By Lynne Layton
President of Section IX
How to begin? Perhaps with something I often have heard my mother say in her later years: “Oy! I’ve lived too long!” As one who grew up in the somewhat egalitarian (for aspiring white folks) 50s and went to school while the social movements of the 50s, 60s and early 70s were taking shape, I feel as horrified by the Trump administration’s early days as my mother felt when Ronald Reagan began to dismantle the welfare state initiated by her beloved Franklin D. Roosevelt. The very word “president” is operating for me as a trigger, which may have something to do with why I’ve procrastinated writing this column.
Yes, things have been awful since November 8. I can only imagine how much anxiety undocumented and even documented immigrants must be feeling now, how much anxiety underprivileged women who need reproductive care must be feeling, how much terror people of color and all with non-normative gender and sexual identities must be feeling in the wake of what seems like state permission to commit hate crimes against them. I’m defending against feeling terrified as a Jew, and I am completely horrified by the way Netanyahu is using Trump as cover to further legitimize settlements and legitimize attacks on the very idea of a Palestinian state and Palestinian rights.
Where I find nourishment right now is in resistance and in community, and I am fortunate at the moment to be in two communities that, with no apology, openly advocate for social justice. I am writing from Santa Barbara where I teach at Pacifica Graduate Institute, a place that, despite the rampant scientism invading our field, unapologetically seeks to marry depth psychology with social justice. And I have you, my friends in Section IX. I am so grateful to so many of you for your dedication to bringing psychoanalytic thinking and practice together with an unwavering commitment to social justice. It was amazing to look at the pictures of Section IX banners waving both at the protest against the Dakota Pipeline in December (vigilance still required!) and at the Women’s marches all over the nation (ditto!). Matt LeRoy’s First 100 Days project is enriching our already very rich Psychoanalytic Activist newsletter and is connecting us to the bold thinking as well as the fears and vulnerabilities of many of our members. These posts also have the potential to reach out to the non-analytic public—yes, post your pieces on your Facebook pages if you’d like – Ann D’Ercole’s son posted hers and she then heard from many people outside the field who found her piece both moving and enlightening.
Thanks to Catherine Adler and Jan Haaken (our new media committee chair), we were able to make more meaningful our apology letter to Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian peoples – if you haven’t read Catherine’s Apology Letter Report, please take the time to read it. She traces how this project took life in Section IX, how we worked together with members of the Society of Indian Psychologists (SIP) to create it and how we then found a space at the National Multicultural Conference and Summit (NMCS) to present it to members of SIP. Our intervention has had a number of ripple effects – we are talking about possibly creating a documentary about indigenous psychologies and about the harm done to indigenous peoples by mainstream psychology’s alliance with dominant discourses. We continue to ask other Divisions to sign the letter so that we can return to APA with more force to support the original request from SIP: that APA issue an apology and make policy changes to rectify the harm done. COR members have also adopted the letter as part of their quest for APA to issue an apology. And we made good connections with people who will be organizing the next NMCS conference and who intend to make indigenous concerns central at that meeting.
Thanks to Richard Brouillette for starting a working group on authoritarianism – and thanks to all the other Section members who created projects that involved our membership: Jane Hassinger and Billie Pivnick’s online webinar on community and psychoanalysis; Donna Bassin’s initiative to welcome new members; Section V’s initiative to offer pro bono psychodynamic supervision to clinicians in community mental health; Karen Rosica’s initiative to survey members’ connections to organizations important to them; our education and training committee’s facilitation of discussion on intersectionality and on talking about politics with our patients.
Given the incredible number of fronts on which most of us are currently fighting: civil rights, immigrant rights, reproductive rights, education, foreign policy, climate concerns— to name just a few!—it has been difficult not to feel overwhelmed. The number of emails and requests for action can keep one glued to phone and computer for hours and hours, leaving only enough time to go out and demonstrate! I am finding it difficult to focus on one of the main things Section IX should be about: investigating what role psychoanalysis can play and does play both in resisting and in colluding with the problems we now face. We have taken up the cause of harm done to indigenous populations, but mainstream psychology is deeply involved in harm done to other marginalized populations, including people of color and the poor and working class of all colors and gender identifications. In thinking about such harm done, I’ve written quite a bit about how psychoanalysis both colludes with and resists neoliberalism, and, in my view, it’s become increasingly crucial for us to think more deeply about these collusions and about possible resistances. Much has been written lately about how blind liberals have been to our/their own prejudices, how our own apathy has contributed to where we are (like where the heck were we when the Senate refused to meet with Merrick Garland??). I found useful Bob Samuels’ charge that we are perhaps overinvested in a fantasy of our own goodness. A re-reading of Freud’s “Thoughts for the Times on War and Death” put me in touch again with a psychoanalytic ethic that demands that we resist falling prey to illusions about ourselves and resist the urge to turn away from unpleasurable truths.
I recently read Arlie Hochschild’s book, Strangers in Their Own Land. I read it after receiving a post about a white working class Rust Belt child of the 60s who grew up hearing his father talk way more disparagingly about the professional class than about the rich (for example, that he never heard his father mention lawyer without saying “shyster lawyer” and never heard him mention doctor without saying “quack doctor”). Despite her best attempt, Hochschild, I felt, was not able to climb over the empathy wall that separated her liberal Berkeley sociologist self from her Louisiana Tea Party comrades. What really stuck out for me was that her interview subjects were quite aware of the losses they’d sustained from living in an environment polluted and destroyed by an oil and petroleum industry that, contrary to persistent popular opinion, had brought few jobs and little in state wealth. It seemed to me that their grief was so great that they were unable to process it. This put me in mind of Alan Bass’s argument that Freud, at the end of his life, felt that disavowal – knowing and not knowing, because a perception is too painful to take in—was more primary a defense mechanism than repression. Hochschild’s interviewees’ solutions to their overwhelming grief and losses were what made it hard to climb the empathy wall: they hate and advocate against the EPA/big government, arguing that the liberal east and west coast elites have no idea about living with pollution and should stop whining; and they believe in the rapture (earth becomes a hell, which it has in their region, and then believers get taken to heaven). Racism thinly underlies every one of their major complaints against government. I want to climb the empathy wall, but I don’t know how. Section IX member Mary Watkins’ article on shame offered some possibilities, and I’m grateful that she shared it with us. I recently saw a documentary, Little Pink House, that gave me some thoughts about how the left and the working class might make common cause to fight the now glaringly in our face neoliberal partnership between capital and the state. The documentary was about a working class community that fought an eminent domain land grab in Connecticut that was intended to benefit a corporation, Pfizer. Perhaps we can make it part of our mission this year to think about how neoliberalism plays into our present polarization and what we might do to fight against it. It’s certainly making our nation ill.
Finally, I hope to see many of you at the Spring meeting in NYC where we intend to discuss at least some of these pressing issues. Our invited panel, Embodiment, Identity, and the Unequal Distribution of Life Chances: In the Clinic and Beyond, will take up the effects of racism, capitalism, misogyny, homophobia, and class inequality on vulnerable populations. The panel features Sue Grand, Katie Gentile, Nakia Hamlett, Jessica Jacobs, Matt Steinfeld, and award-winning New York Times culture critic Wesley Morris. Please plan, too, to come to our open board meeting (Saturday, 12-1:50pm, Liberty 5), which will conclude with an hour discussion on the topic: Sitting with the Effects of Trumpism: Post-Election Clinical Experiences. We have a better chance of understanding and intervening in our contemporary quagmire as a group than as individuals, and in this coming year of my work with Section IX, I look forward, together, to bringing new forms of psychoanalytic activism alive.