Politics: The Unfolding of Psychologism

As the current political contest unfolds, I find myself increasingly perplexed by how today’s great intellectual minds of psychology, and various psychological intuitions, appear to have lost perspective on the purpose of the field. Some have taken the use of psychology, (specifically depth-psychology), and applied it to the current political debate from a medieval-philosophical stance; seeing their position as if they are an arbitrator of defending good over evil, but I contend that this is an abstraction of psychology’s purpose as it is seen today.

Freud and Jung in the late 19th century and first half of the 20th century, believed that psychological theory gave the practitioner a realistic, everyday picture of our mental conflicts, anxieties, contradictions, neuroses, and the like, of the individual but that the workings of the group or even a nation was far too complex for psychology to understand. Jung (1936) says in a lecture titled Psychology and National Problems:

Many people wondered what psychology would say about the world situation. Such questions, as a matter of fact, have often been put to me, and I must confess I always felt not only definitely uncomfortable but singularly incompetent to give a satisfactory answer. The subject is really far too complicated. (CW vol. 18, p. 567)

Jung on a psychological lecture tour says in a communique on visiting the United States in September of 1936:

As a psychologist I am deeply interested in mental disturbances, particularly when they infect whole nations...I am a neutral Swiss and even in my own country I am uninterested in politics, because I am convinced that 99 per cent of politics are mere symptoms and anything but a cure for social evils. About 50 per cent of politics is definitely obnoxious inasmuch as it poisons the utterly incompetent mind of the masses…I make this statement in order to disillusion any attempt to claim me for any political party. I have some reason for it, since my name has been repeatedly been drawn into the political discussion, which is, as you best know, in a feverish condition actually. (CW vol. 18, p. 564)

So why do we think we are more sophisticated today as we profess to call a party candidate a witch on trial or the embodiment of the dark shadow? James Hillman writes in his 1992 book We’ve had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy, “We’ve had a hundred years of analysis, and people are getting more and more sensitive, and the world is getting worse and worse” (p. 3). Is it true that we are getting worse and more sensitive? If you have a computer or even watch the television, it appears that by the continued denigration of the candidates and their followers; that of psychologists, religious scholars, academics, and almost every other institution, even the very intellectual are not immune from the poisons of politics.

If psychology is truly a field of study and its teaching intuitions are the neutral field for study and research, I propose that we abstain from pathologizing while being imbedded in the fray.

Jung also writes (September 1936),

In a politically poisoned and overheated atmosphere, the sane and the dispassionate scientific discussion of such delicate, yet most important problems has become well-nigh impossible. To discuss such matters in public (Facebook) would be about as successful as if the director of a lunatic asylum were to set out to discuss the particular delusions of his patients in the midst of them. (CW vol. 18, p. 565).

If we as psychologists are entrenched in a particular political belief we will exclude not only the information we lack to make a good diagnosis, but we will alienate nearly half of those with a differing viewpoint and how can we even begin to treat something we refuse to even see? If we as psychologists are busy uttering the poison we have collected from our patients and the masses, we cannot stand, view, or cure the psychological diseases we profess to be able to heal.

Copyright-Michael A Vogel, MA, PhD(c) 2016