Monthly Archives: November 2016

November 24 – Relating to God: Part 5- Psychology as Secular Meditation- Part 2: The Transition

Today’s Post

Last week we opened the subject of psychology as offering a secular approach to meditation: finding god by finding ourselves

–          Recognizing God as the agent of the upwelling of complexity in Cosmic evolution

–          Becoming aware of this upwelling in our own personal evolution

–          Finding God by finding our fundamental selves.

We saw how Freud was the first to address this undertaking in an objective, secular and empirical manner (as opposed to that of the intuitive and  scriptural).  We also saw how, while offering a magnificent array of new concepts, and working empirically, Freud’s psychology nontheless leads to a very negative understanding of our basic selves.  Meditation, even via psychology, can be very dangerous indeed, since it shows our basic selves as highly unreliable, even untrustworthy.

This week we will address an opposite approach to psychology which emerged in America in the last century.  This different approach, while also based on the empirical perspectives and methods of science, found a core of the human person completely orthogonal to Freud.

From Freud to Existentialism

(This topic is covered in much more detail in the Post of Feb 13, 2014, “Love from the Existential Perspective”, which is included in the Blog “The Phenomenon of Love”.)

As we saw in the previous post, Freud was successful in developing an integrated system of thought which objectively addressed the whole of human activity.  He pioneered the understanding of the human in terms of inner energies, motivations, stimuli and even “economies” that determine his development from birth to death, and did this in a way which mirrored the objective approach of science.  His treatment of human irrationality is unmatched. However, with his underlying materialism, misogyny and overall pessimism he was definitely pessimistic on the human person’s potential for satisfying relationships and personal maturity.

But we can find agreement between Freud and Teilhard on several things, such as the existence of a personal core of energy which underlies human growth and relationships, and understanding love as manifested in the reciprocal exchange of this energy between individual persons.  They sharply disagree on the nature and source of this energy, and the role that this reciprocal exchange could have in positive growth, maturity, and even creation of the person involved in its exchange.  The difference between these two schools of thought sharpens further when they are applied to human relationships at the social level.

As psychiatry and psychology continued to develop in Western science, many of the negative aspects of Freud’s thinking began to be reevaluated and modified as the increasing participation of Westerners in psychoanalysis created a large body of empirical data which could be analyzed to support or disprove the propositions which originally formed the basis for Freud’s thinking.  The relation between the analyst and the analyzed evolved as well, with the increasing educational level of the middle class, the acceptability of psychology by religion, and the emergence of expectations on the part of those undergoing analysis.

The Pioneers of Existentialism

In the nineteen forties and fifties, several psychologists emerged with a distinctively different and positive understanding of the human person and the dynamics of his growth and relationships with others.  This approach generally became known as “existential”.  Their general methods became known as ‘counselling’, and adopted by religion, as “pastoral counselling”.

Rollo May understood the basic tenet of existential psychotherapy as “that which stands with scientific analysis as expressed in the genius of Freud”.  However, the empirical data that science also brings into the picture unfolds the understanding of the human person on a deeper and broader level.  This deeper understanding assumes that it is possible to have a ‘science of man’ which does not ‘fragmentize’ him (by breaking him down into Freud’s compartments) and thus destroy his humanity in the process of studying him.  Unlike therapeutic interpretation as practiced in Freudian psychoanalysis (which consists of referring a person’s experience to a pre-established theoretical framework) ‘existential’ interpretation seeks to understand how the person himself subjectively experiences reality, then works with him toward actualizing his potential.  Psychology was moving from analysis and diagnosis to guided inner search.

Psychology was emerging as assisted secular meditation.

Instead of focusing on psychopathology and what goes wrong with people, Abraham Maslow formulated a more positive account of human behavior which focused on what goes right. He was interested in human potential, and how it could be actualized.  He believed that each person has a desire for self-fulfillment; namely, the tendency for him to “become actualized in what he is potentially”.  As we have seen, this requires us to first find ourselves, and then cooperate with this primal force which rises within us.

Ashley Mongatu believed that as a consequence of humanity’s unique evolutionary history, which requires us to be  highly cooperative, human drives are oriented in the direction of growth and development in love and cooperation.  He believed that what we are born for isto live as if to life and love were one”.  Like Teilhard, he subscribed to the belief that evolution rises along an axis, and that we are located, both as individuals and society, on that axis.

These pioneers believed that the core of human personality is positive, and not irrational and capable of destruction as Freud believed.  Their clinical experience led them to recognize that the innermost core of man’s nature, in the deepest layers of his personality, the base of his “animal nature” is actually positive, basically socialized, forward-moving, rational and realistic.  They saw the goal of psychology as to help us find this inner self, then help us learn to cooperate with it.

In scientific circles, however, this was a difficult concept to accept.  In psychology, Freud and his followers presented convincing arguments that the id, man’s basic and unconscious nature, is primarily made up of instincts which would, if permitted expression, result in incest, murder and other crimes.

In religion as well, especially in the Protestant Christian tradition, our culture has been permeated with the concept that man is basically sinful, and only by something approaching a miracle can his sinful nature be negated.  The whole problem of therapy, as seen by this group, is how to hold these untamed forces in check in a wholesome and constructive manner, rather than in the costly fashion of the neurotic.

In contrast, the existentialists believed that the reason for this negative belief by many psychologists lay in the fact that since therapy uncovers hostile and anti-social feelings, it is easy to assume that this proves the deeper and therefore basic nature of man as unrelentingly negative.  Only slowly has it become evident that these untamed and unsocial feelings are neither the deepest nor the strongest, and that the inner core of a man’s personality is the organism itself, which is, in addition to self-preserving, also social and capable of perfection.

The Next Post

This week we saw how the basic tenets of psychology began to evolve from seeing the personal core as ‘dangerous’ to seeing it as a positive and trustworthy basis for human personal growth.  Next week we will look in more detail at how one of the most pivotal Existentialists applied this approach and the results he recorded.

Which Trump Will We Get?

Paraphrasing Nancy Pelosi’s proctological-like comment about Obamacare, “We need to pass this thing to find out what’s in it”, we had to elect Donald Trump to find out what he’ll do.

Given my insanely successful track record of predicting the past, I thought I’d try the future. We’re in for an interesting ride with Trump at the wheel, and here’s some musings on what we might expect.  These predictions will be fascinating to re-address in a year or so, and we can see how close I got:

First of all, the easy ones: the ones based on his promises.  Since Trump by definition never loses he will declare victory on all of them, but when the dust settles:

–          There won’t be a wall.  (Caveat: Trump could hire all the Basket Of Undesirables (BODs) who have lost their jobs to globalization and put them to work building the wall.)  There will surely be extensions to the wall (fence) that Obama was already building, but Mexico won’t pay for any of it.  Like Garrison Keillor remarks, “There will probably be more traffic cones than fences”.

–          Hillary won’t be locked up.  Neither will Obama.

–          Trump won’t release his taxes.  Too risky.

–          Muslims won’t be denied entry based on their religious beliefs.

–          Trump will indeed get rid of Obamacare, and will immediately replace it with another national healthcare system with a new name.  It look a lot like Obamacare, and will end up being just as unpopular.  The Republican party will now be in the healthcare business with nobody to blame for its inevitable flaws.

–          Other liberal policies, such as affordable college, tax credits for working women, and paid time off after childbirth will also irritate the BODs.

–          Jobs won’t be brought back from overseas.  If it’s cheaper to get goods from overseas, businesses such as Empire Trump will continue to do so.  Trump will not jeopardize his wallet.

–          Roe v Wade won’t be overturned.

–          Women won’t be punished for having abortions.

–          The US won’t renege on foreign alliances.

–          America won’t become any greater than it already is.

–          Trump won’t undermine free trade.  Empire Trump will suffer if tariffs are placed on imports.

–          Taxes aren’t going to decrease for the middle class.  Not only won’t they get their jobs back, their taxes will probably increase (see prediction on healthcare above and liberal policies below: somebody’s got to pay).

–          ISIS won’t be defeated and illegal criminals deported any faster than they would have been under Obama.

–          Trump won’t override his generals any more than Obama did.

–          The crisis in the Mideast will continue for many years.  None of his policies will have any effect.

–          Trump won’t appoint ‘the best’ to cabinet posts.  His definition of ‘best’ is ‘loyal’.

Next, the harder ones:

–          Expect a steady drumbeat of accusations of corruption to rise as his foreign and trade policy actions are seen to favor Empire Trump, which of course will be managed by his family.  Adding slime to the swamp won’t drain it.

–          His love affair with Putin will briefly intensify, but it won’t be long until Russia is back in the business of Western destabilization, support of dictatorships and US email hacking.  He’ll use the honeymoon with Trump to extend his reach.

–          The inability (unwillingness?) to bring back jobs from overseas and de-oxidize the rust belt will eventually get recognized by the BODs.  To keep them in his pocket, he’ll have to create some sort of WPA program (like building the wall).  Like all such programs, it will be prone to corruption, adding yet another layer to the swamp.

–          Since Trump isn’t really a Republican, his liberal social policies will continue to divide the Republican party.  The gridlock between Republicans and Democrats will morph into a gridlock between GOP Republicans and Alt-Right Republicans.

–          Spending will continue to increase, with the inevitable growing of the National Debt and rise in taxes.  Defense will continue to receive the lion’s share of the money, as it did under Obama.

–          Indignation and outrage will continue to be a profitable commodity.  It’s a mistake to think that the venom projected by the ‘Alt-Right’ press purely reflects the rise of righteousness of conservatives.  It is more likely that, as these purveyors of such half-truths begin to run out of leftist targets, the powerful emotions that have so consistently fed the Alt-Right machine will abate.  Unfortunately, two other things will also happen.  First, the financial motivation for feeding the need for outrage to which Americans have become so addicted will not go away.  Second, as Trump begins to disappoint his BODs, their emotions will turn against him.  Such publications as Breitbart and Freedom Daily will find new targets for stories about Satanists in the White House, Donald and Melania’s secret love babies and shady conspiracies in Trump’s shady empire.

Trump will, of course, have an excuse for all these consequences: “It’s all rigged”.

November 10 – Relating to God: Part 5- Psychology as Secular Meditation- Part 1: The Beginnings

Today’s Post

Last week we showed how Teilhard’s description of his meditation can be seen in terms of the secular search for Karen Armstrong’s ‘immortal spark’: that essential agent of cosmic evolution which manifests itself at our core.  While Teilhard inevitably takes the tone of Western religious tradition, we saw how his approach to meditation is nonetheless secular at its base.

Today we will carry this one step further: to look at how meditation, the traditional religious search for self, has led to a practice entirely devoid of religious belief: psychology.

The Appearance of Psychology 

(This topic is covered in much more detail in the Post of Feb 5, 2014, “The Evolution of Love From the Perspective of Psychiatry and Psychology” which is included in the Blog “The Phenomenon of Love”.)

The rising tide of the way that human persons began to experience themselves in the emerging awareness of the uniqueness of the human person also molded the form that this thinking was taking.  Human evolution has seen a movement from ascribing events to activities of the divine to attempts to understand them as phenomena in the natural world.  This movement gave rise to the empirical approaches of science.  Initially constrained to the physical world, this approach eventually began to apply itself to the human person himself, based on clinical observation instead of intuition and biblical interpretation.

Sigmund Freud pioneered this new scientific mode of approach to understanding the human person   He applied the new methods of science to the  making and testing of hypotheses of human growth and relationships. He was virtually the first major thinker to describe the human nature which underlay sexuality (and therefore relationships) in objective, secular terms.

In Irving Singer’s comprehensive analysis of human relationships, “The Nature of Love”, he comments,

“Like other thinkers of the time, Freud sought to explain the human condition in terms of the rationalistic concepts that science was uncovering.  He proposed a completely new lexicon and analytic approach to understand the nature of “affect”, which includes all of what we normally call feelings, emotions, sensations, “intuitive” and “instinctive” dispositions, erotic attachments, hatred as well as love, and also kinesthetic impressions of any kind.  For that job we require a totally different type of methodology.”

Historically, some thinkers, such as Plato, Plotinus and Augustine, had generally proposed a positive interpretation of reality, believing that what is ultimate in reality sustains, even conforms to, human ideals; while others, such as Lucretius, and Hobbes came to see the universe as neutral, even hostile, to such optimistic assumptions.  Freud falls into this second, pessimistic, category.

Singer contrasts these two perspectives, showing the duality of thinking which results from this dichotomy:

“”Philosophers have often tried to reduce the different senses of the word “love” to a single meaning that best suited their doctrinal position.  To the Platonists, “real love”, being a search for absolute beauty or goodness, must be good itself; to the Freudians love is “really” amoral sexuality, though usually sublimated and deflected from its coital aim.  The Platonist argues that even sexuality belongs to a search for the ideal, and otherwise would not be called love in any sense.  The Freudian derives all ideals from attempts to satisfy organic needs, so that whatever Plato recommends must also be reducible to love as sexuality.”

Freud In An Oversimplified Nutshell

Freud’s thinking provided a monumental, unprecedented and unified approach to understanding the human person and the relationship between persons.  Like Teilhard’s finding of the ‘personal core’, Freud understood the person as an entity possessing a certain “life force” which empowers him to survive and procreate and is at the center of his being.  He saw this force, identified as ‘libido’, based on sexual instinct, as the ultimate agent of human growth.

In Freud’s thinking, the libido therefore is the energy that nourishes the self, and he identified the object of the libido as sexual union.  Therefore relationships that do not lead to sexual union interrupt the flow and replenishment of libido and lead to impoverishment of the self.  As Freud saw the self as initially focused on itself, this “narcissism” at birth represents a state to which the self always seeks returning.  “Nourishing the libido” therefore requires us to maintain our narcissism which is essential to our sense of self.

Freud believed that relationships required the person to “idealize” others, for the lover to transfer to his beloved an ideal that he has difficulty achieving within himself.  In his approach, we love that in the other person which we feel will compensate for our inadequacies, and thus we will recover the security of primal narcissism and maintain our libido.  The dependence upon relationships, in Freud’s approach, was therefore risky.  Failed relationships would undermine our libido and therefore diminish our self.

Further, Freud saw the force of libido as possessing an undercurrent of hate.  Freud therefore saw love as the mixture of ‘eros’ with “man’s natural aggressive instinct (the death drive)”, which is inseparable from it. In his words,

“Eros and destructiveness are intertwined within all erotic relationships.  Love is not at the basis of everything unless you add hate to it”.

While Freud definitely saw love as energy, and one which effects the uniting of human persons, the resulting unifications were potentially harmful to the person because they are predicated on a personal core which is not to be trusted.  Love is dangerous because we at our core selves are dangerous.

While Teilhard heard a voice from the bottomless abyss from which flowed his life: “It is I, be not afraid”, Freud would have heard a different voice: “It is ego, be very afraid”.

While Freud definitely understood the human kernel as energy, and one which effects the uniting of human persons, its complex love/hate constitution leads to relationships which could harm the person.  Due to this basic flaw in our basic core, not only does love fail to solve human problems, but causes them as well.

So Freud, while pioneering the objective secularism of science to study of the human person, nonetheless arrives at a position at odds to Teilhard’s proposition that the kernel at the core of the person is a trustworthy manifestation of the same agent of rising complexity afoot in the evolution of the universe.

The Next Post

Freud’s approach to psychiatry, like Luther’s approach to Christianity, burst upon emerging Western society and immediately began to ramify into parallel but radically different expressions.  In today’s versions of psychotherapy, American positivism has muted much of Freud’s pessimism, materialism and misogyny, and many of the newer approaches to psychology focus more on the relation between therapist and patient than upon the therapist’s skill in plumbing and labelling the labyrinthine depths of the patient.

In the next post I will outline such a different approach, and explore how it can be seen as a ‘secular version of meditation’.