the psychoanalysis of privilege

The first post about The Inability to Mourn was about the “get over it” response to hearing about terrible things.  It’s quaintly Freudian.  For example, the tendency to derealize the past is connected to the concept of a collective ego-ideal:

The inability to mourn the loss of the Führer is the result of an intensive defense against guilt, shame, and anxiety, a defense which was achieved by the withdrawal of previously powerful libidinal cathexes. The Nazi past was de-realized, i.e., emptied of reality. The occasion for mourning was not only the death of Adolph Hitler as a real person, but above all his disappearance as the representation of the collective ego-ideal. He was an object on which Germans depended, to which they transferred responsibility, and he was thus an internal object. As such, he represented and revived the ideas of omnipotence that we all cherish about ourselves from infancy; his death, and his devaluation by the victors, also implied the loss of a narcissistic object and, accordingly, an ego- or self-impoverishment and devaluation.

Avoidance of these traumata must be regarded as the most immediate reason for the general de-realization. Defense against mourning for the countless victims of Hitler’s aggression–an aggression which, in their identification with the Führer, the German people had so willingly, so unresistingly shared–came later. Once the order of priority of these psychic processes has been recognized, the reasons for the difficulties in mutual understanding between Germans and the rest of the world after the war become clearer. Germany’s conquerors had experienced a reinforcement of their ego-ideal, while the Germans themselves had experienced a crushing humiliation.

To the extent that consumer culture provides gratifications for people, it discourages moral seriousness.  Essentially, society needs therapy:

In political practice, however, this knowledge takes us not a single step forward: only a patient whose symptoms cause him suffering greater than the gain he gets from repression is willing to relax, step by step, the interior censorship preventing the return to consciousness of what has been denied and forgotten.  But here we are asking that this therapy be carried out by a society which, at least materially, is on the whole better off than before.  Therefore, it feels no incentive to expose its interpretation of the recent past to the inconvenient questioning of others; especially now that the manic defense of using the “German economic miracle” to obliterate the past has been so successful, and the world, whatever else it may think about the Germans, acknowledges the German virtue of industriousness.

Southern Republicans.

In general, they emphasize that mainstream society’s ridigness and taboos cause a lot of frustration for in-group members, but they have no outlet for expressing that frustration.  Oppression has to do with the oppressor’s unresolved Oedipal issues. For example, what might explain stereotypes of black people?

Conversely, German educational patterns, with their standards of tidiness, cleanliness, and punctuality (though socially often very useful) are also compulsive reaction-formations against suppressed longings for the opposite, for freedom from the obligations of cleanliness, and enjoyment of disorder. All those forfeited liberties were now discovered in “Polish squalor” and, because one was not allowed to enjoy them oneself, were scorned, ridiculed, and finally extirpated. In both cases it is thus discomfort within the restrictions of one’s own society that keeps resentment alive–at the expense of possible better understanding.

The idea is really fundamental:

Thus a taboo (originally in the guise of a divine law) always represents society against the individual. The command is unconditional. As it imposes prohibitions but does not promote insight, the prohibitions arouse hatred and resent which, however, cannot be shown openly and often cannot even be admitted to full awareness. Those who obey taboos are left in the infantile position of children forbidden to ask questions.

But it is our anger over the prohibitions of our own society which motivates our resentment against our private or collective enemies, rather than the objectionable characteristics of the latter. Whether they are in fact as disagreeable as we think them is the real question. In the discussion that follows, one of our basic theses will be that at the very heart of resentment there lies one’s own inability to respond constructively, and in such a way as to relax tension, to the behavior of others. If I am hurt or offended by someone, I do not at first feel resentment against him. I feel anger, surprise, contempt, depending on the situation, and tension results. Only if existing power relations are so embedded in taboos that affects of this kind are not allowed the relief of expression, and if my self-esteem is thereby seriously brought into question, only then does resentment arise.

It spills over into child-rearing practices.  It’s all very similar to the patterns of child molesters:

From a certain point on, methods of upbringing aim at imposing inhibitions of thought; certain central issues that guarantee the order of the group are subjected to taboo: these may involve demonstrations of respect to ancestors or divine beings, or they may apply to more terrestrial matters, property relations, or systems of government. In regard to these things tolerance ends. It is here that severe punishment for offenses begins. Psychologically, this means that ego efforts–critical questionings–are easily discouraged through threats of punishment by overwhelmingly powerful beings

The more intimidated adults are by the standards and taboos of their society, the more intolerant their response to the child’s spontaneous aggression or sexual behavior (in the widest sense of the term). Such behavior arouses fear of punishment which they themselves so laboriously learned to avoid by assimilating the required code of conduct. The adult who looks with grave anger at the harmless enterprises of the child has himself never attained easy unconstraint between his instinctual inclinations and social forms; moreover, by his behavior to the child he continues the tradition of passive subjection. But unhappily, this is usually enforced by unbridled and uncritical aggressivity in punitive behavior. Toward the weak child (as toward the scapegoat) there is a sudden re-emergence of the otherwise successfully concealed desire for action. So far as the child is concerned, the ban on aggression is combined with the experience of aggressivity into a paradoxical unity which it will often not learn to see through as long as it lives.

The reason people take pleasure in ratting each other out to the Gestapo:

When gratification of a drive is prohibited, the prohibition is easier to bear in company; here, incidentally, one can enjoy the substitute pleasure of checking whether the others also abide by it. Anyone who defies it, e.g., who frankly discusses a tightly taboo-regulated subject such as the Oder-Neisse line, must beware (it makes no difference on which of the two sides he lives), for his is likely to find himself quickly rejected by his own group. He himself may then be subjected to taboo, the taboo of untouchability that stamps him as alien, with the original flavor of “uncleanness” that clings to that notion. He may come to be regarded as an agent provocateur, a disguised communist (or militarist), a traitor, or at best an enfant terrible. He has turned into an outsider who cannot be depended on to keep to the rules of the game, that is, to the commonly held stereotyped views.

The necessity of unpleasant emotions is unavoidable:

Because their effect is so chancy, taboos must be replaced by the work of conscious reflection, empathy with others, dispassionate criticism, and toleration of criticism by others. Such are the hard but secular tasks that face future cultures, with their literally inconceivable increase in destructive potential due to the concentration of humanity in huge centers of population. The only way to counteract the mythicization of taboos and the consequent decline into backwardness is to understand where and how they operate.

In this context, it’s disturbing to think about right-wing economists and their focus on incentives.  Economics and Christianity both emphasize external rewards and punishments, which is almost designed to promote self-absorption at the expense of empathy.  It’s why the scariest people are Christians who loudly insist that atheists can’t be moral without believing in heaven and hell.  What they’re saying is that they’re aggressive lizard people with all kinds of horrible impulses.  Atheists are perfectly capable of empathy, which actually makes ethical behavior self-evident a lot of the time:

An enlightened and empathetic upbringing recognizes the pain involved in having continually to renounce selfish pleasure. It slowly leads the individual to awareness of the existence of others and thus lays the first foundations for his subsequent cultural adaptability. Education that follows the model of “breaking in” by punishment and reward secures adjustment by a system of conditioned reflexes that organize themselves into a conscience alien to the ego. To this kind of conscience other people appear merely as role-figures, not as feeling and suffering fellow-creatures. The external terrorism of education and the internal terrorism of conscience create conditions under which feigned civilization is bound to arise.

Psychological health and critical distance are vital when you’re not crazy and everyone around you is crazy:

But only a psychic agency able critically to confirm even the decrees of conscience has attained something like a psychically organized cultural adaptation. This means that from such an agency alone derives the ability for understanding and human sympathy in agitating, bewildering situations, when the external authorities and systems of prejudices that govern our conscience are collapsing. Those who have lived through a few such bewildering collapses of social standards have found that it is not easy to resist the directives of the group, which now threaten punishment, now offer primitive drive satisfaction. To stay critically detached in such circumstances requires coolness, that is, a high degree of stable ego-organization; it is even more difficult to hold fast, as the guidelines for one’s behavior, to those insights gained through critical thought. Man, as a preeminently social creature, is extremely sensitive to everything that tends to isolate him from his group; and, conversely, as a dissident he runs great danger, as we have said, of becoming a target for the aggressive impulses of the “orthodox” majority. The collective readiness to seek scapegoats may easily elect him as a victim.

Carolyn Baker is a Jungian who specializes in talking to people who think this century will be apocalyptic.