Monday, December 17, 2018

Meaning, Value, and Ethics in Art

Jacob Lawrence, Struggle 1 (1965) brush and ink, and gouache on paper

By Mary Gabriel for the Los Angeles Times, December 16, 2018

[….] “How does one write, paint, compose or perform works that describe this age without being consumed by it, without producing mere propaganda? How does one convey the simultaneous confusion and conviction, the anger and concomitant longing for calm — in short, the irrationality — with any degree of certainty? And how does one project through art a better path when the route is constantly shifting? 

Faced with such a difficult task, many artists wonder if they are obliged to be chroniclers of their times. During periods of war, social strife, economic upheaval, massive industrial or technological change, is it the duty of the artist to record and reflect that chaos? Yes it is, in part because it is impossible for a true artist to do otherwise. Artists may work in isolation, but they are intrinsically messengers, their works communications. They also exist in a state of hyper-receptivity because every encounter and experience might produce material for the next sentence, song, photograph or canvas. Short of living in a soundproof windowless box, especially in an age such as ours, it is impossible for an artist to blot out the world.

But another, more important reason an artist must confront his or her time is that historically art and artists have explained and challenged, and that combination has produced greater understanding. 

In the 1930s and 1940s, newspaper headlines, cinema newsreels, radio broadcasts and public service posters disseminated information around the clock. But those reports chronicled events. It was left to artists to ascribe meaning. A young James Jones wrote his first novel, From Here to Eternity,  describing the wreckage of lives upended by war. Oscar Hammerstein’s 1940 lyrics for ‘The Last Time I Saw Paris’ evoked for generations the melancholy felt by those forced to flee Nazi advances in France. And two painters bookended the traumas of the 1930s and 1940s in their works: Picasso, with ‘Guernica,’ which depicted the 1937 Nazi attack on the Basque capital of that name and the first ‘total’ air raid in history, and Jackson Pollock, with his ‘drip’ paintings 10 years later. In the wake of World War II’s atrocities, from Auschwitz to Hiroshima, Pollock painted the world as it was, a world destroyed but not irrevocably so.

Today, in our own world of blogs, bots and perpetual ‘breaking news,’ it is left to artists to cut through the deafening noise as their forebears did in the middle of the last century — in a search for meaning and, most particularly in our case, in the service of truth.” [….] The entire article is here. 

Comment [The following is largely in reference to art which happens to be non-religious (which is not here synonymous with ‘non-spiritual’), in other words, art which is in the first instance deeply and broadly humanist.]: 

The moral duties and obligations of artists exist not only in “troubled times,” for they play a vital role for artists in any society engraved with eliminable suffering or conspicuous for the ongoing endeavor (or struggle) to realize the common good in the light of liberté, égalité, fraternité (the last is not gender specific but refers to those sorts of human community in which individuals have ample opportunities for personal fulfillment and eudaimonia, that is, the necessary conditions for individuation or self-determination and the pursuit of activities conducive to ’self-realization’).  Perhaps the most compelling argument for weaving tightly together ethical ideas and values with aesthetic values and purposes (so, for instance, we may speak of ‘moral beauty’)—which doesn’t imply art should teach us only about ethical matters—is found in Berys Gaut’s “impressive, sustained defense of ethicism,” Art, Emotion and Ethics (Oxford University Press, 2007). As Gaut explains, works of art typically prescribe certain emotional responses (which may or may not occur in us), and whether or not these are in fact merited is a question “sensitive to moral considerations.” In short, assuming the pivotal grounds on which art is valued refers fundamentally to concern with its beauty, its cognitive role, and its affective dimension, analytically distinct properties or features that are aesthetically intertwined in the work of art, the “ethical evaluation of art is inescapable.” 

Related Bibliography: Marxism, Art and Aesthetics

Saturday, December 15, 2018

A summary introduction to the Freudian psychoanalytic model of therapeutic psychology

I think it is true that Freudian interpretation depends generally on the everyday reason-explanation model—sometimes calledfolk psychology’—which it then expands in various ways, and that precisely this is one of its strengths. — Marcia Cavell
  1. In brief, and thus minimally speaking, psychoanalytic theory provides us with a theory of irrationality (not identical to existing from other forms of irrationality, psychologically based or otherwise) that involves both propositional and non-propositional mental states or primary and secondary process thinking;1
  2. a philosophically sophisticated psychology, a metapsychology, and a therapeutic model of psychology;
  3. a method of scientific investigation as a “science of subjectivity” (at once intra-clinical and extra-clinical, psychoanalysis being the ‘first great theory and practice of personal life’), psychoanalytic explanation involving both causal relations and relations of meaning, with the analysis of symbolism depending upon their mutual inextricability (we might plausibly imagine a ‘grammar, semantics, pragmatics’ of psychoanalysis);
  4. a dyadic model of therapeutic treatment involving the analyst and analysand;
  5. a triune psyche consisting of the id, ego, and super-ego as subsets, so to speak, of “the person;”
  6. the postulation of a notion of repression as a mechanism that explains the inaccessibility of mental states sans the imputation of intention;
  7. and related to repression, sophisticated concepts of suppression, wish-fulfillment, phantasy, and sublimation implicating “unconscious” as well as sub-conscious and conscious states of awareness;
  8. the building blocks for models of self-deception and states of denial;
  9. the postulation of somewhat opaque and elusive psychological dynamics such as introjection, identification, and projection, as well as more routine or common psychological processes of remembering, repeating, free-association, working-through, and play (or playing);2 and
  10. specific and explicit value commitments, including a commitment to the ideal of truth, which treat in both philosophical and psychological terms, the questions, possibility, and normative importance of moral autonomy, (retrospective and prospective) self-responsibility, happiness or contentment (in the sense of eudaimonia), existential freedom, rationality, and the notion of “worthwhile” or fulfilling life in general.
The therapeutic model of psychoanalytic psychology entails, like most therapeutic relationships, a relation of unequal power involving scientific and therapeutic authority derived from professional training and clinical discoveries, as well as the corresponding knowledge provided by its psychological “theory” or model, “hypotheses,” and methods. The analyst/analysand relationship likewise involves an asymmetry of needs and desires. Reality has been described as “mediated” to the patient by the analyst in the form of an “erotic” communication bringing into conjunction and play both the “pleasure” and “reality” principles. These facts become conspicuous with the onset of transference, as the analyst becomes the embodied site of an “auxiliary” ego or super-ego as an idiosyncratic world comes into view, soon followed by counter-transference: psychological dynamics which place the analyst in a “privileged” position as historian, teacher, and healer (through transference, resistance, and interpretation), although there remains a risk that the analyst and analysand will enter into a “narcissistic” collaboration. The therapeutic setting relies on forms of linguistic, symbolic, and bodily communication that assume the presence of various levels of conscious and subconscious mental states that respond to processes of empathy, self-observation, and (clinical) judgment. The clinical setting becomes a safe and trusting space for “play” which, in turn, is capable of transporting the participants into another “world”/reality, one with its own situational constraints. This fragile yet safe space for play and spontaneity permits the emergence of a genuinely shared reality betwixt and between the individual lifeworlds and worldviews of the analyst and the analysand.4 

Psychotherapy demands the mastery of a therapeutic craft or art by the analyst and the acquisition of sundry emotional and practical-cognitive skills on the part of the analysand. One—if not the—overarching goal of the therapeutic process is to account for and overcome the analysand’s lack of self-knowledge while providing the psychological space for at least a rudimentary commitment to the process of individuation.5 The knowledge of other minds, which presumes a model of folk psychology, permits and encourages experiential sensitivity (‘concentrated listening’) that is simultaneously personalized and contextualized—built up over the course of a long and profound acquaintance with a particular person and his social and cultural surroundings (both large and small), and informed, meaning the psychoanalyst will draw upon an  extensive conceptual vocabulary and clinical training to make sense of what the analysand has been motivated to say, as well as making inferences with regard to what has not been said (motivated or otherwise). Narratives of one kind or another, be they fragmented or manifestly coherent, involving memory (with varying degrees of veracity) and notions of personal and collective identity, will often be prominent in the clinical setting, although the analyst must remain cognizant of the possible if not likely difference between actual lives and the stories told about those lives. 

Psychoanalytic psychology has shared conceptual and disciplinary boundaries with medicine and psychiatry, academic psychology, biology, the neurosciences, sociology, anthropology, and the humanities, especially art, literature  (e.g., narrative and hermeneutics) and philosophy (in particular, philosophy of mind: consciousness/subconscious(ness)/the unconscious, the emotions, personal identity, and moral psychology, but also ethics, epistemology, and even metaphysics).6 With regard to ethics and moral psychology, questions of egoism, psychological and ethical hedonism, moral conscientiousness, wishful thinking, weakness of will, self-deception, and denial may be prominent. With regard to moral psychology, the emotions, rather than drives, are now often at the center of its theory of motivation, and motivations are recognized as typically mixed and “overdetermined,” as the traditional conceptual cluster of terms that define Freudian metapsychology (instincts and drive theory) are often challenged, revised, or even rejected.7

Notes:
    1. Jonathan Lear elaborates: “Psychoanalysis tends to move simultaneously in two directions. On the one hand, it tries to discover a hidden irrationality in the thought, speech and action which presents itself as rational. On the other hand, it tries to find rationality hidden within the irrational. There among the flotsam of dreams, physical symptoms, slips of the tongue, psychoanalysis discovers that mind is active.”
2. Cf. Lear: “In the analytic situation there tends to be an inverse correlation between remembering and repeating. In the analytic situation, ‘the patient does not remember anything of what he has forgotten and repressed, but acts it out. He reproduces it not as a memory but as an action; he repeats it, without, of course, knowing that he is repeating it.’ So, for instance, the analysand does not remember that he used to be defiant towards his parents, but he acts defiantly now toward the analyst.”
3. Cf. the late Eugene Victor Wolfenstein: “In theory and practice Freud offers us only amelioration of and consolation for the pain of being human—only the chance to be ordinarily unhappy.”
4. Cf. Lear: “The psychoanalytic situation is structured to offer an existential Sabbath: a benign environment that does not produce too much anxiety....”
5. Again, in the words of Lear, “Freudian method has a Socratic quality to it: through a particular type of ‘cross-examination,’ the patient’s own beliefs about his past and his emotional life are elicited, and eventually ‘refuted’—in the sense that he is shown to have an inadequate conscious understanding of who he is, what has happened to him and how he feels about it.” Moreover, “[f]ar from seeking to return a disturbed individual to a preexisting order, as the shaman, healer, or priest did, [Freud] formulated the analytic project as a personal and provisional hermeneutic of self-discovery, one that a psychoanalyst could facilitate but not control. In this way, he gave expression to possibilities of individuality, authenticity, and freedom that had only recently emerged, and opened the way to a new understanding of social life.”
6. As Joseph Schwartz says, “To those who regard the world of human feeling as inherently unreliable, who distrust the novel and poetry as a source of human knowledge, the claims of psychoanalysis will always be unsatisfactory.”
7. Ernest Wallwork reminds us that “...Freud expressed great caution with respect to his entire meta-psychological enterprise. He repeatedly described the metapsychology as ‘tentative,’ ‘speculative,’ and ‘hypothetical,’ and even went so far as to call it a ‘phantasy,’ a ‘myth,’ a product of wish fulfillment on the part of its creator.”

My bibliography for Freudian psychology is here. The introduction to that compilation contains embedded links to related bibliographies (e.g., on ‘the emotions,’ and ‘dreams and dreaming’) that may also be of interest.

Freud’s conception of happiness as eudaimonia or human fulfillment

It is philosophers who have the task of exploring what matters to us most—what is freedom? What is it genuinely for us to be happy? What is worth valuing and why?—but it is psychoanalysis that teaches us how we regularly get in the way of our own freedom, systematically make ourselves unhappy and use values for covert and malign purposes. Philosophy cannot live up to its task unless it takes these psychoanalytic challenges seriously. — Jonathan Lear

“The parts of Freud’s writings that suggest some level of causal determination in fact coexist with his explicit view that one of the chief goals of psychoanalysis is to increase the patient’s ‘freedom’ (Freiheit), ‘autonomy’ (Selbstandigkeit), and ‘initiative’ (Initiative). Thus the aim of psychoanalysis is to ‘free’ (befrein) the patient from intrapsychic ‘chains’ (die Fesseln), which normally increases the patient’s ‘self-control’ (Selbstbeherrschung) and gives ‘the patient’s ego freedom to decide one way or the other’ between conflicting motives. For Freud, it is the mark of a relatively healthy ego to be able to deliberate and exercise self-control and willpower in choosing and pursuing goals. [….]

Freud’s claim that the developed ego is guided by qualitative hedonism helps to bring out just how in his late writings ‘the programme of the pleasure principle’ is compatible with non-egoistic, and hence, moral behavior. This compatibility is largely a consequence of the fact that happiness as Freud uses the term for the goal of life is a different kind of end then the quantitative one of maximizing a single kind of agreeable feeling. ‘Happiness’ in life is an ‘inclusive end’ rather than a single ‘dominant end.’ That is to say, the activities through which it is sought are not means in an instrumental or neutral sense, but parts of a whole. To pursue happiness as an inclusive goal through such activities as artistic creativity, intellectual work, sensuality, love, and aesthetic appreciation is to enjoy each of these activities as contributing something qualitatively unique to a life plan. Insofar as these activities are means, it is in the sense of being constitutive of the comprehensive end of happiness in life as a whole. It is only through such activities that genuine happiness in the sense of ‘positive fulfillment’ is possible [Here we see Freud’s conception of ‘happiness’ is close if not identical to the classical Greek concept of eudaimonia, or at least several well-known conceptions thereof and which we might translate in the best sense to mean or imply the possibility of human fulfillment, the triune nature of which arguably entails, minimally and broadly speaking, freedom (as self-determination), human community, and self-realization. The converse of such human fulfillment could be said to found in the several senses in which Marx employs the concept of alienation throughout his writings.*] [....] Freud does not construe narrowly, then, the happiness at which the ego aims as always involving a self-interested goal. To the contrary, persons are observed to find pleasure in a whole range of activities, including fulfilling the needs of others, and even in moral conscientiousness. For there is ‘satisfaction’ to be obtained in acting benevolently in accordance with one’s ‘ego ideal’ and ‘a feeling of triumph when something in the ego coincides with the ego ideal.’”—Ernest Wallwork, Psychoanalysis and Ethics (Yale University Press, 1991)

* The notion of alienation (there are three terms in German for this which range from the descriptive to the evaluative) is one of the fundamental concepts in Marx’s work, expressly in the early writings and more implicitly or assumed in his later, systematic critique of capitalism. I want here merely to highlight two books in which I’ve found the discussion of Marx’s conception of alienation (used in several different senses) quite helpful, indeed, indispensable: Jon Elster’s Making Sense of Marx (1985) and R.G. Peffer’s Marxism, Morality, and Social Justice (1990). For now, let me express wholehearted agreement with the following from Peffer:

“The moral content of the various forms of alienation Marx describes in the Manuscripts [i.e., the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844], the moral grounds upon which he condemns these forms of alienation [e.g., the historical and general alienation suffered by the majority of human beings from the ‘objects and products of material and intellectual production,’ as well as alienation from ‘the process of production, other persons, nature, and [our] own selves], i.e., “human life,” or [our] own “species-being,” [this last is similar if not identical to later existentialist construals of fundamental alienation or estrangement as part and parcel of the human condition, as intrinsic to a philosophical anthropology or as a metaphysical proposition] can, I think, be reduced to three primary moral principles to which he implicitly subscribes in the Manuscripts and throughout the rest of his writings. These principles are freedom (as self-determination), human community, and self-realization.”

I would like to note in closing that we need not assume freedom need imply “maximally unbounded and unburdened choice” in keeping with the classical Liberal belief that “people tend to fare best when they possess, more or less, the greatest possible freedom to live as they wish,” what Daniel N. Haybron views as central to “liberal optimism” or what I would term, perhaps more precisely, “libertarian optimism,” which is found among left-liberals as well. Please see Haybron’s The Pursuit of Unhappiness: The Elusive Psychology of Well-Being (Oxford University Press, 2008). For a taste of rather different understandings of what freedom might or should entail, in other words, that does not presuppose or assume the unconditional value of “maximally unbounded and unburdened choice,” see Jon Elster’s Ulysses Unbound: Studies in Rationality, Precommitment, and Constraints (Cambridge University Press, 2000) and the essays collected in Jonardon Ganeri and Clare Carlisle, eds., Philosophy as Therapeia (Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement: 66) (Cambridge University Press, 2010). On how this more modest (realistic?) conception of what freedom ideally entails is compatible with Marxist conceptions of self-realization and human fulfillment, see Elster’s article, “Self-realisation in work and politics: the Marxist conception of the good life,” in Jon Elster and Karl Ove Moene, eds., Alternatives to Capitalism (Cambridge University Press, 1989).

Friday, December 14, 2018

The elusive task of “getting Gandhi right:” on religion and spirituality

I recently have come across several comments about Gandhi’s ideas, spirituality and politics in various fora that I find tendentious, distorted (e.g., a caricature), or simply wrong (alas, one finds Leftists often shamelessly indulging in ‘Gandhi-bashing,’ which of course is something quite different from intelligent and informed criticism). One characterization in particular was spectacularly off-target, so I’ll spend some time here addressing it: Gandhi is described, without qualification, as being among the class of “conservative Hindus.” Gandhi’s identification with Hinduism was in fact utterly idiosyncratic and defined by him in such universalist terms as to be almost unrecognizable as “Hinduism,” despite the plethora of ideas he adopted from the tradition, ideas invariably subject to his unique and well-considered interpretations (Gandhi’s allegorical reading—in toto—of the Gita is highly unusual and perhaps utterly unique, at least within Hinduism proper). Gandhi would not accept conventional or orthodox renderings of concepts from Hinduism if he found them repugnant to either “reason” or “moral sense.” I suppose it should not be surprising how hard it is to “get Gandhi right” as it were, for he was not a systematic intellectual or philosopher and was open to altering or correcting his views in light of self-examination and reflections on his experiences (be they intimate or public: Gandhi himself as not fond of such distinctions as we commonly make between the ‘private’ and ‘public’ realms). Hence Gandhi did not place a premium on the “consistency” of his views over time because he felt perfectly free to change his mind (and so he reminds me of the great pragmatist philosopher, Hilary Putnam) for any number of legitimate reasons that arose out of his experience, reflection, reading, dialogue, or even conflict with others. I will not name names with regard to the authors of the comments I’ve found troubling (in one case I’ve written a letter to a professor from whom I’ve yet to hear back). After attempting to set the record straight as we say, I’ve added a short list of secondary sources that might have saved the individuals in question from writing such nonsense. I hope it also proves helpful to those still learning or curious about Gandhi’s life and thought. 

One should always bear in mind, with Akeel Bilgrami, that Gandhi’s “religiosity was eclectic and individual, a product partly of what was given to him, but partly too a matter of his [moral and spiritual] instincts, which were then consolidated over the years by his haphazard reading [yet this reading was wide ranging, in terms of both topics and geographic origin] and his highly personal and searching reflection.” Whatever the species of Vaishnavism of his family and native Gujarat, Gandhi freely borrowed, adopted, and attempted assiduously to integrate into his worldview and social and political activism a medley of religious ideas and spiritual practices, a fine sample of which is provided by Bilgrami:

“… Advaita-Vedantin ideas; Bhakti ideals of devotion* (ideals through which he read his beloved Bhagavad Gita and made it, as he himself would say, his constant moral guide [or his ‘spiritual dictionary’]); the Jainism of his mentor [insofar as it could be said he had a ‘guru’] Raychandbhai; Buddhism and an admiration for the person of the Buddha [like B.R. Ambedkar!] that he acquired after being moved by Edwin Arnold’s The Light of Asia; [T]heosophical notions (shorn of their occultism) that he got from exposure in England to Annie Besant [among others; indeed, it was Theosophists who more or less introduced Gandhi to the Gita, as they were reading a Sanskrit version alongside Arnold’s book, and Gandhi was embarrassed by his ignorance of the material; in Johannesburg, he came to know a ‘a group of young predominantly Jewish intellectuals’ who were influenced by Theosophy and its active group of members in the city ‘became friends or supporters of Gandhi’], and Christianity—particularly the New Testament … which he filtered through his admiring, though selective, reading of Tolstoy’s writings, as well as what he took from his frequent encounter with missionaries both in South African and India. He even made something religious out of what he learnt from his study of Ruskin and Thoreau who, like all the other influences on him, contributed to the shaping of a life of spiritual dedication and service and conscience.” 

It is thus no surprise that Gandhi’s “Hinduism” was frequently and often vociferously criticized and attacked by “orthodox” Hindus. Bilgrami refreshingly and importantly reminds us that Gandhi’s religion was, in the Mahatma’s own words, a “humanistic” creed, for his personal convictions, however creative and subjective their genesis, were relentlessly subject to “universalization,” a process which Bilgrami carefully analyzes and explains (e.g., as an ‘intense dialectic’ between the experiential or individual and universal aspects of religion) as to make Gandhi’s spirituality intellectually if not philosophically coherent and perhaps more than plausible. 

* I spoke to the question of how Advaita Vedantin philosophy and bhakti devotionalism might be integrated or reconciled in this blog post several years ago at the Indian Philosophy Blog: “What is the relation between Advaita Vedanta and bhakti?” (There are some interesting and delightful comments, which are far longer and perhaps more enlightening than the post itself!)

*  *  *

Essential reading by way of endeavoring to make sense of Gandhi’s religiosity or spiritual worldview:
  • Bilgrami, Akeel. “Gandhi, the Philosopher,” and “Gandhi (and Marx),” in Bilgrami’s Secularism, Identity, and Enchantment. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014: 101-121 and 122-174 respectively.
  • Brown, Judith M. and Anthony Parel, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Gandhi. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011. See especially Akeel Bilgrami’s chapter, “Gandhi’s religion and its relation to his politics.” This book also has an indispensable essay by Anthony Parel that speaks to Gandhi’s views on and politics regarding caste and “untouchability.” Gandhi’s positions and activism on this score are also often incorrectly portrayed, misinterpreted or ill-understood. See the second of two chapters by Parel: “Gandhi in independent India.”
  • Chatterjee, Margaret. Gandhi’s Religious Thought. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983.
  • Ghosh, B.N. Beyond Gandhian Economics: Towards a Creative Deconstruction. New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2012.
  • Iyer, Raghavan. The Moral and Political Thought of Mahatma Gandhi. Santa Barbara, CA: Concord Grove Press, 1983 ed. (1st ed., New York: Oxford University Press, 1973). Absolutely essential reading as it remains a nonpareil examination of Gandhi’s moral and political views, as well as much of his religious and spiritual outlook.
  • Parekh, Bhikhu. Colonialism, Tradition and Reform: An Analysis of Gandhi’s Political Discourse. New Delhi: Sage, 1989.
  • Parekh, Bhikhu. Gandhi’s Political Philosophy: A Critical Examination. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989. See in particular (but not only) chapter 4, “Spirituality, Politics and the Reinterpretation of Hinduism.”
For further research, please seeThe Life, Work, & Legacy of Mohandas K. Gandhi: A Basic Bibliography.” 

The following might also be useful:

Arno Gruen—psychologist and psychoanalyst—on the struggle for individuation and personal autonomy



Whereas Sigmund Freud and Erich Fromm locate human destructiveness either in an a priori death instinct or in necrophilic tendencies stemming from stunted development at the anal or oedipal stage, I believe I have found many indications that destructiveness and murderous behavior is rooted in the betrayal human beings commit against themselves in order to share in a hallucinated sense of power. Since there is nohigher fateinvolved here but rather individuals who have cooperated more or less consciously in their own submission, a lifelong self-hatred ensues. The sad result is that only destructiveness imparts the feeling of aliveness. — From the Preface to Arno Gruen’s The Insanity of Normality—Realism as Sickness: Toward Understanding Human Destructiveness (1992; first published in German, 1987)

After the brief biography below, I have pasted a snippet from a brilliant and clearly composed talk by Arno Gruen (May 26, 1923 – October 20, 2015) titled “War or Peace? We cannot survive with Real-Politik.” It’s an enlarged version of his acceptance speech for the Finnish “Loviisa Peace Prize 2010.” (Translated from the German by Hildegarde Hannum and Hunter Hannum) The full text is here.

“[Arno] Gruen was born in Berlin in 1923, and emigrated [from Germany] to the United States as a child in 1936 when his parents, James and Rosa Gruen, fled Germany to save their lives. During the journey, Gruen celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in the Great Synagogue of Warsaw, on June 6, 1936. He studied at the City College of New York. Then, after completing his graduate studies in psychology at New York University, he trained in psychoanalysis under Theodor Reik at one of the first psychoanalytic training centers for psychologists, the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis in New York City. Gruen held many teaching posts, including seventeen years as professor of psychology at Rutgers University. From 1979 on, he lived and practiced in Switzerland. Widely published in German, his groundbreaking first book to be released in English, The Betrayal of the Self, was published by Grove Press in 1988.

[….] Gruen [argued] … that at the root of evil lies self-hatred, a rage originating in a self-betrayal that begins in childhood, when autonomy is surrendered in exchange for the ‘love’ of those who wield power over us. To share in that subjugating power, people create a false self, a pleasing-to-others image of themselves that springs from a powerful, deep-seated fear of being hurt, humiliated or abandoned. Gruen traced this pattern of over-adaptation, and the fate of those who resist the pressure to conform, through a number of case studies, sociological phenomena … and literary works. The insanity of rage and numbness that this hyper-conformity produces, unfortunately, goes widely unrecognized precisely because it has become the cold, tough ‘realism’ that modern society inculcates into its members and even admires.

Gruen warned, however, that escape from these patterns lies not simply in rebellion, for rebels often remain emotionally tied to the objects of their rebellion, but in the development of a personal autonomy and a relinquishing of all forms of self-numbing and self-deception. His elegant and far-reaching conclusion … is that while autonomy and authenticity are not easily attained, their absence proves catastrophic to both the individual and society as embittered conformists seek new victims on whom to wreak violence and avenge their psychic wounds.”

    *   *   *

“We live in cultures that are characterized by competition and insecurity and that make it difficult for people to develop the self-esteem that comes from a sense of one’s inner worth, which can evolve only if people learn to accept and share their suffering, pain, and adversity. This is what enables an inner strength to emerge—informed by an attitude of equanimity in spite of insecurity and of self-confidence in spite of helplessness. Only such a development forms a person’s genuine substance. In cultures that mistake strength for invulnerability, this kind of development is hardly possible because suffering, pain, and helplessness are stigmatized as weakness. This is why parents need their child in order to maintain a self-image of competence and self-assurance without self-doubt. In a culture in which one is constantly faced with the threat of failure, children are needed to enable their parents to maintain a fictitious sense of worth, with the result that parents do not see their children as they are but only in relation to themselves. In spite of their love and hopes for their children, they do not see what their children are really like but view them only in terms of providing approbation of the parental role. The child becomes the means to the end of sustaining the pose of mother and father as authority figures who are decisive and assured in their relationship with their child. What are children to do who experience weakness, helplessness, pain, and rage? Apathetic and exhausted, they will, with time, submit to the expectations of their parents. But their submission distorts reality, and thus a rational solution later in life to crucial problems such as the question of war and peace is made impossible, for if we have learned from an early age to experience the pose of strength and self-assurance as reality, then ‘realistic’ behavior is not based on reality at all but on our need to cling to this pose as a remedy for our fears and insecurity. [….]

… Proust recognized something of fundamental significance, namely, the longing in our obedience-oriented cultures to be saved by those who have caused our suffering, together with the inability to recognize them as responsible for this suffering. Being forced to be obedient while growing up leads to the inability to perceive our own empathic potential because of our anxiety and fear, which must not be acknowledged, since fear and uncertainty are labeled as weakness. Although we are driven by our fear, it must be denied and repressed. Here we can see the vicious circle of our development, which is influenced by a culture that causes parents to experience their infants’ aliveness and high spirits as disturbing or even threatening. As they get older, these children will soon be filled with anxiety and worry and will learn at an early age that their original, authentic self imperils their relationship with their parents and for this reason is bad. As a result, their innermost nature turns into something strange and foreign. And it is this alienated part of one’s self that must be fought against from now on. The accompanying anxieties grow stronger in times of existential stress—caused, for example, by unemployment, loss of status and personal importance, insecurity inherent in a society based on competition that humiliates and isolates people. These ever-present anxieties are held in check in economic good times owing to the fact that people feel they are part of society. Nowadays people feel secure in their identity, thanks to all the possibilities offered by a consumer society. Possessing things gives them a sense of well-being and thus a kind of identity and the feeling of belonging. But as soon as possessions and consumption are threatened, this false identity breaks down and the ever-menacing anxieties again come to the fore.” [….] 

Two books by Gruen:
  • The Betrayal of the Self: The Fear of Autonomy in Men and Women (Grove Press, 1988)
  • The Insanity of Normality—Realism as Sickness: Toward Understanding Human Destructiveness (Grove Weidenfeld, 1992)
Related Bibliographies:

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Beyond Ideology: the participatory praxis of movements of democratic resistance and socialist construction in India … and elsewhere


Half of India’s 1.3 billion live in conditions of deprivation. Government policy over the past three decades—inspired by the neoliberal policy state—has produced a hostile environment for survival. A quarter of a million farmers and peasants have committed suicide, a direct consequence of capitalist agriculture and an adverse global trade order. The current government of the Hindu Right is not only the complete inheritor of such harsh economic policies, but it has the added disadvantage of being culturally suffocating. Attacks on freedom of expression and speech as well as a spectrum of threats against cultural and religious difference have begun to mark the social landscape. [….] Slowly, surely, the politics of the Shiv Sena and the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party: both fueled by an Hindutva ideology which is, I think, along with a significant number of social scientists inside and outside India, fundamentally fascist], as well as its allied organizations [e.g., Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh], wore down the forms of secular culture that had been in formation for a century.

* * *

The slow decline of the trade unions and of members in the mass fronts of the socialist and communist world leaves very many millions of Indians outside the studied influence of the Left. [….] No more the values of the anti-colonial movement or of the Nehruvian period of national development. Nor more the traditions of Indian socialism, as authored by Periyar and Ram Manohar Lohia [embedded links added here, above and below], anchored by the Dravidian parties and the Samajwadi parties. The core values of the present are personal consumption and career advancement. Such a cultural universe is detrimental to the kind of political project promoted by the Left.

* * *
 
From the 1900s to the 1940s, the communists in Calcutta and Bombay lived in communes—not dissimilar to the Gandhian ashram, but now not in rural outposts but in the midst of bustling urban cities. Cross-class housing, disregard for caste restrictions, men and women mingling freely—all this was a direct challenge to staid bourgeois ideas of respectability that had moved out of the middle-class into the working-class areas as well. The Calcutta commune at 37 Harrison Road would have people like Soumendranath Tagore –who would later become a Trotskyite—comewithout shoes [wearing] shaggy hair, and dressed only in khadi,’ as Kazin Nazrul Islam in one sitting would translate the Internationale into Bengali so they could sing it with their loudest voices. Manikuntala Sen remembered that people would think of the communists asfollowers of an irreligious, unsociable lifestyle.’ Basavapunniah recalled how middle-class intellectual of the fledgling party would stroll into working-class areas of Madrasagricultural labourerscolony and untouchablescolony’—to introduce their understanding of Marxism and Leninism. They were looked at strangely, and then welcomed warmly.’—Vijay Prashad, No Free Left: The Future of Indian Communism (New Delhi: LeftWord Books, 2015)

*          *          *

The following is from an article, “Legacies Crucial for the Commons,” by Ashish Kothar in The Hindu, arguing that “Gandhi and Marx are more relevant now than ever before:”

[….] “And so we must turn for hope to the many movements of sangharsh (resistance) and nirman (construction) throughout the world. These movements realise that the injustices they are facing, and the choices they must make, are not bound by the divides that ideologues play games with.
Let’s take sangharsh. At any given time in India, there are dozens of sites where Adivasis [a term for indigenous peoples in South Asia], farmers, fisherpersons, pastoralists and others are refusing to part with their land or forest or water to make way for so-called development projects. One thousand farmers have filed objections to their lands being taken up by the Prime Minister’s pet project, the bullet train. News that is both inspiring and depressing keeps coming from Latin America, of indigenous people standing up for their territorial rights against mining and oil extraction, and all too frequently paying the price when state or corporate forces kill their leaders. Nationwide rallies were organised by the National Alliance of People’s Movements and the Ekta Parishad in October. They involved movements for land and forest rights, communal harmony, workers’ security and other causes that are not so easy to place in any ideological camp.

The same goes for nirman, or the construction of alternatives. Across the world there are incredible examples of sustainable and holistic agriculture, community-led water/energy/food sovereignty, worker takeover of production facilities, resource/knowledge commons, local governance, community health and alternative learning, inter-community peace-building, reassertion of cultural diversity, gender and sexual pluralism, and much else. 

It is in many of these alternative movements that I find inspiration for building on the legacies of Gandhi and Marx (and Ambedkar, Rabindranath Tagore, Rosa Luxemburg and various luminaries) and, equally important, on the many indigenous and Adivasi, Dalit, peasant and other ‘folk’ revolutionaries through history. There are many examples that dot the Indian landscape: the few thousand Dalit women farmers who have achieved anna swaraj (food sovereignty) in Telangana while also transforming their gender and caste status; the several dozen Gond Adivasi villages in Gadchiroli that have formed a Maha Gram Sabha to stop mining, and work on their own vision of governance and livelihood security; a Dalit sarpanch near Chennai who combines both Marxist and Gandhian principles in his attempt to transform the village he lives in. Similarly, there are others across the world: a thousand people have experimented with anarchic community life in the ‘freetown’ of Christiania in Copenhagen for four decades; indigenous peoples in Peru, Canada and Australia have gained territorial autonomy; small peasants in Africa and Latin America have sustained or gone back to organic farming; fisherpersons in the South Pacific have their own network of sustainably managed marine sites.

What I find of significance in many resistance and alternative movements is the exploration of autonomy, self-reliance, people’s governance of politics and the economy, freedom with responsibility for the freedom of others, and respect for the rest of nature. While these movements do often call for policy interventions from a more accountable state, there is also an underlying antipathy to the centralised state, as there is in both Gandhian swaraj and in Marxist communism and in many versions of anarchy. Private property is also challenged. In 2013, the Gond village Mendha-Lekha in Maharashtra converted all its agricultural land into the commons. Note that commons here does not mean state-owned, a distorted form of ‘communism’ that has prevailed in orthodox Leftist state regimes. 

And while Gandhi was weak on challenging capital, and Marx on stressing the fundamental spiritual or ethical connections amongst humans, these movements often tend to bridge these gaps. Insofar as many of them integrate the need to re-establish ecological resilience and wisdom, some even arguing for extending equal respect to other species, they also encompass Marx’s vision of a society that bridges humanity’s ‘metabolic rift’ with nature, and Gandhi’s repeated emphasis on living lightly on earth. With this they also challenge the very fundamentals of ‘development,’ especially its mad fixation on economic growth, reliance on ever-increasing production and consumption, and its utter disregard for inequality.” [….]

*          *          *

One quibble: while it may be a distinction some won’t find palatable or even plausible, I think Gandhi may be justly described as “weak” when it came to challenging capitalists, most likely because he saw them as individuals amenable to persuasion on a personal level, and some of them provided significant funds for several of his campaigns (it helps to trace the statements and behavior of these capitalists after Indian independence). As far as “capital” (or capitalism) as such is concerned, I don’t find Gandhi at all very “weak.” For an excellent discussion  regarding Gandhi’s views directly bearing upon this judgement see, for example, Bhikhu Parekh’s treatment in Gandhi’s Political Philosophy: A Critical Examination (University of Notre Dame Press, 1989) and—on Gandhi's conception, as it were, of moral and political economy—B.N. Ghosh’s Beyond Gandhian Economics: Towards a Creative Deconstruction (Sage Publications, 2012).

In any case, and along with more than a few of the “communists” in India (of yesteryear and today), I think both Marx and Gandhi are indeed “more relevant now than ever before.” And, we might add, among others, B.R. (‘Babasaheb’) Ambedkar to the mix (Kothari writes of ‘building on the legacies of .... Ambedkar, Rabindranath Tagore, Rosa Luxemburg and various luminaries’), for several reasons I will not go into here (incidentally, Ambedkar died on this date in 1956).

Relevant Bibliographies
See too this short list I posted as a Note on my Facebook page: Toward an Understanding of Society and Politics (including political economy) in Contemporary India.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Thinking about the phenomenology, psychology, and philosophy of addiction


In sharing my transdisciplinary “bibliography on addiction” with a Facebook group dedicated to psychoanalytic psychology, I wrote the following by way of “an introduction or perhaps provocation.” Immediately below, I repeat in the first paragraph what I wrote in the original introduction to the bibliography, which was stated rather abstractly and summarily:

More than a few titles are not about addiction qua addiction, but deal with subject matter pertaining to the psychological, ethical and cultural questions that surround addiction as self-destructive behavior in the context of variables, causes, and consequences that are, we might say, at once individual or intrapersonal and interpersonal (in an intimate sense) and social. Yet the distinctions serve a purpose, as they are essential in addressing the specific dynamics and dialectics of interaction between these two dimensions or poles so as to better understand the nature of addiction in the contemporary world.  

For what it’s worth, I’ll cite five volumes I’ve found particularly sophisticated, philosophically and psychologically speaking. In other words, these volumes contain or suggest arguments that are, by my lights, both sound and persuasive: Elster (1999), Fingarette (1988), Heyman (2009), Poland and Graham, eds. (2011), and Radoilska (2013). Together, they suggest—in varying degrees or ways—a model of addictive behavior (especially with regard to alcohol and drugs) which (i) rejects the “brain disease” or simply disease explanatory account of addiction (even its use as a metaphor may be counter-productive), (ii) that addiction is a “disorder of choice,” and (iii) thus “the use of evaluative and especially ethical vocabulary” remains relevant if not central:

“… [N]egative moral appraisal strengthens the person with addiction by reengaging with her as an apt valuer that could also act under the guise of the good, not only the apparent—and disappearing—good of her addiction. For … evaluative immaturity is what necessarily leads to less than successful pursuits, such as akrasia, weakness of will, and addiction. At the same time, however, evaluative immaturity is always object- or pursuit-centered rather than global: less than successful agency will take place under the guise of the good. And so success in action is never completely ruled out.” — Lubomira Radoilska, Addiction and Weakness of Will (Oxford University Press, 2013)

Nothing said above need contradict the following from Marcia Angell’s powerful review essay, “Opioid Nation,” in The New York Review of Books, (Dec. 6, 2018):

“Three years ago, the Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton published an explosive paper about the surprising rise in mortality, starting at the turn of this century, among middle-aged white non-Hispanic men and women. The increase was greater in women than in men. They found three main causes: drug and alcohol overdoses, suicide, and alcohol-associated liver disease. They later called these ‘deaths of despair,’ because they were most common among workers in tenuous jobs, with only a high school education or less, who were struggling to stay afloat in isolated regions of the country. Dragged down by these deaths, in the past three years overall life expectancy in the United States has started to drop.

It’s not hard to see reasons for the despair. Most working-class Americans have not benefited from our booming economy, the fruits of which have gone almost entirely to the richest 10 percent. For the bottom half of the population, income has scarcely budged since the 1970s, while expenses for necessities like housing, health care, education, and child care have skyrocketed. In Appalachia, where the opioid epidemic first took hold, many coal miners were unemployed and would probably remain so. People expected they wouldn’t live as well as their parents had, and had little hope for their children. It is true that African-Americans still have higher overall mortality rates than whites, but that gap is closing rapidly for people under the age of sixty-five, particularly for women. By 2027, white women will have higher mortality rates than African-American women. Mortality for African-American men is falling even faster than for African-American women; it is projected to be equal to that of white men by 2030. But the epidemic has extended to all parts of the country and to all ethnic groups, so it’s unclear how the effects will be distributed in the future.

By the middle of this decade, the grotesque inequality in this country began to get the attention it deserves. And the growing awareness of that inequality fed the populist passion that, when twisted and distorted, produced the election of Donald J. Trump. It’s probably not coincidental, then, that the opioid epidemic got its second wind at about that time. It certainly marks the time when the opioids of choice changed from prescription drugs to the witches’ brew of street drugs. Did the epidemic explode because people were becoming aware that the American Dream was no longer theirs to dream?

As long as this country tolerates the chasm between the rich and the poor, and fails even to pretend to provide for the most basic needs of our citizens, such as health care, education, and child care, some people will want to use drugs to escape. This increasingly seems to me not a legal or medical problem, nor even a public health problem. It’s a political problem. We need a government dedicated to policies that will narrow the gap between the rich and the poor and ensure basic services for everyone. To end the epidemic of deaths of despair, we need to target the sources of the despair.”

(Of course one does not have to share my assessment of the crème-de-la-crème of the available literature to benefit from acquaintance with the titles in this compilation)

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

“It is what it is”

Horrific crimes can be committed, and tolerated or ignored, be they municipal or international, or environmental, human rights can be dismissed as irrelevant, and ethical and social norms routinely and flagrantly violated, as long as it contributes to what Trump—a pathological narcissist and megalomaniacal menace in the highest office of the land—understands as putting “America First” or “Making America Great Again” (MAGA), both mind-numbing nationalist slogans understood in final reference to a bottom line defined in terms of money (obscene profits at one end, and conspicuous consumption at the other). The President is shamelessly fond of authoritarian rulers around the globe and despotism more generally. Democratic norms, values, and laws are not relevant to this crude and immoral economic calculus. The constitutional rule of law is viewed as an annoying obstacle to MAGA that will be removed once a sufficient number of compliant if not sycophantic federal judges and Supreme Court Justices are found to be wholly deferential to the executive branch. We now have a capitalist plutocracy and kleptocracy, or perhaps better, a capitalist oligarchy, with a thin veneer of democratic and constitutional rhetoric serving to obfuscate the enduring reign of “bread and circuses” among the masses.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Qur’ān (Translations, Commentaries, Studies): A Select Bibliography

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Prophet Muhammad: a basic bibliography


My 100th bibliography is on The Prophet Muhammad.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Islam & Jurisprudence (or, ‘Islamic Law’): A Basic Bibliography



I have completed my latest bibliography, on Islam and Jurisprudence, available here. The introduction: 

This compilation, like most of my bibliographies, has two constraints: books, in English. I trust the inference will not be made that this implies the best works are only in English, as it merely reflects the limits of my knowledge and research. “Jurisprudence” in this case can refer to Islamic philosophy and/or theory of law, as well as historical and existing legal systems in those countries in which Islam is (i) a state-sanctioned religion, (ii) predominant as a religious orientation in the society, (iii) or has a significant impact on the country’s legal system in one way or another. I have used the phrase “Islam and Jurisprudence” for the title to reflect the fact that it is a perilous endeavor to conclusively identify, except perhaps philosophically or theologically (and even then, there are inherent problems), Islamic law as such (i.e., in any kind of absolutist or ‘pure’ sense) in legal systems on the ground, as we say, even if we rightly derive warrant for this appellation from both emic and etic reasons. This list does not aspire to be exhaustive, although I hope it is at least representative of the depth and breadth of the available literature. I welcome suggestions for titles I may have inadvertently missed.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Reason and the “pre-logical”

I think the following are distinct but interrelated concepts: that which is (i) rational, (ii) a-rational (or non-rational), (iii) irrational, and (iv) supra- or para-rational. However, typically we think only of rationality and its converse, irrationality. In examining religious doctrine and religious experience— and perhaps other religious phenomena—for example, we may find occasions when it helps to describe and distinguish that which we are examining not merely according to whether or not it can be characterized as rational or irrational but probably and more precisely as non-rational and/or supra-rational (the latter involving transcendence but necessarily the negation of ‘rationality’ or that which is rational). Among (at least some) philosophers, there appears to be a tendency to think that which is not rational is thereby (even if only by default) irrational, ignoring the two other possibilities cited above. Incidentally, my motivation for making this point appears to overlap a bit with the apparent reasons that prompted the late A.C. Graham to have a collection of articles posthumously published under the title, Unreason within Reason: Essays on the Outskirts of Rationality (Open Court, 1992) [the subtitle was not Graham’s, as David Lynn Hall explains in the Foreword].

In particular, Graham’s use of the notion of the pre-logical captures some of what is meant by the “non-rational” and the “para-rational.”  One should not think of the prefix in pre-logical as meaning or implying something that is historically and philosophically inferior to that which comes after it, namely, the logical. According to Graham, we should consider that thinking which is pre-logical in the sense that it functions, say, as a presupposition, an axiomatic assumption, a tentative presumption, or even as an intuitive or axiological foundation (one that is, however, fallible and revisable), in other words, that “which reasons depends if it is to have anything but its own malfunctions to test,” thereby viewing reason itself “from a wider perspective.” 

In a summary of John Dewey’s thought in this regard, Hilary Putnam writes: “we can only start from where we are, where we are includes both our sufferings and enjoyments (our valuings) and our evaluations, the latter coming from both our community and ourselves.” In other words, reason or rationality itself  arises within the context of our overarching ideals of human flourishing and fulfillment. While “the rational” is rightly focused, philosophically speaking, on inference, demonstration and argument, or that which in principle is amenable to same, the non-rational and the para-rationalGraham’s pre-logical—concerns itself with the evocative, the valuational, the emotional (while emotions have a cognitive dimension and can be judged in their expression as either rational or irrational, in themselves they are neither rational nor irrational), or what Nicholas Rescher terms “inexplicable facts” or “unexplained explainers” (or, more broadly, the existential) on or from which all reasoning takes place. Inductive reasoning, fact/value entanglement, questions of value and interpretation, questions of consciousness (or personal awareness), intentionality, rhetoric, aesthetic experience, among other things, compel us to cross our conceptual, linguistic (or discourse) and pragmatic boundaries between the non-rational, the rational (and irrational), and the supra-rational, thus, in the best instances, cross-fertilizing and enriching these respective conceptions ... and, in turn, the boundaries between reason or philosophy and psychology. Our brief sketch of this circumscription or simply more modest picture of rationality or reason in no way serves to diminish its necessity or significance for philosophy or its role in our daily lives.