S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Politics: do emotions drive actions?

Politics is not a mere intellectual exercise. All over the world people run for elective office. They do not walk, they run. Women and men have political ambitions upon which they act. My post today will explore one of the drivers of these actions, human emotion. And this entry will explore it within a gender framework. Noting my biases at the beginning, they include being a female, a senior, a Westerner, a psychotherapist, and a progressive Democrat.
Beginning with the "shrink" part, this article marks the anniversary of the birth of one of my "gurus." I hasten to add that he is not one of my heroes, but his seminal work informs all that came later in the world of psychology. From my experience, he got the gender part mostly wrong. I include those paragraphs that make my points about presidential politics.

Happy 150th Birthday, Dr. Freud. From MSNBC and Newsweek comes this great piece by Jerry Adler about Sigmund Freud. To quote,

March 27, 2006 - We stand now at a critical moment in the history of our civilization, which is usually the case: beset by enemies who irrationally embrace their own destruction along with ours, our fate in the hands of leaders who make a virtue of avoiding reflection, our culture hijacked by charlatans who aren't nearly as depraved as they pretend in their best-selling memoirs. As we turn from the author sniveling on Oprah's couch, our gaze is caught by a familiar figure in the shadows, sardonic and grave, his brow furrowed in weariness. So, he seems to be saying, you would like this to be easy. You want to stick your head in a machine, to swallow a pill, to confess on television and be cured before the last commercial. But you don't even know what your disease is.
And Freud: the great engine of an ongoing middlebrow bull session that has engaged our culture for a century. Without Freud, Woody Allen would be a schnook and Tony Soprano a thug; there would be an Oedipus but no Oedipus complex, and then how would people at dinner parties explain why the eldest son of George Bush was so intent on toppling Saddam? (This is a parlor game Freud himself pioneered in his analysis of Napoleon, who'd been dead for a century when Freud concluded that sibling rivalry with his eldest brother, Joseph, was the great drive in his life, accounting for both his infatuation with a woman named Josephine and his decision—following in the footsteps of the Biblical Joseph—to invade Egypt.) . . . . .
Yes, it's Sigmund Freud, still haunting us, a lifetime after he died in London in 1939, driven by the Nazis from his beloved Vienna. The theoretician who explored a vast new realm of the mind, the unconscious: a roiling dungeon of painful memories clamoring to be heard and now and then escaping into awareness by way of dreams, slips of the tongue and mental illness. The philosopher who identified childhood experience, not racial destiny or family fate, as the crucible of character. The therapist who invented a specific form of treatment, psychoanalysis, which advanced the revolutionary notion that actual diagnosable disease can be cured by a method that dates to the dawn of humanity: talk. Not by prayer, sacrifice or exorcism; not by drugs, surgery or change of diet, but by recollection and reflection in the presence of a sympathetic professional. It is an idea wholly at odds with our technological temperament, yet the mountains of Prozac prescribed every year have failed to bury it. Not many patients still seek a cure on a psychoanalyst's couch four days a week, but the vast proliferation of talk therapies—Jungian and Adlerian analyses, cognitive behavioral and psychodynamic therapy—testify to the enduring power of his idea. . . .In the id-driven worlds of politics, athletics and business, Freud is the ultimate non-bottom-line guy; he pays off five years down the road in the non-negotiable currency of self-knowledge. When President George W. Bush told an interviewer in 2004 that he wouldn't "go on the couch" to rethink his decisions about the Iraq war, it so outraged Dr. Kerry J. Sulkowicz, a professor of psychiatry at NYU Medical School, that he wrote a letter to The New York Times protesting this slur on analysis, with the implication "that not understanding oneself is a matter of pride." Sulkowicz knows this attitude firsthand as a consultant to corporate CEOs and boards of directors, where he struggles daily to beat some introspection into his clients' heads. "There's so much emphasis on 'execution' and 'action' in the business world," he says. "I try to convey that action and reflection are not mutually exclusive." Freud's insights into the irrational and the unconscious find application in the corporation, where even high-level executives may bring transference issues into the office, seeking from their boss the approval they once craved from their parents. Freud's writings on group dynamics and sibling rivalry can serve the thoughtful CEO well, Sulkowicz adds. It helps, though, if the source is somewhat obscured. "I hardly ever talk about Freud by name," he says.
Wars happen when political action does not solve the problem and emotions take over. War is a form of organized violence within and between political systems. Think about the war in Vietnam. We were eventually drawn into that conflict because of cold war fears. John Foster Dulles' domino theory convinced politicians that Communism would dominate the world if South Vietnam were the first of many Southeast Asian countries to fall. Of course we absolutely could not let that happen. But we lost that war; in fact we were humiliated in the eyes of some. And that loss has colored the United States' international politics ever since.

The emotions of fear and humiliation, in my opinion, drove the 9/11 terrorists. And it is my view that those feelings also influenced the U.S. invasion of Iraq. I saw a sociologist, Thomas Scheff, on C-Span a few weeks ago, who provided some insight on how such things might happen. The question was, do emotions drive violent behavior? Scheff explores this in, "Male Emotions And Violence," by Thomas Scheff-Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara. © 2001 from the Journal of Mundane Behavior. To quote,
Men all over the world have been socialized to be strong, brave and competent. In my case, and I think many others, that has meant being shamed into suppressing vulnerable emotions, especially fear, grief, and shame. Stating the matter simplistically, for brevity, most male adults are not conscious of these emotions. Therefore they don't often shake with fear, sob and tear with grief, and hang their head in shame (and are humorless in a crisis) when these reactions are appropriate (for a fuller treatment of the issue of catharsis, see Scheff 1979).

Scheff writes about his experience as a man, what his feelings and actions might indicate about being a man. This leads me to wonder about leadership because I am a woman and a political activist. When we elect our leaders we expect them to be strong, brave and competent. Can women also be seen as strong, brave and competent? Or are women more socialized to be "the vulnerable emotional ones." What is wrong with electing a woman president? People all over our nation have started asking themselves this question. And people in other nations seem to be willing to to take on the potential vulnerability of being led by a woman president or prime minister.
The United States still seems a bit behind in this regard, though we have started the conversation. Understanding the emotions behind our words is important for us to be able to truly hear what the opposite sex is thinking. The actual way we look at things can give clues to the feelings behind the words, the subtle unconscious biases. Here is an example of what I mean. Notice the Dogpile search results for the phrase "Women Presidents,"from which I quote:
"Related Searches
  • Problem with a Woman President
  • Women Presidents of Countries
  • Female President
  • Women to Run for President
  • First Woman President
  • Women Prime Ministers
  • Past Presidents
  • Opinions on Female Presidents"

The search phrase "Women Presidents" produced the following page (again note the subtle bias):
" Web Results 1-9 of 57,646,578. Powered by Yahoo!
  1. Faith Of Our Mothers: The Women Who Shaped America's Presidents - Book
  2. All the Presidents' Women: An Examination of Sexual - Book at Yahoo!
  3. Find All The Presidents' Women by John M. Berecz's "All The Presidents' Women"
  4. American Association of University Women. Incoming and outgoing presidents
  5. Women at the Helm: Pathfinding Presidents at State - Book at Yahoo!
  6. Presidents' Wives: The Lives of 44 American Women of - Book at Yahoo!
  7. First Mothers: The Women Who Shaped the Presidents - Book at Yahoo!
  8. All the Presidents' Ladies: Anecdotes of the Women - Book at Yahoo!
  9. Faculty Women's Club. 50th Anniversary - charter members and past presidents."
This brings me to Senator Hillary Clinton, and all the questions and comments her potential 2008 presidential candidacy raises. The nation has a tremendous amount of ambivalence about her. Is she too cold, too angry, too conservative, too liberal, too brittle, to wounded, too calculating, etc. And most of all, could she be the commander in chief in a war? Would her emotions over ride her actions? ABC News women leaders author Caitlan Johnson writes,
Perhaps the presidential talk surrounding Clinton indicates that the United States is ready to accept a woman president and ready to catch up with the rest of the world. Women are now heads of state in Germany, Liberia and Chile. Finland's president, Tarja Halonen, was just re-elected last week. But in the United States, shifting the balance of power between men and women has been a slow, and sometimes frustrating process.
According to women on the political front lines, the difficulty of unseating incumbents, the campaign finance system and cultural attitudes all work to keep women from coming to power in the United States. Nevertheless, many say the stage is set for a female presidential candidate in 2008.
The closest a woman ever came to becoming president of the United States was when Geraldine Ferraro ran for vice president on the Democratic ticket with Walter Mondale in 1984.

Many of us think that it is time to elect a woman president of the United States. We think that emotions and actions apply to both men and women. Neither gender seems to have it over the other. Here is the website of a political action committee set up for just that purpose. The web site is called , and it is based in Little Rock, Arkansas. To quote,
American Women Presidents is a national political action committee (PAC)
dedicated to electing women to the U.S. presidency. We're already focused on the
2008 presidential race because the presidential primary campaign moves very
quickly. Once the 2006 elections take place this November, only 14 months remain until the critical Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary election must be won. We're looking forward to electing America's first woman president on November 4, 2008, and to attending her swearing as President of the United States on January 20, 2009.