Errors of Psychology
Freud's Formative Errors
Sigmund Freud made a false root analysis and built on it several major false analyses that have had disastrous effects on the 20th century. When treating female patients who suffered from
"hysteria," he was again and again confronted with them relating stories of having sex with their
fathers. Freud interpreted that as their repressed sexual feelings for their fathers and used it
to claim that children are sexual; that women are an "incomplete gender" possessing a "penis
envy"; and that women are in love with their fathers and men with their mothers, with feelings of
love for another person being transference from one's parent. In fact, given the vast prevalence
of incest and child sexual abuse - computed to affect 30% of women and 10% of men - and the link that such has had to mental illness - it is far more likely that these patients were relating
actual memories of sexual abuse by their fathers. Indeed, if such memories were to be narrated in a present-day therapeutic setting, they would be seen as just that: Memories of childhood sexual abuse.
As corollary of this mis-analyses have come four false analyses. The first three have
been popularized and continue to be used for wrong ends; the last has likewise been of injury,
but to a more limited group. The following will go through all four of these and show where
they have gone wrong.
The first corollary mis-analysis is the claim of childhood sexuality. This claim has been used
for exceptionally wrongful actions, such as justifying incest and pedophilia. Simply to put,
there is no evidence of children actually being sexual or of there being a physiological
mechanism for sexuality in children. That is compared to teenagers, who are highly sexual as
they have hormones raging in their blood. But with prepubescent children, there is no evidence of actual sexuality any more than there is of critical amount of sexual hormones in their blood.
What is true is that children are curious and can be just as curious about sexuality, or about
their bodies, as they are about everything else. It is also true that children copy adult
behavior and what they see in the media and around them. And it is true that curiosity is
enhanced about things that are forbidden. Finally, it is true that children often develop crushes,
or even feelings of love, for other children or for adults. These, however, are not sexual, but
emotional, in nature, and have far more to do with emotional closeness than they do with sex.
Having based his portrayal of children as sexual beings upon a wrongful portrayal of memories of childhood sexual abuse as erotic fantasy, Freud introduced a very dangerous idea that has been used for incest, pedophilia, and sexualization of childhood. This idea, being corollary of a wrong analysis, is refutable by transitive logic; but it will take more than just logic to fix the damage that it has done.
The second corollary mis-analysis is the portrayal of women as an "incomplete gender" possessing "penis envy." Not only has this led to complete misrepresentation of women, but it has also formed much of the basis for 20th century secular misogyny. Feminist scholars have presented what Freud saw as something that happens in patriarchial societies that value men and devalue women. To this description, there is a qualifier. What Freud saw, was something that was a product of a historical accident - the early 20th century society in which men had all the power, and women were sufficiently educated in the ideals of liberty and equality to want the liberties, powers and opportunities that men had. We see no envy of men by women in societies such as Sweden, France, and liberal parts of America, where women have equal power and status with men. Nor do we see the same envy in the conservative Muslim, Christian and Hindu societies where women accept the subservient role as part of their religion. Freud took an accident of culture and history and made it binding on all of womanhood. And that was as bad for humanity as it was for women of his time.
The third corollary mis-analysis is the most famous and most graphic of all Freudian errors. It
is of course the claim that children are in love with the parent of the opposite gender and the
portrayal of romantic love in youth or adulthood as transference of that love. Since the basis
of this claim is false analysis of childhood sexual abuse by the parent of opposite gender as
erotic feelings for the parent of the opposite gender, this claim is likewise refutable by
transitive logic. But there is also easily apparent evidence that it is a false claim, and that
is as follows:
Women raised by single mothers, men raised by single fathers, and homosexual people raised by single parents of opposite gender, are just as likely to develop feelings of romantic love as do
the people who were raised in nuclear families.
As these situations lack the precedent of a parent of the correct gender being in the house,
they cannot be transference and must be something else.
Finally, since the feelings of romantic love held by people who were raised in nuclear families are of the same character as the feelings of romantic love held by people who did not have a parent of the correct gender in the household, whose feelings cannot be transference, these feelings likewise cannot be transference and must be something else.
During Freud's time, there were few single-parent households, and fewer homosexuals, to study; now there are plenty of them. And what the experience of women raised by single mothers, men raised by single fathers, and homosexual people raised by a single parent of the opposite gender, show, is that love takes place in people regardless of whether or not they had a parent of the gender that is desired and as transference for whom the feelings of love can be misconstrued. This means that Freud's analysis is not only false by being based on a false analysis; rather, it is false also in light of simple reality. The fact of people developing feelings of love for another person when they were raised without the parent of the desired gender in the house shows that Freud's analysis of love as transference is a mis-analysis - as any corollary of a false analysis would be expected to be.
Finally, Freud portrayed the feelings of love that some patients developed for their therapists
also as transference from their parents. For these feelings, there are two superior explanations.
One is based on analysis; the other is based on science. The first one is as follows: When a
woman is faced with a brilliant, handsome, composed, apparently compassionate man who makes an apparent effort to understand her - or when a man is confronted with a beautiful, compassionate woman who also makes such an effort - feelings of love are quite possible as a result. And they are likely especially in case that the female has never had such pople in her life, with neither her husband nor her father having ever made a genuine effort to understand her feelings - or in case that the male likewise has not had such women in his. Which means that these feelings are not transference at all, having had no existence in one's past, but rather an understandable reaction to the attempted understanding provided by the therapist and to what the therapist is.
The second explanation is based on a recent scientific experiment in which love was reproduced
in laboratory settings by having male and female subjects reveal to each other intimate details
about their lives. This of course happens in one-on-one therapy, but it happens more in group
therapy and settings such as Alcoholics Anonymous. And while much of the more recent psychology aims to portray the males in such situations as predators and women as victims, a more rational, level-headed and scientifically valid explanation is this: Such feelings are likely in situations of this kind due to the inherent nature of such situations. These situations feature exchange of intimate information; which, by the same mechanism as underlies the experiment, fosters development of feelings of love.
The misconstruction of memories of childhood sexual abuse as erotic fantasy has lead to four
terrible and wrongful conclusions, all of them having had poisonous effect on places that have
been exposed to these conclusions. It is time that these conclusions be seen as what they are:
Corollaries of a false and wrongful analysis, wrongful and false therefore in and of themselves.
Maslow's Incomplete Hierarchy
Abraham Maslow postulated a hierarchy of needs, from the most basic (physical needs such as food and shelter) to the highest need which, according to him, was self-actualization. While many people have found Maslow's work to be relevant to their lives, there are many people for whom it does not hold. One major population for which Maslow's hierarchy is totally irrelevant is the monastics, fakirs, ascetics and mystics of different spiritual creeds, who by their own choice fast, live in austerity, endure pain and deprivation, don't have sex or relationships, and avoid money or fame or status or comfort or influence, in order to focus completely on their spiritual pursuits. Similar, though not identical, dynamics, are faced by people who have dedicated themselves to their country or to an ideology or to a cause - whether as soldiers or as public servants or as educators or as workers and volunteers for charities, causes and NGOs.
For seriously religious people, this hierarchy likewise does not hold. Their primary goal is to achieve the spiritual ideal of their choosing; and all other needs that they may have are held subservient to this purpose. With the Christian ideal being "seek God's righteousness first, and all else shall be added unto you"; the Buddhist ideal being to overcome ego and desire, practice universal compassion and harm no living being; and the Muslim ideal being to live fully by the Quran; the serious practicioners of these religions have done something that is totally contradictory to Maslow's system and is indeed inverting of it: Put their higher needs first, and
then have all the rest either taken care of as part of achieving these higher needs or else denied as being contrary thereto. Similarly, the shamanic, yogic and magical paths, though seen by many practicioners of major religions as sacrilegious, likewise have many similar features and
demand great amounts of effort and self-denial in order to achieve the spiritual ideal therein.
It is not to be denied that Maslow's system is a reality for many people. It is however far from
being a universal human reality. The worst outcomes of application of Maslow consist of attacking people who focus on higher purposes and greater causes. And that is as bad for humanity as it is bad for the people who get attacked.
Psychology of Uncaring
The baby boom generation started out as caring for the world and the people in it, then suddenly toward the end of 1970s went to not only being completely non caring, but in fact aggressively so and hateful of those who were. While there may be many reasons for this, I would like to address one that has not been frequently cited. It is found in the works of a highly influential psychologist Dr. Scott Peck.
In "The Road Less Taken," Scott Peck describes a friend of his who was talking a lot about racism and sexism as being fixated upon things that he felt were hindering him. This is of course
ridiculous (How can sexism and racism negatively impact the prospects of an American white man?) But in applying this sort of thinking, he started something that has been a major source of great wrong in 1980s and later, and that is as follows:
Misrepresenting concern for the well-being of the world and of other people as blaming or whining, and lack of such concern as personal responsibility.
The 1980s were full of aggressive anti-humanitarian, anti-liberal ideologies. The false portrayal of the liberal and humanitarian leanings as something bad, and of the lack of them as something good, did more than just subvert liberalism and humanitarianism. It also denied the attention of those who had it in them to care to the world - both to the people who needed this attention and to the planet that also needed it. And it also destroyed the good in many, many people, turning their focus instead to the size of their house, the number of SUVs owned, and the brand of shoes worn by their children. These then became universal measures not only of success but also of credibility, further undermining not only the character of the people but also diminishing what they had to offer the world.
The baby boomers are frequently described as the "Me generation"; but that was not the case always. In 1960s and 1970s many fought and worked for the well-being of the world and of people from whom they had nothing to expect in return - often while profoundly sacrificing their self-interest in the process or encountering great danger and harm. I have always found it difficult to understand how people who deeply cared turned into people who aggressively did not care. In the psychology of the times is found at least part of the answer.
With humanitarianism and liberal-mindedness misrepresented as something negative, and lack thereof misrepresented as something positive, was created an inverted value system that punished the virtue and rewarded the vice. It was by no means the first time in the history of humanity that such a thing happened; but it is an error from which America and the world have not yet recovered. This original error of Peck - though perhaps not as a single factor - was formative to the worst qualities of the time that followed. And it is time that it be seen for what it is. So when Elvis Costello wrote, in the beginning of 1980s, "Compassion went out of fashion," it is this wrong that he was describing in his work.
Caring about the world is a virtue, and one that deserves to eventuate in positive and constructive action toward global benefit. As for lack of such caring, it is not personal responsibility; it is a vice. It is time that virtues, and vices, be known by their proper name; and that most certainly is the case here. The world would be better if Scott Peck's error had not been made in the first place. But there is no reason why people now should not be able to discard it and to correct its destructive results.