Monday, August 29, 2005

Why I don't trust Psychoanalysis

I was watching a cable program on terrorism and then a psychoanalyst said:

"Violent fundamentalism is motivated by the need to eliminate badness through fighting the bad outside (of oneself). What is required now is to eliminate the heretical, impure, inimical elements, that is, killing the infidels who do not believe in (my/our) God. A destructive counterpart is created to the killing of "God’s enemies": it is the killing of oneself. Obviously the killing of oneself in the effort to kill the impure part of oneself, amounts to the total failure – or total grim success – of the process of purification."

What a very assertive if strange statement from a supposed “expert.” How about we try to say something constructive about religious fundamentalism and extremism instead of some pseudo-knowledge? Most of this ignorance results from an unwillingness to know basic political science and sociology. I am not outright opposed to psychoanalysis until I come across the damage that bad psychoanalysis can cause... consider all of the people running around the United States talking about everything from an international Satanic conspiracy to UFO Abductee survivor therapy.

Terrorism is special only if one maintains that it is fundamentally different from warfare. But that is a political distinction, not a scientific one and has very little meaningfulness when tied to psycho-babble. Special cases are the murder-suicides of the backpack bombers, and to get an understanding of suicide bombers, one should start there.

We have no idea of actual suicide/suicide attempt rates in Islamic countries, and they may well be underreported. In any case, individuals with suicidal ideas and a tendency to complete the suicide (young males in most countries) may well be the primary candidates, and there may be instances when suicide is brought to its sad completion by a host of factors: Depression, loneliness, hopelessness -- such as the inability to visualize alternative futures, not to consider the cultural and religious factors; combine those with political and economic interests.

Bear in mind that suicide is forbidden in Islam (a deadly sin), which is why it may be underreported. And there is no good data on what people are thinking without any outward signs. Suicide bombing is believed to be a method of killing, not suicide. I guess it is not too hard to see how individuals with suicidal tendencies and the organizers of suicide bombings might find each other.

Granted, what I am saying here is speculative, but it is clearer than some notion that "killing the impure self." Maybe that is what truly bothers me about the psycho-babble, there is little empirical investigation of what is known about motivational processes in warfare and other forms of strife. We need to know a lot more, but the connecting of the speculative dots into a Freudian knot, is not helpful at all. When all is said and done, there is something to be said about scientific method, despite its weaknesses and the fallibility of its practitioners.

I know psychoanalysts are still a respected profession in many quarters. But to this humble observer it is built on faith, not reality.

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