FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

NSA Control Freaks

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.

More articles by:

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).

Weekend Edition
November 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jonah Raskin
A California Jew in a Time of Anti-Semitism
Andrew Levine
Whither the Melting Pot?
Joshua Frank
Climate Change and Wildfires: The New Western Travesty
Nick Pemberton
The Revolution’s Here, Please Excuse Me While I Laugh
T.J. Coles
Israel Cannot Use Violent Self-Defense While Occupying Gaza
Rob Urie
Nuclear Weapons are a Nightmare Made in America
Paul Street
Barack von Obamenburg, Herr Donald, and Big Capitalist Hypocrisy: On How Fascism Happens
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fire is Sweeping Our Very Streets Today
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s New President, Other European Fools and the Abyss 
Pete Dolack
“Winners” in Amazon Sweepstakes Sure to be the Losers
Richard Eskow
Amazon, Go Home! Billions for Working People, But Not One Cent For Tribute
Ramzy Baroud
In Breach of Human Rights, Netanyahu Supports the Death Penalty against Palestinians
Brian Terrell
Ending the War in Yemen- Congressional Resolution is Not Enough!
John Laforge
Woolsey Fire Burns Toxic Santa Susana Reactor Site
Ralph Nader
The War Over Words: Republicans Easily Defeat the Democrats
M. G. Piety
Reading Plato in the Time of the Oligarchs
Rafael Correa
Ecuador’s Soft Coup and Political Persecution
Brian Cloughley
Aid Projects Can Work, But Not “Head-Smacking Stupid Ones”
David Swanson
A Tale of Two Marines
Robert Fantina
Democrats and the Mid-Term Elections
Joseph Flatley
The Fascist Creep: How Conspiracy Theories and an Unhinged President Created an Anti-Semitic Terrorist
Joseph Natoli
Twitter: Fast Track to the Id
William Hawes
Baselines for Activism: Brecht’s Stance, the New Science, and Planting Seeds
Bob Wing
Toward Racial Justice and a Third Reconstruction
Ron Jacobs
Hunter S. Thompson: Chronicling the Republic’s Fall
Oscar Gonzalez
Stan Lee and a Barrio Kid
Jack Rasmus
Election 2018 and the Unraveling of America
Sam Pizzigati
The Democrats Won Big, But Will They Go Bold?
Yves Engler
Canada and Saudi Arabia: Friends or Enemies?
Cesar Chelala
Can El Paso be a Model for Healing?
Mike Ferner
The Tragically Misnamed Paris Peace Conference
Barry Lando
Trump’s Enablers: Appalling Parallels
Ariel Dorfman
The Boy Who Taught Me About War and Peace
Binoy Kampmark
The Disgruntled Former Prime Minister
Faisal Khan
Is Dubai Really a Destination of Choice?
Arnold August
The Importance of Néstor García Iturbe, Cuban Intellectual
James Munson
An Indecisive War To End All Wars, I Mean the Midterm Elections
Nyla Ali Khan
Women as Repositories of Communal Values and Cultural Traditions
Dan Bacher
Judge Orders Moratorium on Offshore Fracking in Federal Waters off California
Christopher Brauchli
When Depravity Wins
Robby Sherwin
Here’s an Idea
Susan Block
Cucks, Cuckolding and Campaign Management
Louis Proyect
The Mafia and the Class Struggle (Part Two)
David Yearsley
Smoke on the Water: Jazz in San Francisco
Elliot Sperber
All of Those Bezos
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail