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February 04, 2013

Bumped: A Military Psychistrist's Diagnosis of the Left

"I used to the think the brain was the most important organ, but then I thought 'look who's telling me that."

-- Emo Phillips, quoted by movieqique/bitmaelstrom.

This is some stuff I've been trying to figure for a while (but wasn't able to, because I never fell upon a key insight he offers).

The psychiatrist discusses the psychology of those in "wordsmith professions." Now, I'm in one of those professions (kinda), as is he, but yet I don't like the psychology of the profession. My problem is not that it's an unworthy field of endeavor, of course. (If I thought it were unworthy, I'd be DepressiveBlogger100 instead of DepressiveBlogger69.)

No, the problem I have is the easy arrogance of the wordsmiths in assuming their skills are the ultimate skills and all other skilsets are at best inferior and at worst not skills at all but instead demonstrations of crudity and stupidity.

Thus we saw in 2001 and on -- when soldiers and firefighters, men with the virtue of physical courage, were finally getting their due -- that the wordsmith class, after initially going with the flow and letting the Deltas have a few moments of the spotlight, began attacking and demeaning them again, attempting to reassert the supremacy of themselves.

The whole piece is worth reading -- he begins by noting his history diagnosing left-leaning draft evaders who feigned psychological problems or homosexuality to avoid combat duty -- but here's the truly key insight.

Over many years of clinical observation, I repeatedly confirmed the truth of Wordsworth's observation that "the child is father of the man". So who were these wordsmith cowards as children? In his great essay Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?, Robert Nozick pointed out that wordsmith intellectuals-writers, journalists, liberal arts professors, film makers, television pundits-had frequently been children who achieved success in school, based on their verbal skills. They were rewarded with elite status within the school system. As adults, however, they were not similarly rewarded. Capitalism rarely gives its greatest rewards to the verbally skilled. Nozick tried to sort out the puzzle, and concluded that it is our educational system, where, as he put it:

"...to the intellectually meritorious went the praise, the teacher's smiles, and the highest grades. In the currency the schools had to offer, the smartest constituted the upper class. Though not part of the official curricula, in the schools the intellectuals learned the lessons of their own greater value in comparison with the others, and of how this greater value entitled them to greater rewards. The wider market society, however, teaches a different lesson. The greatest rewards do not automatically go to the verbally brightest. Verbal skills are not most highly valued... Schooled in the lesson that they were most valuable, the most deserving of reward, the most entitled to reward, how could the intellectuals, by and large, fail to resent the capitalist society which deprived them of the just deserts to which their superiority "entitled" them? Is it surprising that what the schooled intellectuals felt for capitalist society was a deep and sullen animus that, although clothed with various publicly appropriate reasons, continued even when those particular reasons were shown to be inadequate?...The intellectual wants the whole society to be a school writ large, to be like the environment where he did so well and was so well appreciated. "

As Eric Hoffer succinctly put it:

"Nothing so offends the doctrinaire intellectual as our ability to achieve the momentous in a matter-of-fact way, unblessed by words."

Nozick also observed that there is a childhood forerunner to capitalism -- the world of the playground. There, verbal intellect is far less important than action. On the playground aggression is as important as intellect. Being able to utilize aggression in the service of solving problems produces leaders not designated by authority figures, but by one's peers. Physical courage is valued highly. Cowards are mocked and shunned as "scaredy cats". Willingness to fight for oneself, without appealing to authority becomes a measure of status. It also provides real world lessons in human nature.


In that freewheeling world of the schoolyard, the good little girls and physically timid boys who craved teacher's praise were at a disadvantage. The schoolroom was their utopia, where physical aggression was banned and all problems had a verbal solution. Girls are usually more verbally adept in the early childhood years and gain surplus praise from teachers. In addition, such children, including boys who crave teacher's approval, receive moral approbation for being "good" while aggression is, "bad". Hence the future wordsmith intellectual grows up feeling smarter, morally superior, a caring idealist.

These self-flattering views carry over to adulthood, and shape the future wordsmith intellectuals' political views. If words can resolve all conflicts, then wordsmiths are exceedingly important. If conflicts within and between human beings can be "resolved" with words, then who better to play the role of savior than the wordsmith intellectual?


Capitalism embraces competition and competition requires utilization of aggression. Profound fear of aggression, and the concomitant dislike of action to solve problems, constitutes the underlying reason for the loathing of capitalism. The schoolroom is a model for intellectual utopia. Utopia is, above all, a conflict-free zone wherein no one is aggrieved. Whatever social problems exist can be talked out. Intellectuals and their verbal skills can show the way to harmony and peace. Having avoided aggression at an early age, these wordsmiths never learned Patton's lessons in courage. Cowardice is therefore the reaction that comes most readily in situations of danger.

As a psychoanalyst I belong to a wordsmith profession, of course, and I have a close-up view of its practitioners. They are overwhelmingly left in their politics and tend to think words are the answer to all serious problems. Their faith in the power of words to resolve conflict is almost absolute...

We are drowning in a therapeutic culture, saturated by a fantasy version of human nature in stark contradiction to the original psychoanalytic view, a view much closer to the stoics and St. Augustine than to Deepak Chopra. Unfortunately for the adherents of the therapeutic culture, conflict can never be ‘resolved', and they are doomed to disappointment. Never mind, there will be another self help guru next week.

The human mind, however, is in conflict as long as it is alive.

I don't think that the "wordsmith" class is inherently evil or unworthy. What I believe is that they have, due to their position, the power to comment upon everything, and in every dispute they will have the last word. It's their job to have the last word.

This means that the wordsmith professions are barely every critiqued by those outside the professions. Capitalists, of course, suffer the critiques of the wordsmiths every day, but rare is the day that the capitalists lodge their own critique of the wordsmiths. (Capitalism can punish the wordsmiths, of course, as it's doing now; but it's rare that there's an outsider critique. Most people who critique are, in fact, part of the wordsmith class to one extent or the other. Wordsmiths tend to understand only words, not numbers; and so while they continue to shed workers, lose subscribers, and lose money, it doesn't quite register with them unless the rebuke is expressed in words. Their minds are quite cramped and limited in that sad way.)

So, basically, we have an entire series of psychologically-related industries that never has bullshit called on them.

And when you never have bullshit called on you, you can believe all sorts of self-flattering things. The key ego-building premises favored by the class are relentlessly re-propagated by members of the class -- so of course it will turn out, ultimately, that Howard Fineman thinks himself superior to a decorated soldier.

No one whose council he respects has ever told him otherwise. Only those grubby hand-workers say things like this, and we can dismiss their words immediately, as they are not elevated members of the wordsmith class.

Every person in the world with a healthy (by which I mean "not self-loathing") ego naturally over-values his own talents and virtues and naturally under-values -- and even denigrates -- talents and virtues he doesn't possess. The first things smart kids teach themselves in fifth grade is that athelticism is overrated, and the first thing the non-academically-inclined kids teach themselves is that "people smarts" are more important than "book smarts."

This is just standard human behavior -- no point in knocking it, as there's no point in telling pigeons not to shit on cars.

But when entire industries full of people are never told they're overly pleased with themselves, the situation can become pathological. Any strong tendency which does not have a countervailing factor to check it can become pathological. And these classes have become, broadly, pathological in their thoughtless egotism and casual denigration of all other talents besides stringing some words together in a pleasing way.

Well, I'm going to chew on this for a while. I think this will join Julian Fellows' insights in the commentery for Gosford Park in my Grand Unified Theory of Human & Political Behavior.

Thanks to spongeworthy.

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posted by Ace at 02:34 PM

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