Michael H. Ducey, Ph. D
I have been reading up on the history of Germany in the 1920s. The Great Collapse occurred in the 1930s, but all during the 20s there seemed to be something reasonable going on. In fact 1929 was a year of great cultural flowering in Berlin, with Bertold Brecht, Kurt Weill, and a host of other artists.
Fifteen years after this flowering, Berlin was a pile of rubble, 600,000 German civilians had been killed by Allied bombing, and 50 million lives had been lost across Europe.
And nobody saw it coming. Well, Keynes saw it coming in some sense with his The Economic Consequences of the Peace in 1920, but although the book sold well, nobody really got it.
And the cause was a massive failure of introspection. The human beings of that era had no idea who they really were, what a human being really is.
However, in the 90 years since that time, we have gained access to new tools of self-study, e.g., various forms of Buddhism for one, trauma treatment in psychology for another. (Not religion. Religion is mostly just a medication. Not much learning going on there.)
Even so, culturally, America today seems to be still an introspective wasteland. Even “the good guys” — liberals, progressives, Democrats — are all still flying blind and have this background belief in the salvific effects of money. “We are so prosperous, how could anything go wrong?”
But the power of culture, which mobilizes the power of our unconscious, is unquestionably greater than the power of politics or economics. The forces of culture will blow those other two forces away like whisps of smoke in a summer breeze, either for evil or for good.
So, the historical cause of the Great Collapse was the combination of the Treaty of Versailles and the Great Depression. Both were products of the socio-economic system we still practice today. Our system has a disease whose DNA only now can come to the surface, after centuries of lying concealed in our minds and hearts.
We’re not talking about metaphysical evil here. For that I go along with Aquinas: malum est carentia boni. Evil is the absence of good. An absence. Evil is simply not-existing. No, I’m just talking about social evil here: bad behavior: cruelty, coldness, deceit, violence, genocide, etc. At the core of all this is lack of empathy. How does it come about that some human beings do not get it that some other human beings are human?
The answer to that question is: Early emotional stress narcissism (EESN) is the source of all this.
EESN is the Conservative disease, the right-wing disease. It is the foundation of right wing-political and social movements. Its hallmark is a failure of empathy.
EESN is in the family of post-traumatic disorders, but because of the very early time in life that it occurs, and its unique characteristic of being the result of deprivation of stimulus rather than excess of stimulus, it deserves its own name.
It is well-known in the annals of psychology. Some time ago Michael Balint noticed it in psychotherapy and called it “the basic fault”. He says that when a patient becomes aware of it:
The only thing that can be observed is a feeling of emptiness, being lost, deadness, futility and so on, coupled with an apparently lifeless acceptance of everything that has been offered. Everything is accepted…but nothing makes sense.
But most of the time the people who have this disease are not aware of it. Balint further observes:
“The origin of the basic fault may be traced back to a considerable discrepancy in the early formative stages of the individual between his bio-psychological needs and the material and psychological care, attention, and affection available during the relevant times.” (Michael Balint, The Basic Fault: Therapeutic Aspects of Regression. (London, Tavistock, 1968)
How does this work? Balint’s description is excellent: “psychological care, attention and affection.” EESN is an emotional disease, purely emotional.
For a human being the first two years of life are crucially important for our emotional health.
When we are newly born, we need a range of energy inputs. These are things like:
(a) touch, contact with body warmth, being held lovingly. The larger, stronger body sends scannable physical signals to the smaller, weaker body.
(b) sound input: singing, cooing, lullabyes.
(c) eye contact and facial mirroring.
All of these inputs have been scientifically documented as essential for human growth at this stage of life. “We are energy beings, connected to the energy all around us by the right hemisphere of our brain.” (Jill Bolte Taylor)
When this nurture is either missing or deficient, a certain emotional malaise takes over the infant. Since there is no language ability yet, this malaise takes a purely sensory form. It is a feeling of confusion, rage, and self-doubt that can crystallize into a fundamental question about its very existence. Am I of value? Am I worth anything at all? Do I exist?
We must note at this point of the discussion that all emotions are neurological events. Popular consciousness usually does not recognize this and considers emotions to be mysterious, insubstantial forces that come from I-know-not-where. But scientific consciousness knows that they are neurological events. They are based on the condition of certain neurons in the human body, mostly neurons in the brain. These damaged neurons send messages of tension to the several other organs of the body that mediate overt behavior.
[See the video: http://youtu.be/HRhdmkkh4zk — “The Sanity Project for a Contemporary World”, which references the work of Athene and Jill Bolte Taylor, and the video: http:/youtu.be/Jiz33KN0NOM— “The Heart of Darkness”, for a particularly vivid description of a case of EESN.]
So, EESN is the result of failing to nurture certain neurons in the human body, which then experience a state of partial atrophy. Note that this is a physical condition and so it is independent of other human functions such as thought or language. Even though the18-month-old infant cannot talk about the experience or process it with the its mature cognitive abilities (the fully-developed brain is needed for this), or recall it later on in life, this organism is damaged.
We see this in trees and other plants which grow up stunted or twisted by early deficiencies of nurture. In human beings this shows up as emotional stuntedness or twistedness.
The occurrence of this condition so early in life, before the development of mature cognitive abilities, gives it a curious quality of invisibility. Throughout life it continues to generate thoughts and behavior, for example, the lack of empathy. This lack of empathy is not so much a “willful” refusal to care, it is rather a blindness. The EESN sufferer simply cannot perceive the condition of others. Its neurons to carry that perception have been atrophied by the early childhood trauma.
Deprived of parental attention, the infant is now saddled with an imperative of self-involvement. It must take care of itself. But, again, because of the early occurrence of the trauma, this imperative has no “voice”, or self-dialog. It is a blind and silent urge and impulse. So, I think we should call this disease EESN, Early Emotional Stress Narcissism, rather than PTSD.
And this blind and silent neuronal damage infiltrates everywhere.
In this manner EESN damages the innate social awareness of the natural human organism. This social connection is the primary characteristic of what psychological science has come to call “the authentic self.”
In 1905 Joseph Conrad called our attention to the effects of EESN in his novella The Heart of Darkness. The grotesque and massive failure of empathy Conrad described was the slaughter of millions of human beings and elephants in the Congo, for the ivory trade. The Belgian Congo was administered as the private personal property of King Leopold, and late in his life Belgians forced him to give up that ownership. In modern times Belgium has remembered and profoundly mourned for this historic atrocity. We can pause now to reflect on the deficiency of empathy of King Leopold.
Conrad’s protagonist on his way to the Congo stops off to visit his Aunt in Paris, and on leaving his dinner with her makes the comment:
“It’s queer how out of touch with truth women are. They live in a world of their own, and there has never been anything like it, and never can be. It is too beautiful altogether, and if they were to set it up, it would go to pieces before the first sunset. Some confounded fact we men have been living with ever since the day of creation would start up and knock the whole thing over.”
“…ever since the day of creation.” Exactly. This is Early Emotional Stress Narcissism.
When the first few years of life produce this strong element of self-doubt, we certainly do not give up. We still actively seek confirmation of our worth from our immediate surroundings. As we grow in our abilities to negotiate our environment, we use all of our new tools to obtain positive feedback. But at this stage of the game, these are substitute, compensatory gratifications from outside the self, not an intrinsic sense of well-being.
Thus is formed what science has called “the false self”, or the persona, as distinguished from the authentic self, which is capable of owning all the feelings that it actually feels. The problem of the false self is that it must be in denial about those feelings of self-doubt that it accumulated in the earliest stage of life.
Almost all human beings experience some degree of emotional deprivation in early childhood. But when the degree is high, certain adult personality traits develop: rigid, blind beliefs (whatever is your parents’ state of mind), failure of empathy, and dissociation. This is the right-wing personality.
PTSD produces certain common symptoms:
“For traumatized individuals body awareness can be problematic in a variety of ways. First, becoming aware of the body may be disconcerting or even frightening, sometimes triggering feelings of being out of control, terrified, rageful, panicky, or weak and helpless. Second, traumatized clients often experienced the body as numb or anesthetized. Rather than becoming overly activated by body awareness, these clients are challenged by a level of hypo-arousal that lowers their sensitivity to the body.” [Pat Ogden, Trauma and the Body (NY, Norton, 2006), 199.]
EESN produces the same symptoms but, again, because the trauma is purely neuronal and not overtly physical, the symptoms are more subtle in their appearance. There is indeed anger, rage, panic and dissociation, but they usually do not appear loudly, dramatically, on the surface of behavior. They are still fully present in the emotions of the subject, and deeply influence choices of strategy and tactics for survival and well-being.
Since the false self lives in absolute fear of falling into the bottomless pit of self-annihilation that is characteristic of such early emotional deprivation, it is distinctively rigid in its life-choices. The authentic human self is flexible and adaptive. It adjusts to new circumstances. It learns. The false self is rigid and has difficulty adapting to new circumstances. (Apparently, this was one of the key differences between homo sapiens and the Neanderthal, and probably the main reason why we survived and they didn’t.)
So, the false self has pain and does not know where it is coming from and so it creates for itself a worldview that includes beliefs that (a) blame others for its pain, and (b) render invisible those who beliefs are different. (It is self-absorbed.) For men, the classic case is women. For economic entrepreneurs blame falls on anyone who stands in the way of their enterprise. Actual enemies such as “liberals” and imagined enemies such as “communists” are favorites.
These are the characteristics of the right-wing personality.
1. It has legions of enemies, and since the pain it feels is coming from within itself, it will insistently and ingeniously manufacture enemies by any rhetorical means possible.
2.In political systems the form of governance it favors is authoritarian rule by familiar persons with beliefs identical to its own.
3. Since in adulthood it must negotiate a world that does not share its rigid beliefs, it will display Orwellian behavior. In particular doublespeak is of its favorite tools. Its purpose is to conceal its underlying agenda of hate and anger, and blunt the arguments of opponents. It expresses a habitual defensive posture. It is the art of “tricky language”, and is also known as “corporatespeak”.
Aggregates of right-wing personalities produce right-wing social movements. The most important right-wing movement of the 20th century was of course the Nazis of Germany. In 1919 the economist John Maynard Keynes left the Conference of Paris in despair at the terms of the Treaty of Versailles being crafted by the Allies. He called the Treaty “The Carthaginian Peace’, and in his 1920 book, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, he made this prophetic comment:
“Economic privation proceeds by easy stages, and so long as men suffer it patiently the outside world cares little. Physical efficiency and resistance to disease slowly diminish, but life proceeds somehow, until the limit of human endurance is reached at last and counsels of despair and madness stir the sufferers from the lethargy which precedes the crisis. Then man shakes himself and the bonds of custom are loosed. The power of ideas is sovereign, and he listens to whatever instruction of hope, illusion, or revenge is carried to him on the air.” (p. 250-251.)
Note A: 1920! Note B: the trigger for the rise of the right-wing movement is “economic privation”.
The leitmotif of “National Socialism” was the Mein Kampf of Adolf Hitler. When Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, he arranged for every German couple getting married to be presented with a copy of the one-volume abridged edition of the book, and by the end of the war, there were ten million copies of it in circulation.
Every right-wing personality has its own personal mein Kampf embedded deeply in its psyche. Early Emotional Stress Narcissism is that kampf.
So, the Tea Party is a right-wing movement, only held in check by the still healthy elements in American culture, but supported by the economic difficulties begun in 2008.
A a survey of the ranks of American corporate, financial and political elites would reveal hosts of individuals suffering from EESN. Early Emotional Stress Narcissism is in fact a class disease. Those who are affected by it tend to be extraordinarily focused on ridding themselves of this unknown pain, and so partly through talent and partly through sustained aggressiveness, they ooze towards the top of the “meritocracy”.