Many years ago a young woman entered Psychoanalysis for chronic problems she was having in maintaining her relationships. She announced at the start that she was an ardent feminist and that her feelings about this were not subjects for analytic review. Early in her treatment, her primary interest seemed to be to initiate arguments with me over male perfidy and oppression of women. It was not easy to maintain my neutral position in the face of near constant attack. (Her attacks felt like assaults, usually couched in terms of the patriarchal form and design of the analytic situation where I sat back like a typical male authority figure and made her suffer from my inane and stupid comments.) After several months of this I began to wonder if I would ever be able to actually start the process of exploring, as therapeutic allies, how her mind works, rather than remaining stuck in the "inherently oppressive" analysis, which was the only way she could experience my efforts. The breakthrough came when she casually mentioned toward the end of one session that her ankle was bothering her and she was annoyed (she was almost always annoyed about something, I might add) that she wouldn't be able to jog that night. Since I knew that she was living in a marginal area of Manhattan and this was at a time when crime was at high levels and much in the news, I had concerns that her jogging might be putting her at risk. When I asked her where she jogged, she confirmed that she jogged in a relatively dangerous area. Her response to my comment to that effect was that women should be allowed to jog wherever and whenever they wished without fear of men and that nothing and nobody, including me, was going to stop her from doing what she wanted.
I was greatly relieved that it did not take long for her to recognize that her angry feminism (which had roots in long term feelings of disgust with her mother and envy of her brother's exalted position in her family) was inadvertently providing her with a rationalization for dangerous and self destructive behavior. I should point out that both of us agreed that she and every other woman should be free to jog wherever and whenever they wished, but reality required that until such time as this Utopian ideal could be arranged, prudence dictated that she jog at a different time and place as was her wont. When, as often was reported in the news in those days, a woman was assaulted and badly injured near the area she had been jogging, she responded with an anxiety attack; she was stricken with the thought that it could have been her and that there was an unconscious part of her mind that had been inviting just such an outcome. This was the true beginning of a very successful analytic treatment.
This patient from many years ago comes to mind now in the context of the recent flood of "leaks" of intelligence which have been appearing in the New York Times and other MSM outlets. The idea of elevating one's ideological and/or intellectual ideas above the needs of self-preservation were clearly traceable in my patient to her unconscious needs for self-punishment. She risked her life and well-being for reasons having nothing to do with her conscious motivations (which didn't make sense on their face).
Within the last two weeks, we have seen numerous stories harmful to the conduct of the war on Islamic fascist terror appear in the New York Times; recent examples would be The Agency That Could Be Big Brother and Widespread Radioactivity Monitoring Is Confirmed. Reactions to such stories varies. [Pajamas Media has a nice round up of blogger reactions to the story of The radiation monitoring of mosques.]
Hominid Views presents a not uncommon reaction from the left; he is primarily alarmed at the threat to civil liberties:
Hmmm…if this story pans out, it could result in another article of impeachment or two against Bush and his cronies. Of course, it all boils down to whether warrants are really required for FBI agents to go on private property and measure radiation.
Hmmmm… I fail to see how the directionality of the sensor is an issue. I cannot imagine that the Supreme Court would rule any differently if the thermal imaging technology had, instead, been a non-directional bionic nose that could sniff out pot growing in the basement of a private home (well outside the normal range of “sniffing” pot). The end result is the same—an invasion of privacy under circumstances where a warrant should be sought. [Emphasis mine-SW]
Conservative and neo-con bloggers point out that such programs were ubiquitous under previous Presidents and were rarely if ever remarked upon by the self-appointed guardians of our civil liberties. The outrage the left had over the "outing" of Valerie Plame is now equaled or exceeded by the outrage many on the right feel at the leaking of such top secret information which almost certainly damages our ability to combat Islamic (and other) terrorism.
It seems to me there are only two possible reasons the leakers, and those who print the leaks, can have for airing such potentially harmful information. The first possibility is that they are true believers in the absolute primacy of civil liberties; these are people who believe, for all sorts of often excellent reasons, that government power to control individuals is the ultimate danger and that any compromise of their position starts us on the "slippery slope" to totalitarianism. This position is, in some ways, quite admirable, though the logic of their uncompromising position leads to great harm to their own cause and to any influence they might wield or seek to wield. The other possibility is that they are political opportunists, using the issue for its value in damaging the Republican opposition for short term political gain. Aside from the noxiousness of this kind of behavior, I would suggest that their approach is similarly self-defeating, and threatens to marginalize their party and destroy whatever influence they might hope to wield.
There is a certain type of person who is intolerant of imperfection in themselves, and in others. They maintain the highest of standards for themselves and their society. In a profoundly important book written 20 years ago, the Psychoanalyst Arnold Rothstein described them as being involved in The Narcissistic Pursuit of Perfection. Their need for perfection leads them to attack all those who, inevitably, disappoint them; no one is ever good enough to make them feel satisfied.
[Their self esteem depends on a reflection in the mirror of the idealized other, which is why they can never feel particularly good for long; this is a fairly complex process and is further described in my past and current series on Narcissism.]
When their pursuit of perfection, in themselves and others, fails, as it inevitably must, they are prone to terribly self-destructive despair and depression. It is important to note that the despair has always been lurking; it is held at bay by short term success in using external buttresses to defend their fragile self-esteem. As long as they are seen as smarter, or more ethical, or more correct, or more powerful; as long as they have an audience, people who will look up to them, they can maintain their image of themselves as better than others. It is when such maneuvers fail that they are prone to despair.
The opportunistic Democrats need to hold onto their power; they need the fawning MSM elites to confirm their conviction that they are smarter and better than their opponents, and they are often willing to do anything to regain that power, even if it damages their country and harms other people.
The civil liberties absolutists, on the other hand, present a more complicated scenario. They are much more like my young female patient. They insist that the world should be the way they want it to be, and further, try to force others to collude with them in imagining the world is the way they wish. If they win one victory, they need to escalate; this is the logic of the pursuit of perfection. Thus, if the administration agrees to allow lawyers to visit inmates in Guantanamo, they cannot be satisfied, but then must escalate to demanding full rights of access to the American legal system. If they ever were to become successful at getting people to agree with them, their logic insists that the West effectively disarm; we must stop all NSA intercepts, stop monitoring Mosques and other locations, and maintain the inviolability of personal privacy from any government intrusion. Because their true demands are so extreme, they can only face marginalization by pressing their agenda; further, if they truly cared about civil liberties, they would find a way to compromise because the greatest risk to civil liberties would be posed by a second attack on the scale of 9/11 or worse. Were such an attack to occur, all notions of acceptable limits of governmental intrusion would be jettisoned, with the agreement of the vast majority of the American people. In either case, whether they win or lose the current argument, they ultimately must lose.
[I am purposely neglecting the case in which there is no Islamic fascism and no real threat to the West because this seems to me to be the most fanciful of possibilities; further, most of those who are making the current condemnations agree that we are at war but disagree on the methods and the importance of maintaining perfect adherence to the highest levels of individual protection for those they represent.]
The fact that those who cry loudest about the Bush administration abusing civil liberties (in the absence of any real evidence for specific abuses) are doomed to lose no matter what the outcome, is evidence that they are expressing, through often elegant and elaborate rationalizations, a true self-destructive wish which is hidden and unrecognized. The fact that they are willing to risk the lives of others in order to hold onto their ideological position is further evidence of the aggression that contaminates their purity of vision.
The MSM, embodied by the New York Times, screamed for those who leaked the Plame name (which turned out to be a non-crime) to be prosecuted; ironically, they have now made it acceptable, perhaps inevitable, that those who are currently leaking and those who facilitate such leaks, will eventually face prosecution. (Michelle Malkin made just such a suggestion yesterday.)
Thus, again, we see how those who refuse to compromise their extremist positions end up undermining their own cause. This is self-destruction by any name. The demand for perfect protection of civil liberties undermines the cause of civil liberties, undermines the proponents of such maximalist demands, and threatens to undermine the fundamental rights of all of us to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We must be vigilant not to allow their self destructive behavior to endanger those of us who do not share their pathology.