Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Therapy Culture Confronts Islamist Terrorism

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Don’t say I didn’t warn you about the perverse misuse of the concept of empathy.

As I have often mentioned, on this blog and in my book, the concept of empathy is being promoted as the latest, greatest psychological panacea.

Therapists believe, as an article of faith, that psychopaths and sociopaths suffer from a lack of empathy. Obviously, they are happy to apply this deep thought to the terrorists who are running amok around the world today.

If only Islamists would learn to feel for the humanity of their victims they would lay down their suicide bombing vests and join the family of man.

Thus, terrorists are suffering from emotional disturbances. We need not fight them; we need not denounce them as evil; we need merely to cure them. They do not need bombs, they need therapy.

In a recent Daily Beast article, Gil Troy explains what happens when the therapy culture tries to solve the problem of Islamist terrorism. Not by denouncing, but by diagnosing. Not by attacking, but by offering compassion.

As you know, the White House has responded to the terrorist attacks in France and elsewhere by convening a conference on what it calls “extremism.”

Troy describes the purpose:

To demonstrate his determination [to fight terrorism], he [Obama] will host a conference on the subject on Feb. 18. The White House announcement emphasized that this summit will study strategies for involving “education administrators, mental health professionals, and religious leaders.”

Happy to pick up a trendy idea, our president confidently asserts that Islamist radicals—the ones he refuses to call Islamist radicals--need therapy. Their emotional difficulties have been caused by social conditions, like the rampant injustice that condemns them without trying to understand them.

It’s not new. Well before he entered the White House, Obama thought in these terms. If I may, the terms resonate well within our own therapy culture.

Troy exposes what then state senator Obama had to say about the 9/11 terrorist attacks at the time they happened. First, he offered a diagnosis. Then, he unearthed the social cause. The remarks are, to say the least, revelatory:

Even after the 9/11 attacks, some Americans resisted bin Laden’s own framing of the assaults as Islam versus the West. In Chicago, Obama, then a 40-year-old state senator, was evacuated from the Thompson Center, the Illinois state government office building, on that awful day. He watched the horrifying images at his law firm’s townhouse. “The essence of this tragedy…” he wrote a week later in the Hyde Park Herald, “derives from a fundamental absence of empathy on the part of the attackers: an inability to imagine, or connect with, the humanity and suffering of others. Such a failure of empathy, such numbness to the pain of a child or the desperation of a parent, is not innate; nor, history tells us, is it unique to a particular culture, religion, or ethnicity.” Obama explained that it “most often… grows out of a climate of poverty and ignorance, helplessness and despair.” Filtering reality through the therapeutic culture’s gauzy belief system, Obama reduced Islamism to a psychological shortcoming, while rationalizing a particular form of violence as a logical, if insensitive, response to poverty and illiteracy.

Obama was analyzing the problem with the terms provided by the therapy culture. But, this culture did not merely prevent him from understanding the nature of the threat. It also softened and weakened him and us. It has told us to introspect, the better to cure our own guilt-ridden souls. Once we have overcome our own problems, the terrorists will have no reason to attack us.

By extension, the 9/11 attacks were a way of punishing a nation that refuses to accept its own guilt. As Obama’s mentor so eloquently put it: our chickens came home to roost.

Troy’s remarks resonate with views expressed on this blog:

Beyond insulting billions of poor people who never turned violent, Obama’s 2001 reaction raises questions about whether America’s I’m-Ok-You’re OK overly-psychological culture can handle Islamism’s I’m-Ok-Die-Infidel! death cult. Our pluck, our grit, our occasional righteous anger, our absolute sense of right and wrong, has been counseled out of millions of us. One 2013 survey estimated that a third of Americans have sought “professional counseling for mental health issues.” Some estimates run as high as eighty percent of Americans having received some form of psychological counseling during their lifetimes.

Overall, the therapeutic focus on the neurotic self often undermines social solidarity and relativizes perceptions. While the resulting therapeutic culture is more tolerant, forgiving, and sensitive to others, it is also more guilt-ridden, apologetic, and self-loathing.  Reinforced by the post-1960s Great American—and Western—Guilt Trip, which emphasizes our own society’s flaws while excusing our enemies’ sins, the fight against absolutist, totalitarian ideologies like Islamism starts looking doomed. We see the results in ++politically correct college campuseswhere students accept someone waving the ISIS flag but denounce waving the Israeli flag. We see it in an identity politics that allows narratives of victimization to trump traditional liberal commitments to free speech….

Ideological combat requires clear-seeing warriors who distinguish good from evil, not mealy-mouthed social workers who believe everyone and every idea is good.

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