Freud Freed

I’ve been reading Freud again recently (“Mass Psychology and Analysis of the ‘I”” and “The Future of an Illusion” in Mass Psychology from the Penguin series of new translations), and I’ve been thinking of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.” The allegory goes something like this:

Imagine prisoners who have been chained since childhood deep inside a cave. Not only are their limbs immobilized by the chains, their heads are as well so that their eyes are fixed on a wall. Behind the prisoners is an enormous fire, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way, along which men carry shapes of various animals, plants, and other things. The shapes cast shadows on the wall, which occupy the prisoners’ attention. Also, when one of the shape-carriers speaks, an echo against the wall causes the prisoners to believe that the words come from the shadows. The prisoners engage in what appears to us to be a game—naming the shapes as they come by. This, however, is the only reality that they know, even though they are seeing merely shadows of images.

Suppose a prisoner is released and compelled to stand up and turn around. His eyes will be blinded by the firelight, and the shapes passing will appear less real than their shadows. Similarly, if he is dragged up out of the cave into the sunlight, his eyes will be so blinded that he will not be able to see anything. At first, he will be able to see darker shapes such as shadows, and only later brighter and brighter objects. The last object he would be able to see is the sun, which, in time, he would learn to see as that object which provides the seasons and the courses of the year, presides over all things in the visible region, and is in some way the cause of all these things that he has seen…

Once thus enlightened, so to speak, the freed prisoner would no doubt want to return to the cave to free “his fellow bondsmen”. The problem however is that they would not want to be freed: descending back into the cave would require that the freed prisoner’s eyes adjust again, and for a time, he would be inferior at the ludicrous process of identifying shapes on the wall. This would make his fellow prisoners murderous toward anyone who attempted to free them.

It occurs to me that, having gained his release through his own self analysis, Freud’s compromise in the face of this paradox was to not turn around and leave the cave. Indeed, in his published writings, he doesn’t seem to have concerned himself with what’s beyond the shadows on the wall (though Freud’s Requiem, a marvelous little book published last month, uses his letters and other secondary material to suggest that he did consider such matters outside of his published works). Instead, he sought to discover the workings of the shadows on the wall using only what could be seen and understood by the prisoners in the cave. Such efforts must inevitably point beyond the cave, but Freud resolutely refused to follow where his reasoning led.

On the one hand, this meant that Freud’s work could be used by his “fellow bondsmen,” but on the other hand, that work feels incomplete. In this sense, Freud’s work is a critique, describing only what’s wrong with the commonly held view of reality. It doesn’t really propose a fuller, more compelling view as an alternative. Consequently, Freud’s claims that things don’t work as most people think they do will always be susceptible to counterclaims that he doesn’t offer an explanation of how they do work.

Most sages, having gained their release from the chains of common delusion, have tended to venture beyond the cave, and those who have returned, have announced their return in one of two ways. Some have returned with wild-eyed and incoherent tales, as predicted in Plato’s allegory. I tend not to trust their understanding and insight. But others, from the Buddha to Wittgenstein (including Plato’s Socrates) have returned to say that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy and that though those things can’t be described, the sages can tell us how to find them for ourselves. I’m more likely to trust their insight and experiences.

The Crime of Victimhood

At some point last week–it’s hard to say quite when–those affected by Hurricane Katrina went from being victims to being criminals. Why is that? Does that really reflect the underlying reality of the situation, or is it just easier to manage disasters if an evil can be identified and attacked? Or is it that we’re more comfortable with protecting ourselves against those who’ve transgressed than with sacrificing to support those who’ve suffered?

I Don’t Wanna Grow Up

In a Peanuts cartoon (for which I can’t currently find a link), Charlie Brown speaks convincingly of the loss that comes with the realization that you will no longer be able to sleep in the back seat of your parents’ car, which was the purest distillation of Charles Schulz’s genius for convincingly putting profundity in the mouths of children. I’ve been thinking of that cartoon as I’ve helplessly watched the failure of our authorities to look after us. As I put it elsewhere:

I feel kind of like I did when I reached the point in my therapy when I realized that there was no authority I could go to who cared that I had a lousy childhood.

Michael Hiltzik at the Los Angeles Times seems to have reached the same conclusion:

George W. Bush is known for never admitting his mistakes. Consequently, he never learns from his mistakes. The chances are dismal that he will learn from this one. We’re on our own.

This is so painful in ways that aren’t easily named or addressed. I can’t imagine what it’s like for those who’ve directly suffered on the Gulf Coast.

For a more uplifting response to all of this, be sure to check this past Sunday’s edition of le Show (which is available by subscription as a Podcast).


Prior to this year, I hadn’t heard the name Oguchi Onyewu, and prior to last month, I couldn’t pronounce (or even remember) it–I had to look it up somewhere every time I wanted to refer to him. This may be the first time you’re seeing the name yourself, but if you follow soccer (especially in the United States or Europe), it’s unlikely to be the last. Onyewu currently plays his club soccer for Royal Standard de Liege in Belgium, and he plays for the United States Men’s National Team. He’s a central defender, which is a position in which players rarely attract significant notice, but at 6 feet 4 inches tall and a solid 210 pounds on a generally small United States team, he’s noticeable, though not just for his size. He’s also fast, smart, and strong.

In the semi-finals and finals of this summer’s Gold Cup, Onyewu was instrumental in holding the United States’ opponents to one goal over two games, and he scored the winning goal in the semi-final game against Honduras. In this weekend’s World Cup qualifying match (in which the United States captured one of the first berths for next year’s World Cup in Germany), he helped to hold Mexico scoreless and headed an incoming free kick off the post that Ralston then headed in for the United States’ first goal.

I haven’t seen a player be so consistently dominant as Onyewu’s been over the last four United States Men’s National Team games (three of which I’ve been lucky enough to see in person). He can play tight man defense as far forward as the midfield stripe without letting his man or the ball behind him, and he can go forward when appropriate (though given his strength at the back, it’s rarely appropriate). He reminds me of Manchester United’s and England’s Rio Ferdinand, and not just because of the cornrows. Onyewu isn’t nearly as accomplished as Ferdinand, but with his size and skill, just give him a few injury-free years and the comparison won’t seem far off.

WordPress Rocks

I’ve spent time on and off over the long weekend playing with WordPress, of which this Weblog is the result. (I don’t know that I have all that much to say, but I’ve missed the software side of Weblogging.) So far, I’m very impressed.

Even though it’s a server-side tool that you have to set up for yourself (unlike, say, Blogger), WordPress really does take only five minutes to install, just as they claim. Of course, it requires a bit more background knowledge than something like Radio UserLand, but that little bit of extra background knowledge is rewarded with a far more elegant, transparent, effective, and standards-compliant publishing tool. It includes everything you need for comments, trackbacks, site search, and Weblog rolls (no more HaloScan, Google, or Blogrolling), and it throws in all sorts of little extras like XFN. And it seems as though it can be used painlessly by relative novices while still giving experts all of the power and control they could want.

WordPress seems to have pretty healthy community support, which means (among other things) that there are many themes available. I’ve mutilated Mike Little‘s Journalized Winter theme for this Weblog, for which I thank him.

This has really been fun in a playing-with-blocks sort of way. Let’s see if I can come up with anything else to say so that I can keep playing.