Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Right Wing of the Liberal Psyche

By Peter Michaelson  (copyright 2005)

 In my political writing, I tell my fellow liberals that the inner critic is our foremost adversary. In my therapy sessions, I tell clients the importance—in fact, the necessity—of neutralizing their inner critic. Doing so is the quickest and surest way to establish inner peace and harmony.

The inner critic is, of course, that nagging voice we hear inside us that casts doubt on our actions and our value. Because of it, we find ourselves being defensive, trying to justify our actions, and anxious to give a good accounting of ourselves.

We have to neutralize our inner critic if we expect to overthrow, once and for all, the right-wing dysfunction emerging in America. The ideological right wing is a manifestation, a political offshoot, of the existence and mentality of the inner critic.

The ideological right wing expresses many of the characteristics of the inner critic, including irrationality, insensitivity, illegitimacy, and the desire for power for its own sake. The inner critic, a classic bully, is stubborn and intransigent; it never admits wrong and never apologizes. It carries on in make-believe infallibility. It exaggerates the seriousness of situations and distorts the facts, freely administers accusations and punishments, and renders truth and justice subordinate to power.

When our inner critic goes undetected, or when we take its presence for granted as our “normal” unhappy condition, we live in the shadow of our birthright. We can’t feel or realize our goodness, value, and personal authority. We are cast into self-doubt and have to struggle, if we haven’t already surrendered our autonomy, for inner freedom and self-regulation.

This mirrors our nation’s political plight where we, as indifferent or disengaged citizens, either feel helpless about, or take for granted, the usurpation of federal power and destruction of American democracy by a cadre of ideological, self-aggrandizing, power-hungry villains.

Just throwing out these bums in the 2008 general election isn’t good enough. The Democrats we elect might remain passive and accountable to that right-wing mentality and agenda. We could easily be defeated in the 2012 general election by an even more sinister gang of opportunists. However, if we evolve or grow psychologically, we will overthrow the inner tyrant as well as the outer tyranny, and our victory will be much more secure.

Liberal readers can easily agree with my thesis to this point. But now, as the psychological knowledge goes deeper, they quail and run away. I contend that the liberal, left, and progressive side of the political equation is an external representation of another part in our psyche, a sense of ourselves that is filled with self-doubt, what psychoanalysis calls the subordinate or unconscious ego. Just as it is common for people to think and act in the manner of the inner critic, so is it common to think, feel, and act in the manner of self-doubt.

Through the self-doubt induced by our identification with the subordinate ego, we can experience ourselves in a second-hand manner. We struggle with feelings of being overwhelmed, defensive, fearful, and victimized. We can feel and act, in terms of our citizenship responsibilities, as if our voice or vote is meaningless.

This self-doubt can create the impression that the course of our life just happens to us, as if we are children tagging along behind our parents. The more of this passivity we have lurking in our psyche, the more we allow its polarity, the inner critic (or, in psychoanalysis, the superego), to barge into our life.

We are quite willing to experience ourselves in this state of self-doubt because doing so is easy—no effort is required, not even the effort of being aware that this self-doubt, out of which we can evolve, is a limited expression of our humanity.

The reference point known as the inner critic (superego) and the reference point known as self-doubt (subordinate ego) engage in a dialectic of futility. An inner dialogue goes back and forth in an endless loop, the inner critic accusing and self-doubt defending. It’s like watching, as one observer grimly noted, endless reruns of Crossfire.

This dialectic of futility mirrors the partisan bickering in which Republicans and Democrats are now engaged, with the Democrats, in retreat and confusion, displaying an embarrassing degree of self-doubt.

We have to be smarter than ever. We know that faulty or bad intelligence undermines our decisions and actions. To emerge victorious in the coming years, liberals need the best intelligence possible—not the cloak-and-dagger CIA variety but the secrets of our psyche.

To neutralize the inner critic, we have to (1) identify it, (2) recognize its irrationality and negativity, (3) refrain from engaging it or being defensive, and (4) feel that our true authority, our inner sovereignty (call it the self), resides within us and emerges when we see the enemy within and resolve to defeat it.

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