Saturday, April 07, 2007


I was impressed with this comment by Mark Steyn at The Corner, writing about the recently released British hostages:

...I agree that this incident was a pitiful humiliation for the Royal Navy and also for Britain. It also seems clear that this mission was poorly conceived from the start: If you can't outgun a couple of Iranian speed boats, you shouldn't be policing the shallows of the Shatt al-Arab in the first place.

However, the language you deplore - "Some of the Iranian sailors were becoming deliberately aggressive and unstable", "Throughout our ordeal we faced constant psychological pressure" - seems less a reflection on these men than yet more evidence of how therapeutic psychobabble has become the default mode of our culture- even unto the military(emphasis mine)

He has more to say, but you can see the remark that caught my particular attention. It is strikingly accurate.

If you happen to think that the "therapeutic psychobabble" Steyn refers to is actually therapeutic, then as far as I'm concerned it is evidence that you aren't much of a therapist and/or you haven't got a clue about what therapy is all about. In fact, talk of the kind that Steyn refers to frequently becomes the major impediment for actual patients seeking help for emotional problems and trying to take control back over their lives. As for individuals who aren't patients (but soon will be, most likely) it reflects a passive world view, where a person is the helpless victim of forces outside their control.

Let's look at a just few aspects of this psychobabble that has permeated the culture to such an extent that it grossly interferes with real psychological health and functional coping mechanisms:

One of the big pieces of the psychobabble industry is the promotion of "self esteem" at the expense of self control and personal responsibility. But, contrary to popular myth, self esteem is not the holy grail of psychological health. In fact, it is not necessarily even good for you, and most bullies, tyrants and other dysfunctional people fairly ooze self esteem.

Most people confuse "self-esteem" with a "sense of self". It is the latter--not the former, that is so often screwed up in the angry, violent, grandiose, and generally narcissistic people in the world. If you have a healthy "sense of self", you are likely to have a healthy self-esteem; and a healthy self-esteem is not the same at all as a high self-esteem.

The psychological defect that leads to so many problems for people in their lives is a defective or distorted sense of one's SELF. The excessive self-esteem you see in a bully comes from a distortion of reality that person develops with regard to their self. It used to be widely believed that low self-esteem was a cause of violence, but in reality, violent individuals, groups and nations happen to think very well of themselves. Do you really suppose that individuals like Ahmadinejad or the Iranian mullahs suffer from poor self-esteem? Do you think bullies like Saddam or thugs like Zawahiri had "fragile" egos as they made their way through life? And that they were simply misunderstood or had unhappy childhoods and that is what made them so bad? If only social conditions be improved and poverty eliminated then the world would not see the development of such people--or so goes the thinking, anyway.

I'm afraid not. The reality is that human nature is what it is whether you are rich or poor; or what color your skin happens to be; and without regard for the particular political structure you live in. Exaggerated self-esteem that is not based on personal achievement or responsibility is one of the hallmarks of a pathological narcissist or psychopath.

The pop-psychology that promulgated the widespread belief that if you nurture kid's self-esteem neglected to mention that if the sense of self was already damaged, all the social engineers would manage to do was to create a narcissistic monster. That is why our society is filled with the pursuit of unhealthy narcissistic gratification. In this new century, that narcissism seems to be morphing into an even more malignant sociopathy that pervades society and impacts almost all our social, political, and educational institutions.

Our cultural focus on enhancing "self-esteem" has resulted in the near-worship of emotions and feelings at the expense of reason and thought; on emphasizing "root causes" and victimhood, instead of demanding that behavior be civilized and that individuals exert self-discipline and self-control--no matter what they are "feeling".

This brings me to the second bit of psychobabble: the emphasis on and near-worship of feelings and emotion, which felt to be "superior" to reason for enlightened living in the modern world.

Feelings and emotion can be extremely valuable tools for perceiving the world; particularly if an individual does not allow feelings alone dictate his or her behavior, but instead uses emotion, tempered by reason; or reason, tempered by emotion as the basis of action.

But somehow, our culture--once founded on and dedicated to reason and rational thought, which is what has led to the creation of all the wonders we enjoy in the modern world--has slowly evolved into a cult that worships emotion and whim at the expense of reason.

There are many psychological [unconscious and conscious] factors that can make one's feelings completely untrustworthy. These include the immature psychological defenses which, if unexamined in the cold light of insight and conscious thought can result in denial, paranoia, projection, displacement and many other dysfunctional behaviors.

The truth is that there are countless ways that unconscious processes within ourselves can distort our responses to others and to reality itself.

Growing up and attaining maturity requires that we take a moment to consider such factors playing a role in our emotions before we act on those emotions. If we come to know ourselves and understand our own weaknesses, vulnerabilities, limitations and secrets; then our emotional responses to people or to the world can be very valuable tools to help interpret the world. But they are only tools, and if not used wisely, they can do more harm than good. Feelings cannot be used in a court of law--for good reason. And they are not ultimate truth in the court of reality, either.

These days we hear a lot about "coping with stress"; and about how "stress" is behind all sorts of medical and psychological problems. Of course, what is really meant by this is that there are many situations in life--some of the common and some not so--that we must respond to in order to live our lives. Stress can be understood as a frustrated "fight or flight" response.

Our bodies, which have not changed much since the days of the caveman, are hardwired to respond to danger in certain ways. Either we gird our loins and fight; or we take flight and run away. These two strategies covered pretty much everything for our ancient ancestors had to deal with to survive, and they lived or died depending on effectively these strategies were utilized.

In our modern world, it is no longer appropriate or even civilized--most of the time and in most situations--to do either. Imagine if you will, the office worker called on the carpet by the boss, who reacts to this threat to his livelihood by punching the boss; or by running screaming from the boss's office. Neither response would be considered very stable.

We hear on the news fairly frequently of such occurrences; e.g., the postal worker who comes in and shoots his superior, and--as long as he's at it--a few coworkers he holds grudges against.

The point is, that our body's hardware is designed to respond to perceived danger in this way, whether we like it or not. Of course, the boss yelling at us is not the same degree of danger our ancestors used to deal with, but our bodies aren't able to tell the difference. Hence, as we became civilized and our interactions with others and with our environment became more complex, the normal physiological responses of our bodies to danger remained the same, but the behavioral expectation --i.e., how we acted on the physiological imperative -- changed significantly.

And so, the concept of stress was born. We can't often fight; and we can't often run away; and when we do, significant problems can arise for us and for society. Our bodies still physiologically respond, but the usual behaviors that discharge the built-up toxins and return us to a physiological normality are gone. Psychologically and physiologically, this tends to take a toll on our bodies; either as physical or emotional problems.

Most people are aware when they are experiencing stress and the physical and emotional discomfort can be a powerful reason to change whatever behavior is causing the sensation. Stress can also be a source of extra energy (e.g., in sports) if the physical and emotional aspects of it can be converted to a less destructive form. This is where the concept of psychological defense mechanisms comes in.

Many people seem to think that ALL stress is bad for you and must be eliminated from your life. But this position fails to understand the importance and necessity of stress in our lives.

Where once our stress response existed merely to protect us from extreme danger (and still does); today it is a key biological element that can promote and and encourage psychological growth and development and help us to learn mastery over ourselves and our environment.

So this is the good thing about stress. Stress and our response to it can help us to mature and expand our capabilities. Without stress, there is little motivation to change or improve either ourselves or our environment. Too little stress and we stagnate. Too much, and we are at risk of falling apart. But just the right amount of irritation can encourage us to create a pearl!

If you have any doubts about the power and sanctity that can be yours if victimhood status can be officially confered upon you; or of the endless moral benefits of being "oppressed"; just consider that even a mean SOB like Saddam Hussein can be deemed a victim of American oppression--just ask Ramsey Clark how that is done! Or that, for the sake of the Palestinians--the most publicized and creative perpetual victims in all of history-- a group of "experts" were recently convened in Iran to prove that the entire world has been bamboozled by a clever Jewish conspiracy regarding the Holocaust. Those darn Jews!

Holocaust Deniers are particularly noteworthy in the annals of victimhood, and demonstrate a degree of unsurpassable cleverness because they have managed to take the actual victims of a horrific episode in world history and twist that history to turn those real victims into oppressors! Surely one of the most magnificent applications of the new victimhood rules.

In the quasi-religious cult of victimhood that is part of today's leftist, Marxist dogma, "victimhood" has been identified as critical; and promoting it and nurturning it has become a way of life.

This has come about in part, because many on the political left have an intense narcissistic need to see themselves as "champions of the oppressed"; hence the constant need to find and maintain an oppressed class of people to champion. But it also dovetails nicely into the the Marxist dialectic that underlies that ideology. The world is divided up into two groups, you see: the oppressors (i.e., white, male,heterosexual, Republican, Americans or Israelis) and the oppressed (everyone else).

The political left proudly stands in solidarity with the oppressed victims of the world; and it is worth noting that their stance is particularly ego-gratifying if those they champion are undeserving victims (i.e., similar to Alfred P. Doolittle's "undeserving poor"-- who have needs as great as the most deserving of victims; in fact, their needs are even greater).

What all the modern psychobabble about self esteem, feelings, stress and victimhood lead to is a culture of pervasive and malignant narcissism.

Instead of healthy ambition, goals and ideals, the malignant narcissist pursues either the sociopathic selfish type of gratification; or the sociopathic selfless variey.

This is a complicated topic, but I discuss it at length in this series of posts . Suffice it to say that our current culture either emphasizes and encourages a bloated sociopathic grandiosity or it encourages the exact opposite- a selfless sociopathy. Both are extremely dysfunctional and malignant for the individual as well as the society at large; and psychological health requires a synthesis of these two extremes of narcissism. The celebrity culture and the quest for superstardom, constant ego-gratification and promotion of self-esteem (at the expense of self-control) has encouraged an unhealthy grandiosity; while at the same time overcompensating with an unhealthy pseudo-selflessness that manifests itself in politics and religion.

The holy trinity of therapeutic psychobabble, the glue that holds this passive, helpless, and ultimately nihilistic world view together is : the deification of victimhood; the supremacy of feelings over reason, and the glorification of self-esteem over self-control.

Those therapists who subscribe to the psychobabble religion and indoctrinate their patients into it, tend to be predisposed to think of themselves as heroically pursuing "social justice" for the poor, unhappy and oppressed masses. But, when you peel away the layers of pseudo-Freudian babble, you discover that the basic premises, the foundation--or "default mode" if you will of the babbler therapist, is the tacit acceptance of Marxist political theory, which neatly sets up the conditions for individual, cultural and societal suicide.

The Marxist dialectic insists that you can either be an "oppressor" or one of the poor "oppressed". From the Marxist moral perspective it is clearly much better to be a victim of oppression. Thus this world view neatly reinforces the passivity and helplessness of victimhood by proclaiming it to be a higher moral value; and, when the only way to get out of this oppressed victim state is to enter the morally inferior ranks of the "oppresors" most people will prefer to reap the rewards of their victimhood--which in our Marxist-drenched culture have proliferated beyond imagining.

Just ask those who finally escape from the oppressed victim mindset only to discover to their astonishment that they are now perceived as "the enemy" and a "traitor" to their gender, race, class, politics etc. etc.--I'm sure you've heard the rhetoric.

At best, a culture or society can either encourage the development of healthy, mature psychological defenses with which to cope with reality and channel human nature; or they can encourage the development and expression of the worse aspects of basic human nature--i.e., those which result in violence, racism, criminality and all the other pathologies. Either way, social, political and economic systems can only encourage certain human traits that result in civilized behavior; or, encourage those that are barbaric and antisocial. Human nature is the same, though, no matter what type of society or political system it finds itself in.

The therapeutic psychobabble that has become the default mode of our culture leads inevitably to the kind of societally dysfuntional and suicidal behavior we witnessed in the recent British confrontation with Iran; and which we witness almost daily now in our dealings with Islamofascism. Our default mode is suicidal. The enemy's is homicidal.

It is a perfect postmodern fit.

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