Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sometimes the Centre Cannot Hold 4

When words get in the way:

It would seem that some people who are essentially power brokers e.g., politicians, senior civil servants, senior lawyers, the clerical hierarchy, senior consultants and bankers and others in the higher echelons of their professions can be nothing if not mental gymnasts. By this, I mean that they can use and abuse language for their own purposes. When I was studying theology well over 30 years ago we discussed such "mental gymnastics" by the name of casuistry. It is a form of argumentation that is specious or excessively subtle and intended to be misleading. Cardinal Desmond Connell is one of its leading exponents in the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. Mike Roddy, a Reuters journalist and blogger neatly sums up Connell's specious argumentation:
Cardinal Desmond Connell said that while a priest could not tell a lie, he could knowingly leave a false impression, under what Connell said was the concept of “mental reservation.” “There may be circumstances in which you can use an ambiguous expression realising that the person who you are talking to will accept an untrue version of whatever it may be,” Connell said by way of explaining this cleverly nuanced take on St. Augustine’s treatises proving it is never lawful to tell a lie. Mike Roddy: See this link here: Reuters Blogs
It's not only the Catholic Hierarchy that uses specious argumentation - all other power brokers do too, viz., politicians (recall for a moment Brian Lenihan Snr's (RIP) quip "on mature recollection," or bankers who can use such euphemistic and oxymoronic terms as: "downgrowth" for hardship, repression or depression; "negative profit" for loss; "write downs" for write offs and the term "underbanked" instead of poor or broke.

Of course, business people can use euphemisms too e.g., "pre-owned" for used or second-hand. I've even read the term "enhanced interrogation" for "torture" and "convenience fee" for surcharge. I remember way back in 1979 when we went to see the famous film Apocalypse Now with our then English lecturer John Devitt he gave us the task of writing a brief comparison between the film and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. It was then that we heard the extraordinary term "exterminate with extreme prejudice" for "kill." This is a language use that tends to sanitize the unacceptable "stink" caused by the appropriate word. To do such to language is not too short of lying, in a sense. We are somehow afraid to tell the truth, to present things as they really are.

However, what I am getting at here is that the use, misuse and abuse of language is all about power and control, all about protecting vested interests whether that be monetary or professional, and even cultural (I'm alluded cultural prejudices against outsiders etc).

And so now, I wish to return to The Divided Self by Dr. R.D. Laing. Laing set himself the task as a young man of 28 when he wrote this classic in psychiatry to make madness and the process of going mad comprehensible. However, to do so he looked to the language of existentialism and phenomenology to make his arguments more comprehensible and clear to the general reader. He starts by quoting Wittgenstein who averred that "the thought is the language." and that a "technical language is a language within a language." (Op. cit., 19) Let me quote Laing more fully:
The words of the current technical vocabulary either refer to man in isolation from the other or the world, that is as an entity not essentially in relation to the other and in the world or they refer to falsely substantialized aspects of this isolated entity. Such words are: mind and body, psyche and soma, psychological and physical, personality, the self, the organism. All these terms are abstracta. Instead of the original bond of I and You, we take a single man in isolation and conceptualize his various aspects into the 'ego', 'the superego' and the 'id.' The other becomes either an internal or external object or a fusion of both. How can we speak in any way adequately of the relation between me and you in terms of one mental apparatus with another? This difficulty not only faces classical Freudian metapsychology but equally any theory that begins with man or a part of man abstracted from his relation with the other in his world. We all know from our personal experience that we can be ourselves only in and through our world... only existential thought has attempted to match the original experience of oneself in relationship to others in one's world by a term that adequately reflects this totality. (Ibid., p. 19)
In short, then, Dr Laing avoids all the above terms which he sees as separating out and dividing the existing human being into "things" and "its" and what he terms as mere "abstracta." There is not a little truth in his contentions. The 'I' and 'You' which Laing mentions above is very much what the Jewish philosopher/theologian, Martin Buber had in mind when he wrote his brilliant classic Ich und Du. (1923) Laing then tells us that he will use the term "being" to denote all that man is. The person, for Laing, can never be reified or made into a collection of things or processes - can never be 'thingified' or 'it-ified' (my neologism). He refers to "it-processes" and "the inveterate tendency to depersonalize or reify persons." (Ibid., 23). He then insists that the relationship of the Doctor or Psychoanalyst is one of person-to-person not professional-to-client or scientist-to-it. He argues passionately that each one of us can only exist as entities in relation to others, never in total isolation. Let me return to Laing's passionate words once again:

There is another aspect of man's being which is the crucial one in psychotherapy as contrasted with other treatments. This is that each and every man is at the same time separate from his fellows and related to them. Such separateness and relatedness are mutually necessary postulates. Personal relatedness can only exist between beings who are separate but who are not isolates...

Psychotherapy is an activity in which that aspect of the patient's being, his relatednessz to others is used for therapeutic ends... (Ibid., p. 26)

2 comments:

~Red Tin Heart~ said...

Tim, Happy New Year!...11 days later..LoL
xoxo Nita

. said...

Hey!
Lovely pictures of the winter landscape...
Also like the writing. - I've heard it said that humans are essentially on this earth to learn a "proper" (whatever that means) relationship to power...

Came over as I was researching "Puer Aeternus."
- will be back.
Dena
Toronto