If you haven’t see Sophie Robert’s film, The Wall, on the French way of treating autism, you had best hurry. (I linked the entirety of the movie on a previous post.)
Yesterday a court in Lille banned the movie from being shown in France. Or better, the court banned the movie in its current form. Had the producer been willing to censor her film, she might have been able to produce a version that would have been acceptable to the court.
And, No, it’s not pornography.
For now the YouTube link is still active.
In her movie Robert offered French psychoanalysts of all stripes a platform to express their views about autism. They seemed more than happy to do so.
All things considered, their words do not, in and of themselves, have very much interest. They manifest an advanced theoretical confusion, grown malignant from never having entered the international marketplace of ideas.
Initially, the film received a very narrow distribution. It mostly engaged people who were directly involved with autism.
And then, almost miraculously, three of the psychoanalysts in the film, those of the strictest Lacanian persuasion, decided that the movie made them look bad. Suddenly, the story became worthy of the New York Times. See my prior post. (Of course, the analysts had all signed releases allowing their interviews to be part of the film.)
Naturally, they did not consider that they had made fools of themselves. They were more than happy to blame the filmmaker for their own inadequacies. In that they are good Freudians. If psychoanalysis does not teach you how to shift blame it has clearly failed in its primary task.
They did not pretend that they had not said that they said. They did not pretend that they did not believe what they said. They were seriously upset that the movie made them look bad.
So, they objected strenuously to the way their words had been edited.
You may know that I have had considerable experience with French psychoanalysts. In the past I have often witnessed their public lectures.
Trust me… they do not need anyone’s help when it comes to embarrassing themselves in public. They are masters of the game. Editing their public performances should count as an act of mercy.
In any case the aggrieved analysts sued Sophie Robert, demanding that she remove their statements and pay them monetary damages. That is, they were insisting that she censor her movie.
Yesterday, a judge in Lille accepted their claim, and awarded them damages. They had demanded $500,000, but were awarded $50,000.
The judge considered that the damage was so grave that she declared something of an emergency situation. Thus, she ordered that the film be suppressed immediately, that it not be shown on French television, as planned, and that the producer disburse the monetary award even before the decision could be appealed.
It is difficult, perhaps even impossible, for someone with no legal training and no knowledge of the French civil justice system to understand this verdict.
It is obvious enough, as Sophie Robert’s lawyer pointed out yesterday, that this decision would put an end to documentary filmmaking in France. It is fairly obvious that Michael Moore could never function under this regime. Nor could Evan Coyle Maloney, the producer of Indoctrinate U. Nor could very many journalists.
From what I understand it was based on a French law involving a subject’s “droit moral.” This complex legal concept seems to mean that a subject whose image or words are used in, for example, a documentary, has a legal recourse if the presentation makes him look bad and thus, damages is reputation.
To this outside observer, it suggests that the French have extremely thin skin. Now French psychoanalysts seem to have found a new calling as leaders of the army of the thin-skinned.
Of course, American journalists and legal scholars have long debated the question of editing an interview for journalistic presentation.
Journalists who routinely need to edit interviews have explained that if you run a literal transcript of someone’s remarks you often find that the person looks and sounds much worse than he would if his remarks had been edited.
As for the larger issue, that is, whether the editing presented the opinions of the French psychoanalysts correctly, I will offer my own opinion. I heard nothing in their presentations that seems in any way inconsistent with the dogmatic belief system that constitutes their pseudo-professional discourse. One of the analysts who filed suit has declared publicly that he does not regret one word of what he said.
I suspect that they wanted to censor the film because it made psychoanalysis look bad. Not only that, but it made psychoanalysis look like a cabal that was actively conspiring to prevent autistic children from receiving the best possible care. They were reasoning that if the best care comes from America it should not be allowed to enter France. They are willing to fight on the ramparts to prevent their country from being invaded.
The debate over autism in France does not date to Sophie Robert’s film. In 2004 the Council of Europe condemned France for its substandard treatment of autism. Link here.
Sophie Robert refocused the debate by showing that the psychoanalytic understanding of autism had contributed mightily to the mistreatment of autistic children in France.
To place the legal issue in a larger context, I am informed that the judge who decided this case and who insisted that it be enforced immediately had in the past agreed to annul a Muslim marriage on the grounds that the bride was not a virgin.
Until her decision is overturned on appeal the reputation of the French civil justice system will suffer a serious loss of reputation itself.
When it comes to damaging a reputation, French psychoanalysts are masters of the game. They have so thoroughly discredited all behavioral approaches that no French psychologist or psychiatrist would dare to use such an approach on an autistic child. The fact that these approaches are far more effective does not count.
Moreover, the French legal system has a law on the books that allows a court to remove an autistic child from his parents’ home on the grounds that they are not providing proper care—proper care being defined as a psychoanalytically-oriented psychotherapy.
This despite the fact that, as the film shows, there is no evidence whatever that psychoanalysis helps these children at all.
For their part French psychoanalysts are practicing a form of cultural protectionism or cultural mercantilism. Only rarely do we see this in the marketplace of ideas. It arises from a radical leftist mindset that seeks thought control at the cost of social benefit.
I will underscore the fact that many French neurologists are horrified by the French treatment of autism. The country that gave us Louis Pasteur and Pierre and Marie Curie has long held a distinguished place in scientific research. No French scientist, serious or unserious, has ever imagined judging scientific results by their country of origin. Many neurologists have contacted Sophie Robert to assert their support for her work and their willingness to testify to the latest scientific facts about autism.
Nevertheless, French psychoanalysts have managed to make France look like a nation of cultural troglodytes.
There are approximately 600,000 autistic children in France today. 80% of them receive no schooling at all. The nation has the resources to treat 700 with the newest and most effective therapeutic techniques. Approximately 1000 or so autistic children have been sent by their parents to Belgium. Sophie Robert calls them “medical refugees.”
Worse yet, since psychoanalysis places all the blame on the mother, it contributes to a line of thinking that declares separation from the mother to be a therapeutic benefit. There is a law in France that allows the government to remove autistic children from their homes if their parents refuse to offer them proper care, that is, psychoanalytically-oriented treatment.
This despite the fact that no evidence demonstrates the efficacy of this treatment. In effect, autistic children are warehoused in France.
Parents of autistic children live in terror of their government and the psychiatric establishment. Thus they have been slow to speak up about the way their government had been treating them.
Because of the psychoanalysts' lawsuit, an army of mothers has started to mobilize in order to exert political pressure on the French government and to break down the influence that psychoanalysts exercise on it. Link here.
Through Facebook and the blogosphere women across France have been organizing to save their children, and even to give them productive lives. For now the government has begun to respond positively.
Of course, psychoanalysts in France exercise considerable influence. You will be surprised to learn that the French national health system pays generously for psychoanalytic sessions.
American insurance companies had done so in the past, but they ultimately decided that it was not cost efficient to pay for a treatment that could not show consistently positive results.
When you are dealing with a government-run system you do not need to demonstrate results. You need to be able to exercise political influence.
In all fairness we must give the analysts themselves some credit. They have succeeded in using their political influence to dupe the French government into putting them on the national payroll.
Moreover, psychoanalysts have developed techniques for terrorizing and silencing their opposition. They have mixed their anti-Americanism with accusations that anyone who disagrees with their theory is a fascist and an anti-Semite.
Now they have taken their war on free discussion to a new level by having a court ban a film because they find that it makes them look bad.
Those of you who still believe that psychoanalysis is consistent with the principles of free speech should do some serious rethinking.
If it should happen that Sophie Robert’s film is removed from the internet, you can gain some historical context by looking at the well-known biofilm called Temple Grandin.
The film has justly won numerous prizes and awards; it is an exceptional piece of work made extraordinary by the performance of Claire Danes.
If you watch the film through the lens of the current French debate you will see that when Temple Grandin was a child, in early 1950s America, psychoanalysis provided the framework through which autism was treated.
We see one scene where Temple’s mother is discussing her daughter with an eminent psychiatrist. The psychiatrist explains that autism is an infantile schizophrenia caused by the child’s bad relationship with her mother.
These same ideas appear in the mouths of today’s most renowned French psychoanalysts.
The psychiatrist also wanted to institutionalize Temple for life. Her mother refused to accept that verdict and insisted that her daughter receive an education.
Temple Grandin went to college, received a masters and a doctorate, and currently works as a professor at Colorado State University. She has been widely honored for her influential work in cattle ranching.
She is still autistic. There is no doubt that she suffers from this neurological affliction. And yet, she has managed to use her considerable intelligence to make an important contribution to society. Surely, this is far, far better than the kind of institutionalization that her psychiatrist proposed in early 1950s America and that is commonplace in France today.
In the movie Temple she expresses heartfelt gratitude to her mother for not giving up on her and for not acceding to professional opinion. I like to think that people like Temple Grandin’s mother were instrumental in undermining the influence that psychoanalysis had on the treatment of autism in America.
Of course, it is striking that French psychiatrists and psychoanalysts are today in exactly the same place that their American counterparts were in six decades ago. It shows that French psychoanalysts are suffering from arrested moral development.
At the very least they should stay out of the arena of public relations. By trying to defend their own reputations they have made Sophie Robert’s film into a call to arms against psychoanalysts. They have mobilized an army of mothers, a group that, I venture, they will never defeat.
For worse, or perhaps for better, they have thrown their own profession into disrepute.