An Inconvenient Truth
Aris, James, Freud & Democracy
[On Nov. 20 Aris wrote a comment elaborating on Freud and William James from a recent Daily Byte featuring those two. The comment shouldn’t be lost to the maze of Haloscan: it stands as its own thread provocateur, and is reprinted here in hopes that Aris’s original intent (“so that I would benefit from your views”) is taken up: I’d like to hear your views as well.pt]
William James was a leading psychologist of his time, whose work on the subject influenced profoundly the future generations of American and European philosophers. He was a warm and kind-hearted person. He was also a Puritan, in its best tradition. He did not see any incompatibility between science and the basic tenets of Christianity. The only view he is known not to have tolerated was that of Santayana.
Freud was altogether a different kind of man. He was controversial, hard-hitting and intolerant of religion. It is still unconfirmed rumors that he doctored his patients’ data. Contrary to his outspoken anti-religion views, he believed in occults, most of which are embraced by the great world religions, except Confucianism, which is not a religion in the strict sense of the word. His psychoanalysis, to the dismay of many of his loyal and blind followers, is shown to be unscientific. But, I think he had a keen knowledge of human nature:
The readily denied fact behind all of this is that the human is not a gentle being, in need of love, which at most defends itself if attacked, but rather has a significant tendency towards aggression in addition to its natural talents. In consequence his neighbor is not only a possible helper and sexual object, but is also a possibility for venting his aggression, using his labor without paying, using him sexually without his consent, taking his belongings, humiliating him, causing him pain, torturing and killing him.
Unfortunately, he was shown to be accurate. In a consequential experience recently in England, a group of college students were divided randomly into two groups, prisoners and guards, to perform their assigned tasks as factually as possible. After a few weeks into the experience, the prisoners started to display submissiveness, withdrawal, and depression, whereas the guards displayed aggressiveness, cruelty and satisfaction in inflicting pain on the prisoners.
I view democracy consisting of three basic components: The rule of law applied to everyone justly and fairly, prosperity (in poverty the instinct for survival obliterates all other considerations), and tolerance by the members of the community: not only accepting the right of another person to have a different view, but the person himself/herself.
The third component is the reason why I claim that democracy is a frame of thought. Dogma of any kind, religious or otherwise, leads to intolerance. In the West, the idea of tolerance is relatively recent: it began after the devastations of the Thirty-Year War in Europe. It is, to be sure, a purely Western idea. It simply does not exist in the rest of the world. It is therefore pure fantasy for anyone to think that democracy can be exported. In some of those countries there might be a façade of tolerance of views, but not of the persons holding them. Simply going to the poles and voting is by no means democracy.
And to the dismay of James and another great thinker, John Dewey, and perhaps satisfaction of Freud (for being right) the West, especially America, is showing signs of intolerance. We all know about the Religious Right’s firm grip on our government and the so-called 25% diehards. In Europe, the Swiss and Dutch just elected parties of intolerance. The Dutch, traditionally a tolerant people (they accepted Spinoza despite his heretical views), by reelecting the parties that advocate harsh treatment of immigrants, could further aggravate the situation in Europe. The Swiss are not known to be a tolerant bunch. The women until quite recently had no right to vote. They have accepted rich outsiders, most of whom, nevertheless, remained exiles and were not integrated into the community. Their recent anti-immigrants outcry was to be expected.