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March 2010

Eli Zaretsky: The Obama Cult, Part One

Obama’s focus on biography rather than politics began with his 2004 address to the Democratic Convention, which offered his own life as a repudiation of the red/blue divide, it continued during his campaign for the nomination, which centered on meaningless slogans such as “Change,” “Change we can Believe in” and “Yes, We Can,” and it pervades the news coverage which concentrates on whether Obama is succeeding or failing, winning or losing, whether we should give him more time, or whether he has had enough, with very little overall sense of the country’s overall goals and direction, or those of his party. While this substitution of personality for politics has been going on for a long time, I believe it has reached an entirely new level during the Obama years, a level that shrinks the sphere of democratic discussion, even beyond where it had been.


Cathie's notes: [cross-posted from Citizen, Inc.] This is an interesting introduction to a series of articles that Eli Zaretsky (at Tikkun) is writing. Zaretsky reflects some ideas that are critical to understand if one wants to be an engaged citizen.

Many people have explored the idea that the citizens of a nation project their own desires, hopes and fears into leaders, and in this sense create an image or persona of the leader that is not necessarily a true or complete representation. I do think, however, that the leader and the led have a hook and pile relationship, to use the Velcro metaphor. In other words, there is usually something about the leader and something about the followers that sticks on a truth.

I'll post links to Zaretsky's articles as more are published.

[See previous posts and links on some of these ideas here and here -- these are early ones for this blog. For more recent posts, see examples here and here. I plan to write lots more on this subject at my In Hawk Space blog, but will cross-post at Citizen, Inc.]

Mad Scientists? | ReligionDispatches

Army researcher Bruce Ivins commits suicide as the FBI closes in on him as a top suspect in the US anthrax mail deaths; University of Alabama biology professor Amy Bishop guns down her colleagues in a faculty meeting; top climate scientists’ hacked email reveals childish bickering and apparent suppression of research that goes against global warming; Nobel-winning UN scientist Rajendra K. Pachauri accused of serious financial conflicts of interest; top university psychiatrists under Senate investigation for not disclosing significant cash payments from pharmaceutical companies whose drugs they are also researching.

Good Lord! Seems like hardly a week’s gone by lately without some new revelation about scientists gone mad or bad or both.

What’s up?

On the one hand, we could say, “Scientists are just humans, and humans screw up.” But there’s more to it than that.


Interesting article -- read the rest of it here.

The author, Arri Eisen, is a Senior Lecturer in Biology, Director of the Program in Science & Society and of the Science, Ethics, & Society Initiative of the Ethics Center at Emory University. He leads formal "ethics training" for grad students there.

What White People Fear | | AlterNet

Understanding the fears behind the racial politics of both conservative and liberal whites can help change a society in which wealth and well-being are still tied to race.


Cathie's notes: [cross-posted from my Raising Cain blog.] This article by Robert Jensen, a professor of journalism at the University of Texas, Austin, was written for the Spring 2010 issue of Yes! Magazine.

As a white liberal on an anti-racist journey, I found it to be interesting, informative, challenging and inspiring.

Read the whole article here. Read more in the America: The Remix issue at Yes! Magazine online here.


Article Explores Neurobiological Underpinnings of Freudian Ideas

This article explores the notion that Freudian constructs may have neurobiological substrates. Specifically, we propose that Freud’s descriptions of the primary and secondary processes are consistent with self-organized activity in hierarchical cortical systems and that his descriptions of the ego are consistent with the functions of the default-mode and its reciprocal exchanges with subordinate brain systems. This neurobiological account rests on a view of the brain as a hierarchical inference or Helmholtz machine. In this view, large-scale intrinsic networks occupy supraordinate levels of hierarchical brain systems that try to optimize their representation of the sensorium. This optimization has been formulated as minimizing a free-energy; a process that is formally similar to the treatment of energy in Freudian formulations. We substantiate this synthesis by showing that Freud’s descriptions of the primary process are consistent with the phenomenology and neurophysiology of rapid eye movement sleep, the early and acute psychotic state, the aura of temporal lobe epilepsy and hallucinogenic drug states.


Cathie's notes: Another contribution to the ongoing dialogue between psychoanalysts and neuroscientists. This article by R.L. Carhart-Harris and K.J. Friston is available as a free download here.

Environmental Protection: Moving toward a higher law

Reading Paul Verhaeghe's On Being Normal and Other Disorders a few years ago had a profound impact on the way I think about myself as a psychoanalyst, Earth citizen, and activist for social and environmental justice. At about the same time, I was researching the impact of surface coal mining on Tennessee's headwaters.

During this process, I had some Eureka! moments of intersection between these fields of knowledge that seemed to spiral around Verhaeghe's main thesis: Our psychological identity is co-created with that of an "other" (say, a parent, a culture, a nation, a planet). If this is so, argues Verhaeghe, then the way we define any deviation from "normal" must also acknowledge that pathology is based on this self-other matrix and does not rest upon (or within) just one of the subjects.

In everyday life, such an idea is not of much consequence unless we want to "fix" a "problem." Then we have to remind ourselves that all treatment approaches depend upon a therapeutic relationship to be effective.

My Eureka! moment had to do with a realization that this healing principle operates whether I am working as a psychoanalyst to alleviate the suffering of a person, or as an activist to alleviate the exploitation and oppression of people and nature.

An example that came to mind was the difficulty activists often have when we engage with governmental and legal systems around protection of our homelands. Just as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) names psychological suffering in a way that takes us further from the sufferer, so does the naming of remedies in the limited language of environmental policy and law take us further away from the trauma of exploitation.


NWP 21 hearing in Knoxville, TN on October 13, 2009 [photo by Cathie Bird]

As I have written in other posts, the formulation of arguments in that setting is forced to mesh with the language of the laws that govern environmental assessment, regulation and enforcement. In recent years, political and regulatory bodies have claimed to make a space for "environmental justice" but, to date, we still have many examples of failure to protect land, air and water, in spite of our testimony.

I think we can look at these failed environmental "treatments" in the same way as failed therapies. Somehow, our diagnoses have been pinned to an environmental equivalent of the DSM. We need a new way of doing things that allows all parties in the relationship to be a subject in this intersubjective process. My "!" at the end of Eureka was that we have failed as a human collective to protect the environment because we have failed to see land, air, water, plants, animals  as subjects – as opposed to objects -- that not only exist, know and act, but have a right to do so.

For a time on the North American continent, this higher law was known and lived by citizens of the First Nations. After initiation of First Nations genocide by European colonists, governing documents and laws of the United States evolved to protect white male privilege. To the extent we allow such laws to remain on the books, we collectively and unconsciously endorse structural racism that inherently denies subjective freedom, especially for people of color and our shared environment. Environmental law specialist, Robin Craig, says that until citizen's rights to a clean and healthy environment are amended to the U.S. Constitution, it’s likely that scientific, economic and social justice will fail to receive due consideration.

Our collective task now is to figure and feel our way out of this mess. And though we don't often hear about it through mainstream media – or our public schools -- there is a lot of evidence that all has not been lost.

The ancient wisdom of a higher law continues to be held in trust for the national collective by our brothers and sisters of the First Nations and other Indigenous peoples of Earth. As a start we could demand that our local, state and federal governments at least consider the protection-production model of relationship to the environment practiced by First Nations citizens.

Earth and its citizens are moving – however slowly -- toward higher ground, though much of this journey and its long history remain unconscious. Which brings me back to Verhaeghe. In his Preface, Verhaeghe describes a certain polarization of surface and depth, with a pendulum's swing between what information has more value: what we can see at the surface or what is hidden but operates on human consciousness nonetheless.

"The sheer complexity of human behavior," notes Verhaeghe, "demands that we reconsider the nonvisible mental constructions directing it.”

So far -- in my own psychoanalytic explorations of humankind's relationship to nature -- it seems clear that such a process is a key to discovery of mental, emotional, structural and spiritual resistance that prevents planet-wide liberation of people and nature.


[Since this article concerns an intersection of psychoanalytic thinking and environmental protection, I am cross-posting it from my Earthbytes blog.]

Bedside Manners: The Broken Spirituality of Contemporary US Medical Practice | ReligionDispatches

So strong is the spiritual dimension in healing that significant religious movements—Christian Science and (to some extent) Religious Science and Dianetics/Scientology—have grown up around it. Because these movements (along with faith-healing proponents within traditional Christianity) so often take the extreme position of denying the power of bodily illness altogether, sober realists and an overwhelming preponderance of scientifically-trained people, including doctors, have been inclined to move to the other extreme and to insist that pneuma (spirit) and psyche have nothing at all to do with soma (the body).

Hospital-based chaplains and pastoral counselors come up against a fairly brutal form of scientism all the time. In many health care institutions, these people are barely tolerated. They are pointedly not invited to participate in rounds or in patient evaluation sessions. I recall how, as a first-year seminary student doing what is called “supervised ministry” at a New Haven mental health hospital, I was somewhat shocked to see how patients’ behavior was interpreted purely in terms of reactions to their medications, whereas I could see plainly that many of these same patients were responding to the presence or absence of human connection—visits and phone calls from loved ones either made or not made, friendships with other patients either formed or broken.


Cathie's notes: An interesting article on what I consider to be an element of true health CARE reform.

Tikkun Magazine - A Spiritual Perspective on Family Courts

Family courts are also often inefficient and not necessarily the best way to make good decisions. The adversary system works fine for deciding a historical fact like who pulled the trigger or ran the red light: put the two best re-creations of the event in front of a fact finder and get a decision. But family court decisions involve not historical facts but future predictions—what arrangements will be best for the children? And the target is a moving one—the answer today may be very different from the answer next month or next year. Unfortunately, most of us legally trained judges are only superficially knowledgeable about the complicated issues of family dynamics and child development raised by parenting cases, and rarely are the resources and time available to get us the comprehensive, sophisticated evidence needed to reach the best result. Add the complicated procedural rules the adversary system needs to make sure the fight is fair, and staff the system with lawyers who are trained in legal combat and paid by the hour, and you have a system that makes the health care establishment look positively streamlined.


Cathie's notes: Great article from Bruce Peterson, formerly the presiding judge of the Hennepin County (MN) Family Court. Read the rest of the article here.