Beyond the Pleasure Principle – Freud & Beyond – War Pt. (2/3)

Like in the prior episode, Freud expected that WWI would make people confront death without any magical thinking, and it could also provide vigor for the person who truly accepted death. The war was fearful and traumatic, but it also gave an opportunity for people to achieve eternal glory, and if one could survive, a story to bask in for the rest of one’s life.  One battle that displayed both sides of terror and victory was Vimy Ridge. It was an example of a big challenge that was tempting to tackle, but not without a lot of casualties. In Vimy: The Battle and the Legend, Tim Cook described how valuable the ridge was to the allies and the sacrifice soldiers made, especially the French, to try and take it. From the vantage point of the Germans, they could see the Canadian trenches and looked… Learning from the mistakes of The Somme the Canadians and British had to come up with more sophisticated methods of attack. These involved the spreading of command to empower… The new tactics required more grenades and machine guns. Grenades could be used to attack trenches and machine guns. Lewis machine guns were also used on the ground effectively and could also be used to shoot from the hip. Within around 200 metres most riflemen could use the Lee Enfield rifles. Grenades could be used within 30 metres with a blast radius of 18 metres and deadly at 5 metres. From close quarters most soldiers preferred to shoot the enemy or throw grenades, but in some cases, a bayonet had to be used. The airplane also revolutionized war technology to help with artillery accuracy. British planes flew over the trenches and better maps were made. The maps, along with taking into account of…were another advancement. Using triangulated microphones to… This allowed for more pinpoint artillery fire to destroy the German guns so the fighters would have less to contend with when they got closer to enemy trenches. Underground caves were also used to setup explosives near trenches. Explosives were detonated near zero-hour to create more chaos before the advancement. Not only did the Canadians and British have to go up hill at Vimy, but they also had to contend with barbed wire snagging kilts, socks, and the sticky mud was already effective at removing boots from soldiers. One of the advancements of artillery, to deal with this problem, was being able to make shells that were sensitive enough to explode when contacting barbed wire. This helped to clear the way for the Canadians. How the soldiers moved were in… As important as those tactics were, artillery was very crucial in WWI. The early strategies became stale in that enemies knew when the bombardments were completed and the soldiers would naturally advance towards them. The Germans who hid in bunkers during bombardments, had enough time to return to their stations and machine guns, to mow down the advancing enemy. In response to the predictability, improved coordination was needed to create more surprise by using a… When the barrage was complete the Canadians were close enough to attack the trenches, catching many of the Germans off guard. Using rifles, grenades, machine guns, and the odd bayonet, the ridge was eventually won over. Depending on which area the soldiers ended up, some of them had little mopping up to do. Some were trapped in their bunkers and asphyxiated. In areas where there were still rifles and machine guns in action, the battle was much more difficult and required more casualties to win. Many were chewed up by bullets. WWI tanks increased morale but they were inaccurate and their tread could easily be bombed and made ineffective. On April 9th and 10th the Canadians had lost 2,967 men. Many heroes who survived those days would only live long enough to die another day and had to be posthumously be awarded. The ones who survived would be able to bond with the rest of the Canadians who felt the country was distinguished by the battle as can be seen commemorated by by the astonishing Vimy Memorial. Not everyone who survived was psychologically in one piece. From descriptions of soldiers feeling emotionally deadened, there were much more serious nervous cases. At the time it was called “shell-shock.” Charges of cowardice, malingering, and the efforts of medical teams and their inventive ways of moving neurologically damaged soldiers to other duties, became a problem for armies. In A Weary Road, by Mark Osborne Humphries, he outlined the PTSD experience in WWI. Shell shock affected motor function as well. Many others had a hyper-vigilant Thousand-yard Stare. The curious results of the some of these psychologically shattered patients were of interest to Sigmund Freud and early Psychoanalysts. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, being a complex disorder, it has to be approached from multiple angles. The 1st casualty of Freud’s theories was the patterns of psychological behaviour that didn’t conform with The Pleasure Principle. Many soldiers with PTSD had dreams and thoughts that obsessed with traumatic memories, worsening their stress. Typically, a normal mind does the opposite and continually searches for pleasure. Setups and payoffs. At the time Freud thought… Going back to his Project for a Scientific Psychology (1895), Freud viewed neurons as having different functions. He saw the Ego as conditioned and built up by neurons that provide a constant cathexis [emotional investment ψ] and those that had a less sticky emotional investment, perception Φ. Consciousness for Freud, similar to Buddhism, co-arises with Perception. Perception provides qualities for consciousness, and the ego moves attention towards interesting perceptions and emotionally invests in them to provide satisfaction, The importance of these functions continued for Freud as a… The wishful idea has to be a little hazy and dreamy so that it doesn’t become… The emotional investment requires a payoff/discharge… As reality matches with the dreamy image of the wish, with the effort of thought, there is satisfaction, release or an identity. This is similar to what he wrote later in The Interpretation of Dreams, about a… The repetition of the same perceptions helps to build memory identities in the mind and the human personality. For example, we remember where all the “goodies” are in the environment, and create a personal identity around them. This is often why people have names that they’ve inherited from ancestors who were named for their jobs, or the products they were able to produce. Those higher up on a hierarchy would need to be able to label people based on their uses. The conditioned mind is utilitarian by how it labels objects and people. Tools for gratification and release. Further, like in the noting meditation method, these thought objects are given a reality just like perceptions and can be labeled with word associations. This allows us to be aware of our thinking processes and the thinking processes of others. The brain can then make copies of important objects and people and imitate them into the mind. In Psycho-analysis and the War Neuroses, Freud focused on excessive repression and how it can come from external sources of fright and internal sources in peace-time, where desire is considered a foe and threatening to the super-ego of social standards. Of course developments in psychology on the topic of Posttraumatic stress disorder moved beyond early theories, but studies do match his hypotheses of internal battles and repression. Our mind really does want to avoid thinking about stressful topics, obsess about what others think, but there is more relief in processing these stressful thoughts than avoiding them. Freud found that in many cases, people who were injured in fact exhibited less signs of shell shock than those who were simply close to the danger. In Coping with PTSD in Returning Troops, they elaborate some of the social reasons for this phenomenon. There are also studies that hint at developmental preexisting vulnerabilities, as Freud pointed out before but was only able to sketch. There are also signs of genetic predisposition, on top of early life stresses, that increase the likelihood of adult PTSD. Another sign of PTSD is the presence of persistent anger, and any treatments have to acknowledge the anger and outbursts that accompany it. Some of the methods of treatment include group therapy where they… …and explore… In a study on possible treatments for PTSD in the book, they allowed for… Another method that showed effectiveness was exposure therapy, and behaviour activation, where token rewards are given for successful attempts at moving through triggering activities. Whatever method a patient pursues, they must satisfy the mind’s need to understand and process trauma. In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud tackled the problem of a Repetition Compulsion, where the mind would constantly return to traumatic thoughts in contradistinction to what he normally observed in people, which is to dwell in thoughts of anticipated pleasure and relief. anticipated pleasure and relief it was a
kind of going back to the drawing board It was a kind of “going back to the drawing board” situation he found himself in. Both pleasure and stress had to be reviewed along with the quantity of intensity, which was hard to measure at the time, and could only be described as a larger or smaller pressure or swelling, requiring a release. Either the Ego finds replacement activities to drain some of that libido as a setup and payoff in chosen targets for release, sublimation, or the unconscious would take over and force a release in an uncontrolled way at targets that the ego and parental super-ego were trying to avoid. For example, in a war, there must be an enormous increase in intensity as soldiers see the reality of the danger to their own survival, and attention moves towards wishes to defeat an enemy, achieve a military goal, and the release that happens every time a goal is finally achieved. The intensity of the pain continues and increases when there is failure and low morale. This can happen in less intense situations when smaller preferences are not met. Some examples are: waiting for a loved one when smaller preferences are not met. Some examples are: waiting for a loved one and it’s negative. As experiences repeat, with constant intense stimuli, the mind can become jaded with some people, or overload and breakdown with others. How the mind views the world in terms of where it wants to be is described by Freud with a quote by G.T. Fechner on his Constancy Principle. In other words, we really like it when chaos moves towards order according to our preferences and really hate it when the stability of our preferences breaks down and moves back into chaos. Of course this is also true when other people do things for us, starting with our parents and eventually powerful authority figures who are responsible for things we cannot control. Of course achieving goals is not a constant thing and the world is a dangerous place. Looking purely for pleasure, has to give way to something that allows for us to survive long enough to gain pleasure later. Of course pleasure can take back it’s power from the reality principle at times. The ego’s response with the reality principle provides a form of unpleasure when unacceptable desires are repressed. We can see here already a need for self-development so some of that pressure can find different objects and skills to discharge on. Freud viewed it as sublimation, and Carl Jung looked at this energy as something that could develop the human personality further. Now the problem of the Pleasure Principle is this binding of perceptions into memory and how it can go into areas of unpleasure in a way that is self-destructive. As Freud encountered more patients they didn’t always follow the pattern of avoiding pain and pursuing pleasure. In situations of traumatic flashbacks, the mind of patients often returned to the trauma, instead of focusing on pleasure. The experience of survivors of the war didn’t add up with the pleasure principle. Freud then lists a variety of traumas and their impact, and highlights the most damaging one. This type of surprise, especially when the fear is treated as real in the mind, overloads the mind. This isn’t like a scary movie, though movies like Jaws, that create a primal fear of being eaten and annihilated, go closest to that feeling. In real conflicts, wars and domestic abuse, the mind has the tendency to go over those memories, even if the individual is recreating lots of unpleasure in the process of doing so. As Freud always did, he went back to childhood experiences to help explain adult phenomenon. In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, he explored a child’s response to his mother going away. This child he studied had a strong attachment to his mother who took good care of him. In response to his mother leaving him for hours at a time, he would play a game, as Freud hypothesized, of… Freud’s conclusion was that it was a coping mechanism to control and master the feelings associated with his mother’s disappearance and reappearance. It was a re-enactment, rehearsal, or a practice to deal with trauma. By turning the unpleasant experience of his mother’s disappearance into a game he took his passive role and made it into an active one to give him a sense of control and mastery. There was also another possibility based on Freud’s observations when the child flung an object away to… Taking aim at the Oedipus Complex, Freud interpreted this child’s feeling towards his absent father. Freud then connects it to the traumatized adult example, and the need to avoid surprise and fright. It’s a way for the mind to remind oneself of a lesson that has to be learned to avoid traumatic situations like these in the future, or to master them. In the case of the child, hostility that appears is a form of motivation to search for a reward that helps him or her, and eventually the adult, to replace passivity with activity towards domination and safety. Children’s games that get too intense can also predict adult competition where there’s escalation and envy, revenge and sabotage that become tempting. If something bad happens to a child, they can often repeat it onto another victim, and it can become contagious where abuse spreads with mimetics/imitation, and often it’s spread to an innocent target that is easier to access. Freud gives an example of a scary experience with a doctor. This becomes another precursor to René Girard’s scapegoating mechanism. The revenge is most often not enacted on a powerful person with strong boundaries but a person in a weak passive position: An easy target. People who are also in a powerless position find verbal versions of power and control where perception is constantly on one’s weaknesses, to keep people with a masochistic self-esteem. Masochists are easier to control. As people gain strength they often find more insults, more envy, more jealousy, and it’s all about maintaining power and control. It’s as if the they don’t want you to improve yourself and “get away.” The irony is that some of these people who were in a powerless position and now after they’ve moved to a powerful position, and turned the tables, so to speak, they forget how it was for them in the weaker position and identify with the controller. For René Girard, how we remind ourselves is realizing that… This sounds like an easy enough process, but it’s so hard for all of us to be honest about it. Girard says that… This can be readily seen in politics where everybody sees themselves as the hero and opponents are the enemy. When we switch from a powerless position to a powerful one, the best leaders remain vigilant and constantly try to see things from the point of view of the powerless. In most cases we fail to do this and just imitate the powerful and their scandals. We become the monster we want to defeat, and partially because sadism feels good and we lose perspective. Like Jesus pointed out… The new habit is to look at ourselves first if something is wrong and try to change that before we move onto someone else. There is also another hint that imitation is connected with pleasure. Sadism is a form of pleasure. We get pleasure when we defeat animals, kill animals for food, and we also get the same pleasure when we defeat human enemies. We can imitate higher and lower forms of pleasure. As long as a person has low enough empathy, it’s quite possible to imitate evil things.  A later researcher of imitation, Vittorio Gallese called it “intentional attunement” for the way minds can map out the intentions of others with mirror neurons. The key to it in his studies was that this mapping of intentions happened only when the imitated actions were goal-directed. Of course it doesn’t take much of a leap to discover what these goals are about. They are about increasing pleasure and reducing pain, the Pleasure Principle again, and in some cases the Reality Principle. There are some kinds of pleasures, advantages, treatments, cures, or benefits that the mind is motivated to imitate. Violence and hostility with an aim at winning is another source of pleasure, and it makes sense since a lot of our ancestors had to hunt and fight wars in order to survive. We had to fight for everything we had. If the child can map out how the pleasure works with hostility in an adult, and depending on hereditary influences, an identification with an abuser can be developed. The danger of course is the destruction of healthy human relationships, and why this form of pleasure is a lower pleasure, because of the damage that goes along with it. For example, people who are addicted to aggression end up with obsessive thoughts over rivals and conditioned reactivity so that mental peace becomes virtually impossible. There are differing levels of pleasure and some are better than others as most religions affirm. The higher ones provide pleasure that doesn’t hurt others, essentially more peaceful, and the lower ones almost certainly hurt others and oneself. For Freud, the Pleasure Principle was supported by a Life Drive, and all he could posit for the self-destructive behaviours he witnessed was a Death Drive. Freud’s theoretical exploration of the dark side influenced later Neo-Freudians including Otto Kernberg. He found patients that were very self-destructive and obviously not following a pleasure principle. Similar to Freud’s description of ambivalence between love and hate, or libido and aggression, people can slide between the two. They can attack others but also attack themselves. Kernberg found that certain destructive drives helped one to fight off predators and compete for mates. In some cases of PTSD there is a need to master a past traumatic situation in one’s mind so that it can be avoided in the future, or how the unconscious see this problem. In all these examples there is an element of self-preservation in the conflict between the pleasure and reality principles, but there is an even more destructive aim that damages self-preservation. A form of Pyrrhic Victory where one wins and loses at the same time, much like a lot of battles in WWI. Here Kernberg describes some examples of a more adult version of what Freud was describing above. Instead of what other psychologists call a “duping-delight”, for certain behaviours of personality disorders and their destructive attempts to attain mastery, Kernberg called it a triumph against. So here it becomes an addiction to sadism because it is now a reliable habit of gaining pleasure. Unfortunately this teeters into self-destruction when aggressors attack what is helpful. There is a sense that imitation can find lower levels of pleasure to identify with, as if role models are modeling for us the world and… It’s like a limitation where only certain modes of identification are available and real to the child. Even if healthier role-models exist in the world, unless the child has close access to those models, to imitate their healthy behaviours, it is out of sight and out of mind. Their limited and conditioned world becomes their adult perspective, narrowing their personality. Kernberg quotes André Green’s example of an identification that is destructive and hard to connect with a pleasure principle. Another example is a common one that therapists deal with if they have narcissistic patients and their attempts at… …that also destroys the therapy that could benefit the patient. The self-destruction can be even more intense. Examples of Borderline Personality Disorder can involve… The ultimate form of destruction includes those who commit murder-suicides as pathological last ditches to maintain control. This sadism against oneself, or Masochism, as Freud calls it, is described very well in both Beyond the Pleasure Principle, and The Economic Problem of Masochism. As the child imitates authority figures, especially parents, there are many suggestions of inferiority and experiences of failure as a child grows up. It develops a chronic feeling of inferiority. The child then learns to lose trust in him or herself. Again Freud returns to childhood development and regression. He finds that adulthood is a set of skills that are very fragile and they can easily regress to lower modes of living. Using examples of biological cells that can self-destruct, he expands that to the entire human organism. With enough tragedy, obstacles, failure and incompetence, depression can lead to self-attacking psychologically, and in more extreme scenarios, self-harm, like in suicide. It’s like the person feels they deserve it, like their internal tormentor is getting satisfaction as if it was an external tormentor punishing them. Freud terms it an… The regression goes all the way towards death. Freud connects this behaviour to an underlying Death Instinct. From the materialistic stand point, life came from non-life, and now wants to return to it. Ironically it sounds similar to the Christian understanding of Ashes to Ashes. There is also another Christian example of sin, like in the phrase “idleness breeds sin.” When people are inactive, and are not actively pursuing self-development, the tendency is to regress to older habits and tendencies. Like forgetting an abandoned skill, the mind forgets and returns to a more primitive way of being, partially because it’s less complex and easier. For people who like pleasure, it’s hard to fathom how these scenarios would satisfy. For Freud, the peace of non-existence coincides with his theory that people want to… Freud uses the term the Nirvana Principle, borrowed from Psychoanalyst Barbara Low. All people, including the suicidal, just want the pain to go away. There is pain in a complex life that is chaotic and death ultimately relieves that problem. Like a wave, the world goes from inanimate, to animate, and back to inanimate. How Freud resolves how the wave of Nirvana to Pleasure to Reality and back to Nirvana principles works, he wasn’t able to prove, but later clinicians still can’t disprove it completely due to the fact that humans are capable of so much self-destruction. It’s an eternal chicken and egg conundrum. Clinicians either posit a stronger pleasure principle, a stronger nirvana principle, or a balance between development and decay. Similarly, scientists look at entropy throughout the entire universe, and how it ultimately breaks down, but others see increasing complexity happening at the same time. What Freud ultimately saw was that a lot of patients didn’t get better or if they got better, they would often regress at a later date when they found another disappoint, failure or obstacle. At some point, there is something going on biologically, and unconsciously to prevent full recovery. Even today, therapists have to work with the tools they have and be prepared for repeated failure. Temporary therapeutic results may change into a situation where… In the realm of severe Masochism, new forms of self-attacking and punishment replace old ones. All this phenomenological study for meditators leads to a lot of challenges. One of them Freud alludes to above in his Project, where pleasure is a perception matching a wish, and pain, plus a lot of thinking, is the perception of instability, and wishes not matching perception. Meditation is a great skill for not only religious people, but also those who want to study their own phenomenology. One of the methods of meditation is to look at preferences and interrupt the thinking by being aware of how painful many preferences are, because of their inherent sense of lack. A good comparison to make clear is of how attention searches perception for satisfaction. Thich Nhat Hanh’s advice is to Freud calls it Pcpt-Cs. It seems like an easy practice, but it’s hard to maintain. The Chan Master Seng T’san shows the way, but he goes towards a perfectionism that is impractical and difficult to achieve. One has to find “a way beyond language/[concept]” and to let go of “the smallest distinction” between “love and hate”, or preferences. This means you have to put attention on vibrating senses and to fit it in between thoughts to slowly make it a habit of consciousness to reside there. One can quickly see the difficulty of maintaining equanimity all the time at the level of perception. There is so much rebellion. For most people it’s a healthy way of letting go to maintain well-being, but eventually one has to alter the environment in many different ways to prevent being preyed upon by predators and to build a nest. Essentially we have to get on with our lives. Once the mind is rested in meditation, away from constant irritation of chasing preferences, the opportunity to get into Flow states returns. A depressed person instead has the habit of returning to thoughts of obstacles, worries and ruminations. But the sooner a person creates a new goal that is attainable, the sooner they feel better and get a sense of progress. Like Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow system, this adjustment has to be constant throughout life but it is more accessible to people than trying to dwell in Pcpt-Cs, while trying to satisfy preferences. An expert meditator would have to satisfy biological needs with rationality instead of using the sense of lack as a guide. Most people like a small dose of lack in order to motivate action towards goals, as long as they are easy enough to achieve. When skills and challenges are balanced, people feel a healthy sense of zest, excitement and Flow. Most people will find a faster relief if they can let go of the masochism described above and repeatedly choose new goals, maintaining the “balance between challenge and skills.” Part of the healing is realizing that one may have an imitated tormentor inside the mind and it is unduly repressing healthy zest. Healthier attitudes include a purposeful search for new attainable goals. This would be developing an ego and not over-developing a super-ego, in a state of masochism. Yet the super-ego isn’t all bad, because it creates social standards to follow, but it becomes pathological when the standards are robotic, inhuman and unattainable. Freud references Kant’s Categorical Imperative where one must act with responsibility in areas where one expects everyone else to behave responsibly. The unhealthy super-ego assumes responsibility beyond what is human. The Ego is on the frontline and can see the obstacles that an ill developed super-ego ignores. It has to point this out to the super-ego by being present and serve as a reality check. It can create a sense of poverty with the extreme expectations of the super-ego, but the ego knows that skills can be poor and need development. For example, one cannot run a marathon without practice. The solution is not self-bashing, but skill development. As skills increase to handle complex problems, then the psyche develops more complexity, despite all the entropy and chaos in the environment. If things get too difficult then instead of being lost, the individual can look for “opportunities to act” that match the individual’s “ability to act.” Mihaly says that… This he calls “psychic entropy” a kind of self-destructiveness and chaos. Concentration helps to create order in the mind, including meditation, but it takes constant practice. Like Freud’s analysis of surprise, distractions can also be a form of stress, which was also found in recent studies of people who were distracted by social media at work. Distractions interfere with skill, and when skills are poorer then stress naturally increases under the Flow system. Yet, for most people, meditation will be reserved for periods of powering-down and for deeper rest, not the priority of one’s life. If they do concentrate, it will be on their life goals. Also many people enjoy the zest of looking forward to activities, and this is facilitated by the right level of challenge so that it’s not too easy or too hard. When people are feeling down after a failure, they can pick themselves up by finding something they know they can do.

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  • Can you see the Pleasure, Reality and Nirvana Principles operate in your life? Can you choose goals that reduce entropy and chaos?

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