Psychoanalysis and engineering


A free man goes to work in an office

In his important novel, "The Man Without Qualities", Robert Musil explores possibilities of living for a free person in our social world. His name is Ulrich, aka, The Man Without Qualities (Patrick McGoohan's "Number 6" before World War II?). Ulrich has no qualities not in the sense of being an empty husk, but rather in the sense of not identifying with any of the many qualities he has. Ulrich is capable of and deploys reflecting on the obvious. That makes him a free man, an individual alert among Sleepwalkers.

OK. Ulrich is apparently rich ("funded"). He doesn't have to earn a living to be able to live (metabolize). Nonetheless, perhaps like Jesus parachuting to earth in the wonderful film "Greaser's Palace", Ulrich decides to take a job in an engineering office, because he wants to participate in what I shall call here: The Spirit of Precision, which for him (or at least for his Creator, RM) is a corrected update of the venerable practice of mysticism. Musil writes that "we" long ago took a wrong turn in our understanding of the mystical, associating it with fuzzy inner life instead of associating it with the most rigorous precision. Mies van der Rohe's "God is in the details". So, we can say: Agnostic Ulrich goes to secular Church....

Ulrich enters the sacred space of the engineering office, where, however, I think he finds nerds, techies, Dilbert et cie, etc.... And here's where the Miracle occurs: Ulrich quickly exits the engineering office never to return upon discovering that the engineers, the supposed – may we call them – New Men, the acolytes of The Church of Our Lady of the Slide Rule (?Ulrich's sister, Agathe, whose name means: The Good) –, wear tie tacks with little horse's heads on them. The Man Without Qualities, because he does not have to earn a paycheck to make a monthly mortgage payment on the telos of a daily commute, a suburban raised ranch, chooses not to waste his life-time among Kitschmenschen.

The psychoanalytic circus

Let's take a quick logico-deductive trip through Shrinkland, i.e., the world of the psychoanalytic session. We know that "everything is grist for the mill". We can combine that with Freud's observation (ref. lost) that the only reason the analyst pressures the analysand to correctly and fully remember his or her dream is that otherwise the analysand would not take the analysis seriously (would not free-associate conscientiously).

In other words, "psychoanalysis" is just a circus to trick the patient out of his or her being unwittingly possessed by their "normal" daily life. So cannot we dispense with the whole hocus-pocus of "an analysis" and just get on with it? Cannot we start by gazing – not at our navels, but, at least if we are wearing a tie, and without even unbuttoning our shirt – at the little tie tack with a horse's head on it we are wearing right now (my real-life father did have a tie-clip with a horse's head on it -- I seem to recall the "bar" of the tie-clip was in the shape of a rider's whip. Mirabile visu!)? [Note: Musil was writing before the Vietnam War at least partly liberated us from our dress codes. Therefore, my reader, please apply mutatis mutandis here.]

The cat is out of the bag!

I am currently reading an essay about psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion's late work. One takeaway is that Bion perceived the taken-for-granted patterns of normal, ordinary everyday life in our "society" as "shared hallucinoses" – psychotic phenomena. Isn't it obvious that there is something terribly amiss in the soul of a being who deploys a slide-rule or an Intel n > 1-gigahertz Pentium whateverth-generation-it-is processor in his or her work, but concurrently wears a kitsch tie tack with a horse's head on it? Psychoanalytically, this has to be "splitting" (Freud didn't live to see the split-level house or mind).

Sleeper awake! You have nothing to lose but your tie tack with the horse's head on it! But if you take the tie tack off, what will your tie do? Take it off, too (unless that would violate your deployer's aka employer's office dress code. Oh no! The sense of relief here may be very short-lived: Once you realize that you've been secretly possessed by a malign demon ("Dulce et decorum..." etc.) all your life, you may panic and/or get depressed about the disconnect you have thereby thematized for yourself between living and earning a living, if, unlike The Man Without Qualities, you still have to do the latter. By what means will the truth be funded to set you free if you don't have an inheritance or a family business to sell and you are not awakening from a well-invested 10 years as a trader at Goldman-Sachs?

If you don't have a work/life problem, you may still have the psychosis. Freud had, I believe, some wealthy patients. Here's a quick test: Would you rather have a Patek-Philippe wristwatch with (A) a plain bezel or (B) a diamond-studded bezel? If you chose "B", you almost surely have it, if "A", you may still be infected, but be in less urgent need of treatment. In either case, if you don't have a work/life problem, you can skip the next paragraph here.

You will have "passed under the yoke" (passum sub iugum). If you need the paycheck and can't just walk away, enlightenment is not like drinking an Alka-Seltzer. It may cause heartburn (painful choking on trying to swallow your recognition of your fate), not relieve it. Since about 1986 I have suffered periodic episodes of like something was blocked in my esophagus and I can't swallow and whatever's stuck there won't move and I feel I'm choking and I try to get it out by gagging up a lot of saliva and it's frightening but I keep telling myself it won't kill me and when the blockage does resolve itself (either by vomiting it out or it just gracefully passing down the digestive line) it is a genuine relief....

In other words....

Because everything is grist for the mill, there is a direct path from wearing a tie pin with a horse's head on it (or a Patek-Philippe with a diamond studded bezel, etc., or reading The New York Post, etc. again), and Melanie Klein's potentially morbid world of the Paranoid-schizoid infantile "position". But D.W. Winnicott, if I remember aright, said that the healthy foetus wants to be born. (I know of a highly schooled person who was proud to have written an autobiographical short story about a foetus that fights to keep from being born, presumably to keep from being evicted from placental Eden into the cold, cruel world; "They" finally defeat foetus's valiant efforts with forceps.) What the world needs most urgently is Alice Miller, not Sigmund Freud!

And there you have it. God did not create along with protons and electrons: employers and employees, sexually and otherwise repressive parents, political, religious and other leaders and their followers, sublunary "stars", et al./etc.. They are all socially shared psychotic hallucinations. In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is deemed to be in need of surgery to remove his eye to make him healthy and whole like every other normal citizen.

As for any prospect here in America of an NHS (National Health Service) for the [Husserlean, not evangelical] spirit, "on Feb. 28, 1967, [then California Governor, Ronald (POTUS №40)] Reagan told a crowd that the taxpayers shouldn't be subsidizing intellectual curiosity. He told colleges to shift their focus by teaching workforce entry skills." (POTUS №40) Reagan had previously told universities that there would be some "intellectual luxuries" that they would have to do without. (

What is needed

What is needed is surely Robbie's "Commons". A social universe of Abbies of Theleme. As both Husserl and Alice Miller urge, a revolution in childreading. A revolution in childrearing that will no longer produce a repressed "unconscious". I have not read much of Robbie's writings (I could draw an analogy here but will let you, my reader, imagine it for him or herself). Has he considered the problem of infancy, the period of pre-verbal life, when the not-yet-fully-a-person cannot speak for him or her self but needs others to speak for them? (Of course no singular mortal can do or even merely know everything. As Hilary Clinton said: It takes a village, aka Robbie's Commons.)

D.W. Winnicott pointed to a fundamental issue of childrearing, which is not compatible with a gig economy (etc.): The infant needs a holding environment from the mother to grow, the mother needs a holding environment from the father to meet her needs so that she can devote herself to her child, and the father needs a holding environment in society for him to be able to "provide" for the mother who.... An issue which the present Republican party would begin to address by abolishing Obamacare, etc. [Aside: I respectfully submit that human women are not generally as independent as house cat queens, who, when wild or "feral", deploy enough energy to both raise their brood of kittens and also fill their larder without "help" – I think there are few midwives or nannies in Scottish Wildcat land, nor do the Toms bring home the bacon/mice mother cat needs both to sustain herself and to make the milk to feed her kittens. Propitious childrearing of human babies requires either private "means" or social services]

I here address the problematic of pre-verbal life only indirectly, by assuming that those who are already speech-enabled can and will advocate for those who cannot yet speak for themselves (to once again cite Alice Miller, the only member of the family whom Adolf Hitler's father did not mistreat was the dog). I would start by educating children to notice when they feel they are being impinged upon/threatened, instead of trying to repressing it. This can be done by parents and teachers learning not to say/ask things like: "Listen to me! Do what you should do, and without me having to tell you to! If you don't tell mommy you love her she'll leave..." (this last item being one that my parents did to me, ca. age 5 years, with mommy acting out her role in this real-life-drama by walking to the front door of our home with a small suitcase).

Then, on the positive side (i.e., not just avoiding doing evil but facilitating good) teaching the child who feels threatened to ask: "Why are you doing this to me?" Since in totalitarian regimes questioning may have "consequences", this would ultimately entail children having places to go that would be really nurturing and appealing to them, which would likely be Social Services which are anathema to "free enterprisers". The child's psychoanalytic repressed unconscious is largely the result of adults' sleepwalking, waking social psychoses, although I will here leave as an open issue the psychoanalytic "Œdipus/Electra complex", etc. At worst, nature does not need to be abetted by nurture. Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do? But the buck needs to stop somewhere. "Why are you doing this to me? [no good answer] Stop it!"

Two points here: (1) "Somehow", some (many?) parents don't get everything wrong somehow, and/or some children are "resilient". Not every girl grows [up?] to be a Dora or every boy to be a macho prick. (2) Obviously there are times when parents need to command a child to do/not do something the child does not want to not do/do. If the house is on fire, or vengeance weapons are raining down in the neighborhood, the infant must be removed from from its bed and carried to safety even if it doesn't want to. A child must be stopped from playing with the gas stove. Ultimately, judgment is required here, and we know that even a Supreme Court does not always make the right decision (e.g., Bush v. Gore).

How do we vaccinate parents? I would start by having them think about what other parents have done to their children "for the child's own good", esp. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Let parents imagine how other parents, with the best of intentions, have wrecked their children's lives and even [although this may have been the less worse outcome for the child] caused their deaths. If one parent in a different place and time could imagine FGM was good for their child, what might I as a parent here and now be imagining is good for my child in our age of government deregulation is good for you, etc.? College-eduated parents could study "Winnicott", who was not only a psychoanalyst but also a pediatrician, and whose writings are pretty much jargon free, or, better, and perhaps even for those with only a high school education, Alice Miller, who so-neededly belabors the point in very simple, layperson's terms. On the other hand, education is apparently not required. I know a man whose parents were dirt farmers but who did well and honorably and apparently pretty contentedly in life; he told me, if I remember rightly: "My parents said to me: 'Tom, do what you believe is right. You will make mistakes, We stand behind you.'" What more could a child ask for in a socially-stratified society? As for me, I wished I had been put up for adoption as an infant by parents who could have raised me well, and/or, in adolescence, a bank account big enough'to enable me to pull myself up by my own checkbook.

As said, including Husserl, mutatis mutandis, about philosophers "in times of crisis", sometimes parents need to do things that hurt their child. This is why there are children's hospitals, since nature and evolution continue to plague persons even after they have stopped making things worse by their own initiatives. Furthermore, these judgments are not infallable. Theodore J. Kaczynski is a case in point:

His parents told his younger brother, David Kaczynski, that Ted had been a happy baby until severe hives forced him into hospital isolation with limited contact with others, after which he "showed little emotion for months." Wanda [Ted's mother] recalled Ted recoiling from a picture of himself as an infant being held down by physicians examining his hives. She said he showed sympathy to animals who were in cages or otherwise helpless, which she speculated stemmed from his experience in hospital isolation." (Wikipedia)

If I have always totally repressed what must have been my experience as a child, ca. 7 (8?) years old, of having a medical person stick a needle into the middle-back of my lower arm to draw some blood (I only recall the prelude to this), what on earth or below it must be the experience of children who are really injured/medically treated? We know a possible outcome from the case of "The Unibomber".

I seem to recall one of British psychoanalyst Melanie Klein's technical terms, besides envy and graatitude, is: reparation. It won't always work, but it's the best we can do. Instead of being holier-than-thou, parents [and others] always can be thankful and apologize for themselves when they have good fortune, especially which others do not share ("Thank you, Lord, for letting the doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering save me from death by melanoma and thank you for letting the doctors at Yale New Haven Hospital cure my child of leukemia" or "Thank you, Lord, for letting my child be healthy and happy", "Thank you, Lord, for letting me have had a good liberal arts education, and, now, a secure job where I do meaningful work with benefits" or "Thank you, Lord, for my inheritance", etc.). I'm not saying here that all parents are bad, see, e.g., Robbie's characterization of his childhood. But, for all those who say life is sacred, I would urge they consider the post-natal but not yet deceased first, and try to treat their children as much as possible as they may fantasize Joseph and Mary treated Jesus.

The problem of/for non-geniuses

I am off on a tangent here, but I know where I'm going. The problem is that not every child is a genius, including myself, and, I hypothesize, even very high I.Q. Ted K. I define a genius as someone who comes up with relevantly insightful ideas that nobody can empirically derive from the child's surrounding environment (Lebenswelt/Umwelt). These would indeed be miracles. Perhaps Jesus even as a child performed miracles? In my case, being a child genius would have entailed my calling my parents' bluff when they staged their little drama to get me to tell my mother I loved her when she apparently had not earned it (likely and so sadly due to their own childrearing!), or at least 5 year old me realizing this and keeping it to myself but being ever vigilant about loose cannons on my deck. And how much strength as well as insight would pulling this off for over 10 years have required? The price of eternal viginance is loss of focus, exhaustion, and, if it goes far enough, delirium and collapse. God save us! I'm not talking here about the survivors of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis or anything like that, but about growing "up"(?) in 1950s/early 60s peacetime middle-class America.


Elephant 235.jpg

"Large invisible elephant in the middle of a small room. Many persons (incl.: BMcC[18-11-46-503]) are infected by their childrearing, schooling, commercial, patriotic and other advertising, etc., to not see what is obvious and most important in their living, and in their dying. Item: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori."

So let us now not praise famous men but endeavor to see the elephants in the rooms of our lives, and try to trace them back to their origins, which will frequently be infantile/childhood traumata. To repeat what Elie Wiezel said: "Don't compare! All suffering is intolerable." Let our watchwords be: "Never again." and "This year in Jerusalem!" – Theleme, Robbie's "Commons", etc.

If we could solve the equations and heft the weight to land a man on the moon or even just to score a successful leveraged-buyout, maybe we can figure out how to bring a genuinely happy end to one of many religions' eternal tropes: the poor. But not only is a negro mind "a terrible thing to waste". If the bean counters were doing their cost/benefit analyses "over the long duration", they would realize the cost-effectiveness of what (POTUS №40) Reagan called "intellectual amenities" (didn't (POTUS №40) Ronnie himself have a fairly high standard of living?). (POTUS №40) Ronald Reagan – whom I call: (POTUS №40) Ronnie Raygun – was a fool if he believed his own -omics, or very mean-spirited if it was all a calculated coverup for the masses -- his finest role (cf. Winston Churchill's "Their finest hour").

Let a thousand Nuremberg Tribunals blossom! May "everywhere journeying inexperienced and without issue man comes to nothing in the end" (Sophocles, ref. lost – probably Martin Heidegger's translation in his "Introduction to metaphysics") not be the last word for us, but rather the ending of Homer's Odyssey, where, having everywhere journeyed (and cheating on his beloved/faithful wife along the way), Odysseus, at last come home, is charged to be an educator of those less knowledgeable than himself, and then given happiness in peace at home for presumably many years. Ojala! (Yes, I know others have said all this before and better and in uniform printed editions not on a still nascent website – a start-up with a future? But let me call this studying, and, if you are not my teacher, my reader, nobody made you read it. Pace!)

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