Psyched at The American Psychological Association

A trip to the convention of the APA revealed a profession enamored with its own power, and an attempt to get back into Guantanamo after a scandal with the CIA and Pentagon, reports Michael Brenner.

By Michael Brenner

A convention of professional specialists is always revelatory – if not always intellectually edifying. This is especially true of academic disciplines in the Liberal Arts. It is a species of social institution that bears its American birthmark. Now spread throughout the developed world, it was born in the United States and evolved into its present form in the post-war decades.

Those were years of earnest endeavor, an optimistic belief in collective uplift, and abundance of just about everything. The distinguishing features inherited from that era are still evident, however qualified by rampant self-promotion, commercialization and sheer size. For American intellectuals remain preoccupied with practical problem-solving energized by the can-do spirit and an undying faith in the betterment of humankind – even as ‘humankind’ vies more and more with ‘me and my friends’ for primacy.

I was reminded of all this by attending a few sessions of the American Psychological Association meetings in San Francisco in August. It had been years since I last was at one of these shindigs. My experience had been mainly with the American Political Science Association, but the differences are insignificant. Indeed, the subject matter within the social sciences increasingly overlaps.

Regrettably, I missed the main event which occurred on the eve of the convention as the APA was roiled once again by the aftershocks from the scandal that arose over the organization’s direct participation in counseling the CIA and the Pentagon on interrogation techniques. Those included techniques employed at Guantanamo and the ‘black sites’ scattered around the globe. Some members had gotten their hands very dirty. The association’s Executive Council had cashed some rather large government checks, cast a veil over these dubious dealings, and met accusations with a barrage of lies – for more than a decade. Skullduggery became the order of the times.

Rebellious members eventually mounted a protest that set off something approximating a civil war. It seemingly was settled in favor of the insurgents when an impartial investigation was reluctantly agreed by the defendants. Chicago attorney David H. Hoffman was named to conduct the review. On July 2, 2015, a 542-page report was issued. Its conclusions were that the old leadership did indeed sin, that it had violated the APA’s own guidelines (Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct), that it had been systematically deceitful, and had engaged in a cover-up.

The report stated that the APA Council secretly collaborated with the Bush administration to bolster a legal and ethical justification for the torture of prisoners. Furthermore, the report stated that the association’s ethics director Stephen Behnke and others had “colluded with important Department of Defense officials to have the APA issue loose, high-level ethical guidelines that did not constrain” the interrogation of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay. The association’s “principal motive in doing so was to align APA and curry favor with DOD.”  

Guantanamo: Shrinks Wanted. (Wikipedia)

The condemned rejected the report’s conclusions – of course. No one these days admits their misdeeds and genuinely apologizes. That sort of thing has become ‘so retro.’ A few leaders were forced to resign; others moved heaven and earth to hold onto their sinecures and privileges. Indeed, a few of the culpable former leaders recently have filed a defamation suit – in Trumpian fashion.


This never-say-die persistence moved them, and their supporters, to make one more valiant attempt to reverse the course of justice by presenting to the APA Council of Representatives a plan to lift the ban on military psychologists (who number 525) from treating prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba, where the U.S. is still holding 48 foreign ‘terrorists.’ That population may increase if Trump’s stated idea of filling some empty billets is acted upon. It was pushed hard by the Pentagon with the endorsement of the old guard.

The plea was cast in humanitarian terms. Proponents claimed that none of the permitted Red Cross personnel had visited the prison, depriving inmates of mental health care. (Why? Restrictions placed on their visits by the Pentagon? Political sensitivity? Personnel too busy counting the non-dead dead in Puerto Rico?)

Sally Harvey, a retired military psychologist who supported lifting the ban, argued that “this is about providing detainees access to psychological treatment. Nothing more, nothing less.” Opponents saw the move as a ploy in the sub rosa campaign to reopen the question of collaboration with government authorities. It was viewed by many as the camel’s nose under the tent.

Their skepticism was heightened by the appointment of Gina Haspel, former torturer-in-chief at the black site in Thailand, to head the CIA by Central Command’s failure to acknowledge past abuse. In short, trust was in short supply. The proposed resolution lost, receiving 57 votes; those opposed numbered 104.

To the outside observer, the idea of having military psychologists providing mental aid and comfort to the long-term survivors of Guantanamo seems surreal. Try to visualize the scene:

Major X enters the holding pen:

Hi Abdullah. I’m Siggy.  I’m here to see if I can’t help you with some of the problems you’ve been having. (Break for interpreter). I see that you’ve been having trouble sleeping through the night – nightmares are keeping you awake. Seems that you imagine 100 decibel music blaring in your cell. Tell me about it. Does this evoke childhood memories of post-Ramadan celebrations back home?;  I understand they can get a bit raucous?  How about trying some yoga exercises. Do you know anything about Zen? Murad, two cells over – the guy with the green yoga pants – made a start a few weeks back….

By the way, I think that we may have met before – kind of indirectly – back in 2007. I was the guy watching through the one-way mirror who was sending in questions to the heavy who was water-boarding you.”

Yes, indeed. Psychological counseling is badly needed.

Torture for Career Advancement

The oddest feature of the entire APA episode is that the pro-collaboration faction seemed to have taken their illicit actions less for reasons having to do with the perceived necessity for prosecuting the “war on terror” without restriction for the sake of security, than to reap tangible benefits for the association, to generate modest slush funds for themselves, and to use the powers of office to demonstrate some kind of prowess/superiority.

APA HQ on First Street in Washington, DC (Wikimedia Commons)

In other words, a display of commonplace 21st century American organizational behavior. It matches what we know of what goes on at Facebook or Goldman Sachs. The social psychology of this phenomenon could make a compelling subject for an in-depth study – perhaps funded by DARPA at the Department of Defense.

The story made headlines in The San Francisco Chronicle where it could not go unnoticed by a browser checking on the fate of the Giants or 49ers. Not only was the APA convention within walking distance of the BART, a look at the program indicated that a half dozen panels were scheduled on the psychological underpinnings of the Trump White House.

Heading the list was a forum where three past presidents of the APA would speak. The event, as it turned out, bent if not broke truth in advertising rules. The collective wisdom of the panelists didn’t amount to much.  One stoic declared that while things admittedly were pretty bad, we’d had other wacky presidents in the past (unnamed) and the Republic had survived (and the APA had thrived).  This, too, would pass.

A second participant offered a neat, narrowly circumscribed summary of APA’s Goldwater Rule’s genesis, application, and current pertinence. The rule states that “it is unethical for psychiatrists to give a professional opinion about public figures whom they have not examined in person,” according to Wikipedia. The third speaker took a more dire view of the Trump Presidency and made an energetic call for a citizen’s mobilization – to do something or other. Two of the three did not recognize that a clinical narcissist is not the same as a garden variety ego-maniac. (This after all was not the American Psychiatric Association – there’s a difference). The audience of 150 or so seemed mildly disappointed but passive.

The type of tepid discourse on display is on par with what transpires generally at these social science conventions. Encounters with an edge of sorts are rare, usually involving parochial disputes within the discipline. Topical focus is on trendy themes: LBGTQ for the past few years. A glance at the program, at the book exhibits, and workshop sessions sufficed to make that crystal clear. Gender, Sex, Discrimination, LBGTQ, ‘diversity’ are pervasive.

Why is this so? A number of reasons suggest themselves. American professional associations, including academic ones, are extremely permeable to whatever is going on in the popular culture. Their elite self-image of superiority notwithstanding, they are susceptible to high profile doings out there in the world where the masses play. Their disciplines, at the same time, place high value on theory, on modeling, on quantitative analysis – but in ways that are largely disengaged from the real world of experience. Hence, the social science disciplines are divided in an unhealthy way. The same holds for economics and – to somewhat lesser extent – political science.

The academic disciplines of the social sciences are undisciplined. Scholars are free to write with only selective reference to what has been said about their topic of interest by others in the past. In addition, empirical ‘data’ is screened. It’s like conversation and public discussion – the stress is on affirmation rather than communication and building collective understanding. An intellectual atmosphere full of static is one consequence; atomization is another. Too much work is stand-alone. In short, the enterprise lacks cohesion and common purpose.

These traits are powerfully reinforced by a reward system that pays near zero attention to these shortcomings, values quantity of publication and grants over quality, and encourages self-promotion. From the vantage point of the hard sciences, this looks like parody. To a considerable extent it is. The work of individual scholars may be of the highest caliber; indeed, probably higher now than ever. However, there is almost no synergy or collective advance in understanding our world that could usefully inform how we think and act as a society.

The convention generated a whirlwind of intellectual motion. The actual pay-off, though, was rather meager. That which was available was obscured by the carnival-like hustle and bustle. Lost in an impenetrable forest of seminar rooms, exhibits and booth displays – a few so cutting edge you could slice your arm off on them, I found myself gazing at a contrived enclosure occupied by a bunch of kids – young goats – along with hay and thin mats. A notice told the curious that a session on “goat yoga” was pending. A number of people, young and old, with credential tags hanging from their necks were waiting expectantly for the gates to open.

Michael Brenner is a professor of international affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. [email protected]

51 comments for “Psyched at The American Psychological Association

  1. Arlene Hickory
    October 30, 2018 at 12:11

    Interesting conversation about Freud. What is missing is respect for a man that used himself as a lesson for others….(remember he was exploring the frightening depths of sexuality..power…etc. in the depths of the Victorian era).. His work describing the defense mechanisms, giving name to human interactions that are self evident to anyone willing to work on themselves through self reflection, “facing our demons” etc., taking responsibility for our behavior. Anyone care to deny the power of “ denial” , the power of “passive aggressiveness”? We need to acknowledge we are still in the grips of forces (patriarchy)…that befuddles society…..I think it is because no one wants or knows how to do the work required to become free. Or to do the difficult work. Denial of death….Nuclear war….that’s easier.

  2. OpenMind2
    October 26, 2018 at 13:27

    The main problem is cosmology, what is “humankind’s” place in the universe? The secular movement has deprived itself of some of the most important aspects of human experience. It is thereby no wonder at all why these professions are circling the bowl. A deep dive would show that these professions are tools of social manipulation brought in to replace what could be termed “christian cosmology” with a “material cosmology.” They were promoted by nascent global institutions to keep the decks clear, and provide a basis for mollifying the now godless masses. That they are at the altar of pointlessness is no suprise. When “moral insanity” became “sociopathy”, the die was cold.

  3. Gyre
    October 22, 2018 at 23:20

    I’ve lost any respect that I might ever have had for the American mental health professional community.over the years I’ve spent in my own professional career battling court-appointed prostitutes with psych degrees, and more than a few MDs declaiming the sanity of visibly lucid criminals looking to game the system after committing a variety of horrendous crimes. Now we witness a similar phenom of this notorious gaggle of professional prostitutes (with their degrees in soft sciences rife with conjecture posing as fact and speculation posing as hypothesis), as they gleefully fill their bank accounts with blood money embezzled from the taxpayers in order to soberly tell Uncle Sam’s agents exactly what they paid them to hear.

  4. Walter
    October 21, 2018 at 08:57

    Well, Uncle Sigmund noticed some problems in the American institutions – including the headshrinking “community”, uttering: “America is a mistake; a gigantic mistake, it is true, but none the less a mistake.” He told Hanns Sachs, who later taught psychology in Harvard Medical School, “America is the most grandiose experiment the world has seen, but, I am afraid, it is not going to be a success.”

  5. Ottmar Straub
    October 21, 2018 at 06:54

    It is very difficult to survive in a pathological society where psychopathic tendencies are normality.
    To be extradited to psychologists can be hellish, cause their view not only rapes justice but also the right to interpret reality.
    Usually there is no help for people who get victimized by psychologists. Well there is a way to go for the strong ones.

  6. alison
    October 20, 2018 at 16:21

    How refreshing to read this article –found on Lew Rockwell. To hear words from an ethical therapist is a rare find. Thank you for illuminating the reality in its true pathology.

  7. October 20, 2018 at 11:48

    Next year the APA conference better be dedicated to the Russiagate hoax and the psychological methods used to perpetrate this fraud on hundreds of millions of Americans.

    The fat lady is singing…

  8. October 20, 2018 at 11:29

    As a retired therapist, not a psychiatrist, but a clinical social worker, I will offer the following observations. The notion of mental health and “sanity” in any era in the West is plain and simply about how well one adapts to and follows the “norms” of the society one lives in. From this perspective one could argue that the military psychiatrists involved in torture exhibit quite excellent mental health, as they are simply reflecting the “norms” of the current state of U.S. society – a society in which killing a half-a-million Iraqi children can be publicly described as “worth it,” a society in which openly and routinely violating international law to invade and/or destabilize nation after nation in the Middle East is simply accepted by the general population as “normal,” and a society where the knowledge that our government was torturing people drew no great public outcry (among many other barbaric things that could be cited). In other words, torture, illegal warfare and murder, and bringing about the deaths of countless children is actually “normative” behavior in our society at this point in time. Those of us who find such behavior appalling are now the ones who fall outside societal norms.

    I can’t help but see these military psychiatrists as the modern equivalent of the inquisitors during the Holy Inquisition. They oversee the torture of the modern heretic – the “radical Islamist” in this case. But they claim a certain holy distance from the actual murder of said heretic, like the inquisitors did, allowing the State (military grunts) to administer the final touches.

    The psychiatrist’s goals in this work? To obtain confessional material that will not only prove the heresy of the non-believer, but will bolster our own society’s mythic narratives of “goodness,” and “humanitarian concern” and “democracy,” as well of as course the parallel unspeakable mythic narratives of “white supremacy” and “Western civilizing” efforts.

    These psychiatrists rightly arouse our disgust, but they do so for, dare I say it, “unconscious” or “semi-conscious” – (“psychological” reasons). They arouse our disgust in part – because they “are us” – as a society – in all our collective amoral, barbaric, warlike violence and brutality. They are the “shadow” of the American psyche made visible. Ugly as it is – their behavior in these matters of torture is all too “normal” and “normative” given the nature of American society. They are the “mirror” we are collectively afraid to gaze into for fear of what we will see. Simply condemning them as some “aberration” is all too easy an “out” for the rest of us I think. When “normal” is this vile, violent and amoral, a society should be questioning its “values” one would think – rather than striving for psychological “adjustment” and “normality.”

    • Maxwell Quest
      October 20, 2018 at 15:57

      Gary, thank you for sharing your experience on this matter. While reading your comment, I was reminded of the words of Aldous Huxley, which, in my estimation, fit Americans to a tee:

      “The really hopeless victims of mental illness are to be found among those who appear to be most normal. Many of them are normal because they are so well adjusted to our mode of existence, because their human voice has been silenced so early in their lives, that they do not even struggle or suffer or develop symptoms as the neurotic does. They are normal not in what may be called the absolute sense of the word; they are normal only in relation to a profoundly abnormal society. Their perfect adjustment to that abnormal society is a measure of their mental sickness. These millions of abnormally normal people, living without fuss in a society to which, if they were fully human beings, they ought not to be adjusted.”

    • Eddie
      October 20, 2018 at 23:02

      Yes, the concept of ‘normal’ is independent-of and ultimately unrelated-to ethics or morality, A person who is normal in an immoral & unethical society is immoral & unethical, and vice-versa. I suspect the psychological /sociological idea of ‘normal’ originated in statistics, with the bell-shaped normal curve. Added to that is the inherent desire of social pack animals to conform/fit-in to the group, which undoubtedly contributed the positive connotations that ‘normal ‘ has —- probably in all societies (assuming the immoral & unethical societies incorrectly perceive themselves as moral & ethical, at least in the long-run).

    • Malcolm McIntyre
      October 21, 2018 at 02:51

      as does the author’s reference to “Trumpian fashion”, your own use of “white supremacy” is tiresome and detracts from the points you’re trying to make – or think you’re trying to make. is it kneejerk, or just all jerk?
      what do you make of the case of the alleged “white supremacist” group with members who are POC – as opposed to the POS individuals who can point out this apparent discrepancy between colour/ethnicity and group identity without ever considering whether their “white supremacist” designation is correct?
      an address at the next APA conference perhaps…

  9. mike k
    October 20, 2018 at 07:18

    Until our culture is fixed, individuals will suffer psychological problems. Capitalism and war are crazy making disorders. When psychopaths rule, everyone suffers.

  10. BethHaynes4454
    October 20, 2018 at 03:06

    ed. Required fields are marked *

  11. Tom Kath
    October 20, 2018 at 01:00

    All The Same

    Are you on a paleo diet yet?
    Just get on facebook, it’s all on the net.
    You must understand that it would be a shame
    If we didn’t conform or weren’t all the same

    They tell me that Putin and Trump are both fools
    Ask a cabbie or hairdresser, it’s taught in schools
    There’s unrest in the world and we know who’s to blame,
    It’s those fools who can’t see that we are all the same

    The kerfuffle between Palestinians and Jews
    Looks like rubbish to us, what have we got to lose
    It would seem that they’re really just playing a game
    They must surely realise that they are all the same

    The women of “me too” have it in for all men
    They think it all must be either us or them
    But they’ve found now that sex doesn’t have a name
    It’ll all be quite simple once we are all the same

  12. October 19, 2018 at 22:04



    • christina r garcia
      October 19, 2018 at 22:45

      Well someone in Saudi Arabia wanted that writer not to be alive. Our beautiful Prince from Saudi Arabia just admitted as much. Great 18 people were taken in custody. I love the smell of oil and money when I wake up. I wake up with no worries, only 300 count Egyptian cotton bed sheets. And I cannot deal with those pesky Yemenis, or Mexicans , or anyone else . MAGA.

  13. Tom Kath
    October 19, 2018 at 20:23

    The salient observation for me is the “Stress on AFFIRMATION”. I have heard the same sentiment expressed regarding the media – “We don’t have REPORTERS anymore, only REPEATERS.”
    Yes! In the interests of pleasant “consensus”, there is very little genuine questioning or debate between conflicting perspectives.

  14. October 19, 2018 at 19:44

    Psychology is similar to doing technical analysis on stock charts; especially with wave counts. We can mark the chart up any way we want with the best of intentions and hope the outcome will be the same in order to make money off that stock via our technical analysis.

    The only real facts are outcomes. If the system tells us something is actually normal and to be embraced by all to the point of teaching it to kindergartners on up… that behavior that is taught will then be acceptable as it has now been normalized… children have been brainwashed to believe that a now “normal” behavior is safe and to be experimented with; such as being raised gender neutral, gender is a social construct, etc.

    Psychology as a “science” or an industry is dangerous because it can be utilized to change societal norms that have been acceptable for thousands of years and turn them upside down.

    • christina r garcia
      October 19, 2018 at 23:17

      Yeah, Denigrating people is now normal. being mean is acceptable, cheating on taxes is admirable, Count me in as a loser because I don’t want to behave in that way.

  15. Abe
    October 19, 2018 at 19:24

    Two American CIA-contracted psychologists devised the US “enhanced interrogation” program. Details of the torture program, that included sleep deprivation, slamming people into walls, forcing them into small boxes and waterboarding, came out when detainees sued the psychologists in federal court.

    In 2004 the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) inspected the US detention camp in Guantanamo and found evidence of torture. US medical personnel participated in the torture sessions in what an internal ICRC report referred to as “a flagrant violation of medical ethics.”

    The issue of psychologist participation in CIA and Army torture came to a head in 2014 when the APA commissioned an outside law firm to investigate the issue. The report by former federal prosecutor David Hoffman was issued in July 2015.

    The Hoffmann Report found that key APA officials worked with the CIA and Pentagon in 2005 to maintain loose ethical guidelines that allowed psychologists to assist in brutal interrogations.

    Key APA leaders, the report states, “colluded with important DoD officials to have APA issue loose, high-level ethical guidelines that did not constrain DoD in any greater fashion than existing DoD interrogation guidelines. We concluded that APA’s principal motive in doing so was to align APA and curry favor with DoD….”

    The APA Council of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to prohibit psychologists from participation in military mental health treatment of detainees. Some APA leaders and military psychologists filed libel suits against Hoffman and others.

    The current APA policy allows psychologists to work in detainment facilities deemed in violation of human rights standards only if they represent an independent organization, like the International Red Cross, or detainees themselves, not the military.

    In August 2018, the APA governing council of representatives rejected a proposed change that would have reversed the 2015 determination by the association that prohibited psychologists from working at sites like the military detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, maintained by the United States.

    • Ken
      October 20, 2018 at 18:45

      ¨The APA Council of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to prohibit psychologists from participation in military mental health treatment of detainees.¨
      Yes, but it it´s more than chilling that over half voted against repealing the measure to prohibit military psychologists from professional involvement in these ¨facilities¨ – certainly nothing to cheer about.

  16. October 19, 2018 at 19:21

    “I found that those of my friends who were admirers of Marx, Freud, and Adler, were impressed by a number of points common to these theories, and especially by their apparent explanatory power. These theories appear to be able to explain practically everything that happened within the fields to which they referred… There was no conceivable human behavior which could contradict them.”

    ~ Karl Popper
    Why Psychology and Political Science Are Not Science

    • Bob Van Noy
      October 20, 2018 at 09:59

      Thank you O Society, you always help us expand our understanding.

  17. Sean Ahern
    October 19, 2018 at 18:12

    The APA appears to be a site of push-back, a successful one at that. The author’s disparagement of academia in this instance is overwrought. There are plenty other examples of slavish obedience to corporate and state sponsored policy in academia, media, etc in which the push-back is much weaker if not entirely marginalized. It sounds like the APA has a good charter and the members are sticking with it! The APA conference sounds like a victory, why not cheer?

    • ToivoS
      October 20, 2018 at 00:47

      OK. Yip yip hooray, yip yip hooray to the rank and file APA members over the last 15 years.

  18. David J. Johnson, Ph.D.
    October 19, 2018 at 16:15

    Pretty Wild Stuff… Likely, Very True! That’s Why I Skip The Conventions.
    David J. Johnson, Ph.D.
    Licensed Psychologist

  19. October 19, 2018 at 16:01

    “The rule states that “it is unethical for psychiatrists to give a professional opinion about public figures whom they have not examined in person,” according to Wikipedia.”

    When I worked for the Peace Corps a long time ago this didn’t stop the director from taking along his favorite psychiatrists to give him the low down on officials they were scheduled to meet. I suspect within the security apparatus, that profiling filled with long erudite terms still exists. When you are flying blind, any little bit of information no matter how counter productive or just plain useless, makes our security guys feel better.

  20. Yuri
    October 19, 2018 at 15:22

    Very illuminating and gratifying article – a real breath of fresh air amongst the pervasive stench of lies, deceit and self-importance.

  21. Sam F
    October 19, 2018 at 15:09

    Indeed psychology as personality theory is closer to literature and religion than social science. It is just a descriptive language without a real foundation in science. It cannot produce a coherent progress because it cannot verify what anyone is thinking or feeling, and is forced to play with descriptive analogies. One expects no more progress than would be found in a religion, natural language, or literary style.

    Because personality theory is unscientific, it cannot be proved false, and cannot be exposed as mythology rather than science. One can do endless statistical studies based upon any descriptive language, but the language is not verified by the studies it is used in. One can compile statistical studies in terms of personality theories based upon varieties of green cheese, Halloween witches, or cartoon characters, without validating the languages, any more than the Freud frauds.

    Because personality theory does not lead to much strength in helping individuals, it is primarily useful when weaponized for denunciations, or rationales for selfish conduct. So psychology students primarily apply it to slander those they don’t like, and cannot do much more good than a social worker not using personality theory. It is really pseudo-science, a form of white-collar used car salesmanship, allowing a simulated concern for others to conceal selfish and unproductive blustering.

    • firstpersoninfinite
      October 20, 2018 at 00:38

      But you’re completely wrong. Freudian psychology has nothing to do with “statistical studies.” In fact, statistical studies are the popular, erroneous replacement of Freudian psychology. Freud didn’t need to validate the language of psychotherapy because the language had long been verified by centuries of unadulterated culture. I know it’s hard to understand, but none of the therapies and brain science of post-Freudian psychology have disavowed Freud. They have simply made money from his work by running away from it. Freud was an artist of the highest level, and art of the highest level cannot be quickly or easily circumvented by those who come afterwards because all their narratives fail in the wake of actual art, and are reduced to commentary even if they do not recognize it. Freud only used science to bolster his linguistic art of the mind, to give it sanctity in a century of scientific exhilaration. When I hear someone say that Freud was fraudulent, I hear someone celebrating footnotes as philosophy. It’s like saying that geometrical perspective in painting reduces reality to a fraud. It merely introduces a new reality of focus.

      • October 20, 2018 at 07:14

        Firstpersoninfinite, I think you’re right. ” I know it’s hard to understand, but none of the therapies and brain science of post-Freudian psychology have disavowed Freud.” But was it because he became a cult-like figure and potential critics reasoned why bother rejecting his “theories” and take the heat? Better to just ignore them. Some critics, however, were not so kind as I recall.

      • Sam F
        October 20, 2018 at 12:32

        I did not state that Freud had been disavowed. In fact many statistical studies assume the validity of the categories and syndromes of Freud and others, but they do not validate those descriptive languages.

        Freud was a typical turn-of-the-century snake oil salesman. His works never argue rationally for his categories, they merely bluster, insist, repeat, and move on. They borrow pre-existing literary concepts of personality. They assume that all human personality is a blend of unsubstantiated extremes that exist only in the speculator’s imagination. Utterly unscientific and useless. There is no new reality there.

      • Sam F
        October 20, 2018 at 17:22

        But that said, Freud is fine as a descriptive language of personality, if one does not assume that the words mean more than descriptions. Just as religions are equivalent as descriptions of moral conduct and moral educational processes. It is when they are taken literally that conflict arises. So if you are happy with those languages, they are good for you.

  22. Maxwell Quest
    October 19, 2018 at 13:11

    Why is it that those with the most serious (ethical) character flaws are always the ones that scramble toward the highest positions of prestige, influence and wealth in any discipline? This phenomenon is taken for granted in finance and politics, but seems oddly paradoxical in psychology.

    And of course below these titans of leadership labor all their loyal subjects, doing the real work, the day to day heavy lifting, working on the front lines of humanity with suffering individuals seeking relief from their heavy mental and emotional burdens.

    • F. G. Sanford
      October 19, 2018 at 14:41

      Your question actually gets to a contentious issue which goes way back in the annals of social “science”. This topic is addressed by the “structural functionalist” view of social stratification theory perhaps most notably outlined by the so-called “Davis-Moore Thesis” published in 1945. Basically, it says that inequality is an essential ingredient in the viability of any social structure. Inequality insures that the most competent and qualified individuals rise to positions of greatest power, prestige and influence, ergo “inequality is good”. I’m nut-shelling this a little, but in a nutshell, that’s what it says. Common everyday experience with incompetence and corruption would tend to make the ordinary thinking person doubt the veracity of this “hypothesis”. By the same token, the best arguments against it are probably embodied in Marxist sociological treatises, which generally makes Davis-Moore the more popular among American thinkers. Most American thinkers, however, have never actually read Marx, have no idea what the term “Marxism” refers to, and believe pop-culture icons who claim, “Marxism is state control of the means of production”. That isn’t true, but it serves to bolster the point of view which maintains an inequitable status quo. Fascism, on the other hand, is corporate and finance control of the means of production. If we actually had capitalism, “too big to fail” would not be possible. All these labels represent mere abstractions which refer to things that do not actually exist in the empirical world, but they do bolster “magical thinking”. We have Annunaki, Annanerbi, Illuminati, Reptilians, Nephilum, Space Aliens, Planet Nibiru, ghosts, angels, spirits…and the Sky Daddy. All of these delusions are made possible by the misuse of language, but those scholars who have pointed this out have been largely shunned. Psychology has failed to grasp this, and will continue to offer few successful strategies. Freedom to espouse one’s delusions will insure continued failure. University of Pittsburgh has a pretty good write-up about Davis-Moore somewhere on the internet; it’s worth reading if you’d like to know more about how sociologists help protect the most “competent and conscientious” in their positions of virtue.

    • Sam F
      October 19, 2018 at 15:54

      Indeed “those with the most serious (ethical) character flaws … scramble toward the highest positions” and our Constitution did not achieve the goal that “ambition must be made to counteract ambition” (Madison), nor prevent abuses of money power, nor even keep money out of politics and mass media. The science of mind that we need is the science of producing the Mind of Humanity through public debate of policy based upon scientific data and analysis of policy options.

    • Maxwell Quest
      October 19, 2018 at 16:28

      Thank you so much F.G. for your thoughtful response. I was hoping to someone smarter than I would bite on my question. Some thoughts:

      Émile Durkheim I can read all day long and marvel at his genius, but these two jokers, Davis-Moore, appear to be attempting to hammer the proverbial square peg. Their theory, similar to the economic theory of pricing based on supply and demand, makes sense on the surface in an ideal sense, but falls completely apart when faced with the complexities of human nature.

      I know very little of Marxism, and the few negative impressions I hold were mostly acquired via cold war indoctrination, and are therefore most likely false knowledge (like most things we are taught). However, I do believe that society is best organized hierarchically, and that man’s unequal allotment of talent makes this a ‘structural’ necessity. But where Davis-Moore consider the prestige, power, and pay associated with these so-called ‘high’ positions as an incentive to attract the ‘best and brightest’, I see as delusion based upon an ego-warped set of values. What is it that a wise man once said? “Let he that is greatest among you be the servant of all.”

  23. Jeff Harrison
    October 19, 2018 at 12:40

    Let me preface my remarks by saying that in my opinion, if you’re going to write the terms social sciences, you need to write them like this: social “sciences”. Those of us who have been in the real sciences (physics in my case) don’t see psychology or psychiatry as much more than cataloging what you find when you overturn stones in a stream. Unfortunately, this isn’t to say that they don’t have real knowledge. Screw enough people up and you’ll begin to understand the potential weaknesses of the human mind and, with that knowledge in hand, you can predict how to screw people up. I haven’t seen too many people actually helped by these people but we’ve had some pretty spectacular examples of them leaving people with broken minds in their wake. The good news is that roughly 2/3rds of their population opposed letting the government use them to torture people and the bad news is that 1/3rd of them were good with it.

    • JoeSixPack
      October 19, 2018 at 13:08

      You mean “natural sciences”. There is no such thing as “real sciences”. That’s a made up term meant to make people feel superior to others. What makes something a science, is not the subject of investigation but the method of inquiry. Using testable explanations and predictions. You can easily have some junk explanations in Physics or any of the “natural sciences”. Shall we talk about String Theory or perhaps Ptolemy’s explanation of planetary movement. Or how about the latest findings that much of the medical research is suspect or that research published in peer review journals (about the natural sciences no less) aren’t worth the paper their printed on. Again, the issue here is not the subject matter of investigation but the method of inquiry and how it was carried out.

      • Jeff Harrison
        October 19, 2018 at 20:00

        Nice try but, sadly, no cigar. The scientific method is a very powerful tool that can allow you to learn a lot but it does come with a few requirements. One, you must be able to identify all the factors that effect your hypothesis. Two, you must control for all factors other than the ones that you are investigating. Most social “scientists” have no clue what all the factors are that affect what they’re looking at, much less being able to control for the factors of interest. The next requirement is reproducibility. Most of what you point at was caught (other than Ptolemy or rather Aristotle) when independent scientists tried to reproduce others’ experiments and couldn’t. The reproducible issue is not often worried about or successfully carried out in the social sciences. That is a problem.

        I’ll grant you it was a loooong time ago but in order to get through a psych course I had to participate in psychology experiments. These experiments were conducted by grad students for the department under contract to the US government. What I saw could only kindly be called a parody of the scientific method. Hells bells you lot can’t even decide if homosexuality is a psychological flaw or not. In reality, your “science” has made people’s lives miserable for absolutely no justifiable reason. So yeah, I repeat, social “science”.

    • Sam F
      October 19, 2018 at 15:31

      Sociology and Anthropology make some real contributions to knowledge, at least in describing cultures and circumstances, one of the foundations of policymaking. Usually there is a scientific mode of description aided sometimes by scientific tools of observation and analysis.

  24. October 19, 2018 at 12:00

    In other words, it’s just another church service of the Hillary Cult. Torture and war are wonderful when Hillary is in charge. Torture and war are horrible when Bush or Trump is in charge.

    Everything is good when it carries the D label, bad when it carries the R label. This is science.

    • dfnslblty
      October 20, 2018 at 09:25

      Torture was never “wonderful” under Democratic administrations; “horrible” is an apt term during any administration.

  25. October 19, 2018 at 09:46

    Well, psychology has always been close to a pseudo-science.

    Yes, it has collected a body of facts, but this much more resemble a collection of anecdotes than it does a body of knowledge.

    After all, here and there, there are healers among primitive peoples who actually have some concept or remedy that works somewhat, although the entirety of their “knowledge” is not to be trusted.

    And I’m not sure it really qualifies as a profession because there are so many different ways offered for explaining things. The variety and lack of cohesiveness of explanations reminds me a lot the economics, and people make fun of that all the time.

    It always was at best a social science with all the imprecision we find in any profession of that designation. As with history or sociology.

    But now we know it lacks ethics too.

    It deals with people and their problems, or purports to do so, yet it lacks ethics.

    Well, all this does is make me even more likely to mentally shrug when someone mentions “psychology.”

  26. Alan Ross
    October 19, 2018 at 09:23

    While making fun of the APA’s conference the significance of the defeat of the Guantanamo resolution is minimized. It was very good to see that it was 2 to 1 against taking the bribes and acquiring the fake prestige involved in aiding our government in torturing people. At a time when psychiatry and psychology are losing their mostly undeserved prestige, especially the former, it is was good to see that many psychologists value real ethics more than their superiority.

    • ToivoS
      October 20, 2018 at 00:38

      I agree. The important point that should have been stressed is that the rank and file members of the APA rebelled against the leadership and forced the APA out of the business of supporting torture. Sounds pretty simple but it took about six years to bring this about and this year’s membership to kill the effort to revive its evil past practices.

  27. mike k
    October 19, 2018 at 07:36

    What will fix our dysfunctional world? Creating a society entirely based on unconditional love for all beings. That’s the real therapy for what ails us in this phony life we lead in this phony world we have bought into.

    • Sam F
      October 19, 2018 at 15:42

      Yes, a society must be broadly sympathetic, while energetic and productive.
      There can be little debate of societal faults and improvements under oligarchy.
      Indeed, psychology is just a branch of the bread and circus of dominance.

  28. mike k
    October 19, 2018 at 07:30

    Psychology in America has degenerated into a scam to make money on knowledge you are supposed to have that will relieve people from the stresses of their failed society. This “knowledge” is just as fake as the society it is supposed to adjust you to. Real mental health awaits a sane society. Talking endlessly or taking pills won’t fix what is deeply wrong with us. Aldous Huxley warned us about this many years ago in Brave New World.

  29. R Davis
    October 19, 2018 at 03:28

    “largely disengaged from the real world”

    Psychology is a game of survival.
    As is their sister’s, the Psychic world.
    They are all holding on to the past for dear life, while trying to present a modern slant on things.
    Seldom, if ever do they dare look out their little window into the world outside.
    Let’s face it, the money is to good to let it slip through their fingers.
    Stale & stagnant but not obsolete, there are many uses for their talents, are they not the ones who point the finger & say “you were imagining it dear” & at the most convenient times ??
    I read an article by a psychologist – admonishing young couples for opting out of having children – selfish was the theme of her mood.
    I wrote to remind her that we have been bashing them with, horror stories of overpopulation & famine.
    That, in that light, they were making a conscious or subconscious sacrifice to save the world.
    Her next article was most sympathetic to these selfish young coupled.
    The psychologists will do what it takes to survive.

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