Psyche haunted the Romantic poets and their successors. Coleridge celebrated “the butterfly the ancient Grecians made the soul’s fair emblem and its only name.” Coleridge was a Christian. But the pagan Keats, in his search for a private “system of Salvation,” said his prayers to Psyche, “latest-born and loveliest vision far / Of all Olympus’ faded hierarchy.” Keats conceded that Psyche had previously been honored by “no shrine, no grave, no oracle, no heat / Of palemouthed prophet dreaming.” But as a naturalized and humanized deity, the goddess provided the ideal inspiration for his own devoted efforts to create “the wreath’d trellis of a working brain” and “all soft delight / That shadowy thought can win.”
It has been a century and a half since Keats implored the new deity to let him be her “priest” and “choir,” and still the reincarnated Psyche reigns over much of what’s left of Englishspeaking culture. Now, psychologists have taken over from the poets as her priests, while popular journalists fill the choirs that echo the oracular pronouncements. Keats’s verse is not to everyone’s taste, but it is preferable to the prose of Rollo May and all the rest of the “self-actualizing” hedonism of Psychology Today.
An unruly child of the counterculture and the New Left of the 1960’s, Psychology Today has, from the very first, taken its religious responsibilities seriously. Already in its second year (1969) they were observing that psychology must help man “face our own inner experiences without the guidance of traditional dogmas, ritual, or patriarchal authority—the foundation stones of Judeo-Christian religious experience. Left without collectively sanctioned God-values and moral absolutes, we are compelled to erect our own morality, arrive at our own faith and belief, and discover the meaning of our own existence.” In Love and Will, published the same year in PT, Rollo May declared that “we have bid goodbye to the theologians at the wake for our dead God.” Now the challenge for May and his colleagues was to help others overcome the anxieties caused by abandoning “the belief in immortality that armored our ancestors.” Four years later, in a chapter of Without Guilt and Justice, published in PT, Walter Kaufmann rejoiced in the decline of the belief that “moral views . . . are simply part of being Jewish, Christian, or, say, Hindu.” Only such a religious decline allowed for people to become “autonomous individuals” who repudiate “craving for community” as “regressive” and “inauthentic.”
The fallen clerics of psychology divide into numerous contending sects, but the celebrities all agree on man’s complete freedom to erect a personal morality meaning on the ruins of traditional religion. The realm of the supernatural cannot be entirely discounted—so long as table-rapping is taken seriously. A 1969 PT feature highlighted Duke’s parapsychology lab, whose director explained that he was only led to explore “the strange, special dimensions of the human mind” after his “religion had crumbled.” “Some day,” Rhine insisted, “religion will come to the laboratory.” (Test-tube transubstantiation?) Four years later, PT again took a look at parapsychology with an extended interview with Stanley Krippner on telepathy, precognition, and the Bermuda Triangle. Krippner admitted that most scientists believe “parapsychology is all nonsense,” but what psychologist could resist the expansive freedom of “altered states of consciousness”?
Admittedly, many psychologists are skeptical about parapsychology. But it will take more than doubts about Tarot cards and ESP to turn psychology into a science. If there is a unifying principle, it is probably the blank slate. But even that little would be vigorously disputed by cognitive psychologists whose experiments seem to indicate that the mind works only in some ways and not in others; ethologists whose study of behavior is increasingly inclined towards evolutionary biology; and, of course, orthodox Freudians.
At one time, Freud provided a central orthodoxy to the field. His name is still reverenced by PT contributors for his pioneering assault upon an “objectivistic, alienated, market-place culture” and for his bold unmasking of the sexual impulses hidden behind “Victorian prudishness.” But Freud’s definition of the sex drive as a primal compulsion, sublimated in culture and in the superego, put too many constraints upon human nature for the free-spirited psychologists at PT. In 1969, Rollo May protested in PT against “the complete determinism for which Freud argued.” May also rejected “Freud’s pessimistic death wish,” called into question “Freud’s use of science as a monastery,” and dismissed sublimation as “Freud’s most puritanical belief” Orthodox Freudian psychoanalysis “plays into modern man’s tendency to surrender his autonomy” and leaves too little room for “imagination,” “intentionality,” and “interpersonal meaning.” “It rests on the individual to choose the values of sexual experience,” May believed, and psychoanalysis “can never carry the burden for value decisions that change a person’s life.”
Orthodox Freudians are not the only psychologists under attack in PT for positing a limited human nature. In 1969 PT blasted Arthur Jensen for promulgating “socially dangerous ideas” with his research suggesting a link between IQ and heredity. Just last year, PT branded supporters of a “constitutional-organic” explanation of mental illness as “conservatives” and issued a bull of excommunication. In 1973, PT reduced the findings of neuropsychology to the single conclusion that “human beings are varied, complex, and poorly understood.” Psychologists who profess belief in “innate” patterns of thinking and speaking—including some cognitive psychologists—are categorized as “nativists” in another piece the same year and are scolded for failing to understand that what they call “innate” is really just “easily learned.” (Walking on your feet isn’t innate—just easier to learn than the alternatives.)
Of course, because many environmental influences try to assign limits—legal, social, moral—to human behavior, silencing the “nativist” psychologists is not enough. PT‘s editors and contributors can hardly restrain their rage against a society which takes the pristine blank slate of the individual, breaks off huge chunks, then writes inhibiting messages on what’s left. In an altogether typical article in 1973, PT ridiculed the “simplistic ‘law and order’ view that social conflicts are caused by deviant individuals who are unable to ‘fit in.'” Criminal behavior is only a “countercultural” protest. One regular reader drew the obvious conclusion in a 1969 letter: Perry Smith (the brutal murderer depicted in In Cold Blood) committed his crimes “because of what people did to him, so that he found no release sexually or artistically and thus became a menace to himself and to the society that created him.”
PT contributors still occasionally invoke “social principles and values” and stigmatize individual violence as “antisocial,” though readers would be hard put to identify the society whose values are being defended. Certainly it is not the existing American society, under constant assault in PT for repressing individual creativity with its racism, sexism, puritanism, and traditionalism. With predictable regularity, contributors denounce “our bourgeois industrialized society,” “our representative society,” and our “Victorian culture.”
Though Black contributors almost never appear in its pages, PT has frequently editorialized against the effects of oppressive white dominance in retarding the social and psychological development of Blacks. A 1973 article argued that only invidious prejudice holds the number of interracial marriages in America so low. It’s a nice bit of subtle racism: whites are so obviously superior that Blacks are desperate to marry up.
Other PT contributors take aim at male chauvinism, female stereotypes, and sex-typing. Sexual identity, like every other fact of human nature. must be fluid and open to change. A typical 1978 piece analyzed “the sexist world of the toy store,” while another looked at the troubling cultural “faceism” that causes young children as well as magazine editors to emphasize a man’s face in pictures but a woman’s body. (There are words for men who like to look at pictures of other men’s bodies, but they don’t use them at PT.)
By the early 70’s the he/she had arrived. In his 1973 piece in praise of individual autonomy, Kaufmann attacked most “movements” as dubious quasi-religion, the predictable exception being the women’s movement: “There was a real need for concerted action and no need whatever for any women who approved of this ‘movement’ to use it to avoid autonomy.” They’ve gone so far off the deep end that when a contributor recently published a study of “children in their natural habitat,” he looked exclusively at “a local day-care center.” In the same vein, a recent editorial welcomed a drop in the fertility rate as evidence of increased sexual equality. If only men quit looking at pictures of female bodies and did their fair share in bearing children!
Not that PT wants to reduce the birthrate by turning female readers into Shakers or nuns. They’ve been in the vanguard of “the sexual revolution” since its inception. “Sexual issues,” declared a contributor in 1969, “are so much more in the open that the gulf between what is permissible to discuss and what is permissible to do seems to grow narrower and narrower.” In a 1969 survey of the readers, PT editors indicated what they thought was permissible to discuss and presumably to do: “Have you had sexual relations with more than one person at a time?” “How often have you engaged in extramarital intercourse during the past year?” “Over the past six months, how often have you masturbated?” And despite reports of a “new chastity” among the young, the sexual revolution continues at PT, where just last year a new survey revealed that almost half of their readers are adulterers. (Hilariously, U.S. News & World Report took this as evidence of changing mores in America.) No wonder that sandwiched in between the numerous liquor ads and the less frequent promotions for the Rosecrucians and for Jonathan Livingston Seagull medallions are countless ads for sex-technique manuals and companion volumes filled with “the best pick-up techniques known.”
In its animus against all restraints on the sex drive, PT helped pave the way to the removal of homosexuality from the official list of psychological disorders in 1973. By 1978, contributors were lamenting the unfair prejudice against gays, were exploring the “unique problems” of this life-style, and were explaining the need for grade schoolers to meet “a responsible gay role model.” Of late, PT has been bemoaning the plight of gay AIDS victims.
In recent issues, PT has also bewailed the ways in which our “drugdrenched society encourages us to seek out chemicals to solve many of our problems.” Never mind PT‘s own fascination in the late 60’s with “exploring new worlds through drugs.” Never mind that in 1973 PT minimized the “heroin problem,” saying that “biologically, heroin is actually one of the least threatening drugs. . . . Contrary to popular belief, heroin causes no apparent tissue damage, little impairment of judgment or coordination, and no inclination to engage in violent behavior. It is not necessarily addictive.” Never mind, too, PT‘s recent study of the “images that result from using psychedelic drugs” or the constant drumbeat of support for the legalization of marijuana.
PT does see at least one real danger in drug use: drugs, a contributor warned in 1973, can serve to “soothe and eliminate tensions that otherwise would produce beneficial social changes.” What kind of beneficial social changes? A 1969 article with the revealing title “The Building of Nations” gave away the game when it denounced those family patterns “that lead to dogmatism, traditionalism, authoritarianism, and dependence on the older generation. Child-rearing practices can . . . produce adults who are fatalistic, willing to accept the world as it is . . . Such personality traits inhibit social change.”
The obvious solution is an educational revolution: schools that “compel . . . judge . . . mandate [or] discriminate” must be replaced with schools that “promote creativity, egalitarianism, [and] flexibility,” schools that largely ignore tradition and are “oriented toward the future.” But in the same year (1973) PT rejected the notion that “schools by them selves [can] close economic inequalities.” What is needed is “political control over the economic institution: that shape our society” and “a comprehensive incomes policy.” “Psychology and politics are converging,” suggested a 1978 article. A 1985 PT essay argues that because of an epidemic of “mental illness” affecting 40 million Americans (just how many registered Republicans are there?), “prevention” is the only cure, achieved “through guaranteed employment,” through “assertive ness training,” and through “social change” to help “women and minorities of all kinds.”
Just how far politics as psychology can go was illustrated in 1971 when the president of the American Psycho logical Association proposed that psychologists be permitted to administer behavior modification drugs to the nation’s elected and military leaders to reverse their “nonadaptive primitive aggression impulses.” PT was worried that this might lead to “manipulation of the masses” and thought that “perhaps the country is not ready” for that yet. Not to worry, though, look how far PT had advanced political discussion in just five years of publication. Another slightly premature idea put forward in PT in 1973 was the proposal that parents be licensed to have children only upon demonstrating a sound understanding of “behavior development,” “principles of reinforcement,” “stimulus-control generalization,” and other truths dispensed by psychologists. Nonlicensed couples would be subject to “mandatory birth-control”: “We can no longer afford the luxury of allowing any two fools to add to our numbers whenever they please.”
In 1984, PT reported that the dream of licensing parents has now been partly realized, with psychologists
gaining authority in some states to act as “gatekeepers” in matters of artificial insemination, “turning away people who might not be good parents.” In the late 1970’s, psychologists in Ontario sought to forbid “the practice of psychology” to anyone without a Ph.D. in psychology-with special exemptions allowed for government social workers, teachers, and clergy men of main-line denominations. A Canadian philosopher quoted in PT interpreted this as an attempt to gain “the status of a ‘state church’ in matters of the mind.”
At first glance, it might appear that psychologists’ repudiation of all extant social order and communal norms stands in contradiction to their quest for political and cultural power. But it’s a trick at least as old as Hobbes himself an important psychological theorist): first, find or create a state of anarchy, confusion, or “mental ill ness”; then, set up the absolute monarchy needed to establish order. Behind all of PT’s heated attacks on “confidence in the superiority of modern Western man” as “a translation of the Cold War spirit into psychological terms,” there lurks an unacknowledged attraction to the totalitarians of China and the Soviet Union. And why not? Not only were Mao and Stalin staunch defenders of the complete plasticity of human nature, they were past masters of group therapy. (BC)