Today I’m writing you as a candidate for President. Not POTUS, of course. I’m running to be President-elect of the American Psychoanalytic Association. Founded in 1911, the American Psychoanalytic Association (APsaA) is the oldest national psychoanalytic organization in the nation. Our vision statement says “The members of APsaA envision a world in which psychoanalytic knowledge advances human potential and relieves suffering.” That sounds about right.
Now, let me say that I never expected to be in this situation. It’s more like the situation found me.
But being a psychoanalyst, naturally bent toward reflection, I thought it would be a good idea to take a deeper look at how I got here. Here’s a version:
About 9 years ago, I felt this intense urge to write something about psychoanalysis. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say, or how much I wanted to say, or even who I wanted to say it to. But I had this feeling of wanting people to know about psychoanalysis, and so I decided I would try my hand at a relatively new literary form called a “blog.” I began it in this way: “ Welcome to my blog, dear reader. My goal in this and future communications is to look at events of the day from a psychoanalytic point of view.” I extended an invitation “to take a trip with me, as I try to demonstrate that psychoanalysis is alive and well, and that it can be a useful tool for making sense out of a confusing world.”
Over the next several years I explored a variety of psychoanalytic topics like narcissism, projection, and the unconscious. I found ways to apply these ideas to what I was reading about in the news every morning, between cups of coffee. For example, I used our fascination with Wiki-leaks to talk about the Primal Scene. I used a crying episode by the then-Speaker of the House to talk about affects and ambivalence. I used a Woody Allen movie to write about Regression.
Then…. the news got darker. Mass shootings in movie theaters. Escalating violence in Chicago. Increasing polarization in the Country. The ticking time bomb of global warming. Gradually, my attempt to share psychoanalytic wisdom with the world became a thinly veiled expression of how confused and exasperated I was by the state of the world I lived in and our seeming reluctance to do anything about it. How easily we can replace outrage with another cup of coffee and go about our business! My blog entries became angry variations on “We have met the enemy and he is us” (Walt Kelly, Pogo poster, First Earth Day 1970)
Then, as if I needed further proof of that , there came the election of 2016. It felt to me like an alternate universe had opened, sending me time travelling back to Weimar Germany. What happened to the United States of America? How could we do this to ourselves?
Like Obama, I had believed “we’re better than that.” Now, I realized, we weren’t.
When I received an unexpected invitation from the APsaA nominating committee, my first impulse was to run…..the other way. My second was to wonder, why me? So I asked someone in the know what I had done to garner this kind of attention. He told me that I was a good citizen. That struck a chord.
One of the beautiful things about psychoanalysis is the space it provides to trade certainties for wonder, especially when it comes to our knowledge of ourselves. That can be a problem. We human beings tend to be less than we think we are. But it can also be uplifting when we find that we hope to be more, and that there are ways we can make that happen if we realize, like the Tin Man and the Scarecrow, that we’ve got hearts and brains.
I had discovered, in the course of writing my blog, that I was as hypocritical as the next person who reads about something sick in society, turns the page, and drinks another cup of coffee. That is not my ideal version of myself. I had met the enemy and he was me, trapped by my own complacency.
But now, here I was with a unique opportunity to actually do something, to be a stand-up citizen in a professional community devoted to helping us become better people .
Psychoanalysis has a special place for the importance of ideals in human psychology. We are healthier when we have them and find a way to live up to them. We become depressed when we fall short. When we don’t have them, our lives become empty exercises where the risk of exploiting others poses dangers for us all.
The ideals of freedom and equal opportunity, and government by citizens have been foundational to the USA from our beginning. In this age of Trump, we risk forgetting this. We may not be as good as we think we are, but better to recognize this and aspire to something better than to keep on pretending. I genuinely believe that Psychoanalytic understanding can help us to do this. The American Psychoanalytic Association can and should make a contribution to America.
So I decided that (like the Lion) I had to find the courage to live up to my own ideals. Didn’t know I had it in me, but here I am. In a way, as I have tried to demonstrate, the journey began 9 years ago, when I initiated this blog. What a long strange trip it’s been!