On Civic Duty

Jim Lehrer: It’s crucial. It’s essential for me. I think it’s essential for every human being. We all have it in us to want to give back; to want to serve; to want to have our best, rather than our worst.

For instance, I’m a big believer in mandatory national service, which is not a very popular view.

For instance, after 9/11 the young people of this country rose up and said, “What can we do?” And what did we say? The big “we”? They didn’t get an answer. They still haven’t gotten an answer! There’s no ordinary, organized, routine way for Americans to serve, not only to serve people who need service, but also to get the glow and the good feeling that comes from service. And I’ve served

My three years in the Marine Corps changed my life. In viewing that; just about everybody I knew before I went into the Marine Corps looked exactly like me, talked like me, thought like me. I had never ridden on an airplane before. All my travel had been in Texas, and Kansas, and Oklahoma on buses and stuff like that. And suddenly here I am in the Marine Corps on an airplane. I was suddenly responsible. I was a platoon leader. I was responsible for other people – their safety, their comfort. And the guy on the right, the guy on the left, we were all dependent. And it didn’t matter what he looked like. We were all together.

And the lessons of service; of what it does to your sense of self; what it did for me and what it; and everybody I talked to; talking about just the Marine Corps and the military. But service itself is a really satisfying experience. But some kids say, “You’ve got to volunteer.” You’re going to tell some kid who can barely afford to go to school that he’s got to go volunteer? It sounds great; but he lives in a home with an income of $20,000 a year, and he’s supposed to volunteer too in addition? No! The kid’s got to work.

And most volunteer service is performed by upper middle class Americans who can afford. Their parents can afford for them to volunteer. And so that’s why I’m a big believer in mandatory. It could be military option where everybody could choose what they wanted to do. We could figure out a system similar to the G.I. Bill. We could give schooling and credits and all that sort of stuff.

Because here is the problem. We talk about shared experience in the news. We have so few shared experiences now as Americans. We do live on our little places. And I’ve been fortunate because, not only because I was a Marine, but also I’m a journalist. I’ve seen all kinds of people. But I’ve also seen all kinds of people who have never seen all kinds of people. And they’re all clichés. And to me there’s no such thing as a cliché about an individual, whether it’s a racial cliché or a gender cliché. I’ve worked and lived with all kinds of people.

And if you have mandatory national service; it could be a Peace Corps; it could be a neighborhood corps; police corps; it could be a teacher corps, whatever.

The federal government could be the instrument, but it could be in conjunction with volunteer organizations and with private enterprise and all that.

But everybody has to serve – boys, girls, all kinds, whatever your capabilities are physically or mentally – for a couple of years. And I think; suddenly we would all be together forever.

You see, my three years ended it for me. In other words, it opened my eyes forever, you know? Those clichés never came back, and they never will for me. And I just wish that everybody had that experience.

I didn’t mean to make a speech here, but it’s really important to me.

Well, at the risk of sounding political – and I don’t mean this politically at all – I think some of the awful things that have happened in the country [USA] recently are the result of our not having shared experiences as citizens of all races, creeds, ages, sizes, abilities, whatever.

We go to war, just a certain number of people do the fighting for us. And the rest of us aren’t even affected. On Iraq, I asked the President of the United States [George W. Bush] in an interview I did. I said, “Mr. President, you’ve said the war against terror is the single most important thing that’s come into this country, for the United States of America, in centuries. But have you not asked all of us to participate?”

“Oh well, you know . . .”

I don’t mean to put the President down; but the thinking isn’t that you have to sa¬¬¬¬crifice when there’s a situation that arises like war, or a Katrina.

Katrina; remember how everybody rose then, too? They say, “Oh, well what can we do about Katrina?” Go to New Orleans today. Go to the shoreline of Mississippi today. Misery is still there. We don’t follow up. We don’t feel responsible for New Orleans. We don’t feel responsible for Iraq one way or another.

The Depression touched everybody. World War II touched everybody. These calamities that I’m talking about do not touch everybody automatically, just by their very nature. What I’m suggesting is – the variable here is – that the country, the leaders of our country – the leaders being the population – must accept and be encouraged to accept the fact that we are all touched by calamities.

We didn’t have to be in the Depression, or be in World War II to understand that this was our calamity; that Iraq was our calamity. Darfur is our calamity. When there is a calamity, we have a stake in it. And we have a responsibility.

The whole society, every element – family, school, church, whatever, as well as the political system; primarily the political system – has to be built on that. And the people who are running for office; Presidents of the United States; candidates for President of the United States, in my opinion, every one of them – I don’t care if you’re a left-winger, or a right-winger, or a Republican, a Democrat, or an Independent – should tell the people the very worst and say, “Okay. I can fix this. But I can’t do it alone. Here’s what you can do.” And ask people to help and be very specific about it. And sometimes you may have to pay more taxes. “Oooooooo! Well okay. Alright.” Sometimes you may have to do this.

It’s got to be a culture.

The politicians argue and debate about how they’re going to resolve these things, and how everybody is going to be affected about it and what they can all do about it. Rather than; right now politicians tend to talk in terms of; they want to make everything so simple and so easy. None of this is simple and easy. And to act like we can go to war and only touch a few people in the volunteer military and their families. That’s what happened. And now it’s not working. And it’s beginning to touch more and more people. And the more and more people get touched, the more and more questions get asked, and the more and more everything becomes more and more difficult.

You have to get involved. And there are all kinds of ways you get involved.

If you take anybody in American; that there’s a day, and then there’s a week, then it’ll never happen. But every American must – in my opinion – feel, “Okay, we are now going to elect a new President. We are now going to deal with how we’re going to exercise our military power.” We this, we this, we that, we, we, we, we, we!

There’s all kinds of studies. Sociologists talk all the time about; we’re an “I” society. I did this. It’s only me, me, me, me and me. And there is no we, we, we.

I think, to touch on something I’ve said before, I think there’s a big “we” in all of us. It has to be utilized. It’s a goldmine waiting out there for us to be mined and used.

And part of the process, of course, is to be informed and to work at it. Find out what the issues really are. It’s all there. If somebody says to me, “Oh well, I don’t even know what’s going on about it. I mean nobody ever; the media doesn’t . . .”

And I said, “What is it the media hasn’t told you?”

“Well they haven’t told me about it.” And he tells me everything about this particular story.

And I say, “Well if the media didn’t tell you, how did you find out about it?”

“Oh well, actually I, uh, heard about it on NPR.”

So I say, “Oh! I guess the media did tell you.”

But at any rate, my point is that the thing that leads to activism in anything – whether it’s political activism or any kind of activism – is knowledge, is information. If somebody says to you; you live in a neighborhood and somebody comes knocks on your door and says, “We’re going to build a 7Eleven store right next to your house,” and you’ve never been active about anything in your life, suddenly you’re an activist. You don’t want to keep that 7Eleven store next to your house.

But you can keep moving that back and back. You go to the state capital and the state government. They want to pave all the pastures north of Goodland, Kansas or something like that.

“Oh my gosh! Hey! I’m an activist.”

But the information--you have to find out things first. You have to care enough. And somebody has to tell you about it. And out of that knowledge/information comes concern, and comes action, and comes resolution and togetherness.

 

Recorded: July 4, 2007.

 

Jim Lehrer talks about duty, shared experience, and what it means to serves one's country.

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Freud is renowned, but his ideas are ill-substantiated

The Oedipal complex, repressed memories, penis envy? Sigmund Freud's ideas are far-reaching, but few have withstood the onslaught of empirical evidence.

Mind & Brain
  • Sigmund Freud stands alongside Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein as one of history's best-known scientists.
  • Despite his claim of creating a new science, Freud's psychoanalysis is unfalsifiable and based on scant empirical evidence.
  • Studies continue to show that Freud's ideas are unfounded, and Freud has come under scrutiny for fabricating his most famous case studies.

Few thinkers are as celebrated as Sigmund Freud, a figure as well-known as Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein. Neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, Freud's ideas didn't simply shift the paradigms in academia and psychotherapy. They indelibly disseminated into our cultural consciousness. Ideas like transference, repression, the unconscious iceberg, and the superego are ubiquitous in today's popular discourse.

Despite this renown, Freud's ideas have proven to be ill-substantiated. Worse, it is now believed that Freud himself may have fabricated many of his results, opportunistically disregarding evidence with the conscious aim of promoting preferred beliefs.

"[Freud] really didn't test his ideas," Harold Takooshian, professor of psychology at Fordham University, told ATI. "He was just very persuasive. He said things no one said before, and said them in such a way that people actually moved from their homes to Vienna and study with him."

Unlike Darwin and Einstein, Freud's brand of psychology presents the impression of a scientific endeavor but ultimately lack two of vital scientific components: falsification and empirical evidence.

Psychoanalysis

Freud's therapeutic approach may be unfounded, but at least it was more humane than other therapies of the day. In 1903, this patient is being treated in "auto-conduction cage" as a part of his electrotherapy. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The discipline of psychotherapy is arguably Freud's greatest contribution to psychology. In the post-World War II era, psychoanalysis spread through Western academia, influencing not only psychotherapy but even fields such as literary criticism in profound ways.

The aim of psychoanalysis is to treat mental disorders housed in the patient's psyche. Proponents believe that such conflicts arise between conscious thoughts and unconscious drives and manifest as dreams, blunders, anxiety, depression, or neurosis. To help, therapists attempt to unearth unconscious desires that have been blocked by the mind's defense mechanisms. By raising repressed emotions and memories to the conscious fore, the therapist can liberate and help the patient heal.

That's the idea at least, but the psychoanalytic technique stands on shaky empirical ground. Data leans heavily on a therapist's arbitrary interpretations, offering no safe guards against presuppositions and implicit biases. And the free association method offers not buttress to the idea of unconscious motivation.

Don't get us wrong. Patients have improved and even claimed to be cured thanks to psychoanalytic therapy. However, the lack of methodological rigor means the division between effective treatment and placebo effect is ill-defined.

Repressed memories

Sigmund Freud, circa 1921. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Nor has Freud's concept of repressed memories held up. Many papers and articles have been written to dispel the confusion surrounding repressed (aka dissociated) memories. Their arguments center on two facts of the mind neurologists have become better acquainted with since Freud's day.

First, our memories are malleable, not perfect recordings of events stored on a biological hard drive. People forget things. Childhood memories fade or are revised to suit a preferred narrative. We recall blurry gists rather than clean, sharp images. Physical changes to the brain can result in loss of memory. These realities of our mental slipperiness can easily be misinterpreted under Freud's model as repression of trauma.

Second, people who face trauma and abuse often remember it. The release of stress hormones imprints the experience, strengthening neural connections and rendering it difficult to forget. It's one of the reasons victims continue to suffer long after. As the American Psychological Association points out, there is "little or no empirical support" for dissociated memory theory, and potential occurrences are a rarity, not the norm.

More worryingly, there is evidence that people are vulnerable to constructing false memories (aka pseudomemories). A 1996 study found it could use suggestion to make one-fifth of participants believe in a fictitious childhood memory in which they were lost in a mall. And a 2007 study found that a therapy-based recollection of childhood abuse "was less likely to be corroborated by other evidence than when the memories came without help."

This has led many to wonder if the expectations of psychoanalytic therapy may inadvertently become a self-fulfilling prophecy with some patients.

"The use of various dubious techniques by therapists and counselors aimed at recovering allegedly repressed memories of [trauma] can often produce detailed and horrific false memories," writes Chris French, a professor of psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London. "In fact, there is a consensus among scientists studying memory that traumatic events are more likely to be remembered than forgotten, often leading to post-traumatic stress disorder."

The Oedipal complex

The Blind Oedipus Commending His Children to the Gods by Benigne Gagneraux. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

During the phallic stage, children develop fierce erotic feelings for their opposite-sex parent. This desire, in turn, leads them to hate their same-sex parent. Boys wish to replace their father and possess their mother; girls become jealous of their mothers and desire their fathers. Since they can do neither, they repress those feelings for fear of reprisal. If unresolved, the complex can result in neurosis later in life.

That's the Oedipal complex in a nutshell. You'd think such a counterintuitive theory would require strong evidence to back it up, but that isn't the case.

Studies claiming to prove the Oedipal complex look to positive sexual imprinting — that is, the phenomenon in which people choose partners with physical characteristics matching their same-sex parent. For example, a man's wife and mother have the same eye color, or woman's husband and father sport a similar nose.

But such studies don't often show strong correlation. One study reporting "a correction of 92.8 percent between the relative jaw width of a man's mother and that of [his] mates" had to be retracted for factual errors and incorrect analysis. Studies showing causation seem absent from the literature, and as we'll see, the veracity of Freud's own case studies supporting the complex is openly questioned today.

Better supported, yet still hypothetical, is the Westermarck effect. Also called reverse sexual imprinting, the effect predicts that people develop a sexual aversion to those they grow up in close proximity with, as a mean to avoid inbreeding. The effect isn't just shown in parents and siblings; even step-siblings will grow sexual averse to each other if they grow up from early childhood.

An analysis published in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology evaluated the literature on human mate choice. The analysis found little evidence for positive imprinting, citing study design flaws and an unwillingness of researchers to seek alternative explanations. In contrast, it found better support for negative sexual imprinting, though it did note the need for further research.

The Freudian slip

Mark notices Deborah enter the office whistling an upbeat tune. He turns to his coworker to say, "Deborah's pretty cheery this morning," but accidentally blunders, "Deborah's pretty cherry this morning." Simple slip up? Not according to Freud, who would label this a parapraxis. Today, it's colloquially known as a "Freudian slip."

"Almost invariably I discover a disturbing influence from something outside of the intended speech," Freud wrote in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. "The disturbing element is a single unconscious thought, which comes to light through the special blunder."

In the Freudian view, Mark's mistaken word choice resulted from his unconscious desire for Deborah, as evident by the sexually-charged meanings of the word "cherry." But Rob Hartsuiker, a psycholinguist from Ghent University, says that such inferences miss the mark by ignoring how our brains process language.

According to Hartsuiker, our brains organize words by similarity and meaning. First, we must select the word in that network and then process the word's sounds. In this interplay, all sorts of conditions can prevent us from grasping the proper phonemes: inattention, sleepiness, recent activation, and even age. In a study co-authored by Hartsuiker, brain scans showed our minds can recognize and correct for taboo utterances internally.

"This is very typical, and it's also something Freud rather ignored," Hartsuiker told BBC. He added that evidence for true Freudian slips is scant.

Freud's case studies

Sergej Pankejeff, known as the "Wolf Man" in Freud's case study, claimed that Freud's analysis of his condition was "propaganda."

It's worth noting that there is much debate as to the extent that Freud falsified his own case studies. One famous example is the case of the "Wolf Man," real name Sergej Pankejeff. During their sessions, Pankejeff told Freud about a dream in which he was lying in bed and saw white wolves through an open window. Freud interpreted the dream as the manifestation of a repressed trauma. Specifically, he claimed that Pankejeff must have witnessed his parents in coitus.

For Freud this was case closed. He claimed Pankejeff successfully cured and his case as evidence for psychoanalysis's merit. Pankejeff disagreed. He found Freud's interpretation implausible and said that Freud's handling of his story was "propaganda." He remained in therapy on and off for over 60 years.

Many of Freud's other case studies, such "Dora" and "the Rat Man" cases, have come under similar scrutiny.

Sigmund Freud and his legacy

Freud's ideas may not live up to scientific inquiry, but their long shelf-life in film, literature, and criticism has created some fun readings of popular stories. Sometimes a face is just a face, but that face is a murderous phallic symbol. (Photo: Flickr)

Of course, there are many ideas we've left out. Homosexuality originating from arrested sexual development in anal phase? No way. Freudian psychosexual development theory? Unfalsifiable. Women's penis envy? Unfounded and insulting. Men's castration anxiety? Not in the way Freud meant it.

If Freud's legacy is so ill-informed, so unfounded, how did he and his cigars cast such a long shadow over the 20th century? Because there was nothing better to offer at the time.

When Freud came onto the scene, neurology was engaged in a giddy free-for-all. As New Yorker writer Louis Menand points out, the era's treatments included hypnosis, cocaine, hydrotherapy, female castration, and institutionalization. By contemporary standards, it was a horror show (as evident by these "treatments" featuring so prominently in our horror movies).

Psychoanalysis offered a comparably clement and humane alternative. "Freud's theories were like a flashlight in a candle factory," anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann told Menand.

But Freud and his advocates triumph his techniques as a science, and this is wrong. The empirical evidence for his ideas is limited and arbitrary, and his conclusions are unfalsifiable. The theory that explains every possible outcome explains none of them.

With that said, one might consider Freud's ideas to be a proto-science. As astrology heralded astronomy, and alchemy preceded chemistry, so to did Freud's psychoanalysis popularize psychology, paving the way for its more rapid development as a scientific discipline. But like astrology and alchemy, we should recognize Freud's ideas as the historic artifacts they are.

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