Sunday, May 28, 2006

Freud on the couch

Dr Anthony Daniels The Times May 05, 2006 Times2
With Freud, it is not easy to say precisely what his achievement was; but a man who created, in Auden’s phrase, a climate of opinion the world over must have been out of the ordinary. The charges against him are many and serious. Far from having been the lone pioneer of the unconscious mind that he claimed to have been, he was a continuer and follower of the ideas of other men, whose influence he dishonestly failed to acknowledge. In short, Freud was a mythomaniac of gigantic proportions who had no hesitation in rewriting the past.
He was intellectually dishonest. He was well aware that his patients were not cured in the way that his published case histories claimed that they were (he fell out with his much more scrupulous colleague and coauthor, Josef Breuer, over this), and that therefore the claims he made for his method were false; hence all his theorising about the structure of the mind was based on no scientific evidence whatsoever. He claimed to be a natural scientist but in fact had little appreciation of scientific method and acted more as the leader of a cult or new religion than as a disinterested searcher after truth.
Whenever a disciple, such as Jung or Adler, disagreed with him, he did not so much refute his ideas as seek to ruin him by excommunication from the “true church” of psychoanalysis, which was a reaction to criticism more appropriate to a theocrat than to a real scientist. Freud wanted uncritical admiration and agreement from his followers, or rather disciples, not honest criticism, which he believed (or pretended to believe ) was the consequence of an unresolved Oedipus complex.
The influence of his ideas, albeit in vulgarised and simplified versions, has been culturally baleful and even catastrophic. For example, the notion that dysfunctional behaviour in adulthood has its origin in infantile or childhood traumas has led to a general belief in the existence of buried psychological treasure which, once unearthed and expressed in clear terms, automatically, in and of itself, causes the dysfunctional behaviour to cease, without any further conscious effort to control it on the patient’s part.
Freud thus strengthened a tendency for people to place the blame for their vices first on their parents and secondly on the doctors who failed to “cure” them of those vices. He was one of the most powerful modern destroyers of the concept of personal responsibility. His view that the repression of childhood sexuality caused, or could cause, neuroses or even psychoses resulted in the crude sexualisation of culture, for it implied that attempts to control oneself were not merely unhealthy but dangerous. Freud was thus the principal intellectual influence behind our current libertinism.
He also weakened the place of rational argument in human affairs. He made it possible for people always to argue that those with whom they disagreed were not so much mistaken about the evidence or logic of the matter as motivated by neuroses of which they were unaware. Thus Marx and Freud were the two patron saints of the ad hominem argument, which leads inevitably to intellectual laziness and dishonesty.
He was possessed of exceptional literary gifts. There can be no question that he was a great writer: to read him is to be beguiled by him. Just as with Sherlock Holmes (with whom the late Professor Michael Shepherd of the Maudsley Hospital once entertainingly compared him), one is inclined to overlook the faults of his logic and lacunae in the evidence for his conclusions because of the sheer brio involved. His imaginative leaps dazzle; his ability to find significance in small details — for example, slips of the tongue (and who among us does not use the concept of the Freudian slip?) — leave us feeling that we have been in the presence of a genius.
Freud was a deeply cultivated man, too. He was a good linguist and his knowledge of literature, especially Shakespeare (which he read and memorised), was vast. Highly intelligent men, such as the great Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, were deeply impressed by him; when Freud arrived in England as a refugee after the Anschluss in 1938, the Royal Society immediately conferred an exceptional honour on him.

The hidden Jew in Spinoza

Spinoza was most interested in creating a state in which it would be safe to philosophize and trying to rein in the more pernicious forces of religion. Spinoza had already died when John Locke had to leave England and went to Amsterdam. But in Amsterdam, Locke did hang with these dissident Protestant thinkers who Spinoza had made a big impression on. And when Locke went back to England, he produced his writings on tolerance that influenced the people who created this extraordinary country that we're fortunate enough to live in. It's a wonderful kind of conceit to think that this reviled Jew might have played a role in creating America.
Rarely have I read so much nonsense as in Betraying Spinoza, a book that would be worthless were it not so dangerous. Goldstein's deep delusions about Spinoza would be comical, were they not being taken so seriously, and have received the Nextbook stamp of approval. The book is riddled with errors of historical fact, to say nothing of very dubious interpretations. Any half-way competent editor would have found these errors. It is one thing to write a fictional biography. But Goldstein just makes stuff up (like her total distortion of the letter to Albert Burgh where he cynically refers to the tiresome boasting of the Pharisees about their martyrs -- Spinoza is hardly identifying with Jewish history or her martyrs.
Quite the opposite. His point to Burgh is that a proliferation of martyrs is no proof oif the truth of Catholicism, to which Burgh had recently converted, than it is of the truth of Judaism. Goldstein is so desperate to find the hidden Jew in Spinoza that she simply ignore the overwhelming evidence -- especially in the Theological Political Treatise, with which she hardly deals -- that he despised the Jews and the Judaism of his day, and much preferred Jesus and Paul to Moses and Aaron. Spinoza is very explicit about this preference for Christianity, despite his own atheism, when he writes: "God sent God his Christ to free all men alike from the bondage of the law (i.e. Halakha)...thus, Paul's teachings coincides exactly with our own." (Chapter 3 of the Treatise) Of course, Goldstein simply ignores all of the inconvenient evidence, because the book is all about HER PERSONAL LOVABLE Spinoza, not the actual historical Spinoza and his philosophy.
In fact, her book is really all about her wanting to turn Baruch Spinoza into Rebecca Goldstein. How utterly selfish, narcissistic annoying. And SHAME on Nextbook for publishing this irresponsible rubbish, when there are so many wonderful and responsible single-volume introductions to Spinoza in print. This lazy, self-absorbed book will only misinform its readers about one of the most important thinkers in modern times. And that is a terrible shame ! Posted by Hakham Ba-Layla on 05.26.06