Escape 29: Can psychology do it?

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.

Escape 19: All you wanted to know about human evil but were afraid to ask!

Escape 19: All you wanted to know about human evil but were afraid to ask!

Well, it looks like I may just get through this 30 day Becker marathon in 30 days.  I’m on Chapter 7 now, which starts on page 91.  Since there’s 170 pages in the book I’m close to half way there.

As noted earlier, Becker is the great synthesizer.  He gleans in a critical way the works of others to build his own model of how the world works.  Those ‘others’ include hundreds of scholars of all disciplines as can be verified by a glance at the bibliographic entries in his many books, but major influences have been Hocart, Huizinga, Brown and Rank.  The school of psychoanalysis to which Becker subscribes is the school, which broke away from Freud.  Rank was a special protégé of Freud’s but could not accept Freud’s Oedipus Complex and other aspects of his work.  Freud was no slouch, of course, but his work was nowhere near as historical as his detractors, Brown and Rank, not to mention Jung and Adler.  For Rank and Brown, following Freud, the basic foundation of an understanding of humankind’s evolution on this planet is our fear of life and death.  Of course we wouldn’t be able to stand it for long if every day of every year we were consumed by fear of life and death.  Rank accepted without any resistance one of the pillars of Freud’s work and that’s the idea of repression.  As Becker writes:

…men do not actually live stretched openly on a rack of cowardice and terror; if they did, they couldn’t continue on with such apparent equanimity and thoughtlessness.  Men’s fears are buried deep by repression, which gives to everyday life its tranquil façade; only occasionally does the desperation show through, and only for some people.  It is repression, then, that great discovery of psychoanalysis, that explains how well man can hide their basic motivations even from themselves.  But men also live in a dimension of carefreeness, trust, hope, and joy which gives them a buoyancy beyond that which repression alone could give.  This, as we saw with Rank, is achieved by the symbolic engineering of culture, which everywhere serves men as an antidote to terror by giving them a new and durable life beyond that of the body.

 I don’t think I could find a quote in EFE that better represents Rank’s thought as expressed here by Becker.  Following this quote Becker introduces Wilhelm Reich and his book The Mass Psychology of Fascism.  In his conclusion that much of the misery on this planet is a consequence of our attempt to deny our animal nature, the question for Reich is: how could we so willingly give over [our] destiny to the state and the great leader? (p. 93) Because we’re such suckers for promises of prosperity and good times ahead if only we follow the great leader, the steady, thoughtful great leader.  But, unfortunately, in attempts to avoid natural plagues and disasters by investing our trust in great leaders we unwittingly unleashed another plague brought on by our thoughtless allegiance and obedience to the politician.

Reich coined the apt term “political plague-mongers” to describe all politicians.  They are the ones who lied to the people about the real and the possible and launched mankind on impossible dreams which took impossible tolls of real life.  Once you base your whole life-striving on a desperate lie and try to implement that lie, try to make the world just the opposite of what it is, then you instrument your own undoing…all you have to do is to say that your group is pure and good, eligible for a full life and for some kind of eternal meaning.  But others, like Jews or Gypsies are the real animals, are spoiling everything for you, contaminating your purity and bringing disease and weakness into your vitality. 

It’s all about scapegoating…a theme we’ll run into again in this exercise.