness of these experts.”

Berbowski visited a doctor in Ontario, Canada and watched as the trim and physically fit doctor flirted with a secretary before the secretary commanded Berbowski to wait in another room, without bothering to look at Berbowski.

“First you wait in the general waiting area,” explained Berbowski, “typically for an hour, because doctors are always behind in their work. Then they send you to an isolated waiting room, ostensibly because it affords the patient some privacy. But in practice, you end up waiting there alone for another fifteen minutes or so, and that also trains you to be compliant and to accept your lowly position of being at the doctor’s beck and call. He’s in charge and he’ll see you only when he’s good and ready.

“When I discovered that that Canadian doctor's underling wouldn’t even look at me when she ordered me into the other waiting room, I took that as a bad sign: if I had stayed longer I would have been subjected to the offshoots of his syndrome, of his god complex. So I just turned around and left, without even relishing what must have been the puzzled look on his face.”

Berbowski maintained that doctors and psychiatrists suffer from the delusion that they’re gods, because they hold other people’s lives in their hands. The feeling that they have godlike power corrupts them, and so instead of doing no harm, as required by their professional oath, they inflict their patients with their character flaws, specifically with “condescension, obnoxious displays of vanity, and an overbearing attitude.”

After “crisscrossing the land for three years,” without finding a pleasant physician, Berboswki gave up and resigned himself to his fate. “I’ll likely die from skin cancer,” he said just days before he did die, “but my dignity matters more to me than increasing the number of years I have to live.”

The documentary ends with Berbowski cursing the medical profession for its hypocrisy and for adding to the high price of medical care the cost of having to suffer being near doctors.