Looking back on what I have been writing about on this blog, I think there is an underlying theme that animates my thinking. The Psychoanalyst interprets defenses (essentially to help people stop fooling themselves about their own mental processes) in order to bring into consciousness those motivating ideas and feelings that the person has been incapable of facing directly. As I have pointed out to patients on many occasions: When you do not know why you behave the way you do, or feel the way you feel, you can not change anything. It is only once you understand why you are feeling the way you feel and why you do the things you do, that you have the choice of changing the behavior that causes you, and others, grief. In brief, the goal of psychoanalysis is to enlarge the area of mental life, feelings and behavior, that a person can take conscious responsibility for.
(Please note there are many types of treatment that help people change behavior, that do not involve "making the unconscious conscious", but they are treatments with different, more modest, goals than Psychoanalysis, which aims for deeper structural alterations in the character. The differences lead to a long discussion, better suited for another time and place.)
I have never been fond of "Pop" Psychology. Typically, when media types write about psychology and try to use psychoanalytic concepts, they oversimplify to the point of meaninglessness and generally misuse the concepts they write about, often with a (probably unconscious) political and philosophical bias. The emblematic themes of modern liberalism, with their selective use of psychological concepts, are victimhood and externalization of responsibility. In so much of what has occurred in our culture over the last 40 years, the idea of "root causes" became an unquestioned assumption. The "root causes" invoked as explanatory and exculpatory all seemed to arise in the external culture and especially in "abuse" by the powerful (with "abuse" being defined by spokespeople for the designated victim classes), or in the person's biochemistry, over which he would, of course, have no control.
The outcome of much of this has been the novel theory of causation, which essentially says that man is a helpless creature, at the mercy of his surrounding society and internal psycho-physiology, and therefore cannot be held responsible for anything he does. The exception is that the wealthy and successful, whether individuals, companies, or nations, are responsible for all that goes wrong for the victim and for the world.
In today's Opinion Journal piece from the Wall Street Journal, 'The Cube and the Cathedral' Why Europe's great churches are empty, Brian M. Carney writes about the book of this name by George Weigel who,
"describes a European culture that has become not only increasingly secular but in many cases downright hostile to Christianity. "
Carney quotes Weigel's thesis:
"European man has convinced himself that in order to be modern and free, he must be radically secular," Mr. Weigel writes. "That conviction and its public consequences are at the root of Europe's contemporary crisis of civilizational morale."
One need not find this scenario especially plausible to feel persuaded by Mr. Weigel's more measured arguments about Europe's atheistic humanism. Without a religious dimension, Mr. Weigel notes, a commitment to human freedom is likely to be attenuated, too weak to make sacrifices in its name. Europe's political elites especially, but its citizens as well, believe in freedom and democracy of course, but they are reluctant to put the "good life" on hold and put lives on the line when freedom is in need of a champion--say, in the Balkans or, especially, in Iraq. (Mr. Weigel is at pains to emphasize, however, that his analysis is not born of disenchantment over European popular opposition to the Iraq war.)
The good of human freedom, by European lights, must be weighed against the risk and cost of actually fighting for it. It is no longer transcendent, absolute. In such a world, governed by a narrow utilitarian calculus, sacrifice is rare, and churches go unvisited.
I would add that one of the unintended consequences of radical secularism is to remove an additional source of personal responsibility. In the Judeo-Christian ethic, an individual is responsible for his actions and ultimately will be judged by his Creator. If we remove religion from the public sphere, make morality a completely human-derived expression of opinion, and explain away responsibility (mis)using psychology, we are left with minimal tools to maintain a society. This is more problematic than many recognize. Most people are not very distant from their instinctual impulses, and need all the help society can offer them in behaving as good, productive citizens of the community. We remove these buttresses at our peril.
Europe is ahead of us...it will be interesting to see if we follow where they are leading.