Sunday, May 19, 2019

political and cultural symptoms of a pathological moral psychology among the powers-that-be

Consider and compare these three recent news items: 

(i) “Federal prosecutors are pursuing criminal charges against activist Scott Daniel Warren for doing nothing more than giving food, water and shelter to migrants trekking through the desert.” “[P]rosecutors charged Warren with several counts of one of those offenses, conspiracy to transport and harbor migrants. A federal felony that could land Warren in prison for 20 years.” 

(ii) “President Trump has indicated that he is considering pardons for several American military members accused or convicted of war crimes, including high-profile cases of murder, attempted murder and desecration of a corpse, according to two United States officials.” 

(iii) Jeff Koons’ stainless steel sculpture of a rabbit (‘Rabbit’) sold at auction for $91 million. “The buyer in the latest sale was Robert E. Mnuchin, a former executive at Goldman Sachs who currently plies his trade as an art dealer. He’s the father of Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, which must stand as some sort of commentary on 21st century robber barons and their relationship with a plutocrat-loving administration in Washington.”

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Delineating the contours of the art of psychoanalysis*

Storr
A handful of incisive passages—sundry-sized gems—gleaned from Anthony Storr’s book, The Art of Psychotherapy (Routledge, 2nd ed., 1990):
  • “Modern man tends to escape his problems by turning to drugs and drink, or by distracting himself with passive entertainment. The ease with which we can turn on the television set [or play with a smartphone], in some instances, prevent the realisation of creative capacities for solving conflict, just as it hampers children’s capacity for creative play.”
  • “No psychotherapist, and no system or theory has the ‘key’ to understanding human beings.”
  • “Today, psychotherapists are consulted by people whose symptoms are ill-defined and who are not ‘sick’ or ‘ill’ in any conventional, medical sense [he is not saying that those with symptoms of mental illness1 do not see psychotherapists, only that the class of patients, clients, or analysands is now greater than that group of individuals]. They present what [Thomas] Szasz has quite properly called ‘problems in living;’ and what they are seeking is self-knowledge, self-acceptance, and better ways of managing their lives.”
  • “Patients who have consulted doctors in the past usually expect them to take the lead, issue instructions, give advice, or ask more questions. Doctors who are not used to practising psychotherapy find it difficult to abandon their traditional authoritarian role. However, the fact that the patient, rather than the doctor, is expected to take the lead in psychotherapeutic interviews is not only the feature of such interviews which most clearly distinguishes them from conventional medical consultations, but also has many important psychological consequences.”
  • “Some patients [in psychoanalysis] are reluctant to talk because using words to define and clarify problems is unfamiliar to them [I think this fact is frequently ignored or ill-understood by intellectuals and academics]. This may be because of lack of education; a difficulty which is usually surmountable if the psychotherapist is flexible enough to adapt his use of language to the patient’s range. Other patients have been brought up in such a way that they habitually have recourse to action when faced with difficulties, and do not include ‘putting things into words’ as action. If, throughout one’s life, one has been used to dispelling anger by digging the garden, to alleviating anxiety by taking alcohol, to avoid confrontation with authority by changing one’s job, to ‘doing something’ however futile or inappropriate, it takes time to learn that clarification through words can be of use. Some such people also believe that any form of self-examination is to be deplored; that introspection is unhealthy, that talking about one’s problems is self-indulgence, a notion which, in any case, tends to disappear when the patient discovers that he has to face things about himself which he may not find easy to accept.”
  • Self-deception may involve “overestimation of our bad qualities as well as of our virtues.”
  • “… [P]sychotherapists know their patients far better than they know their own friends or colleagues, and often better than they know their own spouses or children.” Indeed, if the therapist “is at all skilled at his profession, [he] is likely to acquire more intimate knowledge of his patient than anyone else ever has or will.”
  • “The psychotherapist’s purpose is to increase the patient’s self-knowledge, both by acting as a reflecting mirror with which the patient may descry himself and also by gradually building up a coherent picture of the patient’s personality by making the interpretative connections [between events, symptoms and personality characteristics].”
  • “Although one of the main objectives of psychotherapy is to enable the patient more effectively to care for himself, and thus obviate the need for parent figures by becoming his [as it were] own parent, the emotional situation which prevails in the early stages of therapy, when a therapist is faced with a person who may be acutely distressed, is bound to be analogous to a parent-child relationship.”
  • “Psychotherapists deal predominantly, and most successfully, with people who have negative expectations; who believe that nobody wants them, or that nobody can understand them; or who are isolated because they have come to believe that intimacy with another person is a threat. If therapy goes well, the patient will come to feel that there is a least one person in the world of whom this is not true.”
  • “Healing of psychological problems is partially, if not fully, a symbolic process in which words2 and images play the major role. A great deal of the healing process is metaphorical; an ‘as if’ process in which the therapist comes to represent both a series of persons from the patient’s past, and also a series of possibilities for the future. Real improvement comes about through symbolic interaction [principally, transference and counter-transference3].”
  • “The temporary idealisation of the therapist often includes an erotic component; especially when the patient is predominantly heterosexual and the therapist is of the opposite sex [….] It is, of course, only to be expected that the patient’s feelings toward the therapist should include sexual feelings in some instances, and many patients have dreams and phantasies in which the therapist plays the part of a lover. [….] Since the patient endows the therapist with attributes which are predominantly parental … it follows that, when erotic elements coincide, the patient is trying to make the therapist into a combination of parent and lover.”
  • “While not denying that children have sexual wishes and exhibit the precursors of adult sexuality both in behaviour and in phantasy, it has long seemed to me a pity that Freud did not lay more emphasis upon the dependent component of the persistent tie with parental figures which undoubtedly afflicts the majority of neurotics.”
  • “… [P]sychotherapy today is more concerned with understanding patients as whole persons than with the abolition of particular symptoms direct.”

1. In spite of considerable skepticism regarding the term’s utility, with some going so far as to forswear its use, I think the term “mental illness”(and the professional designation, ‘psychopathology’), even if ill-understood or misused in some quarters, is an important, indeed, indispensable normative psychological concept (well illustrating ‘fact/value’ entanglement or exemplifying at once ‘thick’ descriptive and normative or evaluative properties), provided we have at least a plausible corresponding conception of mental health and well-being (in reality, we often have only an intuitive or dim notion of what makes for mental health and well-being). Of course what it means to be “ill” in this case may partially overlap with bodily or physical illness (e.g., an organic brain problem or injury found to be causally linked to such illness) such as we find it defined in contemporary biomedicine, but it is often, at best, only analogous to its meaning and purpose in modern medicine, even if we grant mind/body interaction can and frequently does play a significant part in physical illness, at least outside of disease proper. Mental illness is, loosely and in part, a scalar concept, or perhaps better, admits of degrees. Perhaps our “problems in living,” motley anxieties and neuroses, might better be thought of as instances of mental illness in a metaphorical sense (closer to the meaning of being ‘ill-at-ease’ in existential or metaphysical terms). As Richard J. McNally writes in What Is Mental Illness? (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011), “[t]he boundary between mental distress and mental illness will never be neat and clean.” There should be no stigma whatsoever attached to the concept and experience of mental illness, any more than one should be attached to physical illness. Susceptibility or vulnerability to either state or condition is part and parcel of human nature, and the refusal to name that state or condition will do nothing by way of alleviating the myriad kinds of suffering associated with such mental distress and illness.
2. On this particular use of words see, for example, Neville Symington’s A Healing Conversation: How Healing Happens (London: Karnac Books, 2006).
3. For two dictionary definitions of transference and counter-transference, see the respective entries in Jean Laplanche and Jean-Betrand Pontalis (Donald Nicholson-Smith, trans.), The Language of Psychoanalysis (London: Karnac Books, 2004; first published in 1973 by Hogarth Press), and Elizabeth Bott Spillius, et al., The New Dictionary of Kleinian Thought [Based on A Dictionary of Kleinian Thought (1991) by R.D. Hinshelwood] (London: Routledge, 2011). Finally, see too Burness E. Moore and Bernard D. Fine, eds., Psychoanalysis: The Major Concepts (Yale University Press, 1995).

* I happen to believe psychoanalysis is both an art and science of healing (in the latter sense: a unique ‘science of subjectivity’).

Monday, May 13, 2019

“Please, come in, make yourself comfortable” (said while gesturing to the couch and chair) [Updated]

Freud's consulting room
Along with the psychological climate of psychotherapy, the physical setting represents a standard medium for therapist expression in general and for the expression of power in particular [we’ll have to set aside here several definition of power or the various conceptions and types of power, in both negative and positive terms]. ‘Physical setting’ refers to the arrangement and contents of the office space as well as the visible aspects of the person (therapist) and his or her accoutrements.

Characteristics of the setting often have important symbolic meanings for both client and therapist. In the eyes of the participants, characteristics of the setting typically express power, nurturance, or other salient phenomena related to therapeutic behavior.

Physical setting characteristics probably exert greatest influence early in psychotherapy, prior to the development of a deeper and more thoroughly articulated therapeutic relationship. Once power communications are finding more direct if not verbal avenues for expression, these background concerns tend to be less pervasive in the minds of the participants.

The physical setting in psychotherapy tends to intersperse power symbols with more unintentional and less influential setting aspects. Particularly in reference to personal items, distinguishing between attempts at power and less willful interest is rarely clear or facile. [….]

One of the most glaring manifestations of power in a therapist’s office is the seating arrangement; one of the most power-laden of these is the psychoanalytic couch, which serves as a famous illustration. The couch is an expression of power to the analytic patient in several ways. With a gentle persuasiveness, the presence of the couch may communicate that all of a patients body, posturing, and movements, or the lack of them, are open to the interpretations of the analyst. Similarly, the couch may serve as muscle relaxer or pain reliever, and thus become a manifestation of an analysts love along with his or her power. In other words, it reflects unspoken and inherent power to comfort.

Yet, perhaps what is even more apparent is the relative positioning of the patient and the therapist. The upper-lowerseating arrangement between vertical therapist and supine patient conveys a hierarchical and uneven relationship [the first adjective strikes me as overstated if not false]. With the use of the psychoanalytic couch, the patient falls under the doctor’s examining influence and resembles the reclining infant dependent on the mothers care. In fact, the couch may render the patient more pliant to the therapists suggestion or intimation [interpretation?]. Other authors, less predisposed toward the couch, have also observed that it may encourage a sedentary manner, passivity and atrophy as well as relaxation. These warring perspectives exemplify the embittered controversy that continues to surround discussion of the psychoanalytic couch. [….] – From Chapter 6, “Structural Manifestations: The Symbols of Power,” in David Heller’s Power in Psychotherapeutic Practice (Human Sciences Press, 1985): 109-121. 

 *     *     *
      
It is often after I’m well into a book that something is discovered deemed worth sharing; today’s case is an exception. The material in question is from the first pages of The Art of Psychotherapy (1st ed., 1979, 2nd ed., 1990) by the late Anthony Storr* (18 May 1920 – 17 March 2001), English psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and author of over a dozen books. The chapter is titled, appropriately enough, “The Setting,” and it illustrates but one of a “what appear to be inessential details” in psychotherapeutic practice that “are in fact important.”

“… [T]he room in which the therapist sees patients, and the way that room is arranged are factors which ought to be taken into consideration. In private practice, one is free to arrange and furnish one’s consulting room in any way one likes. In hospital practice, junior doctors are lucky if they have any choice in either the location of the room in which they see patients or in its furnishing or appearance. In spite of this, I shall describe how I think a room in which one is to practice psychotherapy should be; and I would urge all psychotherapists in hospitals and outpatient clinics to insist that these basic requirements are met by the authorities, and to express dissatisfaction when they are not. At present [i.e. in 1979], it is often easier to get money for expensive electrical devices, video-tape recorders, computers and the like than to see that a number of rooms in a psychiatric hospital are properly furnished and sufficiently comfortable for psychotherapy to be carried out.

Ideally, a room in which psychotherapy is to be undertaken should be furnished as follows. First, there should be a comfortable chair in which the patients can relax. Many patients will be so tense at first that they will be unable to make proper use of such a chair, but one hopes that as the therapy progresses they will increasingly be able to do so. Being perched on the edge of a hard chair of the kind too often provided for outpatients is not conducive to personal revelation [or even simply convivial or ‘healing’ conversation], and may put the patient at a disadvantage compared with the doctor, who will almost certainly be more comfortably seated.

Second, there should be a couch on which the patient can lie down. This should not be an examination couch of the kind which physicians use for physical examinations, but something far more comfortable. When I was in private practice I used a divan bed which proved satisfactory. If suitably covered, this does not look like a bed, to which some patients might object and which others might welcome with misplaced enthusiasm. It should have at its foot end an extra piece of the same material in which it is covered, which can easily be removed for cleaning. This enables the patient to lie down without having to take off his shoes, which might otherwise dirty the cover. At the other end of the couch should be a number of covered cushions which the patient can arrange in any way that he finds comfortable.

The couch should be so placed that the therapist can sit at the head of it, out of sight of the patient, without having to rearrange the furniture every time the couch is used.

Many psychotherapists never follow the psychoanalytical practice using such a couch …. But I have found it useful with some patients; and I prefer to have it as an available alternative which the patient can use if he finds it easier to relax when lying down, or easier to talk if he is not face-to-face with the therapist.

Office in psychoanalysis
In most clinic rooms, the doctor will be provided with a desk, and with a more or less comfortable chair in which he will sit behind it. This arrangement has the disadvantage that it immediately puts the doctor in a ‘superior’ position vis-à-vis the patient; but does enable the doctor easily to take notes if he wishes to do so. When one has had the opportunity of getting to know a patient really well over a period of time, taking notes may be superfluous: but most doctors will want to do so initially, though they should not do so if the patient objects. Note-taking should be as unobtrusive as possible, in order not to interrupt the patient’s discourse.

It is important that, if the doctor is sitting behind a desk, the furniture be so arranged that the patient is not immediately opposite him, with the desk intervening like an impassible barrier. Business tycoons use their desks as a means of intimidating their juniors, which is why they often insist upon having unnecessarily large expanses of mahogany between them and their ‘inferiors.’ It is generally possible so to arrange the furniture that, if a desk is used, the patient’s chair is placed to one side of it, so that there is little feeling of a barrier. Which side is chosen depends on whether the therapist writes with his left hand or his right. I happen to write with the right hand, and therefore place the patient on my left. This enables me to scribble notes if I wish to do so, whilst at the same time facing the patient and being able to say things directly to him without turning away or looking down. [….]

In hospital, it is probable that the therapist, especially when he is beginning, will have little choice in how the room is decorated or in what other furniture may be there. Hospital rooms are often drab, suggesting impersonal officialdom and the ‘Welfare’ State. I do not believe that it is necessarily more expensive to decorate a room in such a way that it gives the impression of warmth and friendliness. Where the therapist is in a position to exercise his own personal choice, he may well like to hang some pictures on the walls, and fill the bookshelves (if there are any) with his own books. This is entirely reasonable; but I think it important, for reasons which will emerge later, that the room should not contain anything which too stridently asserts the therapist’s tastes or which is likely to reveal a great deal of his personal life. [….]

Many professional people like to bring reminders of home into their offices by displaying photographs of their wives [or husbands or lovers] and children [and pets!]. I think it is undesirable for psychotherapists to do this. When patients become deeply involved in the therapeutic process, they are likely to experience powerful feelings of love, hate, envy, jealously and the like toward the therapist [as in ‘transference’]. Explicit reminders of the therapist’s life outside the consulting room of the kind provided by family photographs may inhibit the expression of these feelings. Moreover, the patient will have phantasies about the therapist’s personal life; and the content of these phantasies may be important in understanding the patient. [….]

Office in psychoanalysis 2
It is important, if possible, the room should be quiet. Extraneous noise is not only disturbing in itself, but also gives rise to anxiety on the part of the patient. For if noise from without can come into the room, it is likely that sounds from within can be heard outside it. Nothing is more inimical to frank disclosure [let alone, ‘free association’] than the belief that one may be overheard. Most hospital rooms will contain a telephone. It is important that, during the time of the therapeutic session, the therapist does not make or take telephone calls [it is quite remarkable that there is seen the need—likely for sufficient reason—to make this particular proscription explicit; although in the time of the smartphone, it may be that much more urgent]. This is usually possible to arrange, except when the doctor is on call for emergency duties within the hospital. In my view, the doctor practicing psychotherapy should do so only on those days on which he is not on call for emergencies, or else ensure that a colleague covers for him during the time during which he is practicing psychotherapy. [….]

It is often hard to convince telephone operators and secretaries that one really must not be disturbed during psychotherapy sessions. ‘But Dr. X said it was urgent,’ they will protest. Calls are very seldom so urgent that they cannot be postponed for fifty minutes (to put it at its worst), or transferred to someone else. When I was in practice in London, I was so insistent upon not being disturbed what when a call came through from a doctor in Australia, my receptionist told him to ring back later. I congratulated her upon her firmness [I immediately thought here of Deborah Fiderer (Lily Tomlin), President Josiah Bartlet’s second private secretary on The West Wing]. It is important so to arrange the times of psychotherapeutic sessions that there is a gap of ten minutes or longer between patients. This enables the therapist to deal with telephone calls or other matters which may have arisen during the session with the last patient.

All these things are much more easily arranged in private practice than in hospital practice. My view is that, whether the patient is paying for treatment directly [through] private fees, or indirectly by the taxation which finances the Health Service, he is entitled to feel that the time he spends with the therapist is his time; and that this should not be diminished by interruptions.”

Office in psychoanalysis 3
* From his Obituary notice in The Guardian: “Anthony Storr … was Britain’s most literate psychiatrist. A prolific author, journalist and radio and television commentator, he was widely respected as a fount of wisdom and good sense in a profession not particularly noted for such qualities [?!]. Like other kind and compassionate men, he was no stranger to suffering at formative stages of his life.

Born in London, Storr was a solitary, friendless child, plagued by frequent illness, including severe asthma and septicaemia, from which he nearly died. He was the youngest of four children, separated by 10 years from his closest sibling. His father, Vernon Faithfull Storr, sub-dean of Westminster Abbey, was 51 when Anthony was born, and his mother, Katherine Cecilia Storr, was 44. They were first cousins, and their consanguinity probably accounted for his asthma, from which he, like two of his siblings, suffered for most of his life. He also seems to have inherited from his mother a tendency to occasional episodes of depression.

Growing up in the privileged seclusion of Dean’s Yard, Westminster, as virtually an only child, Storr was particularly affected by the trauma, shared by most boys of his class and time, of being sent away to a boarding prep school at the age of eight. There, and later at Winchester College, he was bitterly unhappy. Having been deprived of a childhood peer group in which to learn the skills of comradeship, he was ill-prepared for the rigours of boarding-school life. Extremely slow to make friends, and showing little proficiency for games, he was bullied, and made only average academic progress. Though utterly miserable, it never occurred to him to complain to his parents, or attempt to run away, because boarding school was then a fact of life. But the sense of being a loner never left him, and was to affect the course of his career, as well as the content of his books.”

Major Sidney Freedman
(Dr. Sidney Theodore Freedman, played by Allan Arbus in the television series M*A*S*H, is a psychiatrist frequently summoned in cases of mental health problems.’ Sidney represents conditions for psychotherapeutic practice well outside the scope of Storr’s suggested considerations and instructions for the spatial setting of psychoanalytic therapy.)

Further Reading: Chapter 6, “Structural Manifestations: The Symbols of Power,” in David Heller’s Power in Psychotherapeutic Practice (Human Sciences Press, 1985): 109-121.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

The “rectification of names”

If theres any field in which the Trump administration excels, its in coming up with more ways to disadvantage the already disadvantaged in American society. Undermining the healthcare system, tormenting immigrants, throwing people off Medicaidthe list is almost endless. — From Michael Hiltzik’s article today in the Los Angeles Times, “Trump proposes to use a sham inflation rate to throw millions off poverty rolls

The political policies and legal effects of the President and his bootlicking lackeys and sycophants within the Administration and the Republican Party (and to an increasing extent, the judicial system), by design (i.e., deliberately thus intentionally) and occasionally by default, are systematically harming the most economically disadvantaged and vulnerable in our society, although this vulnerability may on the whole be a bit more complex insofar as it could be related to race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, disability, religious identity, what have you; in other words, there can be multiple points of vulnerability or plural disadvantages, be they embodied in the life of one individual or shared by groups. This is, at the same time, an utterly shameless dismissal of any meaningful conception of the public and common good in our society and both a de jure and de facto suppression and repression of genuine democratic will-formation or voice, let alone representation. More broadly, and whatever the source of motivation, it amounts to a denial of values and principles intrinsic to the generalized (because generalizable) praxes of welfare, well-being, and human flourishing irrespective of geo-political or nation-state borders.

At some point, the sheer scope of these blatantly systematic and sometimes insidious social and cultural causes and effects should prompt us to properly describe their true character, nature, or essence: evil. I don’t doubt that this particular desire or attempt to call things by their true name will be vociferously dismissed in some quarters as exemplifying the vice of moralism (recalling that the pejorative sense of ‘moralism’ appears rather late in our dictionaries, which is not to deny there may be perfectly appropriate meanings along these lines), in which case we find ourselves on the rocky terrain of moral psychology, raising the possibility if not probability of widespread denial, self-deception, and willful ignorance on the part of those who have succumbed to the politics and policies now firmly entrenched in the Republican Party’s feckless and immoral will-to-power, a politics clumsily and even comically but no less successfully crafted by a kleptocratic and would-be autocratic President who daily exhibits the symptoms of narcissistic megalomania.

Monday, May 06, 2019

An imminent global environmental apocalypse

Earth

“Shocking New Report on Loss of Nature Paints a Terrifying Picture for the Future of Humanity”
Up to 1 million species are at risk of extinction.
John Vidal for HuffPost, 05/06/2019

“Planet Earth has been put on red alert by hundreds of leading scientists who have warned that humanity faces an existential threat within decades if the steep decline of nature is not reversed. The conclusions of the greatest-ever stock-taking of the living world, published on Monday, show that ecosystems and wild populations are shrinking, deteriorating or vanishing completely, and up to 1 million species of land and marine life could be made extinct by humans’ actions if present trends continue.

Food, pollination, clean water and a stable climate all depend on a thriving plant and animal population. But forests and wetlands are being erased worldwide and oceans are under growing stress, says the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the United Nations’ expert nature panel, in the landmark global assessment report. The three-year study, compiled by nearly 500 scientists, analyzed around 15,000 academic studies that focused on everything from plankton and fish to bees, coral, forests, frogs and insects, as well as drawing on indigenous knowledge.

If we continue to pollute the planet and waste natural resources as we have been doing, it won’t just affect people’s quality of life but will lead to a further deterioration of earth’s planetary systems, said the IPBES scientists. ‘The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed. This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world,’ said professor Josef Settele, a research ecologist and co-chair of the 1,800 page report, the summary of which was agreed to by 132 governments meeting in Paris this weekend, including the U.S.

The scale and rapid speed of this decline of nature is unprecedented in human history and is likely to continue for at least 50 years, say the authors of the global study, but can still largely be turned around if governments, businesses and individuals urgently commit to working together to conserve and restore nature, and to use fewer natural resources better.It will require a concerted worldwide effort to change the way we live, said IPBES chair Sir Robert Watson, a former chief scientist at NASA who is now with the U.K. government. ‘The whole world is focused on climate change but loss of biodiversity is just as important,’ said Watson. ‘You can’t deal with one without the other. There is a recognition now that biodiversity is an environmental issue, but it’s also about economics and development, too. We have to reform the economic system.’

The global assessment report, which will not be published in full until later this year (only the conclusions have been released), is unique among governmental biodiversity studies because it identifies both the direct drivers of nature’s losses ― such as climate change, agricultural expansion, pollution and the exploitation of oceans and forests ― and the underlying causes.

These indirect drivers are more controversial and include world population, which has doubled since 1970 (from 3.7 billion to 7.6 billion people), the tenfold increase in global trade over the last five decades, the sheer amount of goods that people now buy in rich countries, as well as supply chains, the endless pursuit of economic growth, damaging subsidies and the sharp growth of new technologies, all of which put demands on natural resources.

Unless both direct and indirect drivers are addressed simultaneously, there is little hope of the transformational change needed to avert a planetary crisis, said global assessment lead author Kai Chan, professor at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia.

‘The present system [of environmental protection] has not worked well enough. Governments must get serious about reining in the power of business to regulate itself. We must also focus on supply chains. At present, nature is undermined every time we buy something through the raw materials used or the way goods are produced,’ he said. ‘Few governments fully understand the magnitude of the problems we face. Most deny the reality of the existential threat we face,’ Chan added.

The global assessment report also shows:
  • Urban areas have more than doubled in size since 1992, and 100 million hectares of tropical forest were lost from 1980 to 2000.
  • Around 25% of animal and plant species are threatened, and around 1 million species already face extinction, many within decades if no action is taken.
  • The current rate of species extinction is at least tens to hundreds of times higher than it has averaged over the past 10 million years.
  • Nearly half the live coral cover on coral reefs has been lost since the 1870s, with losses in recent decades accelerating due to climate change.
  • Two-thirds of the oceans are under stress, and over 85% of wetlands area has been lost.
  • The frequency and intensity of extreme weather events have increased in the past 50 years, while the global average sea level has risen by between 6 and 8 inches since 1900.
  • Climate change is projected to become increasingly important as a direct driver of changes in nature and its contributions to humanity in the next decades.
  • There are around 2,500 conflicts over fossil fuels, water, food and land currently occurring worldwide.” [….]
The full article is here.

Relevant Bibliographies
Or, given the urgency of the matter at hand:
  • Angus, Ian. Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2016.
  • Bahro, Rudolf. Socialism and Survival. London: Heretic Books, 1982.
  • Bahro, Rudolf. From Red to Green: Interviews with New Left Review. London: Verso, 1984.
  • Bahro, Rodolf. Building the Green Movement. Philadelphia, PA: New Society Publishers, 1986.
  • Benton, Ted. Natural Relations: Ecology, Animal Rights and Social Justice. London: Verso, 1993.
  • Benton, Ted, ed. The Greening of Marxism. New York: Guilford Press, 1996.
  • Bernstein, Henry. Class Dynamics of Agrarian Change. West Hartford, CT: Kumarian Press, 2010.
  • Bernstein, Henry, et al., eds. The Food Question: Profits Versus People. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1990.
  • Borgnäs, Kajsa, et al., eds. The Politics of Ecosocialism: Transforming Welfare. New York: Routledge, 2017.
  • Burkett, Paul. Marxism and Ecological Economics: Toward a Red and Green Political Economy. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2009.
  • Burkett, Paul. Marx and Nature: A Red and Green Perspective. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2014.
  • Carter, Alan. A Radical Green Political Theory. London: Routledge, 1999.
  • Foster, John Bellamy. Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000.
  • Foster, John Bellamy. Ecology against Capitalism. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2002.
  • Foster, John Bellamy. The Ecological Revolution. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2009.
  • Foster, John Bellamy. “Marxism and Ecology: Common Fonts of a Great Transition,” Monthly Review, 2015 (Vol. 67, No. 7).
  • Foster, John Bellamy, Brett Clark, and Richard York. The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010.
  • Ghosh, B.N. Beyond Gandhian Economics: Towards a Creative Deconstruction. New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2012. [I have included this title because I think both Marxists and environmentalists (and by implication, ecologists), can benefit from examining Gandhi’s principles of moral and spiritual political economy.]
  • Gorz, André. Ecology as Politics. Boston, MA: South End Press, 1980.
  • Gorz, André. Capitalism, Socialism, Ecology. London: Verso, 1994.
  • Klein, Naomi. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014.
  • Kovel, Joel. The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World? London: Zed Books, 2nd ed., 2007.
  • Löwy, Michael. Ecosocialism: A Radical Alternative to Capitalist Catastrophe. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2015.
  • Magdoff, Fred. “A Rational Agriculture is Incompatible with Capitalism,” Monthly Review, March 15, 2015 (Vol. 66, No. 10).
  • Magdoff, Fred and Chris Williams. Creating an Ecological Society: Toward a Revolutionary Transformation. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2017.
  • Magdoff, Fred, John Bellamy Foster, and Frederick H. Buttel, eds. Hungry for Profit: The Agribusiness Threat to Farmers, Food, and the Environment. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000.
  • Magdoff, Fred and Brian Tokar, eds. Agriculture and Food in Crisis: Conflict, Resistance, and Renewal. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010.
  • Moore, Jason W. Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital. London: Verso, 2015.
  • O’Connor, James. Natural Causes: Essays in Ecological Marxism. New York: Guilford, 1998.
  • Patel, Raj. Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System. Brooklyn, NY: Melville House Publishing, 2007.
  • Pepper, David. Eco-Socialism: From Deep Ecology to Social Justice. London: Routledge, 1993.
  • Postone, Moishe. Time, Labor, and Social Domination: A Reinterpretation of Marx’s Critical Theory. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
  • Ross, Eric B. The Malthus Factor: Poverty, Politics and Population in Capitalist Development. London: Zed Books, 1998.
  • Ryle, Martin. Ecology and Socialism. London: Radius/Century Hutchinson, 1988.
  • Saito, Kohei. Ecosocialism: Capital, Nature, and the Unfinished Critique of Political Economy. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2017.
  • Smith, Neil. Uneven Development: Nature, Capital, and the Production of Space. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 3rd ed., 2008.
  • Tokar, Brian. Toward Climate Justice: Perspectives on the Climate Crisis and Social Change. Porsgrunn, Norway: New Compass Press, 2nd ed., 2014.
  • Williams, Chris. Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2010.

Friday, May 03, 2019

Psychology and the Understanding of Good & Evil

Dilman 4
The existence of the experimental method [in psychology] makes us think we have the means of getting rid of the problems which trouble us; but the problem and method pass one another by.—Wittgenstein

The following is from the Preface to Ilham Dilman’s Raskolnikov’s Rebirth: Psychology and the Understanding of Good and Evil (Open Court, 2000). In my estimation, Dilman remains one of the foremost philosophical analysts of psychoanalytic psychology (alongside the likes of Richard Wollheim, Sebastian Gardner, and Jonathan Lear): he is at once incisively critical and deeply appreciative of psychoanalysis, exhibiting the virtues of a philosopher while writing in a style that extends a philosophical temperament and insight well beyond the boundaries of professional philosophy. As I’ve said elsewhere: “Occasionally one comes across a philosopher who, one believes quite strongly, was unduly neglected when alive, and thus virtually forgotten or ignored after his or her death. Ilham Dilman perfectly illustrates such a case.”

For what it’s worth, I am in full agreement with Dilman’s remarks below about “scientific psychology” (which are bit stronger than but in the spirit of kindred comments made by Jon Elster when discussing various approaches to the study of the emotions[1]):

Raskolnikov’s Rebirth is concerned with the contribution psychology, the discipline, can make to an understanding of good and evil and of a person’s relation to morality. It argues that experimental, scientific psychology can make no contribution to such an understanding. In a sense analogous to the one in which we may describe a person as having no soul, such a psychology has no soul. It is blind to the kind of life in which human beings have a soul.

This book contrasts experimental psychology[2] with what it calls a ‘thoughtful’ psychology which gives place to reflection on human life—a life which offers the possibility of autonomy to human beings, a life in which human beings find their individuality. I am interested in psychoanalysis because it has the potential of being a thoughtful psychology. Jung called Freud’s psychology ‘a psychology without a soul.’ This book tries to show how Freud’s perception, which were [at least in the early years] clouded by his scientism and his concentration on psycho-pathology,’ could nevertheless inspire a move towards a more thoughtful psychology. To this end I critically examine the contribution of a few later psychoanalysts [especially thus not only, Melanie Klein and Michael Balint] to an understanding of a person’s relation to good and evil and also to an understanding of religious belief. The book closes with a chapter on Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov because in Crime and Punishment we have a profound appreciation of the relation of a person, a character in the novel, to good and evil, what it means to be alienated from goodness, and of the radical change he undergoes in his mode of being as he is reintegrated with goodness. In such reintegration Raskolnikov finds his soul, the soul he has lost in his alienation from goodness, Dostoevsky describes this as ‘Raskolnikov’s rebirth.’

For psychology, as a discipline, likewise to find its soul it has to turn from experimentation to reflection, from the general to the individual. Dostoevsky, in his novels, shows himself to be such a thoughtful psychologist.”

1. “… [W]ith respect to an important subset of the emotions we can learn more from moralists, novelists, and playwrights than from the cumulative findings of scientific psychology. These emotions include regret, relief, hope, disappointment, shame, guilt, pridefulness, pride, hybris, envy, jealousy, malice, pity, indignation, wrath, hatred, contempt, joy, grief, and romantic love. By contrast, the scientific study of the emotions can teach us a great deal about anger, fear, disgust, parental love, and sexual desire (if we count the last two as emotions). [….] I believe … that prescientific insights into the emotion are not simply superseded by modern psychology in the way that natural philosophy has been superseded by physics. Some men and women in the past have been superb students of human nature, with more wide-ranging personal experience, better powers of observation, and deeper intuitions than almost any psychologist I can think of. This is only what we should expect: There is no reason why one century out of twenty-five should have a privilege in wisdom and understanding. In the case of physics, this argument does not apply.”—Jon Elster, Alchemies of the Mind: Rationality and the Emotions (Cambridge University Press, 1999)
2. Dilman grants that “... there are questions that fall within the purview of [academic or scientific] psychology, in a broad sense, that are amenable to experimental study. They concern, as Charles Taylor puts it, ‘the infrastructural conditions for the exercise’ of these capacities which are necessary to human conduct—such as attention, perception, memory, voluntary movements and the functioning of the neurological systems that come into play in the exercise of those capacities. They are concerned with the constraints behind individual behaviour in its variations.”

Relevant Bibliographies

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Buddhism and psychoanalysis: two rather different “therapies of desire” fashioned for the relief of suffering

Freud and the Buddha
“How does Freud create a [new] science out of a self-analysis?” (John Forrester) is a question akin if not identical to asking, ”How did Siddhattha Gotama (of the Sākiyas)—the Buddha—create a spiritual and philosophical therapy (or new religion) out of meditation?” (a question posed by students of religion). While I think these are worthwhile queries for any number of reasons, I will not attempt to address them here, although even their cursory consideration may prove provocative and fruitful. These exemplary and creative historical endeavors are not of course instances of creation ex nihilo, for in both cases we situate their emergence within traditions, cultures, societies—their religious, philosophical, and scientific contexts and predecessors, for example—that serve as necessary yet not sufficient conditions for both Buddhism and psychoanalysis.* And in spite of their obvious historical, geographical, and cultural distances and thus differences from each other, both Buddhism and psychoanalysis proffer distinctive philosophies and methods of therapeutic healing with some overlap in methods, values, and even psychological insight.

A significant and growing body of literature now exists engaged in what we can loosely call cross-cultural interaction, examination, and dialogue between these two psychological therapies: there are Buddhists (more than a few being Western converts) and Buddhist communities (representing the three main ‘schools:’ Theravāda, Mahāyāna, and Vajrayāna) in countries where Freudian psychology has (for motley reasons and for better and worse) created what John Forrester aptly terms “psychoanalytic cultures,” or what Auden memorably described as “a whole climate of opinion” suffused with the thoughts, values, and spirit of psychoanalytic psychology; and there are psychoanalytic traditions and institutions established in Asian countries, indeed, in many countries outside Europe and North America (in other words, both Buddhism and Freudian psychology are globally entrenched). There are psychoanalysts who are at the same time Buddhists (owing to psychoanalysts becoming Buddhists and, on occasion, Buddhist practitioners becoming psychoanalysts), and a few Buddhists like Padmasiri de Silva who have, with ardent interest and clear sympathy, examined Freudian psychology with due scholarly care and acumen.

Both of these therapeutic philosophies and regimens address existential and psychological questions and problems indissolubly linked to (avoidable) suffering with considerable intellectual sophistication and affective knowledge and awareness, each with perhaps something to offer their historical and cultural counterpart by way of enhancing the breadth and depth of their unique forms of healing (both overlap with, yet are different from, historic forms of ‘philosophy as therapeia’ like Stoicism, bearing in mind that the distinction between philosophy and religion in Asian worldviews is often difficult to make), possible respective contributions that need not be made at the expense of effacing their undoubtable interpersonal, psychological, and philosophical or spiritual differences.

From my vantage point however, and generally speaking (i.e., there are a few exceptions), the regnant assumption or presumption—at least if the extant literature is representative—is that psychoanalysis or psychoanalysts can learn or benefit from an acquaintance with Buddhism, not that Buddhists should be students of psychoanalytic philosophy and therapy. I would argue the former might indeed benefit from familiarity with intra-and inter-personal psychological phenomena identified during analytic treatment, in particular, and by way of but one example, transference and counter-transference as it occurs in the relationship between the analysand and analyst (consider the well-documented sexual and other scandals involving Buddhist teachers and their students). I say this not to insinuate the superiority of psychoanalysis over Buddhism but only by way of suggesting the possibility that we might engage in the aforementioned and ongoing cross-cultural interaction, examination, and dialogue in such a manner as to refrain from (pre)judging the superiority, as it were, of one or the other therapeutic tradition, even as we attempt to assay their respective merits and possible shortcomings. In other words, this dialogue might proceed without the interlocutors claiming or attempting to prove their form of healing as somehow superior to all others. This is, of course, extremely difficult to do when the participants often identify with one or the other therapeutic traditions although, as we hinted above, some practitioners may have already found a way of personally integrating—or complementing—Buddhism and psychoanalytic psychology within their individual worldviews and therapeutic praxes, regardless of possible or probable tensions, contradictions, or lack of intellectual consistency (which is not to claim that it is impossible to dialectically transcend same, thereby achieving some coherent form of theory and/or praxis on this score).

* An important difference here is that the Buddha’s teachings were exclusively oral, while Freud’s self-analysis achieved sufficient publicity through literary form (as ‘autobiographical writing’) in The Interpretation of Dreams (Die Traumdeutung, 1899). The structure and distinctive features of early Buddhist literature suggests these teachings were memorized by his disciples (monks who specialized in such memorization and recitation) and passed down for several centuries in oral form before being written down. Both Buddhist and non-Buddhist scholars of Buddhism have argued that these oral teachings were adapted to the spiritual and psychological capacities or needs (or knowledge) of the audience, disciple(s) or interlocutor(s) of the Buddha, hence this is often an important factor in interpreting the precise meaning of the teachings in question. The psychoanalytic counterpart of this pedagogical adaptability exists in the process of analysis itself, which is characterized by its personal dimension and the corresponding therapeutic objective of the psychoanalytic dialogue (the principal reason, as Ilham Dilman reminds us, one cannot characterize psychoanalytic interpretations as either ‘descriptive statements’ or ‘explanatory hypotheses’). The analyst’s interpretation “speaks to the person ... about himself, and seeing its truth [in the form of self-knowledge] is very different from coming to see an ‘objective’ truth” (Dilman). All the same, I would depict the dialectic between objective and subjective truth a bit differently in the case of Buddhism insofar as it is not, generally speaking, individuated in quite the same manner or degree (Buddhist teachers do, however, attempt to identify general character or personality traits of their students, for such knowledge is indispensable for suggesting a particular type of meditation practice) as it is in psychoanalysis (in comments on this thread, I expressed thoughts to the contrary, or at least downplayed possible differences).

Relevant Bibliographies:

Friday, April 26, 2019

Recovering aspects of oneself as a necessary condition of “finding oneself:” therapeutic progress in psychoanalysis

Insightcombines the direct experience, or recovery in consciousness,1 of aspects of oneself, so far deemed, with a perspective in the light of which their role in ones patterns of behaviour and their consequences for one are understood. [….] But though this insight involves an inner change in which dissociated aspects of oneself are recovered, this is not the same thing as what is meant asfinding oneself.’ From the one inner change to the other there is much inner work to be done. 

“The neurotic—and this, to some extent, applies to everyone—has reached certain solutions to his inner conflicts in early childhood. These solutions involve splitting off and denying certain aspects of himself, devoting some of his energies to maintaining this state of affairs. Consequently, he has confined himself to certain modes of response and closed himself to certain forms of interaction and experience. What he has thus become excludes what he could have been had he not rushed into these solutions and been able to tolerate pain, anxiety, and uncertainty a little more than he was able to. What he has missed in this process is ‘his best self’ [Freud], namely, ‘what he would have been under the most favourable conditions.’ Missing it implies a degree of inauthenticity and some curtailment of personal autonomy. 

But what he has missed is not something that exists, albeit hidden or unconscious. The patient’s ‘best self,’ in the sense Freud meant it here is not his unconscious self. Finding it is not finding something ready-made awaiting discovery. ‘Finding’ here is used as in ‘finding one’s style.’ It means making, shaping, learning, growing into. When Leonardo da Vinci spoke of the sculptor finding the sculpture he was creating in the block of marble on which he was working, getting to it by removing parts of the block of marble on which he was working, getting to it by removing parts of the block which hid it, he was underplaying the part played by the artist’s creative vision in this process. His reason, I imagine, was to emphasize how much the artist’s creative vision is responsible to something outside him, something that exists independently of him, namely an artistic tradition, and he sees the possibilities in the material on which he sets off to create or realize come from that tradition, and he see the possibilities in the material on which he works, limited by its relevant characteristics—the size, shape and texture of the marble block. It is only in this sense that he finds the sculpture, the statue, in the block, only in this sense that the statue exists within it in advance. It is in some ways the same with ‘finding oneself.’ What corresponds to the block in this case are, on the one hand, one’s past experiences and, on the other, those aspects of one’s character which make up one’s inauthenticity. What emerges ultimately, as one chips away the protective, defensive aspect of one’s character, giving up the pursuit of certain ambitions which one comes to see undermine what one cherishes, coming to terms with old injuries and forgiving those whom one held responsible for them, etc., has a great deal to do with the values and loyalties that are rooted in one’s past, the life and culture to which one belongs and the interests made possible by it which absorb one. 

But for anyone whose growth has in some way been stunted to ‘find’ or ‘grow into’ himself, his ‘best self’ has to stop deceiving himself, face aspects of himself he has denied, feel the pain he has avoided in avoiding facing these, regain the resources he has deployed in keeping them at bay, as so find greater openness to new experiences. This is the part of the process which Freud used Leonardo da Vinci’s metaphor of per via di levare to highlight. However, he missed emphasizing the patient’s further positive contributions to which is ‘creative’ in character, and the part played in this by what comes to the patient from outside as he becomes more open and less rigid in himself.
Let me re-emphasize, this ‘best self’ that a person grows or would grow into, given the right circumstances, is not something predetermined—as in the case of a chrysalis which grows into a butterfly. On the contrary, what gives a person a ‘fixed’ character, so that what he comes to is to some extent predetermined, is what makes him, as it were a ‘closed system’ [cf. Wilhelm Reich’s notion of ‘character armour’]. [….] In finding himself a person loses this ‘fixity,’ he opens up, while at the same time finding a new stability. How he grows then depends on what he encounters in life, and this is not something fixed in advance. [….]

Psychoanalysis, one would say, enables the patient to find the conditions necessary for his arrested growth to pick up again by removing obstacles, by helping him to dispense with defences and to turn back from the road of repression. This can only be achieved with the patient’s collaboration. For the rest, the analyst leaves the patient on his own, refusing to guide or direct him.2 It is true, of course, that the patient finds something of what he is like when he stops repressing those thoughts, inclinations and feelings which he has so far repressed. But ‘finding out what he is like’ is not the same as ‘finding himself.’ The way from the former to the latter is paved with integration and reconstruction. [….] It thus provides the patient with the opportunity to reconsider his own solutions in the light of his present knowledge of himself and to modify these with the help of his present resources. The idea that it aims to free the unconscious self or id (not the same thing) for it to take over so that the patient can find happiness in this new liberty is a popular misconception [emphasis added]. [….] 

[This “popular misconception,” the converse, if you will, of neurotic unhappiness and misery, finds the analysand becoming the plaything of impulses which effectively destroy the possibility of his finding cohesion within himself.] [….] Compulsion and impulsiveness, repression and license, the super-ego and the id: these are two poles between which the ego has to negotiate in the course of the person’s struggles to find himself. [….] As aspects of the id and the super-ego are transformed into part of the patient’s ego, they change character and come under the domain of the patient’s will. Impulses he had repressed, compulsions that had ruled his life, now become inclinations that no longer overwhelm him. [….] These are changes in the self towards greater unity and autonomy, changes which liberate resources deployed to maintain divisions within the self, and they open the way to renewed contact with the outside world through which the self finds new growth. That is why they constitute a ‘healing of the self.’ They coincide with Freud’s therapeutic ideal: ‘where id and super-ego were, there ego shall be.’” – Ilham Dilman, Freud, Insight and Change (Basil Blackwell, 1988): 154-158 passim.
  1. As Dilman explains: “Consciousness is not the stuff that constitutes the mental, but rather the person’s apprehension of what concerns or affects him. It may be explicit in his thoughts or implicit in his responses.”
  2. Following Dilman, respect for the patient’s (or analysand’s) individuality or autonomy means “the patient must be allowed to find his own solutions to his problems and to be himself, he must equally be allowed to see the truth for himself, and even to find it for himself. [….] Thus the patient must not be forced to accept a truth even by cogent argument, for this will at best produce a theoretical or intellectual conviction: ‘Psychoanalysis is not an impartial scientific investigation [said Freud], but a therapeutic measure. Its essence is not to prove anything, but merely to alter something.’” [….] “The analyst avoids all falsity and deception in the analysis: in the way he is with the patient as well as in what he tells him. He never leads the patient away from the truth, but neither does he impose it on him. Nor does he try to persuade him to change either, to impose his own wishes or values on him. He avoids all forms of manipulation. [….] The patient must want to ‘get well,’ to be different, he must be prepared to give up something for it—something which protects him from pain, or compensates for some lack, or simply point him in the opposite direction. He must be prepared to put himself out, to face risk, to work, and he must have the inner resources to allocate to such work.” At this point, Dilman quotes Erich Fromm in a book he co-authored with D.T. Suzuki and Richard De Martino, Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis (1960): “Neither the analyst nor any man can ‘save’ another human being. He can act as a guide, or as a mid-wife … but he can never do for the patient what only the patient can do for himself. He must make this perfectly clear to the patient, not only in his words, but by his whole attitude. His relation must be free from any interference of the analyst in the life of the patient, not even that of the demand that the patient gets well. If the patient wants to get well and to change, that is fine, and the analyst is willing to help him.”

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Does Torture Work?

Rejali
The most important issue about torture remains the moral issue of the deliberate infliction of pain, the suffering that results, the insult to dignity, and the demoralization and depravity that is almost always associated with this enterprise where it is legalized or not. — Jeremy Waldron 

Apologists often assume that torture works, and all that is left is the moral [and/or legal] justification. If torture does not work, then their apology is irrelevant. Deciding whether one ought or ought not to drive a car is a pointless debate [or decision] if the car has no gas. — Darius Rejali 

The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, a treaty the United States has ratified, making it U.S. law under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, contains an absolute ban on torture: ‘No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.’ The prohibition of torture is so fundamental it is considered jus cogens, a peremptory norm of international law binding on all countries even if they have not ratified the Torture Convention.—Marjorie Cohn from her Introduction to the volume she edited, The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse (New York University Press, 2011) 

Alas, at least 48% of Americans say there are some circumstances under which the use of “enhanced interrogation” (a euphemism for torture) is acceptable in U.S. anti-terrorism efforts.* And not surprisingly, given the many unethical (e.g., racist, misogynist, inhumane), bizarre, paranoid, ill-considered, and delusional beliefs and fantasies (and phantasies) he holds, President Trump has proclaimed torture to be “effective” (his reticence on this topic of late may reflect one of the few occasions in which he has listened to and followed legal advice). His commitment to the Guantánamo Bay detention camp (last year he signed an executive order to keep the prison camp open indefinitely) suggests his views on torture have not changed. 

As for intellectuals (‘pseudo-‘ and otherwise) and some philosophers, the endeavor to morally justify or rationalize torture is often crystallized in arguments based on hypothetical “ticking-time bomb” scenarios, “thought-experiments” which share the irreality, unreality, or surreality of the ethicist’s beloved “trolley problem” (there are several versions of the trolley problem which need not concern us). I concede that some philosophical benefit may result from its examination, albeit largely in the form of by-product effects through clarifying this or that concept, moral intuition or topic in ethics, but these might equally and more directly—if not timely fashion—be obtained by dealing with realistic or real-world ethical issues, problems and dilemmas. When it comes to attempts to morally justify torture, however, I see little or no benefit in focusing on “ticking-time bomb” scenarios because they only serve to detract from the urgency of the principal moral arguments and relevant empirical evidence (such as can be attained or reasonably inferred). 

“The past two millennia are rich with examples that confirm, time and again, Ulpian’s dictum from the third century A.D.: the strong can resist torture and the weak will say anything to end their pain.” — Alfred W. McCoy, A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror (Metropolitan Books, 2006). 

If torture, on occasion, has been found to be “effective,” it represents an exception to the general rule, and not a predictable (hence not reliable) one at that: 

“ … [T]hree different sources of error … systematically and unavoidably corrupt information gathered through torture. These are deceptive, but actionable information given by uncooperative or innocent prisoners; the well-documented weakness of most interrogators for spotting deception; and mistaken, but high-confidence, information offered by cooperative prisoners after torture. [….] For harvesting information, organized torture yields poor information, sweeps up many innocents, degrades organizational capabilities, and destroys interrogators. Limited time during battle or emergency intensifies all these problems.” (Darius Rajali) 

* Here, it is worth noting with Rejali in his indispensable tome, Torture and Democracy (Princeton University Press, 2007), that belief in the interrogative value (i.e., ‘efficacy’) of torture and the corresponding moral and legal attempts to justify its use of torture in democratic legal regimes is not confined to anti-terrorism efforts: “One might think that the demand for torture in democracies arises mainly during national emergencies. It is easy to imagine that, in war or in the face of terrorism, an imminent threat might lead some to endorse torture and many others to turn a blind eye. This would explain why some democracies turned to torture, for instance the French in Algeria, the British in Northern Ireland, or the Israelis on the West Bank, It would not explain many cases where analysts have documented systematic torture in democracies when an objective or perceived national threat was absent. These cases include such places as Japan, Brazil, the Russian Federation, democratic South Africa, and some American cities, notably Chicago and New York.”

Thus, and relatedly, there are three principal reasons or purposes for torture in democracies: “to intimidate, to coerce false confessions, and to gather accurate security information.” As Rejali explains, coercive interrogation techniques (another euphemism for torture) can often work or be effective if the overarching aim is to intimidate or generate false confessions. However, it is generally, and as we read above, wrongly assumed in the war on terror that torture can “generate true and reliable intelligence, intelligence that is qualitatively superior to [that obtained by] standard police techniques.” 

Please see this bibliography: Torture: moral, legal, and political dimensions

Addendum: It appears my “claims and citations are impotent,” if only because they are “without empirical foundations.”