From the print edition of The New American
There once was a child of philosophy that aspired to become a science. After all, nothing lends credibility in our material world more than the discipline that studies the material world. So that child, psychology, rebelled against thousands of years of tradition and began beating its own path through history — and the human psyche.
The human mind has been pondering itself probably for almost as long as the self has existed. As early as 550 B.C., ancient Greek philosophers began developing an intricate theory of what they termed the psuché, from which we derive the first part of “psychology.” Fifteenth-century thinker René Descartes, dubbed the “Father of Modern Philosophy,” developed the idea that came to be known as Cartesian Dualism, that the mind and body are different but can influence each other. But it wasn’t until quite late in history, 1879, that German physician, physiologist, and philosopher Wilhelm Wundt — often regarded as the “father of psychology” — separated psychology from philosophy. It was a development that would result in the separation of the scientific study of man’s nature from the nature of that nature.
The problem is that psychologists claim to be pursuing authentic science. Why is this an issue? Because science investigates and recognizes the material world and only the material world. Thus, if they’re true to this scientific mandate, psychologists will view man merely as a material being. (If they conceptualize him as something more, they’re going beyond science.) And proceeding in this manner makes it difficult to remedy mind-based problems because therapists won’t be treating what man is — a being of body and spirit — but what he isn’t — an organic-material robot.
In fact, this decoupling of philosophy and psychology to create a new “science” has, ironically, birthed a field that disgorges both bad philosophy and bad science; it consequently has had, many would say, a thus far short but quite sordid history. Its physician arm, psychiatry, was responsible for 50,000 cases of the brain mutilation known as lobotomy in the United States alone, not to mention all the excessive use of extreme electroconvulsive therapy.
More recently in history, parents were inundated for decades with “gender neutrality” theory, unscientifically stating that the sexes are the same except for the superficial physical differences and thus, if you raise them identically, identical will their personalities be. All was nurture; a person’s “gender identity” was shaped completely by society. (Know that you were an idiot, a knuckle-dragging mouth-breather, if you denied this.) Then 1990s brain research indicated that the sexes really are innately different, from the womb to the tomb. All was nature, and after some more twists and turns the current theory — unscientifically claiming that “gender identity” can be whatever a person feels it is — became all the rage. And those promoting it again rage against the knuckle-dragging mouth-breathers who dare deny Science’s Latest Findings™.
Then there’s eugenics, the science of improving the human race via selective breeding, which was widely accepted by social scientists (i.e., anthropologists) until after WWII; now, even suggesting group differences exist gets you lumped in with Nazis. Of course, overlooked here is that eugenics grew out of evolutionary theory (in fact, Sir Francis Galton, who originated the term “eugenics,” was a cousin of Charles Darwin), which dictates that profound group differences must exist. After all, if peoples “evolved” separately from one another for eons, subject to difference environments and stresses, it’s a practical impossibility that they would have wound up being precisely the same in all worldly measures. But missing such points of logic is possibly why G.K. Chesterton called common sense “that forgotten branch of psychology.”
But perhaps from mainstream social science we shouldn’t expect common sense because it’s not an endeavor of the common man. For example, note that while fully a third of Americans reject evolution altogether, “evolutionary psychology” is so widely accepted among social scientists that the American Psychological Association wrote in 2009 that it “is not a distinct branch of psychology, but rather a theoretical lens that is currently informing all branches of psychology.” Moreover, most Americans who do subscribe to evolution apparently believe it’s the vehicle through which God created life, as only about 11 percent of Americans are atheist or agnostic (according to Gallup). In contrast, a solid majority of psychology professors — 61 percent — are atheist or agnostic, making psychology the least religious discipline. Then there are the studies long indicating that psychologists suffer higher rates of mental disorders than the average person. Some have theorized that this is because many troubled people enter psychology to try to figure themselves out, yet what they’d learn in today’s prevalent school of psychological thought certainly wouldn’t bring them closer to Truth. My own experiences bear this out.
In my years working with children, I was struck by how psychologists’ kids were so often ill-behaved brats, no surprise given the permissive child-rearing dogmas the field disgorges. Then there was the 60-year-old psychiatrist I knew from the public tennis courts (I once was an aspiring player) in my late childhood. I have no idea how the subject was broached, but one day he saw fit to tell me, 12 years old at the time, that some people derive sexual pleasure from being whipped. Well, one day a while later, he was playing tennis shirtless (not uncommon in that city park) and, wouldn’t you know it, he had whip scars on his back. How scarred his soul was, however, was further illustrated by how, at another time, he told me I was “gay” and that he knew because I had the “build of a gay.” Because of my age, I didn’t know at the time the concept of a “sexual-identity crisis,” which he obviously sought to create in me, but I was smart enough to realize that the notion of a “gay build” (are happy people blessed with great physiques?) wasn’t very plausible and that he was trying to play with my mind. But, anyway, talk about violating your Hippocratic Oath.
This article appears in the October 23, 2017, issue of The New American. To download the issue and continue reading this story, or to subscribe, click here.
The “Science” of Psychology
Now, it could occur to one that seeking psychological help from your average therapist is a bit like taking your car to an auto mechanic who can never keep his own car running right. Having said this, one can find studies indicating and vindicating anything, and my anecdotes are just that, anecdotes. Besides, much about problems is learned through tackling them yourself; a guide who has already found his way out of a deep, dark swamp can perhaps help you emerge from it more easily than one who has never been in that morass (assuming he did emerge himself and isn’t wallowing in the muck).
Moreover, there is such a thing as good psychology. Jean Piaget defined well childhood intellectual maturation with his “stages of cognitive development,” and Erik Erikson’s stages of psycho-social development seem an excellent analysis of human moral development (which means they smack of good philosophy). Yet that the psychological profession is sometimes correct isn’t much more meaningful than a broken clock being right twice a day. Nor is it relevant whether social scientists are generally “good” or “bad” people (practically speaking), as good people sometimes embrace bad things and bad people, good things. The real point here concerns First Things (philosophy and theology): Because mainstream psychology has them wrong, because the roots and tree are misbegotten, the fruits and leaves are rotten. In fact, not moored to what is eternal, Truth, psychology is generally placed in the service of the ephemeral, the spirit of the age. This means that today it provides a specious scientific basis for what we call leftism. It is the (pseudo)scientific arm of the civilization destroyers.
Psychology seeks to understand the human mind — to understand man, in other words — and use that knowledge to remedy his ills and prescribe instructions for the mind’s proper function. Yet it went wrong as soon as it sought to accomplish this solely within the realm of science. Why? Because, by definition, science deals in, only recognizes, and limits itself to, the material world; thus, any purely scientific analysis of man will conceive of him as merely a material being — an organic robot, some pounds of chemicals and water. This presents a question: Is that all we are, or are we spiritual creatures with souls? If we believe the latter, as people of faith do, we’re confronted with a striking reality: Today’s dominant school of psychological thought must be rejected wholesale.
“Psychology” is a word with Greek roots meaning “study of the soul.” Yet since it long ago betrayed this original meaning and is predicated on soullessness, it’s operating based on a misconception of man’s nature. And if its practitioners fail to understand man’s nature, how can they understand and remedy distortions of that nature? To analogize it, it’s much as if a physician assessed a cancer patient viewing him as only an incorporeal being and denying the reality of his material body. How could he possibly even begin to make the correct prescription? You have to diagnose what a person is, not what he isn’t.
Incorrect suppositions lead to incorrect corollaries. If man is merely an organic robot — at the mercy of his hardware (genetics) and software (programming) — how can he be responsible for anything? This is precisely, mind you, why this pseudoscience is invaluable in justifying pseudo-righteousness. Columnist P. J. O’Rourke noted this, quipping, “Liberals have invented whole college majors — psychology, sociology and women’s studies — to prove that nothing is anybody’s fault.” For certain. You drink like a fish? That could be a gene. Homosexual tendencies? That could be a gene, too, or the result of anomalous intrauterine development. You’re an ill-behaved brat? It’s ADHD, perhaps combined with “Oppositional Disorder.” You killed your husband? That could be PMS. In fact, it’s harder all the time to find things we formerly called sins that have not been redefined (and hence justified) as diseases or conditions of the brain. (Of course, every such redefinition widens psychology’s market and, hence, its practitioners’ earning power.) In fact, psychologist Susan Blackmore, author of Consciousness: An Introduction, echoes some ponderers in the social sciences and claims the idea that we have consciousness and free will is all “delusion.” Psychology is now the pseudoscience behind the art of rationalization, which lies at modern liberalism’s heart.
Were there evidence for this materialistic thesis, all we could do is plaintively concede that it’s regrettably true, become hedonists, and perhaps drug or drink ourselves into a salving stupor. But actual science is not establishment psychology’s business. “Gender neutrality” theory confused generations of parents. There was even a boy, Bruce Reimer, who, it was decided, would be castrated and raised as a girl after a botched circumcision destroyed his penis. He ended up so miserable he committed suicide, but this doesn’t stop the psychiatric profession from today pushing the “transgender” agenda, which is as unscientific and unproven as gender-neutrality ever was. In fact, based purely on a person’s feelings — without any medical test showing a physical (as opposed to psychological) phenomenon is at issue — psychiatrists will prescribe a physical “remedy”: the body mutilation known as “gender-reassignment surgery.” As artist Brad Holland put it, pop psychology has propounded “that truth is myth, and myth, truth” and “that emotions are a form of reality,” a state of mind that “used to be called psychosis.”
Or consider how millions of American children, mainly boys, have had their brains pickled in Ritalin after being diagnosed with ADHD. Never mind that Ritalin has been banned in Sweden since 1968; the reality is that there is simply no evidence for a biologically induced condition called “ADHD,” that it is anything but the result of a “dysfunctional parenting paradigm,” as family psychologist John Rosemond has put it. Rosemond pointed out that every child has “ADHD” up until two years of age, but if he’s raised correctly such behavior patterns are purged from him. Note, too, that virtually no children in France are diagnosed with and medicated for the “condition” because, as Dr. Marilyn Wedge explained in 2012, “French parents provide them with a firm cadre — the word means ‘frame’ or ‘structure’” — discipline, in other words.
The issue, as Rosemond tells us (I’m paraphrasing), is that we once viewed childhood misbehavior as “a moral problem; now we view it as a psychological problem.” Yet this is no surprise — since moral problems are not the stuff of science (or of pseudoscience), only psychological problems can possibly exist.
Science, again, recognizes only the material world, which means it recognizes man but not God. Yet man doesn’t create “morality,” properly understood. To illustrate the point, finding out that the vast majority of the world hated vanilla but loved chocolate wouldn’t mean vanilla was “bad” or “evil”; we readily recognize this as just consensus preference, mere taste. But how does it make any more sense saying murder is bad or evil if the only reason we’re doing so is that the vast majority of the world dislikes the idea of killing others in a way the vast majority considers unjust? If man’s consensus is all it is, it then is also mere preference, no matter how much we use semantics — calling the human preferences “values” or something else — to obscure the meaninglessness of it all. Actual “morality” has a basis in Truth (absolute by definition), whose existence implies God.
The reality is that right and wrong can’t be proven or observed scientifically; we can’t view a moral under a microscope or a principle in a Petri dish. Science cannot tell us what we should do, only what we can. Scientifically speaking, murder isn’t wrong — only possible.
When We’re Robots
So what will the purely scientific mind do when tackling the problems of the organic robots more provincial types still call “people”? He cannot use any moral framework as the yardstick for the CPU’s (brain’s) proper function, so he uses society’s preferences as such, as with any machine. He then views deviation from that as malfunction or, as they say, a “disorder.” He then seeks to manage this not with counsel on moral behavior, but perhaps by altering the hardware (surgery) or influencing the programming with drugs. Of course, a given psychologist could very well go beyond this and deal with moral matters, but insofar as he does, he is acting as a philosopher or minister. The more he remains scientific, the more he will act as a mechanic working on a machine in his mechanistic universe.
This is one reason why “non-judgmentalism” is such a big concept in modern psychology. Of course, judgments must be made as to what constitutes “abnormality” and what is the best way to treat it, but these, again, can be rendered based on preference or “what works for you.” And just consider the following example of social-science non-judgmentalism: The Los Angeles Times published a 2013 article stating, “Pedophilia once was thought to stem from psychological influences early in life. Now, many experts view it as a deep-rooted predisposition that does not change.” This, of course, is precisely the language used decades ago when the (successful) attempt to legitimize homosexual behavior was launched. Down the road of godless moral nihilism lies madness.
A couple of points should now be made. “Non-judgmentalism” is a fool’s errand and an unattainable error. Even a dope-smoking, flowers-in-hair hippie will exhibit moral indignation when his own “values” ox is gored (“Oooh, that’s raaaacism!”). As philosopher C.S. Lewis put it when addressing such hypocrites, “Their scepticism about values is on the surface: it is for use on other people’s values; about the values current in their own set they are not nearly sceptical enough.” Second, the social sciences truly are pseudoscience, in that they’re quite scientific insofar as they indulge today’s fashionable moral nihilism but wholly unscientific when making diagnoses based on feelings. What do these contradictions reflect? That people are not robots, but people. They have biases, emotions, and desires, and are likely to rationalize to justify them. This also explains social scientists’ general failure to take their thinking to its logical conclusion (as I have here) and recognize their errant ways. For devoutly living a lie can sometimes be as hard as living the Truth, especially when that lie involves uncomfortable realities. Indulging godlessness and its correlative moral relativism/nihilism can be very convenient when trying to justify your own cherished sins. It’s not so convenient to think matters through and accept that your beliefs dictate that all perceived meaning is illusion, that you don’t even have a good reason to get up in the morning — or ever.
Think them through or not, however, their acceptance would ensure there won’t be a morning in America, or anywhere else. Consider psychology’s messages, some of which are transmitted more explicitly than others:
• We’re mere organic robots at the mercy of our genes and conditioning.
• There is no right and wrong, only proper function and disorder.
• We don’t have free will.
• You’re not responsible for what you do.
The last point is undeniable within this worldview’s context. How could robots, with no free will, be held accountable for their actions? If there is no sin, only disease of the brain, a person can be no more responsible for misdeeds than a man who catches a cold is responsible for sneezing.
Yet if people become convinced there is no right or wrong and they’re not responsible for their actions, anyway, it sets the stage for great evil. Rape? Kill? Steal? Who’s to say it’s wrong? And whatever it is, I didn’t choose to be what I am. It much reminds me of a comment years ago from an anonymous NAMBLA (North American Man/Boy Love Association) pedophile (I’m paraphrasing): “I didn’t ask to have these feelings, but that’s the way it is.” This is a horrible justification but a logical application of the mentality, prevalent in the social sciences and elsewhere, that has been used to rubber-stamp homosexuality and transgenderism. It may be “I was born this way, so it’s okay,” a proposition replacing morality with biological determinism. Of course, this would justify anything inborn, whether homicidal instincts or the desire to drink (note that psychologists suggest that psychopaths are born, not made). Or if the person is made, the justification may be emotional determination and the notion that it’s somehow intolerant to expect the individual not to act on strong feelings not of his own choosing. Yet there is a word for a creature that acts on every feeling: an animal.
And animals cannot live free in civilization (which is why leashes and zoos exist). British philosopher Edmund Burke warned, “Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.” Benjamin Franklin likewise observed, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” Does the psychology-enabled Cult of No Responsibility yield more or less interior appetite control and more or fewer intemperate minds? Does it breed a lesser or greater need of fetters and masters? With authority comes responsibility and with responsibility, authority; the two go hand in hand. Thus, people who cannot be responsible for themselves (such as children) cannot have authority over themselves (which children don’t). This paves the way for authoritarianism.
So, ironically, while psychoanalysis founder Sigmund Freud said when condemning religion, “Experience teaches us that the world is not a nursery,” his atheistic creed yields something worse than the nanny state. For if we have no souls, we’re merely “evolved objects with an evolved ability to use language,” as renowned botanist Lawrence Trevanion put it. And objects, things, are used — and only kept around if useful. As for organic robots, what could be wrong with altering their hardware (genetic engineering) — as eugenicists sought to do — or programming (social engineering) if their operation is undesirable? What could be wrong with terminating their function altogether? Physicist Stephen Hawking and tech titan Elon Musk have long warned that artificial intelligence poses a profound risk to human civilization. If the artificial robots in question would have these materialists’ conception of man, along with a computer-like thoroughness that takes this materialist thinking to its logical conclusion, well, they certainly have reason to worry.