National Boundaries

We define by creating boundaries; where we place them. (That is you, this is me); what kind they are (a kissing gate or a prison wall). Most important, though. is what they are made out of. The foundations of  Nationalism are laid on enmity. Yes, there can be other building materials  – ideals, even love. How often though does aspiration end in vitriol?

A friend put to me on Saturday that it is possible for nationalism to be a force for good. He cited the British resistance to Nazis. He won me over, but to the possibility,, not the reality.

Boundaries are existential; or at least to our experience of “being”. We have to feel an “other” in order to sense our “self”, this is because all experience is relative. We live inside the uni-verse (the one thing), and so have no absolute external measure, no yardstick or objectivity. It is only by differentiating and re-integrating that we create reality.

Boundaries make things real; but they also separate. Each from each. Technically a form of  good nationalism could come about through a specific kind of boundary. If nationals could stay open and inclusive, by having semi permeable social cell-walls, then well and good. But…

The problem is that “nation” is so often a short-hand for racial grouping. Indeed why else call a community a “nation”? And race memories are there in our unconscious lurking as Archetypes. Irrational and enormously, darkly,  potent. The perfidious English to the French, the Lord Snooty English to the Scots, the chippy Scots to the English. In our collective unconscious our neighbour is the enemy who raided in the night, raped and stole our livelihood.

.. And so – enter mass manipulation by politicians and other self interested parties ( corporations for instance).  We have our psychic buttons, all they have to do is to to push them; and they can’t help it. The end (their end) soon justifies their means. Where community is defined by nation, then you have the cybernats’ outrageous vilification of the “English”, and the Daily Mail whipping up a response (which helped the Tories back to power  last month). Roll up the Bosch, the Hun and the Frogs. Come on in to the EU debate. How much pent up grievance does it then take to move us to internment camps and war. No, this really isn’t hysteria. In the early 1930’s Germany was an pluralistic and active democracy. It only took ten years…

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.

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.

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?

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.

 

Same old nationalism

I keep asking a simple question. When has nationalism, of any type, ever been a positive influence? I haven’t yet had an answer, from anyone, of any type.

People talk about “political engagement”. As in – feminism, fight against global poverty, fight for democracy. All good, noble, positive. But “political engagement” combined wtih nationalism and you have what –  Isis, the BNP, National Socialism. The point is that the concept of  “nation” is dangerously intertwined with that of  “race”. Easy to tip from one to another. A cheap way of harnessing base prejudice to a politician’s particular interest. Did I say cheap? Expensive in the end. A bill paid in hatred, division, further prejudice. Ask Jim Murphy.

So I repeat. When has nationalism, of any type, ever been a positive influence?

And living as I do in Scotland – part of a rich peaceful democracy – and nationalism seems to me to be self-indulgent at best – given the quiver-full of real issues that cry out for our political engagement.

Henry Kissinger wrote a telling and thoughtful piece in the Sunday Times Review today – about the dangers that could engulf the world. Look only to Russia and Ukraine, almost anywhere in the Middle-East and much of Africa.

And in Scotland our attention is where exactly? And why?

I would understand some of this if I had an answer to my question. When has nationalism, of any type, ever been a positive influence?

 

 

 

Acceptable Nationalism?

Can nationalism ever be more than a dirty word? An inward looking concept – fuelled by the identity with a particular group, and by the exclusion and minimisation of “the other”?

I was struck in reading The Hare with the Amber Eyes by the fragility of an accepting and tolerant society. The Austrian Empire up to Franz Joseph seems to have thrived on acceptance and tolerance, or many races – including the jews. And yet. The Nazi Putsch changed everything – in a heartbeat. The same could probably be applied to the Wehrmacht through to 1933.

Nationalism certainly has the potential to release an infectious plague of ugly emotions from the Pandora’s box of a tolerant pluralistic society. What are the balancing reasons for turning that key and letting fly those negative divisive emotions? They should necessarily be overwhelmingly powerful.

The thing is, living here in Scotland I just don’t see them.

Perhaps I’m confused or overly fearful, or maybe just missing something.

What was the quote – jingoism the last bastion or refuge of the scoundrel?