Friday, December 8, 2006

Friday Reflection: Stripping the Image, Revealing the Truth

The neurotic...though godlike in his imagination, still lacks the earthy self-confidence of a simple shepherd. The great positions to which he may rise, the fame he may acquire, will render him arrogant but will not bring him inner security. He still feels at bottom unwanted, is easily hurt, and needs incessant confirmation of his value. He may feel strong and significant as long as he wields power and influence and is supported by praise and deference. But all of these feelings of elation collapse easily when, in a strange environment, this support is lacking; when he incurs failure; or when he is by himself. The kingdom of heaven does not come through external gestures. —from "Neurotic Pride," in Neurosis and Human Growth

The author of our banner quote for the week and of the text quoted above was not writing about Bush in the Huffington Post yesterday; she was writing one of the seminal works of psychological literature, about 56 years ago.

Karen Horney (it's pronounced horn-eye, so any wise guys out there can just get over it) is, to my mind, the most lucid voice of the entire European psychoanalytical tradition—more so than Freud, Rank, Adler, or even Jung. Neurosis and Human Growth is her classic work, and aside from containing eerily accurate psychological profiles of the characters currently ruling us from Washington, the book presents a beautifully balanced perspective on the human psyche, its conflicts and their various paths of resolution—both the adaptive kind and...certain other approaches. In her description of what she calls "the expansive solution", Horney paints another profile of the Bushies:

When looking at the expansive types we get a picture of people who, in a streamlined way, are bent on self-glorification, on ambitious pursuits, on vindictive triumph, with the mastery of life through intelligence and will power as the means to actualize their idealized self.

She goes on to demonstrate how such people use their image to disguise their own weakness and depravity:

The first picture we get is the one-sided aspect of themselves which they pretend is their whole being in order to create a subjective feeling of unity. The rigidity with which they hang on to the expansive trends is not only owing to the compulsive character of these trends but also to the necessity to eliminate from awareness all traces of self-accusations, self-doubts, self-contempt. Only in this way can they maintain the subjective conviction of superiority and mastery.

It is this pride-fed image, this delusion of mastery, this monument made of shadows, that drives the despot, the tyrant, and the warlord. It is the job of a free people and a free press to tear away the image and reveal the rank core behind the glittering facade. This is what we try to do every day here at Daily rEvolution; it is what we ask our readers to do in the public square, the voting booth, and in every available venue of free expression and dissent.

It is also something that we all must do within ourselves. Now I am not imagining that we have despotic and tyrannical readers coming here; but I know from my own experience that the sales pitches and subliminal images of such predators as are currently ruling in Washington can penetrate the individual consciousness. It is, after all, a game played upon us every day by corporations, media companies, advertisers, and, of course, our government. These entities have the benefit of the utmost sophistication in their methods and means; they spend billions of dollars per year on this manipulation of the image within the human mind.

But there are ways to resist this insidious corporate game, and it begins with a turning within, a regular examination of the self for the residue of the corporate fraud. You don't have to delve deep into your subconscious mind, either: just pay attention to your normal daily life and the thoughts that are pointed at you from without, and those that arise from within.

Also, pay attention to habits of speech and action. For example, do you tend to describe yourself as a "we" in talking about work? I can recall interviewing an applicant for a claims job at an insurance company once. I was relating one of the company's core processes in handling claims, and the applicant said, "oh, we don't do it that way, we always did it..."

I allowed him to finish his point, but then asked (with a smile), "and just who do you mean by 'we'?" Of course, he meant his prior employer (which had laid him off weeks before). The point is, people fall into this trap continually: talking about their present and past employers, about a favorite baseball team, or about their church as if the group and its image defined all or part of themselves.

It happens, of course, in the nationalistic strain of political and media discourse, to a level of near-ubiquity. You hear the pundits saying, "We went into Iraq..." "We had a network of secret prisons in Europe..." "We are threatening to turn Teheran into a nuclear cinder..."

Well, the fact is that we did none of these things. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the rest of the criminals inhabitating 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue did them. We are not the American (or any other) government. As we saw in Tuesday's post, there's a new Senator from Virginia who can clearly see that we are not represented by the thieves and plunderers of the Bush administration. Let's join Senator Webb in that firm resolution.

I'm sure you can find other examples of this kind of insidious psychological image-peddling in your own personal experience. It has been my experience as a counseling psychotherapist that the mere recognition of such habits and back-of-the-mind ideas or impulses is roughly 80% of the process of freedom from them. Give it a try, and you may find yourself feeling lighter and more energized from the disburdenment of these long-held and rarely-questioned habits of mind and thought. This is the activity of what Horney calls "the real self" whenever it is allowed to escape the prison of the image.

The alternative is not very encouraging; for a life filled with falsehood also poisons the body cells of the person living the delusion. For our final excerpt from Horney's marvelous book, I would ask you to think of Dick Cheney:

His plans are often too expansive. He does not reckon with limitations. He over-rates his capacities. His pursuits may be too diversified, and therefore failures occur easily. Up to a point his resilience gives him a capacity to bounce, but on the other hand repeated failures...may also crush him altogether. The self-hate and self-contempt, successfully held in abeyance otherwise, may then operate in full force. He may go into depressions, psychotic episodes..., or through self-destructive urges, incur an accident or succumb to an illness.

I chose to close my own book on the metaphor of the Harry Potter stories with a simple, brief meditation on separating from the cult of the image:

Think of yourself again as energy: the ceaseless movement whose order and disposition define the seeming matter of your body, and indeed of all form. You breathe out your excess into the Whole from which you came and to which you will return; you gently inhale the nourishment of renewed life-force—what the Chinese refer to as "chi". You can feel waves of movement, as of water or wind, passing through you with each breath—gently dissolving what is manifest but only derivative, while the energetic core of your personal inner truth is gradually revealed and strengthened. You are not, after all, your race, your gender, your occupation, your material possessions, your marital or family status, your sexual orientation, your socio-economic class, your political, national, or religious affiliation; nor are you what the voice from a television says you are. All these ingrained self-images dissolve with every breath, as the life-force enters and moves through you—dispelling the false, peeling away the appearance, revealing the core and center of your being, whose inimitable perfection dances in joyful separation from the realms of pride, guilt, and opposition.


Finally, one sorrowful note in followup to Wednesday's post on the disappearance of C-Net editor James Kim. As you may know by now, he died. It's a loss for technology, for journalism, and most of all for his family, whose lives he helped to save and whose safety he was trying to ensure when he went off into those woods. If you knew and admired Kim's work, as we did here, and would like to leave a note for his family, you can do it here.

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