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WHAT DOES PSYCHOANALYSIS HAVE TO OFFER
TO THE NEWLY DEMOCRATISING COUNTRIES?
by Robert M. Young
I have been coming to Bulgaria fairly frequently for nearly a decade and am in close and regular contact by email. I have felt honoured to be asked to come here and then asked again. I am particularly pleased to be honoured by you today. Thank you.
I am far from being an expert on your country, much less on the other countries in the former Soviet bloc, but I have always been interested in them. I used to listen secretly to Radio Moscow on short wave as a boy in Texas, fearing that I would one day be arrested for doing so, such was the paranoid atmosphere of that time. It was a time when we suffered virulent McCarthyist anti-Communist witch hunts, especially in Texas. When I eventually visited Russia in the early 1970s I was assured that there was every reason to feel worried about human rights there. We were followed, spied on and reported on, women sought me out in order to compromise me.
I was told in no uncertain terms by Russian scholars that things had been and still were awful for academics as well as everyone else. For example, in biology and the history of biology it was fatal to question the pseudo-science of Lysenkoism. (Lest we be too complacent about this blatant undermining of science, I remind you that obscurantism never dies: in the American state of Kansas the teaching of evolution in the schools has in recent weeks been made very difficult by the Board of Education, and creationists are making similar inroads on Darwinian science in other American states.) Returning to things in the Soviet Union, when I was later close to the daughter of the former head of the Soviet Writers’ Union, who became a colleague of mine at Cambridge, she told me dreadful things, so dreadful that her father had killed himself in the wake of Khrushchev's revelations at the Twentieth Party Conference. She was very graphic in her descriptions of the hardships people experienced in the Soviet Union. I am sorry to say that she was herself so damaged by events in her childhood that she killed herself in London some years later.
I have read quite a lot about those times in Eastern Europe, and in my visits to your country I have kept my eyes and ears open — wide open. I have been told things about how it was then and how it is now. I have seen a poster on a wall saying, ’Hitler was Right: Kill the Jews’. Yet yours was the only country in Europe not to give up a single Jew to the Nazis. In his definitive history of The Holocaust, Martin Gilbert writes about this remarkable humiliation of the Nazis:
Also lucky were forty-eight thousand Jews of Bulgaria: those living within the pre-war borders of the state. At first, it seemed that they too would be deported, as had those from the Bulgarian occupied zones of Thrace and Macedonia. Following German insistence, the Bulgarian government had indeed ordered the deportation of all Jews from Bulgaria proper, some of whom had already been interned. But the deportation order led to such an outcry from the Bulgarian people, including many intellectuals and church leaders, that the government rescinded the order, and Jews already taken into custody were released.
In the northern part of Bulgaria, farmers had threatened to lie down on the railway tracks to prevent passage of the deportation trains. It was also said that the King himself had intervened. Despite the fact that he was German, of the family of Coburg, he was known to be opposed to the anti-Semitic measures then in force in Bulgaria, helpless though he considered himself to be in the face of the German might. The release of the Jews, which took place on March 10 , came to be known in Bulgaria as a 'miracle of the Jewish people' (Gilbert, 1986, p. 547).
I have also heard how gypsies are treated in the present, and how they treat one another and behave toward non-gypsies. I have seen their work battalions. I have seen how the grass on the roadsides and between the buildings in this country is not looked after by anyone, as if anything not private and not an official park is not valued and is no one’s responsibility. I take this as evidence that there is little or no civic or neighbourhood pride.
I have learned in clinical supervisions about the prevalence of wife-beating in Bulgaria. The incidence is 80% in Russia, and I have been given an estimate that it is 60% here. I have also heard much about child abuse and alcoholism. I have heard about sinecures in academic and clinical appointments. I was told that anyone with a new privately-owned car is almost certainly doing something illegal. I have seen wrestlers. They seem less prevalent lately, though a colleague assures me that they continue to act as bullies and enforcers in less exalted sectors of the economy, for example, in the building trade. I have heard about campaigns of vilification against decent people in the recent past and about shameful victimisations in the Communist era.
In Russia between 1992 and 1994 life expectancy fell by six years to 57.5 for men and three years for women to 71. When it began to improve, it was because the most vulnerable had died. It is now 61 for men (14 years below British men, who have the worst life expectancy in Western Europe) and 73 for women.
Why do I mention all these dreadful and embarrassing things, things which I hasten to add have their equivalents in other countries, including those in the West? Near where I grew up in Texas the racist Ku Klux Klan and other racialist hate groups still operate. Indeed, I worked side by side with members of the clan when I was an auto worker in the 1950s. I have read of racist trials less than a decade ago (Davies, 1991) and of a recent gratuitous murder where an innocent black man was dragged to death behind a truck by white supremacists. There have been over three thousand recorded lynchings in America — public executions by racist mobs, acting flagrantly in the presence of and in defiance of the duly constituted legal authorities (Buckser, 1992). I mention these things, many of which occurred in the vicinity of where I grew up, to make it clear that my recitation of human depravity is not a haughty indictment of Bulgarians or of the former Soviet bloc. Of course, things are better in the West, but they are nevertheless not good. I have recently read books describing appalling and potentially irreversible conditions among the urban poor — especially the poor children — in Britain (Davies, 1997) and America (Allen-Mills, 1999; Finnegan, 1998). The gap between rich and poor is awful in Britain. The richest 10% enjoy on average seven times the income of the poorest 10%. Mind you, in Russia the difference is 40-fold. I don’t know what it is in Bulgaria.
I will have more dreadful things to say before I finish, but I will say now why I am speaking about these distressing matters. If your country and the others which are hopefully called ’newly democratising’ are to have any hope of being even half-way decent and getting some way along the road to democracy, you will need a theory of human nature and you will need social and clinical practices for the mending of damaged selves — theories and practices which are in touch with the dark side of human nature and yet capable of changing into decent familial, social and political beings people who have been scarred by the historical legacy of this part of the earth. I am here to tell you that there is one and only one way of thinking about human nature which has any prospect of doing this job: psychoanalysis.
This may sound arrogant and doctrinaire. I have been an historian of the human sciences for nearly fifty years, I have been involved with psychiatry and psychotherapy for as long, and I know a thing or two about theories of human nature and about approaches to treatment in psychiatry and psychotherapy. We need, if we are to forge decent societies, a psychology centrally concerned with right and wrong, fair and unfair, love and hate, gratitude and reparation, duty, responsibility, integrity and personality, compassion and selfishness and altruism, restraint and containment. We have to understand why people behave badly, sometimes monstrously, and how to help them change. Most psychologies have turned deliberately away from such matters. They are, as a matter of principle, not concerned with people’s inner worlds, their selves, their world views and lived values, their tender and violent emotions. Instead, in a mistaken effort to root out the subjective in the name of scientific objectivity, they have based themselves in the reflex concept, in definitions of behaviour which eschew moral and emotive terms and in approaches which deliberately avoid emotions.
That is why I aggressively ask what is the alternative to psychoanalysis and suggest that none is in view. Perhaps I should say none that does not involve dumbing down — the search for a theory of human nature and society which, among the other things listed above, eschews character and morality. There are two main alternatives to psychoanalysis currently on offer. The first is cognitive psychology which was explicitly founded on abrogating from its brief the whole area of emotion. Howard Gardner wrote in summarising this approach in his book on the cognitive revolution,
First of all, there is the belief that, in talking about human cognitive activities, it is necessary to speak about mental representations and to posit a level of analysis wholly separate from the biological or neurological, on the one hand, and the sociological or cultural, on the other.
Second, there is the faith that central to any understanding of the human mind is the electronic computer. Not only are computers indispensable for carrying out studies of various sorts, but, more crucially, the computer also serves as the most viable model of how the human mind functions.
The third feature of cognitive science is the deliberate decision to de-emphasize certain factors which may be important for cognitive functioning but whose inclusion at this point would unnecessarily complicate the cognitive-scientific enterprise. These factors include the influence of affective factors or emotions, the contribution of historical and cultural factors, and the role of background context in which particular actions or thoughts occur (Gardner, 1985, pp. 6-7).
Though mainstream cognitive scientists do not necessarily bear any animus against the affective realm, against the context that surrounds any action or thought, or against historical or cultural analyses, in practice they attempt to factor out these elements to the maximum extent possible... And so, at least provisionally, most cognitive scientists attempt to so define and investigate problems that an adequate account can be given without resorting to these murky concepts (Gardner, 1985, pp. 41-42).
Psychoanalysis is precisely and centrally about those ’murky concepts’. I gather that over the last couple of years the study of emotion has begun to become fashionable among cognitive psychologists, though the notable recent books are by philosophers, psychologists and neuroscientists rather than traditional cognitive scientists.
The second alternative to psychoanalysis is sociobiology, which in its current, more subtle and more promising form is called Darwinian Psychology and uses evolutionary variables to explain human behaviour. Darwinian Psychology does not ignore emotion, but its explanations are rooted in instinct theory and expressed in term of the contribution of a given way of reacting to competition for mates and survival. These explanations are often ingenious, but I think they are also often far-fetched. That is, they use distal explanations when proximal ones are called for. Don’t get me wrong. We must find models for the inner world, and how computers work is likely and how we evolved is certain to contribute to understanding human nature. I have spent significant periods of my life working on theories of brain function, on evolutionary theory and on evolutionary views of psychology. I am not opposing those approaches, but I am reminding you that behaviour and motivation are multi-layered, just as physics, chemistry and biology are. It is notoriously true that you cannot deduce the subjectively experienced properties of tables and chairs from the physical properties of fundamental particles or explain the subtleties of food flavours by reference to molecular interactions in biochemistry. Similarly, the layers of historical explanation in evolution and the layers of causal explanation of behaviour do not all reduce to the struggle for existence. There are other layers — other levels of explanation — which provide accounts which have their own explanatory efficacy and appropriately satisfy curiosity. When I ask someone why he has done something, I do not want to hear about his serotonin levels. I might find an explanation in terms of brain injury or drug reaction relevant in some cases, but in most cases I want reply which informs me about his motivations, one which includes a moral dimension. I will feel fobbed off by anything else. We continue to turn to literature, the theatre, music and story-telling to edify and to reflect upon human nature. Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Kafka and others enlighten us, and they explain why people behave as they do in terms of intentions and motivations. We need a psychology and therapies which resonate with lived experience, and psychoanalysis (along with derivative theories drawing on it) is simply the only one on offer.
Psychoanalysis is fundamentally about character and its defects and vicissitudes and about morality, by which I mean one’s relationship to behaving well, and to altruism. Psychoanalysis is in the business of explaining the problems of character and enhancing good character and of increasing the emotional capacity for acting morally by reducing the grip which neurotic determinations have on us. Freedom from neurotic constraint is, of course, essential to democracy. Think how easily and appropriately we pathologise political leaders, legislators, bureaucrats, the police, soldiers. Think how much enlightenment and re-education they sorely need. I don’t think any other form of psychological theory currently on offer is much use in approaching these tasks.
As far as I have seen, the people who dismiss Freud and psychoanalysis do not even attempt to offer the rudiments of an alternative. As Michel Foucault famously pointed out, psychoanalysis is the end point of an historical trajectory which began when Philippe Pinel struck the chains off the patients at the Salpêtrière in Paris in 1792 and William Tuke founded moral treatment of the insane at the York Retreat in the same year. Formerly people were chained in body, but their spirits — however much they were tormented — were not incarcerated. Foucault claims that moral therapies, of which psychoanalysis is the paradigm case and the historical end point, seek to get us to take responsibility for our unconscious motivations, including especially (what was called in pre-feminist times) ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ (Foucault, 1961). I agree with Foucault that this is the goal of psychoanalysis but do not share his misgivings about that goal. Self-restraint and self-containment are the essence of civilization; in the absence of them states resort to coercion, and that’s where we are very likely to abuse power. The Soviets did in their internal and external relations. During the period of Soviet hegemony Bulgarians did so in their psychiatric services.
Freud was in no doubt about the murderous passions in people, about greed, jealousy, envy, spite and cruelty, about perversity, perversion, rapaciousness and murderousness. (I have in mind as I write recent events in this part of the world.) Freud’s work was concerned to reach and work through the unconscious sources of these and other destructive feelings in the early experiences of damaged people and to moderate those feelings through understanding, containment and working through in therapy. People who came after Freud in the psychoanalytic tradition have looked even deeper into the human heart, e.g., work on psychotic anxieties in individuals by Melanie Klein and her associates and on groups and institutions by Wilfred Bion and his successors in the analysis of group relations. I dare say this is what is needed in modern society, East and West.
You will probably know that psychoanalysis has been under scrutiny and attack in the West, even while in some places — e.g., Britain, Italy, South America — academic and clinical work in psychoanalysis are expanding rapidly (Young, 1999, 1999d). I think that the attacks on psychoanalysis from academics and from advocates of other forms of psychology and of brain chemistry are either based on ignorance about what really happens in psychoanalytic therapy or are part of a profound cultural process of superficialization of how we think about humankind. They are part of a general cultural process of dumbing down (Young, 1999a). I am not naive or unpsychoanalytic enough to believe that they are all bad and members of the psychoanalytic community are all good. On the contrary, how psychoanalytic therapists treat one another, how they conduct their relations with the public and how they react to human need, especially the needs of people with little money — all these have rightly led psychoanalysts in the West to be seen as arrogant, greedy, elitist, inward-looking and complacent (Eisold, 1994; Kirsner, 1999, 1999a; Leitner, 1999). My point just now is that psychoanalysis is not pure or perfect. I have written and published my share (some say more than my share) about what is wrong with the psychoanalytic community (Young, 1996, 1999c), but this does not mean that psychoanalysis is wrong. There is a fine old adage that one should not judge the priesthood by the priest, and it is worth noting that the social relations among cognitivists and Darwinian Psychologists are pretty bad, as well.
Returning to my central point, I say that there is no alternative to psychoanalysis if we want to understand human nature ’on the hoof’ in a way which includes our most baffling, distressing and moving dimensions. That is why applied psychoanalysis exists. It has been found helpful by people writing about music, art, literature, film, culture (including popular culture), aesthetics, ethics, penology and much else. Tell me how much behaviourism, cognitive psychology, sociobiology, Darwinian psychology and other branches of so-called ‘scientific psychology’ have contributed to the illumination of our troubled and our cultural and our aspiring selves. Their explanations have their place, but when applied to the areas where psychoanalysis has been most helpful, they are usually pitiful and offer explanatory factors which will not cut it, e.g., kin selection, birth order, competition for mates, reciprocal altruism. Some of their explanations are ingenious and some are promising, but they do not resonate with the dialectic of experience. Moreover, some of those who put them forward most assertively give off more than a hint of philistines and reductionism. Don’t get me wrong; as I said, I advocate the integration of explanations drawn from bringing together the perspectives of the legacies of Darwin and Freud and even Marx, though, I suspect, a rather different reading of Marx from the one which you were taught. (For examples of attempts to bring psychoanalysis and Marxism together, see Marcuse, 1966; Wolfenstein, 1981, 1993; Hoggett, 1992; Parker & Spears, 1996; Miklitsch, 1998.) I want a sophisticated integration, not one constructed from elements which often rob culture of its richness. I have friends who do not mind about this and do not insist on being moved by scientific explanations if they will fix, for example, mental disorders. I say I want the biological and ideological explanation — and even mind-altering pills — to leave room for making sense of the subjective experience of neurotics and psychotics, as well. Peter Barham has made this point eloquently in his writings on the subjective worlds of mental patients, in, for example, his book Schizophrenia and Human Value (1984), as have Ronald Laing (1960) — though sometimes overstated — and Harold Searles (1979) — never in my experience overstated (Young, 1995). How a society treats its mentally disturbed people is a sensitive indicator of its general approach to human rights.
As I’ve said, I don’t think there is much hope for humankind unless we come up with an understanding of human nature which sheds light on the envious, spiteful, greedy and destructive sides of our natures. According to a recent study conducted by the National Statistical Office in Britain, seventy per cent of prisoners in England and Wales have two or more mental illnesses, including serious substance abuse as one. Half of the prisoners are dyslexic and therefore profoundly disadvantaged in the job market. About half are considered to be sociopaths (Singleton et al., 1998) and are hard to help. Looking more broadly to the general population, the personalities of both leaders and followers in the grotesque events which make up too many of our headlines are shockingly disturbed. I am thinking about various bombers, mass executions, hate wars, gangs, cults, .e.g., in Japan, American militias, Ku Klux Clan, in the Middle East, in South America, political leaders in regions which border on Bulgaria. Each of these has its historical, geopolitical and socio-economic causes, but each also has its developmental and psychoanalytic dimension. Who is predisposed to sign up to death squads in Hitler Germany, in Miloševiç's Serbia and Kosovo? The same can be said of children who abuse and sometimes kill other children and of those who are abused and, in their turn, grow up to abuse. This is true, for example, of over three quarters of Indians in Manitoba, Canada. In some communities every person has been sexually abused, grownups and children alike. Tell me that psychotherapy and altered child-rearing practices are not relevant there. Indeed, imaginative programs in London and in Manitoba are making dramatic inroads into changing the behaviour of those who sexual abuse (Wheelright, 1998).
Ideology is to society, culture and to belief systems what unconscious motivation is to individuals. Indeed, it is by unconscious means that we acquire our values and beliefs. To be a member of a group or subculture or a national group is to acquire its projective identifications, and this occurs largely by unconscious processes. A flood of light has been shed on all sorts of conflicts by the study of the mechanism of projective identification. One of the places where this is clearest is in racial prejudice, as Victor Wolfenstein shows in The Victims of Democracy, his study of the work and personality of the American black leader, Malcolm X. Wolfenstein is that rare combination, of which there are a few others, a trained scholar who is also psychoanalytically trained. He is a Professor of Political Science at UCLA and is also a psychoanalyst. He shows how we acquire the beliefs which we hold without thinking about them and through which we actually have experiences. Freud says that we distort experience to the point of hallucination in the very process of having experience. This is where beliefs and the unconscious are forged together and why it behoves us to conduct research in applied psychoanalysis, especially where bad behaviour is concerned.
I want to share with you a passage from Wolfenstein on white/black racism. Although it is densely-written it can serve as a prototype of what psychoanalysis can offer to the understanding of baffling and distressing human relations.
Stating the point more generally, we may say the Negro identity (like any other externally imposed and therefore stereotypically limited identity) is a character-form of group-emotion, determined through the mediation of identification with the oppressor. Conscience and consciousness are both whitened out, and blackness becomes firmly attached to unacceptable, predominantly aggressive, infantile emotional impulses. Black people and white people alike come to have a character-structure in which the I, including the moral I, is white, and the It is black. Within this relationship, black people can think of themselves as fully human only by denying their true racial identity, while white people secure their humanity only at the price of black dehumanisation. Thus the concept of the emotional-group here emerges in the form of a dominating-dominated intergroup relationship. In this relationship the repressed sadistic tendencies of the dominating group become the self-hatred, the masochistic tendency, of the dominated group. Conversely, the alienated self-esteem of the dominated group becomes the narcissism of the dominating one. And through the work of secondary elaboration or rationalisation, the members of both groups are held firmly in the grip of a stereotypical false consciousness' (Wolfenstein, 1981, p. 145).
I’ll say in passing that the same dynamic can occur in a marriage or between countries. Wolfenstein reminds us that this emotional process is determined by the political and economic power of the ruling class and that 'Emotional alienation is determined by and is the reproductive mediation of alienated labour'. Thus, by becoming a Negro, 'Malcolm X was learning to play his part in capitalism's dumb show of racial stereotypes, its dialectic of self-preservation' (p. 146).
Reflecting further on the dreadful things people feel and do leads me to say a word about the perverse. You may think this an abstruse topic, but I will try to link it with issues touching on democracy and its enemies. We must not conflate the perverse with perversion. Indeed, a question which is exercising me at the moment is whether sexual perversion is perverse (Young, 1996a). This is both a theoretical and a clinical question. Its answer was once thought unproblematic; indeed, Freud, for all the tolerance displayed in the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905), thought the answer was obvious, since he thought that if we lingered too long over any form of foreplay on the path to what he had no doubt was the natural outcome of sex, intercourse to orgasm, we were in the domain of sexual perversion. But nowadays our norms of sexual behaviour and orientation are more permissive, though how plastic they should be is an as-yet unanswered question, one to which the answer will probably continue to change as a function of changing mores in the wider society. The answer cannot be found exclusively in the consulting room, since there are other dimensions — social and moral — to explore.
The perverse is a potentially overlapping but not perfectly congruent domain. It is the mental orientation where fair is foul and foul is fair, as in ‘Macbeth’, where the moral order is inverted. Margot Waddell and Gianna Williams (1991) have shown that a person can be perverse at pre-school age. They argue that in looking at whether or nor a person’s sexual activities are perverse, you have to evaluate the unconscious phantasy during intercourse or other sexual practices, whether homoerotic or hetroerotic. The answer cannot be know in advance or in the abstract. Looking at the concept of the perverse more broadly, for example, in the Jeremy Bulger case in England in which two young boys gratuitously murdered a younger one, it is clear that the boys who committed the murder were perverse. It is also clear that such people can benefit from psychoanalytic therapy, as can children who sexually abuse other children. However, the chance of being helped diminishes with age, and this has implications for child welfare, child care facilities, secure units and prisons (I discuss these matters and provide references in Young, 1999b). Perverse children, unless treated, grow up to do evil things, some sexual, some cruel and horrid in other ways. I believe that childhood perversity is an important source of anti-democratic personalities and that suffering or committing childhood perversion is usually the origin of the impulse to perpetrate sexual abuse, something which both paedophiles, and rapists (including some soldiers) do.
I now want to say something more general about why psychoanalysis is important and to suggest some reasons why it is under such fierce attack. Freud is said by his polemical opponents to be a liar and to have falsified his case studies and to be a coward who drew back from the seduction theory. Psychoanalysis is said to be methodologically unsatisfactory and all sorts of other things, among them that it doesn’t work. I grant that full analysis is increasingly unrealistic for economic reasons, but I also claim that outcome research shows that psychodynamic therapies are at least as good as any other (Anon., 1995; Seligman, 1995) and maintain that it is better for the inner self. I suggest that the attacks Freud and psychoanalysis (and on Jung, Bettleheim and many others) have a deeper source. I believe that they are part of the dumbing down I mentioned earlier. I believe that the attackers wish to turn a blind eye to the fact that we have inner worlds, since they want to abrogate the concepts which go with it — integrity, character, anguish, depressive (i.e., reparative, as opposed to persecutory) guilt. We are living in times when it is very tempting to seek external answers, to search for truths which are merely truths of the surface, to go for technologies and quick fixes and, as Jonathan Lear (a philosopher and analyst at the University of Chicago) puts it in an eloquent defence of psychoanalysis, ’to ignore the complexity, depth and darkness of human life’ (Lear, 1998, p. 27). Lear goes on to say,
It is difficult to make this point without sounding like a Luddite; so let me say explicitly that psycho-pharmacology and neuro-psychiatry have made, and will continue to make, valuable contributions in reducing human suffering. But it is a fantasy to suppose that a chemical or neurological intervention can solve the problems posed in and by human life. That is why it is a mistake to think of psychoanalysis and Prozac as two different means to the same end. The point of psychoanalysis is to help us develop a clearer, yet more flexible and creative, sense of what our ends might be. "How shall we live?" is, for Socrates, the fundamental question of human existence — and the attempt to answer that question is, for him, what makes human life worthwhile. And it is Plato and Shakespeare, Proust, Nietzsche and, most recently, Freud who complicated the issue by insisting that there are deep currents of meaning, often crosscurrents, running through the human soul which can at best be glimpsed through a glass darkly. This, if anything, is the Western tradition: not a specific set of values, but a belief that the human soul is too deep for there to be any easy answer to the question of how to live (Lear, 1998, p. 28).
I heartily commend to you the essay from which this passage is drawn. I think it is relevant to the kinds of reflections — Socratic reflections — necessary to democratise a country.
Here is another perspective on why Freud is under attack now: I think that the period since 1989 has been horribly sobering. Take away the Cold War and what do you get? Peace? Fraternal Love? Generosity of Spirit? No, you get, as Freud observed, the return of the (literally and militarily) repressed. We are now having to face on a world scale and in more complex forms the destructive, envious, ungenerous and murderous side of human nature. The desiccation of compassion is apparent in the escalation of drug-related killings, mass, gratuitous and serial murders, the annihilation of children on the streets of Brazil, perverse and murderous families like that of the multiple murderers Frederick and Rosemary West in England, the Soviet Mafia, Muslim fundamentalists, Yardies warring over drug turfs in Britain, American white supremacist and ultra-right wing militias and so on. Remove the evil empire as a convenient scapegoat in which to locate everything negative and you have to face up to the destructive impulses of your own country, your region, your city, your neighbourhood, your ethnicity, your kids' school, your self.
I think this de-repression leads to a hatred of the way of thinking which has most to say (through clenched teeth) about these things — psychoanalysis. It’s as if the ideologues say, ’Let's get Freud. He brought up all this stuff. He said that civilization was a veneer over polymorphous perversity, incest, rapaciousness. He said that discontent to the point of neurosis was the price of civilization, goddam him. He must be a cheat, a liar, and anyway all his followers fuck their patients, don't they? And get them to tell lies. And turn them against their wives and husbands and parents’. The analysts and therapists are held responsible for evoking all these things that I cannot bear to know about my friends, my family and myself.
And yet, once again, where else can we turn? There are so many phenomena that have been and many more which need to be illuminated by psychoanalysis. Eating disorders are epidemic in the West. Has their incidence been investigated here? There are practices at the interface of property, male chauvinism and property which are rampant in Arab countries — female circumcision and sewing up the labia of young girls to make sure they are virgins at marriage. This is mutilation but it is widespread. In India women who reject men have acid thrown in their faces, and surviving wives are cremated with their dead husbands. In Bulgaria Gypsy girls who do not do as they are told sexually, have their faces mutilated. In seeking to root out such practices we have to understand both the cultural and economic side and the sexist and unconscious side. The psychoanalytic account of the battle of the sexes and of the generations is most illuminating in these matters.
What we need to do is to fathom the dynamics of human relations, relations with ourselves, with other individuals, in families, groups, institutions and between peoples. We also urgently need our public workers to be sophisticated in such matters in ways which have hardly begun anywhere but are especially under-taught here. I am thinking of the police, social workers, teachers, prison staff, psychiatrists, people in charge of institutions in both the public and the private sector. Routine, defensive self-protection, time-serving, cynicism, opportunism, corruption, covetousness, vengefulness and a whole list of nasty attitudes have ruled and continue to do so to an alarming degree. The tradition of public service which was at the heart of the communist vision led, with a deep irony, the near ubiquitousness of the opposite attitudes. We have to turn these things around, and understanding how people get to be nasty and how they can change is absolutely essential to building up a fair society based on and practising democracy and decency.
I have been involved in Bulgaria in a remarkable series of group relations conferences with an impressive group of young people and Toma Tomov, one of the finest men it has been my privilege to know. These conferences have laid bare just how far people who grew up in Bulgaria before 1989 have to go in learning to trust anyone, certainly anyone outside their families, to come to believe that groups and institutions can be anything but threatening and corrupt and places to be careerist and rise at the expense of others. The group relations approach stresses and helps people to examine and hopefully to contain the unconscious psychotic anxieties which operate in groups and lead them to behave badly. Here is applied psychoanalysis at the heart of the trust building and institution building which your country, like all the former Eastern Block — and, I confess, more in the West than you might imagine — need.
We need financial and human resources to put this way of thinking to use. We need to train psychotherapists, to educate all the people in the administration of the country and in the helping professions. There are no psychotherapists and no psychoanalytically trained psychiatrists in this country. Yet such people, along with experienced group relations personnel, are the seed corn for a harvest which could serve and nurture decent values in your country. I and some of my British colleagues have a vision we share with some of the people in this room, and we are determined to see it serve a generous, cooperative humanity in this country and its neighbours. As I believe each of you knows in your heart, the alternative is barbarism
In conclusion, I want to say that the Bulgarian Institute of Human Relations has an opportunity which is perhaps unique. Through a combination of the good will of some of the world’s leading authorities in the psychoanalytic understanding of groups, institutions and social forces with the enthusiasm and experience of the Bulgarian specialists in various parts of the helping professions in the BIHR, we can create a nucleus of staff, activities, trainings and writings which could make a real difference in the newly-democratising countries and offer new insights to the Western countries on which psychoanalysis draws. There are already in existence internet web sites and email forums specifically designed to make the fruits of our endeavours known to the wider world (Human Relations, Authority & Justice email forum and web site).
To be strictly historically accurate I ought to remind us that some of the great figures in the first and second generation of psychoanalysts, including Freud, Ferenczi and Klein, originally came from Eastern European countries, so the traffic in psychoanalytic ideas originated in the East. We now have an excellent opportunity for the East to revive and enhance its unique contribution. It pleases me more than I can say to contemplate the prospect of a Bulgarian institute teaching things to, for example, Russians, Czechs and Hungarians, not to mention Americans and West Europeans. It strikes me, in its way, rather like Texans — or perhaps Oklahomans — teaching New Yorkers, Parisians and Muscovites.
I thank you for allowing me to catalyse this contribution and urge you to join in developing it with all your hearts and minds. We have a real opportunity to help make the world a better place by understanding both the loving and the hating, the constructive and destructive and, above all, the generous, healing and democratic dimensions of humankind.
This is the acceptance speech given at the ceremony designating Robert M. Young as ’NBU Honoured Professor’ by the New Bulgarian University, Sofia, on 21 August 1999.
(Place of publication is London unless otherwise specified.)
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______ (1905) Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. S. E. 7, pp. 125-245.
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Human Relations, Authority & Justice: Experiences & Critiques - web site and email forum: http://www.human-nature.com/hraj/home.html
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______ (1999a) Unfree Associations: Inside Psychoanalytic Institutes. Process Press (November).
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______ Ibid. Summary Report.
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______ (1993) Psychoanalytic Marxism (Groundwork) . Free Association Books.
Young, Robert M. (1995) ‘The Vicissitudes of Transference and Countertransference: The Work of Harold Searles’. Free Assns. (no. 34) 5: 171-195, 1995.
______ (1996) The Culture of Psychoanalysis and Related Essays on Character and Morality and The Psychodynamics of Psychoanalytic Organizations. (Process Press; on web)
______ (1999) ’The Curious Place of Psychoanalysis in the Academy’, talk delivered to Program in Psychoanalysis and the Humanities, University of Toronto, 9 January 1999.
______ (1999a) ’Dumbing Down? Publishing, the Media and the Internet’, talk presented as Distinguished Visitor to the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, 13 January 1999.
______ (1999b) Human Nature, Psychotherapy and the Law: Issues of Violence and Racism’, talk given to the Faculty of Law of the University of Manitoba on 13 January 1999.
______ (1999c) ‘Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy: The Grand Leading the Bland’, Free Assns. 7: 437-58.
______ (1999d) ‘What Is Psychoanalytic Studies?’ Psychoanalytic Studies 1: 221-36.
Address for correspondence: 26 Freegrove Road, London N7 9RQ.
The Human Nature Review © Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM