The Marketing Character Type

This blog originally appeared on October 23, 2011.


When Jean-Paul Sartre described a life lived etre de mauvaise foi (bad faith) he was not speaking so much of dishonesty or destructiveness to others, but rather, a dishonesty to oneself. The bad faith examined by Sartre is the life lived in what Heidegger called  fallenness. Heidegger described the person who has become lost in culture, buried so deeply in the layers of the social that the authentic self is concealed. Heidegger does not isolate the self from culture; however, he does describe authenticity as a remembering or awareness of the identification with culture. This is the soul of Sartre’s bad faith -a life completely forgotten in the isolated spectacle of the manufactured desire.
Nearly seventy years ago Erich Fromm described a panorama of bad faith found in contemporary, American society. Whereas Sartre spoke of bad faith in a general way, Fromm identified and described taxonomy of social personality patterns. Although these descriptions were made in the postwar heyday of consumer America, they are more prevalent now than ever before. The character orientations of American society clearly illustrate our cultural evolution from Homo sapiens to Homo consumens.
“Man’s main task in life is to give birth to himself, to become what he potentially is. The most important product of his effort is his own personality.” -Eric Fromm
The Ways of Being in Society: Ethics of Adaptiveness
In Man for Himself Fromm describes five character styles that are of bad faith. In speaking of these five ways of being, Fromm uses the term character. Although this term has become demonized in contemporary, objective trait theory, the term necessarily includes ethics as a core of who we are. Fromm’s 1947 text is subtitled: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics. The point here is a vital one -a personality theory that is value-free is, necessarily, free of value. Purging ethics from the human removes the distinction between the species, the thing that makes Homo sapiens, sapiens.
Character is an adaptive quality or orientation that arises from a specific environment. Evolutionary psychology calls this the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptiveness (EEA). Personality, however, must be considered not only in terms of the environment but also in terms of the attitude one takes towards the EEA. In this way we have a very complex interaction between the EEA, attitude, and style of being. Some of this, of course, is deliberate, calculated, and intentional, but most of who we are is completely habitual and unconscious.
As both a product and producer of our social and political environment, we can see the traits of individual character in the political and social milieu of the EEA. There is no better archetype of culture manifested as character than that of contemporary, America and what Fromm called the marketing character.
The Industrial Revolution introduced the ability to produce massive surplus. Unlike the artisan who would be individually employed to produce a particular table or chair for a specific patron, the mechanized factory can mass-produce replicated, identical goods in such quantity that no wait is necessary for the consumer. However, this changed the dynamic between producer and consumer, from an individually produced article for a unique customer, to a mass produced product for an abstract consumer. When supply exceeded demand, demand itself needed to be manufactured. This was the birth of marketing -the manufacturing of desire.
It was not long until human beings, categorized as either blue or white-collared, became commodities themselves. The Industrial Revolution and mass marketing of products cultivated an EEA in which human beings, themselves, became commoditized products with a market value. This is most evident today in the corporate human resources departments. In contemporary America we cease to be people and instead become brands, commodities, or resources to be bought, sold, and consumed.
Growing up in this EEA makes one oblivious to it. This is known as captivation-in-an-acceptedness, the state of not considering to question the taken for granted conditions of existence. The contemporary Zeitgeist of American culture is that of the marketing orientation. The objective of the American education system is not to encourage innovative, dynamic, and radical thinking, but rather to produce marketable job candidates. We have come to value ourselves in terms of marketability.
The objective of the American education system is not to encourage innovative, dynamic, and radical thinking, but rather to produce marketable job candidates.
The result of this shift, from I am what I do to I am what will sell, is evident in the advertising and media images that are used as icons of success. The celebrated image of the survival of the fittest businessperson, like Donald Trump, or the vacuously hollow indifference of the fashion model, is imitated on the street and in the office. Although we do not personally know these celebrities we rely on their image to teach us how to be (or appear to be) successful.
A basic need of human being is a sense of identity. The marketing character comes to understand herself not by what she is, but rather, by what others think of her.  Fromm proposed that prestige, status, success, and notability are the basis of the marketing character’s sense of self. I will argue that today it is not merely success, status, and notability that is important, but rather, it is the appearance of these qualities that makes the marketable self.
It is also noticeable of this way of being that as one regards himself as a commodity he will come to regard others as commodities to be bought and sold as well. Others cease to be people, for the marketing character, and are instead a means to an end. The marketing character does not have a human exchange with others, but uses others as she uses products.
The marketing character style is a phenomenon of contemporary, American, culture. This life orientation is unique to the social and political climate of Post-World War II, America. It is a way of being that orients itself not on what one is, but rather, on what one appears to be.

Direct all comments, questions, & corrections to Matthew Giobbi.

The Birth of Science: A Primer on Intellectual History (Part 3)

Empiricism, Sensationalism, Rationalism, & Positivism
As we described in Part 2, science is a distinct type of philosophy. The Renaissance and Enlightenment philosophers who established what we today think of as science are customarily classified by their stance on a few basic, philosophical, perspectives: empiricism, sensationalism, rationalism, and positivism.
 
Empiricism and sensationalism both refer to the belief that all knowledge comes through the senses. These philosophies are very similar, both stressing that all knowledge enters the mind through the senses. Empiricism was most popular with the British philosophers, and sensationalism with the French.
Empiricists and sensationalists both rejected rationalism, the position established be DesCartes, that  argued thinking and the processes of the mind should be the route to knowledge. The distinction between empiricism and rationalism can be blurred. I often like to think of rationalism as information that comes through thinking, whereas empiricism comes through the senses. For example a thought experiment, or speculating about something is rationalism, whereas measuring something and categorizing it is empiricism.
Positivism is a concept that was very popular in early science, and increased in popularity into the 20th century. Positivism places importance on publicly observable events. This ideology was very common with empiricists and sensationalists, who felt that science should focus on measurable and observable experience. Positivism is a strict scientific attitude that holds as the goal of science to establish scientific laws and statements. In the 20th century the ideas of positivism would be challenged by what is sometimes called postpositivism. An extreme form of positivism, one in which the belief is that the only valid or useful form knowledge comes from science is referred to as scientism.
A momentous year for intellectual history, and for the philosophy of science is 1781. In this year, Immanuel Kant published a work entitled Critique of Pure Reason. In this tome of critical philosophy, Kant presented a model of individual thinking that synthesized empiricism and rationalism. Kant described how empirical and rational are both active in experience, in other words, we do not passively record the world, as empiricists would have it, but actively participate in making of the world through perception.
Kant’s synthesis resulted in a divisive chasm in philosophy, sometimes called the Kantian split. We can see philosophy taking two different directions in the following 19th century, both claiming lineage back to Kant. One side of this split is called analytic philosophy and is popular in the English speaking world. It prefers logic, mathematics, and empiricism through controlled experimentation. Continental philosophy was mostly popular in the German, French, and Italian cultures, and is skeptical of much of analytic philosophy’s claims. The lineage of continental philosophy can be seen from Kant, to G.W.F Hegel, to Karl Marx. Continental philosophers include figures such as Friedrich Nietzsche, the existential philosophers, and Martin Heidegger. Science as we know it today has grown out of analytic philosophy, whereas science criticism grows out of continental philosophy.
It is important to consider what the implications of the Kantian split are for epistemology and the philosophy of science. On one side, the analytic philosophers, we have belief that logic, mathematical models, and method will lead to laws of nature. On the other we find a critique of this, and an emphasis on cultural, social, political, biological, and economic pressures on human knowledge. This might best be illustrated through what is known as the science wars.
 
As a conclusion to this primer on the history and philosophy of science, I will introduce three different philosophers of science and their take on what science is. These three thinkers might serve as an introduction to the science wars. They are: Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn, and Paul Feyerabend.
20th Century Science Wars
Karl Popper argued that science starts with a problem. He said that scientific method follows three steps: problem, conjectures, refutations. The emphasis here is that science is a method that is used to arrive at a solution, and that, in time, all theories are found to be false and replaced by improved theories. This is the common impression of what science is to most laypeople. However, it is important to point out that how science is actually done and what people believe about it, is much different than what Popper describes.
Popper proposed that science must limit itself to falsifiability, that is, an idea (hypothesis) must be testable for incorrectness. The hypothesis must make risky predictions that can be incorrect. For Popper, the scientists should be trying to prove their ideas to be wrong, rather than trying to find evidence for their ideas. This is where current practices by scientists run countercurrent to Poppers system. Many scientists today look for evidence to support their hypothesis, rather than disprove it.
Thomas Kuhn published a book in 1962 that revolutionized how we think about science. In The Structures of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn suggests that science is not a method, but rather a social phenomenon. He claims that science is a product of social, economic, and political pressures that dictate what is studied and how it is studied. Kuhn argued that thought progressed in popular viewpoints of how science should be done, and what it studied, called paradigms. He contended that the history of science is a series of shifting paradigms, based more on who held the positions of power in the scientific community (journal editors, professors, research funding) rather than the scientific findings themselves. Kuhn said that these paradigm shifts in science occur not because of a significant finding, but rather, because old ways of thinking are retired when the people who hold them retire. Kuhn’s view of science emphasizes science as a social phenomenon.
Paul Feyerabend was an anarchist thinker. In his 1975 text, Against Method he argues that the only true way to scientific discovery is an “anything goes” approach to thinking. Feyerabend says that the methods and rules that the scientists follow actually discourage and inhibit new discoveries. He points out that all of the major scientific discoveries of the 19th and 20th centuries were made by people who rejected the methods and systems that their peers followed. Feyerabend’s works challenge all of the assumptions of Enlightenment thinking and seems poised to make a significant impact on contemporary scientific thought.


Please direct all comments, corrections, and questions to Matthew Giobbi.

The Birth of Science: A Primer on Intellectual History (Part 2)

Vitruvian Man, Leonardo da Vinci
The Late Renaissance
Another critical element for the Renaissance was the mechanical movable type printing press, which was introduced in Germany in 1450. The printing press afforded thinkers like Martin Luther, Desiderius Erasmus, and later, Niccolo Machiavelli an amplified voice. With the printing press, Renaissance thinkers shared their thoughts in mass production,  something that served to increases the dissemination of ideas and the rate of change in society.
The renaissance is typically dated as 1450 to 1600. These years are, as is true with all historical period mapping, general and not specific; the labels are described later in time by scholars who are writing their narrative of history. There are a few hallmark characteristics of the Renaissance mood, what we often call the Zeitgeist. These qualities include: individualism, personal religion, an intense interest in the past, and anti-Aristotelianism (Hergenhahn). It is interesting to note that Aristotle had ushered in the Renaissance within Catholic church doctrine (these Aristotelian church philosophers are called Scholastics) but later he was attacked by Renaissance humanists. This rejection of Aristotle had more to do with a rejection of Catholic Scholasticism than with Aristotle’s work itself. The influential Renaissance theorists include Francesco Petrach, Giovani Pico, Erasmus, Luther, and Michel de Montaigne.
The burning of Giordano Bruno in 1600
In the later years of the Renaissance, a few key figures in the foundation of science emerged. Each of these figures contributed something unique to the foundation of what we call science. Nicolaus Copernicus published The Revolution of Heavenly Spheres in 1543. This book is important because it essentially changed the intellectual worldview from a geocentric (earth-centered) narrative to the heliocentric system (sun-centered) of the universe. This change took some time, and it had significant cultural repercussions. Copernicus had managed to escape the Catholic wrath that his book touched off, largely because he died the year it was published. Others who embraced Copernicus’ heliocentric theory did not fare so well.
Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake in 1600 for heretic views against the Christian church. Another figure who offended the Catholic church was Galileo Galilei who, in 1543 published On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, and invented the telescope in 1609. Although he escaped the fate of Bruno, the Catholic church did place him under house arrest until his death in 1642. He continued to write.
I like to think of Galileo and Leonardo da Vinci as the two figures who embodied the spirit of Renaissance thinking, as well as the foundations for modern science. Both pursued knowledge in diverse ways, from art to experimentation. The etymology of the word science is scientia, which means knowledge. These two thinkers were scientists in the broadest sense, not bound by contemporary divisions of academic thought.
The question on the minds of the late Renaissance thinkers was, what is the best method for thinking? Renee Descartes published his Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences in 1637. Descartes’ work focused on establishing a system of thinking that would lead us to sound conclusions about nature. I like to think of Descartes as one of four theorists who laid the foundation for modern thought. We typically discuss modernity as beginning in 1600 and ending somewhere around World War I and World War II. The other four philosophers that contributed to the groundwork of modernism are Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, and John Locke.
Modernity
The modern period (from 1600 to around 1905) is characterized by the attitudes of modernism. Modernism is an attitude that basis knowledge on systematic thinking, mathematics, logic, and objective experience. Renee Descartes contributed mathematics and deductive logic to this attitude. Francis Bacon worked extensively on induction and experimentation. Isaac Newton added mathematics and the idea of universal laws, and John Locke emphasized empiricism and universal laws. Central to the attitude of modernism, the idea that mathematics, logic, and a scientific method serves to answers all questions that humans face. The idea of objectivity, or the existence of an objective reality separate from human “subjective” experience dominates this scientific worldview. We call this tradition the Enlightenment (Age of Reason). We often refer to this period, which begins with Copernicus and melds into The Enlightenment, The Scientific Revolution. It describes the flourishing of mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology, and empirical philosophy.
Albert Einstein
The modernist attitude reached its zenith in what we commonly call the classical period (mostly the 18th century) and lasted into the 19th century. In the philosophy of science we refer to the scientific worldview of this time as the old view of science. The philosopher of science, Hilary Putnam describes the old view of science as being based on the idea that scientist collect and accumulate facts and build those facts into a “treasure chest” of accumulated knowledge. The old science idea that inductive logic (collecting observable evidence), scientific method, and the gathering of facts verified by experiment, was replaced in the 20th century by the new view of science, which most sciences use today. The new view of science is marked by the attitude that there is a human contribution to the phenomenon of reality (not merely an objective reality), that there is not one “method” of science (each science does science differently), and that multiple “true” descriptions of reality exist simultaneously. The transition from the old view to the new view of science is mostly due to what we call the Einsteinian revolution, which took place in 1905, when Albert Einstein published his Annus Mirabilis papers on special relativity. However, some important events occurred long before 1905 that lead to this change in the way we think about and do science.

Rethinking Reductionism With Google Maps

This blog originally appeared on March 28, 2013
 
“The romantic spontaneity and courage are gone,
the vision is materialistic and depressing.
Ideals appear as inert by-products of physiology;
what is higher is explained by what is lower
and treated forever as a case of ‘nothing but’
-nothing but something else of quite an inferior sort.
You get, in short, a materialistic universe,
in which only the tough-minded find
themselves congenially at home.”
 -William James
(The Present Dilemma in Philosophy)
 
Matthew Giobbi, 2012.
A sea change has occurred in how we understand the structure of knowing in cognitive neuroscience. Today, researchers, writers, and professors of psychology are holding discussions in a way that is much more in-line with the attitude of William James’s radical empiricism.
James instructed the emerging science of psychology to embrace a cross-paradigmatic (in today’s terms, an interdisciplinary) attitude of investigation. It has been a long time coming for psychology. James, greatly in spirit with his friend C.S. Peirce, was attempting to point the science of psychology in the direction that the other sciences of the 20th & 21st Centuries would take; a trajectory towards semiotics. Much of what Peirce outlined in his works on semiotics, a system of thought that has been the central influence on contemporary science, was unpacked for psychology in James’s radical empiricism and pragmatism. Today, it seems that we are closer than ever to the third culture that C.P. Snow had called for in 1959; a truly radical empiricism.
Despite this shift in how we approach knowing, there are two philosophical attitudes that seem to prevail amongst students entering into the university study of the social sciences. It is for these students that I present this essay. It is not a suggestion to reject, but rather, an invitation to expand how we think about knowing through the social sciences. These two attitudes are strikingly present in conversation with most of my first-year students. Both share a common origin in early, classical, concepts of the philosophy of science, as well as an almost taken for granted (captivation-in-an-acceptedness) place in the Enlightenment rules for thinking. In addition these philosophies are closely related to two fallacies of thought, a consideration that is the topic of this undertaking. The two concepts that I speak of are Reductionism and Mechanism.
William James
In his extraordinarily insightful text on the philosophy of science, Worldviews, Richard DeWitt explores the evolution of the scientific knowledge systems since the early Greek thinkers. Just as Professor Hilary Putnam describes, in an interview with Bryan Magee, DeWitt outlines some central attitudes that have been dismissed within some sciences, and privileged within others. Whether this be the result of an internalist attitude within a specific field of study (only learning the history and philosophy of the science from within that science), or due to the absence of the study of the philosophy of science in most university science departments, the question of what science is has a different answer depending on the discipline in which it is asked. This is especially true for the social sciences. The main distinction between physics and the social sciences has been the adoption of Peirce’s philosophy in the former, and a forgetting of it (through James’s pragmatism) in psychology. This is the context of the problem, but let’s turn to the two specific concepts of interest in this discussion; reductionism and mechanism.
The idea of reductionism is woven into the fabric of our sense of reality. Although it seems obvious that bigger is made-up of smaller (subatomic, atomic, cells, organs, etc…), an accompanying sensibility is not necessarily true; that smaller is the cause of bigger. Reductionism, then, is the idea that larger features are caused by smaller features. Examples include the idea that an area of the brain causes a certain behavior or temperament, or that a particular emotion is merely a result of certain neurotransmitters. This attitude of reductionism commits what is referred to as a causal fallacyspecifically, the idea that smaller causes bigger. It is an attractive, almost commonsense, point of view. However, critical analysis shows us that smaller might be correlated with bigger, but, smaller is not necessarily the cause of bigger. As we all learn in the first year of research methods, “correlation is not causation”.
C.S. Peirce
Let’s consider an example. In a popular Introduction to Psychology text by David Myers, the author correctly points out that brain scans of virtuoso violinists reveal a specific development in the motor strip of the right, frontal cortex. This area of the brain is associated with the left hand and fingers, which are predominant in violin playing. The right hand is mostly used for grasping the bow, rather than fingering notes, which accounts for the difference in neural concentration and activity between the left and right motor cortex. Keep in mind that this is true due to the lateralization of brain function; the left side of the body is associated with the right side of the body. Note the choice of the word associated rather than caused. Even in the use of the most basic words one can infer causation rather than correlation. The point Myers makes is that the violinist’s brain has concentrated neural tissue and activity through years of practice of the instrument, and in turn, correlates with greater finger dexterity while playing the instrument. We do not have a clear causal relationship here, but rather, a correlationship. In this example, we cannot say that the brain in causing the violin playing, no more than we can say that brain chemicals are causing an emotion. The idea that the smaller causes the larger is a fallacy that has a history rooted in the 16th and 17th Century Scientific Revolution, a tradition from within The Enlightenment.
At the time, physics was largely developed through Newtonian, or what is now called Classical Mechanics. The idea was that all the structures of the natural universe (from planets to the brain) were merely a mechanized, clockwork structure that are governed by universal laws, just waiting to be “discovered”. The way to discovery of this mechanized, lawful natural order was through reduction; dissection, magnification, and peeling away to the ultimate substance. This ultimate stuff, it was thought, would be arrived at through careful observation and measurement. Newtonian notions of science were abandoned in the early 20th Century, in particular with the Einsteinian Revolution which established that stuff at the subatomic level does not follow the same laws as the substances at the atomic level. In other words, Newtonian science does not work at the subatomic level. Today, physicists speak less in terms of classical mechanics, and more in the ideas of theoretical physics; Chaos Theory, String Theory, and subatomic physics.
New models of science, which physics embraced in the early Twentieth Century, were largely based on the influential thinking of C.S. Peirce. Without Peirce’s work on semiotics there would be no theoretical physics. Whereas most of the sciences moved away from the “old view” of science, much of the social sciences did not. Despite the fact that the founder of American psychology, William James, called for a scientific psychology greatly influenced by Peirce, the more simplistic system of behaviorism completely overshadowed James in the early Twentieth Century. Radical Empiricism and pragmatism were not alone in this, the Gestalt tradition was also drowned by the behaviorist paradigm, not to return until cognitive psychology emerged in the 1960s. The way in which scientific psychology has been done, since the Nineteenth Century, has largely been based on antiquated notions of a Newtonian Science. Today, as predicted by thinkers including Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend, scientific psychology has rethought what “science” is and how it is done.
A rethinking the fallacious assumption, that reductionism infers cause and effect, can be illustrated by using a familiar model from Google Maps. With google maps we have a function that is similar to that of the microscope when looking at a tissue sample; magnification. Through “zooming out” (the  function) we can take a distant of view of the object from afar. As we increase our magnification (“zoom in” with the + function), we are able to approach the street level of a specific neighborhood. We are tempted, when magnifying a piece of tissue, to understand the cells as building the tissue. We are also tempted to understand neurotransmitters (or brain areas) as the “cause” of a simultaneous emotion, behavior, or thought process. However, we would never claim that somehow a street in Newark causes the universe. We do not view the magnification of maps in the same way that we view the magnification of neural tissue or the brain. The question is, why do we assume causation through reductionism, and can we expand our approach and understanding of science, in a radically empirical way, through the Google Map metaphor?

Erich Fromm’s Taxonomy of Bad Faith: Sartre & Character Types

This blog first appeared on October 23, 2011.

“In the nineteenth century the problem was that God is dead. In the twentieth century the problem is that man is dead.”
-Erich Fromm
 

I was recently asked to address a group of students on this question: what is the single most important issue facing America today? As expected my fellow guests, a philosopher, a sociologist, and a psychologist, seemed to situate themselves around a predictable hub of economic, ecological, and national security issues. Instead I proposed that the greatest threat to America today was the American attitude itself. It is not an external threat, but rather, an internal locus, a sort of pathological way of being that has come to be a hallmark of success. I want to outline what I had to say in that discussion. It centers on the ideas of two thinkers, Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre, and is nicely articulated by a third, Erich Fromm.

 
Character and Styles of Being
There is a certain, rather pervasive, personality style that is encountered on a daily basis. This individual can be found in all walks of life, but is mostly encountered in what is called the professions. By professional  I mean those areas of practice in which one exercises the role of the expert, or plays the role of the authority on a certain topic or set of issues. These are the learned folks of our culture: the medical, scientific, academic, and business establishment. This is a tribe that often present not as practitioners of a profession, but rather, as the profession itself, not a person who does business as much as a businessperson.
Erich Fromm
There is a salient feature amongst professionals  in a certain way of being. This way of being is a sort of culturally expected personality style that one adopts, through their training, and then lives up to after graduation. This is the physician who plays the role of physician, the businessman who acts as one should act when one is a businessman, and the professor who becomes the expert  -presenting herself accordingly. Most often it is observed as affected or contrived. It can be experienced as professionalism, authority, arrogance, or inferiority depending on whom it is that is encountering it.
 
Jean-Paul Sartre described Heidegger’s concept of falleness as bad faith.
There is something unconvincing about this style of being. Typically, those who do it cannot seem to be aware of it, seemingly it is only apparent to those outside of the performance. This performance is described by Jean-Paul Sartre as living in bad faith; when one hides from authenticity and instead chooses the safer position of a cultural role called facticity.
Facticity is like an object. One is not a person who is doctoring, but rather is a doctor. One is not someone who dwells with others in thought, but is a professor. Facticity is the objectification of a role; it is where an action becomes an object, almost like transposing a verb into a noun. One is no longer what one does, but rather, what one is titled. It is when one acts-out that title that we find a life in bad faith.
 
Jean Paul Sartre
Erich Fromm described personality styles that exemplified bad faith.
Erich Fromm described Sartre’s bad faith in five character types. These character types are not diagnosable personality disorders or even inherited personality structures. Fromm’s character types are adaptive ways of being in an evolutionary sense; they are methods of survival within an environment. Over a series of articles I am going to discuss these five character types, which I propose as Fromm’s taxonomy of bad faith. First, though, we must understand the function of personality and its operation in society and culture.
What Makes Human?

We begin from the position that it is society and culture that makes a person who they are and not biology. Although we are biological beings, a function of evolutionary unfolding, we are also transcended beings. Human Being is the activity of dealing with our biological drives in a social way. We are not primarily interested in physical survival, but rather in social survival. We do not strive for our life, but rather for living with others. Although biological drive is a part of being human it is not the dominant force. Homo sapien is influenced less by biological drives and more by cultural forces.

We call this cultural force desire. The social animal is a transcended Being that is not governed by cause-and-effect chains of logic, but rather, by an integrated being-in-the-world in which an individual’s environment is not an objective situation that they are in, but rather, an active interpretation that they are participating in making. We find here a main point in Fromm’s thinking, that we are not confronted with culture, but that we are a vital, shaping agent of culture. This is a sort of feedback-feedforward loop that is experienced as the world we live in. In fact, it is less a world we live in and more a world that lives within us.

Ways of Thinking: From Art to Social Science

This blog originally appeared on September 11, 2013.

The chromatic gradation effect.

I entered into psychology as many of us do; through the life-theorists. I call them life-theorist because they are not merely clinicians who treat the psychologically disturbed, but also, they think about our common experiences of living, and how to go about those experiences most effectively. They can also be called life philosophers because their interest is often less on acquiring facts and more on effective living. Most of us enter into psychology via our interest in Freud, Maslow, Jung, and others that have come to be called psychotherapists. For me psychology was never wholly about therapy and patients; it was more about living, life, and thinking; the psychology of the practitioner.

Once one is in it, one realizes that the field of study is not really a field at all, but rather, fields. We find psychologies rather than psychology. These psychologies each have a unique set of definitions, practices, and ideologies that defines their practices. We sometimes meet another “psychologist” who holds a view similar to ours, of what psychology is.
The first thing we learn about the psychologies is that there are two, distinct, practices. One psychology is that of the research psychologist. Primarily interested in the social, abnormal, personal, cognitive, emotional, perceptual, sensorial, or biological aspects of being human, these folks employ a variety of research methods to either explore, describe, or write the laws of human and nonhuman phenomenon. These psychologists spend their time researching; choosing and using various research methods (choosing the methods that best suit their beliefs about doing research) in order to test, develop, and work through their ideas.
The other side of the field, what we call clinical-counseling psychology, is comprised of individuals who think about, research, and impart strategies for living. This area of study and practice extends from helping the severely mentally ill, considering how to better communicate and interact with others, to exploring the very concept of the existence of the self. Practitioners of this kind of psychology work with others, using their one-on-one and group experiences as research information, to establish their ideas.
I entered psychology as a second profession. I had spent the first  decade of my adult life studying classical music in both European and American conservatories. An art school, music conservatory education is comprised of studio time (we use practice rooms, which are small closets with a piano and a music stand), one-on-one lessons with a master teacher, various classes in the practice, history, understanding, performing, and creation of music, as well as ensemble rehearsal (chamber music and symphony orchestra). There were distinct differences between my music education and my psychology education. Music school, like most art programs, is a unique experience which reminds me of an ancient master-apprentice model of learning. Contrastingly, the academic university system is mostly a classroom experience. In the conservatory we had to perform pieces for our “grade” (something most of my teachers rolled their eyes at), in this university we took tests, delivered and wrote papers for our grade.
Upon entering the university, I was immediately captivated by what was called the science of psychology; the use of the scientific method. I was taught that his is what made psychology a “science”.

Not unlike music theory, in which each note is analyzed in the context of its harmony and progression, scientific psychology seemed to get to the foundation of what it was considering. I have always relied on analogical thinking to grasp new ideas. It seemed like an easy enough comparison; music had theorist who analyzed its form, harmony, progression, rhythm, and dynamics; we even referred to these as the elements of music. Like the ingredients of a recipe, things could be broken down and analyzed by the elements and procedures that brought them about. It is important to note that in conservatory we never assumed that these elements caused the music. We looked at analysis as a description, not as an ultimate explanation of music. We all understood the function of a V-chord in an I-IV-V progression, but we never felt that the progression (or the chord) caused the music. We simply understood the harmonic analysis as a symbolic representation of the music itself. I would say that, if asked what caused the music, most musicians would say that it was caused by the composer or the performer. As for the emotional aspect of music, that was enisled to our private conversations. Most of my professional musician colleagues were likely to discuss technical aspects of music rather than the emotional experience of the music. Even when emotion was discussed it was referred to as “interpretation” of the composer’s intention.

It seems that music theory is the science of music. The observation, description, and even control (there are long-respected rules of composition that all conservatory students learn) of the musical elements is the mission of music theory. However, we never mistook the theory of music as the cause of the music. In this sense, musicians view analysis as description; not as cause and effect lawfulness.
In science, or more accurately in the philosophy of science, we discuss two different kinds of scientific lawfulness: causal laws and correlational laws. Causal laws describe how events are causally related. Correlational laws describe how a events reliably occur together, but do not necessarily have a causal relationship. In our thought experiment of music theory as a scientific method, we can understand harmonic analysis as a description of correlational laws; the harmonic or melodic progression is not seen as the cause of the phenomenon, but rather, a useful description of it. A graphic analysis of a piece of music might be similar to an fMRI image of the brain, in that it displays a symbolic representation of the elements of the phenomenon. Whereas my first thinking about psychological phenomenon was informed by musical art and the humanities, my second inquiry led me to the natural and social sciences. Each
Science, it has been said, is a method; a step-by-step procedure that, if followed, results in reliable models of the phenomenon being studied (Popper). It has also been argued that science is a social action, one that moves by economic, political, and social pressures (Kuhn). The natural sciences (biology, chemistry, physics, and some areas of psychology) study physical stuff. The scientific study of society, economy, emotions, cognitions, and behaviors are called social sciences. Sometimes social scientists are dedicated to defending the status of their discipline as a science, against the natural scientists’ criticism that it is a soft science. It has been my experience that a scientist’s concern with being a scientist is one that is observed more amongst the social scientists than amongst the natural scientists.
Max Wertheimer, originator of Gestalt theory.

One psychological tradition, in particular, has resonated with me both as a social scientist and as an artist. The Gestalt tradition, originating with Max Wertheimer, continues to bridge the two worlds of art and science for me. The Gestalt theorists were interested in how contextual structures determine meaning. In psychology we find the Gestaltists exploring the then new medium of motion pictures, Virtual Reality, art, and social meaning. Kurt Lewin, who is considered to be the founder of social psychology, was a Gestalt thinker. The essence of the Gestalt position is best expressed, I believe, in the chromatic gradation effect in the above graphic. We find here the phenomenon take on meaning in relation to their environment. The Gestalt (the grounding) is the empirical or rational background that the phenomenon emerges within. Like notes in a chord or melody, we manifest not from our environment but with it.

A Quality of Mercy: How we Resent the Other as we Resent Ourselves

Leonard Nimoy in A Quality of Mercy (1961).
In the third season of The Twilight Zone (1961), Leonard Nimoy played a minor role in a tale of personal transformation penned by Rod Serling and Sam Rolfe. Typical of Serling’s Twilight Zone series, the episode deals with social issues of prejudice, hatred, and personal blindness to one’s own true motives.
In A Quality of Mercy a young, gungho officer arrives on the Philippine Islands at the scene of an attack. It’s the final days of World War II and the American G.I.s are battle worn and weary from years of death, destruction and hatred. The Americans have cornered a platoon of Japanese soldiers in cave, many of whom are worse for the wear than the Americans themselves. Starving, spent, and trapped they pose no real threat to the American soldiers.
The United States’ atomic attacks in Hiroshima and Nagasaki have crippled Japan and these are the final days of the war. With nothing left to be lost nor to be gained, the G.I.s hope to avoid killing the cave full of wounded Japanese men. They are resolute to wait out the final days of the war without further slaughter.
Things change when Second Lieutenant Katell arrives. Fresh out of officer’s training school and thirsty for Japanese blood, Katell is hankering for his piece of the action before the war ends. Although Sgt. Causarano and his men explain the senselessness of further bloodshed to the Lieutenant, he is unmoved. The officer reminds the soldiers who is in control and how he intends to have his men attack the cave. Leonard Nimoy, playing a private, adds (in a very Spock-like tone) “This one is bloodthirsty”. Sgt. Causarano doesn’t back down. He tells the Lieutenant,
“We’ve seen enough dead men to last the rest of our lives. The rest of our lives, lieutenant,  and then some. Now you’ve got a big yen to do some killing? Okay, we’ll do some killing for you. But don’t ask us to stand up and cheer.”
As the lieutenant is preparing for battle, he chastises the sergeant for being “either battle fatigued or chicken.” The sergeant attempts to introduce the lieutenant to himself,

“You’re a pea-green, shaved hair, and just fresh from some campus. Afraid you won’t bag your limit, or worse all shook-up because somebody might spot you as a “Johnny come lately” instead of a killer of men… You want to prove your manhood, but it’s a little late in the day, there aren’t many choices left as to how to do it. It all boils down to that cave full of sick, pitiful, half-dead losers and a platoon of dirty, tired men who’ve had a craw-full of this war.”

The lieutenant is livid and barks back,

“You’re a lousy soldier, and that goes for the rest of these poor, sick boys that you want me to bottle-feed. When you fight a war, you fight a war, and you kill until you’re ordered to stop… No matter who they are or what they are, if they’re the enemy they get it! First day of the war or last day of the war, they get it!”

This is where things become interesting. In his rage Lieutenant Katell drops his binoculars. When he reaches down to get them he is suddenly Lieutenant Yamuri, an officer in the Japanese army. He is startled to realize that he is leading an attack against a group of wounded Americans in a cave. He has entered, as Serling tells us, “into The Twilight Zone”.
The remainder of the film describes the change of heart that the officer undergoes when he is in the position of the other. No longer trapped in his own malignant narcissism, the lieutenant is able to empathetically identify with the other, and this change of heart necessarily results in a change of his actions. The episode concludes with words from William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice:

“The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain of the heaven upon the place beneath. It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”

We all have been Lieutenant Katell at certain times in our lives. While dealing with others on the highway, in the supermarket, or online, we tend to project the worst fears we have of ourselves onto others. Fleshing out assumptions about sex, gender, skin, body shape, ethnicity, wealth, poverty, and much more, we come to resent the other as a generalized amalgamation of all of our resentments.

It is easy to do this from a distance, because from afar we can only see the generalizations of our assumptions. As we get closer to the other, just as Lieutenant Katell becomes closer to Lieutenant Yamuri, we begin to see the other as a person, rather than as a conglomeration of that which we resent in ourselves. This is the entrance into empathy. Sigmund Freud tells us in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego that empathy begins with identification. It is not until Lt. Katell identifies with  the other, literally seeing the world from their eyes, that he develops a sense of himself in relation with the other.  In this way, it is only through empathy, or mercy as Shakespeare puts it, that one can take away the self-hatred that one acts upon others. 

The Birth of Science: A Primer on Intellectual History (Part 1: From Antiquity to the Renaissance)

For over a decade I have been teaching a course on the history and systems of psychology at Rutgers University at Newark. The class, which serves as a capstone course for undergraduate psychology students, surveys an intellectual history from antiquity through the 21st century. It is my goal in this course to help students to understand and appreciate the political, philosophical, cultural, and historical influences on psychology through the ages.
We begin the course with a survey of intellectual history. As I am a believer in presenting a reading of history, rather than the history, I ask my students, as I now ask you, to appreciate that this sketch of intellectual history is one that I have arrived at, and is not the only reading available. As I have researched over the years, my understanding of the story has evolved. I have no doubt that the story I tell now will be different from the story I tell ten years from now. One thing that we know from thinking about intellectual history is that we must speak in the plural, of histories, rather than of history.
Giobbi’s Timeline of Intellectual History
Antiquity (to 600 B.C.E.)
The earliest appearance of human questioning and answering came in the form of narrative stories. We call this myth, taken from the Greek mythos, which means “speech, thought, story… anything deriving form the mouth”. These narratives center around animism, anthropomorphism, and magic.
The term myth is commonly thought of in a more narrow sense, meaning something that is invented and not necessarily true. The sense of the word in the context of intellectual history is simply narrative explanation. There are narratives that are no longer practiced, but enjoyed for their wisdom and entertainment, such as the early Greek Olympian and Dionysiac-Orphic narratives. There are narratives of antiquity continue to be practiced, such as the Judeo-Christian-Islamic narratives.
The term animism refers to the practice of viewing the world as something that is living and active, rather than inanimate. For example, the poetic idea of angry skies or happy clouds is animism. A more precise term, anthropomorphism is used to describe nature as having human attributes. This can be seen in the human motivations, feelings, and actions of the Greek, Olympian gods.
Any ritual or act that is done to influence nature or a God is referred to as magic. Magic includes any type of ritualistic behavior, such as a rain dance, or ritualistic thought, such as prayer. The essence of magic is the idea that ritual can influence occurrences. We see this tradition alive and well today in what we call religious and spiritual belief. The important aspect to keep in mind is that myth serves to predict, control, and understand the natural world (Humphrey).
The two main forms of narrative that existed in the ancient Greek world were the Olympian religion and the Dionysiac-Orphic religion. It is common to characterize the former as the religion described in the Homeric poems. The ideal life was one lived for glory through noble deeds and ended at death. The Olympian gods appear to mirror the characteristics of the Greek nobility, which comprised most of the religion’s followers.
The poorer ancient Greeks; peasants, laborers, and slaves, tended to believe in the Dionysiac-Orphic religions. This religion, based on Dionysus, incorporated wine, sexual frenzy, and the transmigration of the soul; the belief that the soul is trapped in a body, as punishment for a sin committed in the heavens. The belief that the soul escapes earthly existence at death would later influence the Judeo-Christian belief.
In the East, the Vedic religions; Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism, as well as the East Asian  Taoism, Shinto, and Confucianism all emerged from 1500, B.C.E. on. These belief systems are treated as a religion by some practitioners, and as a life philosophy for others. This is an important distinction to be aware of. We find that Eastern and Western thought synthesize in many thinkers from 600 B.C.E. to the present.
Western Philosophy
It is commonly accepted that the first Western philosopher was Thales (ca. 625-547 B.C.E.). What made Thales different from other thinkers is that he rejected supernatural phenomena (such as gods and spirits) and looked to the physical world for explanations to the fundamental question, what is the world made of? Thales had traveled in the East and it is believed that his thinking was influenced by Eastern thought. The primary question that Thales proposed, and the question that would dominate philosophy (the love of wisdom) until Socrates, was; what is the fundamental substance of which the world is made? This primary element was called physis meaning the nature of stuff. Thales concluded that the fundamental physis was water. Thales is said to have once fallen into a well while deep in thought.
Early philosophers proposed various answers to the question of what the fundamental physis is. Anaximander proposed the basic physis was chaos (an abyss, wide open), which is almost postmodern in its vagueness. It certainly conjures up contemporary work in theoretical physics. Heraclitus proposed that the physis is fire, and pointed out that everything is in a state of becoming, rather than being.
 
The thinkers that came before Socrates are typically called the Pre-Socratics. The reason for this is because with Socrates came a distinct shift in philosophy’s focus. Unlike the earlier philosophers, Socrates was interested in the question, what does one mean by….? What does one mean by “beauty”. What does one mean when they say “justice”? Socrates is said to have lived by the dictum “know thyself”. Because Socrates never wrote anything down, the Socrates that we know comes from the writings of his friend Plato, he featured Socrates as a character in a series of 25 dialogues. This is  the reason that some scholars refer to the earlier Greek philosophers as the “Pre-Platonics” rather than the “Pre-Socratics”.
Along with the earliest philosophers were a group of thinkers who are customarily called the Sophists. These thinkers challenged the idea that one could arrive at an ultimate, universal truth, and instead proposed that truths existed within contexts. The Sophists were frequent targeted by Socrates and Plato. The contemporary manifestation of the Sophists is postmodernism.
Raffael’s The School of Athens
In Raffael’s painting The School of Athens, we find two central figures, one pointing up and the other pointing down. These two characters are Aristotle and Plato. Aristotle, who is pointing down, was a student of Plato’s. Raffael depicted Aristotle pointing to the earth because his philosophy was based on finding truth through the natural world. Plato is depicted by pointing upwards because his philosophy was based on truth being metaphysical (beyond the physical). Both of these philosophers were looking to establish ultimate, universal, truth, and each proposed that it existed someplace different.
With the rise of the Roman Empire we find a shift towards life philosophy, or a philosophy for the good life. This idea was not new, Plato and Aristotle both discussed the idea. However, for these philosophers, how to live was at the center of philosophy. Pyrrho of Elis formed a school called Skepticism. Antisthenes proposed Cynicism. Epicurus taught that the good life found through simple living. Much of the other philosophers were influenced by Plato’s teachings, and we call them neoplatonists (new Platonism). These neo-Platonists influenced early Christianity a great deal; much of Christian theology of this time can be traced to Plato’s thinking. By the time that the Roman Empire fell in 476 C.E., the writings of Aristotle had been lost to the Western world. Aristotle’s works were alive and well in Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Persia, Sicily, and Spain. From about 410 C.E. until around 1000 C.E., Europe experienced what is described as a “dark” period. Just how dark these Dark Ages were is debated. What we do know is that at the very same time, the Islamic world was the cultural center of the world. Much of our modern mathematics and science is based on Middle Eastern thought from this period.
In the High Middle Ages (1000s through 1300) and the Late Middle Ages (1300s through the 1500s) there was a 200 year struggle for control of the Holy Lands between the Roman Catholic Church and Islam. During this time, returning crusaders and trade merchants reintroduced Aristotle from the Islamic world back into Europe. This reintroduction of Aristotle is said to have been one of the major catalysts for the European Renaissance; the cultural rebirth of the 15th century.

Theodor Reik Part 5: Ashamed of Ourselves

In Chapter VII of Listening With The Third Ear, Theodor Reik’s self-analysis, three sensitive and significant thoughts are sketched out: The significance of embarrassment, the necessity of looking inward, and the privileged position of emotion over intellect.
It is common, in everyday experience, to look outward for the cause of our emotional state. What in our circumstances is it that is making us unhappy, content, sad, jealous, or insecure? Oftentimes searching the external (a particular obsession of American culture) is a defense against the threat of seeing ourselves in a way that does not sit-well with a coveted view of ourselves. The effort of human social life, at least since civil-ization, is to shore up what we want (and what we want others) to believe about ourselves, with what we really know about ourselves. Psychoanalysis has shown us, and there is little room for debate in this, that the desired ideal self is so important that it becomes the distraction or preoccupation that diverts us from and veils the aspects of ourself that are not consistent with it. In other words, we work very hard at keeping ourselves and others under the opinion that our ideal self is true. One of the ways of dealing with the inconsistencies that constantly arise is to point the finger towards externally changing environment, rather than the real self being exposed by the fiction itself.
Reik discusses what he calls “the Jewish problem,” although we will see that there is nothing uniquely “Jewish” about this problem. The problem that Reik describes is the stunting effect that the embarrassment of one’s biological and cultural father has on the self. Reik claims that there is an inhibition common to all Jewish people that is expressed in an embarrassment, specifically, towards the father. Reik reveals that this embarrassment becomes an ego sensitivity that colors all interactions and interpretations with the world.
I leave the “Jewish problem” for Reik to work out. I do not feel that this is a uniquely Jewish phenomenon. Instead, I say that this is a tendency that has been described, by Alfred Adler, as a human universal -namely the fundamental experience of inferiority.
 
Inferiority is the phenomenon that occurs when our adopted, cultural, beliefs shape the idea of what we should be (described by Freud as the ego ideal) comes into conflict with reality. For Adler all emotion, thinking, and action is, fundamentally, a result of this feeling of inferiority. Our personality, largely a conglomeration of defenses against coming into contact with the discrepancy between what we want to believe about ourselves and what we are. In Reik’s “Jewish problem” the issue is the culturally contextualized position of the Jewish people. But this can be said to be true of any contextualized physical, psychological, or cultural quality. A sense of inferiority (embarrassment) is an essential part of all human experience, whether that be a sense of physical inferiority (consider body image or physical features today) or nonphysical inferiority such as national, religious, or ethnic group. Oftentimes the physical and nonphysical grouping correlates. Either way, the sense of inferiority, that is to say the embarrassment that one experiences, will be directed towards their own self-belief as they directly experience it. For the individual who is not thoroughly convinced that his height is ideal, any ambiguous glance from another will be interpreted as a prejudicial act. The source of the inferiority, be it intelligence, education, wealth, power, social status, sex appeal, attractiveness, body image, sexuality, religious belief, philosophy, or politics -shapes entirely the experience we have with the world.
Reik challenges us to pause and consider how our sense of inferiority, the conflict between the ideal and real self, shapes our experiences, and how interpretations of the actions of others are at the least shaded, and at the most formed, by our feelings (appraisals) of ourselves. In this way, via Alder, we can refer to the human problem. The question we must first come to terms with, and always consult when interpreting our experience in the world is: how does my reaction defend me against my feelings of inferiority and shame for being ________.

American Sniper and Fifty Shades of Grey: Sadomasochism and the American Unconscious

In the psychodynamic tradition, we hold that culture–that is, the artifacts that are created by those whom we call artists–is the manifestation of the unconscious struggles of the individual with society. We hold that there is not only a personal unconscious which moves individuals, but also a social unconscious that moves society. By examining the themes and issues that recur in a society’s cultural artifacts, we can sketch-out the underlying, unconscious cultural conflicts that give rise to the work of art. In this way, as Erich Fromm described it, we put culture on the couch to discover the unconscious motivations of our society.

Two current films point to an interesting phenomenon in the American unconscious. American Sniper and Fifty Shades of Grey both deal with relationships of authority, power, dominance, and submission. These films also illustrate the two unique forms of sadomasochism that psychodynamic psychologists describe: moral sadomasochism and Sexual sadomasochism.

Let’s begin with a distinction between the two types of sadomasochism. Moral sadomasochism refers to a certain attitude that governs the personality of some individuals. These individuals are strikingly aware of and sensitive to their own and others’ position in society. They are in a constant state of evaluating how another “measures up” to themselves. They are interested in identifying who is a potential threat and whom they can dominate and control. At the core of this moral sadomasochistic character is an extreme awareness and sensitivity to controlling and being controlled.

Sexual sadomasochism is far less prevalent than moral sadomasochism, and is marked by sexual excitation through dominance, submission, humiliation, and pain. In sexual sadomasochism the arrangement is voluntary, consensual, and typically independent of an individual’s personality outside of the bedroom. The significant difference for us here is that sexual sadomasochism is a consensual activity for mutual sexual satisfaction, whereas moral sadomasochism is a non-consensual, social expression of exploitation that necessarily involves a persecutor a and a victim. David Shapiro, in his classic text, Autonomy and Rigid Character, describes the moral sadomasochistic character:

“…an individual who respects power and the powerful above all and despises weakness and helplessness, who tyrannizes those beneath him and is submissive to, wishes to “fuse” with, the powerful ones above.”

The moral sadomasochistic character (also called the authoritarian character) has a marked interest in who is superior and who is inferior. They are often interested in positions of both legal enforcement of the law (such as the police and military) and moral enforcement of the law (as in rigid religious chiding). They simultaneously submit to others that they admire, and persecute those whom they find contemptuously inferior. As Shapiro describes them, they take particular interest in being a part of some elite or special group to which they, themselves submit:

“These individuals continuously take their own measure, and many rigid persons live with a self-important consciousness of their superior achievements, rank, and authority, their membership in some prestigious group or category.”

American Sniper and Fifty Shades of Grey are both films about power, dominance, submission, and authority. The themes that exist in the film come to life when we place them in the context of the social reaction to the films. Through examining the comments, reactions, and critical responses, we can flesh-out the currents that run beneath the surface of American society.

The comments made by viewers who find satisfaction with the ideology of American Sniper are remarkably consistent with Shapiro’s insights into the moral sadomasochistic character. These comments are marked by interests in “settling the score,” and “putting them in their place”. They often go far beyond the sometimes necessary military action, and instead incite a sense of sadistic satisfaction in exercising dominance and power over others. The very essence of a sniper is one who is at an advantage over another, it is a fight in which a person who is already in a position of vulnerability is attacked. Shapiro describes this:

“To put the matter another way, to inflict suffering on a relatively powerless individual, an ‘inferior,’ or to inflict further suffering  on one who is already suffering, is the intrinsic nature of sadism.”

Possibly the most damaging assault to the sadomasochistic character is when they are challenged or injured by someone whom they consider inferior. We can see this reaction evident in the fact that such a powerful military could suffer injuries from those they consider “inferior” groups. Shapiro says:

“When his already exaggerated and uncertain sense of personal authority is chafed further by feelings of inferiority, shame, and humiliation, the rigid individual may become defensive, his attitudes harder and angrier.”

In Fifty Shades of Grey we find the identical theme. Far from being a movie about sexual sadomasochism this is a film that resonates with the moral sadomasochistic dilemma that many women experience in American society. We note two things from the reception of Fifty Shades. Firstly, the revenue for the book and the film have been overwhelming. There is something in this story that is resonating with viewers and it is not merely sex. Anyone can view much more exciting sex from the comfort of their own homes. Secondly, the demographic for the book sales is reported to be mostly college-age girls and women over thirty, married with children. The movie demographic is mostly the latter.

On a conscious level the motivation might be mere sexual taboo of sadomasochism, but the fact remains that much more compelling depictions of sadomasochistic sex are available to all of these viewers at home.

What is attracting these demographics to the theaters and the bookstores is something that is on the minds of both college women and those married with children. For the former it is a question of whether or not to continue the traditional cultural roles that society is expecting them to play, and for the latter it is coming to terms with having chosen to enter into those traditional, phallocentric, social structures. This is the dilemma that Anastasia Steele is confronting through her encounter with Christian Grey.


It seems that both of these films are resonating with the unconscious of men (in American Sniper) and women (in Fifty Shades of Grey). Perhaps through these films, the unspoken struggle will become spoken and individuals will come to terms with the choices they have in continuing the moral sadomasochistic narrative.

Shapiro, David. Autonomy and Rigid Character. New York: Basic Books, 1981.