Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Psychology, Tikkun and Freud

This is the fourth part in a series of posts that constitute the main concern of this blog: What Is Wrong with Israeli Society and How to Repair it. The previous posts are filed under the category “ RepairingIsrael-TheSeries.” The original, somewhat different, Hebrew version of this post may be found here.

Warning: I think I broke the world record for longest post with this one, so if you dare to brave it, take a deep breathe!

Advice: if you read long articles on the internet sometimes it is difficult to focus on where you are exactly, especially if you do a lot of things at once and take your eyes away from the screen. This is why I recommend installing the Paragrasp extension , which highlights the paragraph, you are reading, and the highlight moves along with your keyboard or mouse – it’s indispensable really. Of course it is intended only for Firefox users.

Previously I explained the expression “Tikkun” (Repair), and why this should be done in a scientific manner, with the use of the knowledge available in the field of Psychology. But there are a few more reasons why an understanding of psychology is important to anyone who wishes to Repair the world:

Why Psychology?
Psychology is the science of human behavior and mental function. It tries to explain what the human soul is, how it works and why, and also, if it happens to malfunction,  - how it can be healed. Psychology is a relatively young science, slightly over a hundred years old, but in that short time it has gained an enormous amount of knowledge. A large part of it is, admittedly, quite trivial, but others we may consider extremely useful for the purpose of Repairing the world. To the extent that the knowledge of human behavior gained from psychological research is scientific, i.e. reliable and a true reflection of reality, then it is the first time that such knowledge has been gained. But there are a few more reasons why psychology can be considered crucial for Repairing the world.
First of all psychology has replaced philosophy as the branch of knowledge where assumptions about human nature are put forward, researched and discussed. In point of fact, psychology was actually born out of philosophy, which dealt for hundreds of years with the perennial question “wither man?” This means that as a society, we are acting today upon assumptions about human nature that are based mainly on psychological research and not philosophical surmise. When society considers how to deal with terrorism, unemployment, or the public school system it is assuming a certain human character – it should be in our best interest to check these assumptions, and make sure they accord with the facts.
The second reason is that, as far as I can tell, nearly every thought and every action that we take is accompanied by our own personal assumptions about our own, and other people’s human nature. For the most part we are not aware of these assumptions, and it usually takes a nasty shock to get us to reflect upon them and perhaps change them. in my opinion, our actions in the world will only be as effective as the assumptions that guide them are accurate. In fact, it would be best if we rid ourselves of our assumptions, and based our actions on knowledge.
Orthodox Jews are the third reason for understanding psychology. This is because the orthodox, at least in Israel, do their best to avoid any contact with the secular world, especially the humanities and social sciences. This means that they lack all the useful knowledge that has been gained in the past two centuries in these fields. It also means that their ignorance puts them at the mercy of those that do posses this knowledge and know enough to use it. In comparable physical terms the orthodox are waging cultural war with sticks and stones, against a secular adversary armed with tanks and bombers. This may work for Arabs, but I assure you, this does not work for Jews.
So this series is written for all the Orthodox Jews (and I have known a few) that wish to Repair the world, but lack the appropriate knowledge to act effectively. For them, I wish to present the relevant psychological knowledge from the viewpoint of a believer, while assuring them that not all secular knowledge is an abomination,on the contrary,some of it may be extremely useful.

Which Psychology?
Psychology today has become an enormous field of knowledge. The American Psychological Association lists 53 professional divisions, accumulating an amount of information impossible for one man to digest in his lifetime. So, obviously, some sifting through is called for. In order to gain the widest perspective possible, I will discuss those theories that also bring a broad philosophical approach to their psychological practice. For me this means the theories of Freud, Adler and Jung – the fathers of modern psychology. From my personal experience it seems to me that almost every idea being expressed or researched today in psychology, already has it’s origins in one of these world-embracing theories. In addition to them I will discuss two more practical theories that were created outside of Academia, but with a strong psychological basis. These are Transactional Analysis, and the Imago Theory, both which I have already mentioned in the movie reviews (see here).
In each case I will give a (hopefully) short overview of the theory from a very specific perspective – the point of view of a believer who wishes to understand the world he lives in and how to Repair it. For each theory there will be a second section showing how it may be applied to everyday life in Israel, on the collective level and on a personal level. I also intend to suggest legislation based on these theories that, in my opinion, can help us Repair the world in an effective manner.
Along the way I will use these theories to understand what is meant, psychologically speaking, when we talk about such terms as God, belief, religious, secular, and Repairing the world.

Freud From A Believer’s Perspective
First, a confession: I was never attracted to Freud’s way of thinking. I find his writing intentionally obscure and his reasoning in most cases obviously flawed. Even so, no discussion of psychology and Repair can begin without acknowledging Freud’s significant contribution to our understanding of ourselves. In this case, it is doubly important since Freud’s writing’s and philosophy have had an overpowering effect on Israeli society. We will begin with a brief view of the man himself.

Freud’s Life
Sigmund Freud was born in Czechoslovakia in the year 1856 to a poor Jewish family. While still a child, his family moved to Vienna, there Freud grew up, studied and worked until he was deported by the Nazis in 1938. He died in London one year later.
Freud’s unusual intellectual ability was noted while he was still young, and his family accorded him all the support and encouragement possible to them. He finished his studies in the Vienna Gymnasium with flying colors and moved on to medical studies at the University of Vienna. He was extremely interested in scientific research and for years he studied and did research in the fields of biology and physiology, and would have continued to do so, if not for his precarious financial state which forced him into a more practical occupation. Freud chose to intern in nervous diseases and in the year 1881 received his degree and started to see patients. At this time he also got engaged although financially he was not yet able to get married.
In his first years Freud gained experience in the treatments known at the time, mainly hypnosis and free flowing associative discussion with the patient that led to catharsis and recovery. In time, Freud abandoned hypnosis and switched to a conversation only method of treatment. These conversations revealed to Freud an amazing fact – all of his patients reported childhood sexual experiences, especially involving close family members. Freud became convinced that all mental problems originate in a flawed sexuality, a conviction that his colleagues by no means welcomed nor embraced. Freud returned to his work and began a self-analysis through dreams. After two years of this he felt that he had solved a large portion of his mental problems and became, as a result, a healthier, more rounded human being.
This analysis turned into his most famous book “The Interpretation of Dreams. This book was not received well by his contemporaries, but within a few years a substantial shift occurred in his fortunes. Freud began to write and publish at an incredible rate, and some of the younger doctors found his ideas so intriguing that they asked him to create a weekly discussion group. This group started in 1902 and included Alfred Adler who also lived in Vienna and Carl Jung (who joined later). This group published several periodicals and was the antecedent of psychological associations to follow. Freud reached his peak in the 1920’s and 1930’s. At this time his method of treatment developed into a general theory of human beings and Freud became an honored and respected member of society. During these years he was diagnosed with cancer (Freud, despite his formidable mental health, was a chain smoker) and suffered immense pain and many operations until his death in 1939.

Freudian Theory
Fundamental to Freudian theory is the idea that a dynamic relationship exists between the mind’s different parts (which is why it is called, among other names, psycho-dynamic therapy). At the center of this relationship we find the eternal struggle between man’s instincts, impulses, and desires on one hand, and reality, which painfully restricts their realization on the other. Freud considered the sexual drive to be the most important impulse, even stating that all the psychic energy we posses, our  “libido” is actually sexual energy. From this conclusion he derived another one – that all human creation, including all spiritual and religious creation, has it’s origins in the sexual drive.
The impulses inhabit the unconscious; in the part he called the Id. The ego is the conscious part, mediating between the impulses and reality, or as Freud put it “ the ego mediates between the pleasure principle and the reality principle”. The reality that the ego faces is a social reality, full of terribly constricting rules and prohibitions. Educating the child towards fulfilling the social - moral code begins at birth and is conducted mainly by the parents. In time the social - moral code is internalized by the individual and a new psychic structure is formed – the superego, which oversees every action, thought, and feeling, and judges and critiques them for better and for worse. The ego’s role is to mediate between the Id and the superego, so that we can derive the most pleasure, while accruing the least possible amount of pain. Obviously this is not always possible. There are cases where the ego cannot succeed in compromising between the impulses rising from the id, and the demands of society. The ego may experience such a state of distress that it simply throws the whole unpleasant event as far away as possible – into the unconscious. This action is called repression and is a most important and central tenet of Freudian theory. The psychic energy that was awakened but not used does not simply disappear – it is repressed into the unconscious, and erupts from there in the shape of compulsive behaviors, acts that have nothing to do with the objective reality we are experiencing at the time. In Freud’s words: “ a psychic trauma is formed, and it is expressed in neurotic behavior”.
There are many forms of neurotic reactions to trauma, some of the most important, for our purposes being: (taken from this Wiki)
Denial: occurs when someone fends off awareness of an unpleasant truth or of a reality that is a threat to the ego. For example, a student may have received a bad grade on a report card but tells himself that grades don't matter.
Psychological projection occurs when a person "projects" his or her own undesirable thoughts, motivations, desires, feelings—basically parts of oneself—onto someone or something else. An example of this would be to say that Alice doesn't like Bob, but rather than to admit she doesn't like Bob, she will project her sentiment onto Bob, saying that Bob doesn't like her.
Others are intellectualization and rationalization, both favorites of Jews, as well as compensation, sublimation and displacement.

Freudian Treatment
Many of the psychic traumas occur when we are helpless infants. For instance, a mother breast-feeding her child may cause trauma if she feeds too much, or if she feeds too little. Maybe she is holding the baby too tightly, or maybe not tightly enough. Breast-feeding in and of itself is, for Freud, much more than a simple act of nourishment - it is an act of seduction by the mother. Freud believed that the sexual life of man begins in infancy, and proceeds intensively until the age of five, resuming again only at puberty. In this five-year period the child passes through several psychosexual stages of development, which, if successful, will turn him into a healthy man, and if not – into a neurotic person.
Anyway, let’s get back to our suckling mother – as we mentioned she is seducing her child, and he delights in their close relationship. However the mother realizes that this is an unhealthy situation so she attempts to severe the sexual connection between them. This dependent tie between the infant and his mother is part of the famed Oedipus complex. When the baby refuses to disengage from his mother, she threatens him with castration (no less!), and when even this does not help, she threatens to tell daddy to come and castrate him. Overcome by anxiety, the poor infant agrees to severe the ties of love that bind him to his mother. All of this happens, of course, only in a healthy family. If the family is not healthy, many things can happen to derail the child from the correct path of psychosexual development. Any mishap can cause trauma. The force of the trauma causes events to be repressed into the unconscious and there forgotten. Only psychoanalytical treatment can conjure up these memories, and free the grown man from his trauma and the accompanying neurotic behavior. The harsher the original trauma was, the greater will be the resistance of the patient to disclosing the unconscious contents connected to this trauma. The greater the resistance, the longer and more complicated the treatment will be, lasting in many cases for many, many years. (a prospect which no doubt delighted the poverty stricken Freud, and continues to delight his successors).
Freud was sure that human character is formed in the first five years and that all human behavior can be explained by events that occurred when we were children.
It is possible, for example, that right at this moment, the reader absently scratched his head. It is possible that you scratched your head because it itches. But this is certainly not the only possibility –it may be that you are indulging in obsessive behavior, caused by a childhood trauma, since repressed and completely forgotten. How is one to know the truth? The truth can be reached only through psychoanalytical treatment at the hands of an authorized psychologist. As long as you refuse to undergo proper treatment there is a very good chance that you are neurotic. And it gets worse – your adamant refusal to submit to treatment is proof, in and of itself, of your resistance, and why should you resist, if you are not hiding from psychosexual childhood trauma? If this sort of circular logic flabbergasts you, than I assure you that you are not the first.
If it happens that you are convinced by this logic, and you start treatment, then you will be asked to tell your doctor all your innermost thoughts and feelings. Your associations, the things you choose to tell and the things you withhold, every hesitation, stutter, or slip of the tongue, all your dreams – all of them will be like strands of silk in the hands of the psychological weaver, who will analyze this material (hence the name psychoanalysis) and interpret it for you. The psychologist will present his interpretation as friendly suggestions, as possibilities. However, since his understanding is based on Freudian theory, there is a good chance that you will find out that you were a baby with a very strong sexual drive, which you were forced to repress because of societal prohibitions. It may turn out that your mother seduced you, and then abandoned you, and even threatened to castrate you. You may be asked to recreate the fear, envy and jealousy you felt towards your father when he disposed you from your natural place alongside your mother. Of course, no one is forcing you to accept this interpretation. On the other hand, as long as you disagree, it is obvious that you are still resisting. You may be labeled as a problematic patient, who is having a tough time getting along. In other words – not only are you a sick neurotic man, you can’t even be a proper sick, neurotic man! On the other hand, if you accept the Freudian interpretation of your childhood, the stain of being a bad patient will be removed, the tension between you and your therapist will subside, and you will be able to continue to delve deep into all the details of every childhood trauma, as partners and even as friends, until you feel healthy enough to stop treatment, or until you become bankrupt, whichever comes first.
For the record I would like to state that I do think that such a method of treatment may be effective under certain circumstances (which I will get into in a later post in this series), especially considering that today most therapists, even if they usually accept Freudian theory, still use, in addition, a variety of techniques and theories.
What is important for me to point out here is the one-sided, almost indoctrinary character of the relationship between therapist and patient in Freudian therapy. Of course, the therapist himself went through psychotherapy and was forced to go down the same path – either he accepted the Freudian theory or else he could not have become a therapist. Bottom line is this – if you agree with Freudian theory then obviously you are a healthy, sane man or at least on your way to becoming one. If not, then you are an antagonist, a psychological “Misnaged”, suffering from a neurosis, which must be treated.
Freud once said, according to an account I found in the introduction to “The History of the Psychological Movement” that “We posses the truth. I am sure of it”. This sort of worldview is reflected in his therapy, just described, and it also implies that there are two kinds of people in the world – those who believe in the Truth according to Freud and those who refuse to believe. That is why when Adler and Jung raised questions about the theory, and actually presented facts that it did not explain, there was absolutely no ground whatsoever for a rational discussion between scientists searching together for the truth, because Freud had already found it, and like every other prophet – his word was final. In this situation the only course of action is excommunication and boycott. This is why I was not surprised to hear Jungian therapists described by Freudians as  “heretics” a term that is used to this day.
(I recall that famed psychologist and author I. Yalom uses it in at least one of his books).
Even so, I am sure Freud would be at least amused to note that his theories are treated by many as religious dogma, and his books cherished almost like Jews cherish the Torah. Probably he would have been shocked too because he was utterly unequivocal on the matter of religion.

Freud’s Treatment of Religion, God and Faith
In Freud’s opinion, religion is a sign of mental illness, belief in God a neurosis, God Himself – a frail cobweb of delusions. Freud had no patience for religion, and had only one positive thing to say about it: “ Clearly, religion has done a great service to humanity, and contributed much, though not enough, to repressing anti-social impulses” (from The Future of an Illusion). In other words, religion helped to develop the superego, the conscience, and therefore, human culture. But in Freud’s view, it is time to admit that religion does not satisfy our needs, and that it is better for humanity to do without this illusion. According to Freud, this delusion originates in childhood, and as the helpless child gazes adoringly at his all-powerful father, so does the grown man. As we grow up and we realize how impotent we are as humans, when we face our insignificance to the world and society, it is then that we recreate the childhood experience. The all-knowing omnipotent father of our childhood is re-created as a protecting God of Deliverance. Freud actually thought that this would not be so bad if not for one thing – the tone of sanctity that accompanies so many human thoughts and behaviors, and as a result – distorts them. Freud was sure that scientific achievement, past, present and future will enable humanity to renounce the illusion of faith in god, and desist from all the religious practices that seemed to him, from day to day, more ridiculous and out of touch than ever. Religion is a mental illness: “ We may view religion as a general human compulsive neurosis, and like that of a child it has it’s origins in the Oedipus complex, in the relationship with the father” (Ibid).
Freud predicted that a growing number of people will stop believing in God, stop participating in the various religions and accept the fact that the reality that we live in is extremely painful, that we humans are puny, and largely helpless, and he also thought people would come to accept all this without the aid of the emotional crutches called Religion and Faith.
In short:  a mentally healthy man is a secular man.
The negative attitude towards faith and religion is part of a general negative stance toward the past:
“ We say to ourselves that it would be all well and good if there was a benign Creator, a Divine Providence, if there was a Moral order in the world and an afterlife, but it is obvious that this is just wishful thinking. And it would be extraordinary if our impoverished forefathers, ignorant, and enslaved could have solved all the difficult riddles of the world” (Ibid.)
The reader is free to draw his own conclusion about Freud’s approach to the bible. He does address this issue indirectly in his book “Moses and Monotheism”. Here Freud tries to prove that Moses was an Egyptian priest, member of an Egyptian monotheistic cult persecuted by Pharaoh. Moses was forced to escape, adopting on the way the Hebraic tribe, and forcing upon them this new religion. As a reward for this service, and in keeping with Freudian theory whereby every son wishes to slaughter his father (see Totem & Taboo for the details), the People of Israel proceeded to murder Moses, and, feeling guilty about it, accepted the new religion. So, who led Israel 40 years in the desert? No problem says Freud – a different, additional Moses led them to the Promised Land.(I swear I am not making this up!)
We can also learn about Freud’s attitude to the bible in a more indirect manner. Many of the most important events in the bible are dreams. What does Freud have to say about dreams? According to his theory, dreams are an expression of an unfulfilled wish, or impulse. Therefore dreams can teach us a lot about our unconscious desires, frustrations, and traumas. Every dream has a double meaning – the overt, obvious one, and the hidden, latent meaning, which is the true one.
Let’s say that a young child wakes up in the middle of the night to the voice of someone calling his name. He gets up, walks around, sees no one and goes back to sleep. After a while he again hears this voice calling his name (for artistic purposes we’ll call him Samuel). Again he wakes up, walks around –no one is there! What does all this mean? Freudian theory most likely would say that once a person starts hearing voices in his head and projects them onto the world, then he is in big trouble. It would be recommended that the parents of this child send him in for diagnoses and treatment. The last thing you want to do in this situation would be to cooperate with this delusion, and if someone dared to tell this boy that he is hearing the voice of God – why, he is doing the poor lad no favors, and should probably be committed himself!

Repairing the World According to Freud
While explaining the term “Tikkun”  I pointed out that for me, Tikkun begins with the individual. I stated that first we should find out what the Repaired individual looks like and then we should tailor our institutions accordingly. So, what is Freud’s version of the Repaired man, the mentally healthy man?
Freud stated that during our crucial childhood years we undergo several stages of psychosexual development, inevitably accompanied by various degrees of trauma. Everyone is traumatized to some degree and therefore we are all neurotics. The difference between a healthy neurotic and a sick neurotic is the degree to which their neurosis enables them to function normally in society, to be productive and fulfill their ambitions. From this we can conclude that a man is considered healthy relative to the society he lives in.
People are also distinctive in the degree of reason they possess. Freud thought that the history of mankind is the history of the war between human reason and human drives, and especially between the sex drive and the death drive. For him reason was the greatest virtue a man can possess. He assumed that if people would reason, they would realize that society’s prohibitions are intended to serve them and that they actually serve to arrange human relationships in the best possible manner. When people would realize this, said Freud, a large part of their resistance to the dictates of civilization will fade away, and so will a large part of their neurosis. The key concept here is Reason:
Our hope for the future is that our mind – the spirit of science, reason – will, in time, establish itself as the dictator of man’s spiritual life. The nature of reason is such that it will not deprive the senses…” Unfortunately, only the few have been bestowed with this gift: “ in the same manner that we cannot avoid cultural coercion, so we cannot avoid the controlling of the masses by the few, for the masses are weak and lack intelligence” (Ibid)
Freud’s ideal man is a man of reason, who uses his mind to control his impulses. Of course, this is a man who has no illusions, no faith, no God, and no religion whatsoever. This is a man who gets along with society, and is a productive part of it. He gets his satisfaction from sublimating his drives into a spiritual, intellectual endeavor, perhaps engaging in an artistic pursuit, or some other cultured enterprise. It is clear that reasonable people seek treatment for their neuroses, and that only such people can be held responsible for their actions because all the rest, the “masses that lack intelligence” are motivated by unconscious impulses, by unfulfilled childish wishes that ceaselessly seek the light of day in the adult world.
So. Now that we know what a “Repaired” man is in Freud’s world, then it is not difficult to describe the Freudian Repaired world:  it is, actually, just like this one!
It is a world where a constant struggle exists, between the sex drive and the death drive; between the pleasure principle and the reality we live in. This is a world of unavoidable conflicts, a world of existential loneliness, a world without the comfort of God or religion, or true love between man and wife, and, sadly, a world devoid of any meaning. This is a pretty gloomy world to live in and Freud realized it. But he was absolutely sure that this was the best possible world, and he truly believed that in this world we must do our best to extract the most pleasure, with the minimum pain, and finally, he believed that psychoanalysis can help everyone achieve this. The role of psychoanalysis, to use a well-known Israeli proverb, is “to ease the despair” (from a popular Hebrew song “London”- Hebrew lyrics here- sung by Chava Alberstein, and written by the essence of Freudian art in Israel, the well-known and much acclaimed playwright, Hanoch Levine).
Obviously, then, Freudian psychology is far from being a psychology of faith. It has no redemption and Repair, neither for the individual, nor for society. It has no faith, no God, for the most part no individual responsibility, and no objective morality. Finally, from a believer’s point of view, the worst thing about Psychoanalysis is the hopelessness of it all.

If Freud did not discover The Truth, at least he did discover some very important truths. He was the first to treat the unconscious as an important object of scientific research that we can learn much from. He was the first, in the modern era, to use dreams as a major tool in learning about humans and helping them. He discovered and named many mental phenomenons, chiefly repression and it’s various guises. He was one of the first to ascribe mental causes to physical ailments, and connect between a man’s behavior and his unconscious. He was the first to attribute the human soul with an independent economy of energy.
Actually, for the most part, there is no question about the validity of many of the psychic facts he found and described. The main argument, continuing to this day, is with his interpretation of those facts, and especially the dogmatic theory that he wove around them, a theory that is very far from scientific practice, and much closer to religious dogma. Perhaps it is ironic that Freud’s theory, intended to abolish faith of all kinds, has become a pseudo-religion in and of itself, proving that no matter what – human beings have to believe in something.

Has all this affected Israeli society? Indeed it has, in my opinion, immensely. I will try to prove it in the next post.

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