America’s First Movie Star

Until 1991 America’s first movie star rested under an unmarked grave in Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Santa Monica Boulevard. Over 50 years after her death an anonymous British actor memorialized her grave marker with the words, “The Biograph Girl/The First Movie Star”.
Florence Lawrence’s story is the template for Hollywood celebrity. Her grandparents escaped Ireland’s Potato Famine to Canada where her mother became a vaudeville entertainer known as Lotta Lawrence. Her father, a carriage builder from England, would die in a tragic coal mining explosion when Florence was between 2 and 8 years-old (the exact date of her birth is a mystery). Upon her father’s death she and her mother emigrated from Ontario, Canada to Buffalo, New York, and eventually to New York City.
When Florence and her mother moved to New York City in 1906, New York and New Jersey were the center of American motion picture making. It was that year that audiences saw the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire; history written in light, as well as the gangster film The Black Hand. Growing up on the vaudeville stage, Lawrence immediately found work as a silent motion picture actress, appearing in 38 Vitagraph Film Company films by 1908. In 1906 she and her mother were both hired to appear in Thomas Edison’s production of Daniel Boone. Lotta and Florence were paid five dollars a  day to film in the freezing cold in Bronx Park in the Bronx.
 

In two years Edison would establish The Motion Pictures Patents Company, an organization that would enforce Edison’s patent use fees on any filmmaker using his technology to produce motion pictures. Known as The Trust, filmmakers were eventually forced to leave the oppressive climate of New York and New Jersey for the freedom of the West Coast -the birth of Hollywood.
In 1908 Florence Lawrence appeared in 60 films directed by D.W. Griffith for Biograph Studios, which filmed in a brownstone studio near Union Square in Manhattan. At the time, motion picture studios did not credit the actors, fearful that doing so would increase the actor’s bargaining power for pay. When Biograph Studios began receiving letters inquiring into the name of the beautiful actress, the simply called her The Biograph girl. In a curious move, Biograph eventually fired Lawrence for courting other film companies.
A German immigrant named Carl Laemmle saw profit where Biography Studios saw control. Laemmle, who ran Independent Moving Pictures (IMP) in Manhattan, signed Lawrence on as an actor in 1909. But before she appeared in an IMP film, Laemmle pulled on the most successful publicity stunts in motion picture history, a antic that would launch Lawrence into being the first movie star.
Laemmle put out a rumor that The Biography Girl, Florence Lawrence, had been tragically killed in a street car accident in New York City. After newspapers reported the story, and the shocking news was on the public’s lips, Laemmle ran a strategically placed newspaper ad that simply said, “We Nail a Lie”. The ad identified Lawrence with a headshot and announced that she was alive and well, and that she would be appearing in the IMP film, The Broken Oath.
 
Laemmle’s plan to manufacture Lawrence as The Imp Girl,  came to a climax when he fabricated a press story that Lawrence had been stripped of her clothes by a frenzy of St. Louis fans upon her first public appearance after the false report of her death. America’s first movie star was born.
An 18 year-old Mary Pickford would take Lawrence’s place after she left IMP for Lubin Films of Philadelphia. Lawrence went on to appear in hundreds of films for production companies in New York and New Jersey.
In just under ten years, Lawrence not only acquired fame but also fortune. In 1915 she began shooting a picture for Victor Film Company called Pawns of Destiny; a filming that would result in the ending of her stardom.
While filming, a staged fire erupted and Lawrence was severely burned leaving her with facial scars and a fractured spine. At the time D.W. Griffith had introduced the close up shot into filmmaking; a technique that conjured an intimacy between audience and actor like never before. Left with facial scars Lawrence starred in one last feature for Universal Films, Elusive Isabel.
In 1927 The Jazz Singer ushered in the world of talkies to cinema. Like most of actors of the silent movie era, Lawrence’s career was over. In 1929 the stock market crash and sudden death of her mother plummeted Lawrence into emotional and financial depression.
For eight years she survived on bit parts and finally moved to Hollywood where MGM gave her small rolls. She was living at the home of her friend Bob Brinlow in West Hollywood when she received a diagnosis for an incurable bone disease. On December 28th, 1938, Lawrence drank a mixture of cough syrup and ant poison. She left this note.
“Dear Bob, Call Dr. Wilson. I am tired. Hope this works. Good bye, my darling. They can’t cure me, so let it go at that. Lovingly, Florence -P.S. You’ve all been swell guys. Everything is yours.”

Mere Activity of the Brain or "Nothing but" Psychology

Neuroscientific explanations of human experience are the rage. Science writers, who all too often know just enough science to be dangerous -and not enough to be discerning, enthusiastically swarm around celebrity experts, repeating and indulging their narrative with oftentimes myopic and unexamined assumptions. Quite possibly the most dangerous of our time are those who write and speak with the tone, the rhetoric, of authority, but without the authority itself. By contrast, one characteristic that we often find in those who are the most thorough and penetrating in their thoughts is their refusal to refer to themselves in outdated and chauvinistic terms such as expert or authority. Such titles are remnants of an Enlightenment attitude that is quickly passing into history.
Today it is nearly impossible to read about the human experiences of love, anger, lust, empathy, or creativity without being told that these are merely chemicals or neural connections of the brain. The explanation is convincing, and to many, it seems, satisfying. Like the interesting work in evolutionary psychology and psychoanalysis, the explanations are typically the repetition of a single narrative. In other words, the same punch-line for every joke.
We are not dismissing the necessity for, or possible importance of, such empirical insights. But we are stating, and stating emphatically, that the schwärmerei over biological explanations is not only headlong, but also limits ones understanding of themselves and others.
These explanations, given by great authorities of science, and often expounded in the presentist, narcissistic-wonderment of journalism, leaves the reader with an illusion of knowing -the false sense of security that the great ecclesiastics of modernity have it all under control.
Because examples of the mere activity of the brain explanations are so frequent, I will not present specific instances here. One can find examples in nearly any magazine or newspaper article written on a fad topic. On Valentine’s Day we are told that love is due to the increased levels of the hormone oxytocin, and when we feel depressed we are told that we have an imbalance of serotonin. These explanations, given by great authorities of science, and often expounded in the presentist, narcissistic-wonderment of journalism, leave the reader with an illusion of knowing -the false sense of security that the great ecclesiastics of modernity have it all under control.
William James
The founder of American psychology, William James, called this attitude nothing-but psychology. Referring to the popular position of the German experimentalists, James described it as an “unwarrantable impertinence in the present state of psychology”. Today, however, technology lends the imprimatur for pertinence. The august spectacle of computer imaging (fMRI, MRI, CT and PET scanning) conflate technology and knowing. The equipment lends a certain authority to the orientation. After all, the technology is a tool, and not the theoretical framework, of the explanation.
To better understand the mere activity of the brain attitude, we must consider the two pillars of biological psychology and neuroscience. The two central ideas are reductionism and mechanism.
Reductionism is the belief that the further some material thing is reduced (dissected) the closer we get to the foundation, base, or “truth” of that thing. It seems logical and is easy to accept that a potato is made up of microscopic cells -something we all learn in early school days. The idea that reducing something to its smallest parts will bring us to the fundamental stuff that it is, is not only incorrect, it is antiquated. The Quantum Revolution in physics dismissed the myth of reductionism. To understand this, think of an hour glass. At some point the funneling inverts and becomes large. In theoretical terms this means that reduction to the microscopic reveals an infinitely large, quantum dimension. Ideas of big, small, and necessarily reductionism, become meaningless.
What then does reductionism in biological psychology tell us? The forgotten lesson was taught by not only by William James but the Gestalt psychologists. Contemporary neuropsychology would benefit from a Gestalt or Jamesian renaissance. The lesson is: genes, neurotransmitters, hormones, and cells, taken collectively, are expressions of what we call, on the social or personal level, emotions, motivation, and action. These are not causes, but rather, qualities.
The lesson is: genes, neurotransmitters, hormones, and cells, taken collectively, are expressions of what we call, on the social or personal level, emotions, motivation, and action. These are not causes, but rather, qualities.
The second assumption of the mere activity of the brain attitude is the philosophical position of mechanism. An antiquated notion of the Enlightenment, mechanism (also known as materialism) holds that the analysis of the behavior of reduced stuff (like neurotransmitter or genes) will reveal a systematic, lawful, predictable clockwork mechanism. This position holds that the more one observes the behavior of the parts, the more one will come to understand its regular patterns. Although this belief is held by many experimentalists in behavioral science, it has been retired in other sciences for over one hundred years.
With the Einsteinian Revolution (1905) and Werner Heissenberg’s Uncertainty Principle (1927) the way science is done was changed. Both of these scientific reorientations resulted from Peirce’s pragmatic semiotics and entered physics into the Post-Enlightenment projects of quantum mechanics, string theory, and chaos theory. Today experimental psychology and neuroscience remain firmly rooted in an Enlightenment tradition that clings to simplistic causal relationships that can only be established through reduction and careful documentation of the mechanized patterns of behavior. The necessary step, is a reconsideration of James’ 1890 Principles of Psychology.

On Semiology, Psychoanalysis, and Phenomenology: Remembering What We Once Knew

Photo 1978 by Sophie Bassouls.
Since childhood, since the earliest memories of youth, we have been aware of an implicit, nonverbal, unarticulated aspect of experience.
This experience, contrary to what education insisted, was not primarily contemplative, but rather, emotive. Beneath the rational cognition, quite plunging and undulating, pushing and pulling, was the fundamental essence of visual, auditory, gustatory, olfactory, and tactile phenomenal experience. Meaning is identical in the senses, it is absent from a thing itself, only emerging in relational context to something else. Meaning is not of some thing, rather it is between, or in relation with some things.
The relationship, never simply a dyad, but a severely complex contextual system, forms signification of experience. Knowing is something we feel, not something we think. We can think something, yet it does not take hold of us, when we know something we feel it somatically. It finally hits us, it sinks in, and we experience the “a-ha” moment of knowing. It is a physical sensation of the body, this knowing that I speak of.
Auditory and visual symbols hold significance with each other in the perceiver. Perception is an intentional act, not a passive experience. Roland Barthes examined this phenomenon that we have known (have felt) since childhood. Whereas Barthes described it in image and music, Sigmund Freud was a semiologist of the psyche. We do not mean the bastardized, Enlightenment use of the word, but rather its seminal meaning: soul. Having soul requires that you feel.
Film, photograph, architecture, fashion, advertising, painting, poetry, music -these are all symbolic structures that act, as do words, to signify all that we come to call “reality”. Barthes tells us that through indoctrination and repetition we become captivated by a reality effect. Husserl described this as a captivation-in-an-acceptedness -the reality that we have no recollection of actively fabricating reality. It never occurs to us to question it.
The photograph is not a sign it is a reality in itself -it is really a photograph. The signifier (iconic or echoic sensory trace) was arbitrarily associated with the signified (the concept). This is where science is confined, in the language games of the signifiers, predetermined by the grammar system from which it emerges. But there is something beneath this, something more that is felt rather than thought -the referent. Jacques Lacan called this referent –L’imaginaire- the place of the symbolic order. The ego ideal, according to Lacan, is the place, from within the symbolic order, that I seem myself from.
But how do sounds and images come to mean things? How does a referent come to be signified by a signifier? Charles Sanders Pierce tells us that this happens in three different ways: iconically, indexically, and symbolically. All signification can be described (unwritten) with one, or a combination of all three, of these functions. The icon resembles the signified. The symbol refers merely through tradition, and the index is presumed to cause the signifier.
We used to know, before we were educated, this relationship between signs (symbols). We were closer to the validity of our own experience. Ferdinand de Saussure reminded us of this experience which Barthes unfolds. The experiential, similar to the analytic methods of dream interpretation, is applied to the conscious as well as unconscious experience. In Carl Jung’s development of the signs of the psyche (the archetypes) we come closer to what Maurice Merleau-Ponty described as existential communication. This move, from linguistics, to psychoanalysis, to phenomenology is a formidable path to which we see Martin Heidegger as the thread of thought.
Saussure would hold that convention is the mother of meaning. If we set images (signs) in relation to each other (parole) we have an act that communicates something. However, in the organization of the signs themselves we have yet a deeper level of meaning that is communicating to us, the code (langue).
Freud taught us to distinguish between manifest and latent content of a dream. Although we become fascinated in talking about the manifest content with others, it is the latent content of the dream that holds its greatest significance for us. The code of the dream is always written in the non-rational, that is, in the emotional. Dream meaning can be found by going through the manifest (parole), and experiencing the latent (langue) in which phenomenological experience informs us. This is something we all knew and then lost through civilization. The poet regains it and reminds us of what we once knew.

Fromm’s Taxonomy of Bad Faith


“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.

The Marketing Character

When Jean-Paul Sartre described a life lived etre de mauvaise foi 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 Eric 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, what one appears to be.

An Object Lesson in Psychoanalysis: Haggard & Dawkins

What can psychoanalysis tell us about religious and scientific fundamentalism and those who profess the truth? Through psychoanalysis we find something that we might not expect on the surface level, something that once realized reveals aspects that typically remain hidden and unnoticed.
Take, for instance, American evangelical preacher, Pastor Ted Haggard, and the famed British evolutionary biologist, Dr. Richard Dawkins. In 2006 both had an encounter that is worthy of psychodynamic consideration.
Shortly after the release of “Jesus Camp,” a documentary in which Pastor Haggard spoke out against homosexuality and sin, Haggard acknowledged that he had an ongoing sexual affair with his personal trainer, Mike Jones, and used crystal methamphetamine. Haggard resigned from his ministry and underwent spiritual counseling, which he claims “cured” him of his homosexual desires. It is reported that he characterizes his homosexual encounter as a “massage gone awry“.
In 2006 Richard Dawkins interviewed and discussed evolution, creation, and belief with Pastor Haggard. Dr. Dawkins was shooting a documentary for UK Channel 4 called The Root of All Evil. In the fervid discussion both Haggard and Dawkins squared off to debate science and belief.
What we take as an apparent fray between a man of faith and a man of science loses its transparency when looked at through the lens of psychoanalysis. In fact, what we will find is that, quite possibly, Pastor Ted Haggard is the real atheist and Dr. Richard Dawkins is the most fervent believer.
To understand this not-so-obvious paradox, we must understand three, basic psychodynamic concepts. We begin with the obvious hypocrisy of Pastor Haggard’s actions and beliefs. This is not an uncommon hypocrisy amongst those of faith. We often find the most enthusiastic believers to be the very ones who fall hardest from their professed beliefs. Is this chance? Or is there a correlation between the ecstatic and rigid evangelicalism against sin, and the all too common violation of God’s rules by those who preach it the loudest?
Fechner’s iceberg analogy adapted to Freud’s topography.
Freud taught us that even the most bizarre behavior makes sense when we consider the starting point of the thought. In this way, hypocrisy is not acting against a belief system, but rather, acting in accordance with an authentic desire or belief. Taken in this light, Pastor Haggard does not betray himself in his homosexual desire, but rather, betrays his homosexual desire. When we accept that Pastor Haggard desires the very thing he claims to detest, we shift the hypocrisy from his actions to his words.
Of course, psychoanalysis is all too familiar with this pattern and it has a name: reaction formation. We have desires, feelings, and beliefs that oftentimes conflict with the society and culture in which we live, and the image or persona we wish to portray to others and to ourselves. When we ignore what we truly desire, believe, or feel, because it is in conflict with what we want to desire, believe, or feel -or want others to believe that we desire, believe, or feel- we experience conflict. We deal with this conflict by desperately trying to protest against the very thing that we desire. The protest is often so passionate that it is suspect. It often comes across in a forced and unnatural protest. It can seem as if the person is more interested in convincing themselves rather than convincing others. The real conflict here is between the individual’s authentic way of being and their proposed view of themselves.
It is often taught that Freud proposed an “iceberg” topography of the psyche. In fact, there is no reference to the “iceberg” in any of Freud’s writings. Still, the model remains useful for understanding the dynamics of the psyche. We refer to the superficial level of interaction as the conscious. The conscious level is what we know of others and of ourselves. This is the mask of the persona; the act that we perform for others and desperately strive to convince our self is true.
The unconscious aspect of the psyche is that which we are unaware of in ourselves. The unconscious can harbor some things about ourselves that we not only wish to keep hidden from those we are performing for, but also, keep hidden from our self. In this way, we keep unflattering and downright menacing aspects of ourselves from being realized. When an individual unconsciously uses most of their psychic energy in keeping disturbing things about themselves, hidden from themselves, they are said to be neurotic.
In psychoanalysis we have a number of patterned mechanisms that we use to keep blind of the disagreeable aspects of ourselves. Included in these defense mechanisms are the aforementioned reaction formation and projection.
If reaction formation is marked by the individual protesting against something to the point of absurdity, than projection is seeing clearly in others that which we are blind to in ourselves. The idea of projection is that we disown aspects of our own personality by projecting them on to others. We see this oftentimes in the homophobic. The individual who harbors a deep hatred and disgust, to the point of physically abusing or murdering another because of their presumed sexual preference, projects their own unconscious homosexual desires onto the other and then punishes and destroys that part of themselves -as if it were the other. In this way, much of the hatred and anger we see expressed towards others is truly a symbolic frustration and self-hatred projected onto another person.
We now see how both reaction formation and projection serve the individual in dealing with emotional incongruencies between whom they want to be, and how they want to be viewed, and whom they truly are in their most hidden depths. We often find that the critics of this view have the most to confront if they were to accept the model.
Let us take a look at Haggard and Dawkins through the psychoanalytic lens. In so doing we find examples of both reaction formation and projection that makes even the most absurd hypocrisy make complete sense, while bringing to light some rather unexpected aspects of each man’s personality and beliefs.
If we take from the outset that, what appears to be incongruent on the surface level, is completely congruent with the unconscious level, the hypocrisy becomes less of a mystery and more of a representation of that which is repressed. In this way, we find that both Haggard and Dawkins share something in common; they both hold an unyielding belief in being correct in their beliefs, beliefs that they not only evangelize to others through books, lectures, sermons, and films, but also seem to passionately protest with great emotion. It can be clearly seen that both men deeply care to convince us, and possibly themselves, that they are right. The very dogma that each holds is the quality they are blind to in themselves -and detest in the other.
Dawkins is known for his vehement disgust and proselytizing against belief and for evolutionary science. Haggard is known for his evangelizing for faith and the existence of God. Their messages, and the emotional fervor in which they are delivered, feels less like conviction and more like desperation with each word, interview, and documentary.
We see here a clear example of reaction formation. Dawkins and Haggard both protest so zealously against the other that we can only assume that they are fighting against some internal, unconscious doubt. Simply put, someone who is comfortable with his or her belief does not feel the need to so forcefully insist upon its acceptance. Haggard claims to want to save others from sin and Dawkins claims to wish to save others from the virus of belief, while they both go about trying to save themselves from that which frightens them most: namely that Dawkins truly fears that God does exist and Haggard truly fears that God does not exist! In a strange twist of reality, Dawkins emerges as the true believer whileHaggard is found to be suspect of the truth of God’s love. Haggard and Dawkins are both in a desperate attempt to save themselves from what they really are.
The apparent disdain that each man has for the other (at times we are not sure if they are going  to attack or passionately embrace one another) is evident in the video interactions that have been published. This is a clear example of projection and leaves us with the sense that what each man hates in the other; he himself is in the most authentic sense.

Ways of Thinking: From Art to Social Science

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.
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.

Alfred Adler: The Individual and Media

Let’s dwell in the work of Alfred Adler; his cultural, group, and individual processes of a mediated world and a mediated self. Adler began with 12 propositions which serve as the ground or referent for his working system. Like the Ptolemaic, geocentric, worldview; it can function pragmatically. What interests us here is not objective Truth, but rather a functional, pragmatic, system that is both useful and thoughtful. We approach Adler the attitude of radical empiricism.
 
The 12 propositions (paraphrased):
  1. The fundamental human condition is a striving from a state of “felt minus situation towards a plus situation, from a feeling of inferiority towards superiority, perfection, totality.”
  2. We strive towards a biological and environmental self-ideal, a fiction that we (ultimately) create and choose to endorse as our guiding fiction.
  3. We go about our business largely unaware of our guiding fiction, it is unconscious.
  4. The goal (guiding fiction) is a final cause. It is a teleological pull towards the self-deal fiction. One must identify the final fiction to organize the behavior into meaningfulness.
  5. Ones style of life is shaped by this final fiction from an early age. Behavior that seems contradictory or absurd becomes meaningful when viewed from the final fiction of the self-ideal.
  6. The style of life is a system that is comprised of conscious and unconscious processes.
  7. Biological and environmental factors are relative to the goal. Genes and experience are not direct causes but probabilities that function through the style of life towards a self-ideal.
  8. An individual’s opinion of themselves and their worldview (enframing) influence all psychological processes.
  9. The individual self is embedded with the social context. The self and context are not independent.
  10. All biological and personal desires become social desires.
  11. The goal of the healthful individual is social interest; an un-narcissistic, non-ego-centered life.
  12. Maladjustment includes lack of social interest, a persistent and defining sense of inferiority, and a goal of personal superiority over others.
Adler proposes a psychology of context. How can we understand the individual-mediated (figure-ground) phenomena of media psychology through this pragmatic system of thought? What are the implications for thinking through cultural phenomena that we have encountered in media and psychology? If we ask the questions; how does this behavior serve to move from a state of minus (inferiority) to a state of plus? How does the style of life form the worldview that produces the phenomena? How can think from new directions when we consider the fictional finaltude of a media producer and media re-broadcaster (persona)?

How to Meditate: An Introduction to Secular Buddhist Psychology (Part 2)

silhouette of man sitting on grass field at daytime

The final words that Siddhartha Gautama spoke before dying were “be your own light”. We can understand this as being one’s own teacher. Although we can learn from the teachings of Siddhartha and others who came before us, our main way of researching in Buddhist psychology is through meditation. There are many different ways to and reasons for practicing meditation. In Buddhist psychology we categorize meditation into four categories: concentrative, generative, receptive, and reflective meditations. After we briefly understand what each kind of meditation is, we will study the most basic of Zen meditations called Zazen.Continue reading “How to Meditate: An Introduction to Secular Buddhist Psychology (Part 2)”

Reincarnation or Rebirth: An Introduction to Buddhist Psychology (Part 3)

forest under brown sky

This week I would like to answer a question that someone asked me.

“Dr. Giobbi, do you believe in reincarnation? I like Buddhist concepts, but I don’t believe in reincarnation. Do I have to believe in reincarnation to study Buddhist psychology?”

This is a great question. Firstly, to most Buddhists, the concept of rebirth or reincarnation probably does not mean what you think it means. That being said, there are some Buddhists for whom reincarnation is very important. For example, in Tibetan Buddhism rebirth plays an important role in their worldview. There are other Buddhists for whom rebirth doesn’t enter into the conversation at all. Zen Buddhists, for example, tend to not be interested in the question. For those interested in Buddhist psychology, the question overlaps with a conversation going on right now in Western evolutionary psychology; that of  Lamarckian hereditary theory. A short answer to your questions is, American, Buddhist psychology is interested in this life. What comes after is not a topic of interest for most who study this form of psychology. Buddhist psychology is interested in insights into living now.Continue reading “Reincarnation or Rebirth: An Introduction to Buddhist Psychology (Part 3)”