Op-Ed From Jane Hall

For some weeks in August, there has been a discussion of the banality of evil, Hannah Arendt, and Eichmann.

I have tried to follow these discussions with interest and some difficulty but one question rises to the surface. There may be no practical answer but as psychoanalysts, perhaps there are some explanations. I am sure we have all heard patients say: How can I do this when so many people are really suffering. How can I talk about my problems when there are people dying from starvation etcetc.? The wish to divert attention from one’s own internal pain is ever present – and perhaps here at APsaA too.

As analysts we usually see this as a resistance but because of this conversation this question gave me pause. Few of us actually do anything besides giving money to Doctors Without Borders and other groups that help people. Some have joined the peace corp in their youth. Very wealthy hollywood stars and our own Gilbert Kliman have actively tackled problems in Darfur and Haiti. But the fact is that we are all quite helpless – maybe like the Germans who didn’t join the resistance or shelter jews but went about their lives knowing but denying, or being brainwashed that Jews were less than human.

There is something about being and feeling helpless that I think we should talk about. In my mind it connects to childhood helplessness although even children can be better protesters. Do some of us grow up to become fearful of speaking out?

Someone will point me to Civilization and Its Discontents or even Lord of the Flies but I want us to talk openly about how helpless we really (?) are. Why do some dedicate their lives to efforts to change things? Why do others sit by trying to be politically correct? What is it that makes moral outrage so impotent. We see it in our own APsaA where for years there has been a power struggle and finally a possible solution thanks to those who have protested. But even here, those who wish to retain power cannot really understand or see that wish for what it is. They are convinced that passing a test gives them the eventual right to analyze those who still wish to learn our craft. They rationalize and deny and we sit civilly by watching as candidates are infantilized and encouraged to obey, possibly (no probably) ruining psychoanalysis by rigidifying it. Should our candidates first study the history of psychoanalysis, the secrecy, power lust, exclusionary practices that have forced
the creative people out? Going back to Freud’s ring circle we continue to have closed study groups in BoPS and we freeze out talent. Only now is APsaA trying to accept WAW and Horney, as if this acceptance is a gift. What about apologies? Actually, Karen Horney, Sullivan, and Theodore Reich are excellent examples of ousting talent. And what about Lacan and others who many study after graduation. When I was in training Melanie was verboten. No one dared ask why.

These are naive questions but I ask them honestly, not really expecting answers. I just wonder if tolerance of arbitrary authority is increasing. Marches on Washington and protests in general seem to have dwindled – and the young people seem to lack the fire we witnessed and even participated in during the sixties. Cool aid selling well.

Jane Hall

Explore posts in the same categories: Editorials

3 Comments on “Op-Ed From Jane Hall”

  1. Iris Sugarman Says:

    Dear Jane

    Excellent op ed . The questions you raise about helplessness indeed are something for us all to think about and talk about.
    Thank you for putting this out there.
    Iris Sugarman

  2. Tamar Schwartz Says:

    Comment from Katherine Snelson:

    This is a most interesting piece about feeling helpless and sitting back and doing almost nothing while half the world is in misery. From research I have read, that is exactly the problem. If one or two people are desperate, a story in the NYT for example, people send in money to help. If it’s half the population of the middle east, it’s just beyond hope for most.

    Someone did a research study 10 -15 years ago because people were always complaining about how New Yorkers could walk by homeless people and do nothing. These folks went to a small city like Cinncinnati and played homeless person on a street. Many people gave money. Then they added a second and finally a third and fourth person in the next blocks and people stopped giving because they felt their contributions couldn’t make a dent. That is the micro-cosm of the whole problem.

    I actually wonder why reporters are asking why Europe isn’t doing more to help the refugees from the middle east, and why no one says anything about about Canada, the U.S. and South America? It’s one world and shouldn’t be Europe’s problem.
    But I do go on.
    Thanks for your stimulating thoughts.
    Katherine Snelson

  3. Alexandra K. Rolde, M.D. Says:

    A Swedish/Finnish female psychoanalyst friend of mine’s favorite expression is “courage requires witnesses” If applied to those who try to do something about inequalities in the world – which is what I think the OP-Ed is about, then, it does take courage to stand up and say “I won’t stand for this and want to do something about it” . It also requires followers, so the person has to have leadership ability, and so on. It seems to me that that is why revolutions, partisanship, and group projects have a greater power to change the atrocities we are talking about here and what often stops the individual from doing much of anything.Obvously lobbyists know the meaning of this.
    Thank you, Jane for raising this topic for discussion.
    Sasha Rolde

Recent Posts