[Adapted from the latest Radio Derb, now available exclusively on VDARE.com]
The more our understanding of genetics advances, the stiffer becomes the resistance in the public sphere to any suggestion that the adult human being is created mainly by nature, and only secondarily by nurture.
As an example of the stiffening of that resistance, check out this report at the New York Times: Not Your Daddy’s Freud [by Joseph Bernstein, March 22, 2023]. It’s about psychoanalysis making a comeback.
I wrote about the resurgence of traditional Freudian analysis — both as a contested cultural symbol, and as rediscovered form of therapy. Enjoy! https://t.co/CBNJkWCq8j— Joe Bernstein (@Bernstein) March 22, 2023
If you haven’t kept up, Sigmund Freud was an Austrian physician who, in the years around 1900, developed a system of talk therapy for mental disturbances and built an elaborate metaphysical theory in its support.
A lot of Freud’s ideas and the words he used to describe them entered common usage in the middle decades of the last century: ”complexes” of various kinds (Oedipus, inferiority, castration), ”denial,” the ”id,” ”projection,” ”repression,” ”super-ego,” ”transference,” and others.
You still sometimes hear these words and phrases, but nothing like as much as we did fifty or sixty years ago. Back then great numbers of people in the Western world, and probably a few outside it, believed that Freud had accomplished a scientific breakthrough. He had, they believed, figured out how the adult human personality is formed.
The biggest factor in its formation, he taught, was the influence of other human beings, especially in the family during childhood. Biology hardly entered into it; genetics was barely even a science when Freud was writing. On the nature-nurture spectrum, Freud was way over on the nurture side.
Not everyone was impressed. In 1967, when public acceptance of Freud’s theories was at its height, the novelist Vladimir Nabokov told an interviewer that
Let the credulous and the vulgar continue to believe that all mental woes can be cured by a daily application of old Greek myths to their private parts. I really do not care.
[Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature, vol. VIII, no. 2, Spring 1967]
Science popularizer Martin Gardner, writing in the year 2000, applied a word-formula at least two hundred years old. Freud was correct and original, said Gardner; but where he was correct, he was not original, and where he was original, he was wrong [Did Adam and Eve Have Navels?, ch. 10, Freud’s Flawed Theory of Dreams].
Around that time, the mid-1980s, psychoanalysis collided with the new psychoactive pharmaceuticals and came off worse in the collision. A key encounter was the Osheroff case, settled in 1987 [The Rise of Evidence-Based Psychiatry, by Daniel Barron, Scientific American, February 28, 2017].
Ray Osheroff, himself a practicing physician—a kidney specialist—fell into depression in his early forties. He checked himself into a psychiatric hospital named Chestnut Lodge, in Maryland. The treatment he got there was purely psychoanalytic; Chestnut Lodge did not prescribe any drugs.
When several months of psychoanalysis had failed to improve Dr. Osheroff’s condition, his mother persuaded him to transfer to a different hospital, one that prescribed antidepressants. After three months he was better.
He sued Chestnut Lodge for negligence and malpractice and eventually, in 1987, got a big fat settlement. Quote from one newspaper report on the case:
In the lawsuit, the 20th century’s two dominant explanations for mental distress collided.
[Psychiatry wars: the lawsuit that put psychoanalysis on trial, by Rachel Aviv, Guardian, October 11, 2022]
Put it another way, nature collided with nurture, and nature won. Psychoanalysis lost much of its prestige right there.
It had lost its prestige with me a decade or so previously. As narrated in my May Diary last year, I had submitted to Freudian analysis myself in my early thirties and come away deeply unimpressed. (And I was surprised to find, doing an internet search when writing that last year, that my analyst was still in business in May 2022.)
But now, according to that New York Times’ Bernstein, psychoanalysis is making a comeback. He actually refers to a ”Freudaissance”—like a renaissance, see? Sample quote:
Around the country, on divans and in training institutes, on Instagram meme accounts and in small magazines, young (or at least young-ish) people are rediscovering the talking cure, along with the ideas of the Viennese doctor who developed it at the turn of the 20th century.
After several decades at the margins of American healthcare—and 100 years after he published his last major theoretical work—Sigmund Freud is enjoying something of a comeback.
Does this have anything to do with our current social obsessions about race and class?
Of course it does!
We read in Bernstein’s piece about something called the Holmes Commission on Racial Equality in the American Psychoanalytic Association,
convened in 2020 by the American Psychoanalytic Association to investigate systemic racism within institutional analysis in the United States…
The commission, along with work by the group Black Psychoanalysts Speak, and an influential 2016 documentary called Psychoanalysis in El Barrio, have argued that analysis is a powerful tool for addressing buried racial and class trauma.
”Psychoanalysis is the study of how we maintain not knowing what we know,” said Matthew Steinfeld [Pictured right], a professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine. ”And America is organized around not remembering what happened here.
That’s the source of all our mental problems, you see: the stuff we’re determined to not remember—to repress.
Massacres of the indigenous people, slavery, patriarchy, Jim Crow, Emmett Till… all that stuff.
But here’s the cure: psychoanalysis!
Why do the Wokesters describe themselves as ”progressive”?
Progressive? They want to drag us backwards.
John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him.) He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. He has had two books published by VDARE.com com: FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle) and FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT II: ESSAYS 2013.
For years he’s been podcasting at Radio Derb, now available at VDARE.com for no charge. His writings are archived at JohnDerbyshire.com.
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