Thursday, May 17, 2007

BAD THERAPY

Over on TNR-Online, Yale Kramer has a meaty article on the consequences of “therapeutic culture” (“The Therapeutic Culture”, www.tnr.com/docprint.mhtml?i=w070514&s=kramer051607).

Kramer sees the enforced exaltation of the ‘therapeutic culture’ as being ill-founded, unwise, and as having generated tremendously damaging consequences. It sounds more than accurate. A previous Post on this site (“The Democratic Way”) had mentioned the Virginia Tech shootings as an example of how ‘sensitivity’ when combined with bureaucratic caution in the face of laws skewed to ‘privilege’ a ‘victim’ and thus to discourage ‘judging’, all combined to create a potent ‘soup’ that provided the matrix out of which could burst forth into ‘realtime’ and into ‘realplace’ so bloody an efflorescence as Cho’s effort to escape his troubled mind and brain.

Cho, we recall, had been forced to see a psychiatrist, but that professional’s cursory examination resulted in an insufficient diagnosis thus forcing a hamstrung judge to merely order the troubled youth to get outpatient help (much as the mental institutions were emptied in the 1970s on the professional and political presumption that the addled and the addicted would be willing and able to maintain extensive outpatient regimens at ‘community mental health’ centers that, in the event, were never provided).

Kramer writes from the perspective of one who was part of the screening/admitting team at the famed Bellevue in New York City. He noted that the street cops were usually spot-on in their intuitive ‘gut’ assessment of who was and who was not a prime candidate for Bellevue’s attentions. “Common sense is one of the rarest commodities these days”, observes Kramer. Yes. ‘Common sense’ and the public’s willingness to let ‘cops exercise common sense’ took some very big hits in the past decades. Surely, the sight of Southern cops exercising their wide discretion to enforce the ‘common sense’ (and ‘traditional’ and ‘reasonable’) judgment that Coloreds should not pretend to equality with Whites greatly damaged the public confidence in allowing police a wide discretion in social intervention. If anybody is looking for a ‘tipping point’ when the respect for police (never very high among the working and immigrant classes anyway) took a big hit, s/he could do well by looking at the damage that Southern law enforcement cadres did to the image and reality of police work in the 1950s and early 1960s.

But when the Revolution(s) of the Identities got going in the early 1970s, growing in the unTrellised, unfenced ‘garden’ left by the ‘creatively destructive’ whoopee of the later 1960s and the corrosive attitudes engendered by the public experience of the war in Vietnam and the government’s arrogant desperation in lying about that debacle, it was feminism that set the tone. It pluckily built on a ‘valorization’ of ‘victimization’ that had just recently been professionally amplified in a public relations spin blitzed over here by the newly assertive Israeli state: we’ve been most awfully victimized therefore we can never be doubted and to doubt us is to join the victimizers and by being victimized we are owed whatever we feel we need and by being victimized we can do whatever we feel we have to in order to ease our fears. Thus fortified, the feminists set out – shrewdly – to ‘deconstruct’ the social authority of their ‘enemy’, “masculine culture”, and thereby create social space and authority for themselves (and, perhaps, for all women).

In successive supreme instances of revolutionary hubris, the feminists declared all that had gone before as being their enemy, because it had been their oppressor: Common Sense was one of the first to go, along – in short order – with Reason, Tradition, Nature, Fact, Reality, Objectivity and all those other ‘male’ things that had merely served to keep women down for millennia. With a shrewd eye to alliances, ‘black males’ were excepted since they had been enslaved, Native American and other ethnicities’ males were also excepted, until the ‘classic’ oppressing evildoer achieved the iconic shape of the Dead White European Male.

Almost in self-parody, feminists who railed against the long-standing stereotype of women as ‘emotional, irrational, unstable, illogical, and sentimental’ also insisted that Empathy and Intuition were vastly superior to all the guy-stuff. Stolidly, the revolutionistas remained oblivious to the equally parodic efflorescence of woman-dominated shows such as Gerry Springer’s and its spawn: women sharing horror stories of pain and suffering at the hands of men and receiving the clucking empathy of the studio audience as the skillful host expressed empathetic outrage. But that all seemed kinda cheesy, and not infrequently went over the line into queasy.

Enter ‘the therapeutic stance’. Within the highly-defined and confined parameters of the therapist’s office, a stance of empathetic listening, of postponing judgment on past behaviors in order to help the patient get to and express and ‘work on’ deep emotional issues, had developed among psychological and psychiatric professionals; this highly artificial ‘space’ and ‘attitude’ – providing something like a drydock – had been developed precisely as that, as a space not to be found in actual life, a space in which certain essential societally required tasks such as ‘judging’ and ‘punishing’ could be placed in abeyance in order to help this particular patient, securely held in the web of professional oversight, to get at those damaged spots that in the ordinary course of human activity and events were now inaccessible (much as damage on the underside of the hull is inaccessible to repair while the ship is afloat). A fine concept, and effective enough within its limited parameters.

But society and culture are an ever-stewing broth. The feminist emphasis on the value of the ‘feminine’ Sensibility, the female ‘sense of things’ or take on things, was in danger of sinking under the weight of self-parody by its own recently-‘liberated’ devotees on TV. But to ‘professionalize’ it … ! To drape that Sensibility in the authoritative vestments of knowledge and social authority!

And wasn’t there something … particularly or even uniquely ‘feminine’ or ‘female’ about presiding over therapy? Indeed, the therapeutic stance certainly required skills (empathy, the ability to sit still and listen for hours on end) not usually seen in ‘manly’ men and this had been true since the earliest days of psychiatry; ‘men’ didn’t sit around listening to other people’s problems, empathizing, and gently proposing possible alternatives to pain-producing experiences. (Catholic priests, interestingly, were and are required to do a hell of a lot of this sort of thing themselves; you might even make a case that Fundamentalist preachers, desirous of preserving their ‘man-hood’ while supplanting the Kathliks in the role of socially authoritative religious arbiters, stood to gain a great deal from the priests’ recent discomfiture).

The ‘therapeutic’ doesn’t ‘judge’, doesn’t argue with, doesn’t remonstrate, doesn’t order or coerce, doesn’t punish. It listens, suspends judgment, perhaps even ‘forgives’ in a non-religious sense, and always and optimistically seeks to understand and to ‘support’. (Yes, the excess created its own reaction: ‘tough love’ type ‘therapy’ where the therapist carried on like a drill-sergeant, but that never went nearly as far as the classic ‘therapeutic’ stance.) Therapy’s a useful tool when properly wielded in the proper conditions and setting.

But you can’t run a society on it. You can’t simply transfer the ‘therapeutic stance’ beyond the well-regulated confines of the therapeutic space and extend it out into the streets so that the social ‘ideal’ is the ‘therapeutic’ kinda person (or ‘guy’). What happens to civil and societal interaction when everyone is trying to therapize everyone else? And if the ‘ideal’ for everybody is to be a good therapist, then who’s going to be the patient? Or is each citizen simultaneously patient and therapist? And if so, who’s going to have the strength left to produce? To make a living? To defend? To raise kids?

Such insensitive questions. Whether they are substantive or not is not the point. Whether they are relevant or not is not the point. They are insensitive.

The revolutionistas, like all revolutions, couldn’t afford questions. In the first place, questions slow down the momentum of the revolution. In the second place, questions cause the masses – and perhaps even your own cadres – to doubt the revolution’s rightness. In the third place, questions can expose the revolution’s logical and conceptual inconsistencies and destroy everybody’s sense that all of the revolutionary violence (and there is always a hell-full of it) is justified and necessary in order to stamp out the revolution’s arch-enemy (fill in the blank) and to usher in the Perfection.

So with the Democrats being desperate for the feministas’ votes, and with the mainstream media finding that they liked getting out from under plain old ‘objective reporting’ and doing their glossy, gassy bit to help their favorite cause along, then a massive amount of social and political energy and resource was poured into preventing ‘questions’ of a certain kind: whatever the revolution was for could not be questioned (dovetailing nicely with the victims’ self-claimed immunity from questioning mentioned above). Political Correctness (originally a Soviet phrase) was injected into the American body politic. By 1991 it would prove itself to have been fatal for the Soviets. Unfortunately, by that time, it had been given glorious asylum here, invited in. Unenlightened as they may be, no Transylvanian would ever have made so witless an error.

In Cho’s case, as Kramer acutely observes, the grossly exaggerated ‘therapeutic stance’, hypertrophied such that it quashed all other ‘stances’ and ‘roles’. No one could step out of the therapeutic ‘mode’ and say candidly and clearly that this singleton was very gravely and acutely in need of restraint and assistance. Cho’s almost florid condition was “the elephant in the middle of the room” that all of these erstwhile professionals in this Year of Grace the Two-Thousand-and-Seventh and of Sensitivity the Thirty-Sixth had to pretend was not there. And they went on pretending until reality reached supercritical mass and detonated in their midst.

This all brings to mind the late-1970s best-seller “Watership Down”. Specifically, the soup rabbits. For those who recently joined the living, “Watership Down” is an epic involving rabbits, rabbits who make a strenuous trek toward liberty, led by a particularly humble but resourceful and morally genuine rabbit. Anyhoo, one day, well along in the trek and suitably bedraggled and frazzled, the journeying band comes upon a marvelously sleek and fatted rabbit, contented, well-manicured, the epitome of rabbit suavity and ‘success’, it would appear.

The travelers are – if memory serves – invited to stay in a marvelous peaceful glade where these beauteous rabbits existed in peace. The Exodus has succeeded! But then a funny thing happens. They notice that every morning, one of the sleek rabbits has disappeared … and the other sleek rabbits don’t notice, nor do they inquire, nor do they even recall the now-missing individual; the sleek simply go on eating prime food that is magically provided for them. Finally, it dawns on the travelers and they depart in great haste.

The sleek rabbits were ‘soup rabbits’, raised in captivity and fattened specifically so that they would be available for rabbit stew or rabbit soup or whatever culinary necessity might require their services. And apparently the necessity arose pretty often. Unable to deal with the reality of their situation, or unwilling to sacrifice immediate comfort and pleasure in order to save themselves, the soupsters had simply pulled the wiring out of themselves, so to speak. They had honed their ability to not-notice until it was almost a form of retardation, conceptual and intellectual if not also mental.

And does this sound like something that might have been working among Us in the run-up to the present catastrophe on the eastern front?

Am I suggesting that there was – all those decades ago – a massive conspiracy to subvert the Republic and The People? Am I suggesting that there was a feminist HQ like that of the German General Staff, where all these complex forces were calibrated, shaped, and deployed? Not at all. But History, as most folks would rather not like to think about, is dynamic in ways beyond human ken and control.

This thing, then that thing, then something else, and they are combined for a particular purpose in order to achieve some effect, and then they go and create other effects that nobody had originally seen (or perhaps had wanted to let themselves see). Hitler looked at the Russian Army and saw only a gaggle of un-officered Untermenschen. But there were more millions of them than the Germans ever imagined, they turned out to have some very good officers, and they themselves were among the most sturdy troops the planet has ever seen. Ach! Who knew?

And ‘Ach – Who knew?’ is pretty much the claim being made by everybody in Washington these days. One recalls that in the later 1940s and 1950s, as former German generals wrote their memoirs, there was an almost uniform theme among them: we were only soldiers following orders. Ja. Yah. Eye vass only a zimple Field Marschall – vhat could eye doo? Of course, none of the Nazis – having been so thoroughly trounced – could have chosen the in-your-face defense, that ballsy gambit chosen by some of the Beltway movers and shakers nowadays: Get over it, ya sissy, and let’s just move on! Or: We need to focus constructively on the future (the great defense that Capone never tried to make at his trial; proving that mobsters aren’t the most sociopathic Americans).

Kramer’s article also includes responses from other clinicians. Was Cho evil? Not a question humans are equipped to answer, I’d say. Did he choose evil? He might have; or he might have been so thoroughly compromised neurologically that he couldn’t tell the difference. In which case, perhaps he suffered from the ‘Original Evil’ that has rendered all human being and doing somehow and to some extent flawed; we’ve all got some ‘orc’ in us, as well as some ‘elf’.

Of course, this is precisely NOT what any revolution or any fundamentalism wants to hear. The first dizzy and delicious High comes from letting yourself go, slipping the surly bonds of human-ness by declaring yourself (and others like you) not-orc and all-elf. And the second great dizzy and delicious High comes from declaring some other bunch not-elf and all-orc. Ja! Then, once all of ‘them’ are stamped out (and, of course, you and yours have been officially Deputized to do the job) why ice cream and Caddies will rain down from the very heavens. What’s not to like?

The therapeutic, again, is a hugely useful tool for helping people. But only when properly wielded by competent folks in a certain carefully controlled setting. The idea of an entire civilization, an entire society, walking around trying to deal with matters as if each of them were a mental health clinician in a session … as Kramer points out, you can’t run a society like that. And a society trying to run itself like that is going to go to seed very quickly.

It won’t be able to produce; it won’t be able to defend itself. There won’t be any ‘bone’ for the skeleton, only ‘soft tissue’. And so far, only Jabba the Hutt has been able to make a go of things merely on the basis of soft tissue.

Worse, the stifling ‘success’ of the feminstas, abetted by the desperate Democrats and the bored and ratings-happy media – Political Correctness as it had not been seen since the early Soviet era - created precisely the pent-up opposition that fueled the hyper-macho, hyper-religious whackery that propelled the Great Patriotic Go-Kart into Iraq. The feminstas’ National Nanny State fueled the National Krime State (the government is here to protect you perfectly from all crime) and destroyed the firewalls that might have prevented the National Imperial State. We have the largest prison population of any nation in the world (in yer face, Mao and Lenin and Stalin!) and We have a world-class invasion going south in Iraq.

Are We better off than We were? And are We going to get worse?

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