Terrorism, Shared Trauma and Citizenship 2.0

Less than two months after 9/11, I had the opportunity to hear Vamik Volkan speak on terrorism, religious and ethnic identity issues, and mourning over loss in the wake of this shared national group trauma. So, I couldn't be happier that Dr. Volkan will be in Knoxville on October 26th to present a conference on Terrorism and Its Effects on Politics and Society – the morning session of which is open to the public. He will focus on topics from his latest book, Enemies on the Couch: A Psychopolitical Journey Through War and Peace.

The opening chapters of Enemies on the Couch trace the evolution of psychopolitical thought from its more narrow focus on individual growth and development to expansion of our understanding of large group trauma and international relations.

In his books, Volkan writes of both popular and professional resistance to ideas about how we come to identify others as enemies or friends, how we engage in relationships with them, and how the effects of external, historical trauma are passed on to the children of those who suffered the consequences directly. But the idea of historical trauma has, for some time, also been acknowledged among people and groups who have experienced its intergenerational effects.

I became aware of this when I practiced in New Mexico in the 1990's. There, many Native Americans were already working with the notion of historical trauma to heal themselves and their communities from traumatic effects of physical, emotional, social, and spiritual genocide, endured for more than 500 years, and imposed under European and American colonialist policy.

Here in the South (and elsewhere) descendants of both slaves and slave holders now use a "transforming historical harms" framework to acknowledge and heal wounds from racism that is rooted in the history of slavery in the United States.

Professional attitudes began to change in a concrete way, says Volkan, with the initiation of a series of dialogues facilitated by the American Psychiatric Association's Committee on Psychiatry and Foreign Affairs between Egyptians and Israelis from 1980-1985. He describes the dialogue process, and his participation as a facilitator, in fascinating, inspiring detail.

After 9/11, the International Psychoanalytic Association formed a Terror and Terrorism Study Group. In 2011, the American Psychoanalytic Association's outgoing president Prudence Gourgeuchon urged psychoanalysts to be more active in providing information regarding the human behavior behind traumatic events lest statements by people with less knowledge prevail. 

In a 2007 essay about my own shift toward using psychoanalytic ideas to understand the world beyond the consulting room, I wrote: "The space between changing the world one consciousness at a time and influencing social change on a larger scale has always seemed like a huge leap." 

Hearing Dr. Volkan in 2001 (and several times thereafter), I have relied on his work as a major source of information for my continuing professional interest in the transformation and healing of collective trauma. I also use it to inform my day-to-day citizenship, and my participation in social and environmental justice projects.

So, yes, I see knowledge of political psychology as having very practical applications. What attracts me or you to a specific issue or political position? Why do political relationships become so polarized and unmovable? What are the psychological dynamics that shape and drive relationships between leaders and followers? It’s possible to shed more light on such questions when a psychological perspective becomes part of the exploration.

More and more it seems to me that the space between changing the world one consciousness at a time and social change on a larger scale isn't so huge after all.

If you can be in Knoxville on October 26th, I hope you will join my colleagues and me to hear what Vamik Volkan has to say about terrorism -- a topic about which many Americans have fearful concerns -- and how shared traumas such as 9/11 impact our politics and social fabric. 

For more information on the conference:

If you are on Facebook, you can go to the Appalachian Psychoanalytic Society's event page for Terrorism and Its Effects on Politics and Society. People may register at the door, but can take advantage of a lower registration fee if they sign up by October 22nd.

Download the registration form for the public session, or

Download the professional participant brochure and registration form at the APS website: scroll down to the link under Part 2. (CE's available for professionals attending the full conference!)

Here are some links to Dr. Volkan's earlier books:

The Need to Have Enemies and Allies: From Clinical Practice to International Relationships (1988),

Bloodlines: From Ethnic Pride to Ethnic Terrorism (1998),

Blind Trust: Large Groups and Their Leaders in Times of Crisis and Terror (2004), and

Killing in the Name of Identity: A Study of Bloody Conflicts (2006).

 

Embedded link correction, January 24, 2015.


Bursting the Neuro-Utopian Bubble - NYTimes.com

An interesting article in the New York Times by Benjamin Y. Fong, a Harper Fellow at the University of Chicago, who is working on a manuscript on psychoanalysis and critical theory.

By humbly claiming ignorance about the “causes” of mental problems, and thus the need for a project like the Brain Initiative, neuroscientists unconsciously repress all that we know about the alienating, unequal, and dissatisfying world in which we live and the harmful effects it has on the psyche, thus unwittingly foreclosing the kind of communicative work that could alleviate mental disorder.

via opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com


Frank Summers: Psychoanalysis in the Age of "Just Do It" | Psychology Today

I found a link to this great piece by Frank Summers on Facebook today. The post is his presidential address to APA Division 39's Spring Meeting in Boston. Here's an excerpt:

The analytic stance and Nikeism stand in stark opposition, and to see who is more popular one need only contrast Nike’s undisputed perch at the top of the shoe sales pyramid with the paucity of clinical psychology programs offering any meaningful representation of psychoanalytic ideas.  As analysts we do not “Just do it” nor are we “faster;” in fact, little is slower than a psychoanalysis.  The essence of analysis is not quick action, but the use of affective and cognitive depth to initiate meaningful action.  Psychoanalysis is a rare contra-position to Nikeism, and the Nike slogan exhorts op-position to psychoanalytic thinking.  Akin to Heidegger’s call to listen to Being, psychoanalysis is likewise a call, a call to listen to oneself, to explore the Being given to us in our experience.  Where Nikeism says ignore the world of one’s experience, psychoanalysis says that is all we have, the beacon that can be ignored only at our peril.  In psychoanalysis, one learns to listen to one’s experience in all its complexity, to explore the thought and feeling as the basis for our very human way of acting.

Read the whole post at www.psychologytoday.com

I just started reading Frank's new book, The Psychoanalytic Vision, which contrasts psychoanalytic psychotherapy's focus on the world of the experiencing subject with an American culture that seems to prefer and occupy -- ever more tightly -- objectivist, materialistic and quantifiable spaces.

The tension between these worldviews feels so present in the world right now. I sense it both inside the consulting room and out in the world as I try to apply what I've learned through psychoanalytic study and practice to conscious evolution, social healing, and transformation at personal and planetary scales.

I feel my own sensitivities to being objectified -- or pressures to objectify somebody else -- becoming more fine-tuned. I love that Summers hears the voice of the rebel in psychoanalysis. Already I have been able to bring some gnarly questions from my work in social, racial and environmental justice into a new light by thinking of my experiences in terms of subjective versus objective privilege. I have suspected for some years now that psychoanalysis has much to offer those who seek love, justice and liberation for all sentient beings.

So far, Summers' book is helping me to bring some of my understanding about such things into a more symbolic order.


"Dakota 38" calls from the shadows to move us toward the light of peace, love and reconciliation on Earth

Dakota 38 is one of the most profound and beautiful films I have ever seen and I wanted to share it today, Christmas Eve 2012. For me it reflects the spirit of the season, the year ahead, and what I hope will be a more conscious, intentional focus of the human collective for many years to come.

In 2005, Jim Miller, a Native spiritual leader and Vietnam veteran, had a dream in which he was riding on horseback across the great plains of South Dakota. In the dream, he came to a riverbank in Minnesota and saw 38 of his Dakota ancestors hanged. At the time of his dream, Jim didn't know that on December 26, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln had ordered the largest mass execution in US history in the town of Mankato, Minnesota.

Four years later, Jim and a group of riders planned a 330-mile horeseback ride from Lower Brule, South Dakota to Mankato. They planned to reach the site of the hanging on the anniversary of the execution. The film -- Dakota 38 -- is the story of their healing journey.

I find this story timely and remarkable for several reasons.

Closest to home is the spotlight on the culture of violence in the United States, illuminated by the events in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14th. The massacre in Newtown has drawn global support and solidarity for the healing process that is now underway. As the national discussion grows, many articles reflect that at least some Americans (including me) place this tragedy in a larger context of the violence that we as a nation perpetrated against Native Americans, and Africans torn from their homeland and forced to become slaves to European colonials in the New World.

Consider also the emergence of the Idle No More movement just four days earlier on December 10, 2012. Four women from Saskatchewan -- Indigenous and non Indigenous -- decided that they could no longer be silent about Bill C 45, legislation (later passed by the Canadian Senate on the same day as the Newtown massacre) that they consider an attack on First Nation people and the lands and waters across Canada. This grassroots movement aims to "repair these violations, live the spirit and intent of the treaty relationship, work towards justice in action, and protect Mother Earth". In just a short time, the Idle No More has also attracted support and solidarity from people around the world.

As I queud up Dakota 38, I was not certain I would end up sharing it, at least not until after Christmas. In the face of so much national trauma lately, I have mainly been listening to as many voices as possible. I brought my sharing on social networks under the scrutiny of "right speech" -- a principle that considers, among other things, the right time and place to speak or be silent and just listen, witness, and hold the field steady as people come to grips with its horror, try to sort things out.

What became clear in my heart during the first few minutes of the film, hearing people speak of their experience, is that sharing Dakota 38 on Christmas Eve felt right. This mass execution spoke to the shadow, the darkness I feel as a descendant of European colonists. But as I listened, I could hear the profound gifts of peace, love and reconciliation that these descendents of the Dakota 38 have to offer all of us.

What they speak to is not just an "Indian thing". It reflects a process of healing and transformation that is at the core of celebrations like Christmas, a process that I see spreading across the global range of the human family. It requires reconnecting with our dark and painful past to find what was lost or forgotten so that we can move forward or birth something new in the present with greater peace and wisdom.

In African culture this is the concept of Sankofa. It is also an idea found in the theory and practice of psychoanalysis and other psychological models of healing.

Sankofa_bird
Sankofa Bird street painting in Kumasi, Ghana [Photo credit: Gorodilova]

So, in the spirit of the season, however you celebrate and understand it, I offer this gift via Chief Phil Lane who first shared a related link, and Jim Miller, and Smooth Feather Productions who offered the full movie to everyone at no charge:

 

 

Also see:

The Light of Humanity in the Darkness: Reflections in the Shadow of Sandy Hook (Phillip Hellmich, 12/20/12 at Huffington Post)

Idle No More is not just an "Indian Thing" (Wab Kinew, 12/17/12 at Huffington Post)

First Nations prepared to fight Harper , Enbridge in international court (Erin Flegg, 12/23/12 in the Vancouver Observer)

Idle No More: On the meaning of Chief Therese Spence's hunger strike (Greg Macdougall, 12/22/12 at rabble.ca)

New documentary remembers largest mass execution in US history (December 23, 2010, Minnesota Public Radio)

 


David Palumbo-Liu: The need for the other narrative in Gaza

Cross-posted from my Raising Cain blog.

I keep a framed print in my office: It depicts a cat just sitting peacefully (I can't remember the artist). The caption is: "What people need is a good listening to."

I have proven this true time and again -- at least for myself -- not only in my healing practice but in the practice of peace work and justice activism out in the troubled world beyond my quiet holler here in Tennessee. Thus, I was happy to find an amazing OpEd by David Palumbo-Liu at truthout.org yesterday.

Since then, I've spent quite some time deciding where to share it. The thoughts and feelings that have prevented a quicker sharing relate to an indepth (and ongoing) contemplation of the fractured communities, the violence, anger and hate that currently blinds us as a human collective to our essential oneness, our peaceful, loving and cooperative nature.

I think a lot about how we can ever heal all the wounds that keep us from a reunion with the Self and the Source that we as a human race abandoned so long ago. I think we will figure it out. Social healing is a complex process, but I am confident that one of the skills we'll all need is an ability to listen through the heart first, and only then let the words pass on to the head through that powerful field of compassion that allows us to hold extremes simultaneously in one center.

Palumbo-Liu's article offers an opportunity to practice such a thing and to learn more about it, I think. He speaks here about young people in Gaza, but it's clear to me that we could take such an invitation to deep listening anywhere on Earth right now and move ourselves toward something better:

Believing their story is never allowed to be heard, Palestinians have a feeling of dispossession described most eloquently by the late Edward Saidi.  Now Gazan youth are pleading for the world to listen to their rage, sorrow and frustration, and their commitment to a cultural and political project that will endow them with rights and possibilities for life.

via truth-out.org

I discovered more great posts at David Palumbo-Liu's website. He also has a Twitter feed @palumboliu. When I get a minute, I'll add his website URL to Raising Cain's News and Blogroll in the sidebar.

 


Daniel Stern, Who Studied Babies’ World, Dies at 78 - NYTimes.com

Sad news...I read Dr. Stern's Interpersonal World of the Infant very early in my graduate work and psychoanalytic training, and continue to appreciate his work...

Dr. Daniel Stern, a psychiatrist who increased the understanding of early human development by scrutinizing the most minute interactions between mothers and babies, died on Nov. 12 in Geneva. He was 78.

The cause was heart failure, said his wife, Dr. Nadia Bruschweiler Stern.

Dr. Stern was noted for his often poetic language in describing how children respond to their world — how they feel, think and see. He wrote one of his half-dozen books in the form of a diary by a baby. In another book, he told how mothers differ psychologically from women who do not have children. He coined the term “motherese” to describe a form of communication in which mothers are able to read even the slightest of babies’ emotional signals.

Read more at www.nytimes.com


Some thoughts on the neurobiology of activism and social change

I got a link to a journal article this morning that inspired me to make note of some ideas about activism and social change that I've been exploring. Here's the abstract:

Brain-to-brain coupling: a mechanism for creating and sharing a social world

Cognition materializes in an interpersonal space. The emergence of complex behaviors requires the coordination of actions among individuals according to a shared set of rules. Despite the central role of other individuals in shaping one's mind, most cognitive studies focus on processes that occur within a single individual. We call for a shift from a single-brain to a multi-brain frame of reference. We argue that in many cases the neural processes in one brain are coupled to the neural processes in another brain via the transmission of a signal through the environment. Brain-to-brain coupling constrains and shapes the actions of each individual in a social network, leading to complex joint behaviors that could not have emerged in isolation.

via www.sciencedirect.com

I first became aware of the notion of interacting human brains in the late 1990's when I read Allan Schore's Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self: The Neurobiology of Emotional Development (1994). Schore's thesis here was that our early social environment, mediated by our caregivers, directly influences the evolution brain structure that is responsible for our future socio-emotional development (p. 62). Since then, Schore and others have developed such ideas extensively, and in 2012 many practitioners are learning to apply this knowledge in their clinical work.

In one sense I found Schore's book intimidating: 600+ pages, heavily referenced, and almost seeming to be written in code (at that time, my interest in neuroscience at this depth was just emerging). But in many places throughout these pages, my recognition and understanding of the profound nature of these ideas was intuitive. I embraced them, and have remained supercharged to explore them further.

I've especially been interested in how this idea pops up in multiple disciplines of knowledge, and how that information eventually gets translated for a multidisciplinary audience, i.e. how this idea has evolved, and how it is (or is not) being integrated into the practice of conscious evolution. More recently my focus has been on how neuroscience might inform the work of activists in social, racial, economic and environmental justice as they encounter the common spaces of their own emotional development and the emotional life of groups, organizations, and nations. In my own experience as an activist, I have found reflection on neurobiological underpinnings of human affective and cognitive systems to be invaluable.

As I see it, this is but one arena of human life in which the idea that "the neural processes in one brain are coupled to the neural processes in another brain" might have significant consequences for our success at creating a society that is just for all of its members, and simultaneously supports the evolutionary process of the living systems of Earth as a whole.

A big question in these challenging times is this: will the multi-brained human collective choose to take an evolutionary leap that reverses the course of destruction we've imposed on our Earth-home, or will we choose a devolutionary path that could well end the existence of our species on this planet? Nature itself teaches us that when an ecological system is stressed, greater cooperation among species improves the chances for sustainable conditions for life. Human beings have an option of making cooperation more conscious and intentional. If brain-to-brain coupling among humans indeed shapes the actions of individuals in social networks and leads to complex emergent behaviors, that's important to explore.

The bulk of the article by Hasson, et. al., digs way down into details of brain-to-brain coupling mechanisms. However, their conclusion expands outward to broader territories of possibility that were stimulated within me just reading their abstract. The call of the authors for "a shift from a single-brain to a multi-brain frame of reference" would, (in many fields, I think) serve our species (and others) well as we decide our collective direction at this evolutionary crossroads.

 


Sharing Atoms in the Fire of Light

"So many millions of info-bits on the Internet," I'm thinking, and then wondering, "what led me to this one?" Maybe a more important question: what made me zero in on this one and let all the others move in and then out of focused attention?

Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto's time-lapse map of the 2,053 nuclear explosions that shook the Earth between 1945 and 1998 certainly set off a lot of thoughts, feelings and questions for me this morning. None of them were things I had not thought, not felt, not questioned before. (See my August 6, 2010 post: "The Bomb"s at 65.) In a way, perhaps, Hashimoto's art has brought it all more profoundly into my body.

 

 

A couple of experiences with this video today stand out.

The flashes of light and sound representing each detonation evoked the feel of a gaming arcade, or maybe a casino, pure entertainment in the zone of things imaginary. At the same time, the connection of the flashes on the map to another human being's home place was not lost on my heart. The white-light flash on the screen beneath the cross-hairs over Hiroshima sucked time, along with my mind, into a six-decade implosion. For a second I was simultaneously in the rooms where generals gave the destruct order, in the cockpit of the Enola Gay, and on the ground with WTF-amazement at my fiery ascension into the poisonous mushroom.

A few years pass in the upper right hand margin of the video before I can make sense of the flags, beeps, tones, pulses, flashes and numbers emerging in front of me.

My mind reorganizes. It occurs to me how far some of the flashes on the map are from the capitols of the countries that exploded them. How foolish to think that a nuclear explosion in a sparsely populated area would not have consequences.

What is the source of this privilege, this arrogance (or pathetic mindlessness) that could possibly endorse such destruction inside or outside of its own boundaries, against its own (or other) species? It would have to be people who are totally disconnected from laws of nature, people who, blinded by the superpower of fear and loss, have forgotten that what we do to others, we do to ourselves.

Perhaps it's not that Hashimoto's art brought my nuclear thoughts, feelings and questions more profoundly into my body, but that his interpretation put me more profoundly in touch with something that was already there. After all, the atoms in the bombs and the atoms in my body are the same, all connected, all communicating, all the time.

When the US dropped that bomb on Hiroshima, it dropped on me, though I wasn't yet born. The cells that would grow and develop as a vessel for this local self I know as "me" already held the memory of that nuclear holocaust, and have no doubt reverberated with every explosion since, though well beyond conscious awareness...until now.

WhiteSandsSunSet_1000BlogEd
Sunset at White Sands National Monument, south of the "Trinity" site in New Mexico where the United States detonated the first atomic bomb in 1945. [Photo credit: Cathie Bird]

And so I renew my questions with a louder voice: Who is really the scariest bomb maker? I think a case could be made that it's the folks who have exploded the most bombs, the people who dropped the first ones on unsuspecting citizens of someone else's country.

But here in this first week of 2012, another question comes to mind: What if we as a species misread the impulses that led us to build such things as bombs in the first place? What if the seed of the bomb is our own atomic not-yet-conscious memory of the life-giving Big Bang? It wouldn't be the first time that humankind misunderstood the cohesive evolutionary forces of love, light and life and chose instead a path of undoing.

What if the explosion of light we are driven to seek and give form on Earth is the spiritual fire, the atomic essence of our true Selves?

 


IN MEMORIAM: ELISABETH YOUNG-BRUEHL

Ouch! I had really enjoyed reading Elisabeth Young-Bruehl's blog -- Who's Afraid of Social Democracy? -- for the past year or so, and had subscribed to it via email to be notified of new posts. She wrote about politics and culture in our modern world with a psychoanalytic eye on things. It also seemed to me that she managed to embed a clear, vital spirit in her writing, which is why the news of her death took me so much by surprise, I think. Today, Dominique Browning cross-posted a tribute on Young-Bruehl's own blog, and I thought I'd share it here.

On Thursday night I went to a performance of Philip Glass' opera Satyagraha, about the early life of Gandhi. I left in a trance, spellbound by the music and the puppetry. In front of Lincoln Center a large crowd had gathered; it took me a moment to recognize the barricades, the police vans lining Broadway, the gorgeous blue-green sheen of a large puppet of the Statue of Liberty, covering her eyes in shame, or was it misery? It was a peaceful demonstration; the protestors were chanting; it seemed as if sidewalk had become proscenium. The audience surged forward for another performance. Several people were standing at the entrance to the opera house, giving away copies of a broadsheet: The Occupied Wall Street Journal. I took one, and went home.

I was restless that night, even though it was late; I couldn't sleep. Glass's music is lyrical and lulling and I kept humming fragments that bubbled up. So I sat and read The Occupied Journal. I began thinking, intensely, of my friend Elisabeth, who has written so much about revolution and democracy. Elisabeth was due to arrive on Sunday for a week of lectures and research work in the Winnicott archives, an enormous project into which she had just thrown herself with her usual whole-hearted, single-minded absorption. I kept thinking, as I read the Occupied, how much she would enjoy the essays in the paper--the entire movement--and how much I would enjoy talking to her about its profound significance. I set the old-fashioned broadsheet on top of a pile of books and magazines I had put aside to share with her when she arrived.

Early the next morning came the terrible, choked phone call from Elisabeth's beloved spouse, Christine Dunbar, that Elisabeth had suddenly collapsed and died as they were walking home from a concert.

Read the whole post at www.slowlovelife.com

You can also read Browning's tribute at Who's Afraid of Social Democracy?

 


Pinker on Reason and Morality - NYTimes.com

I loved Gary Gutting's analysis of Pinker at The Stone yesterday:

Steven Pinker’s impressive new book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined,” has been much reviewed and discussed since its publication last month—a rare occurrence for a book of ideas. The two key empirical claims that Pinker puts forward are suggested in the title:  that the level of human violence (war, murder, etc.) has been decreasing over the centuries and that the human ability to reason has been correspondingly increasing.   He goes on to explain the first claim by the second.  Our ability to reason causes us to be less violent: “A smarter [more rational] world,” he says, “is a less violent world.”

In a book awash with empirical data and analysis, it is remarkable that Pinker’s capstone explanation (developed on pp. 647-650) is not based solely on empirical facts.  It also depends on a philosophical argument that rationality logically implies a moral rejection of violence.  Historians and psychologists will scrutinize Pinker’s empirical claims.  Here I discuss his crucial philosophical argument, which I think faces some serious problems.

Read the rest of the article at opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com