The Psychopathology of Everyday Nationalism

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.

The hated English ..

The SNP have been devilishly clever. They have built the English middle class into a monster, personified by “Lord Snooty” – David Cameron. All of this in the interest of breaking up our Union.

And who are these hated English Middle class? Syrian Assad torturers? Putin, (who Alex Salmond says he admires) with his phantom army shooting planes out of the sky?

No. I have news for Scots who are tempted to vote for separation. They are your customers. They are related to you, you brother and sister. They fought with you against Hitler. They built the NHS with you, democracy and the welfare state. They helped bail out your banks, and they love you. They are confused by your potential rejection.

And if you did kick them in the teeth, increasing their mortgage payments and pushing the UK back toward recession – do you think.. do you really think .. That these people would want to buy your beef and machine parts? Would they want to come as tourists? To concert with you against a resurgent Russia?

No.. They would be heroic if they didn’t bear a grudge for a generation. They might not, because tolerance is a British virtue, but don’t count on it.

Believe me, if you want to vote “yes” – prepare to be poorer but above all .. Prepare to be disliked by 55 million neiighbours..

Ask yourself this simple question. How would you feel if someone did that to you ?

When would reality dawn?

Scotland is an excitable place right now. Frenetic almost. There is a barrage of facebook and twitter activity directed particularly at the under 25 voter – all giving the impression that the majority want separation from the United Kingdom.

And if this marketing campaign were successful? What then..

The great majority of the facts – economic, social and historic firmly conclude that a separate Scotland would be poorer, more divided and alienated from many international institutions. EU, Nato, UK to name a few.

I wonder how long it would take before the Scottish electorate becom disillusioned. Before reality dawns. And what then – which part of society would get the blame I wonder?

The Wolff in Buber’s Forest

Milo Wolff proposes that all “matter” in the universe is in fact made up of a mesh of scalar waves – whose nodes are points of convergence of waves. (Do I have that right Tim?). Read more at

http://www.quantummatter.com/beyond-point-particle/

If so, then all is connected. We all perceive all together instantaneously.

In my last blog I referred to a passage by Martin Buber in which he cites reality in relation to a tree. I complete that passage – because it seems especially to speak to our potential perception of this..

 I consider a tree.

I can look on it as a picture: stiff column in a shock of light, or splash of green shot with the delicate blue and silver of the background.

I can perceive it as movement: flowing veins on clinging, pressing pith, suck of the roots, breathing of the leaves, ceaseless commerce with earth and air – and the obscure growth itself.

I can classify it in a species and study it as a type in its structure and mode of life.

I can subdue its actual presence and form so sternly that I recognise it only as an expression of law – of the laws in accordance with which a constant opposition of forces is continually adjusted, or of those in accordance with which the component substances mingle and separate.

I can dissipate it and perpetuate it in number, in pure numerical relation.

In all this the tree remains my object, occupies space and time, and has its nature and constitution.

It can, however, also come about, if I have both will and grace, that in considering the tree I become bound up in relation to it. The tree is now no longer IT. I have been seized by the power of exclusiveness.

To effect this it is not necessary for me to give up any of the ways I consider the tree. There is nothing from which I would have to turn my eyes away in order to see, and no knowledge I would have to forget. Rather is everything, picture and movement, species and type, law and number indivisibly united in this event.

Everything belonging to the tree is in this: its form and structure, its colours and chemical composition,its intercourse with the elements and with the starts, are all present in a single whole.

The tree is no impression, no play of my imagination, FL;#no value depending on my mood; but is bodied over against me and has to do with me, as I with it – only in a different way.

Let no attempt be made to sap the strength from the meaning of the relation: relation is mutual.

The tree will have a consciousness then, similar to our own? Of that I have no experience. But do you wish, through seeming to succeed in it with your self, once again to disintegrate that which cannot be disintegrated? I encounter no soul or dryad of the tree, but the tree itself.

 

 

Seeing the forest or the tree?

Is a forest properly represented by each of the trees that comprise it? On the other hand, can the forest be comprehended without experiencing the trees that together constitute it?

The first verse of Dante’s Comedy reads – in translation..

“Midway upon the journey of our life

I found myself within a forest dark

For the straightforward pathway had been lost”

 

I don’t speak Italian, but the cadence of language matters I believe. If you read aloud the original, even without understanding, you get a musical sense of the meaning..

“Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita

mi ritrovai per una selva oscure

che’ la diritta via era smarrita”

A part, possibly the majority, of the meaning has been lost in the translation. But for those who don’t read Italian – you need that translation to understand the intellectual sense.

It happens that I have first hand experience, not just of Dante’s mid-life crisis, but of different understanding through language. My family moved to Germany in 1958 when I was tiny. I learned German at kindergarten, and moved back to England when I was 4 years old. Now I can’t understand the books I read or wrote as a 3 year old. I don’t speak or understand German “intellectually”. However strangely I do “get” the meaning of much of German that is spoken even though I don’t have the vocabulary. I know this because much of my working life has dealt with German companies. I suppose I am understanding the language as a 3 year old would. I understand, but emotionally, not rationally.

Which leads me, circuitously, to my point. An idea, person, place – anything and everything – can be understood on many levels and in many ways. The meaning does not lie wholly, or even mainly, in the intellectual rational plane.

We need to be intensely careful of judgement. Very often we do not understand that which we judge, but instead project out our own concerns and meanings to clothe the outward idea or person – and then utter condemnation or approval.

Returning to the theme of trees. Here is a stanza from Buber’s Ich und Du…

 

“I consider a tree.

I can look on it as a picture: stiff column in a shock of light, or splash of green shot with the delicate blue and silver of the background.

I can perceive it as movement: flowing veins on clinging, pressing pith, suck of the roots, breathing of the leaves, ceaseless commerce with earth and air – and the obscure growth itself.

I can classify it in a species and study it as a type in its structure and mode of life.

I can subdue its actual presence and form so sternly that I recognise it only as an expression of law – of the laws in accordance with which a constant opposition of forces is continually adjusted, or of those in accordance with which the component substances mingle and separate.

I can dissipate it and perpetuate it in number, in pure numerical relation.

In all this the tree remains my object, occupies space and time, and has its nature and constitution.

It can, however, also come about, if I have both will and grace, that in considering the tree I become bound up in relation to it. The tree is now no longer IT. I have been seized by the power of exclusiveness.”

All in a spin?

I quote below from a comment from Tim Staniland. Really interesting. The embedded article on Woff’s theory (all is standing wave..) worth reading in abstract anyway. So – according to this NOTHING is material?

 

In any case – nothing is as it seems, or is it that we are knowledge engines crystallising out this particular reality (see earlier posts). In which case rather – all is as we seem it?

 

Tim Staniland on September 3, 2014 at 9:42 pm said: Edit

I can’t claim any scientific knowledge as you know G. However I am interested and I know what makes sense to me and I try to keep an open mind on all the topics that you discuss.

Steve – if what I say makes you squirm, I apologise in advance. Feel free to laugh at any point! I do know that computers work because there are little men in them with calculators and coloured torches.

Matter – a universe made up of particles floating around in absolute nothingness, mysteriously acting at a distance on each other, really doesn’t add up. Quantum theory clearly challenges this view, but seems to fall short of answering all the questions. The only theory that, to me, makes sense is a wave theory of matter. That is that all matter is made up of standing three dimensional waves in a continuous field, or aether as it was once coined I believe by descartes (but not his soup of tiny particles, a continuous field). I particularly (no pun intended) like Milo Wolff’s description of the electron. It includes a hypothesis as to how individual electrons “communicate” with the whole universe. The outward waves extend out to the universe, and the inward waves are generated by the entire universe. This helps explain how forces act at a distance and potentially begins to explain how the universe learns (as with the example Sheldrake uses of how new structure crystals are easier to produce the second time they are produced and easier still the third time, regardless of physical location). It is a difficult concept to grasp, and I am struggling to fully understand, but to me it helps answer many questions, and of course generates many questions. There is a growing body of work by many individuals looking at wave theories of matter and I firmly believe that there will be a shift toward this thinking in the coming years. I don’t think that smashing things together is going to deliver the evidence hoped for either. There are no certainties coming out of CERN only press releases to keep the funders digging deeper in the pocket. I am sure that real insights will come from subtle approaches that will take smarter people than me to figure out.

Wolff’s electron http://www.quantummatter.com/beyond-point-particle/

I have also just got but not started reading Steven Rado’s Aethro-kinematics which is again another take on wave theory of matter.

Bring back the aether!

Now – If time is linear, with the future in front and the past behind, the two must join at a point we consider as now. I guess it depends how thick your pencil is as to how much space it takes up. Maybe now is so fleeting, such an infinitesimally small amount of time that it is imperceivable. So maybe now has no power. Maybe the past and future overlap and “now” is a confusion of memories and anticipations and doesn’t actually exist.

Sheldrake – I watched his supposedly banned TED talk and I like his question everything approach. It does seem that science has become a religion with dogma and unquestionable beliefs. If that is untrue, why are we still teaching standard model without teaching that it shouldn’t be taken too seriously. A rigid standard model doesn’t help in genuine leaps forward. But how do we break out of this position when all of the funding fed into universities etc goes to individuals that don’t challenge the status quo and don’t want their careers work questioning.

Granular time?

Physicists say that matter is granular. Made up of tiny bits. Digital not analogue or seamless. Or so it seems? Though they seem to smash matter into smaller and smaller digital pieces and describe the smallest pieces now with equations imputed from shadows of reactions in tiny amounts of time. There is a unit measure of space – named after Max Planck – below which as Heisenberg has proved – we cannot see or measure. I wonder whether matter might be a little bit slipperier than physicists would have it? Is it possible, just maybe, that it is their search for certainty that is trying to fit it into bits?

And time? What about time. Is there then a granular unit of time. After all – as Alfred North Whitehead showed – Reality is a Process. Time is involved, within, each bubble of reality. Where materiality and spirituality are time in different directions applied to the reality-moment – now. But think about it – reality is, as Whitehead has it in the moment NOW. He points out that quantum mechanics implies that matter is a wave and that waves can only exist with time within them. So that he connects reality through time. Through moments of NOW.  But how long is NOW? Is there a reality quotient, a kind of atom of time that defines what is NOW rather than future potential and past material? I have no sense of Whitehead’s kind of maths or philosophy. Indeed I only have a tenuous grasp of his thesis – and most of that through Rupert Sheldrake’s synopsis in his excellent – The Science Delusion.

But even considering the widely read Buddhist inspired book – The Power of Now – leads you to consider surely – How Long Exactly is NOW. Is there a unit of time that is Now?

Just a thought.

 

Four Degrees of Freedom

Infinitely infolding the stencilled outlines

of myriad hints projected on to unprotected space.

Whither shadow thoughts, which edge rebound?

Colder now, but lighter.

Not sinking, not drowning.

This point at which by volume sheer

We fight and dagger pointed, strike to pierce the heart

Where formless void lies broken-backed

In its rich tumble of bicarbonate fluorescence.

But the bubble where joy is mirrored to sudden birth

Is this bright, slight shiver of delight

Here, now. As fluid links decouple and we turn to rise up

Crystallising inter-dependence that maketh our soul’s skin

Now.

Water is a miraculous substance. Without its properties life would not be. It is unique. Water as liquid carries memory. It is unique in that as it cools it reaches a point – at 4 degrees celcius – where instead of getting heavier as it cools – it starts to become lighter. This means that ice crystals form on the surface of liquid water – allowing life to grow below. Each and every ice crystal is unique. Different from all others that ever were or will be. Each crystal was born somewhere near Zero degrees centigrade, but the gestation began earlier at a turning point of 4 degrees.

What does it feel like as infinitely connected but edge-less water starts to rise toward crystalline separation with edges that connect in a giant structured lattice?

Water is a miraculous substance.

 

The Psychological make up of an Atheist

There is mounting evidence of the growth in western societies of three mind-sets:

narcissism, materialism and atheism

It seems to me that materialism and atheism are twin sides of the same coin, essentially an “I-It” rather than “I-Thou” existentialism according to Martin Buber.  I have wondered for some time what causes someone to become a militant-proselytising materialist atheist. After all the implication of their dogma, if true, of is nihilism, depression. No reason, no free-will. Why exist at all. As one atheist puts it – we would simply be the scum on the side of the universe. If that is what they truly believe – then why-oh-why do they want (I ask myself) to convert all others to their cause. It seems to me that Dennet, Dawkins et al have a NEED to convert. What is the psychological well-spring of their neediness?

I had wondered, looking at Dawkins life, whether it was a kind of Oedipus complex. Kill your father. Even Freud speculated as to that as the need behind atheism. However having read about the epidemic of narcissism I think that this instead  is the link or cause for materialist-atheism. I am told that narcissistic behaviour stems from a lack of love, or sense of love during childhood. This leads to an in-turning – deriving love from one-self – and denying the need for or existence of love elsewhere. Is it not possible, even probable then, that this mind-state would need to make itself the centre of all and deny that love elsewhere exists? Aggressively. In order to preserve it’s centred universe.

If then the rise of narcissism and materialism/atheism are linked – which is the cause and which the effect? Perhaps neither – and both are a product of some other factor.

Worth considering.

As a post-script – in reading around for this blog I found this from the militant atheist philosopher Daniel Dennett.

“I adopt the apparently dogmatic rule that dualism is to be avoided at all costs. It is not that I think I can give a knock-down proof that dualism, in all its forms, is false or incoherent, but that, given the way that dualism wallows in mystery, accepting dualism is giving up“.

Giving up? On what? The possibility of God, a reason for existence. Why would that a problem to be avoided or considered? Is the language not that of a narcissist – if you don’t agree with me you must be “wallowing in mystery”.

How depressing that a “philosopher” starts with a dogma of denial and then seeks to justify that with logic. Dogma isn’t philosophy. It’s dogma.

Counter Transference and Saint Paul

One of the key working tools of a psychoanalyst is  “counter-transference”. An analyst is trained to pay attention to what they themselves feel – because this is a reflection of the emotional state of the client they seek to help. We all do this. What else is empathy?  We constantly resonate with the emotional state of those around us. Psychoanalysts undergo about a decade of training so that they can identify the feeling states caused particularly by the client relationship – so that they don’t get caught up with them and react to them.

Unfortunately I’m not a psychoanalyst and have no such training. And so, I’m struggling right now as an Englishman in Scotland. My emotional response to the SNP campaign is unpleasant. It feels like a cocktail of rejection and sadness, with an overarching self-righteous anger. I think that this underlying feeling is a resonance with what the “Nationalist” feels about the “English”. It certainly generates in me an equal and opposite emotional response. It’s why I’m pretty sure that Scottish independence (if brought about in this particular way) would generate an enormous English backlash.

These feelings do me no credit. They are difficult to live with and they isolate me from my wonderful Scottish friends and family. What is there, in lieu of a decade or so of psychoanalytical training? How should one deal with this negative internal state?

It happened that the New Testament lesson last Sunday was from Paul’s letter to the Romans.

“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”

So, thank you to the Minister of the Canongate Kirk – for reminding me that our faith is shared across nations and races.

Nationalism and Racism seek to divide us from each other. Resisting that is principally an internal struggle, but it’s a struggle that millions of us share and have done across generations.