The International Psychohistorical Association held its 40th annual conference May 31-June 2 in at New York University, and I attended and presented. The main theme was “Exploring the Intersection Between History and Psychology,” and the sub-theme was “Psychohistory in the Age of Trump.” There were more presentations than I could attend, and I wasn’t taking notes all the time, so this isn’t a comprehensive report, just some of my notes.
Wednesday, May 31
Howard Stein: “Organizational Poetry As a Portal to Understanding
Organizations, Society and History”
Who would have thought that poetry has anything to do with understanding organizations? Howard Stein, of the University of Oklahoma, opened with a talk on “Organizational Poetry as a Portal to Understanding Organizations, Society and History.” Stein, who was honored at this conference for his contributions throughout the years, is both an organizational consultant and a poet; an unusual combination.
Poetry makes it possible to say “the undiscussable, out in the open,” Stein said. He read a poem of his called “Slash and Burn,” about “downsizing, reengineering, outsourcing” etc., including: “Falsehood is truth, disagreement is betrayal, fear is victorious, death triumphant, furies rule the night.” From another poem, also about downsizing, Stein read, “What is happening has not happened, and if it has, we do not want to know.” From another poem about a hospital system in which 1,000 people had been laid off, he read, “Where is the blood?”
Stein referred to “an enormous literature on what’s called ‘transformational leadership,’ people brought in by shareholders, boards of directors, to rescue an organization that they fear is going downhill. The ‘transformational leader’ gets rid of the dead wood, gets rid of fat, trims muscle to the bone, gets rid of the old, which is (seen as) the source of what is wrong with the organization. This happens even when organizations show profit, but not enough.” Then he read a poem, beginning, “The new CEO arrived like a god on a chariot…”
Stein then invited us to write our own poems about organizations, and several people read theirs. It certainly provided another avenue to access and express the experience of being in an organization.
Peter Kuznick: “Trump and Foreign Policy”
Peter Kuznick, of American University, then spoke on “Trump and Foreign Policy,” which, he said, was like trying to hit “a moving target.” Kuznick was in Russia several times during the 2016 campaign, and “nearly everyone supported Donald Trump there, perceiving Clinton as hostile to Russia.” Kuznic agreed that Clinton was hostile to Russia, and also a hawk, but saw her as a better choice than Trump, because of his “inconsistency and unpredictability.” About nuclear weapons, Kuznick quotedTrump as saying, “What’s the use of having these weapons if we can’t use them?”
Despite Trump’s signature narcissism, Kuznick described him as in the tradition of other American presidents, particularly George W. Bush, who started the war in Iraq, and Harry Truman, who dropped the atomic bomb on Japan. He read a list of American foreign policy transgressions over time to emphasize the point that, while Trump’s style is in some ways unique, his policy positions are consistent with America’s foreign policy history. As to making up stories, Kuznick said that Trump is comparable to Ronald Reagan, who told Israeli prime minister Yitzak Shamir that he had been in a signal corps during W.W. II that liberated a concentration camp, and had kept the film to prove that the camp existed against Holocaust deniers. In fact, Reagan had never left the United States.
Robin Stern and Judith Logue: “Gaslighting: From the Personal
to the Political”
Next, Robin Stern, of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, and Judith Logue, in private practice, presented on “Gaslighting—From the Personal to the Political.”
Stern wrote “The Gaslighting Effect” ten years ago, and her part of the presentation was about “the personal function of Gaslighting,” which is when one person makes another person think she’s crazy by lying to her and making her doubt her perceptions of reality. “Gaslighting is always a co-creation of two people,” Stern said, “the gaslighter, who is more powerful, disqualifying the perceptions, memory and sanity of the gaslightee.” However, “the gaslightee holds the keys to her personal prison, if she finds the courage to refuse the gaslighter’s influence over her.” In her therapy practice with couples, Stern often saw one partner gaslighting the other.
Judy Logue then talked about gaslighting going political. The steep reduction in the middle class creates a situation in politicians can gaslight the electorate about the causes for their economic decline. “Isolation is the most important tool in the Gaslighter’s kit,” she said.
Elizabeth Lomback, Natasha Zuretsky, and Dagmar Herzog: “The Legacy of Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism.”
Continuing the theme of psychohistory in the age of Trump, the next panel included three speakers discussing Christopher Leach’s 1979 book, “The Culture of Narcissism.”
Elizabeth Lomback, of Harvard, author of “The Americanization of Narcissism,” observed that “the upsides of narcissism have to do with Trump’s success, and the discussions of the downsides of narcissism don’t help us to understand his appeal. There are paradoxes here; (the narcissist seems) to be caring at some times and ruthless at others…What is at issue is not the narcissist’s personality but the ways he mobilizes that personality to make connections with others…Visionary, charismatic, ambitious, (with) high self-esteem, ruthlessness—“ these are characteristics of skillful narcissistic leaders.
Natasha Zuretsky, of Southern Illinois University, author of “No Direction Home: The American Family and the Fear of National Decline, 1968-1980,” spoke next. “The displacement of politics by spectacle” is one of the characteristics Lasch saw in a culture of narcissism. In the late 1970’s, Lasch “recognized the decline of the American middle class,” which has since progressed to unemployment and underemployment, the opioid epidemic, high rates of diabetes and heart disease, death rates that are increasing after having diminished in the population, “expressing the hopelessness of the middle class.” “The decline of the middle class was masked to some extent and for some time by the conscription of women into the workforce.” This “made a culture that was more equal and inclusive, even as economic inequality increased with lower status and wages in available jobs.”
Dagmar Herzog, of the City University of New York Graduate Center, author of “Cold War Freud,” “Sex in Crisis,” among others, spoke next. She commented on “the transportation of Lasch’s ideas into the cultures of West Germany and Switzerland in the 1980s, and also the ideas of psychoanalysts Heinz Kohut and Otto Kernberg, on whose work Lasch relied. “It was not easy to return psychoanalysis to post W.W. II Germany, which was anti-semitic and anti-psychoanalytic. Eventually, psychoanalysis received more prestige and welcome in West Germany, in its view of aggression as a basic drive…” Over time, analysts’ perceptions of their patients changed from one preoccupied with Oedipal issues, as conceived by Freud and his followers, and came to focus on narcissistic issues, as discussed by Kohut and Kernberg. “Dozens of analysts decided that they had misdiagnosed their patients as neurotic when they were all narcissistically disturbed.” “Kohut was a permission giver to analysts to be warm with patients,” instead of neutral and unresponsive.
Arnold Richards, Arthur Lynch, Bert Seitler:
”The Politics of Exclusion–Discussion of Dr. Richards’ Selected Papers”
“The Politics of Exclusion and Institute Stagnation,” is about the exclusion of some psychoanalysts by others in psychoanalytic institutes. Arnold Richards, of the New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, Arthur Lynch, of Columbia University, and Burt Seitler, of the Journal JASPER (Journal for the Advancement of Scientific Psychoanalytic Empirical Research), discussed the topic (note: I didn’t have any notes from Lynch). Richards said, “Psychoanalysis as an institution needs to come to terms with its history, which includes a legacy of exclusionary politics.” The way forward, he thought, was not “theoretical restoration”—the search for an inclusive theory—but rather “a politics of inclusion,” an “integrated pluralism.”
Seitler read a paper, “Dissension Within the Sanctum Sanctorum, the Psychoanalytic Institute.” He began his talk with a sardonic, amusing question: “Why is it that supposedly well analyzed individuals stimulate the most primitive (emotional reactions) in one another within the Institute, (including) jealousy, narcissistic rage, and sibling rivalry?” He continued, “To begin with, the notion of being ‘completely analyzed’ is a delightful fiction…The early history of psychoanalysis is marked by bitter excommunication of once-cherished disciples, (including) Jung and Adler…Psychoanalytic institutes were originally founded to support and protect creative thinking, but the dynamics of institutes may mitigate against that.”
Richards then commented that psychoanalysts Sandor Rado and Karen Horney wrote the report for setting of standards for training (under the imprimatur of a better known person), under which the Americans had a franchise for psychoanalytic training. Later, both Rado and Horney were excluded from being accepted as qualified to offer training in the USA because (if I heard Richards’ comments correctly) one wasn’t a psychiatrist and one wanted to do analysis and training only three times a week, instead of 4! Richards commented, “The division between the haves and the have-notes, the training analysts and the non-training analysts, persists to this day.”
Thursday, June 1
Paul Elovitz, David Cifelli, and Peter Petschauer:
“The Psychology of Trump and the 2016 Election”
Paul Elovitz, of Ramapo College, saw Trump as needing “to pick fights and win,” and said, “One of the great dangers of Trump as president is that he will pick fights with other countries” because of that need. Elovitz saw Trump as having a “personality characteristic of being left behind and vulnerable,” which “helped him to connect with many people who feel that way.”
David Cifelli, a student formerly at Ramapo College, had spoken with a number of Trump supporters, and found them responsive to Trump’s “shift(ing) the blame to others, provid(ing) ready-made scapegoats.” One older person said “I would be ashamed if he were my son, but we don’t have to elect a nice guy, we have to elect a president.”
Peter Petschauer, emeritus professor at Appalachian University, observed that “There is a similarity to authoritarian regimes across the world, not only in how they (behave) in power but also in how they got into power. Getting into power usually involves slogans, and you have to make an impressive figure.” They need to have “flags everywhere, massive assemblies of troops, even before the person gets into power. Trump had more flags on the podium” than Petschauer had ever seen. Petschauer found that authoritarian regimes often come to power supported by “promises to correct a lost war, even centuries earlier,” as had been the case with Milosevic in Yugoslavia.
“Trump talks about America as a loser,” Petschauer said. Authoritarian leaders make promises to correct past wrongs, attracting the support of those who feel left behind. They gain the support of conservative religious groups; Hitler had such support, and Putin has the support of the Orthodox Church. There is also an attack on certain individuals, generally disliked ethnic groups, and women, in some form or other. “Hatred is such a satisfying quality.” Authoritarian leaders “export lies,” and lie often—Hitler said the more you repeat a lie the more it will be believed—and “use the latest forms of media effectively; Hitler used the radio.” They “surround themselves with sycophants. Have big construction projects. Start wars. Pack the judiciary. Arrest journalists. Sideline and arrest opposition. The first people in Germany put into concentration camps were not Jews, they were socialists and communists.” They “excuse misbehavior of supporters and friends, who have permission to lie, bully, steal,” and engage in “massive personal, financial, political corruption.
The good news is that, “in the long run, these authoritarian leaders fail. Hitler, Mussolini, Berlusconi. Putin’s regime is beginning to crumble, (though) Erdogan is on the upswing. Dictators hear what their sycophants tell them, which is what they want to hear, not what is really happening.” But “Trump is everywhere, everywhere you go, (which) will ultimately turn against him.”
In the Q and A period, I asked Petschauer about the viability of the institutions we have in the era of Trump. He responded that “There is a lot of professionalism in our institutions, but people value their jobs.” He referred to Germany, where professional and independent legal and educational systems were undermined from the top, by people that Hitler appointed. In Turkey, people are being arrested en masse, to undermine institutions.
“One thing about power is that it is so wonderful,” Petschauer continued. “Power is better than any other human form of expression. When people get into power, they will do almost anything to stay there. Congressmen will do almost anything to stay in power,” and this weakens the integrity of institutions.
Ken Fuchsman and Irene Javors:
“New Directions in Psychohistory and Psychobiography.”
Ken Fuchsman, of the University of Connecticut, began by observing that “Although psychohistory as such is in disrepute” (among the disciplines of history), historians use psychology and psychotherapeutic concepts. Psychology and a psychological perspective on leadership personality is an inevitable component in historical writing, and some of the most important issues in history cannot be approached without psychology. “The inevitable intersection of psychology and history sneaks in the back door.” Fuchsman quoted Peter Gay: “The historian is an amateur psychologist.” And, “Self-actualization cannot occur without cultural actualization.”
Irene Javors, of Yeshiva University, presented on: “Do Ask, Do Tell, Contemporary Questions for Psychohistorians and Psychobiographers.” She said that “The concerns of psychohistory and psychobiography have been too focused on psychopathology, without enough focus on cultural issues” of prejudice and oppression. She gave the illustration of a client, gay and the survivor of gay-bashing as well as organizing for civil rights in the south, who, putting his hand out to prevent an African American woman, preoccupied with her cell phone, from walking into him on the sidewalk, was shouted at, “Keep your hands off me, you white bastard!” Javors sees this from a social point of view, institutions and cultural norms impacting individuals.
During the Q and A, a questioner objected to Javors use of the term “intersectionality” to include her white gay client. The questioner felt that “intersectionality” properly referred only to nonwhite groups.
Molly Castelloe, Appreciation of Howard Stein
The next program was a celebration of Howard Stein, and one of the speakers was Molly Castelloe, of the Metropolitan College of New York. Appreciating the recognition of complexity which Stein’s poetic approach to understanding organizations affords, Castelloe observed that “Trauma spreads in cultures through many vectors,” including “horizontally (between peers), and vertically (in power relationships).” She continued, “Trauma (meaning, I think, traumatic events in the world we live in) finds (the) unacknowledged grief in groups.”
”We Can’t Know the Present Absent History of the Past:
The Transmissions of Slavery’s Traumas”
Janice Gump, PhD, of the Institute of Contemporary Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, gave the afternoon’s keynote address:
Slavery “was the most determining aspect of African-American being” or subjective personal experience in this country, “and also what may have been one of the most determining aspects of the United States, economically and culturally, (including) to slavers and their supporters. I think it is as important if not more important to understand those who do the victimizing as to understand those who are victimized…The most fundamental aspect of slavery was the belief that blacks were fundamentally inferior to whites, defective, not quite as human. This made it possible for them to be treated as property,” and left a legacy of trauma transmitted through the generations. “Children who experience unbearable affect in the absence of attunement by attachment figures are likely to feel responsible for their distress and also for the absence of the parent,” whether that absence is physical or emotional.
My presentation: “The Election Pie Chart: How Did This Happen?”
In the summer of 2016 I bet a couple of guys a bottle of wine each that Trump would win–hoping to be mistaken! After the election, I spoke with them, and several others, about why the election had gone the way it had, and began an informal pie chart of the contributing factors. That grew into my submission of “Election 2016 WTF: The Pie Chart,” and the title was gentled while entering the conference brochure.
Of course, Hillary Clinton and the Democrats deserve credit for winning the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, but still lost the election. So I wanted to look at what happened with what I called a “ruthlessly realistic” perspective. Here re the slices, which of course overlap:
•The economic disenfranchisement of the middle class, with corresponding loss of social status and economic control over one’s life, is the largest single slice. Psychologist Hadley Cantril, in 1941, published “The Psychology of Social Movements” in which he studied, among others, the rise of lynchings of African-Americans in the American South after the Civil War, and the rise of Naziism in Germany after W.W. I. In both situations there were the dynamics of a disenfranchised former middle class which, in a less extreme way and to a lesser extent, were present in the USA during the 2016 election. I reviewed some of Cantril’s findings from the post Civil War South and post W.W. I Germany, and compared them with the situation here. The causes of this economic disenfranchisement–mainly mergers and acquisitions, globalization and the ending of the U.S. unique manufacturing hegemony after W.W. II, and automation of manufacturing–are too complex and long-term to be captured in a simple slogan or amenable to a simple solution, but Trump’s slogan and strategy galvanized support from this large segment of the population.
•Health Care: Democrats didn’t get how much the public misunderstood about health care, and how much resentment there was about it, allowing Republicans to claim the issue. Republican intransigence in refusing to collaborate in fine-tuning the inevitable shortcomings of the Affordable Care Act meant that its problems proliferated, and Republicans PR successfully pinned that on Democrats.
•Democratic mismeasurement of the electorate, which I called “Delusion by Mismeasurement.” The official measure of unemployment, which showed only about 8% unemployment at the time of the election, failed to include the structurally unemployed. A 2012 CNN report noted that the labor force, as measured, only includes those who are working or who have looked for work in the last four weeks, which includes only about 64% of the population, leaving a whopping 36% structural unemployment category unmeasured. The GDP, which has been continually rising on average, and which the Democrats presented to voters, similarly doesn’t reflect the disparity of income.
•Democratic misunderstanding of women as mostly sharing certain feminist values. Journalist and editor Tina Brown commented, in the Guardian, about the Democratic strategists’ misunderstanding of women in “the heartland,” working 2 and 3 jobs, the wives, daughters and mothers of unemployed and underemployed men who cringed at Trump’s coarseness but bought his spiel about being the best job-creator, and who wondered why he was any worse than Bill.
•Democratic failure to have a competitive primary. A democratic strategist told me, “We didn’t have a primary, we had a coronation.”
•Republican strategy reflecting a long term and short term determination to win, which itself had several ingredients. They include: a long term (over a generation) strategic effort to mobilize Republican political presence at every level, from the school board to the town council to state government, as well as federal government, with gerrymandering to support repeated elections (Democrats gerrymander as well, but Republicans seem to have been more successful nationally); congressional intransigence to prevent the government from operating effectively, and then winning the PR fight to blame the ineffectiveness on the Obama administration and the Democrats; having a real primary, in which the winner, though not really “one of them,” was embraced. I proposed that there is a difference in party culture, such that Republicans want to win, and Democrats want to be confirmed in their values and worldview.
•Republican strategy in keeping investigations of the Benghazi tragedy and Clinton’s emails going and succeeding in sticking her with negative public perceptions about that (Clinton has her own negatives too, of course, but Republicans appeared to strategically tar her in public perception with these investigations, which appeared to have been mainly politically motivated).
•The October Surprise, when FBI Director Comey announced that the FBI investigation of Clinton’s emails, which had been declared over, was re-opened. That happened because Clinton trusted Huma Abedin who was married to Anthony Wiener, who was under separate investigation for improper sexual communications online, in the course of which potentially restricted emails appeared on his laptop. (My slide of this is my favorite one!)
•Republican superiority in political messaging, as observed by linguist George Lakoff: Republicans speak of values, Democrats talk about percentages (which, as I’d mentioned, were often based on mismeasurement).
•Mysogyny, pure and simple, played some role.
•The misperception that feminism can’t include femininity, which produced a backlash against Clinton, separate from mysogyny as such.
•Electorate misinformation amounting to self-selective brainwashing, over years, on the part of listeners and viewers who get their news from media outlets that galvanize, monetize and politically weaponize grievance.
•Russian intervention, which continues a tradition going back at least into the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire. We still don’t know the extent of the Russian intervention, and we may never.
The Q and A was lively, and one person made the point that some Trump voters were disappointed former Obama voters.
Friday, June 2
Ken Fuchsman and Inna Rozentsvit:
“Love Before First Sight, Attachment, and What it Means to be Human.”
Ken Fuchsman said that “Our understanding of attachment is being expanded to include infant temperament, selectivity of a primary attachment figure, culture, and the tendency of the human infant to select both a primary attachment figure as an infant and, later, a primary mate figure.”
Inna Rozentsvit, of the Object Relations Institute for Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, referred to the English analyst Winnicott, who said, approximately, “The baby only knows about herself by looking in the mother’s eyes and, like a mirror, finding his reflection there.” And the English analyst Bowlby’s attachment theory was “a new type of instinct theory, (of) relational bonds as a primary human instinct.”
“The Psychohistorical Impact of D.W. Winnicott’s Mother.”
Susan Keveler-Adler is the Founder/Executive Director of the Object Relations Institute for Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, a co-sponsor (with the NYU Silver School of Social Work) of this conference. She spoke of the relationship and conflict between analysts Melanie Klein and D.W. Winnicott, both of whom have had a significant impact on how psychoanalysis is understood and practiced, and discussed their relationships with their respective mothers and how that contributed to their views of human nature and of method in psychotherapy; “Contrasting mothers, contrasting theories.”
Keveler-Adler advocated combining Winnicottian and Kleinian theory, combined with ideas of her own, into “an organic theory, like Argentine Tango. When we face our split-off parts and contain those of our own patients,” we can “intuit the truth,” which involves “the movement to health through heartache.”
Lunch was on our own, and I smelled my way to a wonderfully seasoned Havana pork sandwich, which I ate in Washington Park, across from the NYU building we met in.
“The Concepts of True Self and False Self as Exemplified by Jews Who Survived on “Aryan Papers” in Nazi-Occupied Poland:
A Historical and Psychoanalytic Perspective.”
Krystina Sanderson, of the Psychoanalytic Training Program at the Blanton-Peale Graduate Institute, told the story of two girlfriends, Sima and Apolonia (“Pola”), one Jewish and one Polish, in which Pola and her family saved Sima’s life during W.W. II by having her live with them under a false Aryan identity, something which could have gotten them all killed. The handout included pictures of both women during W.W. II, and also in 1989. The Jewish woman’s daughter was present at our meeting, and said that she wouldn’t be alive were it not for the generosity of the Polish woman and her family. After the war, the Jewish girl, now a young woman, emigrated to Israel, where the Polish woman sent her food packages—conditions being even harder in Israel then in Poland after the war. Then the Jewish woman moved to Florida, and from there she sent care packages to the Polish woman, and brought her over to the U.S.A. for a visit. Sanderson wrote the story and sent it to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel, where the Pola was named “Righteous Among the Nations.” This story was hugely touching, and is written at the United States Holocaust Museum: https://www.ushmm.org/remember/the-holocaust-survivors-and-victims-resource-center/benjamin-and-vladka-meed-registry-of-holocaust-survivors/behind-every-name-a-story/sima-gleichgevicht-wasser
“The Dance Between the Latent and the Manifest While Interpreting Dreams: A Practitioners Guide”
Jack Schwartz, of the Object Relations Institute for Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, discussed dreams as “multifunctional events,” and the telling of a dream as part of the relationship in therapy. “Trauma kind of fixates, programs, your consciousness,” he said, and dreams have an adaptive function. “So what need is served to a repetitive dream? It must be to learn something that is not yet being learned.”
end of notes