Psychiatry deals with the individual, but why not a social psychiatry which deals with collective behavior, values, mindset, that of a nation with its particular history, social structure, behavior, in this case, as measured by war, intervention, policies of drone assassination, torture, and rendition, opposition to world democratization, and internally, widespread class differentiation and income/power disparities, deregulation of its financial and corporate systems, massive surveillance to tamp down possible dissent and resistance, in short, a society of emergent fascism? Social psychiatry (unlike social psychology) may not be a recognized academic/medical discipline, yet how else comprehend the political consciousness and perhaps repressed Unconscious of a people, bound together, actively or in complicity, by a common set of institutions and cohesive framework of power—no resistance to which is presently in sight or even seemingly contemplated?
Questions are easy to phrase, answers, more difficult. But the record is before us, current policy threads which can be seen with respect to Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Gaza, as part of a global military-economic posture of counterrevolution aimed and directed ultimately at Russia and China and, down the road, the rising industrialization-modernization of the Third World, already evident, as represented by Brazil, by a middle tier of world power. Domination is scary, particularly when it is so institutionalized in the fabric of the social system as to be second nature, unquestioned, to the extent that American politics is to all intents and purposes Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the consensual pursuit of advanced capitalism as the permanent foundation of the American social order at home and its projection abroad, unilateral, in governing the world political-economic order. Today’s news: Obama and Clinton create sparks in a jar that is hermetically sealed, one outdoing the other in expansionist confrontation as part of a renewed Cold War to arrest America’s imperial decline. Republican opponents, novices at the game, sputtering belligerence, are no match for “liberal humanitarianism” as an instrument of conquest.
Gaza symbolizes where we’re at, eradication of human aspiration through proxy force, here Israel, or in Ukraine, fascist remnants from the Second World War, or in Latin America, summa cum laude graduates of Fort Benning’s School of the Americas, proficient in maniacal techniques of killing, indeed, wherever one looks, ongoing human wreckage and suffering by those we support, as meanwhile, the US acts on its own in achieving the military architecture of an acceptable global pattern of trade, finance, and power, keeping its war industries at full blast in the process. Iraq and Afghanistan, neither accidental to the grand design nor, for that matter, incidental, as America, not satisfied with preponderant influence in Europe, seeks a comparable beachhead and sphere of influence in the Middle East (already assisted by the closest possible military-intelligence linkages with Israel) and, though oil is an obviously high priority in that region, a possibly equally high geopolitical/geostrategic priority, in Asia (there marked by the Obama Pacific-first strategy and Trans-Pacific Partnership) to contain, isolate, and weaken China. Busy, aren’t we? Domination requires no less.
Frigidity, by which I mean the solipsistic bubble surrounding and encasing America, with its companion traits of xenophobia and ethnocentrism, respectively, fear of the stranger, the dichotomous relation of we-they driving the ideology of Exceptionalism, and their resultant, an overriding authoritarianism as at the core of the American personality structure, has much to do with rigidity, unifying and integrating the actual policymaking of the US government, the business community always at its right hand, though also with national-security advisers expressing a puristic ideological dimension as the reified anticommunism of apparently bygone days (yet still infecting thought processes contingent on hegemonic aspirations). We have become frozen in our defensive-reactive formation, understandably, given that the American project of wealth-concentration lodged in an infinitesimally small elite has repercussions for poverty at home and a generalized foreign policy of world stabilization favorable to US interests. The inequitable nature, as it applies broadcast, of all that ruling groups in America touch, a direct line, for example, from the White House to the children buried in rubble in Gaza, or the executive suites of Morgan, Chase and of Goldman, Sachs in creating recession, unemployment, foreclosures, translating into homelessness, malnutrition, health problems on a global scale, should reasonably be sufficient ground for a collective sense of GUILT. Yet, frigidity/rigidity, we are beyond that, culturally, institutionally, politically protected from self-knowledge for our deeds of commission and omission. Instead, America is sui generis—itself requiring much psychic energy and reinforcement to maintain—the Greatest Democracy the world has ever seen.
The social psychiatry I spoke of (not to be confused with national-character analysis fashionable in the mid-20th century) lies in the institutional matrix of higher-stage capitalism as found primarily in the US which seeks and promotes the creation of political-cultural uniformity of human personality necessary to the achievement of social discipline, which uniformity is constantly reproduced and reinforced in daily life through every resource and social mechanism—education/indoctrination, consumerism, religion, patriotism, official propaganda, media, even sports as the inculcation of competitive values, winning, the martial spirit, these for starters—brought to a convergence through subtle cues of superiority-inferiority resident in the class structure and displays of wealth, and keeping up the drumbeat of war, intervention, superiority-inferiority in the ranking of nations.
One does not need the Freudian couch to explore the etiology of the diseased mind. Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Gaza, all exhibit a symptomatic arrogance furnishing useful cover for what I take to be a moral void, impervious to human suffering, feasting on the self-indulgence of the nation then communicated downward to the people (most of whom, unable to partake, learn to adjust through self-recrimination), prone to organized violence, as in regime change and/or coming to the assistance of “friends and allies,” in subduing social forces and avenues to modernization thought to be harmful to, not only American interests, but also the protective walls of the mind keeping us from self-knowledge of ourselves and our crimes in the world.
Herewith, my New York Times Comments (both Aug. 14), which indirectly prompted this article, one, on the Clinton-Obama feud alluded to, the other, on American music, recalling for me a different time, when America possessed an anti-fascist vision, integral—as I saw it–to justifiable national pride. The articles serving as a point of departure are: (I) Michael Shear, et. al., “Is This Island Big Enough [Martha’s Vineyard] for Clinton and Obama?, and (II) Anthony Tommasini, “They Heard America Playing: Copland, Thomson and Others in a Fantasy Music Festival,” Comments also same date”
No greater testimony to the narrowness of the American ideological spectrum. Obama and Clinton BOTH favor war, intervention, deregulation, support of major banking, a resistance todemocratization in America (as witness growing disparities of income, wealth, and power), Clinton attempting to create separate political space by outdoing Obama on prowar/procorporate policies. And why not, her husband Bill gave us Rubin economics and the end of Glass-Steagall. Moral bankruptcy of the Democratic party since the days of FDR and the New Deal? You bet. Confrontation with Russia and China has replaced raising the living standards of the American poor. The Vineyard sounds like an ideal place for the festivities of the American elite. It was not always so.
Left out? In the early 70s I hosted a party for the English Chamber Orch that performed on campus. After a year in London, having listened to Peter Maxwell Davies, Harrison Birtwistle, etc., I was sitting on the floor lamenting the state of Am. contemporary music with Emanuel Hurwitz, when he properly dressed me down–our own Elliot Carter. And he was right. Sessions, Piston, of course, but Carter must also receive his due–precisely because unassimilable to the American ear.
But I wish to make a personal appeal for Copland’s Third Symphony, which, as a radical from my early years to the present, I held to closely for inspiration as the great Anti-Fascist Symphony, itself written in wartime and bringing together the mood of courage and affirmation. I wish I could have thanked Copland. Hours before going in for my generals (doctoral exam, in Am Civ) at Harvard, I walked (practically marched) around the Yard internalizing the music so as to reach peak intensity when I entered the room in Holyoke House for the exam.
Yes, music can not only raise the human spirit, it can, with Copland’s Third, summon from the depths a clarity of thought and instill a spirit of resistance still (hopefully) strong more than a half-century later.
May I also add to the list, Hanson’s Second?
Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at email@example.com.