Playing the Indian Card

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Monday, July 24, 2017


Pikangikum - Google maps.

Another mental health crisis in another Canadian reserve: Pikangikum.

The proposed solution: rush in 20 full-time “mental health workers” at a cost of $1.6 million. This adds to eight already there.

Pikangikum has a population of 2,100.

Over the longer term, we are told, the proposed solution is a “fundamental rethink of the way care is delivered on reserves.”

Yeah, that ought to do it. We’ll “rethink.” We’ll have a committee.

“The health-care system … First Nations people receive is not equal,” a local physician explains, noting “Canada has grown accustomed to witnessing this injustice.”

“It is inferior …. It is not equitable.”

This is obviously not true. One mental health worker for every 75 people? The people of Pikangikum clearly have access to more mental health help than anyone in Canada who does not live on a native reserve.

“Communities know what is going to work for them,” says local MP Bob Nault. “Why can’t we help support those plans?”

“Indigenous health has been focused on measuring the number of dollars spent as opposed to health outcomes,” adds Dr. Alika Lafontaine, the past president of the Indigenous Physicians Association of Canada.

In other words, the solution proposed by politicians and the press is to send yet more money to band leaders, with less accountability.

Yeah, that’s never been tried before. That ought to work.

To make things worse, that is. Obviously, no lack of mental health workers has caused the mental health crisis on this and so many other remote reserves. Nor has mucking about or oppression by the white man: these are the very places where the white man is not. The problem has to be the reserve itself; and its leadership.

Far from sending more money to the reserve leadership, increasing their power and control over the band members, the obvious solution is to get these poor kids off the reserves.

Apartheid is not an idea with a promising past.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Sahib Syndrome

What do you do? 
I’m a teacher. 
What do you teach? 
What do you teach them? 
You mean grammar, verbs, nouns, pronunciation, conjugation, articles and particles, negatives and interrogatives …? 
That too. 
What do you mean, ‘that too’? 
Well, I also try to teach them how to think, and feel – show them inspiration, aspiration, cooperation, participation, consolation, innovation, … help them think about globalization, exploitation, confrontation, incarceration, discrimination, degradation, subjugation, …how inequality brings poverty, how intolerance brings violence, how need is denied by greed, how –isms become prisons, how thinking and feeling can bring about healing. 
Well I don’t know about that. Maybe you should stick to language, forget about anguish. You can’t change the world. 
But if I did that, I’d be a cheater, not a teacher.

This is the introduction to a new book on teaching English put out by the British Council. This is an attitude we are commonly up against in ESL.

Too many teachers of all sorts believe their main task is to teach their charges to have specific views on specific issues; rather than to teach their nominal subjects. It seems that the British Council, which is to say the British government, agrees.

One bit of subterfuge must immediately be addressed: Mr. Maley, the author, an acquaintance of mine, claims he is teaching his students “how to think and feel.” Of course, he is not. He is doing roughly the opposite of this. There is an academic field that teaches how to think. It is called philosophy. There is no trace of it here. The students are being told what to think, not how—their own capacity for thought is being short-circuited.

There is also an academic discipline for teaching people how to feel—although is is commonly considered rather tawdry, less legitimate. That would be rhetoric. No trace of that here either. though. It is all about teaching people what to feel, not how.

This lie at the very beginning of the arguments a red flag. It is proof that the author himself knows he is doing a con. And, obviously, it is a con: you are advertising your services as a teacher of English, and then, instead of teaching English, you are teaching something else. It does not matter whether the ideas you want to promote are good ideas: you are still defrauding the customer. But then, if you yourself believed they were good ideas, you would not see the need to resort to fraud to advance them.

So, as they are bad ideas, any altruistic motive can be eliminated. The obvious question then is, cui bono? What is the teacher’s, or the British Council’s, payoff?

When this sort of thing is done in public schools and universities in Canada or Britain, one motive is obvious: you want voters to support your political party, which then runs the government, which employs you. Ideally, you and teachers like you then get to write your own ticket.

It is less clear in ESL. 

The most obvious explanation is a colonialist agenda. The poor unwashed primitives are expected to look upon the foreign expert and his class as the fount of wisdom. And maybe put him in charge of stuff.

It seemed like a good line to many Europeans of an earlier generation. So perhaps we should not be surprised.

And there is another, natural human motive. One tends, if one does not oneself like to think, to lean heavily on prejudice, on "the way things are done." For a person like that, life in a foreign country can be a strain: these people, not knowing "the way things are done," are obviously all idiots, or malicious recalcitrants.

By God, let's whip these wogs into shape, shall we?

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Drama of Alice Miller


I have cited Alice Miller as one authority for the assertion that childhood abuse is the key to later mental illness.

This might leave the impression that I otherwise agree with Alice Miller. That makes it necessary to disassociate myself.

Miller’s writing has been influential. She is often popularly identified with the concept that mental illness is caused by childhood abuse. The very first sentence of her Wikipedia bio ends: “who is noted for her books on parental child abuse, translated into several languages.”

So she has to come up.

Miller was not the first to realize childhood abuse causes mental illness. We have seen that. Not long ago, this was commonly understood. Rather, she popularized the idea in recent decades. There have also been many studies during those same decades that establish this, independent of her work.i The main thrust of her writing, despite her own claims, is actually to minimize the significance of that discovery.

While emphasizing childhood trauma as the foundation for mental illness, Miller also asserts

1. That this experience of childhood abuse is often repressed. It is often only found in “repressed memories.”

2. Even normal parental discipline amounts to child abuse, and can cause mental illness.

3. Having been abused causes abuse in the next generation. An abused child becomes an abusive adult.

The net effect of these three assertions is to trivialize abuse, and to excuse it. It looks like the problem considered from the perspective of the confirmed abuser. Everyone experiences it, everyone does it, everyone is equally guilty or innocent. That’s life. If you claim to have been abused, you are probably yourself an abuser. And you have no right to so complain: whoever abused you must have gone through the same things you did.

This seems deliberate. It is no surprise to learn from Miller’s son that she herself was a notably abusive parent.ii

Like many another author writing on psychology, and perhaps inevitably given the nature of the subject—one only ever really knows one’s own mind and thoughts, not those of any other—her own personal experience seems to have been her primary source of material. As she herself was an abuser, she sees things from the viewpoint of the abuser.

But that, perhaps, makes her viewpoint instructive.

According to her son, she habitually manipulated people: “She grew up in an upper-class family and had servants all her life, even when she didn’t have money. I never understood why she maintained a staff of employees. She was extremely arrogant, a diva, and treated people horribly” (Maya Sela, “The Trauma of a Gifted Child Whose Mother Was Alice Miller,” Haaretz, Jul 12, 2014).

Why, you might ask, would an abuser publicize the problem of child abuse? Might it make more sense for her to deny it ever happened?

Yes, perhaps, if there were no such thing as conscience. However, if anyone has certain knowledge that child abuse happens, it is an abuser. To deny this altogether would mean lying, and lying to oneself.

It is, in the end, a better strategy to say, yes, of course, it exists. It is common! In fact, everyone does it! So if I did it, if I do it, I cannot really be blamed, can I?

And so her interest is actually to exaggerate the prevalence of abuse.

To deal with each of her problematic claims in turn:

1. That this experience of childhood abuse is often repressed. It is often only discovered in “repressed memories”

The existence of repressed memories has never been proven. Freud believed in them.

But the claim seems improbable on its face. Since antiquity, it has been a principle of mnemonics that, the stronger the emotional associations of a memory, the more likely it is to be remembered. Miller claims the opposite: that memories are forgotten because they are too emotionally important to us.

Freud and Miller may be conflating two different things: ability to remember an incident, and desire to recall it. Strongly emotional memories of abuse may indeed be repressed in the second sense, because thinking about them causes the victim to relive the trauma. Old soldiers are proverbially reluctant to talk about their experiences in war. To re-experience a trauma is, after all, traumatic.

This does not mean they cannot remember; it means they do not want to remember.


Miller inadvertently demonstrates the difference in citing the childhood memories of Anton Chekhov. She quotes Chekhov writing to his brother that:

“Despotism and lies have so thoroughly marred our childhood that it makes me feel sick and afraid to remember it” (Elsbeth Wolffheim, Anton Tschechow, Rowohlt 2001, p. 13).

Yet elsewhere, when writing for the general public, Chekhov claims:

“For me, father and mother are the only people on this earth for whom I would do everything they asked of me. If I should make it to the top one day, this will be the work of their hands; they are splendid people, their boundless love of children puts them beyond all praise and outweighs all their faults” (Ivan Bunin, Tschechow, Berlin: Friedenauer Presse, 2004).

It is not that Chekhov does not remember. It is that it makes him “sick and afraid” to remember. And so he presents a false face in public.

It is one thing not to want to remember something painful. It is a very different thing to have always thought that your war experience, or your childhood, was fun and games, hugs and bunnies, and then realize that it was not. This latter claim is improbable. It verges on “gaslighting”: trying to convince the patient to no longer believe the evidence of their senses.

Yet that is the model of “repressed memory” that Miller proposes.

She writes:

“I do not mean to speak, primarily, of cases of obvious desertion by, or separation from, the parents, though this, of course, can have traumatic results. Nor am I thinking of children who were obviously uncared for or totally neglected, and who were always aware of this or at least grew up with the knowledge that it was so. Apart from these extreme cases, there are large numbers of people who suffer from narcissistic disorders, who often had sensitive and caring parents from whom they received much encouragement; yet, these people are suffering from severe depressions. They enter analysis in the belief, with which they grew up, that their childhood was happy and protected (The Drama of the Gifted Child, p. 5).

Before we go on, note here the bizarre omission of the obvious: children who are not merely neglected, but actively abused. That would apply to her own son, by his testimony. Is she not, literally, minimizing this possibility?

Are there such people, though, as she introduces here? Depressed people, who think their childhood was wonderful, and are mistaken?

I suspect not.

I suspect, however, that Miller here reveals that there are two different classes of people who are diagnosed as “depressed,” and they are not the same. Just as spots on the face might be caused by several different diseases.

Childhood abuse, and PTSD, leads to the classic symptoms we call “depression.”

But children who are overly indulged while growing up can also develop, in adulthood, a sense of malaise. The problem is that they have been trained by an indulgent childhood to expect too much, never to exert themselves or withhold anything from themselves. The real adult world is not inclined to treat them in the manner to which they have become accustomed. As they attain adulthood and must make their own way, they discover they are no longer the centre of attention, they no longer get whatever they ask, those around them do not think that everything they do is wonderful. They have to work for things, they have to prove themselves. They must defer gratification.

This, to them, is obviously unfair. They deserve better.

The tragic fate of a princess.

Here, too, we have the ideal literary model: Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale “The Princess and the Pea.”

And so such overgrown children are discontented with their lot in life. There are too many damned peas under the mattress.

They will naturally lament loudly and often—hence the diagnosis of “depression” or “mental illness.” Do they suffer as much as those who experience true depression, from PTSD? It is probably impossible to know. At a minimum, I would net expect them to suffer the crippling anxiety that is the most common symptom of what we call “depression.” In any case, this is a very different thing from the experience caused by childhood abuse; the opposite thing, in fact.

Abuse that they have forgotten? The telling signature of their problem is their sense that everything was so much better when they were children. It was. This, as it happens, was Miller’s own unreconstituted memory of her childhood. And she became an abuser.

Another telling symptom of this syndrome, I suspect, would be alcoholism and other such addictions. That would seem to come with a tendency to deny oneself nothing.

According to Miller, most of her patients are under the “illusion” that they have had a happy childhood, and must be carefully taught by her that this is not so. If this is true, it would seem that most of her patients were not true depressives, but this sort of adult spoiled child.

“This ability to mourn, to give up the illusion of his ‘happy’ childhood, can restore the depressive's vitality and creativity, and (if he comes to analysis at all) free the grandiose person from the exertions of and dependence on his Sisyphean task. If a person is able, during this long process, to experience that he was never ‘loved’ as a child for what he was but for his achievements, success, and good qualities, and that he sacrificed his childhood for this ‘love,’ …” (Miller, op. cit., p. 57).

One can see how the doctrine of “repressed memories” could be appealing to such patients. Narcissists are instinctively prone to scapegoat others; nothing can ever be their fault. Miller allows them to scapegoat their parents. No doubt they feel better. Their real problem has been made worse; but for now, they feel better. It works, just like alcohol works. And they will keep coming back.

Miller refers sympathetically to an account published in a German magazine, as “the tragic story of her experience of motherhood,” “told without camouflage.” As if the perpetrator is primarily to be praised for her bravery:

“I wouldn't have minded if the baby had died. And everybody expected me to be happy. In despair I telephoned a friend who said that I’d get fond of him in time through being busy with him and having him around all the time. But that did not happen either. I only began to be fond of him when I could go back to work and only saw him when I came home, as a distraction and toy, so to speak. But quite honestly, a little dog would have done just as well. Now that he is gradually getting bigger and I see that I can train him and that he is devoted to me and trusts me, I am beginning to develop tender feelings for him and am glad that he is there (Miller, op. cit., p. 48).”

This is the Oedipus story written from the perspective of Jocasta. Yet to Miller, this is a tragedy for the parent, and not for the child? If Cain murders Abel, should our sympathy be for Cain for not being able to feel love?

Miller is simply wrong, in conventional morality, to maintain that the parent is not responsible for loving their child. When asked, for example, “What is the greatest commandment?” Jesus answered, “love God, and love your neighbour.” It must follow that this is a matter of free will. When, at marriage, we promise “to love and to cherish,” the vow is meaningless unless this is in our power.

Miller, in sum, is blaming the child and victim for the parent’s sin. Just as an abusive parent would.

The great advantage of the doctrine of “repressed memories” is that, with it, anyone can claim to have been abused. This is of use only to those who have not been.

2. Even normal discipline amounts to child abuse, and can cause mental illness.

On her web site, Miller defines what she means by child abuse: “humiliations, spankings and beatings, slaps in the face, betrayal, sexual exploitation, derision, neglect, etc. are all forms of mistreatment.”

Some of those things are abusive. But there is no distinction made here between deserved punishment and arbitrary assault. Spankings are child abuse; so is mere criticism; and it does not matter whether the child has done something wrong—or even harmful to themselves.

This is not an oversight. Miller believes that morality is child abuse:

“I will now enumerate,” she writes, “some characteristics of a successful narcissistic development…

• The child was allowed to experience and express ‘ordinary’ impulses (such as jealousy, rage, defiance) because his parents did not require him ... to represent their own ethical attitudes …” (The Drama of the Gifted Child, p. 33).

To Miller, then, “ethical attitudes” are abuse.

Narcissus lost in admiration.

With the same logic, Miller rejects any negative associations of the term “narcissism”―itself a euphemism, surely, for “selfishness” or “self-centredness.” This is not a matter of opinion; the legend on which the term is based makes this plain. Miller writes:

“The ambiguity that characterizes the word narcissism, even in professional literature, is further complicated by the derogatory emotional overtone it receives in everyday use. For there such meanings as 'in love with oneself,' 'always thinking of oneself,' 'egocentric,' 'incapable of object-love' have become attached to it. Even psychoanalysts are not always free of such judgmental, emotional use of the word—although they try for neutrality (p. xviii).”
In a sense, Miller is right. There is a second meaning of narcissism in psychoanalytic theory: sexual attraction to one’s own body. Yet this is clearly not the definition she is using here. She means that self-adulation is a good and noble thing.

And it is not just narcissism that she wants to endorse:

“As soon as we look more closely and examine their origins, we shall see that other moralizing, derogatory words also will lose their popular clear-cut character (p. xix).” “[I]t is my aim in this book to break away from judgmental, isolating, and therefore discriminating terminology (p. xx).”

Moral judgments are “discriminating.”

She also explicitly excuses incestuous relations with one’s children.

“A father who grew up in surroundings inimical to instinctual drives,” she explains, “may well be inhibited in his sexual relationships in marriage. He may even remain polymorphous perverse and first dare to look properly at a female genital, play with it, and feel aroused while he is bathing his small daughter. A mother may perhaps have been shocked as a small girl by the unexpected sight of an erect penis and so developed fear of the male genital, or she may have experienced it as a symbol of violence in the primal scene without being able to confide in anyone. Such a mother may now be able to gain control over her fear in relationship to her tiny son. She may, for example, dry him after his bath in such a manner that he has an erection, which is not dangerous or threatening for her. She may massage her son's penis, right up to puberty, in order ‘to treat his phimosis’ without having to be afraid. Protected by the unquestioning love that every child has for his mother she can carry on with her genuine, hesitating sexual exploration that had been broken off too soon” (Miller, Drama, pp. 74-5).

How helpful and comforting for her. But there is no visible concern here for what it might mean for the child.

So it seems one aim, if not the only aim, of Miller’s therapy is to excuse child abuse, along with any other preferred form of immorality. This would certainly appealing to a certain sort of person: the sort of person who habitually wants to behave immorally.

This is worse than useless to a true depressive, one who suffered from real abuse as a child. It tells them their suffering was trivial and morally meaningless. Yes, you were horribly mutilated and disabled in the war, but it was all pointless and nobody’s fault.

It might, on the other hand, offer transitory therapeutic benefits to a patient who has done things that are morally wrong, and is troubled by conscience because of it.

But it is a false cure, like drugs or alcohol. You cannot escape conscience in the end.

If Miller’s argument were sound, after all, it would call for abolishing the legal system, and any legal punishments. Everyone should just be free to take or do whatever they want, and we would all live in peace and harmony. Punish a criminal, she believes, and you are teaching him to hurt someone else.

She makes virtually this claim:

“A child who has been allowed to be egoistic, greedy, and asocial long enough will develop spontaneous pleasure in sharing and giving” (p. xix).

The essence of true abuse is injustice. Contrary to Miller’s assertion, a child does not suffer permanent damage from being disciplined, even when that discipline is strict. The harm comes if the child is beaten, raped, or berated when they have done nothing to provoke or deserve it (of course, a child can never be held to have provoked or deserved many of these things). When “punishment” is undeserved, it conveys the message that there is something wrong about the child’s fundamental nature, their very existence, as Oedipus held of himself, and there is nothing, ever, that they can do to fix this. That is the seed of depression.

The only other form of parenting that might approach this in damage to the child is just the sort of parenting Miller advocates: never punishing the child no matter what. This conveys the message that there is something unimpeachable about their fundamental nature, and there is nothing, ever, that they can do that is justly worthy of blame.

The first is the perfect way to cripple a child with depression. The second may also lead to an experience similar to depression; but whether or not this is so, it is the perfect way to create a future abuser.

Unfortunately, Miller has been most influential here: in this assertion of hers that all parental punishment is abuse. This is why there is now a campaign everywhere to outlaw spanking. Besides ensuring a new generation of psychopaths, this is a red herring across the path that distracts attention from real abuse.

Our best evidence that Miller is wrong here comes from our literary models. Our literary victims of abuse, Ophelia, Hamlet, Oedipus, and Dymphna, as we have already noted, care above all for truth, morality, and righteousness. Miller’s denial of justice would repel them. Both Dymphna and Hamlet died to uphold the distinction between right and wrong.

3. Having been abused causes new abuse in the next generation. An abused child becomes an abusive parent.

This notion is probably a consequence, maybe an intended consequence, of Miller’s conflation of the two opposite types, the “depressive” and the “grandiose”; Oedipus and Laius. And, if “repressed memories” can be induced by the power of suggestion, it would be easy to “prove” it. Anyone can be convinced they were abused in childhood.

One of Miller’s stock assertions is that “as adults, most abused children will ... let others suffer, from these injuries.” “They don’t know that the only reason for the punishments they have (or in retrospect, had) to endure is the fact that their parents themselves endured and learned violence without being able to question it. Later, the adults, once abused children, beat their own children” (Miller, “Child Mistreatment, Child Abuse, What Is It?”

But this, again, goes against our literary evidence. In the Dymphna legend, the contrast between father and daughter is stark. Damon, the father, is a pagan. Dymphna is a Christian saint. He wants to kill his child. She wants to help the poor and sick. Could the moral contrast be any clearer?

Oedipus Rex verges on heavy-handedness in contrasting Oedipus’s concern for his children to Laius’s and Jocasta’s determination to kill theirs.

Learning the truth about his parentage, Oedipus says to Creon,

“… I reck not how Fate deals with me
But my unhappy children—.
... for my daughters twain, poor innocent maids,
For them, I pray thee, care, and, if thou willst,
O might I feel their touch and make my moan.
Could I but blindly touch them with my hands
I'd think they still were mine, as when I saw.

[ANTIGONE and ISMENE are led in.]

What say I? can it be my pretty ones
Whose sobs I hear? Has Creon pitied me
And sent me my two darlings? Can this be?

‘Tis true; ‘twas I procured thee this delight,
Knowing the joy they were to thee of old” (Sophocles, Oedipus Rex, Storr translation).

Oedipus’s concern for his children was, apparently, common knowledge. While his parents were ready to sacrifice their child to their own interests, Oedipus puts his children first.

This, surely, conforms with our wider experience. Those who have themselves been oppressed are the people least likely to oppress others. The experience of oppression teaches empathy. As the Chinese Book of Changes (I Ching) puts it, “Through oppression one learn to lessen rancour.” Some historic examples of such magnanimity: Nelson Mandela, Jomo Kenyatta, Vaclav Havel, Aung San Suu Kyi, Kim Dae-Jung.

Miller cites little clinical evidence for her assertions that the abused becomes the abuser. Nevertheless, when she does cite evidence, it tends to support the Dymphna model, rather than her own interpretations.

She writes that her patients (or possibly their mothers; the reference is unclear) are “an only one or often the first-born” (The Drama of the Gifted Child, p. 35).

“What these mothers had once failed to find in their own mothers [sic] they were able to find in their children: someone at their disposal who can be used as an echo, who can be controlled, is completely centered on them, will never desert them, and offers full attention and admiration” (ibid).

All else being equal, children who are only children or first-born are the least likely to be abused or neglected. Said situation would tend to grant them lots of attention from their parents.

Yet these are the ones who, as parents themselves, according to Miller’s own account, demand submission, sycophancy, and adulation.

In other words, they demand from their children the attention they got from their parents, and so are used to getting. They are not, as Miller speculates, making up for some deficit.

Miller also agrees with the literary sources, and other psychiatrists we have mentioned, in seeing a link between “giftedness” and having been abused. She notes that many famous artists and writers had been abused in childhood.


“In his novel Le Lys dans la vallée, Honoré de Balzac described his childhood. His mother preferred his brother, gave Honoré first into the care of a nurse and then sent him away to school. He suffered greatly and all his life courted his mother in the guise of different women. ... The very hopelessness of his wooing gave him the possibility of developing his own emotional wealth and the ability to freely develop his exceptional capacity for suffering” (Miller, Drama, p. 31).

Lucky him.

“Perhaps the same is true of Vincent Van Gogh, whose mother, throughout her life, mourned and idealized the first Vincent who had died very young (Humberto Nagera, Vincent Van Gogh, 1967; Miller, p. 31-200).

In this, perhaps not incidentally, young Van Gogh’s experience is like that of Jack Kerouac, the American beat novelist. His older brother Gerard died age nine, and was venerated by his mother as if a saint. “Ti-Jean” could never measure up.

Here is Chekhov’s biographer, Elsbeth Wolffheim:

“The disparagement and humiliation he was subjected to at school were as nothing compared to the repressions he suffered at home. Chekhov’s father was hot-tempered and uncouth, and he treated the members of his family with extreme severity. The children were beaten almost every day, they had to get up at 5 in the morning and help out in the shop before going to school and as soon as they got back, so that they had very little time for their homework. In the winter it was so cold in the basement shop that even the ink froze. The three brothers served the customers until late in the evening, together with young apprentices who were also beaten regularly by their employer and were sometimes so exhausted that they fell asleep on their feet” (Elsbeth Wolffheim, Anton Tschechow, Rowohlt 2001, p. 13; Miller, “Depression: Compulsive Self-Deception,”

Chekhov contracted tuberculosis at an early stage, Miller adds, and also suffered from depression.

Miller’s clinical experience actually illustrates how an abused child, rather than becoming “narcissistic,” ends up denying themselves and, as we have seen elsewhere, thinking only of the interests of the parent; just as they were always brought up to do.

She quotes one patient describing her nightmare:

“I see a green meadow, on which there is a white coffin. I am afraid that my mother is in it, but I open the lid and, luckily, it is not my mother but me (Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child, p. 13).”

Thank God it was only I who died, and not my mother!

So too with Chekhov: “All his life,” says Miller, “he was greatly concerned for his father’s welfare, making major financial sacrifices to support him.” (Miller, “Depression: Compulsive Self-Deception,”

Another patient’s dream illustrates what it feels like living with a possessive, manipulative parent, like Polonius:

“I lived in a glass house into which my mother could look at any time. In a glass house, however, you cannot conceal anything without giving yourself away, except by hiding it under the ground. And then you cannot see it yourself either” (Drama, p. 21).
It turns out that Miller herself was just such a parent:

“Martin [her son] endured another traumatic experience in the wake of being sent to a psychoanalyst by his mother. What he didn’t know was that his mother had arranged for the therapist to record the sessions with her son and play them back to her” (Sela, op. cit.). “I wanted to be autonomous,” he says, “and my mother was angry at me for that” (ibid).

In 1979, Miller fils began studies to become a psychoanalyst. His mother “did not appreciate that,” he explains. “She said I had to learn everything from her, and I said I wanted to follow my own path. She wanted me to be dependent on her both economically and conceptually. She told me, ‘You are so talented that you don’t have to study at university, you can learn everything from me.’ But that would have made me the slave of Alice Miller” (ibid.).

Miller uncovers in her patients the same extreme concern with morality and righteousness we have seen in Hamlet and Oedipus. But, characteristically, rather than seeing this as a silver lining, she considers it morbid. She calls it “moral masochism”:

“The repressed or split-off fantasies of grandiosity of the depressive are easily discovered, for example, in his moral masochism. He has especially severe standards that apply only to himself. In other people he accepts without question thoughts and actions that, in himself, he would consider mean or bad when measured against his high ego ideal. Others are allowed to be ‘ordinary,’ but that he can never be (pp. 44-5).”

In other words, they are behaving just as Jesus told us to behave, not judging others but minding the motes in their own eyes. And this is wrong.

"The wise and profound bestseller" 

It is hard to conceive of the harm such a stance might cause to a true depressive: it turns out, says to the analyst, that the hypocrites and Pharisees were right all along, and he is the egotist for craving sincerity and righteousness.

It is shocking how popular Miller and her assertions have been. This implies that there are a lot of people out there who, rather than being appalled at child abuse, are prepared to sympathize with the abuser and not with the child.

Miller’s writing introduces another concern as well: in her case, it seems, people suffering PTSD from abused childhoods were going for help to someone who was herself a child abuser, and able and perhaps willing to practice the same methods and attitudes on them. Miller herself points out the danger:

“It would not be surprising if our unconscious anger should find no better way than once more to make use of a weaker person and to make him take the unavailable parents' place [sic]. This can be done most easily with one's own children, or with patients, who at times are as dependent on their analysts as children are on their parents” (Miller, Drama, p. 23).

Exactly. A born bully is one type of person who will be naturally drawn to the profession of analyst. Other than parenthood, what better opportunity for manipulation could there be?

And as a result, many patients, instead of being given medicine for what ails them, are being fed more poison.

iFor example:

Kendler, K; et al. (2000). "Childhood sexual abuse and adult psychiatric and substance use disorders in women". Archives of General Psychiatry. 57 (10): 953–959.

Mullen, P. E.; et al. (1993). "Childhood sexual abuse and mental health in adult life". British Journal of Psychiatry. 163 (6): 721–32.

Davies, Emma; Jim Burdett (2004). "Preventing 'schizophrenia': creating the conditions for saner societies" in Read et al., Models of Madness. Routledge.

Read J, van Os J, Morrison AP, Ross CA (November 2005). "Childhood trauma, psychosis and schizophrenia: a literature review with theoretical and clinical implications". Acta Psychiatr Scand. 112 (5): 330–50.

iiMartin Miller, The True ‘Drama of the Gifted Child, Kreuz-Verlag, Freiburg, 2013.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Rwandan Way

A good friend sends this short piece on how they handle depression in Rwanda. I think it illustrates my belief that mental illness was dealt with far more effectively in the days before psychology. The whole community gets together and they sing and drum it out.

If you read older writings, there was a general understanding before modern times that any and all forms of mental illness were transitory. Now, psychiatry and psychology finds them all, in principle, incurable." That is quie an indictment.

I can see all kinds of reasons why the communal singing and drumming would work against depression.

It reconnects you with the community, reconnects you with the spirit, with meaning, with art.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Take the Shirt Off My Back!

Exciting news! Od's Blog now offers t-shirts with Christian messenging. Irritate your neighbours!

Od's Togs

T-shirts and togs for Christian soldiers and culture warriors!

Let your light shine!

"You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."

Onward, Christian soldiers!

Dress to confess!

We have what we have because our forefathers and foremothers were prepared to fight for it!

It is not always easy or safe to be a Christian. But it is what we are called to do.

"Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven."

Especially for the sake of the lost and forgotten, we must witness; especially for the sake of our children, in these times when so much in our tradition is being challenged or attacked.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Freud's Seduction

Martyrdom of St. Dymphna

As we have seen, Freud is not a reliable witness when he offers literary evidence for the existence of an Oedipus Complex driving mental illness. His version does violence to the actual events of the stories he cites, Hamlet and Oedipus Rex. He holds that the child wants to kill the one parent, and have sex with the other. Both plays, however, show the parent wanting to kill the child. There is incest, but the incest either does not involve the child (Hamlet), or it is against his will (Oedipus).

The real story line of these plays conforms instead to the legend of Saint Dymphna, the patron saint of mental illness since Medieval times: the parent wants to kill the child, and/or have sex with them.

Since Freud is untrustworthy on the literary evidence, which we can examine for ourselves, we have reason to doubt his word on the clinical evidence, which only he has really seen. If he can so distort the evidence we can see, he is at least as likely to have distorted the evidence we cannot see.

In fact, we can be pretty sure he did distort it. For the Oedipus Complex was not the first interpretation of this data that occurred even to Freud. He first saw something more like the Dymphna Complex. In 1896, Freud published a paper, “The Aetiology of Hysteria,” in which he confidently declared, on the basis of his clinical experience, that mental illness came, not from repressed Oedipal desires, but from—just as we now believe—childhood trauma. It was PTSD.

In the 1896 paper, he maintains that every patient he has seen had suffered childhood sexual abuse.

“In some eighteen cases of hysteria I have been able to discover this connection in every single symptom, and, where the circumstances allowed, to confirm it by therapeutic success” (Standard Edition of the Complete Works, vol. 3, London: Hogarth, 1953-74, p. 199; Jeffrey Masson, The Assault on Truth, 5th Ed., NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Untreed Reads, 2012, loc. 1219). In letters to his close friend and colleague Wilhelm Fliess, he calls this experience of sexual abuse “the key that unlocks everything” (undated letter; Freud, The Origins of Psychoanalysis, NY: Basic, 1954, p. 73; Masson, loc. 1050). “At the bottom of every case of hysteria,” he writes, “there are one or more occurrences of premature sexual experience, occurrences which belong to the earliest years of childhood” (“The Aetiology of Hysteria,” Standard Edition of the Complete Works; Masson, loc. 3094). He suggests that the motto of psychoanalysis should be “What have they done to you, poor child?” (letter to Fliess, December 22, 1897; Masson, loc. 1615).

Freud sees the issue as sexual assault specifically, and takes little notice of other forms of abuse: he does not consider any physical or emotional harm to the child of other than a sexual nature. This diverges from the Dymphna, Oedipus, and Hamlet legends, all of which speak also of attempted murder—a fairly serious omission.

This may, however, have to do with the state of psychiatry and psychiatric discourse at the time. Odd as it may sound now, it was accepted then as a bedrock principle that mental illness was caused by masturbation (Masson, loc. 1057). “There is no question,” writes Emma Eckstein in 1904, “as the leading figures in psychiatry tell us, that masturbation practiced in early childhood can have dire consequences for the mental development of the individual” (Die Sexualfrage in der Erziehung des Kindes (The Question of Sexuality in Child-Rearing), Leipzig: Curt Wigand, 1904, p. 14; Masson, loc. 2711).

Freud, too, believed this.

To Freud, therefore, the focus on sexuality may have been a given, an assumption he never thought to question. It is also an assumption of special value to someone seeking a purely material basis for our psychic ills: they can thereby all be traced to the Darwinian need for propagation of the species. Psychiatry accordingly validates itself as a science founded on biological principles.

Freud does seem to acknowledge, in some degree, that the issue may be the emotional or psychological experience, not the physical experience, of sex. The parent, he says, “is yet armed with complete authority and the right to punish, and can exchange the one role for the other to the uninhibited satisfaction of his moods” (“The Aetiology of Hysteria”; Masson, loc. 3279); while the child is “at the mercy of this arbitrary will” (ibid., loc. 3280). It would seem to follow that emotional abuse is the real issue, not sexual abuse; but Freud does not pursue this. It is too abstract, perhaps, for his “scientific” temperament. He remains resolutely materialistic: “stimulation of the genitals, coitus-like acts, and so on, must therefore be recognized, in the last analysis, as being the traumas which lead to a hysterical reaction to events at puberty and to the development of hysterical symptoms” (ibid., loc. 3148). In the end, it’s physical. It would be troubling to scientific objectivity if either real human emotion or ethics were really involved.

He also does not stress that the sexual assaults are incestuous; instead, he speaks of sexual experience of any kind. However, it does seem that these “premature sexual experiences” were indeed usually incestuous; Freud avoids saying so explicitly, it seems, out of Victorian modesty. Freud writes of “the fantasy encountered in most female patients... that the father seduced her in childhood” (Minutes of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, New York: International Universities Press, 1962–1975, vol. 4: 1912–1918; Masson, loc. 322).

“At some time during 1895 or 1896,” writes Jeffrey Masson, “Freud had become convinced that the person most often guilty of the sexual abuse of young children (primarily girls) was the father. In the published letter of September 21, 1897, to Fliess, Freud writes: ‘Then the surprise that, in all cases, the father, not excluding my own, had to be accused of being perverse’” (Masson, loc. 1293). In his Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, 1916, Freud writes that among female patients “their father figures fairly regularly as the seducer” (Standard Edition of the Complete Works, vol. 16, p. 70; Masson, loc. 1797). Elsewhere he writes “With female patients the part of seducer was almost always assigned to their father” (Autobiographical Study, 1925; S.E. vol. 20, pp. 33–34; Masson, loc. 2593). Again, “almost all my women patients told me that they had been seduced by their father” (New Introductory Lectures, 1933, S.E. vol. 22, p. 120; Masson, loc. 2621).

Odd that Freud did not consider the fact that the sex was incestuous worthy of more mention.

Nor was this specifically a father-daughter dynamic; according to Freud’s patients, the assailant (Freud uses the euphemism “seductor”) was as likely to be the mother. His patients were apparently mostly women, skewing the sample, but even so, at one point he writes: “girls regularly accuse their mother of seducing them” (“Female Sexuality,” S.E. vol. 21, p. 238: Masson, loc. 2613).

In other words, if Freud’s account is to be accepted, most of his female patients reported under analysis that they had been sexually assaulted in childhood by both their mother and their father.

It should be noted that “seduced” is used here as a euphemism: another example, perhaps, of Victorian delicacy. More explicitly, Freud speaks of “a brutal assault committed by an adult or by a seduction less rapid and less repulsive, but reaching the same conclusion” (“L’Hérédité et l’étiologie des névroses,” S.E., vol. 3, p. 152; Masson, loc. 1258).

In 1905, Freud publicly retracted this “seduction theory,” that neurosis was caused by childhood sexual assault, and replaced it with the “Oedipus complex,” that it was caused by a childhood wish to have sex with the parent. The most obvious explanation was not the one he settled on as the real one.


Publicly, he gives his reason in “On the History of the Psycho-Analytic Movement” (1914; S.E., vol, 14; Masson, loc. 1769): the “Seduction theory” “broke down under the weight of its own improbability and contradiction.”

Privately, he explains to Wilhelm Fliess in correspondence:

“The continual disappointment in my efforts to bring any analysis to a real conclusion; the running away of people who for a period of time had been most gripped [by analysis]; the absence of the complete successes on which I had counted; the possibility of explaining to myself the partial successes in other ways, in the usual fashion — this was the first group. Then the surprise that in all cases, the father, not excluding my own, had to be accused of being perverse — the realization of the unexpected frequency of hysteria, with precisely the same conditions prevailing in each, whereas surely such widespread perversions against children are not very probable. (The [incidence] of perversion would have to be immeasurably more frequent than the [resulting] hysteria because the illness, after all, occurs only where there has been an accumulation of events and there is a contributory factor that weakens the defense.) Then, third, the certain insight that there are no indications of reality in the unconscious, so that one cannot distinguish between truth and fiction that has been cathected with affect. (Accordingly, there would remain the solution that the sexual fantasy invariably seizes upon the theme of the parents.) Fourth, the consideration that in the most deep-reaching psychosis the unconscious memory does not break through, so that the secret of the childhood experiences is not disclosed even in the most confused delirium.” (letter to Wilhelm Fliess, 1897; Masson, loc. 1492).

His first concern, that the theory of childhood abuse was powerless to bring an analysis to a successful conclusion, contradicts what he himself claimed earlier: one of his justifications for the seduction theory in 1897 is that it had been “confirmed by therapeutic success” (“The Aetiology of Hysteria,” S.E., vol. 3, p. 199; Masson, loc. 1219-1223). This underlines the sad reality that we cannot accept Freud’s claims for his clinical evidence at face value.

Moreover, this is a non sequitur: there is no reason to suppose that knowing the cause of one’s suffering will end the suffering. Does knowing you broke your leg in a fall heal the broken leg? Indeed, neither the Dymphna story, nor the Oedipus legend, nor Hamlet suggest that merely realizing you have been abused is a cure. Rather, for both Hamlet and Oedipus, it is this very knowledge that causes the onset of symptoms.

This reveals a crucial point: Freud’s primary concern was not to find the cause of mental illness. Nor, for that matter, was it to cure it. It was to find a clinical technique employable by physicians like himself, and monetizable, to cure it. While it might be relevant for Freud’s purposes, this objection carries no weight for ours.

Nor, it should be mentioned, is there any clear scientific evidence that Freud’s eventual methods are any better at bringing “mental illness” to a conclusion. They are not, it seems, clearly superior to the “seduction theory” even in that regard. What we can say is that people are prepared to pay for them. Freud is troubled with “the running away of people who for a period of time had been most gripped [by analysis].” For all we know, this might be because they felt themselves cured; but it did not suit Freud’s purposes.

What to make of Freud’s fourth objection: “in the most deep-reaching psychosis the unconscious memory [of sexual assault] does not break through”? If this is true—that in the most serious cases of insanity the patient cannot seem to remember anything about incest—might this not simply be an indication of how serious the psychosis is? So much so that they are unable to communicate well enough with the analyst, or have lost contact with their own experiences and memories? After all, when you are in general denial of external reality, why would you not be in denial of this particular external reality? Or, might it simply indicate that the causes of common neurosis were different from those for the most deep-reaching psychosis? Why assume they are the same? Or again, the problem is as likely to be with the techniques Freud has developed for eliciting such memories; they may not be powerful enough to work on those who are deeply psychotic.

Leaves us with Freud’s third point, that the unconscious “cannot distinguish between truth and fiction.” This is obviously true: dreams do not restrict themselves to reporting real events. But this is an objection, not to the thesis that mental illness is caused by childhood abuse, but to Freud’s insistence on taking these accounts of sexual literally: that they must describe actual sexual contact. They might instead be a symbolic representation of emotional abuse.

To insist on a literal interpretation seems naive and wrong, just as indeed it later appeared to Freud. Hamlet argues against it: there the incest, as we have seen, is significant only as symbolic of a possessive and self-centred attitude; Hamlet himself is not involved. Nor, so far as we can tell, did Polonius literally rape Ophelia. Nor did Damon ever actually rape Dymphna: the intent was the point.

Unfortunately, Freud’s training and prejudices were those of a physician, a materialist, a doctor of the body. He did not accept or understand that statements can have meanings beyond their literal meanings, and that such meanings were not arbitrary. Once he was forced to abandon the idea that memories and dreams of incest must refer to literal experiences of incest, he was apparently inclined to understand them instead as “lies”―and impute mendacity to his patients. He knew nothing of poetry.

His patients were a pack of liars, then.

It was a short step to blaming them for everything.

“I dream,” Freud writes to Fliess, “of a primeval devil religion whose rites are carried on secretly, and I understand the harsh therapy of the witches’ judges” (letter of January 24, 1897; Masson, loc. 1469). Sandor Ferenczi, his closest disciple in his later years, records Freud saying “patients are riffraff” (Diary entry for May 1, 1932; Masson, loc. 2468).” Jung reports similar comments: when he tells Freud of his experiences with one schizophrenic patient, Freud responds, “But how in the world were you able to bear spending hours and days with this phenomenally ugly female?” (Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, NY: Vintage, 1962, p. 160).

I hope you, at least, gentle reader, can see the problem. When Robert Burns wrote, for example, “my love is like a red, red rose”―would you really look at his wife, and at a rose, and accuse him of lying?

Nor is the image of the rose arbitrary. Could Burns have conveyed the same message by saying “my love is like a cabbage”?

Had he had a decent literary education, Freud might have grasped this from the literary sources. A play, after all, is in itself an extended metaphor. The Battle of Agincourt is not happening before you, on the Globe stage. Moreover, in Oedipus Rex, oracles are consulted. When did an oracle ever speak plainly?

Just so, the imagination by its nature speaks in symbols and metaphors.

This is what happens when a literalist and a materialist tries to make sense of the human soul.

But this alone is not enough to force Freud to abandon his seduction theory. Given that what the imagination produces is often not literally true, what leads Freud to conclude that it is not literally true in this case? It still might be. After all, in his earlier writing, Freud even claimed to have independent verification:

“I regard it as a fortunate accident that, out of eighteen cases, I have been able to obtain an objective confirmation of this sort in two. In one instance, it was the brother (who had remained well) who of his own accord confirmed — not, it is true, his earliest sexual experiences with his sister (who was the patient) — but at least scenes of that kind from later childhood, and the fact that there had been sexual relations dating further back. In the other instance, it happened that two women whom I was treating had as children had sexual relations with the same man, in the course of which certain scenes had taken place à trois. A particular symptom, which was derived from these childhood events, had developed in both women, as evidence of what they had experienced in common” (“The Aetiology of Hysteria”; Masson, loc. 3142-3148).

This brings us then to Freud’s second objection: “the surprise that in all cases, the father, not excluding my own, had to be accused of being perverse.” This is the crucial point, and it is surely a valid one. Most people feel no urge to have sex with any child, let alone their own. Let alone their child of the same sex. Let alone giving in to this urge. Yet if we are to believe Freud’s patients, or Freud’s account of his patients, all or nearly all were sexually assaulted by both their mother and their father in childhood. It seems unlikely that such a phenomenon should be so widespread.

However, this too is an objection to taking the reports of incest literally, not to the reality of childhood abuse. The soul speaks in parables, symbols, and metaphors; and it is most concerned with spiritual, not physical, affairs. Take the incest as a symbol of a smothering, possessive, self-interested parent, and the objection disappears.

When we, in common speech, say, “I got screwed,” or “he screwed me,” not to cite less delicate terms, do we always mean this literally?

The incest image must still be figuratively or symbolically important, otherwise why did the patient imagine it? And imagine it, according to Freud, associated with obviously heightened emotions: “in such a way that he seemed to be living through it with all the appropriate feelings” (“The Aetiology of Hysteria”; Masson, loc. 1280). But we experience similar heightened emotions, after all, while watching a horror movie. This does not prove that the events actually occurred.

In other words, Freud offers no valid reasons for giving up his initial and more straightforward thesis, that all had suffered abuse in childhood. He does have valid reasons for giving up the assumption that the abuse was only sexual. Yet, to preserve his thesis that the roots of mental illness are sexual, he surrenders the assumption that they are found in abuse. Perhaps this is because his primary commitment is to a material rather than a spiritual or emotional cause for “mental illness.” He needs to find as cause something that might concern a physician—as opposed, say, to a minister or priest.

In speaking of his disappointment at having to abandon his original “seduction theory,” he writes to Fliess:

“The expectation of eternal fame was so beautiful, as was that of certain wealth, complete independence, travels, and lifting the children above the severe worries which robbed me of my youth. Everything depended upon whether or not hysteria would come out right” (Letter to Fliess, September 21, 1897; Masson, loc. 1517).

Not such a rare or surprising sentiment; and not such a discredit to him. But it reveals Freud’s bottom line. It is not truth; it is fame and fortune. So what would happen if the true cause of mental illness was not useful to him in this way? Would he accept that, or keep looking? It was important for him, as a medical man, to find what looked like a physical, medical, cause for mental struggles.

Sandor Ferenczi

There has since been frequent backsliding, by one analyst or another, to the original and, indeed, as we have seen, traditional thought that mental illness comes from childhood abuse. This was so for Freud’s nearest collaborator in his later years, Sandor Ferenczi. In his diary, Ferenczi writes that neurosis seems to be “the result of real acts on the part of adults, namely violent passions directed toward the child, who then develops a fixation, not from desire [as Freud maintained], but from fear. ‘My mother and father will kill me if I don’t love them, and identify with their wishes.’” (Diary entry of September 21, 1897; Masson, loc. 1964).

That sounds very much like Dymphna’s experience.

Ferenczi agrees with Freud in seeing the chief issue as literal sexual abuse; he too is, after all, a medical doctor, a “man of science.” But he is aware of the possibility of other forms of mistreatment. He sees scapegoating: “the parent who denies what he has done, or denies its harmful effects, often becomes physically abusive toward the child (projecting the wickedness onto the child).” He sees physical abuse: “Not only forced love,” he writes, “but also unbearable punishments can have a fixating effect” (“Confusion of Tongues,” 1932; Masson, loc. 3513). He sees emotional abuse: “Seduction,” he points out, meaning the incestuous seduction of one’s child, “is a form of hatred, not love” (ibid.; loc. 1988). “It is the hate [the adult feels for the child]” he writes, “that traumatically surprises and terrifies the child who is seduced by an adult, and transforms him” (ibid.; loc. 3554).

He also sees another important form of emotional abuse: “the terrorism of suffering.” “In addition to passionate love and passionate punishments there is a third way of binding the child to oneself and that is the terrorism of suffering. Children have the compulsion to smooth over all kinds of disorders in the family, that is to say, to take onto their tender shoulders the burdens of all others; naturally, in the final analysis, not out of pure unselfishness but to regain the lost peace and the tenderness that is part of it” (ibid.; loc. 1999).

This is a type of abuse dealt with in detail by Alice Miller: selfish, immature parents force their children to take responsibility upon themselves for all their parents’ problems and concerns, to act as their parents’ parents. If psychiatry has been slow to see the issue, literature and popular culture have not been. This is a classic element of the “Jewish mother” type, familiar on page, stage, and screen. One example is Breavman’s mother in Leonard Cohen’s The Favorite Game. “A mother,” Ferenczi writes, “can make a lifelong nurse, in fact a substitute mother, out of the child by bewailing her suffering, totally disregarding the interests of the child” (Ferenczi, op. cit.; Masson, loc. 3537). This is also, in a similar fashion, the “co-dependency” examined in detail by Al-Anon and Adult Children of Alcoholics.

Robert Fliess, the son of Freud’s first collaborator, Wilhelm Fliess, who trained as a Freudian analyst, also circled back to the idea that childhood abuse was the key to mental illness. He uses the term “ambulatory psychotic” to refer to the Laius or the Damon personality, a parent who is entirely self-centred. Their “psychosis,” he argues, is generally invisible to the world outside the family home: they appear to be normal, even upstanding members of society (Masson, loc. 1880). But the story is very different in their dealings with their children. Fliess writes:

“There is no place here to deal with the inexhaustible subject of the psychoses; I can therefore say only in passing that the child of such a parent becomes the object of defused aggression (maltreated and beaten almost within an inch of his life), and of a perverse sexuality that hardly knows an incest barrier (is seduced in the most bizarre ways by the parents, and, at his or her instigation, by others)” (Fliess, Erogeneity and Libido: Addenda to the Theory of the Psychosexual Development of the Human, Madison, CT: International Universities Press, 1956, p. 17; Masson, loc. 1906).

Especially since the 1970s, there have been a flood of others. Masson cites, apart from himself and Alice Miller, Elaine Carmen, Patricia Rieker, Trudy Mills, Florence Rush and Judith Herman. There have also, in recent years, been a number of autobiographies that describe just such abuse: Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Random House, 1970); Sandra Bulter’s Conspiracy of Silence: The Trauma of Incest (New Glide Publications, 1978); Louise Armstrong’s Kiss Daddy Goodnight: A Speak - Out on Incest (Hawthorn Books, 1978); Susan Forward’s Betrayal of Innocence: Incest and Its Devastation (Penguin, 1979); Katherine Brady’s Father’s Days (Seaview, 1979); and Charlotte Vale Allen’s Daddy’s Girl: A Memoir (Simon and Schuster, 1980). It is now, it seems, the standard view.

Unfortunately, as the titles of many of those autobiographies suggest, we are still generally focused on sexual abuse as the core issue. This simply does not make sense: emotional damage comes most probably from emotional, not physical, abuse.

Other elements of the Dymphna story also seem to be confirmed by the cumulative clinical experience. We have mentioned before Freud’s comment that “the disturbance rides the strongest horse in the stable” (quoted, for example, by James FitzGerald, What Disturbs Our Blood, Toronto: Random House, 210, p. 419)--that neurosis or mental illness seems to afflict the most talented in a family, or in society as a whole.

He is not alone in this perception. In 1860, the French physician Ambroise Tardieu wrote a pioneering account of French children subjected to extreme parental abuse, “Etude médico - légale sur les sévices et mauvais traitements exercés sur des enfants” (“A Medico-legal Study of Cruelty and Brutal Treatment Inflicted on Children,” Annales d’hygiène publique et de médecine légale, 2nd ser., 13 [1860], pp. 361–398). He notes: “Their features reveal the deepest sadness; they are timid and apprehensive, often they look dazed and the expression in their eyes is lifeless. But sometimes, often in fact, it is very different: they have a precocious intelligence which only reveals itself in a dark fire in their eyes” (op. cit., p. 365; ).

Purely imagined? Romantic nonsense? Perhaps. But Ferenczi claims the same thing. He finds that his patients “display a strange, almost clairvoyant knowledge of the thoughts and emotions of the analyst” (“Confusion of Tongues”; Masson, loc. 3454). He suggests a theory: “The sexually violated child can suddenly bring to fruition under the pressure of traumatic exigency all future faculties which are virtually preformed in him and are necessary for marriage, motherhood and fatherhood, as well as all feelings of a mature person. Here one can confidently speak of traumatic (pathologic) progression or precocity in contrast to the familiar concept of regression” (ibid.; Masson, loc 1991). He theorizes that “they have been the victims of such cruelty on the part of their parents that in order to survive they had to develop a remarkable sensitivity to determine what their parents were really feeling, so that they could avoid their murderous rage.” Accordingly, they become “sensitives,” and are so adept at reading the emotions of their clients that they seem aware of—indeed, are aware of—hidden knowledge (loc. 2438).

Perhaps. But, whatever the reason, we have here confirmation of another aspect of the Dymphna complex: that the abused child has unusual intelligence and/or a special contact with the spiritual world. This is Oedipus’s signature ability to solve riddles. This is Hamlet’s knack of seeing through and reading the intentions of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, of Polonius and his manipulation of Ophelia. More abstractly, this is Oedipus’s ability to bless any place he visits, and Dymphna’s saving powers as intercessor.

One might explain this talent, as Ferenczi does, as a necessary survival tool. It might also be the result of growing up living life through another’s eyes. That may bring great suffering, but also teach empathy. “Gradually I came to the conviction,” writes Ferenczi, “that patients have an extremely refined feeling for the wishes, tendencies, moods, likes and dislikes of the analyst, even should these feelings remain totally unconscious to the analyst himself. Instead of contradicting the analyst, instead of accusing him of certain misdemeanors or blunders, patients identify with him” (ibid.: Masson, loc. 3403). It also rather sounds like sainthood.

As Ferenczi sees it, this tendency is naturally tied to a tendency to refuse to blame the parent for anything. “The overwhelming power and authority of the adults renders them [the children] silent; often they are deprived of their senses. Yet that very fear, when it reaches its zenith, forces them automatically to surrender to the will of the aggressor, to anticipate each of his wishes and to submit to them; forgetting themselves entirely, to identify totally with the aggressor” (ibid.; Masson, loc. 3474)

In his early study, Tardieu reports with puzzlement the experience of a Dr. Nidart, called to testify against the parents of an abused girl:

“What Dr. Nidart discovered, to his evident puzzlement, was that Adelina would ‘invent stories’ of what had happened to her, in order to cover up the crimes of her parents against her own person, ‘imagining’ falls and accidents, rather than allow others to know the horrible truth of what had been done to her. As we shall see, her parents had kept her literally hermetically sealed off from the real world outside, and in a pathetic, heartbreaking gesture of tenderness toward her own tormentors, she wished to protect them ... from the world” (Tardieu, op. cit.; Masson, loc. 397).

This is the same tendency Adult Children of Alcoholics and Al-Anon refer to as “enabling.” Elsewhere, is is known as the “Stockholm syndrome.” Ferenczi speaks of “introjection”: the guilt that the parent ought to feel is instead “introjected” into the child, so the parent can remain guilt-free (Masson, loc. 1980). This also appears in “scapegoating”; making it especially effective.

“She (or, more rarely, he) becomes ashamed, the victim of the unconscious remorse of the parent that is expressed in violent anger toward the child” (Ferenczi, op. cit.; Masson, loc. 1986).

Ferenczi says the child is sometimes obliged to deny objective reality in order to protect the parent from blame. As a result, “his confidence in the testimony of his own senses has been destroyed” (loc. 3484). This is what is sometimes called “gaslighting.” One can see how this might encourage the development of psychosis.

Another element of the complex that Ferenczi comments on is a great sensitivity to hypocrisy. We have already seen this in our literary examples, but perhaps not taken sufficient notice of it.

Masson writes, speaking for Ferenczi:

“The analyst behaved with neutrality, but actually felt something quite different. These feelings, especially when they were negative, were not conveyed to the patient. This, Ferenczi felt, was hypocrisy. Moreover, he noticed that his patients were very sensitive to this hypocrisy, and try as he might to conceal his real feelings, patients invariably uncovered them. This sensitivity to genuine emotional states began to preoccupy Ferenczi more and more (the diary discusses it at length). He speculated on why his patients were so sensitive to issues of truth and honesty” (Masson, loc. 2101).

This is a special case of the victim’s ability to see through hand understand underlying motives. But it seems to be an especially important issue. We see it in Hamlet’s testing of the sincerity of Polonius and Osric:

Osric: I thank your lordship, it is very hot.
Hamlet: No, believe me, ‘tis very cold; the wind is northerly.
Osric: It is indifferent cold, my lord, indeed.
Hamlet: But yet methinks it is very sultry and hot for my complexion.
Osric: Exceedingly, my lord; it is very sultry.

Hamlet: Do you see yonder cloud that's almost in shape of a camel?
Polonius: By the mass, and 'tis like a camel, indeed.
Hamlet: Methinks it is like a weasel.
Polonius: It is backed like a weasel.
Hamlet: Or like a whale?
Polonius: Very like a whale.

It is not just that the victim of abuse is able to see through hypocrisy: he or she seems to have an underlying need to do so. Perhaps this is the effect of growing up with counterfeit love, or with a parent who seeks always to manipulate. One craves sincerity, and doubts all assertions. It may also be the consequence of having often been “gaslighted.”

To review, then, the evidence from clinical psychiatry confirms the accuracy of the Dymphna legend as an analysis of the causes of mental illness: permanent emotional damage is most often caused, as a sort of PTSD, by abuse from self-centred parents. In the accounts of Freud, Ferenczi, Fliess, and others, we find again the motifs of incest and malice by the parent towards the child. We find too many other elements testified to by the literary version of the tale: an exceptional victim, with apparent spiritual powers or talents; a resistance to blaming the parent; selflessness and self-sacrifice; a need for sincerity.

The sad thing is that this has all plainly been understood, in ancient times, in Medieval times, and in the Renaissance; at least by some. The literary sources are testament to this. The history of psychoanalysis, then, has been of a long effort to escape the evidence, which has now collapsed. Leaving us dragging our swollen foot back laboriously to roughly the point at which it all began generations ago.

At how much cost in human suffering?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Essential Reading for a Proper Education


King Lear
Julius Caesar
Romeo and Juliet
Richard II
Henry IV, Part 1
Richard III
Merchant of Venice
The Tempest


The Odyssey
The Iliad
The Homeric Hymns
Hesiod, Theogony
The Argonautica
The Golden Ass
Selected dialogues of Plato
Ovid, Metamorphoses
Heraclitus, fragments
Sophocles, Oedipus Rex
Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound


the rest in summary/outline, at least: stories of Daniel, Samson, Job, Jonah, David, Solomon

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Latest Racist Atrocity: The Red Ensign

The old flag

Time to man battle stations, lads. True patriot love is commanded in all thy sons. This opinion piece just appeared in the National Post. It tries to paint the Canadian Red Ensign as a symbol of hate.

To be fair, the article claims that this is being done by groups on the “alt-right.” An anonymous spokesman for “Anti-Racist Canada” explains “racists have adopted the Red Ensign ‘to represent a time when Canada was a “white man’s country.”’” Caitlin Bailey, speaking for the Canadian Centre for the Great War, says “it has turned into a white nationalist symbol.”

It might be true that some racists have chosen to use the Red Ensign as a symbol of their beliefs. I do not know. I do not follow any racist web sites or organizations. Perhaps Mr. Hamilton does. However, the occasion for the present piece is the flying of the Ensign by the “Proud Boys” who visited (Hamilton says “confronted,” which does not seem a fair description to me) a recent anti-Canadian protest in Halifax. The implication is that, if the Proud Boys flew it, it was as an expression of racism.

The piece begins:

“When five members of the anti-immigration, alt-right Proud Boys strode into a Halifax park on Canada Day to confront Indigenous protesters, the Canadian flag they carried was more than 50 years out of date.”

This is a slander of the Proud Boys, the Ensign, and of Canada.

The idea seems to be that, from this point on, anyone who flies the Red Ensign is to be considered a racist. So much for Canadian heritage.

If you go to the Proud Boys official web site, they list one of their founding principles as “Anti-Racism.” They add, for good measure, the statement “We do not discriminate based upon race or sexuality.” They sure don’t make racists like they used to.

Accordingly, this National Post article is properly understood as an attack, not on racism, but on Canadian traditions. As well, perhaps, as on freedom of speech.

The parallel the piece itself draws to the Red Ensign is the Confederate flag in the US.

That comparison is deeply offensive. It is insulting to Canada and the Ensign. No Canadian government has ever endorsed a policy comparable in its moral depravity to slavery. Or rather, they have, and it is abortion—something implicitly endorsed, I suppose, by flying the Maple Leaf, but not the Red Ensign.

But it was even wrong for the left to suppress the Confederate battle flag as a “symbol of racism.” It might have been to them—but they had and have no business or right to impose their own racist views on others. Recently, a woman attending an auto show in Toronto area caused a major commotion over the presence of a model of the “General Lee,” the car featured in the old “Dukes of Hazzard” TV show--because it had a Confederate flag painted on its roof. I guess that is what we can expect soon with images of the Red Ensign.

The hateful object

The flag commonly called “the Confederate Flag,” however, was not the flag of the Confederacy: that was the Stars and Bars. It was the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. That is an important distinction. It commemorates not some policy of some government, good or bad, but the men who fought under Robert E. Lee. It is arbitrary to assign a political meaning to it: flying it honours the 250,000 or so men who died fighting under that flag. 

The real Confederate flag.

But weren’t they fighting for slavery?

It is unlikely that many of them thought so. Almost none were themselves slave holders. In their own minds, they were fighting for their homes, their honour, their wives and children. Some were fighting for states’ rights, for the principles laid down in the American Declaration of Independence: the right to secede and to form their own government.

So too with the Red Ensign. The primary reason for flying it—and the obvious reason why it appeals in particular to military men, like the Halifax Five—is that Canadian soldiers fought and died under that banner at Vimy Ridge, on D-Day, in Italy, in Korea. It is a dishonour to their memory if we no longer fly it.

On Quora, Geoff Olynyk intelligently did a word search for “red ensign” on the two best-known Canadian right-wing web sites, Small Dead Animals and Five Feet of Fury. He found much love for the Red Ensign, but no trace of any racist associations. The racism seems to be entirely on the part of the left.

Still, if people like Graeme Hamilton, who wrote the National Post article, seriously believe the Ensign, one of our national symbols, is in danger of being co-opted by racists, the proper remedy is obvious: we should consider it our patriotic duty to all fly the Red Ensign everywhere immediately, to ensure that it cannot be. If he or anyone else calls instead for it to be taken down, they reveal their true agenda: an attack on Canada’s heritage.

I suspect this of indeed being their real agenda. They hate the Red Ensign because it, unlike the Maple Leaf, includes references to Canada’s European cultural heritage: the Union Jack in the top left quadrant, the English and Scottish lions, the Irish harp, the fleur-de-lys. The problem with it for them is that it acknowledges and commemorates that Canada developed as an extension of specifically European civilization.

But this is simply fact. If you deny or dislike this, you deny and dislike Canada. Canada exists because a large group of American colonists were determined to maintain their connection to Britain, when the US split away. They joined another large group of colonists, already here, who were determined to preserve their French and Catholic culture, and refused to join the US on those grounds.

One might object to the Ensign on the grounds that it does not, and of course cannot, include symbols for every ethnic group present in Canada: nothing for the Germans, nor Chinese, nor Haitians. But besides being impossible, this is unnecessary. Simply being from somewhere else is not the issue. It was the desire to preserve the British and French cultural connections, not the German or Haitian, that created Canada. For Chinese or Italians, it surely made little difference culturally whether they emigrated to Canada or the US.

Deny the British and the French connections, and you deny Canada’s reason to exist. Why, then, are we not Americans? Why should there be a separate nation in the northern half of the continent?

Save and defend Canada. Fly the Red Ensign.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Ignorance is Strength

On the face of it, the official objections to the actions of the Halifax “Proud Boys” on Canada Day-- appearing to peacefully watch an anti-Canadian protest in a Canadian public park and ask questions—are insane. But then, so are the objections one hears to Donald Trump’s recent speech in Warsaw. How can it even be controversial to express support for either Canada or Western civilization?

Yet this is now called “racism.” You are now a “white supremacist” if you believe in and promote either Canada or Western civilization. The fact that you also believe in racial equality, as both Canada and Western civilization do at their core, simply does not matter. Believing in racial equality is now racist.

A recent Atlantic article lays it out. According to the left, your culture is determined by your skin colour and your genetics.

They then attribute this belief to the right, but this is completely illegitimate. It is a core assertion of the left. And it is racism, classically defined.

Consider what this means. One is “racist,” then, for asserting that Michelangelo is the greatest fresco painter ever. You are racist, because Michelangelo was “white”―and worse, male. (But there is no problem with praising Toni Morrison, or Susan Aglukark.)

Surely you have to admit he was fairly good.

In other words, we have just reversed the polarities. Now not being racist is racist, and being racist is not being racist. Freedom is slavery, war is peace, ignorance is strength.

The Atlantic also objects because “Western civilization” is a religion-based concept. So it discriminates against Muslims, I suppose.

Here, they have more of a case. Race is no part of culture; America demonstrates that; but religion is at any culture’s core. You bet that Western civilization is based on Christianity and Judaism. Not just Christianity, mind you—I think any objective evaluation would have to say that Jews and Judaism have had an influence far greater than their actual numbers. And the pagan Greek philosophers are also an essential foundation. But yes, it is absolutely true that Judaism and Christianity have shaped our civilization, and given us its core values: separation of church and state, human equality, the brotherhood of man, democracy, science, the common law, freedom of speech, the equality of the sexes, and so on.

This is exactly why mass non-Christian and non-Jewish immigration are a concern. Do we value such matters? Are they not our core values? Do we not realize that they are based on Judeo-Christian presuppositions? Do we not realize that people coming from other cultures do not spontaneously agree? That, indeed, while these core values are the core values of Christianity and Judaism, some other religious traditions may actually directly oppose them? And what do we do then? In the name of human equality, we reject human equality? In the name of freedom of speech, we oppose freedom of speech?

Apparently many of us do not understand this. The Atlantic does not understand this. This is why legislation like the recent M-103 in the Canadian Parliament is so dangerous: in calling for a prohibition on “Islamophobia,” it, like the Atlantic, understands no distinction between objecting to elements of Islam and objecting to Muslims.