Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Victor Davis Hanson states in an excellent essay titled "Why Study War" (in City Journal):

Indeed, by ignoring history, the modern age is free to interpret war as a failure of communication, of diplomacy, of talking—as if aggressors don’t know exactly what they’re doing. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, frustrated by the Bush administration’s intransigence in the War on Terror, flew to Syria, hoping to persuade President Assad to stop funding terror in the Middle East. She assumed that Assad’s belligerence resulted from our aloofness and arrogance rather than from his dictatorship’s interest in destroying democracy in Lebanon and Iraq, before such contagious freedom might in fact destroy him. For a therapeutically inclined generation raised on Oprah and Dr. Phil—and not on the letters of William Tecumseh Sherman and William Shirer’s Berlin Diary—problems between states, like those in our personal lives, should be argued about by equally civilized and peaceful rivals, and so solved without resorting to violence.

Yet it’s hard to find many wars that result from miscommunication. Far more often they break out because of malevolent intent and the absence of deterrence. Margaret Atwood also wrote in her poem: “Wars happen because the ones who start them / think they can win.” Hitler did; so did Mussolini and Tojo—and their assumptions were logical, given the relative disarmament of the Western democracies at the time. Bin Laden attacked on September 11 not because there was a dearth of American diplomats willing to dialogue with him in the Hindu Kush. Instead, he recognized that a series of Islamic terrorist assaults against U.S. interests over two decades had met with no meaningful reprisals, and concluded that decadent Westerners would never fight, whatever the provocation—or that, if we did, we would withdraw as we had from Mogadishu.

Pelosi's attempt to resolve and the over-reliance in general on this idea that miscommunication is the root cause of all disagreements, is behind much of the diplomatic insanity (i.e., lunatic appeasement) that runs through the Democratic Party these days. It is an almost shocking degree of naivete about people. In fact, it is also shockingly self-centered (i.e., narcissistic) because it assumes that your behavior is the primary determinant of other people's (e.g., "...Assad’s belligerence resulted from our aloofness and arrogance rather than from his dictatorship’s interest in destroying democracy in Lebanon and Iraq, before such contagious freedom might in fact destroy him) ; and that other people do not have thoughts, feelings, or motivations separate from or distinct from one's self.

This is just one more example of the therapeutic psychobabble that has become the default mode of our culture.

How did this psychobabble--developed in the name of healing and compassion, but which really evolved into a culturally-sanctioned embrace of a dysfunctional perception of reality--come to be so prevalent that is the "root cause" of the naive and counterproductive foreign policy actions advocated (primarily) by Democrats?

Well, I'm afraid that my profession must take much of the blame for this particular insanity, as it has negligently and happily reinforced the primacy of feelings and emotions over reason and cognition.

"I feel, therefore I am. I feel strongly therefore I am the center of the universe!"

The "therapeutically inclined" generation that Hanson speaks of has taken the dictum of psychiatry and psychology to heart. Their needs and feelings have become--for them, at least--the center of the universe. Armed with an over-inflated self-esteem; a bucketfull of wishful thinking; and a feel-good "root cause" explanation for any evil, these rather infantile, postmodern "do-gooders" are filled with utopian fervor, but lack even the tiniest amount of psychological insight into their own motivations whatsoever.

For years now, pop psychology and its gurus have plastered their "psychiatry lite" messages all over magazines like Self, People Magazine, and Popular Narcissism (OK, the last is not a real magazine, but I'm surprised that someone hasn't proudly published something similar).

All these pervasive "self-help" guides have percolated through K-12 educational curricula; and been scarfed up enthusiastically by the cultural elite of Hollywood and the intellectual elite of academia. The holy trinity of the emotionally sensitive in our midst can be summarized by the hysterical hyping of supposedly "scientific" psychology, includes

(1) (unearned) self-esteem (increasing your self-worth without actually having to achieve anything) - this one fits perfectly into the postmodern creed that dictates that your random thoughts, feelings and opinions are just as good as anyone else's; and that there is no objective reality or truth which can distinguish one set from another;

(2) (unrealistic) hope (achieving your goals without any real effort) - utopia and perfection are possible; simply rid the world of all those "bad" aspects of human nature; and

(3) (undeserved) victimhood (it's not your fault that you haven't achieved anything or made any effort) - there are endless moral benefits to being considered "oppressed" This is 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

The popular notion that nurturing a kid's self-esteem ought to be the highest goal of our educational system has resulted in the creation of little narcissistic monsters who believe their needs and feelings are the center of the universe (many of these highly self-esteemed creatures are now lefty bloggers or make up the core of the antiwar left who parade around nude for peace and exhibit other bizarre behaviors regularly). One consequence of this essential narcissistic approach to the world is the inabililty to understand that other people have needs and desires that are distinct--and sometimes even diametrically opposed--to your own! We are the world, after all! Everyone is beautiful in their own way! All cultures are special and should be valued! All we are saying is give peace a chance! etc. etc.

If the 19th century was the age of hysteria (and basically, Freud was responding to the excessive sexual repression present in that century); then the 20th was definitely the age of narcissism. In the 21st 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"; on emphasizing the importance of what is said and intentions (they mean well) , rather than how one actually behaves or the consequences of that behavior.

This is where Pelosi's foreign policy assumptions fit in. What we have is not a failure to communicate; no, what we have is a failure to use cognition and reason; a failure to have ego boundaries; and a strongly held belief that if you just wish for something very very hard, you can make it so because you are so special (i.e., magical thinking).

The work of psychologists Roy Baumeister and Martin Seligman suggests that often, high self-worth of the (unearned variety anyway) is actually a marker for negative behavior, as found in sociopaths and drug kingpins.

Everywhere and at all levels of society we see the people who have inhaled this "psychology-lite" philosophy. They are identified by alternately acting out their narcissistically empowered superiority -- demanding to be noticed, admired and loved (by you); and playing the narcissistically empowered victim -- demanding their inalienable rights and priveleges (at your expense).

I suppose hyping self-esteem, hope, and victimhood seemed like a good idea at the time and the faithful who believe in the trinity mean well. But hasn't it become clear how foolish and deceptive it such irrationality is, as well as how ineffective and counterproductive?

And maybe, just maybe--though it will offend terminally offend the sensibilities of the therapeutically-inclined generation--it is time to end the influence of pop psychology in public policy.

No comments: