Escape 29: Can psychology do it?
My, my, this is a tough question for all of those people who would want science to provide prescriptions for future behaviour or for the amelioration of the human condition. Can psychology do it? Becker writes:
We can talk for a century about what causes human aggression; we can try to find the springs in animal instincts, or we can try to find them in bottled-up hatreds due to frustration or in some kind of miscarried experiences of early years, of poor child handling and training. All these would be true, but still trivial because men kill out of joy, in the experience of expansive transcendence over evil. If men kill out of heroic joy, what direction do we program for improvements in human nature? What are we going to improve if men work evil out of the impulse to righteousness and goodness?
if men are aggressive in order to expand life, if aggression in the service of life is man’s highest creative act?
Doesn’t look too promising does it? Not only that, Becker reflects on the idea that crazy, twisted people don’t do anywhere near as much damage to life as idealistic leaders. Leaders, no matter how screwed up they are, are still for people an ‘expression of the widespread urge to heroic transcendence.’ (p. 156)
Today we are living the grotesque spectacle of the poisoning of the earth by the nineteenth-century hero system of unrestrained material production. This is perhaps the greatest and most pervasive evil to have emerged in all of history, and it may even eventually defeat all of mankind. Still, there are no ‘twisted’ people whom we can hold responsible for this.
Well, I’m thinking there may be the odd ‘twisted’ bastard out there in the ranks of the world’s ‘leaders.’ I’m thinking Dick Cheney might qualify. If nothing else he and people like him, including Stephen Harper, are prepared to sacrifice anything including the viability of the only home they have, the earth. That’s twisted in my mind. Freud admitted himself that ‘there is no dependable line between normal and abnormal in affairs of the human world.’ (p. 156) WFT. So is there any hope for psychology, real psychology? I don’t really know. Not sure exactly what hope would look like. Becker was not convinced that the ‘psychical’ sciences could offer much in the way of advice to the human race.
Still, Becker notes, that Freud, no matter how cynical he got, always trusted psychoanalysis. In the end he believed in it as anyone believes in their particular hero system. That’s probably true of a lot of psychologists.
Well, the simple answer to the question in the title of this blog is no. How does psychology deal with problems of ‘cosmic heroism?’ So, now we come to the end of this Becker marathon. Tomorrow, in my last post in this series, I see what Becker has to say again about The Science of Man.