Sociological and Psychoanalytic Perspectives
(last update: November 20, 2017)
Instructor: Prof. D. Carveth
Office hour: Wed. 2:30 pm
Psychosocial studies of the irrational in social life including group psychology, religion, mass hysteria, hysterical epidemics, and mass illusions and delusions. Freudian, Kleinian and Bionian psychoanalytic theory is introduced in order to understand the role of unconscious mental processes—ideas, phantasies and emotions—in the life of individuals and groups.
In order to study the irrational in social life we will employ a psychoanalytic perspective in order to get at unconscious mental processes. The unconscious is unconscious for a reason: feelings, thoughts, desires and fantasies are repressed into the unconscious mind because they are upsetting, anxiety-arousing, judged to be unacceptable, bad, immoral, perverse, shocking. Since this course involves studying the repressed, you may not be safe from having distressing feelings triggered here. You are reminded that this is not a compulsory course and you are free to drop it if you wish to avoid risking having such feelings. Having been warned, your decision to remain in the course implies your acceptance of this risk.
Although hardly adhering to
reason and science in a good deal of his own work, at least in this statement
denouncing relativism Terrence McKenna clearly articulates the standpoint from
which the present course is taught: Terence Mckenna denounces
Relativism - YouTube See also: Why
Are Reasonable People At War With Scientific Consensus? | Portside
On Rationality and Irrationality
For the purposes of this course, rationality is defined instrumentally as human experience, belief, thought and conduct congruent with reason, logic and evidence—that is, with the world-view of empirical science. Since science is restricted to the field of facts rather than values, being descriptive rather than prescriptive, and unable to deduce an “ought” from an “is,” it is not competent to posit or evaluate value judgments. This is the so-called fact/value disjunction. It follows that value judgments cannot be claimed to be either rational or irrational, since rationality applies only to means-end relations, not to the positing of ends in themselves. This fact is frequently obscured by the use of the term “reasonable”: we say someone is a reasonable person, which sounds as if we are saying they employ reason and strive to be rational in their thought and behavior, when what we often actually mean is that from our standpoint they are “good” or agreeable to us. If we say a person’s politics are reasonable, do we mean he or she tries to rationally work out the implications of his or her value commitments (say to privatization or collectivization), or do we mean that such value commitments are good or agreeable to us? Very often when we describe something as reasonable we are disguising a subjective value judgment as an objective statement of fact.
It is irrational to build a bridge capable of carrying a heavy load out of cardboard rather than stone or steel. But whether or not it is rational to build a bridge at all cannot be rationally determined—unless the question is turned into a means-end determination: in order to transport heavy materials across the river it may well be rational to build a bridge. In this perspective, irrationality entails holding beliefs that are contrary to logical reasoning and empirically verified evidence, and behaving in ways that contradict valid means-end relations. If we want rain, resorting to a rain dance is irrational, while seeding clouds is not. If a person diagnosed with cancer foregoes all medication and allied treatment in favor of fervent prayer, we would consider this behavior irrational. That prayer appears rational to the subject doesn’t make it rational: he or she is engaged in magical thinking, resorting to means that have no evidentiary connection with the desired ends. (If empirical evidence accrues that prayer helps cure cancer, then praying would be rational. But in the absence of such evidence some churches hedge their bets: if someone suffering from cancer stops treatment in favor of fervent prayer, church elders often order its resumption on the grounds that it is through such treatment that “God” works to answer prayer.)
But matters become much more complicated if we introduce the distinction between one’s conscious and unconscious motivations or goals. If, for example, we were to discover that the cancer sufferer was unconsciously suicidal, then we would have to revise our view of his or her behavior, for praying instead of receiving treatment is a rational means toward this end (death). If a person’s conscious goal is promotion and advancement in the company he works for, his act of hitting on his boss’s trophy wife at the Christmas party must be considered an irrational act—unless his unconscious goal is to get fired, or his incompatible competing goal of seducing the boss’s wife is far more important to him than his job. If a person has enrolled in medical school and purchased medical texts but never attends classes or reads these texts and spends all his time reading philosophy instead without being enrolled in a philosophy program, we can say his behavior is irrational—unless we were to discover that his unconscious goal is to fail out of medical school, in which case his behavior possesses a degree of rationality. So what looks on the surface to be irrational, may in light of unconscious factors appear rational after all. What is irrational from the standpoint of consciously stated goals may be rational from the standpoint of unconscious goals. In this light, psychoanalysis is less a matter of exposing the irrationality of human behavior than it is about revealing the hidden or latent rationality beneath manifestly irrational experience and behavior.
But does this then mean that in light of psychoanalytic understanding of unconscious motivation we must abandon any attempt to distinguish rational and irrational behavior—that, in fact, all behavior is revealed as rational if unconscious factors are taken into account? This would be an unnecessary, false and, in my view, irrational conclusion. Sometimes behavior that seems irrational is shown to be rational in light of its unconscious goals. But at other times behavior that seems irrational remains irrational even when the unconscious goals for engaging in it are understood. Understanding, for instance, that believing in astrology lowers a person’s anxiety by providing the feeling that events have meaning and can be predicted, understood and perhaps even to a degree controlled through astrological knowledge doesn’t make such belief any the less irrational. Science too can lower anxiety by providing knowledge, only in this case the knowledge concerned is real rather than pseudo-scientific and spurious. Revealing a person’s unconscious reasons for being irrational doesn’t eliminate the irrationality. A person who engages in extensive projection of his own repressed feelings into others will suffer defective reality-testing as a result. Understanding the unconscious reasons and mechanisms involved does not alter the irrationality of the outcome. So it appears there are different types of irrationality, some that turn out not to be irrational at all in light of unconscious goals, and others that remain irrational even in light of the unconscious factors that motivate it. Psychoanalytic understanding of unconscious factors in no way forces us to embrace a postmodern relativism that considers judgments of rational and irrational merely subjective expressions of personal taste or social conformity lacking in objectivity. Such a conclusion is itself revealed to be irrational.
From: Carveth (2018). Psychoanalytic Thinking: Essays in Critique (New York: Routledge, forthcoming).
In a review of Frederick Crews’s (2017) latest catalogue of Freud’s faults and blunders, George Prochnik (2017) points out that, despite what Crews sees as the scientific invalidation of psychoanalysis, he acknowledges that Freud, along with Shakespeare and Jesus, “is destined to remain among us as the most influential of 20th century sages.” Herein lies a conundrum: “The creator of a scientifically delegitimized blueprint of the human mind and of a largely discontinued psychotherapeutic discipline retains the cultural capital of history’s greatest playwright and the erstwhile Son of God.” Neither Crews nor his reviewer offer an explanation for this curious state of affairs. The answer is simple: like Jesus and Shakespeare, Freud offers us existential, psychological and moral truths that science, by its very nature, can neither generate nor comprehend. In “Why Freud survives. He's been debunked again and again--and yet we still can't give him up,” Louis Menand (2017) writes: “The principal reason psychoanalysis triumphed over alternative theories and was taken up in fields outside medicine, like literary criticism, is that it presented its findings as inductive. Freudian theory was not a magic-lantern show, an imaginative projection that provided us with powerful metaphors for understanding the human condition. It was not ‘Paradise Lost’; it was science, a conceptual system wholly derived from clinical experience.” Yet despite widespread skepticism with respect to its status as science psychoanalysis persists—precisely because it provides powerful metaphors for understanding the human condition. "As Crews is right to believe, this Freud has long outlived psychoanalysis. For many years, even as writers were discarding the more patently absurd elements of his theory … they continued to pay homage to Freud’s unblinking insight into the human condition. That persona helped Freud to evolve, in the popular imagination, from a scientist into a kind of poet of the mind.”
But having established Freud as a “poet of the mind,” Menand proceeds, like the culture at large, to implicitly devalue poetry by confining truth to science, arguing that “… the thing about poets is that they cannot be refuted. No one asks of “Paradise Lost”: But is it true? Freud and his concepts, now converted into metaphors, joined the legion of the undead.” Is it really true that no one asks of “Paradise Lost” is it true? Surely it remains a classic of Western literature precisely because, like the words of Jesus and the texts of Shakespeare, people have for generations found it contains existentially important truths and so have preserved it, undead, unlike the lesser poetry it allowed to die? In Western culture we have for so long equated truth as such with merely one of its manifestations, the type of truth derived from empirical science, that it seems odd to even speak of poetic, let alone moral, truth. But the myths and literature we consider classic are celebrated over lesser forms not merely because they are more aesthetically pleasing but because they are at the same time felt to be truer in important ways. Just as religion fails to colonize the sacred, so science holds no monopoly on truth, its competence being largely restricted to knowledge of material and biological objects, lithosphere and biosphere. But human beings are subjects as well as objects. Existence (Existenz) in the noösphere involves Imaginary and Symbolic transformations of the Lacanian Real, of raw beta elements by the alpha function (“alphabetization”) that, for Bion (1963), generates the conceptions, dreams, myths and metaphors that either live us or, through critical self-reflection, we learn to live and modify in creative ways.
Bion, W.R. (1959). Experiences in Groups. Ne w York: Basic Books, 1961. Section "Review" only, pp. 141-191.
Carveth, D.L. & Jean Hantman Carveth (2003). "Fugitives From Guilt: Postmodern De-Moralization and the New
Hysterias." American Imago 60, 4 (Winter 2003): 445-80.
Freud, S. (1921). Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego S.E., 18.
-----. (1927). The Future of an Illusion. S.E., 21: 3-58.
-----. (1930). Civilization and Its Discontents, S.E., 21: 57-146. Chapter one only, pp. 58-63.
-----. (1933). “The Dissection of the Psychical Personality.” Lecture 31, New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis,
-----. (1933). “Revision of the Dream Theory.” Lecture 29, New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, S.E., 22.
Klein, M. (1959). “Our Adult World and its Roots in Infancy.” Envy and Gratitude and Other Works, 1943-1963.
New York: Dell, 1975, pp. 247-263.
Menand, L. (1017). Why Freud Survives. The New Yorker (August 28, 2017).
*Showalter, E. (1997). Hystories: Hysterical Epidemics and Modern Media. New York: Columbia University Press.
Stevenson, L. & D. Haberman (2004). “Freud: The Unconscious Basis of Mind.” Ten Theories of Human Nature, 4rth
ed. New York: Oxford, pp. 156-175.
*This is the only book that must be purchased. All other readings are online.
Caper, R. (2000). Immaterial Facts: Freud's Discovery of Psychic Reality and Klein's Development of His Work.
New York & London: Routledge.
Carveth, D. (2013). The Still Small Voice: Psychoanalytic Reflections on Guilt and Conscience. London: Karnac Books.
Freud, S. (1915-16). Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. S.E., 15.
Fromm, E. (1941). Escape from Freedom. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Fromm, E. (1956). The Sane Society. 2nd Enlarged Edition. London: Routledge, 1991. See Introduction by David
Golding, Wm. (1958). Lord of the Flies London: Faber & Faber, 1971.
Küng, H. (1990). Freud and the Problem of God. Enlarged ed. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Meerloo, J. (1949). Delusion and Mass-Delusion. New York: Nervous and Mental Disease Monographs 79.
Meissner, W. (1984). Psychoanalysis and Religious Experience. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Miller, A. (1971). The Crucible. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1977.
Mitchell, J. (2000). Mad Men and Medusas: Reclaiming Hysteria. New York: Basic Books.
Mitchell, S.A. & M.J. Black (1995). Freud and Beyond: A History of Modern Psychoanalytic Thought. New York:
Shedler, J. (2006). That Was Then, This Is Now: An Introductioin to Contemporary Psychodynamic Therapy.
Unpublished online MS.
Shorter, E. (1992). From Paralysis to Fatigue: A History of Psychosomatic Illness in the Modern Era. New York:
The Free Press.
1. A two-hour mid-term test worth 40% in late October or early November testing your comprehension of key concepts discussed in the course to date.
2. One major paper worth 60% Due by the last official day for the submission of term work: before 4:30 p.m.
Essay Topic: Research and write about a specific, past or present, instance of mass behavior of the type studied in this course (mobs. manias, mass illusions or delusions, hysterical epidemics or mass hysteria) employing psychoanalytic concepts in order to move beyond the manifest toward the latent motives and mechanisms involved. Do not repeat the studies covered in Showalter's text.
Essay Instructions: (click here for further tips on essay style and presentation)
1. Remember you are writing, not for the instructor, but for the intelligent lay person who has not taken this course.
Define all key terms.
2. Lectures are designed as a guide to your own research. Essays which merely regurgitate lecture notes will not be
Do not quote or refer to lectures
in your essays; work with relevant texts instead.
3. Form, style, syntax, grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc., are as important as the content of your essay. Have
someone proof-read your essay before submitting it as an attached Word file (Arial 14) by email to:
(Spring 2012): 153-157.
6. Length: Approximately 3000 words
7. Please use complete justification of the text (as distinct from left justification).
8. In your first reference to a book provide in brackets its year of first publication. As long as you continue to refer to
this book you need not repeat the bracketed reference; when you turn to a different book by this author, or a book by
another author, provide the bracketed date.
9. In your text refer to dates of first publication if possible. In your bibliography do the same after the author's name, but
include the year of publication of the edition you are using at the end of the reference.
10. Do not write excessively long paragraphs. Each paragraph should contain one main idea. When you shift to another
idea start a new paragraph.
11. Do not sacrifice clarity in an attempt to write elegantly.
12. Keep the use of online resources for essays to an absolute minimum. Read books and journal articles. Do not quote
or make reference to Wikipedia as it is not a valid academic resource, though it may refer you to valid academic
sources which may be referenced.
13. Late penalties apply after due date at the rate of 5% of the grade earned per day (e.g., one day late would drop you
from 80% to 75%, two days to 70%, three days to 65%, etc). Be sure to keep a copy as lost essays will receive a grade
of zero. Essays are to be emailed to the instructor (email@example.com).
1. Consumption of food in class is a distraction and an annoyance to both other students and the instructor; snack before or after, but not during class time.
2. Please ensure that cell phones, pagers, blackberries, smartphones, etc., are turned off before entering the classroom.
3. If you arrive late for class, please do not enter until the break so as not to disrupt the class. My voice is loud and you should have little difficulty hearing what I'm saying from the hall.
4. Use of computers, tablets, etc., in class is disallowed unless you have a documented disability requiring this. But for the mid-term examination you will need either to use a device or write double-size, overlapping two lines, in black ink due to my poor vision.
5. This is a 4th year level Glendon/York course. Only students registered in 3rd or 4th year or graduate students are
permitted to enroll. Your work will be evaluated at the 4th year level.
We begin with a discussion of why Freud remains relevant tday. See Menand (2017), link above. We then review key Freudian concepts and the Freudian model of the mind. We then turn to Melanie Klein's development of Freud's concepts into what might be called the Kleinian/Freudian model of the mind. We then compare Freud's and Bion's (Kleinian) group psychologies. Read Golding’s Lord of the Flies or view the British or American film versions of the novel. We then review and critique Freud’s theory of religion as he developed it through these four phases:
(1) "Obsessive Acts and Religious Practices" (1907). S.E., 9.
(2) "Totem and Taboo" (1913 [1912-13]), S.E., 13. Both (1) and (2) are also in Freud, The Origins of Religion, (London: Penguin Books, 1990), pp. 31-41; 49-224.
(3) "The Future of An Illusion" (1927c), S.E., 21. You may use the edition online here: The Future of an Illusion
(4) "Civilization and Its Discontents" (1930a), S.E., 21. Both (3) and (4) are also in Freud, Civilization, Society and Religion. (London: Penguin Books, 1990), pp. 179-241; 243-340. Online here: Civilization and Its Discontents
"Moses and Monotheism" (1939), S.E., 23; also in Freud, The Origins of Religion, pp. 239-386, concerns religion but does not contribute anything fundamental to Freud's overall theory of religion.
Finally we turn to Showalter’s (1997) Hystories: Hysterical Epidemics and Modern Media which should be purchased. In connection with Showalter try to view the film Safe (1995). It is reviewed in Carveth, D.L. & Jean Hantman Carveth (2003), "Fugitives From Guilt: Postmodern De-Moralization and the New Hysterias,” American Imago 60, 4 (Winter 2003): 445-480. Online here: Fugitives
A “mass hysteria” as distinct from an “hysterical epidemic”: The Mystery of 18 Twitching Teenagers in Le Roy - NYTimes.com
Carveth review of Kolbert (2014), The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
Woody Allen on Hypochondria: Hypochondria - An Inside Look - NYTimes.com
The King’s Speech. Tom Hooper, Dir. Perf. Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush. Momentum Pictures, 2010.
The Rapture (1995). New Line Cinema. Produced by Nick Wechsler, Nancy Tenenbaum and Karen Koch; written and directed by Michael Tolkin. Rapture: The belief held by many conservative Christians that Christ will soon appear in the sky and that all of saved individuals, both living and dead, will rise to meet him.
Lord of the Flies (1963). Directed by Peter Brook. Diamond Video, 1963. Cast: James Aubrey, Tom Chapin, Hugh Edwards. Credits: Written by William Golding, based on his novel of the same title. Originally released as a motion picture in 1963. Abstract: A group of British schoolboys being evacuated from England are stranded on a deserted island after their plane crashes. Isolated from society, they revert to brutal behaviour.
The Crucible (1998). Twentieth Century Fox ; a Nicholas Hytner film ; a David V. Picker production ; screenplay by Arthur Miller ; produced by Robert A. Miller and David V. Picker ; directed by Nicholas Hytner. Beverly Hills, CA : Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, c1998. Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder, Paul Scofield, Joan Allen, Bruce avison, Rob Campbell, Jeffrey Jones. Credits: Director of photography, Andrew Dunn ; editor, Tariq Anwar ; music, George Fenton. Based on the play of the same title by Arthur Miller. Originally released as a motion picture in 1996. Abstract: A group of teenage girls meets in the woods at midnight for a secret love-conjuring ceremony. When their ceremony is witnessed by the town minister, the girls suddenly find themselves accused of witchcraft and as the hysteria in the village grows, blameless victims are torn from their homes.
Safe (1995). Chemical Films in association with Good Machine, Kardana Productions, Channel 4 Films ; produced by Christine Vacs ihon and Lauren Zalaznick ; written and directed byTodd Haynes. Sony Pictures Classics: distributed exclusively in Canada by Malofilm Distribution, Inc., c1995.
(119 min.). Cast: Julianne Moore, Peter Friedman, Xander Berkeley, Susan Norman, Kate McGregor Stewart, James Legros. Credits: Cinematography, Alex Nepomniaschy ; film editing, James Lyons; original music, Ed Tomney. Rated R. Abstract: Carol White, a suburban housewife, finds her affluent environment suddenly turning against her. Personal author: Haynes, Todd. Corporate author: Chemical Films (Firm).