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On the basis that it is worse for a writer to lie by omission than to upset readers I have to say, deeply conscious as I am that the majority of my audience lives in the United States of America, that psychoanalysis and related therapies are at best a waste of time and money and at worst the refuge of charlatans and the ruination of clients. To have taken Freud's, mostly haut bourgeois Jewish clientele from pre War Vienna and to have extrapolated its behaviour and his techniques into a model for personality engineering is no less bizarre than it would be to undertake a similar extrapolation from the behaviour of the Emperor Julian's catamites or King Louis IV's courtesans and construct from them a whole theory of personality.
I was reminded of my erstwhile negligence in regular and round denunciation of such cant by a piece of research which showed that encouraging victims to re-live traumatic experiences is harmful rather than beneficial. Well stone me! Now I know why we pay those academics so much.
Since the human invention of personal history our race has steadfastly learned to withstand drought and famine, plague and slaughter, matricide and infanticide, torture and indifference, and to construct a kind of survival after all such events through the mechanism of studied forgetfulness. Although in a very real sense the victors write official history, each survivor perpetually re-writes a personal history so that, over time, the aching bereavement of the battlefield becomes the uplifting tribute at the war memorial.
The history of an event is not confined to the high point of action, it extends from the episode coming into focus from a garbled hinterland up until the present moment of the remembering; to invoke the event as a psychological bleeding hunk in all its actuality without etiology and synthesis is to do violence to the mechanism of human experience; it is, to use phrases which Freud might have used, to isolate ejaculation from foreplay and afterglow, to elevate lust above loving.
Sadly, the discontinuity of the weekly appointment with a shrink may be better than nothing. Most of us have lost that continuity of discourse with friends and neighbours which most of us would now find unbearably circular. Like a piece of Philip Glass music, communities without the stimulus of electronic media endlessly re-cycle the same dialogue with the subtlest of minor variation. In that environment grief was vented indefinitely, giving way steadily to co-existence and then calm as new material was subtly woven into life's fabric. Such repetitive discourse is low key, almost flat, banal by the standards of Hollywood and Homer; it was, therefore, inclusive; Homer and the great sagas of other cultures were reserved for festivals.
Our culture, on the other hand, is so adrenalin driven that we expect everything to be fixed quickly, almost mechanically; we have no time for the tedium of the tale re-cycled from agony to amnesia. At the same time, that other weekly appointment, at a place of religious worship, has largely degenerated into ritual and ethics, both very fine spheres of human invention and support but no substitute for the mystery that constitutes any properly humble relationship with a deity.
To claim to know about your god is proportionately to relegate the notion but to know God is to recognise an inverse proportionality of knowledge. The modern trend of familiarity with an almighty, the certainty of salvation, removes the mystery and the challenge and, in the long run, the need to observe decent standards of behaviour; the fundamental problem for religions which accept "Justification by faith" is that belief in God, rather than right behaviour, is a passport to paradise. Yet the damage is much greater when this familiarity becomes part of everyday language. I was once trapped in a small passenger aeroplane in front of two missionaries on their way to Northern Ghana; their conversation opened:
"You know, this morning the Lord told me I had to revise the accounts."
"O Hey, did he say how?"
"No; but he made it clear it was a sacred duty to get those books straight."
Now the cheap response to this is something like: "Well, the Lord must have been having a quiet morning to be so bothered about the accounts at a Ghanaian mission station" but my response would, rather, be that thinking of The Lord as a CEO without stain of sin is a piece of nonsense if you want religion to retain any sense of mystery.
Organised religion is routinely written off but if the Roman Catholic Church cannot destroy itself no matter how crassly its leadership behaves, most other religions are in good shape. The power of the People's Republic of China cannot suppress Buddhism nor even contain the Karmapa Lama; Islam is a much mightier enemy of global capitalism than international civil society; and wherever we go there is a yearning for the unfathomable, a need for an antidote to the narrow causality of the laboratory, a reliance on the spiritual power of music as important in its way as the intellectual force of the word.
For those who find such fare too rich, we should remind ourselves of the value of friendship, as opposed to the convenience of acquaintance. Shrinks are paid friend stand-ins and most of us would be better off investing our time and money in friendship. There is no need to be coy; money can't buy friendship but a proper environment for its cultivation might be bought; in building relationships there is a lot to be said for long, slow meals, alcohol in moderation and a dose of peace and quiet.
Some occasions benefit from candlelight and claret, others from strobes and narcotics - Beckett has surely taught us not to be prescriptive about friendship - but we too easily sentimentalise it; it is as difficult as marriage in its way but with time and effort usually lasts longer. Divorced as we so often are from the old continuities and repetitions of the pre-radio age, which we lovingly refer to as "community", we have to build long lasting friendships which can thrive in the new environment of the freeway and the information superhighway. We meet an old friend after ten years and take up a theme as if we had only been apart for a day, so we say, but in those ten years I have seen a loved one die of AIDS and his wife and children have left him, so our reunion is a monument to nostalgia but hardly the friendship that sustains.
There is no point, not even for the idle rich, in mourning the loss of the coping strategies and social relations of an Austen novel, nor even of The Waltons but we are surely equipped with enough sensibility and leisure from back breaking physical labour to enable us to devote our mental resources to constructing defences against disaster more permanent and satisfyingly reciprocal than a visit to the shrink. Whether we immerse ourselves in the mysterious continuities of organised religion or in a tightly knit network of friends we are surely better off than subjecting ourselves to the dissection of a paid stranger.
Let us hope that Freud, like Marx, is consigned to the history of Twentieth Century aberrations. Crying out for spiritual nourishment without faith we are bound to be the dupes of isms and ologies but helpful or not, these will be pale things if only experienced alone or in the mass hysteria of stadia. We know from the Millennium celebrations all round the world that loneliness compensates itself in mass events. It is the something in between that counts most.
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