Comments on Shrinking O by CK MacLeod

Well, you might begin by taking Frank's article, and inserting the word "artificial construct" before every mention of Obama, and seeing how it affected the argument. Without actually performing that operation, I'd assume that the key points of divergence would be wherever an actual decision was said to be based on the intrinsic needs of the artificial personality, rather than the intentions of the designers. But the designers would themselves be psychoanalyzable. If there is a such thing as a valid psychoanalysis, then sooner or later you'd hit valid psychic paydirt.

But I originally defined the issue as I see it as follows: "The objective here isn’t an individual diagnosis with a view to cure or therapy, but an articulation of one or another very public individual’s psychological profile in relation to a political (social and historical) context."

It might turn out that shared psychic needs and assumptions among the theoretical "constructors" and the "audience" were sufficient to sustain the exercise - all the more so if we assume that there isn't some cabal of perfect image-makers and behavior-programmers behind the Obamaton, but instead a vast collective process one of whose moments is the individual Obama in relation to the whole, another the primary Obama artificers in relation to a perceived audience, and so on.

And it might turn out that the frog is right, and that all "political analysis" already consists of "social psychological analysis." What would make it "psychoanalytical" would be the successful application of psychoanalytical frameworks and methods to the social subject.

So the therapist may have lost the ability to repress the pain, became too sensitive to it - like a human version of those instruments said to hear the echo of the big bang - although it fits within this idea, which amounts to an ontology, to describe all existence, all "noise," as an echo of the big bang.

Similarly - perhaps identically - the whole of the individual human life, from the point of view of the individual human being the same as the entire universe, would likewise amount to an echo which on closer examination eventually becomes indistinguishable from the original sound, in a sense never leaves the moment of the birth trauma.

Scott Miller: My bet is that the therapist who leapt out the window had experienced more than the trauma of birth–way more.

Among those who emphasize the centrality of the birth trauma, none of those other horrors can compare, by definition. The theory posits birth as the one, unique, absolute shock, the infinitely painful separation from the pre-experiential experience that we spend our entire lives vainly seeking to re-capture or duplicate. The regression to infancy expressed by victims of torture or extreme injury - grown men crying out for their mothers (which really occurs) - is taken as evidence for this theory. The only step beyond crying out for your mom, is simply to become a desperate, helpless being who doesn't even know how to distinguish himself from his agony, and simply wails and wails until one or another autonomic need (to breathe, to sleep, to feed) asserts itself in place of a consciousness that otherwise is only fear, rage, and pain.

Even assuming the strong "artificial person" perspective wouldn't necessarily make a psychoanalytical approach invalid, even if it presumes the possibility of a "social psychoanalysis." That artificial person would still be created by natural people for natural people.

Scott Miller: People who have not been traumatized are healthier.

Who hasn't been traumatized? Speaking loosely here - i.e., with a non-technical definition of "trauma" - psychoanalysis begins with the assumption that everyone is born into trauma. According to some, birth itself is the first and central trauma, and all of life amounts to an incomplete convalescence further impaired (and extended) by a series of fundamental frustrations.

Of course, it's in the interest of psychoanalysts and therapists in general to envision as large a market for psychotherapy as possible, and it's usually comforting for the insulted and injured to imagine they're not alone, but that doesn't mean that they're wrong.

Any other wonderful feats you performed in the Migueloverse that you'd like to tell us all about?

Frank explicitly takes the psychoanalytical position that rage is a given. So maybe I misstated his premise. The argument would be that, In addition to to building up Obama's supply of repressed rage, the Republican opposition has given Obama multiple opportunities to vent against them that he has, at least until perhaps recently, he has consistently turned down in favor of getting what he could quietly and non-confrontationally, and that, regardless of what was objectively possible or advisable, it has resulted in a loss of sympathy or connection between Obama and his base. Others would say that he missed another great opportunity: Some significant portion of the rage that went on to fuel the Tea Party should, some believe, have belonged to and been exploited by his side. The angry masses needed scapegoats and enemies, and, since he failed to give them any, he and his allies took their place.

All that Frank brings - and to my mind all that he claims to bring - to the table is that Obama's psychological profile suited him to precisely this role. So, to repeat the argument in a different form, if he doesn't "accomodate" the rage of his own base by expressing, channeling, embodying it, then he must become the object of it and eventually be consumed by it. This could happen anyway. He may not be able to accommodate the rage or the contradiction adequately, or his base may not be powerful enough compared to the other side.

No slipping - it all goes to the question of the extent to which we've entered a new historical phase, and, if so, if that's even arguable, how we can define its shape and key characteristics.

bob: based on people hae been mean to him and what else could he feel

Based on everything that Frank's audience - New Republic readers and people like us - have observed at least since "I hope he fails." That it's a commonplace observation, or a version of it - that Obama has tried everything to placate or work with the opposition, and has met a brick wall of opposition arguably unprecedented in American governance - doesn't make it an insignificant one. Obama seems to have opted for confrontation - either because he needed to set a predicate, and has now done so, or because it's the only path open to him, or both - but how high he turns up the heat may depend on numerous other factors, including his own ability to withstand it.

Love the psychohistory graphic:

But I'm constitutionally incapable of taking such a poorly designed web site very seriously. It looks like it hasn't been updated since 1995 or so. Really, he could at least bring it up to ca. 2000 web design standards.

Frank leaves himself an out with the rage issue. To dissolve the public-private dichotomy: It could be that the situation makes accomodationism impossible - forcing Obama to become the raging Kenyan socialist of Miggs' nightmares and Rock's dreams. Put differently: In a true crisis, the only accomodation would be conflict, peace would be war, disintegration and integration would become the same thing, going-along would be the same as fighting-to-the-death, and so on.

Now it could be that Obama himself couldn't adapt to that extent. If so, then we'd have to invent a successor.

Well the fact remains that we're 24 comments into this thread, and neither bob nor Don Miguel has actually addressed a particular argument of Frank's and explained why it's invalid or unpersuasive.

Frank uses pscyhoanalytical language to explain, or to frame, a familiar problem in Obama's presidency. It's somewhat reminiscent of Shelby Steele's simplistic claims about two types of African American public profiles, Obama supposedly falling into the Uncle Tom/Tiger Woods/Michael Jordan rather than Malcolm X/Al Sharpton/Tupac mode, but I don't see Frank trapping himself like Steele did when he predicted that Obama couldn't "win."

It turns out that Steele might have been right in a deeper sense than he realized at the time: Obama obviously could win the presidency, but maybe his presidency couldn't be experienced as a "victory." The same coolness that made him acceptable to the centrist element of his coalition, and that seemed like a positive and desirable characteristic during the onset of crisis ("no-drama Obama" vs unstable McCain picking Palin or suspending his campaign) produces certain identifiable political limitations and deficiencies. Frank argues that Obama's public conduct has deep psychological sources - that Obama doesn't just come across as but really is a cool character doomed to seek acceptance from his enemies rather than victory over them, and to leave his authentic friends dissatisfied, even while storing up a supply of rage that he will have to do something with.

You can reach similar conclusions by other means - for instance by an appeal to political realism and history, as from the esteemed analyst Chris Rock :

There’s a f——— art to the first term because you’re always running for a second term the whole time. It’s like Clinton’s first term. You can’t really do your gangsta sh— until your second term. … Even Bush couldn’t really f—- up the world until his second term. That’s when he put the hammer down... I’m like everybody, I want more action. But I understand that he’s trying not to piss off a lot of people. But I believe wholeheartedly if he’s back in, he’s going to do some gangsta sh—

Read more:

It's an interesting question to me, as I was getting at the other day, whether Obama is even capable of acting as an effective partisan or ideological warrior if that's what the ripening situation, a chronic rather than acute crisis, calls for. Is he, as the common phrase goes, playing multi-dimensional chess in the big progressive v conservative game of games, or is he really a pushover, or is he really a neoliberal lackey from the Party of Wall Street, or is he some peculiar combination of all of those summoned forth by our contradictory political situation... Frank may not tell us where it's going, but I think he helps define the psychological or even tragic dimension of the ongoing, not yet resolved public drama.

Had no suspicion you'd stand up as a defender of psychoanalytical science.

Since I'm agnostic about the idea of psychoanalysis as "medical science," I'm not bothered much by someone using psychoanalytical frameworks in political contexts. The objective here isn't an individual diagnosis with a view to cure or therapy, but an articulation of one or another very public individual's psychological profile in relation to a political (social and historical) context.

The idea of "the return of the repressed" is or was important in psychoanalysis, but the mechanism or idea pre-existed psychoanalysis, and when we apply it to social-historical events we're not practicing "junk science," we're making a "testable" argument about how the world works. That the concept may have been appropriated by psychoanalysts doesn't mean we can't think about it any longer. Meanwhile, psychoanalysis isn't particle physics: If I say I'm applying a psychoanalytical precept, I don't expect anyone to treat my argument with much greater credibility than if I I say I'm pulling it out of my... study of medieval theology. The typical methods and language of psychoanalysis offer ways of talking about Bush's cruetly, Obama's coolness, and comparing them to our understandings to Bush and Obama as public personalities, that may or may not yield interesting insights. Those insights will have to stand on their own, not because they come with a "psychoanalysis-certified" stamp.

One of my favorite analyses of this type - I may have mentioned it here before - is THE MIND OF STALIN. The author makes several arguments justifying the use of psychoanalysis, including the idea that the history of a state under a totalitarian dictator is by definition a personal history. You could argue more generally, and perhaps in relation to this question of "counter-transference," any public figure comes into contact with each of us through his or her public action, including every aspect of that figure's self-presentation. Every analytical result may be affected by the difference between that mode of contact and so-called "direct personal contact" in a therapeutic setting, but it still is a mode of contact involving human personalities, with an inescapable psychological dimension.

wasn't disagreeing with you - though I was kinda supplementing your point.

If you do a Google search of "george bush coat hanger branding yale," you'll turn up plenty of references, including a thoughtful article from a classmate of Bush's on the atmosphere at Yale in those days, that mentions the branding ritual at Bush's fraternity. The more effective defense would be not that "Bush didn't do it," but that it was "normal." However, the fact that a certain kind of sadism and dissociative reaction to it was "normal" for a certain group of young men doesn't rob it of psychoanalytical significance, especially when joined to specific testimony from the individual being examined. The point isn't to indict Bush, but to understand Bushism. It should go without saying that man millions of people either identified with or were in some way attracted to whatever he was or is.

W essentially confessed, Don Miguel. It was one of the most famous pre-emptive confessions ever. Anyway, Frank doesn't go into the drug thing, or the drinking. You're the one who provided the video. Take another look at it. Drugs and drink aren't in it, and Bush's "what's the big deal?" reaction has nothing to do with them either.

Huh - that really happened in the movie? I remember that a critical theorist professor type friend-mentor of mine was a fan of that film. I saw it once a million years ago and was more impressed with its historical sub-text - the suburban development built on Indian burial grounds, the occupants driven to distraction/destruction.

I remember the jokes about Ferraro being Mondale's "bush," but for some reason the Dick-Bush pairing never hit me before. I recall also that Clinton-Gore was a popular duo for gay fantasies. There's probably a book, or at least a blog post, well maybe just a blog comment, to be written about the Butch-Femme dynamic among "running mates." I think on the surface Obama is anima and Biden animus, but it could be one of those relationships in which the roles turn out to be the opposite of appearances.

You should click on Miggs' link to Frank on George W and his Dick. That's what the Don is referring to regarding frat days.

The mosquitos v ghosts thing is very good. Did you really just make that up? Or did you make up making it up?

Don't know what's funny about it. However, the link on W was interesting. I had never heard the story about the coat-hanger branding hijinx before. It would fit with the drug abuse, too, and makes you wonder about Laura Bush, , and the psychic economy of their relationship.