Gagdad Bob once wisely pointed out at One Cosmos that:
If truth exists, it seems that it is something that we would want to align ourselves with, no? For truth is what works, isn't it?
Not necessarily. With psychoanalysis, Freud articulated an entire system of thought that essentially comes down to a means for investigating the many ways in which human beings lie to themselves. Thus, in a sense, these lies "work" -- i.e., they have a function -- or they wouldn't have been erected in the first place.
For example, one routinely sees adults who were abused or neglected as children by their parents. This is the truth. But this truth doesn't "work" for an infant, because it would make living intolerably painful -- impossible, really. Therefore, in order to go on living, the child erects the lie, "my parents love me. There is something wrong with me." Interestingly, on some level, one must know the truth in order to erect the lie. Psychoanalytic therapy, in its broadest sense, is simply a search for truth, or what Bion called O.
Many brilliant therapists have noted that people engage in self-deception all the time (actually it doesn't take a brilliant mind to recognize that fact). Psychiatry and most psychotherapy is, indeed a search for the truth. Psychological health absolutely depends on being able to recognize reality and then to effectively deal with that reality.
As I pointed out in Part I, the psychological defenses are automatically deployed by the EGO to protect the SELF from the sometimes intolerable pain that reality brings. When an immature defense is put up to block the pain, while it may be extremely effective in the short-term, it sets in motion a cascade of psychological consequences that inevitably result in long-term misery for the individual. An analogy would be the clinical use of methadone--itself a highly and extremely addictive opiate, but with less painful and agonizing withdrawal symptoms--to help a person detox from heroin. The individual becomes addicted to the methadone and it must then be maintained for life.
In the example above that Bob uses, the child is able to retain his love for the abusive parent, but instead concludes that something is wrong with him. This incorrect conclusion, born of faulty psychological logic, will impact his life in all areas: relationships, work and will impede any chances he has to achieve success, personal fulfillment and happiness, or genuine intimacy.
It is not my intention to suggest that the only way to cope with stress is to use psychological defenses. On the contrary, there are many factors that come into play, such as the individual's temperment and inborn biological/physiological protections; the presence or absence of social or environmental supports, hope and faith and even luck or serendipity may play a role in helping someone get through difficult times.
In fact, all these factors--biological, social, cultural, religious--all interact together and, in times of stress, have a considerable impact on which psychological defense the EGO deploys to protect the SELF.
And it is all these factors that come into play when trying to understand why a supposedly mature person uses immature psychological defenses.
If a person experiences an overwhelming number of environmental insults without sufficient biological resiliency, he will fail; if he has enough of the protective environmental factors (e.g., love, health, education) he is relatively invincible to the vissictitudes of life. If he or she is born with normal resilience, but the culture is severely pathological and thus the environment is not conducive to the development of psychological maturity, then the individual will go down with the culture, unless he is able to escape from its influence.
Let us for the moment say that all biological factors being equal (and, of course, they are not) then the primary determinants will be the degree to which those environmental factors control the life and activities of the person. While it is true that even healthy people may transiently use the immature psychological defenses, they do so only as a transient, temporary measure; until they psychologically prepare themselves to deal with the threat (see the example about the reflexive response to hearing about the death of a loved one in Part I). They are able to do this because the confluence of factors in their life has led them to psychological maturity. Their egos are able to handle a painful reality--they suffer, they grieve, they grow, and then they are able to move on.
This does not happen in some cultures or societies.
Environmental factors can encourge individuals to deploy mature defenses; or they may encourage the deployment of the immature and primitive defenses. As I mentioned in Part I, the immature defenses are infectious. They can spread like an epidemic through a population--particularly if they are culturally or religiously sanctioned. This is because they offer the simplest and most gratifying explanation for an individual's or a society's problems ("It's all the Jews fault!", "If it weren't for those Blacks!", "Republicans hate the poor!" and so on).
From The Wisdom of the Ego:
The capacity to use social supports involves the ability to metabolize, as it were, other people once they are found. This capacity is inextricably bound to potential for psychosocial maturation....
In order to treat the experience of being loved as if it were a gift and neither a danger nor a right, we need the ego capacity of being able to absorb those who love us. If we marry someone much richer than ourselves, shall we feel grateful or envious? If our tennis partner always beats us, doues our game improve or does our self-esteem plummet? If our father is in some was a disaster, are we determined to avenge ourselves by becoming really good fathers, or do we do unto other as was done to us?
...the process of metabolizing social supports is far more subtle. We can teach people ideas. We can teach someone to view a glass as half full rather than half empty; we can teach people to have positive attributions. But how to teach people to treat an onrush of love as a gift and not a threat is a more daunting task, one that requires grace or at least consummate skill.
EGO maturity, and the ability to deploy the healthier, more mature defenses comes about as a result of one's experience with the problems of life and the increasing ability to tolerate paradox. Vaillant recounts this brief story, which is very telling:
...a College man who was both a model for mature defenses and a distinguished career diplomat to the Arab world told me that he was on his way to address a B'nai B'rith group. I asked him what he planned to say about the dilemma of Palestine. He replied that he would quote the wise man who observed, "When in a conflict both parties have the moral right on their side, that is the meaning of tragedy." A paradox. Yet Eugene O'Neill suggested that the tragic alone has that significant beauty which is truth. A second paradox. But where does the capacity to tolerate such paradox come from?"
Let us look for a moment at the tragedy that is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One side of that conflict has attempted to come to terms with this paradox multiple times; and has acknowledged that there is moral right on both sides of the conflict. That side has repeatedly and earnestly tried to make peace by giving the other side what it says it wants. That side is Israel, who has given the Palestinians everything they need to create their own state and to make a life for themselves and their people.
It is the completely dysfunctional Palestinians, whose envy and hate (societally, culturally and religiously inflamed,) have led them to repeatedly refuse the gift given freely by the Israelis. Instead, they cling to their denial of the reality of Israel; they resort to a barbaric and primitive paranoia and projection blaming the Israelis and the Jews for their own squandering of billions of dollars, their own choice to spend that money on weapons and arms instead of schools and institutions that might make the future brighter. Indeed, the homicidal and suicidal rage encouraged by the culture is the only behavioral choice that allows them as a culture to keep their distorted grasp of reality intact.
The social, cultural and religious supports for the individual Palestinians have abjectly failed them and cannot facilitate emotional maturity. And the external social/environmental supports (such as they are) for the entire culture continue to enable the culture's dysfunctional behavior by never permitting them to suffer the consequences of their actions (the enabling by the intellectuals of the West); and by maliciously using their plight for the purpose of oppressing and controlling other middle east populations (the so-called "friends" and fellow muslims of the Islamic world).
Thus, the Palestinians are trapped forever in the grip of an immature, barbaric, and primitive cultural ego; their plight cynically manipulated by their "friends" and fellow muslims; and their dysfunctional behavior rewarded monetarily and excused by the "superior" intellectuals of the West. Homicide and suicide are the lifestyle of choice. [Note: that is why it is especially sickening that the enabling selfless psychopaths in the West, who see themselves as "antiwar" and "peace" activists have chosen to use the headscarf of the Palestinian people as some sort of a fashionable peace symbol. It is indeed a symbol, but not of what they imagine.]
In this sick and pathological environment, Palestinian children have practically no chance whatsoever of growing up to achieve any degree of emotional or psychological maturity. The environment is far too toxic to support ego maturation. And when they are physically mature, they will pass the psychological toxicity onto their own offspring. Hence, generation after generation will miss the opportunity to break out of the cycle of violence and death to make a better life for themselves and their children.
This is what happens when the environment encourages the development of seriously immature psychological defenses.
Meanwhile, the Israelis quietly go on; growing economically, building universities and engaging in civilized behavior, using their psychological and spiritual wisdom as a motivation to keep trying. Surrounded by those who want only to exterminate them, the Israelis have, time and again, refrained for the most part, from giving back what they are receiving. As a society, culture, and a religion, they have achieved a degree of maturity and wisdom that allows them to be dispassionate as well as compassionate, and not indulge in the kind of mass hysteria and dysfunction that is seen daily in their fanatical enemies. As a people they keep on trying and hoping for a breakthrough; because fundamentally, they want to bring about a better life for their children--a simple goal that Jews have always and in all places desired.
SC&A recently touched on these issues here and here and rightly points out:
Now, let’s think about that for a minute. Does anyone seriously believe that there are any Jews, anywhere, that are fixated (read: obsessed) on the Arab world? Does anyone really believe that the vast majority of Jews wake up every morning and ask themselves, ‘What can I do to screw an Arab today?’
Does anyone really believe that Jews- like everybody else- put aside concern for their family, jobs, community and whatever needs they might have, just so they might focus on undermining the Arabs and Arab world?
What could Jews- or anyone else, for that matter, anywhere, do to Arabs what their own dysfunctional political and ‘religious’ leadership haven’t already done to insure the failure of Arab society? As it is, according to the UN Human Development report, the Arab world already has just about the lowest levels of education in the world, save for sub Saharan Africa
What do the Palestinians want? They encourage their children to blow themselves up and die so that the adults can maintain their "honor" and continue on their dysfunctional path of destruction and death. This is not behavior compatible with either individual or cultural health. In fact, it is a culture that is inexorably pursuing death with a breathtaking single-mindedness.
In order to grow psychologically and develop the ego strength to live in a civilized world, the children of Palestine requre a different environment. If some Pied Piper could lead them away from the broken and severely impaired adults; or if someone called those adults to account for the irrational, culturally sanctined malignant narcissism that is cloaked in religious sanctimony--then there might one day be a resolution to the tragedy and a future for today's Palestinian children.
A healthy environment--one that encourages healthy relationships between men and women; and between all individuals--is essential so that children can learn to deal appropriately with loss, sorrow and all the unbearable unfairness of life that characterizes the human condition. In such environments, the individual thrives and both the SELF and the EGO mature and gain the wisdom necessary to change what is able to be changed. In such environments, there is no need to encourage denial, paranoia or projection, because the resultant psychological maturity permits access to those emotional defenses that give meaning and bring satisfaction to life.
Each of the mature defenses which help the mature adult resolve the ambiguities and paradoxes of his or her life, has an inherent paradox associated with it (see the Table below).
It is a most ingenious paradox of life that most civilized societies and cultures encourage and support the individual in the pursuit of his or her own life, happiness and psychological growth. These societies do not lay claim to an individual's life for the glory of the state; and in turn all members of the societey benefit as the culture's productivity, wealth and benevolence all increase.
In other words, paradoxically, those political, economic, cultural and religious factors that encourage what is best for individual growth and maturity, are exactly what encourage the positive evolution and maturation of societies and cultures.
Psychological maturity (which includes both a mature SELF and a mature EGO) makes all the difference in the world between war and peace. Mature psychological defenses enable a creative solution to conflicts in ways that are positive for both the individual and his or her society. This is exactly what the immature defenses--such as denial, projection, paranoia do not do. On the contrary, such defenses almost always in the long run cause not only damage to the individual's developing self, but they also eventually destroy the fundamentals of civilized behavior that can hold a society together and give it a future.
UPDATE: Yesterday, Fausta went to a lecture by the head of the Palestine Liberation Orgaization Mission to the US. She tells me his speech can be summed up in four words: "It's all Israel's fault."
And so it goes.