Popular myths have led many to believe that mental health disorders are untreatable. As a result, a lot of people who suffer don't seek help. In fact most mental disorders are treatable. The treatment success rate for schizophrenia is 60 percent, 65 percent for major depression, and 80 percent for bipolar disorder. The success rate for treatments of heart disease, on the other hand, is only 40 - 50 percent.
A variety of treatments are available to improve symptoms. In fact, for most mental disorders there is more than one proven treatment. Most fall under two general categories, psychosocial and pharmacological. The combination of the two - known as multimodal therapy - can sometimes be even more effective than each individually.
Although there is a wide range of treatments, the stigma and fear associated with mental illness prevents many from seeking help. The longer mental illness goes untreated the more serious, and less treatable, the illness can become. Early identification and intervention of mental illness is key to getting your life back on track.
For more facts about mental illness and how a book called "Catch a Falling Star: A Tale from the Iris the Dragon Series" is helping parents identify and understand early onset mental illness visit www.iristhedragon.com.
Monday, October 22, 2007
Popular myths have led many to believe that mental health disorders are untreatable. As a result, a lot of people who suffer don't seek help. In fact most mental disorders are treatable. The treatment success rate for schizophrenia is 60 percent, 65 percent for major depression, and 80 percent for bipolar disorder. The success rate for treatments of heart disease, on the other hand, is only 40 - 50 percent.
Warm summer days filled with bright sunshine aren't always good for you. Over exposure to sunlight can cause serious sunburn, pain and the long-term risk of skin cancer. St. John Ambulance, Canada's leader in safety-oriented™ first aid training and products, points out that you can still enjoy sun if you reduce risk by taking precautions.
People with fair skin are most susceptible to sunburns. However, no matter what the skin type, the harmful effects of the sun, such as sunburn, can be sustained by anyone.
Prevention is your best defense. Use a sunscreen strong enough to block out harmful rays. Remember to apply it liberally many times over the course of a day in the sun as it will soak into skin, evaporate and be washed off in water.
Don't stay outdoors for extended periods without covering exposed skin. Never leave tender skin exposed for more than a few minutes at a time. Wear a light, sun repellent cover over bathing suits or other light clothing. Always keep your head and eyes protected.
First Aid for sunburn
Sunburns can be very serious. Ranging from mild discomfort to severe burning over a large portion of the body, extreme sunburn can be further complicated by heatstroke. For minor sunburn, St. John Ambulance suggests the following first aid:Check the casualty thoroughly to determine the extent and severity of the burn.Get out of the sun immediately.Cover the burn with a wet towel or gently sponge the area with cool water to relieve pain.Pat the skin dry and apply medicated sunburn ointment or lotion. Apply according to directions on the package and watch for warning signs of an allergic reaction.Protect burnt areas from further exposure to the sun.Don't break blisters - doing so may promote infection. If large areas of the skin begin to blister, seek medical help.If the casualty begins to vomit or develops a fever, give first aid for heatstroke and get medical help.
First Aid for heatstroke
Heatstroke is a life-threatening condition in which the body's temperature rises far above normal. The body's temperature control mechanism fails, sweating may stop and the body temperature rises rapidly. When you notice rapid pulse, noisy breathing, convulsions or vomiting and hot, flushed skin, give first aid for heatstroke.Check the casualty for symptoms of heatstroke. Lowering the body temperature is the most urgent first aid for heatstroke.Move the casualty to a cool, shaded place or indoors if possible. Call for medical help.Cool the casualty by removing clothing, covering with a wet sheet, immersing in cool water or sponging with cool water, especially in the armpits, neck and groin areas.When the body feels cool to the touch, cover the casualty with a dry sheet. If temperature begins to rise again, repeat step three.Continue to monitor the casualty until medical help is available.
St. John Ambulance is Canada's leader in first aid training and products. For more than 118 years, St. John Ambulance has provided services to prevent injury and reduce suffering. For more information on high quality St. John Ambulance training and products, contact the branch nearest you or visit our website, www.sja.ca.
When callers to the Canadian Cancer Society's information service connect with Isabelle Wilson, they're talking to someone who's been there herself.
The Christmas of 1997 was turned upside down for the Montreal mother of three. Days before the holiday she learned she had a rare tumour on her left lung. The lung was removed on Christmas Eve. Wilson was a 30-year-old non-smoker and had a six-month-old baby at home. Even her doctors were stunned.
"Everything went so fast," she says. "I didn't know what was happening to me."
Worse, Wilson had to recuperate during the infamous ice storm, which knocked out power and heat to her home for days. Eventually she turned to the Canadian Cancer Society's information service for support and help in understanding her condition. It was a life-changing call. Three years later, Wilson joined the service herself.
"Knowing there was a professional there who was with me and researching this disease too meant a lot. I felt a lot less isolated," says Wilson, a biologist and former health services worker. "One morning I woke up and said, 'I have to do this job.'"
The service is Canada's toll-free bilingual source of cancer information. Trained and caring specialists provide information about cancer and community resources. This helps newly diagnosed patients and their families understand their condition and act as informed members of their healthcare team.
When you want to know more about cancer, call the Canadian Cancer Society's information service at 1 888 939-3333 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bug Bites… The Itch May Be The Least Of Your Worries
by: Dr. Brian Aw, M.D., and C.C.F.P. (courtesy of News Canada)
(NC)-In most cases insect bites are harmless and if left alone, the irritation will subside within 48 hours.
However, for some people, particularly children, scratching bites may lead to a highly contagious bacterial skin infection called impetigo. Left unchecked, impetigo can spread to other parts of the body and even from person to person.
As a family physician, I recommend the following tips to ensure you and your family maximize your summer fun and avoid this irritating skin disease:
Apply an effective insect repellent as directed. As an alternative to chemical-based repellents, I recommend citronella-based products such as Natrapel®, particularly for young children.
Avoid scratching. To calm the itching, traditional products such as calamine lotion may be useful. I also recommend my patients use AfterBite®, a product designed to neutralize the allergens that cause the itch.
Keep fingernails short and clean. The bacteria streptococcal, which causes impetigo, hides under fingernails and enters the body when scratching the bite. Children are more vulnerable to this disease because streptococcal is often found in sand piles where kids play.
Recognize the symptoms. Impetigo is characterized by a red bump on the skin where yellow pus accumulates and dries, leaving a scab that can be itchy.
Protect the infection. Impetigo spreads easily through direct body contact, sharing towels, bedding and clothes. Although it is not a serious disease, it needs immediate attention to stop it from spreading.
Seek treatment. The best way to avoid impetigo is to treat a bug bite as soon as possible. Should impetigo develop, oral antibiotics and antibiotic creams may be required as prescribed by your doctor.
Dr. Brian Aw is a general practitioner, specializing in travel medicine.
For tips on bug bite prevention and product information visit: www.tendercorp.com/canada.
Editors: These articles are for use in Ontario only
Book Helps Families Deal With Mental Illness
by: News Canada
(NC)-More people than ever are taking care of their our bodies through proper nutrition and exercise. They realize that the human body is a finely tuned machine that needs on-going maintenance. The same however cannot be said for the mind. Without proper care, our brains can suffer from degeneration and, in some cases, mental disorder. Author Gayle Grass emphasizes the importance of healthy brains in her new children's illustrated book called "Catch a Falling Star: A Tale from the Iris the Dragon Series,". Intended to create awareness and act as a positive tool for dialogue within families, "Catch a Falling Star," deals with mental health and illness, the importance of early diagnosis, and how to handle the unfounded stigma.Endorsed by some of Canada's top child psychiatrists, "Catch a Falling Star" teaches families that every child at times encounters emotions or behavior that can cause problems in their lives. "This book has an important and powerful message - we must listen to our children, and respond with wisdom and support to their fears and worries, and make use of available specialists to reduce suffering and distress," says Dr. Joe Beitchman, Clinical Director for the Child Psychiatry Program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.For more facts about mental illness and how "Catch a Falling Star: A Tale from the Iris the Dragon Series" is helping parents identify and understand early onset mental illness visit www.iristhedragon.com.
A Day In The Life Of A Cancer Information Specialist
by: News Canada
(NC)-The lines can crackle from hundreds of miles away, but it's the telephone that has brought nurse Donna Kennedy closer to those she wants to help.
Kennedy is one of the caring pairs of ears in the Regina, Saskatchewan call centre of the Canadian Cancer Society's information service. There, trained information specialists answer questions from Canadians across the country looking for information about cancer and community resources. This helps newly diagnosed patients and their families understand their condition and act as informed members of their healthcare team.
Once a nurse to cancer patients in a local hospital, Kennedy found the pressures of having to do more with less and mounting paperwork were pulling her away from where she wanted to be - with patients.
Joining the service as an information specialist nearly six years ago has "brought that part of me back that I was missing in the hospital," says Kennedy, a married mom of two young adults. "Even though it's over the telephone you bond quite quickly with people because it's so intimate."
The Canadian Cancer Society's information service is Canada's toll-free bilingual source of cancer information. The Regina centre is one of four call centres across the country - other centres are in Hamilton, Montreal and Vancouver.
Averaging 25 calls a day herself, Kennedy says her role is sometimes like "a translator," explaining the confusing medical jargon patients often hear when first diagnosed.
"Some days the calls are very difficult. Sometimes a caller is very upset because a family member is dying," says Kennedy, who supported her husband in his cancer recovery 19 years ago. "I try to be very understanding and to support people in whatever their trouble is.
"People tend to apologize a lot when they're very upset. But there's nothing they have to be sorry about ... We're there to help the person, to provide ideas for them and options."
No matter where the caller lives, information specialists can give information about such things as risk reduction, treatments, drugs, clinical trials, and support groups in the caller's region, helped by a computer database listing approximately 7,000 community services nationwide.
"I really enjoy helping people and teaching," says Kennedy. "It's been a wonderful experience to know you are able to help people with any questions or concerns they may have regarding cancer."
When you want to know more about cancer, call the Canadian Cancer Society's information service at 1 888 939-3333 or e-mail email@example.com.
Successful Weight-loss Pointers
by: Regena English
Well we're at it again, trying to honor our promise on New Year's Day to lose weight and tone up those flabby parts. Although the year's still young more than half of our New Year's Resolutioners have strayed from their promise of fitness and or weightloss. The reasons may vary as to why their resolutions have been pushed to the side, one common compliant is difficulty in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Why? It's difficulty to break old HABITS!
For so long we've had a life of overindulgence with the foods that are considered taboo, now we're expecting ourselves to enjoy doing without those favorites with no effort whatsoever. Rather than ease into a new way of eating through gradual elimination of our no no foods we jump in with both feet not expecting any backlash. To our surprise we have reactions ranging from endless cravings,headaches, stomach and intestinal discomforts.Some pointers for being successful this year:
As mentioned above ease into your new eating plans, gradually eliminate forbidden foods from diet. As far as exercise is concern give yourself plenty of time to build your endurance, don't attempt to workout for two hours the first day and you've been sedentary for twenty years.
Set goals that are short term. Instead of setting a long-term goal to lose forty pounds this year, lose four pounds a month.
When you feel anxious and desperate to reach your goal in a hurry remind yourself of past day,week, or month's progress. Losing alot of weight in a hurry leaves little time to adjust lifestyle habits for long-term success.
If you're not able to reach your goals alone join a support group that reflects you. Stop by http://www.onelist.com and peruse their categories of health and fitness surely you'll find a list for a individual like yourself.
Have hobbies and other outside interests so you're sure to get a mental break from your goal. Thinking to much about having to lose forty pounds can depress even the most enthusiastic of persons.
Don't be afraid to take time out of your day to relax your nerves and do nothing but enjoy that moment.
Use you imagination to see yourself after reaching your goal. The more vivid the mind picture the better, doing this will enlist the aid of the subconscious. It has been said that our goals are 10% actual work and 90% mental. So don't be afraid to be child-like in using your imagination to help you reach your goals without sweat and strain.
Always remember, "What the mind can conceive it can achieve!"
Conquering the Common Cold
by: Mari Peckham
What do we know about the Common Cold?
No Cure. Antibiotics, designed to knock out bacterial infections, do nothing when it comes to treating a cold.
None of us are safe! No matter how strong and healthy we are, an occasional cold will reduce us to whimpering, sneezing, coughing versions of our former selves.
So, what do we do? Lay back with a box of tissue, pop a couple of cold tabs and wait it out? Not necessarily! Doctors who specialize in self-care medicine say that there is a lot more that we can do to get through a cold comfortably, and possibly more quickly! Here is some of the best advice that experts have to offer on the subject.
Vitamin C - "Vitamin C works in the body as a scavenger, picking up all sorts of trash - including virus trash," Says Keith W. Sehnert, M.D., a physician with Trinity Health Care in Minneapolis, Minnesota. "It can shorten the length of a cold from seven days to maybe two or three."
Studies conducted at the University of Wisconsin found that cold sufferers taking 500 milligrams of vitamin C four times a day suffered from about half as many symptoms (coughing, sneezing. etc) as those not taking the vitamin.
Best way to get it? Drink it! Orange, grapefruit, and cranberry juices are excellent sources of vitamin C.
Zinc - Suck on zinc lozenges and cut your cold short, to an average of just 4 days! It also can help reduce symptoms such as dry, irritated throat. Unfortunately, it doesn't work for everyone, but when it works, it works!
R and R - Take a day or two off of work, or at least slow down! Extra rest enables your body to focus it's energy on getting you well.
Stay Warm - Keep your immune system cozy by bundling up against the cold. This way your body can use energy to fight your cold instead of protecting you from the cold.
Eat Lightly - Eat, but steer clear of foods that put a strain on your body's metabolism. Eat fewer fatty foods, meat and milk products, and eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.
Chicken Soup - A silly folk remedy? No! Researchers at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach have found that hot chicken soup, either because of its aroma or its taste, "appears to possess an additional substance for increasing the flow of nasal mucus." Researchers say that this mucus serves as a first line of defense in removing germs from your system, so eat up!
Liquids - Drink six to eight glasses of water, juice, tea, and other mostly clear liquids daily to keep the body hydrated and to flush out impurities.
NO Smoking! - Smoking aggravates the throat and interferes with the infection-fighting activity of the cilia, the microscopic "fingers" that sweep bacteria out of your lungs and throat. Even if you don't quit for good, at least stop for the duration of your cold.
Salty Gargle - Dr. Van Ert of San Francisco advises mixing 1 teaspoon of salt into a glass of warm water and gargling away whenever your throat hurts.
Hot Toddy - Get a good night's sleep and clear a stuffed-up nose by sipping a "hot toddy" or a half a glass of wine before bedtime, suggests Dr. Caughron, a family practitioner specializing in preventive medicine in Charlottesville, Virginia. But don't go overboard! More alcohol than that can stress out your system and make recovery more difficult.
Get Steamed - Clear congestion and relieve a dry cough by taking a hot steamy shower. Or make a steam tent by draping a towel over your head above a bowl of boiling water.
Keep Your Germs to Yourself - Cough and blow away, but do it into a disposable tissue instead of sharing them! Then promptly throw the tissue away and wash your hands.
Medicate - If you decide to take over the counter medication, follow the instructions carefully and only take medication that addresses the symptoms that you are suffering from.
Looking for alternatives to drugs? Try these herbs and teas that contain special properties that are natural antagonists against colds!
Goldenseal and Echinacea - "I recommend herb capsules such as goldenseal and echinacea at the early onset of a cold," says Elson Haas, M.D. He says that goldenseal stimulates your liver, which helps to clear up infections. Echinacia clean your blood and lymph glands, helping circulate infection-fighting antibodies and removing toxic substances from the body. Try one or two capsules twice a day for up to two weeks.
Garlic - Garlic is known for its antibiotic effect and "can actually kill germs and clear up your cold symptoms more rapidly," says Dr. Haas. He recommends two or three oil-free garlic capsules three times a day.
Licorice Root Tea - Dr Van Ert recommends this teas for it's anesthetizing effects for soothing irritated throats and relieving coughs.
Other Teas - Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime tea, or tea brewed with hops or valarian her, have natural tranquilizing effects that will help you rest. Add a teaspoon of honey, a simple carbohydrate that has a sedative effect.
Monolaurian - Dr. Van Ert also recommends this fatty acid (available in capsule form) for it's antiviral effect. He recommends taking two capsules three times a day with some food, for helping the immune system stay fit to battle the cold virus.
A cold may be something that we have to live with, and through, but finding ways to make the best of it will help you get back on your feet in record time.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder Tips
by: Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.
FIVE DON'T DO'S
How to Avoid the Wrath of the Narcissist
Never disagree with the narcissist or contradict him
Never offer him any intimacy
Look awed by whatever attribute matters to him (for instance: by his professional achievements or by his good looks, or by his success with women and so on)
Never remind him of life out there and if you do, connect it somehow to his sense of grandiosity
Do not make any comment, which might directly or indirectly impinge on his self-image, omnipotence, judgment, omniscience, skills, capabilities, professional record, or even omnipresence. Bad sentences start with: "I think you overlooked ... made a mistake here ... you don't know ... do you know ... you were not here yesterday so ... you cannot ... you should ... (perceived as rude imposition, narcissists react very badly to restrictions placed on their freedom) ... I (never mention the fact that you are a separate, independent entity, narcissists regard others as extensions of their selves, their internalization processes were screwed up and they did not differentiate properly) ..." You get the gist of it.
The TEN DO'S
How to Make your Narcissist Dependent on You
If you INSIST on Staying with Him
Listen attentively to everything the narcissist says and agree with it all. Don't believe a word of it but let it slide as if everything is just fine, business as usual.
Personally offer something absolutely unique to the narcissist which they cannot obtain anywhere else. Also be prepared to line up future sources of primary NS for your narcissist because you will not be IT for very long, if at all. If you take over the procuring function for the narcissist, they become that much more dependent on you which makes it a bit tougher for them to pull their haughty stuff - an inevitability, in any case.
Be endlessly patient and go way out of your way to be accommodating, thus keeping the narcissistic supply flowing liberally, and keeping the peace (relatively speaking).
Be endlessly giving. This one may not be attractive to you, but it is a take it or leave it proposition.
Be absolutely emotionally and financially independent of the narcissist. Take what you need: the excitement and engulfment and refuse to get upset or hurt when the narcissist does or says something dumb, rude, or insensitive. Yelling back works really well but should be reserved for special occasions when you fear your narcissist may be on the verge of leaving you; the silent treatment is better as an ordinary response, but it must be carried out without any emotional content, more with the air of boredom and "I'll talk to you later, when I am good and ready, and when you are behaving in a more reasonable fashion".
If your narcissist is cerebral and NOT interested in having much sex - then give yourself ample permission to have "hidden" sex with other people. Your cerebral narcissist will not be indifferent to infidelity so discretion and secrecy is of paramount importance.
If your narcissist is somatic and you don't mind, join in on endlessly interesting group sex encounters but make sure that you choose properly for your narcissist. They are heedless and very undiscriminating in respect of sexual partners and that can get very problematic (STDs and blackmail come to mind).
If you are a "fixer", then focus on fixing situations, preferably before they become "situations". Don't for one moment delude yourself that you can FIX the narcissist - it simply will not happen. Not because they are being stubborn - they just simply can't be fixed.
If there is any fixing that can be done, it is to help your narcissist become aware of their condition, and this is VERY IMPORTANT, with no negative implications or accusations in the process at all. It is like living with a physically handicapped person and being able to discuss, calmly, unemotionally, what the limitations and benefits of the handicap are and how the two of you can work with these factors, rather than trying to change them.
FINALLY, and most important of all: KNOW YOURSELF.
What are you getting from the relationship? Are you actually a masochist? A codependent perhaps? Why is this relationship attractive and interesting?
Define for yourself what good and beneficial things you believe you are receiving in this relationship.
Define the things that you find harmful TO YOU. Develop strategies to minimize the harm to yourself. Don't expect that you will cognitively be able to reason with the narcissist to change who they are. You may have some limited success in getting your narcissist to tone down on the really harmful behaviours THAT AFFECT YOU which emanate from the unchangeable WHAT the narcissist is. This can only be accomplished in a very trusting, frank and open relationship.
(Co-authored with Alice Ratzlaff)
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) At a Glance
by: Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.
Most narcissists (75%) are men.
NPD is one of a "family" of personality disorders (formerly known as "Cluster B").
Other members: Borderline PD, Antisocial PD and Histrionic PD.
NPD is often diagnosed with other mental health disorders ("co-morbidity") - or with substance abuse, or impulsive and reckless behaviours ("dual diagnosis").
NPD is new (1980) mental health category in the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual (DSM).
There is only scant research regarding narcissism. But what there is has not demonstrated any ethnic, social, cultural, economic, genetic, or professional predilection to NPD.
It is estimated that 0.7-1% of the general population suffer from NPD.
Pathological narcissism was first described in detail by Freud. Other major contributors are: Klein, Horney, Kohut, Kernberg, Millon, Roningstam, Gunderson, Hare.
The onset of narcissism is in infancy, childhood and early adolescence. It is commonly attributed to childhood abuse and trauma inflicted by parents, authority figures, or even peers.
There is a whole range of narcissistic reactions - from the mild, reactive and transient to the permanent personality disorder.
Narcissists are either "Cerebral" (derive their narcissistic supply from their intelligence or academic achievements) - or "Somatic" (derive their narcissistic supply from their physique, exercise, physical or sexual prowess and "conquests").
Narcissists are either "Classic" - see definition below - or they are "Compensatory", or "Inverted" - see definitions here: "The Inverted Narcissist".
NPD is treated in talk therapy (psychodynamic or cognitive-behavioural). The prognosis for an adult narcissist is poor, though his adaptation to life and to others can improve with treatment. Medication is applied to side-effects and behaviours (such as mood or affect disorders and obsession-compulsion) - usually with some success.
Please read CAREFULLY!
The text in italics is NOT based on the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual, Fourth Edition (1994).
The text in italics IS based on "Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited", second, revised, printing (2001)
An all-pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behaviour), need for admiration or adulation and lack of empathy, usually beginning by early adulthood and present in various contexts. Five (or more) of the following criteria must be met:
Feels grandiose and self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents to the point of lying, demands to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
Is obsessed with fantasies of unlimited success, fame, fearsome power or omnipotence, unequalled brilliance (the cerebral narcissist), bodily beauty or sexual performance (the somatic narcissist), or ideal, everlasting, all-conquering love or passion
Firmaly convinced that he or she is unique and, being special, can only be understood by, should only be treated by, or associate with, other special or unique, or high-status people (or institutions)
Requires excessive admiration, adulation, attention and affirmation - or, failing that, wishes to be feared and to be notorious (narcissistic supply)
Feels entitled. Expects unreasonable or special and favourable priority treatment. Demands automatic and full compliance with his or her expectations
Is "interpersonally exploitative", i.e., uses others to achieve his or her own ends
Devoid of empathy. Is unable or unwilling to identify with or acknowledge the feelings and needs of others
Constantly envious of others or believes that they feel the same about him or her
Arrogant, haughty behaviours or attitudes coupled with rage when frustrated, contradicted, or confronted
Some of the language in the criteria above is based on or summarized from:
American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, fourth edition (DSM IV). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
The text in italics is based on:
Sam Vaknin. (2001). Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited, second, revised, printing. Prague and Skopje: Narcissus Publication.
For the exact language of the DSM IV criteria - please refer to the manual itself !!!
Metaphors of the Mind (Part II)
by: Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.
Storytelling has been with us since the days of campfire and besieging wild animals. It served a number of important functions: amelioration of fears, communication of vital information (regarding survival tactics and the characteristics of animals, for instance), the satisfaction of a sense of order (justice), the development of the ability to hypothesize, predict and introduce theories and so on.
We are all endowed with a sense of wonder. The world around us in inexplicable, baffling in its diversity and myriad forms. We experience an urge to organize it, to "explain the wonder away", to order it in order to know what to expect next (predict). These are the essentials of survival. But while we have been successful at imposing our mind's structures on the outside world – we have been much less successful when we tried to cope with our internal universe.
The relationship between the structure and functioning of our (ephemeral) mind, the structure and modes of operation of our (physical) brain and the structure and conduct of the outside world have been the matter of heated debate for millennia. Broadly speaking, there were (and still are) two ways of treating it:
There were those who, for all practical purposes, identified the origin (brain) with its product (mind). Some of them postulated the existence of a lattice of preconceived, born categorical knowledge about the universe – the vessels into which we pour our experience and which mould it. Others have regarded the mind as a black box. While it was possible in principle to know its input and output, it was impossible, again in principle, to understand its internal functioning and management of information. Pavlov coined the word "conditioning", Watson adopted it and invented "behaviourism", Skinner came up with "reinforcement". The school of epiphenomenologists (emergent phenomena) regarded the mind as the by product of the brain's "hardware" and "wiring" complexity. But all ignored the psychophysical question: what IS the mind and HOW is it linked to the brain?
The other camp was more "scientific" and "positivist". It speculated that the mind (whether a physical entity, an epiphenomenon, a non-physical principle of organization, or the result of introspection) – had a structure and a limited set of functions. They argued that a "user's manual" could be composed, replete with engineering and maintenance instructions. The most prominent of these "psychodynamists" was, of course, Freud. Though his disciples (Adler, Horney, the object-relations lot) diverged wildly from his initial theories – they all shared his belief in the need to "scientify" and objectify psychology. Freud – a medical doctor by profession (Neurologist) and Bleuler before him – came with a theory regarding the structure of the mind and its mechanics: (suppressed) energies and (reactive) forces. Flow charts were provided together with a method of analysis, a mathematical physics of the mind.
But this was a mirage. An essential part was missing: the ability to test the hypotheses, which derived from these "theories". They were all very convincing, though, and, surprisingly, had great explanatory power. But - non-verifiable and non-falsifiable as they were – they could not be deemed to possess the redeeming features of a scientific theory.
Deciding between the two camps was and is a crucial matter. Consider the clash - however repressed - between psychiatry and psychology. The former regards "mental disorders" as euphemisms - it acknowledges only the reality of brain dysfunctions (such as biochemical or electric imbalances) and of hereditary factors. The latter (psychology) implicitly assumes that something exists (the "mind", the "psyche") which cannot be reduced to hardware or to wiring diagrams. Talk therapy is aimed at that something and supposedly interacts with it.
But perhaps the distinction is artificial. Perhaps the mind is simply the way we experience our brains. Endowed with the gift (or curse) of introspection, we experience a duality, a split, constantly being both observer and observed. Moreover, talk therapy involves TALKING - which is the transfer of energy from one brain to another through the air. This is directed, specifically formed energy, intended to trigger certain circuits in the recipient brain. It should come as no surprise if it were to be discovered that talk therapy has clear physiological effects upon the brain of the patient (blood volume, electrical activity, discharge and absorption of hormones, etc.).
All this would be doubly true if the mind was, indeed, only an emergent phenomenon of the complex brain - two sides of the same coin.
Psychological theories of the mind are metaphors of the mind. They are fables and myths, narratives, stories, hypotheses, conjunctures. They play (exceedingly) important roles in the psychotherapeutic setting – but not in the laboratory. Their form is artistic, not rigorous, not testable, less structured than theories in the natural sciences. The language used is polyvalent, rich, effusive, and fuzzy – in short, metaphorical. They are suffused with value judgements, preferences, fears, post facto and ad hoc constructions. None of this has methodological, systematic, analytic and predictive merits.
Still, the theories in psychology are powerful instruments, admirable constructs of the mind. As such, they are bound to satisfy some needs. Their very existence proves it.
The attainment of peace of mind is a need, which was neglected by Maslow in his famous rendition. People will sacrifice material wealth and welfare, will forgo temptations, will ignore opportunities, and will put their lives in danger – just to reach this bliss of wholeness and completeness. There is, in other words, a preference of inner equilibrium over homeostasis. It is the fulfilment of this overriding need that psychological theories set out to cater to. In this, they are no different than other collective narratives (myths, for instance).
In some respects, though, there are striking differences:
Psychology is desperately trying to link up to reality and to scientific discipline by employing observation and measurement and by organizing the results and presenting them using the language of mathematics. This does not atone for its primordial sin: that its subject matter is ethereal and inaccessible. Still, it lends an air of credibility and rigorousness to it.
The second difference is that while historical narratives are "blanket" narratives – psychology is "tailored", "customized". A unique narrative is invented for every listener (patient, client) and he is incorporated in it as the main hero (or anti-hero). This flexible "production line" seems to be the result of an age of increasing individualism. True, the "language units" (large chunks of denotates and connotates) are one and the same for every "user". In psychoanalysis, the therapist is likely to always employ the tripartite structure (Id, Ego, Superego). But these are language elements and need not be confused with the plots. Each client, each person, and his own, unique, irreplicable, plot.
To qualify as a "psychological" plot, it must be:
All-inclusive (anamnetic) – It must encompass, integrate and incorporate all the facts known about the protagonist.
Coherent – It must be chronological, structured and causal.
Consistent – Self-consistent (its subplots cannot contradict one another or go against the grain of the main plot) and consistent with the observed phenomena (both those related to the protagonist and those pertaining to the rest of the universe).
Logically compatible – It must not violate the laws of logic both internally (the plot must abide by some internally imposed logic) and externally (the Aristotelian logic which is applicable to the observable world).
Insightful (diagnostic) – It must inspire in the client a sense of awe and astonishment which is the result of seeing something familiar in a new light or the result of seeing a pattern emerging out of a big body of data. The insights must be the logical conclusion of the logic, the language and of the development of the plot.
Aesthetic – The plot must be both plausible and "right", beautiful, not cumbersome, not awkward, not discontinuous, smooth and so on.
Parsimonious – The plot must employ the minimum numbers of assumptions and entities in order to satisfy all the above conditions.
Explanatory – The plot must explain the behaviour of other characters in the plot, the hero's decisions and behaviour, why events developed the way that they did.
Predictive (prognostic) – The plot must possess the ability to predict future events, the future behaviour of the hero and of other meaningful figures and the inner emotional and cognitive dynamics.
Therapeutic – With the power to induce change (whether it is for the better, is a matter of contemporary value judgements and fashions).
Imposing – The plot must be regarded by the client as the preferable organizing principle of his life's events and the torch to guide him in the darkness to come.
Elastic – The plot must possess the intrinsic abilities to self organize, reorganize, give room to emerging order, accommodate new data comfortably, avoid rigidity in its modes of reaction to attacks from within and from without.
In all these respects, a psychological plot is a theory in disguise. Scientific theories should satisfy most of the same conditions. But the equation is flawed. The important elements of testability, verifiability, refutability, falsifiability, and repeatability – are all missing. No experiment could be designed to test the statements within the plot, to establish their truth-value and, thus, to convert them to theorems.
There are four reasons to account for this shortcoming:
Ethical – Experiments would have to be conducted, involving the hero and other humans. To achieve the necessary result, the subjects will have to be ignorant of the reasons for the experiments and their aims. Sometimes even the very performance of an experiment will have to remain a secret (double blind experiments). Some experiments may involve unpleasant experiences. This is ethically unacceptable.
The Psychological Uncertainty Principle – The current position of a human subject can be fully known. But both treatment and experimentation influence the subject and void this knowledge. The very processes of measurement and observation influence the subject and change him.
Uniqueness – Psychological experiments are, therefore, bound to be unique, unrepeatable, cannot be replicated elsewhere and at other times even if they deal with the SAME subjects. The subjects are never the same due to the psychological uncertainty principle. Repeating the experiments with other subjects adversely affects the scientific value of the results.
The undergeneration of testable hypotheses – Psychology does not generate a sufficient number of hypotheses, which can be subjected to scientific testing. This has to do with the fabulous (=storytelling) nature of psychology. In a way, psychology has affinity with some private languages. It is a form of art and, as such, is self-sufficient. If structural, internal constraints and requirements are met – a statement is deemed true even if it does not satisfy external scientific requirements.
So, what are plots good for? They are the instruments used in the procedures, which induce peace of mind (even happiness) in the client. This is done with the help of a few embedded mechanisms:
The Organizing Principle – Psychological plots offer the client an organizing principle, a sense of order and ensuing justice, of an inexorable drive toward well defined (though, perhaps, hidden) goals, the ubiquity of meaning, being part of a whole. It strives to answer the "why’s" and "how’s". It is dialogic. The client asks: "why am I (here follows a syndrome)". Then, the plot is spun: "you are like this not because the world is whimsically cruel but because your parents mistreated you when you were very young, or because a person important to you died, or was taken away from you when you were still impressionable, or because you were sexually abused and so on". The client is calmed by the very fact that there is an explanation to that which until now monstrously taunted and haunted him, that he is not the plaything of vicious Gods, that there is who to blame (focussing diffused anger is a very important result) and, that, therefore, his belief in order, justice and their administration by some supreme, transcendental principle is restored. This sense of "law and order" is further enhanced when the plot yields predictions which come true (either because they are self-fulfilling or because some real "law" has been discovered).
The Integrative Principle – The client is offered, through the plot, access to the innermost, hitherto inaccessible, recesses of his mind. He feels that he is being reintegrated, that "things fall into place". In psychodynamic terms, the energy is released to do productive and positive work, rather than to induce distorted and destructive forces.
The Purgatory Principle – In most cases, the client feels sinful, debased, inhuman, decrepit, corrupting, guilty, punishable, hateful, alienated, strange, mocked and so on. The plot offers him absolution. Like the highly symbolic figure of the Saviour before him – the client's sufferings expurgate, cleanse, absolve, and atone for his sins and handicaps. A feeling of hard won achievement accompanies a successful plot. The client sheds layers of functional, adaptive clothing. This is inordinately painful. The client feels dangerously naked, precariously exposed. He then assimilates the plot offered to him, thus enjoying the benefits emanating from the previous two principles and only then does he develop new mechanisms of coping. Therapy is a mental crucifixion and resurrection and atonement for the sins. It is highly religious with the plot in the role of the scriptures from which solace and consolation can be always gleaned.
Metaphors of the Mind (Part I)
by: Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.
The brain (and, by implication, the Mind) has been compared to the latest technological innovation in every generation. The computer metaphor is now in vogue. Computer hardware metaphors were replaced by software metaphors and, lately, by (neuronal) network metaphors. Such attempts to understand by comparison are common in every field of human knowledge. Architects and mathematicians have lately come up with the structural concept of "tensegrity" to explain the phenomenon of life. The tendency of humans to see patterns and structures everywhere (even where there are none) is well documented and probably has its survival value added.
Another trend is to discount these metaphors as erroneous, irrelevant, or deceptively misleading. Yet, these metaphors are generated by the same Mind that is to be described by them. The entities or processes to which the brain is compared are also "brain-children", the results of "brain-storming", conceived by "minds". What is a computer, a software application, a communications network if not a (material) representation of cerebral events?
In other words, a necessary and sufficient connection must exist between ANYTHING created by humans and the minds of humans. Even a gas pump must have a "mind-correlate". It is also conceivable that representations of the "non-human" parts of the Universe exist in our minds, whether a-priori (not deriving from experience) or a-posteriori (dependent upon experience). This "correlation", "emulation", "simulation", "representation" (in short : close connection) between the "excretions", "output", "spin-offs", "products" of the human mind and the human mind itself - is a key to understanding it.
This claim is an instance of a much broader category of claims: that we can learn about the artist by his art, about a creator by his creation, and generally: about the origin by any of its derivatives, inheritors, successors, products and similes.
This general contention is especially strong when the origin and the product share the same nature. If the origin is human (father) and the product is human (child) - there is an enormous amount of data to be safely and certainly derived from the product and these data will surely apply to the origin. The closer the origin and the product - the more we can learn about the origin. The computer is a "thinking machine" (however limited, simulated, recursive and mechanical). Similarly, the brain is a "thinking machine" (admittedly much more agile, versatile, non-linear, maybe even qualitatively different). Whatever the disparity between the two (and there is bound to be a large one), they must be closely related to one another. This close relatedness is by virtue of two facts: (1) They are both "thinking machines" and, much more important: (2) the latter is the product of the former. Thus, the computer metaphor is unusually strong. Should an organic computer come to be, the metaphor will strengthen. Should a quantum computer be realized - some aspects of the metaphor will, undoubtedly, be enhanced.
By the way, the converse hypothesis is not necessarily true: that by knowing the origin we can anticipate the products. There are too many free variables here. The existence of a product "collapses" our set of probabilities and increases our knowledge - to use Bohr's metaphor.
The origin exists as a "wave function": a series of potentialities with attached probabilities, the potentials being the logically and physically possible products.
But what can be learned about the origin by a crude comparison to the product? Mostly traits and attributes related to structure and to function. These are easily observable. Is this sufficient? Can we learn anything about the "true nature" of the origin? The answer is negative. It is negative in general: we can not aspire or hope to know anything about the "true nature" of anything. This is the realm of metaphysics, not of physics. Quantum Mechanics provides an astonishingly accurate description of micro-processes and of the Universe without saying anything meaningful about both. Modern physics strives to predict rightly - rather to expound upon this or that worldview. It describes - it does not explain. Where interpretations are offered (e.g., the Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum Mechanics) they run into insurmountable obstacles and philosophical snags. Thus, modern science is metaphorical and uses a myriad of metaphors (particles and waves, to mention but two prominent ones). Metaphors have proven themselves to be useful scientific tools in the "thinking scientist's" kit.
Moreover, a metaphor can develop and its development closely traces the developmental phases of the origin. Take the computer software metaphor as an example:
At the dawn of computing the composition of software applications was serial, in machine language and with strict separation of data (called: "structures") and instruction code (called: "functions" or "procedures"). This was really a "biological" phase akin to the development of the embryonic brain (mind). The machine language closely matched the physical wiring of the hardware. In the case of biology, the instructions (DNA) are also insulated from the data (amino acids and other life substances). Databases were handled on a "listing" basis ("flat file"), were serial and had no intrinsic relationship to each other (an alphabetic order is an extrinsic order, imposed from the outside and existing only in the mind of the "imposer"). They were in the state of a substrate, ready to be acted upon. Only when "mixed" in the computer (as the application was run) did functions operate on structures.
This was, quite expectedly, followed by the "relational" organization of data (a primitive example of which is the spreadsheet). Data items were related to each other through mathematical formulas. This is the equivalent of the wiring of the brain, as the pregnancy progresses.
The latest evolutionary phase has been the OOPS (Object Oriented Programming Systems). Objects are modules which contain BOTH data and instructions in self contained units. The user is acquainted with the FUNCTIONS performed by these objects - but not with their STRUCTURE, INTERNAL COMMUNICATIONS AND PROCESSES. Objects, in other words, are "black boxes" (am engineering term). The programmer is unable to tell HOW the object does what it does, how does external, useful function arise from internal, hidden ones. Objects are epiphenomenal, emergent, phase transient. In short: much closer to reality as we came to describe it in modern physics.
Communication can be established among these black boxes - but it is not the communication (its speed or efficacy) that determine the overall efficiency of the system. It is the hierarchical and at the same time fuzzy organization of the objects which does the trick. Objects are organized in classes which define their (actualized and potential) properties. The object's behaviour (what it does and to what it is allowed to react) is defined by its very belonging to the class. Moreover, a principle of "inheritance" is in operation: objects can be organized in new (sub) classes, inherit all the definitions and characteristics of the original class plus new properties which distinguish it from its origin. In a way, these newly emergent classes are the products and the classes that they derived from are the origin. This process so closely resembles natural phenomena that it lends additional credibility to the metaphor.
Thus, classes can be used as building blocks. Their permutations define the set of all soluble problems. It can be proven that Turing Machines are a private instance of a general, much stronger, class theory (back to the Principia Mathematica). The integration of hardware (computer, brain) and software (computer applications, mind) is done through "framework applications" which adjust the two elements structurally and functionally. An equivalent must be found in the brain (a priori categories, a collective unconscious?).
We use the term evolution because one phase replaces another. Relational databases cannot be integrated with object oriented ones, for instance. To run Java applets, a "virtual machine" needs to be embedded in the operating system. These phases closely resemble the development of the brain-mind couplet.
When is a metaphor a good metaphor? When it teaches us something about the origin that could not have been gleaned without it. That it must possess some structural and functional resemblance we have already established. But this is not enough. This is merely the "quantitative, observational" aspect of the metaphor. There is also a qualitative one: it must be instructive, revealing, insightful, aesthetic, parsimonious - in short, it must establish a theory and the resulting hypotheses. A metaphor is a theory which is the result of given logical and aesthetic rules. It must be subjected to the rigorous testing demanded by science before it can be judged to be a reliable one.
If the software metaphor is correct, the brain must contain the following features:
Parity checks through back propagation of signals - the electrochemical signal in a neurone must move back (to its origin) and forward, simultaneously in order to establish a feedback parity loop
The neurone cannot be a binary (two state) machine (a quantum computer will be a multi-state one, for instance). It must have many levels of excitement (representation of information). The threshold ("all or nothing" firing") hypothesis must be wrong
Redundancy must be evident in all the aspects and dimensions of the brain and its activities: the hardware (different centres will perform similar tasks), communications (information transfer channels will be replicated and the same information will be simultaneously transferred over more than one as a basis for comparison), retrieval (data excitation will happen in a few spots at the same time) and usage of obtained data (through working, "upper" memory).
The basic concept of the working of the brain must be the comparison of "representation elements" to "models of the world". Thus, a coherent picture is obtained which allows for predictions and for manipulation of the environment in effective, result producing ways.
Many of the functions solved by the brain must be recursive. To a large extent, we could even half expect to find that we can reduce all the activities of the brain to computational, mechanically solvable, recursive functions. Should this happen, the brain will come to be regarded as a Turing Machine and the wildest dreams of Artificial Intelligence will come true. Until such time, however, a strong recursive streak should be evident in the operations of this magnificent contraption inside our heads.
The brain must be a learning, self organizing, entity.
Only if these six requirement are cumulatively met - can we say that the software metaphor is a strong one. Otherwise, we should be forced to neglect it in favour of a stronger one.
The brain is a paranoiac machine governed by Murphy's Laws. It assumes the worst, prepares for it and takes no chances. Precariously balanced, materially delicate, in charge of life itself it can - and does - take no chances.
The Iron Mask - The Common Sources of Personality Disorders
by: Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.
Do all personality disorders have a common psychodynamic source?
To what stage of personal development can we attribute this common source?
Can the paths leading from that common source to each of these disorders be charted?
Will positive answers to the above endow us with a new understanding of these pernicious conditions?
Anger is a compounded phenomenon. It has dispositional properties, expressive and motivational components, situational and individual variations, cognitive and excitatory interdependent manifestations and psychophysiological (especially neuroendocrine) aspects. From the psychobiological point of view, it probably had its survival utility in early evolution, but it seems to have lost a lot of it in modern societies. Actually, in most cases it is counterproductive, even dangerous. Dysfunctional anger is known to have pathogenic effects (mostly cardiovascular).
Most personality disordered people are prone to be angry. Their anger is always sudden, raging, frightening and without an apparent provocation by an outside agent. It would seem that people suffering from personality disorders are in a CONSTANT state of anger, which is effectively suppressed most of the time. It manifests itself only when the person's defences are down, incapacitated, or adversely affected by circumstances, inner or external. We have pointed at the psychodynamic source of this permanent, bottled-up anger, elsewhere in this book. In a nutshell, the patient was, usually, unable to express anger and direct it at "forbidden" targets in his early, formative years (his parents, in most cases). The anger, however, was a justified reaction to abuses and mistreatment. The patient was, therefore, left to nurture a sense of profound injustice and frustrated rage. Healthy people experience anger, but as a transitory state. This is what sets the personality disordered apart: their anger is always acute, permanently present, often suppressed or repressed. Healthy anger has an external inducing agent (a reason). It is directed at this agent (coherence).
Pathological anger is neither coherent, not externally induced. It emanates from the inside and it is diffuse, directed at the "world" and at "injustice" in general. The patient does identify the IMMEDIATE cause of the anger. Still, upon closer scrutiny, the cause is likely to be found lacking and the anger excessive, disproportionate, incoherent. To refine the point: it might be more accurate to say that the personality disordered is expressing (and experiencing) TWO layers of anger, simultaneously and always. The first layer, the superficial anger, is indeed directed at an identified target, the alleged cause of the eruption. The second layer, however, is anger directed at himself. The patient is angry at himself for being unable to vent off normal anger, normally. He feels like a miscreant. He hates himself. This second layer of anger also comprises strong and easily identifiable elements of frustration, irritation and annoyance.
While normal anger is connected to some action regarding its source (or to the planning or contemplation of such action) – pathological anger is mostly directed at oneself or even lacks direction altogether. The personality disordered are afraid to show that they are angry to meaningful others because they are afraid to lose them. The Borderline Personality Disordered is terrified of being abandoned, the narcissist (NPD) needs his Narcissistic Supply Sources, the Paranoid – his persecutors and so on. These people prefer to direct their anger at people who are meaningless to them, people whose withdrawal will not constitute a threat to their precariously balanced personality. They yell at a waitress, berate a taxi driver, or explode at an underling. Alternatively, they sulk, feel anhedonic or pathologically bored, drink or do drugs – all forms of self-directed aggression. From time to time, no longer able to pretend and to suppress, they have it out with the real source of their anger. They rage and, generally, behave like lunatics. They shout incoherently, make absurd accusations, distort facts, pronounce allegations and suspicions. These episodes are followed by periods of saccharine sentimentality and excessive flattering and submissiveness towards the victim of the latest rage attack. Driven by the mortal fear of being abandoned or ignored, the personality disordered debases and demeans himself to the point of provoking repulsion in the beholder. These pendulum-like emotional swings make life with the personality disordered difficult.
Anger in healthy persons is diminished through action. It is an aversive, unpleasant emotion. It is intended to generate action in order to eradicate this uncomfortable sensation. It is coupled with physiological arousal. But it is not clear whether action diminishes anger or anger is used up in action. Similarly, it is not clear whether the consciousness of anger is dependent on a stream of cognition expressed in words? Do we become angry because we say that we are angry (=we identify the anger and capture it) – or do we say that we are angry because we are angry to start with?
Anger is induced by numerous factors. It is almost a universal reaction. Any threat to one's welfare (physical, emotional, social, financial, or mental) is met with anger. But so are threats to one's affiliates, nearest, dearest, nation, favourite football club, pet and so on. The territory of anger is enlarged to include not only the person – but all his real and perceived environment, human and non-human. This does not sound like a very adaptative strategy. Threats are not the only situations to be met with anger. Anger is the reaction to injustice (perceived or real), to disagreements, to inconvenience. But the two main sources of anger are threat (a disagreement is potentially threatening) and injustice (inconvenience is injustice inflicted on the angry person by the world).
These are also the two sources of personality disorders. The personality disordered is moulded by recurrent and frequent injustice and he is constantly threatened both by his internal and by his external universes. No wonder that there is a close affinity between the personality disordered and the acutely angry person.
And, as opposed to common opinion, the angry person becomes angry whether he believes that what was done to him was deliberate or not. If we lose a precious manuscript, even unintentionally, we are bound to become angry at ourselves. If his home is devastated by an earthquake – the owner will surely rage, though no conscious, deliberating mind was at work. When we perceive an injustice in the distribution of wealth or love – we become angry because of moral reasoning, whether the injustice was deliberate or not. We retaliate and we punish as a result of our ability to morally reason and to get even. Sometimes even moral reasoning is lacking, as in when we simply wish to alleviate a diffuse anger.
What the personality disordered does is: he suppresses the anger, but he has no effective mechanisms of redirecting it in order to correct the inducing conditions. His hostile expressions are not constructive – they are destructive because they are diffuse, excessive and, therefore, unclear. He does not lash out at people in order to restore his lost self-esteem, his prestige, his sense of power and control over his life, to recover emotionally, or to restore his well being. He rages because he cannot help it and is in a self-destructive and self-loathing mode. His anger does not contain a signal, which could alter his environment in general and the behaviour of those around him, in particular. His anger is primitive, maladaptive, pent up.
Anger is a primitive, limbic emotion. Its excitatory components and patterns are shared with sexual excitation and with fear. It is cognition that guides our behaviour, aimed at avoiding harm and aversion or at minimising them. Our cognition is in charge of attaining certain kinds of mental gratification. An analysis of future values of the relief-gratification versus repercussions (reward to risk) ratio – can be obtained only through cognitive tools. Anger is provoked by aversive treatment, deliberately or unintentionally inflicted. Such treatment must violate either prevailing conventions regarding social interactions or some otherwise deeply ingrained sense of what is fair and what is just. The judgement of fairness or justice (namely, the appraisal of the extent of compliance with conventions of social exchange) – is also cognitive.
The angry person and the personality disordered both suffer from a cognitive deficit. They are unable to conceptualise, to design effective strategies and to execute them. They dedicate all their attention to the immediate and ignore the future consequences of their actions. In other words, their attention and information processing faculties are distorted, skewed in favour of the here and now, biased on both the intake and the output. Time is "relativistically dilated" – the present feels more protracted, "longer" than any future. Immediate facts and actions are judged more relevant and weighted more heavily than any remote aversive conditions. Anger impairs cognition.
The angry person is a worried person. The personality disordered is also excessively preoccupied with himself. Worry and anger are the cornerstones of the edifice of anxiety. This is where it all converges: people become angry because they are excessively concerned with bad things which might happen to them. Anger is a result of anxiety (or, when the anger is not acute, of fear).
The striking similarity between anger and personality disorders is the deterioration of the faculty of empathy. Angry people cannot empathise. Actually, "counter-empathy" develops in a state of acute anger. All mitigating circumstances related to the source of the anger – are taken as meaning to devalue and belittle the suffering of the angry person. His anger thus increases the more mitigating circumstances are brought to his attention. Judgement is altered by anger. Later provocative acts are judged to be more serious – just by "virtue" of their chronological position. All this is very typical of the personality disordered. An impairment of the empathic sensitivities is a prime symptom in many of them (in the Narcissistic, Antisocial, Schizoid and Schizotypal Personality Disordered, to mention but four).
Moreover, the aforementioned impairment of judgement (=impairment of the proper functioning of the mechanism of risk assessment) appears in both acute anger and in many personality disorders. The illusion of omnipotence (power) and invulnerability, the partiality of judgement – are typical of both states. Acute anger (rage attacks in personality disorders) is always incommensurate with the magnitude of the source of the emotion and is fuelled by extraneous experiences. An acutely angry person usually reacts to an ACCUMULATION, an amalgamation of aversive experiences, all enhancing each other in vicious feedback loops, many of them not directly related to the cause of the specific anger episode. The angry person may be reacting to stress, agitation, disturbance, drugs, violence or aggression witnessed by him, to social or to national conflict, to elation and even to sexual excitation. The same is true of the personality disordered. His inner world is fraught with unpleasant, ego-dystonic, discomfiting, unsettling, worrisome experiences. His external environment – influenced and moulded by his distorted personality – is also transformed into a source of aversive, repulsive, or plainly unpleasant experiences. The personality disordered explodes in rage – because he implodes AND reacts to outside stimuli, simultaneously. Because he is a slave to magical thinking and, therefore, regards himself as omnipotent, omniscient and protected from the consequences of his own acts (immune) – the personality disordered often acts in a self-destructive and self-defeating manner. The similarities are so numerous and so striking that it seems safe to say that the personality disordered is in a constant state of acute anger.
Finally, acutely angry people perceive anger to have been the result of intentional (or circumstantial) provocation with a hostile purpose (by the target of their anger). Their targets, on the other hand, invariably regard them as incoherent people, acting arbitrarily, in an unjustified manner.
Replace the words "acutely angry" with the words "personality disordered" and the sentence would still remain largely valid.
The Cultural Narcissist - Lasch In An Age Of Diminishing Expectations
by: Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.
"The new narcissist is haunted not by guilt but by anxiety. He seeks not to inflict his own certainties on others but to find a meaning in life. Liberated from the superstitions of the past, he doubts even the reality of his own existence. Superficially relaxed and tolerant, he finds little use for dogmas of racial and ethnic purity but at the same time forfeits the security of group loyalties and regards everyone as a rival for the favors conferred by a paternalistic state. His sexual attitudes are permissive rather than puritanical, even though his emancipation from ancient taboos brings him no sexual peace. Fiercely competitive in his demand for approval and acclaim, he distrusts competition because he associates it unconsciously with an unbridled urge to destroy. Hence he repudiates the competitive ideologies that flourished at an earlier stage of capitalist development and distrusts even their limited expression in sports and games. He extols cooperation and teamwork while harboring deeply antisocial impulses. He praises respect for rules and regulations in the secret belief that they do not apply to himself. Acquisitive in the sense that his cravings have no limits, he does not accumulate goods and provisions against the future, in the manner of the acquisitive individualist of nineteenth-century political economy, but demands immediate gratification and lives in a state of restless, perpetually unsatisfied desire."
(Christopher Lasch - The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an age of Diminishing Expectations, 1979)
"A characteristic of our times is the predominance, even in groups traditionally selective, of the mass and the vulgar. Thus, in intellectual life, which of its essence requires and presupposes qualification, one can note the progressive triumph of the pseudo-intellectual, unqualified, unqualifiable..."
(Jose Ortega y Gasset - The Revolt of the Masses, 1932)
Can Science be passionate? This question seems to sum up the life of Christopher Lasch, erstwhile a historian of culture later transmogrified into an ersatz prophet of doom and consolation, a latter day Jeremiah. Judging by his (prolific and eloquent) output, the answer is a resounding no.
There is no single Lasch. This chronicler of culture, did so mainly by chronicling his inner turmoil, conflicting ideas and ideologies, emotional upheavals, and intellectual vicissitudes. In this sense, of (courageous) self-documentation, Mr. Lasch epitomized Narcissism, was the quintessential Narcissist, the better positioned to criticize the phenomenon.
Some "scientific" disciplines (e.g., the history of culture and History in general) are closer to art than to the rigorous (a.k.a. "exact" or "natural" or "physical" sciences). Lasch borrowed heavily from other, more established branches of knowledge without paying tribute to the original, strict meaning of concepts and terms. Such was the use that he made of "Narcissism".
"Narcissism" is a relatively well-defined psychological term. I expound upon it elsewhere ("Malignant self Love - Narcissism Re-Visited"). The Narcissistic Personality Disorder - the acute form of pathological Narcissism - is the name given to a group of 9 symptoms (see: DSM-4). They include: a grandiose Self (illusions of grandeur coupled with an inflated, unrealistic sense of the Self), inability to empathize with the Other, the tendency to exploit and manipulate others, idealization of other people (in cycles of idealization and devaluation), rage attacks and so on. Narcissism, therefore, has a clear clinical definition, etiology and prognosis.
The use that Lasch makes of this word has nothing to do with its usage in psychopathology. True, Lasch did his best to sound "medicinal". He spoke of "(national) malaise" and accused the American society of lack of self-awareness. But choice of words does not a coherence make.
ANALYTIC SUMMARY OF KIMBALL
Lasch was a member, by conviction, of an imaginary "Pure Left". This turned out to be a code for an odd mixture of Marxism, religious fundamentalism, populism, Freudian analysis, conservatism and any other -ism that Lasch happened to come across. Intellectual consistency was not Lasch's strong point, but this is excusable, even commendable in the search for Truth. What is not excusable is the passion and conviction with which Lasch imbued the advocacy of each of these consecutive and mutually exclusive ideas.
"The Culture of Narcissism - American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations" was published in the last year of the unhappy presidency of Jimmy Carter (1979). The latter endorsed the book publicly (in his famous "national malaise" speech).
The main thesis of the book is that the Americans have created a self-absorbed (though not self aware), greedy and frivolous society which depended on consumerism, demographic studies, opinion polls and Government to know and to define itself. What is the solution?
Lasch proposed a "return to basics": self-reliance, the family, nature, the community, and the Protestant work ethic. To those who adhere, he promised an elimination of their feelings of alienation and despair.
The apparent radicalism (the pursuit of social justice and equality) was only that: apparent. The New Left was morally self-indulgent. In an Orwellian manner, liberation became tyranny and transcendence - irresponsibility. The "democratization" of education: "...has neither improved popular understanding of modern society, raised the quality of popular culture, nor reduced the gap between wealth and poverty, which remains as wide as ever. On the other hand, it has contributed to the decline of critical thought and the erosion of intellectual standards, forcing us to consider the possibility that mass education, as conservatives have argued all along, is intrinsically incompatible with the maintenance of educational standards".
Lasch derided capitalism, consumerism and corporate America as much as he loathed the mass media, the government and even the welfare system (intended to deprive its clients of their moral responsibility and indoctrinate them as victims of social circumstance). These always remained the villains. But to this - classically leftist - list he added the New Left. He bundled the two viable alternatives in American life and discarded them both. Anyhow, capitalism's days were numbered, a contradictory system as it was, resting on "imperialism, racism, elitism, and inhuman acts of technological destruction". What was left except God and the Family?
Lasch was deeply anti-capitalist. He rounded up the usual suspects with the prime suspect being multinationals. To him, it wasn't only a question of exploitation of the working masses. Capitalism acted as acid on the social and moral fabrics and made them disintegrate. Lasch adopted, at times, a theological perception of capitalism as an evil, demonic entity. Zeal usually leads to inconsistency of argumentation: Lasch claimed, for instance, that capitalism negated social and moral traditions while pandering to the lowest common denominator. There is a contradiction here: social mores and traditions are, in many cases, THE lowest common denominator. Lasch displayed a total lack of understanding of market mechanisms and the history of markets. True, markets start out as mass-oriented and entrepreneurs tend to mass- produce to cater to the needs of the newfound consumers. However, as markets evolve - they fragment. Individual nuances of tastes and preferences tend to transform the mature market from a cohesive, homogenous entity - to a loose coalition of niches. Computer aided design and production, targeted advertising, custom made products, personal services - are all the outcomes of the maturation of markets. It is where capitalism is absent that uniform mass production of goods of shoddy quality takes over. This may have been Lasch's biggest fault: that he persistently and wrong-headedly ignored reality when it did not serve his pet theorizing. He made up his mind and did not wish to be confused by the facts. The facts are that all the alternatives to the known four models of capitalism (the Anglo-Saxon, the European, the Japanese and the Chinese) have failed miserably and have led to the very consequences that Lasch warned against… in capitalism. It is in the countries of the former Soviet Bloc, that social solidarity has evaporated, that traditions were trampled upon, that religion was brutally suppressed, that pandering to the lowest common denominator was official policy, that poverty - material, intellectual and spiritual - became all pervasive, that people lost all self reliance and communities disintegrated.
There is nothing to excuse Lasch: the Wall fell in 1989. An inexpensive trip would have confronted him with the results of the alternatives to capitalism. That he failed to acknowledge his life-long misconceptions and compile the Lasch errata cum mea culpa is the sign of deep-seated intellectual dishonesty. The man was not interested in the truth. In many respects, he was a propagandist. Worse, he combined an amateurish understanding of the Economic Sciences with the fervor of a fundamentalist preacher to produce an absolutely non-scientific discourse.
Let us analyze what he regarded as the basic weakness of capitalism (in "The True and Only Heaven", 1991): its need to increase capacity and production ad infinitum in order to sustain itself. Such a feature would have been destructive if capitalism were to operate in a closed system. The finiteness of the economic sphere would have brought capitalism to ruin. But the world is NOT a closed economic system. 80,000,000 new consumers are added annually, markets globalize, trade barriers are falling, international trade is growing three times faster than the world’s GDP and still accounts for less than 15% of it, not to mention space exploration which is at its inception. The horizon is, for all practical purposes, unlimited. The economic system is, therefore, open. Capitalism will never be defeated because it has an infinite number of consumers and markets to colonize. That is not to say that capitalism will not have its crises, even crises of over-capacity. But such crises are a part of the business cycle not of the underlying market mechanism. They are adjustment pains, the noises of growing up - not the last gasps of dying. To claim otherwise is either to deceive or to be spectacularly ignorant not only of economic fundamentals but of what is happening in the world. It is as intellectually rigorous as the "New Paradigm" which says, in effect, that the business cycle and inflation are both dead and buried.
Lasch's argument: capitalism must forever expand if it is to exist (debatable) - hence the idea of "progress", an ideological corollary of the drive to expand - progress transforms people into insatiable consumers (apparently, a term of abuse).
But this is to ignore the fact that people create economic doctrines (and reality, according to Marx) - not the reverse. In other words, the consumers created capitalism to help them maximize their consumption. History is littered with the remains of economic theories, which did not match the psychological makeup of the human race. There is Marxism, for instance. The best theorized, most intellectually rich and well-substantiated theory must be put to the cruel test of public opinion and of the real conditions of existence. Barbarous amounts of force and coercion need to be applied to keep people functioning under contra-human-nature ideologies such as communism. A horde of what Althusser calls Ideological State Apparatuses must be put to work to preserve the dominion of a religion, ideology, or intellectual theory which do not amply respond to the needs of the individuals that comprise society. The Socialist (more so the Marxist and the malignant version, the Communist) prescriptions were eradicated because they did not correspond to the OBJECTIVE conditions of the world. They were hermetically detached, and existed only in their mythical, contradiction-free realm (to borrow again from Althusser).
Lasch commits the double intellectual crime of disposing of the messenger AND ignoring the message: people are consumers and there is nothing we can do about it but try to present to them as wide an array as possible of goods and services. High brow and low brow have their place in capitalism because of the preservation of the principle of choice, which Lasch abhors. He presents a false predicament: he who elects progress elects meaninglessness and hopelessness. Is it better - asks Lasch sanctimoniously - to consume and live in these psychological conditions of misery and emptiness? The answer is self evident, according to him. Lasch patronizingly prefers the working class undertones commonly found in the petite bourgeois: "its moral realism, its understanding that everything has its price, its respect for limits, its skepticism about progress... sense of unlimited power conferred by science - the intoxicating prospect of man's conquest of the natural world".
The limits that Lasch is talking about are metaphysical, theological. Man's rebellion against God is in question. This, in Lasch's view, is a punishable offence. Both capitalism and science are pushing the limits, infused with the kind of hubris which the mythological Gods always chose to penalize (remember Prometheus?). What more can be said about a man that postulated that "the secret of happiness lies in renouncing the right to be happy". Some matters are better left to psychiatrists than to philosophers. There is megalomania, too: Lasch cannot grasp how could people continue to attach importance to money and other worldly goods and pursuits after his seminal works were published, denouncing materialism for what it was - a hollow illusion? The conclusion: people are ill informed, egotistical, stupid (because they succumb to the lure of consumerism offered to them by politicians and corporations).
America is in an "age of diminishing expectations" (Lasch's). Happy people are either weak or hypocritical.
Lasch envisioned a communitarian society, one where men are self made and the State is gradually made redundant. This is a worthy vision and a vision worthy of some other era. Lasch never woke up to the realities of the late 20th century: mass populations concentrated in sprawling metropolitan areas, market failures in the provision of public goods, the gigantic tasks of introducing literacy and good health to vast swathes of the planet, an ever increasing demand for evermore goods and services. Small, self-help communities are not efficient enough to survive - though the ethical aspect is praiseworthy:
"Democracy works best when men and women do things for themselves, with the help of their friends and neighbors, instead of depending on the state."
"A misplaced compassion degrades both the victims, who are reduced to objects of pity, and their would-be benefactors, who find it easier to pity their fellow citizens than to hold them up to impersonal standards, attainment of which would entitle them to respect. Unfortunately, such statements do not tell the whole."
No wonder that Lasch has been compared to Mathew Arnold who wrote:
"(culture) does not try to teach down to the level of inferior classes; ...It seeks to do away with classes; to make the best that has been thought and known in the world current everywhere... the men of culture are the true apostles of equality. The great men of culture are those who have had a passion for diffusing, for making prevail, for carrying from one end of society to the other, the best knowledge, the best ideas of their time."
(Culture and Anarchy) – a quite elitist view.
Unfortunately, Lasch, most of the time, was no more original or observant than the average columnist:
"The mounting evidence of widespread inefficiency and corruption, the decline of American productivity, the pursuit of speculative profits at the expense of manufacturing, the deterioration of our country's material infrastructure, the squalid conditions in our crime-rid- den cities, the alarming and disgraceful growth of poverty, and the widening disparity between poverty and wealth … growing contempt for manual labor... growing gulf between wealth and poverty... the growing insularity of the elites... growing impatience with the constraints imposed by long-term responsibilities and commitments."
Paradoxically, Lasch was an elitist. The very person who attacked the "talking classes" (the "symbolic analysts" in Robert Reich's less successful rendition) - freely railed against the "lowest common denominator". True, Lasch tried to reconcile this apparent contradiction by saying that diversity does not entail low standards or selective application of criteria. This, however, tends to undermine his arguments against capitalism. In his typical, anachronistic, language:
"The latest variation on this familiar theme, its reductio ad absurdum, is that a respect for cultural diversity forbids us to impose the standards of privileged groups on the victims of oppression." This leads to "universal incompetence" and a weakness of the spirit:
"Impersonal virtues like fortitude, workmanship, moral courage, honesty, and respect for adversaries (are rejected by the champions of diversity)... Unless we are prepared to make demands on one another, we can enjoy only the most rudimentary kind of common life... (agreed standards) are absolutely indispensable to a democratic society (because) double standards mean second-class citizenship."
This is almost plagiarism. Allan Bloom ("The Closing of the American Mind"):
"(openness became trivial) ...Openness used to be the virtue that permitted us to seek the good by using reason. It now means accepting everything and denying reason's power. The unrestrained and thoughtless pursuit of openness … has rendered openness meaningless."
Lasch: "…moral paralysis of those who value 'openness' above all (democracy is more than) openness and toleration... In the absence of common standards... tolerance becomes indifference."
"Open Mind" becomes: "Empty Mind".
Lasch observed that America has become a culture of excuses (for self and the "disadvantaged"), of protected judicial turf conquered through litigation (a.k.a. "rights"), of neglect of responsibilities. Free speech is restricted by fear of offending potential audiences. We confuse respect (which must be earned) with toleration and appreciation, discriminating judgement with indiscriminate acceptance, and turning the blind eye. Fair and well. Political correctness has indeed degenerated into moral incorrectness and plain numbness.
But why is the proper exercise of democracy dependent upon the devaluation of money and markets? Why is luxury "morally repugnant" and how can this be PROVEN rigorously, formal logically? Lasch does not opine - he informs. What he says has immediate truth-value, is non-debatable, and intolerant. Consider this passage, which came out of the pen of an intellectual tyrant:
"...the difficulty of limiting the influence of wealth suggests that wealth itself needs to be limited... a democratic society cannot allow unlimited accumulation... a moral condemnation of great wealth... backed up with effective political action... at least a rough approximation of economic equality... in the old days (Americans agreed that people should not have) far in excess of their needs."
Lasch failed to realize that democracy and wealth formation are two sides of the SAME coin. That democracy is not likely to spring forth, nor is it likely to survive poverty or total economic equality. The confusion of the two ideas (material equality and political equality) is common: it is the result of centuries of plutocracy (only wealthy people had the right to vote, universal suffrage is very recent). The great achievement of democracy in the 20th century was to separate these two aspects: to combine egalitarian political access with an unequal distribution of wealth. Still, the existence of wealth - no matter how distributed - is a pre-condition. Without it there will never be real democracy. Wealth generates the leisure needed to obtain education and to participate in community matters. Put differently, when one is hungry - one is less prone to read Mr. Lasch, less inclined to think about civil rights, let alone exercise them.
Mr. Lasch is authoritarian and patronizing, even when he is strongly trying to convince us otherwise. The use of the phrase: "far in excess of their needs" rings of destructive envy. Worse, it rings of a dictatorship, a negation of individualism, a restriction of civil liberties, an infringement on human rights, anti-liberalism at its worst. Who is to decide what is wealth, how much of it constitutes excess, how much is "far in excess" and, above all, what are the needs of the person deemed to be in excess? Which state commissariat will do the job? Would Mr. Lasch have volunteered to phrase the guidelines and if so, which criteria would he have applied? Eighty percent (80%) of the population of the world would have considered Mr. Lasch's wealth to be far in excess of his needs. Mr. Lasch is prone to inaccuracies. Read Alexis de Tocqueville (1835):
"I know of no country where the love of money has taken stronger hold on the affections of men and where a profounder contempt is expressed for the theory of the permanent equality of property... the passions that agitate the Americans most deeply are not their political but their commercial passions… They prefer the good sense which amasses large fortunes to that enterprising genius which frequently dissipates them."
In his book: "The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy" (published posthumously in 1995) Lasch bemoans a divided society, a degraded public discourse, a social and political crisis, that is really a spiritual crisis.
The book's title is modeled after Jose Ortega y Gasset's "Revolt of the Masses" in which he described the forthcoming political domination of the masses as a major cultural catastrophe. The old ruling elites were the storehouses of all that's good, including all civic virtues, he explained. The masses - warned Ortega y Gasset, prophetically - will act directly and even outside the law in what he called a hyperdemocracy. They will impose themselves on the other classes. The masses harbored a feeling of omnipotence: they had unlimited rights, history was on their side (they were "the spoiled child of human history" in his language), they were exempt from submission to superiors because they regarded themselves as the source of all authority. They faced an unlimited horizon of possibilities and they were entitled to everything at any time. Their whims, wishes and desires constituted the new law of the earth.
Lasch just ingeniously reversed the argument. The same characteristics, he said, are to be found in today's elites, "those who control the international flow of money and information, preside over philanthropic foundations and institutions of higher learning, manage the instruments of cultural production and thus set the terms of public debate". But they are self appointed, they represent none but themselves. The lower middle classes were much more conservative and stable than their "self appointed spokesmen and would-be liberators". They know the limits and that there are limits, they have sound political instincts:
"…favor limits on abortion, cling to the two-parent family as a source of stability in a turbulent world, resist experiments with 'alternative lifestyles', and harbor deep reservations about affirmative action and other ventures in large- scale social engineering."
And who purports to represent them? The mysterious "elite" which, as we find out, is nothing but a code word for the likes of Lasch. In Lasch's world Armageddon is unleashed between the people and this specific elite. What about the political, military, industrial, business and other elites? Yok. What about conservative intellectuals who support what the middle classes do and "have deep reservations about affirmative action" (to quote him)? Aren't they part of the elite? No answer. So why call it "elite" and not "liberal intellectuals"? A matter of (lack) of integrity.
The members of this fake elite are hypochondriacs, obsessed with death, narcissistic and weaklings. A scientific description based on thorough research, no doubt.
Even if such a horror-movie elite did exist - what would have been its role? Did he suggest an elite-less pluralistic, modern, technology-driven, essentially (for better or for worse) capitalistic democratic society? Others have dealt with this question seriously and sincerely: Arnold, T.S. Elliot ("Notes towards the Definition of Culture"). Reading Lasch is an absolute waste of time when compared to their studies. The man is so devoid of self-awareness (no pun intended) that he calls himself "a stern critic of nostalgia". If there is one word with which it is possible to summarize his life's work it is nostalgia (to a world which never existed: a world of national and local loyalties, almost no materialism, savage nobleness, communal responsibility for the Other). In short, to an Utopia compared to the dystopia that is America. The pursuit of a career and of specialized, narrow, expertise, he called a "cult" and "the antithesis of democracy". Yet, he was a member of the "elite" which he so chastised and the publication of his tirades enlisted the work of hundreds of careerists and experts. He extolled self-reliance - but ignored the fact that it was often employed in the service of wealth formation and material accumulation. Were there two kinds of self-reliance - one to be condemned because of its results? Was there any human activity devoid of a dimension of wealth creation? Therefore, are all human activities (except those required for survival) to cease?
Lasch identified emerging elites of professionals and managers, a cognitive elite, manipulators of symbols, a threat to "real" democracy. Reich described them as trafficking in information, manipulating words and numbers for a living. They live in an abstract world in which information and expertise are valuable commodities in an international market. No wonder the privileged classes are more interested in the fate of the global system than in their neighborhood, country, or region. They are estranged, they "remove themselves from common life". They are heavily invested in social mobility. The new meritocracy made professional advancement and the freedom to make money "the overriding goal of social policy". They are fixated on finding opportunities and they democratize competence. This, said Lasch, betrayed the American dream!?:
"The reign of specialized expertise is the antithesis of democracy as it was understood by those who saw this country as 'The last best hope of Earth'."
For Lasch citizenship did not mean equal access to economic competition. It meant a shared participation in a common political dialogue (in a common life). The goal of escaping the "laboring classes" was deplorable. The real aim should be to ground the values and institutions of democracy in the inventiveness, industry, self-reliance and self-respect of workers. The "talking classes" brought the public discourse into decline. Instead of intelligently debating issues, they engaged in ideological battles, dogmatic quarrels, name-calling. The debate grew less public, more esoteric and insular. There are no "third places", civic institutions which "promote general conversation across class lines". So, social classes are forced to "speak to themselves in a dialect... inaccessible to outsiders". The media establishment is more committed to "a misguided ideal of objectivity" than to context and continuity, which underlie any meaningful public discourse.
The spiritual crisis was another matter altogether. This was simply the result of over-secularization. The secular worldview is devoid of doubts and insecurities, explained Lasch. Thus, single-handedly, he eliminated modern science, which is driven by constant doubts, insecurities and questioning and by an utter lack of respect for authority, transcendental as it may be. With amazing gall, Lasch says that it was religion which provided a home for spiritual uncertainties!!!
Religion - writes Lasch - was a source of higher meaning, a repository of practical moral wisdom. Minor matters such as the suspension of curiosity, doubt and disbelief entailed by religious practice and the blood-saturated history of all religions - these are not mentioned. Why spoil a good argument?
The new elites disdain religion and are hostile to it:
"The culture of criticism is understood to rule out religious commitments... (religion) was something useful for weddings and funerals but otherwise dispensable."
Without the benefit of a higher ethic provided by religion (for which the price of suppression of free thought is paid - SV) - the knowledge elites resort to cynicism and revert to irreverence.
"The collapse of religion, its replacement by the remorselessly critical sensibility exemplified by psychoanalysis and the degeneration of the 'analytic attitude' into an all out assault on ideals of every kind have left our culture in a sorry state."
Lasch was a fanatic religious man. He would have rejected this title with vehemence. But he was the worst type: unable to commit himself to the practice while advocating its employment by others. If you asked him why was religion good, he would have waxed on concerning its good RESULTS. He said nothing about the inherent nature of religion, its tenets, its view of Mankind's destiny, or anything else of substance. Lasch was a social engineer of the derided Marxist type: if it works, if it molds the masses, if it keeps them "in limits", subservient - use it. Religion worked wonders in this respect. But Lasch himself was above his own laws - he even made it a point not to write God with a capital "G", an act of outstanding "courage". Schiller wrote about the "disenchantment of the world", the disillusionment which accompanies secularism - a real sign of true courage, according to Nietzsche. Religion is a powerful weapon in the arsenal of those who want to make people feel good about themselves, their lives and the world, in general. Not so Lasch:
"…the spiritual discipline against self-righteousness is the very essence of religion... (anyone with) a proper understanding of religion… (would not regard it as) a source of intellectual and emotional security (but as) ...a challenge to complacency and pride."
There is no hope or consolation even in religion. It is good only for the purposes of social engineering.
In this particular respect, Lasch has undergone a major transformation. In "The New Radicalism in America" (1965), he decried religion as a source of obfuscation.
"The religious roots of the progressive doctrine" - he wrote - were the source of "its main weakness". These roots fostered an anti-intellectual willingness to use education "as a means of social control" rather than as a basis for enlightenment. The solution was to blend Marxism and the analytic method of Psychoanalysis (very much as Herbert Marcuse has done - q.v. "Eros and Civilization" and "One Dimensional Man").
In an earlier work ("American Liberals and the Russian Revolution", 1962) he criticized liberalism for seeking "painless progress towards the celestial city of consumerism". He questioned the assumption that "men and women wish only to enjoy life with minimum effort". The liberal illusions about the Revolution were based on a theological misconception. Communism remained irresistible for "as long as they clung to the dream of an earthly paradise from which doubt was forever banished".
In 1973, a mere decade later, the tone is different ("The World of Nations", 1973). The assimilation of the Mormons, he says, was "achieved by sacrificing whatever features of their doctrine or ritual were demanding or difficult... (like) the conception of a secular community organized in accordance with religious principles".
The wheel turned a full cycle in 1991 ("The True and Only Heaven: Progress and its Critics"). The petite bourgeois at least are "unlikely to mistake the promised land of progress for the true and only heaven".
In "Heaven in a Heartless world" (1977) Lasch criticized the "substitution of medical and psychiatric authority for the authority of parents, priests and lawgivers". The Progressives, he complained, identify social control with freedom. It is the traditional family - not the socialist revolution - which provides the best hope to arrest "new forms of domination". There is latent strength in the family and in its "old fashioned middle class morality". Thus, the decline of the family institution meant the decline of romantic love (!?) and of "transcendent ideas in general", a typical Laschian leap of logic.
Even art and religion ("The Culture of Narcissism", 1979), "historically the great emancipators from the prison of the Self... even sex... (lost) the power to provide an imaginative release".
It was Schopenhauer who wrote that art is a liberating force, delivering us from our miserable, decrepit, dilapidated Selves and transforming our conditions of existence. Lasch - forever a melancholy - adopted this view enthusiastically. He supported the suicidal pessimism of Schopenhauer. But he was also wrong. Never before was there an art form more liberating than the cinema, THE art of illusion. The Internet introduced a transcendental dimension into the lives of all its users. Why is it that transcendental entities must be white-bearded, paternal and authoritarian? What is less transcendental in the Global Village, in the Information Highway or, for that matter, in Steven Spielberg?
The Left, thundered Lasch, had "chosen the wrong side in the cultural warfare between 'Middle America' and the educated or half educated classes, which have absorbed avant-garde ideas only to put them at the service of consumer capitalism".
In "The Minimal Self" (1984) the insights of traditional religion remained vital as opposed to the waning moral and intellectual authority of Marx, Freud and the like. The meaningfulness of mere survival is questioned: "Self affirmation remains a possibility precisely to the degree that an older conception of personality, rooted in Judeo-Christian traditions, has persisted alongside a behavioral or therapeutic conception". "Democratic Renewal" will be made possible through this mode of self- affirmation. The world was rendered meaningless by experiences such as Auschwitz, a "survival ethic" was the unwelcome result. But, to Lasch, Auschwitz offered "the need for a renewal of religious faith... for collective commitment to decent social conditions... (the survivors) found strength in the revealed word of an absolute, objective and omnipotent creator... not in personal 'values' meaningful only to themselves". One can't help being fascinated by the total disregard for facts displayed by Lasch, flying in the face of logotherapy and the writings of Victor Frankel, the Auschwitz survivor.
"In the history of civilization... vindictive gods give way to gods who show mercy as well and uphold the morality of loving your enemy. Such a morality has never achieved anything like general popularity, but it lives on, even in our own, enlightened age, as a reminder both of our fallen state and of our surprising capacity for gratitude, remorse and forgiveness by means of which we now and then transcend it."
He goes on to criticize the kind of "progress" whose culmination is a "vision of men and women released from outward constraints". Endorsing the legacies of Jonathan Edwards, Orestes Brownson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thomas Carlyle, William James, Reinhold Niebuhr and, above all, Martin Luther King, he postulated an alternative tradition, "The Heroic Conception of Life" (an admixture of Brownson's Catholic Radicalism and early republican lore): "...a suspicion that life was not worth living unless it was lived with ardour, energy and devotion".
A truly democratic society will incorporate diversity and a shared commitment to it - but not as a goal unto itself. Rather as means to a "demanding, morally elevating standard of conduct". In sum: "Political pressure for a more equitable distribution of wealth can come only from movements fired with religious purpose and a lofty conception of life". The alternative, progressive optimism, cannot withstand adversity: "The disposition properly described as hope, trust or wonder... three names for the same state of heart and mind - asserts the goodness of life in the face of its limits. It cannot be deflated by adversity". This disposition is brought about by religious ideas (which the Progressives discarded):
"The power and majesty of the sovereign creator of life, the inescapability of evil in the form of natural limits on human freedom, the sinfulness of man's rebellion against those limits; the moral value of work which once signifies man's submission to necessity and enables him to transcend it..."
Martin Luther King was a great man because "(He) also spoke the language of his own people (in addition to addressing the whole nation - SV), which incorporated their experience of hardship and exploitation, yet affirmed the rightness of a world full of unmerited hardship... (he drew strength from) a popular religious tradition whose mixture of hope and fatalism was quite alien to liberalism".
Lasch said that this was the First deadly Sin of the civil rights movement. It insisted that racial issues be tackled "with arguments drawn from modern sociology and from the scientific refutation of social porejudice" - and not on moral (read: religious) grounds.
So, what is left to provide us with guidance? Opinion polls. Lasch failed to explain to us why he demonized this particular phenomenon. Polls are mirrors and the conduct of polls is an indication that the public (whose opinion is polled) is trying to get to know itself better. Polls are an attempt at quantified, statistical self-awareness (nor are they a modern phenomenon). Lasch should have been happy: at last proof that Americans adopted his views and decided to know themselves. To have criticized this particular instrument of "know thyself" implied that Lasch believed that he had privileged access to more information of superior quality or that he believed that his observations tower over the opinions of thousands of respondents and carry more weight. A trained observer would never have succumbed to such vanity. There is a fine line between vanity and oppression, fanaticism and the grief that is inflicted upon those that are subjected to it.
This is Lasch's greatest error: there is an abyss between narcissism and self love, being interested in oneself and being obsessively preoccupied with oneself. Lasch confuses the two. The price of progress is growing self-awareness and with it growing pains and the pains of growing up. It is not a loss of meaning and hope – it is just that pain has a tendency to push everything to the background. Those are constructive pains, signs of adjustment and adaptation, of evolution. America has no inflated, megalomaniac, grandiose ego. It never built an overseas empire, it is made of dozens of ethnic immigrant groups, it strives to learn, to emulate. Americans do not lack empathy - they are the foremost nation of volunteers and also professes the biggest number of (tax deductible) donation makers. Americans are not exploitative - they are hard workers, fair players, Adam Smith-ian egoists. They believe in Live and Let Live. They are individualists and they believe that the individual is the source of all authority and the universal yardstick and benchmark. This is a positive philosophy. Granted, it led to inequalities in the distribution of income and wealth. But then other ideologies had much worse outcomes. Luckily, they were defeated by the human spirit, the best manifestation of which is still democratic capitalism.
The clinical term "Narcissism" was abused by Lasch in his books. It joined other words mistreated by this social preacher. The respect that this man gained in his lifetime (as a social scientist and historian of culture) makes one wonder whether he was right in criticizing the shallowness and lack of intellectual rigor of American society and of its elites.
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