Peace, Radicalisation and Progesterone

It was striking in the recent Scottish referendum that the young and male voted in a markedly different way from the old and female. The call to fight is an appeal to testosterone. It rouses people out of their beds, out of the apathy of materialism or despair. However, it comes at a cost. Division. Us – against yous. Our poor, our oil, our land, our nation.Not yours. Alongside the passion there is and has been a considerable degree of radicalisation. An awakened anger seeking outlet,  but to what purpose? Passion in pursuit of a just cause is good, necessary and admirable;  but nationalism is always wrong. The fruit of that plant is always bitter.

Whilst there is no doubting the motive power of the raw male, testosterone fuelled  radicalisation has unintended consequences. The best way to rouse the young male is to find and to caricature an enemy. One that must be fought. Winning is all. The world has witnessed that from age to age. It’s how wars start, it’s how repression is justified; and worse. We can see that in radical Islam. What has IS and their beheading culture really to do with the religion? Could these young men stay in charge unless they had the USA (great satan) as an enemy? Is the motive force amongst these radicalised young that of that great peaceful religion Islam? I suspect its more to do with  the desire of young men to fight, kill, win and control their enemies and women. To its great credit, in Scotland it wasn’t the noisy, the young and the men who carried their way. It was the old and above all it was women. Both groups with lower testosterone. That’s called democracy.  We must prize it. It was the testosterone-lite who quietly said no, at least not now and not like this. Those who have an eye to continuity and the future. It is of course particularly women who care passionately for community, compassion and an integrated society. Not exclusively thank goodness; but I wonder what a world would be like if it were run by  women, educated and empowered.  Do you really imagine that there would be noisy cars racing round Edinburgh? The turning away from the excluded parts of society in Liverpool, Manchester and rural England? The beheadings in Syria? No, of course not. On the other hand – there wouldn’t have been the degree of social injustice in the first place.

I have come and gone with feminism. A one time supporter, a some time doubter; but if we could evolve a world and society where testosterone was not the key to decision making, then put the women and the old in charge. Feminism as leadership rather than equality. Bring it on.

Is this the way to peaceful radicalisation?  Perhaps in a connected world where strutting masculinity were side-lined and channelled – then we could focus together on what really matters. I put it to you (as a mere man, but aging) – that the plight of women around the world and of the poor, oh and of our children’s environment – are somewhat more important than whether one male tribe in these British islands – covered in woad – triumphs over another.

Midway upon the journey of our life

 

 

I found myself within a forest dark

For the straightforward pathway had been lost

Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say

What was this forest savage, rough and stern,

Which in the very thought renews the fear.

So bitter is it, death is little more

 

Carol Craig – Why this optimist is voting No

wakeupscotland

Part I

The referendum campaign, we’re told, is an intoxicating revival of our battered democracy. However, for me, deciding how to cast my vote has proved the most agonising decision of my life.

Daily, people are framing the referendum campaign and voters’ decisions as essentially about confidence. The Yes side are filled with confidence and optimism in themselves and their country. The Nos are a bunch of underconfident fearties.

And here’s the source of my agony: I share the values of much of the Yes side but I’m minded to vote No. Given the salience of confidence and optimism to the Yes campaign that might strike you as a preposterous position for the author of ‘The Scots’ Crisis of Confidence’ to adopt.

I’ve known for some time that simply by saying I would vote against independence would put me in grave danger of being denounced as a fool, a hypocrite…

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Sunday Reflection, Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 14): Freedom of the Cross

Teilhard de Chardin

sunset_cross
“[I]n spite of the profound readjustments that are being made in our phenomenal vision of the world, the Cross still stands; it rears itself up ever more erect at the common meeting place of all values and all problems, deep in the heart of mankind. It marks and must continue more than ever to mark the division between what rises and what falls back. But this is on one condition, and one only: that it expand itself to the dimensions of [today]. — Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.  The readings can be found here. This week’s reflection comes from David W. Parsons, author of the outstanding blog Elias Icons.  (Mr. Parsons’ blog was inspired by Teilhard de Chardin so I feel like he is a kindred spirit). I encourage you to read the entire reflection here

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Good Friday?

Good Friday. The day my Brother laid down his life for me. For us and the idea of us, together. The embodiment of love, and we crucified him. The earth weeping and covered in darkness.

Or simply – a good Friday.

Friday 19th September, Scotland. Which will it be?

Whichever side we’ll be divided passionately. Let it be not for long and not deeply. We aren’t even close to seventy times seven .

Nationalism .. Power and self-deception

Considered and thought provoking article from Jock Encombe…psychologist and psychotherapist living in Edinburgh in these interesting times..

“In his groundbreaking 1901 book ‘The Psychopathology of Everyday Life’, Freud introduced the world to the ways in which the unconscious intrudes upon our superficially rational lives.  100 years on his ideas are now embedded in how we try to understand reality.  It is curious, therefore, that there has been so little examination of the nationalistic psychology that underpins the Yes campaign.  There are perhaps two main reasons for this. Firstly the very use of the word ‘Yes’ has given it the advantage of positive unconscious bias.  A No vote really does feel more negative.  And secondly, ably served by its deniable cybernat shock troops, the Yes campaign has played a skillful and aggressive hand in accusing Better Together supporters of various thought crimes.  Not believing in Scotland or the Scottish people. Not having ‘Scottish’ left of centre values.  Not believing in social justice.  Being in effect bourgeois, fearful and selfish.  There have even been SNP posters that suggest voting for Better Together equals supporting child poverty. The result of this is a powerful combination of intimidation and sentimentality that has made many Better Together supporters nervous about putting their heads above the parapet.

Psychotherapy teaches us that when people are attracted to visions of a perfect future and then become aggressive towards people who do not buy into their fantasy, they are in denial about some aspect of themselves.  So what, therefore, might a psychological understanding of the appeal of Scottish nationalism look like?

From a broad historical perspective there are many episodes in Scottish history that have inflicted trauma on our collective psyche: The Jacobite rebellion. The Darien Venture. The Act of Union. The clearances.  The impact of rapid, massive industrialisation and de-industrialisation (much more than any other European country experienced). The sectarianism that continues to scar the West of Scotland. The humiliating collapse of our banking industry.

When a patient comes to therapy with a similar personal history, an underlying pattern of narcissism and magical thinking is often revealed as the psychological process by which they have learnt to cope with their experiences.   The process works by seeking to avoid unbearable feelings of worthlessness by either angrily projecting them onto others (‘You don’t believe in Scotland’), or by escaping into grandiose fantasies of wholeness and perfection (‘Independence will make us the wealthiest small country in the world’).   While providing temporary relief, however, magical thinking is ultimately doomed to fail.  The return to reality is always painful and often destructive.  Furthermore it is a pattern of behaviour which, if the underlying psychological hard work of acquiring self-knowledge is not undertaken, is destined to repeat itself.  It is perhaps worth noting that middle-aged men seem particularly vulnerable to these kinds of behaviour.

The cataclysmic collapse of RBS – which ensnared many of its employees and shareholders in its inflated vision of world domination – is a vivid example of the dangers of narcissism that has led to shame and economic misery for millions of people.  It is interesting to note that George Mathewson, the former Chairman of RBS who notoriously recruited Fred Goodwin as his successor, has long been a Yes supporter.  While Alex Salmond was of course also employed there as an economist in the 1980s.  Another interesting parallel is between Goodwin’s ‘Make it Happen’ slogan and Salmond’s similarly vague and aspirational ‘this is our moment’ language.

While imaginative fantasy can have a psychopathological dimension it is of course also the raw material of creative work. This explains the appeal of independence to many of Scotland’s artists.  Imagination alone, however, will not provide the economic stability or jobs without which any kind of sustainable, agreeable national life is possible. Or without which child poverty has any chance of being alleviated.  We should not forget, either, that many of the least attractive nationalistic figures in history were skilful weavers of propaganda and romance.  Or that dangerous ideologies have always found artistic support. The quasi-racist attack by Alasdair Gray on Vicky Featherstone, the English founder of the National Theatre of Scotland, is one example of this.  There is a tone of romantic totalitarianism to much of the Yes language, a kind of hectoring misty-eyed kitsch that needs challenging.  As Milan Kundera observed in ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’:

 “Kitsch is the aesthetic ideal of all politicians and all political parties and movements… In the realm of totalitarian kitsch all answers are given in advance and preclude any questions. It follows, then, that the true opponent of totalitarian kitsch is the person who asks questions.”

The great British psychotherapist Donald Winnicott believed that to live happily and well we need sufficient psychological maturity to accept the messy ‘good enough’ nature of relationships and life. The Union is by no means perfect but it is certainly good enough – and with the enhancements of further devolution is likely to get better.  Writing in the 1930s Winnicott also believed that such a realistic and mature approach to life, in time, would always overcome the seductive pull of nationalistic and totalitarian ideologies.

Being part of something that provides security and stability, for all its imperfections, is surely a wiser choice than gambling on an outcome that carries such a high risk of division and regret?

For the sake of balance it is necessary to concede that some aspects of the psychology of Better Together can also be legitimately criticised.  As can the negativity of some of its campaign tactics.  But the need for balance should not obscure the central point that, in Orwell’s words, “Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception” – or that many of the SNP’s tactics have created a climate of fear and deception in Scotland.

Beyond the macro-economic arguments there are important questions to be answered about some of the SNP Government’s other activities:  The frightening centralisation and undemocratic arming of our police force. The politicisation of our Civil Service. The harrying of business leaders and other public figures who oppose independence.  What we need now, therefore, is less sentimentality and more clear thinking.  All of us who have a vote, or the opportunity to influence people who have one, need to ensure that realism and generosity of spirit prevail over illusion and intimidation.”

Jock Encombe is a psychologist and psychotherapist based in Edinburgh. The views in this article do not represent those of any organisation with which he is associated.