Wednesday, November 4, 2020

How Not to Cure America's Divisions

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, the Wall Street Journal, of all places, offers up an op-ed column wherein a psycho therapist proposes to use psycho analysis to solve our current national malaise.

Fair enough, Andrew Hartz only mentions psycho analysis in passing. Yet, he tells us that he derives the concept that he calls “splitting” from one Melanie Klein, a notable psycho analyst, one whose musings about good and bad breasts-- the ones that made her somewhat famous-- have long since been relegated to obsolescence.

For the record, Klein's definition of splitting describes people who see life in all-or-nothing terms. In the case that Hartz offers up, a case where he failed to help his patient, a white woman claimed that all goodness came from blackness and all evil came from whiteness.

For those who know more about the psycho world, all-or-nothing thinking is generally considered to be a characteristic of depression. And, would you know it, Hartz’s patient is depressed. If you have not been ensorcelled by dead psycho analysts you will probably guess that the solution to all-or-nothing thinking is to find a mean between the extremes, to find the “something” that lies between everything and nothing. It also entails-- introducing evidence that would prove or disprove a proposition. The way out of ideological extremes does not lie with dead theorists, but with the introduction of factual evidence.

A cognitive therapist might ask the patient to list evidence that would prove or disprove any assertion about race. He would call it a homework exercise. Similarly, a cognitive therapist dealing with depression would ask the patient to list evidence that would prove or disprove a belief like: I never get anything right.

This is standard cognitive practice when dealing with such mental aberrations. 

As for what it means to be split, I would rather reserve the concept to situations where an individual fails to keep a promise. When you promise to take your children to the carnival and then you forget to show up, you will not know whether you are the parent who made the promise or the parent who failed to keep his word? Strictly speaking, you do not know. Thus, splitting is an identity issue, even a moral issue, one that involves your inability to keep your word.

Anyway, I will not run through Hartz’s efforts to revive a dead theory. I will simply note that I find his analysis disappointing. By ignoring the work of cognitive therapists he simply shows why no one practices Kleinian analysis any more.


Freyr Energy said...
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Ares Olympus said...

I don't have access to the article but I see Wikipedia says "splitting" is another name for Black and White or All-or-Nothing thinking, a failure to see or accept both positive and negative aspects in the same object at the same time, and it is used to maintain self-esteem. Like Democrats are unable to see the positive accomplishments of Donald Trump as president because they need to exclusively focus on his failings, while in reverse they admire Biden and ignore the failings of him and his family. Lindsay Graham shows how Black and White Thinking allows reversals, as he moved in 2016 seeing Trump as all bad, to seeing Trump as all good after he was elected.

Anonymous said...

Ah, Mrs. Klein. I think the object relations theory is good for looking at literature and film. I first (maybe) understood object relations by realizing that E.A. Poe's writing reflected part objects (the eye in Tell-Tale Heart, somebody's teeth, etc.). His mother died when he was a toddler and his work appears to show the trauma of not believing she was really dead (Fall of the House of Usher, people being buried alive, people being immured in walls). Anyway, I think his work is a good example of it. As for using it to treat people, probably just something one could observe only to give information.

P.S. Poe wrote a lot of stories that never became famous and some are quite humorous. He wasn't all gloom.