Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

If the Turks want to hang out with this guy…

June 8, 2010
What would Ataturk say?    Source: Google Images What would Ataturk say? Source: Google Images

Turkish President Gul pictured with the world’s most notorious extremist, who is quoted in the article below as saying that the Zionists are  “holding up the flag of the devil itself…” and are “the backbone of the dictatorial world order,” taking a page again from Julius Streicher’s Der Stuermer.  In its drive to be a regional power, Turkey is starting to make strange bedfellows.  What would Ataturk say?

Maybe Ahmadinejad is pre-empting the Security Council’s likely announcement of tougher sanctions with more hateful attacks against Israel.  But as we know from the Hamas Covenant, the Zionists control the UN Security Council, like almost everything else in the world and throughout history (tongue in cheek, however painfully)…

From Today’s CNN wire service:

Istanbul, Turkey (CNN) — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hit a strident tone on a variety of topics during a press conference on the sidelines of an Asian security summit in Istanbul on Tuesday.

A key item on the agenda at the summit is last week’s Israeli raid on an aid flotilla in the Mediterranean. Ahmadinejad said the confrontation revealed Israel’s “devilish” nature.

“It showed violence and hatred and war-mongering attitudes,” he said at a news conference. “The devilish sound of the uncultured Zionists was coming out from their deceit. … They were holding up the flag of the devil itself.”

The raid led to the deaths of nine people, all Turkish citizens — including one Turkish-American. Turkey is urging Israel to accept an international probe into the incident.

Ahmadinejad congratulated Turkey, which has been in a war of words with Israel following the raid, for its response.

Iran’s own nuclear program has been another major topic at the summit. The United States expects to bring a new resolution on increased sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program to a vote in the United Nations Security Council this week.

By calling for a resolution instead of sitting down for talks with Iran, the United States is “gravely mistaken,” Ahmadinejad said.

“Within the framework of respect and justice, we’re ready to negotiate with everyone. Anyone who is going to resort to the language of force and aggression, the response is clear,” he said.

Ahmadinejad went on to commend Turkey and Brazil for recently negotiating a deal with Iran on a uranium enrichment swap.

“The initiative marked the beginning of a new path — the beginning of an end to unilateralism in the world,” he said.

The United States, he added, missed an opportunity by not embracing the deal.

Asked whether the raid on the flotilla last week will change the way countries vote in the Security Council, Ahmadinejad said the raid will actually change many things.

For Israel, he said, “it has actually rung the final countdown for its existence. It shows that it has no room in the region and no one is ready to live alongside it. Actually, no country in the world recognizes it, and you know that the Zionist regime is the backbone of the dictatorial world order.”

He added, “Maybe at the Security Council, it will impact temporarily. The Zionist regime, with what it has done, it actually stopped its possibility to exist in the region anymore.”

How do you say W in Hebrew: Bibi

June 7, 2010
When is tough effective?

Benjamin Netanyahu subscribes to the George W. Bush school of anti-diplomacy.  It’s nice to blow off steam, especially when you are in the right.  But does brandishing your sword make an effective foreign policy?  Ask Kaiser Wilhelm II, the arch-villain of World War I, whose bluster and belligerence led to the encirclement of Germany, his gravest fear.  Ask most Americans after W left office — did W’s shooting from the hip help America’s image in the world?  Improve America’s security? 

I had meetings with Netanyahu in my capacity as a sovereign analyst for Israel several years ago.  He was then finance minister and a very effective one.  I always came away with the belief that his Achilles’ heel was his hubris.  His narcissism was always the elephant in the room, and more so than the average politician.  I can’t help but believe that his leadership has had something to do with such recent diplomatic fiascoes as the Biden visit and the Gaza flotilla.

Netanyahu, though ineffective, may be right about Gaza.  If you don’t understand why Israel is touchy about Hamas and Gaza, please read the Hamas Covenant in this link, as translated by the Yale University Avalon project, especially Art. 22.  It reads like Der Stuermer.  Here are a few snippets (out of order):

“Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it…

The Zionist plan is limitless. After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they will have digested the region they overtook, they will aspire to further expansion, and so on. Their plan is embodied in the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, and their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying…

The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said:

“The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews)…”

In their Nazi treatment, the Jews made no exception for women or children… 

With their money, they took control of the world media, news agencies, the press, publishing houses, broadcasting stations, and others. With their money they stirred revolutions in various parts of the world with the purpose of achieving their interests and reaping the fruit therein. They were behind the French Revolution, the Communist revolution and most of the revolutions we heard and hear about, here and there. With their money they formed secret societies, such as Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, the Lions and others in different parts of the world for the purpose of sabotaging societies and achieving Zionist interests. With their money they were able to control imperialistic countries and instigate them to colonize many countries in order to enable them to exploit their resources and spread corruption there.

They were behind World War I, when they were able to destroy the Islamic Caliphate, making financial gains and controlling resources. They obtained the Balfour Declaration, formed the League of Nations through which they could rule the world. They were behind World War II, through which they made huge financial gains by trading in armaments, and paved the way for the establishment of their state. It was they who instigated the replacement of the League of Nations with the United Nations and the Security Council to enable them to rule the world through them. There is no war going on anywhere, without having their finger in it…

There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad…

Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement…

Israel, Judaism and Jews challenge Islam and the Moslem people…

…the ferocity of the Zionist offensive and the Zionist influence in many countries exercised through financial and media control, as well as the consequences that all this lead to in the greater part of the world…”

There you have it.  That’s who’s in power in Gaza.  Hence, the blockade (to prevent the flow of weapons and to pressure Gazans to kick the genocidal extremists out).  History has shown that civilized people should believe what extremists write in their books and manifestos.

As for Turkey, the AK Party did a nice job cleaning up its image in recent years in order to appear to the world as a sort of Islamic version of a European Christian Democratic party.  This has kept Turkey’s secular generals from kicking them out, as they did to the Islamists not long ago. Now, ensconced in power, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and his cronies are trying to reorient foreign policy in a more “Islamist” direction, putting ideologues in key foreign policy posts, taking on Israel, championing the oppressed Muslims of Gaza.  Yet, he shows he either hasn’t read the Hamas Covenant or doesn’t care, when he says that Hamas is not a terrorist organization, but a resistance movement (see article).  Sir, is the PKK terrorist or a resistance movement (the PKK is the Kurdish “liberation” movement on Turkish soil that the Turks believe is “terrorist”)?  Were the Turks who murdered masses of Armenians in the early 1900s, which Hitler later said was his inspiration for the Final Solution, genocidal killers?  C’mon, it’s not so hard to tell right from wrong in this world!  Turks should have a re-think about how moderate the Islamism of the AK Party really is.

Israel’s blockade of Gaza could be counterproductive.  It certainly has become a diplomatic liability.  If there is a better way to staunch the flow of weapons to Gaza that Iran is ready to send, if there is a better way to empower those that would topple the would-be committers of genocide running Gaza today, then I say scrap the blockade.  Israel certainly needs to scrap its bunker mentality and engage with the rest of the world, before, like Wilhelmine Germany, it becomes encircled.  P.R. should be a top Israeli priority; and, in order to clean up the country’s global image, Israelis should perhaps start by voting Netanyahu out of office at the next opportunity.  Read about his vehement defense of the Gaza flotilla raid. He may be right, but he certainly is not very diplomatic.  

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

December 5, 2008

A Brief Discussion of the Tennessee Williams play in light of M. Bergmann’s paper, The Anatomy of Loving

            Bergmann in his wonderful work of 1987 culled insights into the nature of falling in love from the ideas of Freud and subsequent psychoanalytic thinkers.  He highlighted Freud’s famous statement in his 1905 paper, Three Essays on Sexuality, echoing Plato, that the “finding of a [love] object is in fact a refinding of it.” This compelling idea suggests that a person seeks throughout life to “refind” parental love.  Other psychoanalytic ideas raised in the Bergmann paper relevant to a discussion of love include narcissism, splitting, merger fantasies, and reality testing. 

            Tennessee Williams’ play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, explores a web of love relationships in the Pollitt family in mid-20th century Mississippi.  Although the centerpiece is the love between Brick Pollitt and his wife Maggie, the relationship Brick has with his authoritarian father and his psychically-weak best friend are critical to understanding his capacity to love.

            Early in the play, Brick and Maggie bicker, illustrating that Maggie’s love for her husband is not reciprocated.  Brick, a former football star, drinks bourbon all day in order to ease his nerves.  Brick’s parents, called Big Daddy and Big Mamma, return from a trip to a cancer clinic in the belief that Big Daddy has been given a clean bill of health.  A celebration at the sprawling Pollitt estate ensues. 

            Brick is contemptuous of Maggie, who attempts to coax her husband’s love back with her feminine charms.  The play climaxes as Big Daddy learns from Brick that he is in fact dying, and as Big Daddy’s curiosity about Brick and Maggie’s nonexistent sex life uncovers the story of the suicide of Brick’s best friend Skipper.  While Tennessee Williams, who was homosexual, arguably left it open as to whether Brick and Skipper had a homosexual relationship, homosexual feelings, and especially Brick’s unresolved oedipal feelings, clearly energized this relationship.

             Big Daddy was the son of a penniless hobo, a cause of great shame to this self-made millionaire.  Yet by the end of the play, Brick causes Big Daddy to admit that his father loved him and that he loved his father.  Big Daddy’s drive to hammer his way to success and to annul the shame of his father caused him to repress his love for his father and also for his wife and children.  Likewise Big Daddy never believed in his wife’s love.  He saw Big Mamma as nothing but a money-grubbing, controlling liar.  Tennessee Williams’s characters rail about the “mendacity” of the people around them, when the mendacity actually lies within themselves, i.e. the mendacity of the repression of their emotions, including love.

            Brick was never able to experience a non-traumatic separation from his mother, which the positive involvement of his father at an early age would have encouraged.  Merger fantasies likely persisted, underpinning his yearning for an exceptionally close relationship with Skipper.  Nor later in his childhood could Brick experience a healthy resolution of the Oedipus Conflict that would have involved his giving up his wishes for his mother and identifying in a positive way with his father.  Instead he identified with his father’s shame, his father’s anger, and his father’s rejection of love.  He witnessed his father’s rejection of his older brother Gooper and concluded that only by being better than Gooper, by being a football star, could he win his father’s love.  He became an overachiever.  He developed a strong, but rigid ego – arguably the definition of masculinity in the culture of the South of these times, conquering reality instead of enjoying it and possessing love objects, instead of experiencing love.

            In attempting to “refind” the pathological triad with his parents, he found Maggie.  Maggie adored her handsome, upper-crust football star, much like Big Mama adored Big Daddy.  Brick also found Skipper, a man with a fragile ego, who idolized Brick.  They played football together; however, one day when Brick wasn’t on the field, it became clear that Skipper had little skill to play professional football.   Brick idealized this weak man, who he believed was the only one in the world he could count on.  He deluded himself into believing he could experience the bliss of a passive male relationship with Skipper, the kind of non-traumatic yielding to one’s father that occurs in a healthy resolution of the Oedipus Conflict.  In fact, he chose Skipper in order to avoid closeness with a stronger male, whom he feared would be like his authoritarian, unloving father. And, Skipper chose Brick because Brick represented the archetype of manhood — strong, capable, hard.  Skipper killed himself after his failure on the football field, after Brick hung up the phone on Skipper because he had let him down.  The sudden realization that Skipper was not the strong male he could count on may have set Brick into a rage.  Maggie went up to Skipper’s hotel room before the suicide, circumstances that led Brick to believe she was unfaithful to him with Skipper.  We learn later that this was not true.  Brick Pollitt’s “compulsion to repeat” makes for dramatic theater in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. 

Freud posited that homosexuals often set themselves up as their mothers and their objects as themselves.  They identify with their mothers instead of their fathers, according to Freud.  In this case, however, it appears that Brick played the role of his father, projecting the unloved part of himself onto Skipper.  The climax of his rejection of himself came when he hung the phone up on Skipper.  Subsequently, he could not bear the thought of having been so cruel to Skipper, having acted out his father’s rage against this fragile man; so, he projected his unwanted aggressive self onto Maggie, turning her into the lying, money-grubbing cat his father believed his mother was, and Brick believed he himself was.  She was the one responsible for Skipper’s demise, not him.  This fantasy sustained Brick’s exhausted ego.  Only then was it safe for him to identify with his father; only then could he be the strong, upright man he believed his father was.  Brick’s loss of Skipper hewed more to “melancholia,” or the loss of an intrapsychic object, than to simple “mourning,” the pain of the loss of a real object.

Very compelling was the agreement that Brick and Maggie made after Skipper’s suicide.  They would remain together, but with no love, no physical intimacy, only psychic torture.  This way she could be with her ego ideal (her handsome husband) and he could hold his debased self at a safe, but close distance.  Brick had “refound” the triad of his youth. 

            A therapeutic episode ensues when Brick tells Big Daddy he is going to die.  Faced with the truth at last, Big Daddy realizes he loved his father, which brings into relief his love for Brick, Big Mamma, and the rest of his family.  This episode also causes Brick to accept that he had let down Skipper, but that Skipper was a weak man and that Brick therefore was not responsible for his suicide.  This enables him to see Maggie for what she really is.  A desirable woman who loves him.  She is not a liar; she is not money-grubbing; though she still is a little catty, a little seductive, and a little interested in moving up the socioeconomic ladder.

             Freud’s theory on narcissism also helps explain the love relationships in this play.  Freud suggested that the narcissist loves what he himself is or was or would like to be, or even a part of himself.  Maggie’s narcissism is a love of what she would like to be, her ego ideal as embodied in Brick.  Brick’s narcissism is the love (and often the hate) of a part of himself, the rejected part, the heartless, money-grubbing man his father was, his father believed his mother was, and he believed Maggie was.  He likewise loved in Skipper that despised, weak part of himself, rejected by his father.  At the same time, in his conscious thoughts, Brick turned Skipper into his ego ideal — a supportive, kind-hearted and strong man, albeit a distorted view of Skipper.  In the event, when Skipper failed him, he swung from idealization to devaluation in the nanosecond it took to hang up the phone.

            Freud also talks about how a strong, object-oriented love can impoverish the ego.  Clearly, this speaks to Skipper’s love of Brick.  Skipper leaned on Brick.  Brick was his ego ideal, the mirroring mother he probably never had.  All Skipper’s libidinal energy was directed at Brick, leaving little for his ego.  Once Brick withdrew his love, the selfobject representation that sustained Skipper’s self-esteem went from “good” to “bad,” making suicide the only option.

            The abrupt swings in this play from loving to hating and vice versa bring to mind the concept of splitting and Freud’s discussion of emotions as distinct from instincts.  The ego synthesizes all sexual instincts and libidinal energy into love and all aggressive energy into hate. A weak ego cannot integrate these opposing emotions, cannot see people for the gray characters they often are, resulting in splitting and in sharp mood swings.  Thus, the rage, and in the case of Skipper, suicide.

            The extreme emotional reactions experienced by Williams’s male characters, in comparison with his female characters, are consistent with Altman’s notion that it is easier for women to find an appropriate non-incestuous love object from the onset of adolescence than it is for men.  This is because girls have already renounced their first love object, their mother, during the oedipal stage, when they choose their father.  Boys have a greater tendency to remain fixated on their mothers, making it perhaps more challenging to find appropriate non-incestuous object choices later on.

            In ego psychological terms, it appears that Maggie the Cat may have been the character with the strongest ego.  Although in her compulsion to repeat, she may have clung to “the hot tin roof” as long as she could, she was always sure about Brick and loved him amid the storm.  She was the most capable of Tennessee Williams’s characters at enduring frustration, showing compassion, and performing reality testing by airing the truth and integrating contradictory material.

            Clearly, the love refound by Tennessee Williams’s characters one stormy night under a hot tin roof was a refinding of the lost love, or rather the incomplete love, of childhood.  But, it was a therapeutic refinding, flexible enough to allow the kindling of mature adult relationships, and the jettisoning of unwelcome patterns.

Psychoanalyzing Arafat…

January 27, 2008

From an Op-ed I submitted to the New York Times in January 2002, when Arafat had launched attacks on Israel and Sharon had him surrounded in his Muqata compound in Ramallah.  He died in 2004.  This Op-ed was never printed.

Understanding Arafat 

By Roger M. Scher 

If Arafat were on the couch, what would you find out?  Is he a “together” person, or is he emotionally unstable and self-destructive?  What does he really want out of life?  Can he be trusted? 

Arafat’s behavior over the last forty years, and especially in the last two, reveals a man who is not motivated by a desire to establish a viable Palestinian state at peace with Israel, nor by a desire to eliminate Israel and establish a Palestinian state “from the river to the sea”.  Arafat’s personality is characterized by a lust for danger, violence and chaos.  Arafat seeks the exhilaration of risk-taking, feels alive when under fire, powerful when triumphing over adversity.  Some people of this nature take physical risks on the ski slope, skydiving, or car racing.  Others take huge financial risks, they gamble, try to hit it big.  Still others risk their personal lives or their health. These people are looking for attention, for a validation of their weak sense of self. 

Bill Clinton was one such risk taker, allegedly having affairs in the Arkansas Governor’s mansion and certifiably fondling an intern in the White House.  Likewise Clinton seemed to perform best with his back against the wall, like when Newt Gingrich and Co. gained control of Congress in 1994.  Clinton came back with a vengeance to win reelection.  And when he was being impeached, Clinton’s tenacity and performance in the job were admirable.   

Like Clinton, Arafat has become bored with the normal affairs of state.  If a State of Palestine were declared tomorrow and peace finally came to the Middle East, what would Arafat be?  He would be the aging leader of a small country, charged with making sure the traffic lights work, the garbage is picked up, and there is no corruption at the country’s ports.  He would not be flying to London to meet with Tony Blair.  He would not be making a triumphant address to the U.N. General Assembly or the Arab League.  He would not be waltzing into the Rose Garden with the Prime Minister of Israel and the President of the United States.  He would not be accepting the Nobel Peace Prize. 

In recent interviews, Arafat said that Sharon should not write his obituary yet.  He explained how he survived Israeli attacks in Jordan in 1968, survived Sharon’s drive to Beirut in 1982, survived assassination attempts in Tunis for years.  He revels in being in the thick of things, in the middle of the action. 

Remember — Arafat is a guerrilla, an aging, pathetic guerrilla, but a guerrilla nonetheless. Arafat is in his element right now. With Israeli tanks surrounding his compound, and violence erupting all around, he is comfortable. Much more comfortable than when he had to pore over the details of Barak’s peace offer in early 2001, to consider which settlements would be where, what Palestinian units would be deployed where, how the Gaza and West Bank would be linked. That stuff was boring. Now he will prove his mettle. He will emerge yet again from an Israeli onslaught unconquerable. He will become a true national hero to the Palestinians, reliving past glories. He won’t ever become a glorified traffic cop or a garbage collector.   

Fouad Ajami in his recent Foreign Affairs article said that Arafat unleashed the second intifida in the irrational belief that anger from the Palestinian “street” would somehow result in a messianic deliverance in which Israel would accept all Palestinian demands (which Barak largely did) because the Israelis would become demoralized and would give in to international pressure.  Interesting idea, but I don’t think Arafat thinks that far ahead.

Arafat’s motivation is much more primitive.  He seeks self-aggrandizement, and the only way he has ever known how to get this is by being in the center of the mayhem and violence and surviving, his cause and rear-end intact.   

Some Freudian ideas come to mind.  Namely, narcissism and the so-called “death instinct”.  Arafat is probably narcissistically disturbed, as are many political leaders.  He is overcome with his own grandiosity, his own mission, his own invincibility.  And, as a lifelong guerrilla, the only way he knows how to feel like a winner is by blowing things up. 

Freud’s death instinct relates to man’s natural aggressive drive, natural inclination for destruction, the opposite of his instinct for love and creation.  This instinct is obviously coursing through Yasir Arafat’s veins. 

This diagnosis of Arafat is all well and good. The trouble is that Arafat’s preference for violence has been costing the Palestinians their nationhood as well as their lives, and causing numerous deaths in Israel. What is the world to do with this pathetic, aging guerrilla? 

Short of years of psychoanalysis, what Arafat needs is to be ignored.  Ignored by Israel, ignored by the world.  Then, he might wither away and cease to cause any more harm.  The world should stop dealing with him. To deal with him is to invite further acts of violence. 

Whether you are Iran seeking to destroy Israel or AIPAC seeking to strengthen it, Arafat is not your man. He has no other goal than to remain in the center of the mayhem. By causing death and destruction and getting Tony Blair to notice him, Arafat can really feel he is somebody in this world.    

Roger Scher is a professorial lecturer in international relations at Johns Hopkins University and a member-in-training at the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis.

On the Borderline

January 26, 2008

On the Borderline

A short story I wrote.  See link.

Freud and Judaism…

January 20, 2008

The interpretation of Freud

By Robert S. Wistrich
The story told by historian Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi is a good way to sum up Sigmund Freud’s attitude toward Judaism and Christianity. And here is the story: West End Avenue, Manhattan. An upper-middle class Jewish couple; the father, a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, is a militant and vocal atheist. Since the parents are interested in the best education for their son, they send him to Trinity School, which by this point is a secular school, open to everyone. One day, after about a month, the child returns home and says offhandedly, “By the way, Dad, do you know the meaning of the word ‘trinity’? It means the trio of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.” The father, barely restraining himself, grabs the boy by the shoulders and declares: “Son, there is only one God – and we don’t believe in him!” Freud, who on more than one occasion defined himself as ‘a completely atheistic Jew,’ would certainly have been able to appreciate the historical truth of this story. The joke also sheds light on Freud’s intentions in writing “Moses and Monotheism” (1939), the only work by him that is specifically devoted to a Jewish subject. Yerushalmi’s book, “Freud’s Moses: Judaism Terminable and Interminable,” presents Freud’s essay both as the psychoanalytic history of the Jews and as a “psychological biography” of the man himself. Already in 1934, when the first version of “Moses and Monotheism” was completed, the central question that faced Freud was how the Jews had become what they were. This is Freud’s last attempt to discover, in the shadow of Nazism, the source of the ancient hatred of the Jews, and to understand what distinguishes them from other nations. Yerushalmi believes that in searching for the answer, Freud was fulfilling the wishes of his father, Jakob, who in 1891 had given him a ‘mandate’ to return to the values shared by father and son – in the form of a dedication, written in Hebrew by Jakob, in the family Bible on the occasion of his son’s 35th birthday. Yerushalmi calls Freud’s writing of the book an act of “deferred obedience” to the wishes of his father, which may enable us to reach a more profound psychological understanding of Freud’s preoccupation with Moses. In the end, Freud treated the subject systematically after a delay of about 40 years, as a secular Jew committed to a strict scientific approach, making sure to speak of the Jews as ‘they’ rather than ‘we.’


Little self-hateToday, on the 150th anniversary of Freud’s birth, the question of his Jewish identity still arouses curiosity and preoccupies many scholars. In my new book about Germans and Jews in Central Europe, “Masters and Victims: Jewish Fate in Central Europe” (University of Nebraska Press and the Sassoon Center), I try to give an answer to the riddle of his identity in the actual historical context. In my opinion, Freud is the outstanding embodiment of that same unique type of ‘marginal Jew’ of a ‘Judaism without God,’ who is alienated from his religion and nation, but proud of his origins. In 1918 Freud asked his friend, the Swiss pastor Oskar Pfister: “How did it happen that none of the God-fearing people invented psychoanalysis, and it had to wait for a godless Jew?” On his 70th birthday (in 1926), Freud discussed his connection to Judaism at length: “Not faith, not even national pride … Every time I tended toward feelings of nationalist enthusiasm, I tried to suppress them as harmful and unfair, since the example of the nations among whom we Jews live served as a warning and frightened me. But a great deal still remains in me, enough to turn the attraction to Judaism and the Jews to something that cannot be resisted, dark emotional powers that become stronger as it becomes more difficult to express them in words, as well as the clear awareness of an internal and familiar identity of that same psychological structure.”

There is no question that Freud was aware of the power of nationalist sentiments. He tended to react sharply to the stubborn prejudices he experienced in his native Austria – a very anti-Semitic environment in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. After 1895, the year when psychoanalysis was born, Freud himself was a target of anti-Semites. Was he not blatantly subversive when it came to religion, morality and family, shattering human illusions?

“You can rest assured,” he wrote in the summer of 1908 to his student, Karl Abraham, “that had my name been Uberhuber, my innovations would have met much less opposition, in spite of everything.” Despite his frustration, Freud related to the sense of isolation with a certain pride. After all, a trailblazer needed “a willingness to be in an isolated position, a situation with which nobody is more familiar than a Jew.” Freud believed that that same profound feeling of incompatibility with the non-Jewish majority had caused him and other secular Jews to be much less conformist. In effect, they were less bothered by dogmas and superstitions, or by the heavy burden of theological “illusions” bequeathed to them by Christian culture.

Freud’s reaction was relatively free of that same Jewish self-hate, by means of which the Jews of Germany and Austria in modern times tried to escape from the burden of their Jewishness by vilifying their origins. Freud always believed that his Jewish heritage was a main source of “vibrant energy,” creativity and independent thought. And that is the reason for his disdain for his colleagues who converted to Christianity for the sake of their careers.

But Freud’s sense of ethnic solidarity did not lead him to adopt Zionism. He did believe, however, in the racial and intellectual differences between Jews and non-Jews, and in fact emphasized the special Jewish ethos, whose positive significance was a sublimation of the sensual and touched on the spiritual, the ability to engage in abstract thinking, and cultural and intellectual progress.

But there was also a darker side to Freud’s world view, both in relation to Judaism and with respect to human beings in general. In his view, the “spirituality” of the Jews stemmed, in the final analysis, from the murder of the leader in the desert, Moses, and the guilt feelings that were suppressed in the wake of that murder and the rejection of the values represented by Moses. That same lofty Jewish ethos admired by Freud was formulated, according to “Moses and Monotheism,” as a result of irrational memories and impulses that had been repressed for hundreds of years.

“Pathetic” humanity

Freud had no illusions about the destructive and aggressive urges that are part of human nature. In 1927 he wrote to Arnold Zweig: “As far as anti-Semitism is concerned, I don’t really want to go searching for explanations for it; I have a very strong tendency to surrender to my emotions on this matter, and I find that I have received confirmation for my totally unscientific belief that humanity is for the most part quite a pathetic and miserable rabble.”

His short essay, “Why War,” (1932) also presented a pessimistic view of the human condition. History was presented as a never-ending series of conflicts between communities, races, nations and empires, which “were always solved by force.” Freud was unable to find a convincing political solution for the human impulses that led to belligerency, war and injustice. He did not hold out great hope for the liberation of the masses from their submission to the powers of darkness that were carefully nurtured by the institutions of the state and the Church. The only chance for a gradual improvement, he believed, lay in the ability of psychoanalysis to liberate reason, over the long term, from its submission to unconscious urges and neurotic fixations.

Freud’s disgust for the passions of the masses and his negative opinion of humanity in general were a logical outcome of the years he spent observing public life in Vienna, and the rise of Nazism. He himself was barely rescued from Hitler’s clutches in 1938, and four of his sisters were murdered afterward in Nazi extermination camps.

Freud’s attitude toward Zionism and the ancient Jewish homeland was very complex. In a letter to Arnold Zweig (who lived in Palestine at the time) on May 8, 1932, Freud wrote with rigid rationalism about “the Holy Land”: That place, he noted, “has never given rise to anything except sanctified religious insanity, courageous attempts to overcome the outside, visible world, by means of the inner world of hopes that are only wishful thinking.” He wondered aloud “what kind of heritage has penetrated our blood and our nerves” from the heritage of the early patriarchs, and in typical fashion, he recognized the part that “belated infantile desires” which remain “unfulfilled” played in his emotions.

Freud’s skepticism prevented him from following Herzl, who suggested becoming the “new Moses” in Vienna of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and taking the Jews out of their “land of bondage” to the Promised Land. Moses filled an important role in Freud’s imagination, more as an educator and a moral legislator than as a visionary prophet or a charismatic political leader. Freud apparently never met Herzl, although he sent him a copy of his book “The Interpretation of Dreams” in 1902, as “a sign of the great admiration that I, like so many others, have for the writer and fighter for our people’s human rights.” Their short meetings took place only in dream scenarios, which hinted at the fact that Herzl may have represented a nagging prophetic presence in Freud’s unconscious. The father of psychoanalysis demonstrated an ambiguous and often hesitant attitude toward Zionism, a mixture of fondness, skepticism, anxiety, enthusiastic interest and a flickering of pride.

Profound concerns

The riots in Palestine in 1929 exposed some of Freud’s most profound concerns about the Zionist enterprise, and aroused his deep revulsion toward any form of religious fanaticism. In 1930 he wrote to the Keren Hayesod (the fund-raising arm of the World Zionist Organization, established in 1920 at the World Zionist Conference in London): “Anyone who wants to influence the masses must give them something arousing and exciting, and my level-headed opinion of Zionism does not allow this. I definitely feel sympathy for its goals, I am proud of our university in Jerusalem and happy about the flourishing of our moshavot (agricultural communities). But on the other hand, I do not think that Palestine can ever become a Jewish country, or that the Christian world and the Muslim world will ever agree to let their holy places be under Jewish control. I think that it would be wiser to establish the Jewish homeland in a place that is less sensitive historically. But I know that this rational viewpoint would never arouse the enthusiasm of the masses…”

Freud’s interest in Zionism waned during the 1930s, of all times. He was painfully aware of the Nazi threat to the future of the Jewish people, and wrote with great concern about “the decline into almost prehistoric barbarism” that was taking place among the Germans. That was why he discussed anti-Semitism so seriously in his last work. Among his varied and interesting theories, he tried to link German Nazism to the eternal grudge borne by the pagan barbarians “against the new religion (Christianity) that was forced on them.” They transferred their anger to the Jewish roots of the Christian religion – a means of diverting responsibility that succeeded because what is told in the New Testament “took place among the Jews.” This was the source of Freud’s conclusion that hatred of Jews is “fundamentally hatred of Christians.” It is no wonder, he added, that “in the National-Socialist German revolution, the close connection between the two monotheistic religions assumes such a clear expression of hostility toward both of them.”

Freud was correct in noting that Nazism, which relies on the Christian tradition of hatred of Jews, openly and angrily lashed out against all the ethical demands shared by Judaism and Christianity. His last work revealed a thorough understanding of the return of “repressed elements in the unconscious of humanity.” Freud died in September 1939, on the threshold of the darkest chapter in the history of mankind and the Jewish people. The murderous anti-Semitism of Nazi Germany could only have confirmed his greatest fears about the bestiality concealed beneath the thin veneer of modern European civilization.

Prof. Robert S. Wistrich holds the Neuberger chair for modern European history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is head of its International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism.

Powerful article on how capitalism can demoralize…

January 16, 2008

especially men, whose self-worth is caught up in money.  Fukuyama’s capitalistic ‘end of history’ tells us nothing about this empty feeling.  For that, we might need Freud, not Hegel… 

Capitalism and male depression

The principal cause of the ruination of today’s men is a culture that teaches them to use money as the currency by which to purchase self-esteem and self-worth. I call it “soulless capitalism.”

Capitalism is a system that recognizes that the most effective engine of economic advancement is one that rewards individual effort and achievement. Communism may be a more moral economic system insofar as it provides according to need rather than effort. But its immorality, not to mention its ineffectiveness, lies precisely in its inability to recognize the human desire, indeed the human need, for recognition.

People work not just to eat, but to distinguish themselves. But communism makes them into one unidentifiable morass. Capitalism recognizes that people have material and ego needs not just to get by and survive, but, as the German philosopher Friedrich Hegel says, to earn the corroboration of their humanity through the recognition of their peers.

But capitalism is itself limited in its failure to recognize that man is comprised of not just a body but a spirit. Man is not a homo sapiens but a homo spiritus. Capitalism that is soulless, that only caters to the material needs of the body rather than the spiritual needs of the soul, will destroy humanity as thoroughly as communism. Which explains why America is a land of such profound contradictions; the greatest and richest country in the world accompanied by the most shallow and vulgar culture; a place with the highest standard of living but also some of the highest rates of depression.

The hallmark of soulless capitalism is where people are judged by the quantity of their bank accounts rather than the quality of their relationships. It is where money is the sole arbiter of human importance. It is where money maketh the man.

FOR ABOUT a year I hosted a radio show that aired in Utah and was geared toward women. We were able to deal with issues that few others explored, especially on a monster 50 kilowatt station. I talked often about the effect of soulless capitalism on men. The discussion resonated with the women listening, especially the married ones. One by one they would call in to speak of how their finances directly impacted on their husband’s happiness. With the women, when the family did not have a lot of money, they felt the squeeze. But it was a practical concern about how to pay bills. But for the men, it was different. Financial problems ate away at their very self-esteem. Their confidence eroded. They did not question their professional acumen but their entire existence, and they sank into a depression from which their wives could not easily lift them.

Then one day I took this idea of feeling worthless further. The Talmud relates how the two scholarly academies of the House of Hillel and the House of Shamai had a debate on the question of whether it was good for man to have been born or not. I asked my listenership. “If you had a choice whether not to have been born, what would you choose?” Three calls from women in rapid succession all affirmed their desire to have been born.

But the fourth call was from a man and it was easily the most memorable moment I have ever had on radio. He related how, at that very moment, he was perched on a cliff in his car and his plan was to drive off and kill himself. Just as he was about to floor the accelerator, he decided that he would turn on the radio and look for a sign that might bring him back from the brink. Improbably, he found us, a women’s station!

He heard the discussion and decided to call in.“I’m standing here moments before I kill myself, and I’m not bluffing. I would never have chosen to have been born, and now I’m choosing to die. I was a cop. I did everything right. I risked my life for other people and I got paid very little for it. I always struggled financially. And then one day the department downsized and they let me go. And for the past four months I have looked at a mountain of bills and I have slipped to a very dark place. I have a loving wife and she’s done everything to get me to believe in myself. But I’m a failure who can’t even support his family. I have no reason to live and I’m going to kill myself.”

He was 44 years old, way too young to die. More importantly, he had a wife and three children he needed to take care of and who loved him. I told him he sounded like a good and honorable man. A hero. A cop. “If you kill yourself, you’ll substantiate the big lie that a man is only worth as much money as he makes. If you take your life, you will have let down not just yourself and your family, but all us men who struggle to find self-worth in a life devoted to something other than the endless pursuit of capital. But if you back your car up and choose life, you will be a hero to your wife and your children and an inspiration to the rest of us struggling men. You will show that you have infinite value as a human being, infinite worth as a child of God. And you will give that lesson to your children.”

While still on the phone he promised me he’d go home and seek help. Three weeks later I received a letter from his wife telling me that, together, they were seeing a counselor three times a week. She thanked me for saving his life. I wrote back to her that the idea that I saved him was absurd. She had saved him. It was the knowledge that he was not just an empty bank account but a man who was loved by a devoted woman and children which had brought him back from the brink. It was just a matter of reminding him how loved he was.

A Psychoanalysis of Pessah (Passover)

December 28, 2007

Article from earlier this year in Jpost (I believe) about how Freud looked at the Passover story and Moses: 

In 1934 Sigmund Freud came to the conclusion that Moses was an Egyptian. It was the result of a careful reading of the Bible, a brief reading of the works of the American Egyptologist James Henry Breasted and his own experience as a psychoanalyst in the science that he had named 40 years previously.

But Freud was unwilling to publish his results as the year 1934 was a difficult one for him and his fellow Jews. He did not wish to undermine Jewish faith at a time when it was being threatened by the rise of official and repressive anti-Semitism in many parts of Europe. He also did not wish to antagonize the Catholic Church, which controlled his native Vienna, and which needed a Jewish Moses as much as the Jews did. Freud worried that in revenge they might well have tried to restrict his successful medical and psychiatric practice.

It should be remembered that Freud was a good Jew in the sense that he consistently refused to convert to Christianity at a time when it would have enabled him to achieve an earlier professorship and a better income. He refused to follow the example of Gustav Mahler and others in Germany and Austria, who had traded their religion for a professional post. Freud was not a believer, but he was very sensitive to his Jewish culture and in 1930 he wrote, in the preface to the Hebrew translation of his Totem and Taboo, in answer to those who might doubt his beliefs and ask him, “What is there left to you that is Jewish?” he would reply, “A very great deal, and probably its essence.”

The thesis Freud refused to publish in 1934 became clear four years later after he had moved to London, when he felt that the pure air of England would allow him to propagate the ideas described below. But first it is necessary to examine the problem that Freud tried to solve.

 THE STORY of the Exodus is central to Jewish belief and, like all good stories, it has a hero and a villain. The hero without a doubt is Moses and the villain is Pharaoh – but which Pharaoh?

Scholars have wrestled with that problem for 200 years and believers think there is a solution, but in practice no solution has yet been found.

 Josephus placed the Hebrews with the Hyksos, the rulers of foreign lands expelled by the brother Pharaohs Kamose and Ahmose, who claimed to have driven out the hated foreigners, which would be in about 1570 BCE.

But this hardly works with the Jewish chronology that the Exodus took place 480 years before the building of Solomon’s Temple in 950 BCE.

Another candidate would be the lady Pharaoh Queen Hatshepshut, who also claimed to have expelled hated foreigners in about 1480 BCE; but then how could the Israelites have destroyed the walls of Jericho 100 years earlier, as the general consensus of archeologists believe? So the best bet today is Rameses the Great, who gave his name to the Land of Rameses, where the Hebrews dwelt, and to the city of Rameses that they built.
But Rameses never said that he expelled the hated – or any other – foreigners, nor do his dates fit with Jericho or the Jewish chronology which puts the Exodus at 1312 BCE.

Enter, finally, Akhenaten, the Pharaoh of El Amarna, who worshipped one god, the Aten, and only that one. His ideas were was so revolutionary that Egyptian history scrubbed him out of the record. It was only late in the 19th century that scholars resurrected his memory, and not until 1905 did he come back to public notice, when Breasted published his fine History of Egypt.

BY THEN Freud, throughout his life a keen collector of Egyptian artifacts, was already on the track of the Egyptian side of Moses. He counted Moses as the creator of monotheism, but wondered from where he derived that belief. As he read Breasted and learnt about the monolatrism – the worship of one god though not denying the existence of others – of Akhenaten, he realized it was this Pharaoh who had influenced Moses in some way. But Freud took it much further.The Moses story follows closely on that of other great leaders who are given a humble origin from which they reach great heights. Moses was a prince at the court of Pharaoh, Freud says at the court of Akhenaten, and the account gives him a humble Israelite origin that makes his rise appear even more spectacular. As a prince at the court of El Amarna, he was convinced of Akhenaten’s revolutionary ideas and devastated when they were rejected by the people of Egypt after Akhenaten’s mysterious death. And when the crown prince Tutankhamun was forced by the priests to revert to the official worship of Amun and many other gods, Moses took himself off and found a people to whom he could bring the new ideas. That people was the downtrodden Israelites, whom he took into the desert to inculcate them with the new religion, which he had developed even further into the belief of the one and only God, the god of thunderous appearance on Mount Sinai. It needed Moses’ own powerful personality to mold the people to his ideas, for when he disappeared, they reverted to the Egyptian golden calf that they had known; and when he reappeared he put such harsh laws on them that they were made to believe in him and his ideas, as a son will follow a harsh father, seeking always to gain his approval. But they would also resent this harshness, and that is why they rebelled at every opportunity and gave up for many years after his death the strict laws he had imposed on them at the Exodus and at Mount Sinai. TO FREUD this was all an account based on folk memory, what is today called Mnemo-history by such scholars as Jan Assmann of Heidelberg University. As an Egyptologist, Assmann has studied the ideas of Akhenaten in much more detail than Freud was able to do, and he confirms Freud’s thesis that the revolutionary ideas of Akhenaten could have influenced a charismatic figure such as Moses. But he points out, quite rightly, that Freud himself “did not believe in the God that he had discovered.” So what was the essence of Judaism that Freud held on to? He believed in the chain of tradition which has to have an anchor, what he would call a collective repressed memory. The repression was due to the fact that the Children of Israel, according to Freud, eventually rose up and killed Moses, their harsh tormentor, and then regretted the act, but necessarily repressed the memory of it. Freud related that to the case of the first humans, who lived in small groups where the sons were totally subservient to the one dominant father, who alone has all the females and against whom the sons eventually rise up to kill and consume his flesh. The question then remains as to how to focus on this whole drama of Moses and the Israelites. This is where Freud insists on the centrality of the Exodus. It is the one over-arching piece of folk history that binds all the sons of Israel together. It is the story of the coming out of Egypt that binds us to the story of Moses, and the belief in the one and only God that Moses, the giver of harsh laws, discovered for us. It is the essential piece of mnemo-history that we believe and repeat together each year, and throughout the year – the going out of Egypt, when God and the Children of Israel had the purest of relationships in the desert, before the death of Moses and the temporary reversion to other cults.

The writer is a fellow of the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem.