Attention must be paid — James Q. Wilson and Psychoanalytic Organizations

Attention must be paid — James Q. Wilson and Psychoanalytic Organizations
Nathan Szajnberg, M.D., Managing Editor
Alfred Marcus, Ph.D., Professor and Spencer Chair in Strategy and Technological Leadership, Univ. of Minnesota (a student of James Q. Wilson)

“Attention must be paid!” Willy Loman’s wife cried to her hapless sons Biff and Hap shortly before their father’s fatal car crash.

But, why should attention be paid by psychoanalysts to James Q. Wilson after his death? What can we learn about ourselves from a man whose discipline crossed too many boundaries for classification, whose curiosity took him wherever humans created problems for themselves or others?

True, this man did much: his “broken windows” theory changed New York City policing for the better, he reworked Weber’s ideas of bureaucracy, described three types of organizations, articulated differences in political style within the Democratic Party in three cities. (A University of Chicago Ph.D., he came about his knowledge of Chicago machine politics honestly.)

But, psychoanalysis? Why should we bother?

Let’s get back to his basics and simultaneously think about our organization(s) and institution(s). Let’s listen binaurally.

All organizations, yes all, Wilson showed “must attract…resources…to achieve…goals.” (Schuck, “Beyond Broken Windows,” NYT, March 11, 2012, p 12). Organizations attract adherents in three ways: incentives that 1. build solidarity; 2. offer material benefits; or 3. offer (moral) purpose, with visionary qualities. These three factors may be combined, but one often predominates: corporations offer primarily material benefits (but some encourage solidarity also, such as the Walmart employee shoutouts at day’s beginning). Universities, optimally, offer a vision: creating new knowledge, propagating knowledge (but faculty also expect material benefits). Social clubs, such as the Metropolitan Club or Lotos Club (for writers) offer a sense of social solidarity (although business may be done over a martini).

Wilson turned his attention to how differently the Democratic Party functioned in three cities, just as Geertz studied the difference styles of Islam in three cultures. Chicago’s center of gravity was the first Daley, with significant material benefits for members. (Famously, Ed Vrdolyak, resigned from Congress when he learned that he could be an Alderman in Chicago: he quipped that this represented real power. Then, he became a convicted felon.) New York was polyglot with tension between reformers and “regulars.” LA became a center for upset, where professional politicians were bowled over by demands for gender and ethnic balance. That is, like Geertz, Wilson showed that the one “organization,” the Democratic Party, practiced different things with different functions in different cities. Calling oneself a Democrat (or a Moslem) was not enough to explain one’s identity. (Rather than draw explicit parallels to psychoanalytic settings, read Robert Paul’s article on different cultures of psychoanalysis, published in  Click Here to Read this Article and think through how one’s own organization functions.) Well, what is a psychoanalytic organization?

To give a sense of Wilson’s range of thought (even if not directly connected with psychoanalytic organizations), look at his book, “The Moral Sense,” in which he demonstrates that morality is not culture-specific, but a trait of humans as “social animals,” (an intriguing variation of Aristotle’s description of rational animals). Surveying the historical shifts towards sympathy, fairness, self-control and duty, Wilson argues persuasively that the sense of being moral, that is “how one ought to act when one is free to act voluntarily,” is a part of our shared humanity (at least in democratic societies). Wilson tackles gender differences (perhaps influenced by his then Harvard and former University of Chicago colleague, Kohlberg) with men a few cards short of a full deck when compared to women.

What if we thought Wilsonian about our psychoanalytic organizations? We could begin to study ourselves from a neutral observing position: see that, for example, just calling oneself a psychoanalyst, or a psychoanalytic institute, may not tell the full tale. That there are different local cultures that affect how psychoanalytic practice is taught (and even practiced). That there are historical trends (witness Chicago’s evolution from the revolutionary times of Alexander and French, to a kind of mundaneness after Alexander left (was extruded), to a resurgent revolution with the Kohutians, to a period of (apparent) turmoil after Pollack exit. Arnie Richards and George Makari have examined our discipline’s history to study trends and influences upon our thinking and practices  Click Here to Hear Arnold Richards’ Brill Lecture , Click Here to Read Arnold Richards’s  & Paul Mosher’s  Article on Certification in APsaA.   Click Here to Read:  ArnoldI Richards’s Articles on Freud’s Judaism and Psychoanalysis    Click Here to Read Charles Fisher’s review of George Makari’s Revolution in Mind) This is looking at the U.S. only; France has its own tale from Lacan’s “liberating” himself from his own analyst, Lowenstein, to the fission of Lacanians after Lacan’s death, leaving fissile material throughout various arrondisements.

We can begin to look at our own organizations (itself a term of ambiguity). For instance, as Kirshner showed, Chicago psychoanalysis seemed to have thrived by significantly separating the Institute from the Society as opposed to other analytic institutes where the two aspects were more merged. But, return to Wilson’s ideas about three incentives for organizations in order to achieve their goals and survive. What are the goals (other than survival) for our organizations, to begin with? Once we clarify that, what are the incentives for the members of our organizations (and how can we keep our analysands’ well-being central to our organizations’ identities)?

That is, attention might be paid to Wilson to learn more about ourselves so that we become more autonomous in the literal sense of the Greek term: self-ruled, rather than ruled by the winds of fates or driven emotion.

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One Comment on “Attention must be paid — James Q. Wilson and Psychoanalytic Organizations”

  1. Tamar Schwartz Says:

    Comment from David Berland:

    “I have a different take on psychoanalytic organizations. I think that JQ (Wilson) probably got it right when he noted how organizations attract adherents – ” Organizations attract adherents in three ways: incentives that 1. build solidarity; 2. offer material benefits; or 3. offer (moral)
    purpose, with visionary qualities. ”

    Your last paragraph captures the sorry state of psychoanalytic organizations. “What are the goals (other than survival) for our organizations, to begin with?” When the goal of an organization becomes survival, the organization is dying or dead (but doesn’t know it). Survival can only occur by attracting new adherents and JQ says there are only 3 ways to do that.

    Solidarity is not possible in intellectually vibrant movements – they will all grow to a point of rupture. That leaves material benefit – psychoanalysis pays no one nothing. So, you are left with visionary qualities. Good luck with that one. Ain’t no one but the most fundamentalist reactionaries like ultra orthodox Jews, Radical Islamists or Santorum Christians who can generate sufficient ferver via vision.

    And even sadder, the only option open for psychoanalysis is the visionary qualities, but the organizations must let go of the first 2 ways (solidarity and material benefit) to embrace #3. That will never happen. Your plea to keep the analysand’s well being at the center implies that others have something else at the center – could their centers be solidarity and/or money? I think so.”

    Dr. David Berland is a psychiatrist and child psychiatrist in private practice in St. Louis.


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