EssaysPsycheSex & Gender

Human Trafficking

A psychoanalytic and socio-historical view

I am going to think and write about human trafficking through a perspective both psychoanalytic and socio-historical. In fact, part of my quest and my thinking about this matter is to find the right disciplinary mix to speak from and to. This essay is situated in a problem. It may be an intractable problem. At the very least it is a very difficult one. How is it that there is not the social or political will to fight a social problem of great magnitude, great trauma, and great criminality: slavery in the 21st century? There was an abolitionist movement in the 19th century. Why not now? …

READ MORE →
CapitalismEssaysPsyche

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The search for authenticity in consumer culture

Milan Kundera begins his novel Immortality with a description of a gesture made by a woman he is observing at a swimming pool. This woman, who we will come to know as Agnes in the story, smiles and waves at the lifeguard who has just been giving her swimming instructions. There is something charming and elegant for Kundera about this hand wave that reminds him of the gesture of a young woman “playfully tossing a bright colored ball to her lover.” This unique gesture reveals to Kundera the essence of Agnes’ charm, and he is dazzled and strangely moved by it. Later in the novel we discover that this gesture is not as unique as it initially seems. …

READ MORE →
EssaysPsycheTheory & Practice

Alan Baas | Philosophy Talk Series | @NSSR

A reading of On the Cult of Fetish Gods

Since Marx’ and Freud’s influential usage of the term, we became accustomed to talk about fetishism as a topic for psychology and social theory. It is rarely remembered that the topic was originally a topic in theology and ethnology. Why has fetishism assumed such a wide meaning? Why do theorists of fetishism, from Marx to Freud and passing by Comte, always begin with applying it to a specific topic but then ending up generalizing it? These are some of the questions that Alan Bass tackles in his talk delivered as part of the Philosophy Thursday Nights Series. This talk is part of Alan Bass’s ongoing project, which aims at examining the implications of Freud’s generalization of fetishism at the end of his life in relation to the history of discourse on the subject. …

READ MORE →
EssaysPsyche

Are We Really Such Beasts?

There is a relentless barrage of narratives about our supposed beastly nature and conduct. Since childhood, we have all watched animals routinely tear off each others’ limbs in countless nature documentaries meant to show us that survival at any cost is the natural order of life. We are fascinated by House of Cards, from which we infer that only suckers play by the book and uphold standards of decency. Many of us stumbled across the political theory of Thomas Hobbes in school; he told us that man is a wolf to other men and that the only way to reign in the beast is to resign to a larger beast — the Leviathan. We also recall that Adam Smith advised us not to rely on the charity of the butcher and the grocer for our meal, but on their self interest. We watched Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street or Costa-Gavras’s Le Capital, and they confirmed that self interest knows no bounds. …

READ MORE →
EssaysImaginal PoliticsPsyche

Talking about Gaza in Psychoanalysis

Politics is usually absent from explicit discourse in psychoanalysis. I say explicit, because obviously we all live in socio-political contexts that signify and structure our roles in any setting. There is a long history to the retreat of politics and political thought from the psychoanalytic clinic. But suffice it to say that, especially since psychoanalysis became a Central European refugee in the post WWII anti-socialist US, everyone has been careful. The allusion of scientism and the ideology of neutrality have been a good defense.

But days like these complicate the picture. Being a New York based Jewish-Israeli therapist with a sizable cohort of Jewish-Israeli patients, nowadays there is no avoiding discussing current events. …

READ MORE →
EssaysPsyche

McMindfulness

The marketing of well-being

“McMindfulness.” I came across this term for the first time today. I wish I had coined it. It would be nice to be able to make a claim to originality. But coming across the term is almost good enough. It provides a name for a phenomenon that I didn’t even know needed one, and it makes it real. I don’t think anyone knows who coined this term. It’s kind of like “neoliberalism.” Suddenly there is a name for something you know is a problem — an important problem that can be difficult to put your finger on.

Mindfulness practice is a meditative discipline, originating in Buddhism, that involves the cultivation of a type of present-centered, nonjudgmental awareness of the ongoing flow of one’s emerging experience. While mindfulness enjoyed some popularity in the 1960’s as a countercultural phenomenon …

READ MORE →
EssaysPsyche

Physics Envy

The troubles in psychiatry and psychology

These are troubling times for the mental health field in the United States. A variety of historical developments have paved the road to the current predicament. Following World War II, the federal government and growing mental health lobby began an unprecedented expansion of mental heath services. This expansion in may respects continued over the next 30 years. It was not until the 1970s that American psychiatry underwent its first major crisis in the post war era. This crisis was precipitated by a number of factors including: the growing evidence of the lack of reliability of psychiatric diagnosis, the anti-psychiatry movement that was in keeping with the counter-cultural ethos of the 1960s, and a growing crisis of confidence regarding psychiatry’s status as a genuine medical specialty. …

READ MORE →
EssaysPsyche

Don’t Worry… Be Happy!

The dark underside of positive psychology

Over the last decade the field of positive psychology has become a burgeoning area of research within academic psychology. Well known figures in positive psychology include Martin Seligman (developer of the well known learned helplessness model of depression and past president of the American Psychological Association), Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (creator of the construct of flow), and Daniel Gilbert (author of the widely acclaimed Stumbling on Happiness). The field of positive psychology focuses on developing a scientific understanding of positive human experiences and virtues. Important research areas include happiness, optimism, fulfillment, compassion, and gratitude. The field positions itself in contrast to traditional approaches to mental health, which focus on psychopathology and treating mental illness. The roots of positive psychology can be traced to the field of humanistic psychology, which peaked in popularity during the 1960s. Well known pioneers of humanistic psychology included Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Fritz Perls. …

READ MORE →
EssaysPsyche

It’s All in the Mind – Or is It?

The power of the placebo

A recent New York Times article reports that a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that patients receiving one of the most commonly performed forms of knee surgery (arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus) did no better than those receiving a placebo treatment. In the study, patients with meniscus tears were randomly assigned either to the standard surgical procedure, or a sham surgical procedure, which involved making an incision without touching the meniscus. One year following treatment, the majority of patients in both genuine surgical and placebo conditions reported feeling better. Moreover, the majority of patients in both conditions said that they would undergo the same treatment again. The authors of the study conclude that their findings (taken together similar findings from previous studies) raise important questions regarding best practice standards of care for the treatment of knee problems.

From my perspective, the finding that the majority of patients in the placebo condition experienced the procedure as helpful, is just as important and perhaps more conceptually intriguing. …

READ MORE →