FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

NSA Control Freaks

by WILLIAM MANSON

Those who are attracted to the non-alive are the people who prefer ‘law-and-order’ to living structure, bureaucratic to spontaneous methods, gadgets to living beings, repetition to originality… They want to control life because they are afraid of its uncontrollable spontaneity; they would rather kill it than expose themselves to it and merge with the world around them.”

—Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm1

The hyper-focused obsession with dominance and control is, according to many psychoanalysts, symptomatic of a deep-rooted fear of spontaneous self-expression (notably of repressed emotions)—in short, of psychological “freedom” in its most general sense.  Conflicted human relations, however ambivalent and nuanced, are reduced to technically-solvable “problems.”  Rigidly willful, inflexible, detailed-obsessed, the techno-scientific “control freak”—as we say colloquially–may ultimately fear “the impulses and emotions within…himself.  Unconsciously he fears that if they should get out of control, terrible things might happen, murder perhaps.  So on the one hand he keeps himself under tight control, and on the other hand he projects this intrapsychic drama on the world and tries to control it.”2

Such individuals—which psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich once termed “living machines”3—tend to gravitate to careers in applied science, technology, law enforcement, and, last but not least, the military. Indeed, military training in itself explicitly seeks to transform unique individuals into obedient, unthinking subordinates (and potential killers)—standardizing attitudes and conduct within an authoritarian command structure which mirrors, in a grotesque extreme, the hierarchical regimentation of the U.S. workplace.

Gen. Keith Alexander, who holds a master’s degree in systems technology and physics, is by all accounts technically well-versed in the ultimate potentials of the data-retrieval systems he oversees—and has relentlessly sought to expand–as director of the NSA.  Former associates and government officials have characterized Alexander as being single-mindedly focused on amassing “big-data” (such as PRISM), and as willfully indifferent to the Fourth Amendment rights of mere human beings called citizens.

Fifty years ago Erich Fromm warned of an unchallenged dogma of technocracy: “something ought to be done because it is technically possible to do it.”  More recently, Gen. Alexander reportedly decided: “We have the capability, so let’s use it.”4 (Fortunately, such expedient “logic” has yet to be realized in the case of, say, the hydrogen bomb.)    A second technocratic dogma, critiqued by Fromm, is “maximal efficiency and output”—even if the end-results, in real human terms, are usurped civil liberties (or, as in the case of hi-tech warfare, “successfully”-executed mass murder).

Moreover, as Fromm and other critics of techno-systems noted, such technical “means” become self-perpetuating, finally eclipsing and subverting any originally useful “ends.” Witness the super-colossal Military-Industrial Complex, constantly in search of “enemies.”  Or, the NSA: technologically-enabled, worldwide surveillance and storage/retrieval of all communications—in short, the death of human privacy—and for what?  So that a handful of possible “terrorist acts” might be prevented from threatening small numbers of U.S. citizens (while, meanwhile, all citizens are forced to give up their Fourth Amendment rights)?

Nonetheless, as psychoanalyst David Shapiro noted, the obsessive-compulsive personality may exhibit a rigid pattern of persisting—even “in a course of action that has become irrelevant or absurd.”5

William Manson, a psychoanalytic anthropologist,  formerly taught social science at Rutgers and Columbia universities. He is the author of The Psychodynamics of Culture (Greenwood Press).

Notes

1. Erich Fromm, The Revolution of Hope: Toward a Humanized Technology (Bantam, 1968); pps. 33-34, 44-45.
2. Abraham Maslow, The Psychology of Science (Harper & Row, 1966), p. 25.  Maslow elaborates on the “cognitive pathologies” which defensively distort understanding of reality, by both scientist and “layman” alike.
3. Wilhelm Reich, Character Analysis (third edition, Noonday, 1949). Section on “compulsive character” (pps. 193-200).
4. Shane Harris, “The Cowboy at the NSA,” Foreign Policy, September 9, 2013.
5. David Shapiro, Neurotic Styles (Basic Books, 1965), p. 24.

William Manson, a psychoanalytic anthropologist,  formerly taught social science at Rutgers and Columbia universities. He is the author of The Psychodynamics of Culture (Greenwood Press).

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
John Stanton
Brzezinski Vision for a Power Sharing World Stymied by Ignorant Americans Leaders, Citizens
Philip Doe
Colorado: 300 Days of Sunshine Annually, Yet There’s No Sunny Side of the Street
Joseph White
Homage to EP Thompson
Dan Bacher
The Big Corporate Money Behind Jerry Brown
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
DNC Playing Dirty Tricks on WikiLeaks
Ron Jacobs
Education for Liberation
Jim Smith
Socialism Revived: In Spite of Bernie, Donald and Hillary
David Macaray
Organized Labor’s Inferiority Complex
David Cortright
Alternatives to Military Intervention in Syria
Binoy Kampmark
The Terrors of Free Speech: Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act
Cesar Chelala
Guantánamo’s Quagmire
Nyla Ali Khan
Hoping Against Hope in Kashmir
William Hughes
From Sam Spade to the Red Scare: Dashiell Hammett’s War Against Rightwing Creeps
Raouf Halaby
Dear Barack Obama, Please Keep it at 3 for 3
Charles R. Larson
Review: Paulina Chiziane’s “The First Wife: a Tale of Polygamy”
David Yearsley
The Widow Bach: Anna Magdalena Rediscovered
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail