Edward Snowden’s Retail Psychoanalysts in the Media

by Corey Robin on June 18, 2013

As soon as the Edward Snowden story broke, retail psychoanalysts in the media began to psychologize the whistle-blower, finding in his actions a tangled pathology of motives. Luckily, there’s been a welcome push-back from other journalists and bloggers.

The rush to psychologize people whose politics you dislike, particularly when those people commit acts of violence, has long been a concern of mine.  I wrote about it just after 9/11, when the media put Mohamed Atta on the couch. (Forgive the long quotes that follow: they pretty much say all that I have to say on the topic—with some illustrative examples—so there’s no point in my rewriting them here.)

I also wrote about this phenomenon in this review of the New Yorker writer Jane Kramer’s Lone Patriot, her profile of the militia movement.

In October 1953, literary critic Leslie Fiedler delivered an exceptionally nasty eulogy for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in the pages of the London-based magazine Encounter. Though the Rosenbergs had been executed for conspiring to commit espionage, their real betrayal, claimed Fiedler, was of themselves. Committed Communists, the Rosenbergs did more than mouth the party line; they walked, talked, ate, drank, breathed and slept it. Nothing they said or did was peculiarly their own. “Their relationship to everything,” Fiedler wrote, “including themselves, was false.” Their execution was regrettable, but not particularly notable. Once they turned into marionettes, “what was there left to die?”


Fiedler’s performance stands out in the annals of literary cruelty, not for its heartlessness but for its pitch-perfect rendition of the liberal mind at bay. For whenever liberal intellectuals are confronted with political extremism, the knotty social intelligence that normally informs their work unravels. The radical is reduced to a true believer, his beliefs a litany of crazy proverbs, his personality an inscrutable paranoia. Whether the cause is communism or the Black Panthers, feminism or the abolitionists, the liberal resorts to a familiar ghost story—of the self, evacuated for the sake of an incoming ideology—where, as is true of all such tales, the main character is never the ghost but always the teller.



Kramer hunts for clues to these touchy forest warriors in the dank wood of individual psychology. She writes that John Pitner, the militia’s not so fearless leader, “hated to have to answer to other people.” His father was an off-balance disciplinarian. One of Pitner’s devotees never “had friends, or even a date, in high school.” Right-wing politics provide a stage for the  insufficiently evolved to act out their personal, often adolescent afflictions. As Kramer writes of Pitner, “I sometimes wondered if the Washington State Militia wasn’t, at least in part, a way for him to rewrite the history of the Pitner family.” Reminiscent of Fiedler, she concludes that Pitner “didn’t have a life in any sense I recognized.”



She seems to find quaint and absurd Pitner’s belief that in the early days of the United States “the townspeople got together [and] if they wanted a new road, they all contributed money and they built a new road, if they wanted a new library, they all contributed money and built a new library,” unaware, apparently, that intellectuals from Tocqueville to Robert Putnam have believed much the same thing. That’s not to say that such statements are true (they’re not), but they scarcely denote some strange woodland mishegas.



Tromping through this political wilderness, Kramer falls prey to a New York strain of Tourette’s syndrome, ceaselessly remarking on the strangeness and ignorance of the Northwest, the provincialism and prejudice of the forest. Her sole field guide on such expeditions, which she frequently consults, contains familiar entries on the paranoid style of American politics and the authoritarian personality. The problem with such psychological arguments, of course, is that millions of men and women fit the profile but never join the militia. There are probably more than a few leaders of the Democratic Party who never had a date in high school. And need we even launch an inventory of the editorial staff at The New Yorker?


Lastly, I wrote about it at much greater length in “On Language and Violence: From Pathology to Politics,” a piece  I did for Raritan in 2006. There, I wrote more generally about how intellectuals deal with violence committed by the radical right and left. But the same strictures apply to the journalistic response to Snowden.

 

Why is it that when confronted with extremist violence and its defenders, whether on the right or the left, analysts resort to the categories of psychology as opposed to politics, economics, or ideology?  [Journalist William] Pfaff is certainly not alone in his approach:  merely consider the recent round of psychoanalysis to which Al Qaeda has been subjected or Robert Lindner’s Cold War classic, The Fifty-Minute Hour, which featured an extended chapter on “Mac” the Communist.  Psychological factors, of course, may influence anyone’s decision to take up arms or to speak on behalf of those who do.  But those who invoke these factors tend to ignore the central tenet of their most subtle and acute analyst:  that the normal person is merely a hysteric in disguise, that the rational is often irrationality congealed.  If we are to go down the road of psychoanalyzing violence, why not put Henry Kissinger or the RAND Corporation on the couch too?


There is more than a question of consistency at stake here, for the choice of psychology as the preferred mode of explanation often reflects little more than our own political prejudices.  Violence we favor is deemed strategic and realistic, a response to genuine political exigencies.  Violence we reject is dismissed as fanatic and lunatic, the outward manifestation of some inner drama.  What gets overlooked in such designations is that violence is a deeply human activity, reflecting a full range of concerns and considerations, requiring an empathic, though critical, attention to mind and world.



Every culture has its martyred heroes—from the first wave of soldiers at Omaha Beach, whose only goal was to wash ashore, dead but with their guns intact so that the next wave could use them, to Samson declaring that he would die with the Philistines—and its demonized enemies, its rational use of force and its psychopathic cult of violence.  And in every culture it has been the job of intellectuals to keep people clear about the difference between the two.  Mill did it for imperial Europe.  Why should imperial America expect anything less (or more) from William Pfaff, let alone David Denby?


But perhaps we should expect our writers to do more than simply mirror the larger culture.  After all, few intellectuals today divide the sexual world into regions of the normal and abnormal.  Why can’t they throw away that map for violence too?  Why not accept that people take up arms for a variety of reasons—some just, others unjust—and that while the choice of violence, as well as the means, may be immoral or illegitimate, it hardly takes a psychopath to make it?


In the same way that journalists call high-level leakers in the executive branch “White House officials” and low-level guys like Snowden “narcissists” or “losers,” so do they dole out accolades like “Secretary of State” to mass murderers like Henry Kissinger while holding the Snowden-like epithets in reserve for Al Qaeda, Communists, the Militia Movement, and the Weather Underground.

So where does that leave us? I’m not sure. As Jim Naureckas put it on my FB page: “Is the problem treating the retailers of violence as if they were psychotic or regarding violence wholesalers as though they were sane?

{ 90 comments }

1

Bruce Wilder 06.18.13 at 6:35 pm

Psychological speculation on the motives and intentions of Barack Obama are a major pre-occupation of some of my friends, who wish to rationalize their continued partisan support of him, despite his policies.

All of us have characteristic strategies for determining what the relationship may be between what is said and what is ultimately intended or meant. Politics is one of those arenas in which we find out how different our own strategies, and, therefore, perceptions and values are from those of others. It is not policy, or “the issues”, but it is endlessly fascinating, apparently.

Since it is a constant of our media age, one would think we would be better at it, by now. But, apparently, some of the professional P.R. types are very, very good at managing the process, while most of us become their pawns. Poohpoohing the armchair psychologists is less important, I think, then in raising awareness of the role of professional propagandists is creating the feeds, which journalistic stenographers use, to produce their output, and “our” discourse.

2

sigh 06.18.13 at 6:49 pm

The media does often portray violence wholesalers as psychopaths, narcissists, or sadists, e.g. Hussein, Stalin, etc.

3

Andrew F. 06.18.13 at 7:20 pm

One quibble: you’ve linked, and quoted, op-ed columns, blogs, and books by critics. None of that is journalism in the sense of reporting accurately and fully in order to inform. As I said, a quibble.

One more serious note: the criticism you make of so much of that psychological analysis as being just bad analysis (i.e. it proposes certain factors as explanatory while ignoring the many cases in which those factors occur but the phenomenon sought to be explained does not) also suggests why the analysis is performed in the first place. Most people don’t take top secret information from the government and travel to a foreign country before publicizing that information, losing what seemed to be a comfortable existence. That includes many people who may share some of Snowden’s political beliefs and values.

The unusual nature of this behavior, and other facets intriguing to us as social creatures, compel us to ask “what is different about this person, such that he did X, while most people with similar beliefs, or exposed to similar beliefs, did not?”

I don’t think it’s simply motivation to dismiss the politics that the doer of X might claim as justification. For instance, we don’t see much psychological analysis of why a Russian citizen would work for the Russian military, or a Chinese citizen for the PLA, even though many opinion writers in the US disagree with the politics of the Chinese and Russian governments. These aren’t unusual behaviors, and we can relate to them, even when we disagree with the political values furthered by those behaviors.

But for the examples of unusual behavior you give in your post, not only can we not easily empathize with the behavior, which makes it puzzling, but it’s also behavior that can be threatening, which I suspect makes it interesting for some part of us.

A useful contrast might be the approach to saints whose ethical beliefs accord with our own, and whose behavior is unusual, but which behavior we presumably do not find threatening. There’s obviously an adulatory strain of commentary about them – claiming that they’re motivated by love of God, of justice, by compassion, etc., which would support your thesis. But such commentary is also often dismissed in reflective circles as hagiography, even when those circles largely approve of the values served by the behaviors in question.

Ultimately both theses probably provide partial explanations. Some psychological analysis, good and bad, is likely motivated by a refusal to take a political justification seriously; and some psychological analysis, good and bad, is likely motivated by a desire to explain unusual behavior that fall into categories of significance for us as social creatures.

Of course, in some cases there is a gap between the justifications offered by a person, and the actual nature of their actions. A man who claims to have stolen medication because he believes they are rightly the property of the community, who turns out to have sold those medications for a high price on the black market, shouldn’t be surprised when we look beyond his declamations of human rights for explanations. In those cases, we look for psychological explanations because the political/moral narrative given by the actor falls short of the facts. As more facts emerge about Snowden, and as he leaks more material that has little to do with violations of civil liberties, the gap between the political narrative he wants and the actual facts only grows wider – and so we reach for other explanations.

4

Vlad 06.18.13 at 7:21 pm

This is less a response to your post, than a reflection on a point you may or may not be making:

1. There’s a difference between “psychoanalyzing” Snowden and wondering about what why he’s doing what he’s doing. People who “support” Snowden, for lack of a better word, seem to be prone to going overboard the other way, claiming that any questions about his judgment or his motives are wholly illegitimate attempts at character smears. But that’s not necessarily true. We’re being asked, at least implicitly, to believe that Snowden is telling the truth not just about the documents he’s leaked, but about the context in which those documents were created and used by the NSA. We’re also being asked to take on faith some claims that he’s made but hasn’t backed up with documents — like the “any NSA analyst can wiretap anyone, even Obama, without a warrant” claim. Or, you know, the claims he likes to make about how the CIA might hire the Triads to rub him out one day. It’s not “psychoanalysis,” or a smear, to wonder whether he’s an entirely reliable narrator. And it doesn’t help that his biggest media supporter — Glenn Greenwald — has a well-established track record for tendentiousness shading into intellectual dishonesty in support of issues he thinks are important. I can think that Snowden’s leaks raise very important and troubling questions without being willing to accept uncritically everything Snowden (and Greenwald) say about those programs. Snowden’s reliability is fair game.

5

js. 06.18.13 at 7:31 pm

Sort of related: href=”http://www.salon.com/2013/06/11/is_edward_snowden_a_hero_or_a_traitor_who_cares/”>This Pareene piece from about a week ago about the media inevitably missing the real story (massive surveillance) for total sideshow (what to call Edward Snowden!?).

6

js. 06.18.13 at 7:34 pm

7

Sandwichman 06.18.13 at 7:48 pm

A fascinating case in point is that of the “Unabomber,” Ted Kaczynski, who commences his treatise on Industrial Society and Its Future with an examination of “The Psychology of Modern Leftism.”

8

Marc 06.18.13 at 7:56 pm

Isn’t this more of an in-group/out-group issue? It’s pretty common across the political spectrum to assign bad motives to real or perceived opponents. It’s also completely valid to evaluate the credibility of an accuser when deciding whether to believe them. And defenders of the accuser will dismiss counter-criticism using very closely related tactics….

9

House Carl 06.18.13 at 8:00 pm

What has Snowden leaked that has little to do with civil liberties violations? I see no gap between what he says and what facts exist about him and his leaks. Unless, of course, there are some factual gems hidden within the reams of speculation about him, his girlfriend, and family feuds that I find completely impossible to read.

No, rather than attempting to understand and explain unusual behavior or something, I think this kind of character assassination is very standard treatment for anyone who runs foul of “the powers that be”. It is and explicit defense strategy that is intended to discredit the target and his message, and really not much else.

10

Harold 06.18.13 at 8:23 pm

“Once they turned into marionettes” — the WW2 Japanese referred to the subjects they tortured in medical “experiments” as “pieces of wood.”

11

PatrickinIowa 06.18.13 at 8:51 pm

It works two ways, depending on who is using it.

The political ideology that gives rise to violence does the “Scott Roeder was clearly psychotic” to protect itself from the notion that pro-life thinking (for example) leads to horrific violence.

Unthinking political opponents do it to be able to say, “Roeder was nuts and so is anyone who believes as he does, especially those loonies in the Catholic Church.”

As the OP suggests, both rhetorical strategies ignore the question of whether the violence is working–which it seems to me it is.

12

Consumatopia 06.18.13 at 8:53 pm

Most people don’t take top secret information from the government and travel to a foreign country before publicizing that information, losing what seemed to be a comfortable existence. That includes many people who may share some of Snowden’s political beliefs and values.

Most people who find Peter Singer’s arguments persuasive probably don’t live like this guy. It’s certainly not hard to explain why there aren’t a lot of other Snowdens. People of Snowden’s viewpoint are probably underrepresented in the ranks of CIA/NSA contractors. But there undoubtedly are some. However, leaving the country means saying good bye to friends and family, it means personal risk to one self (that one would be intercepted in leaving, harmed overseas, or turned back over to the States. Note that a skeptic of the government would tend to rank some of these dangers higher.) And more than that, it simply requires a lot of personal confidence to break the law in a novel, high-stakes way.

Note that these are all reasons why someone would avoid doing what Snowden did even if they think what Snowden did was morally right. And there’s no question that there are such people–many people across the political spectrum and around the world are applauding Snowden’s actions and calling for others to do the same.

So the question is not “what makes Snowden do what others don’t”, but “what prevents other people from acting on their political beliefs and values?” Stated like that, it’s easy to enumerate a list of everything that stands between most people and radical action, even when believed to be justified.

Of course, in some cases there is a gap between the justifications offered by a person, and the actual nature of their actions. A man who claims to have stolen medication because he believes they are rightly the property of the community, who turns out to have sold those medications for a high price on the black market, shouldn’t be surprised when we look beyond his declamations of human rights for explanations. In those cases, we look for psychological explanations because the political/moral narrative given by the actor falls short of the facts. As more facts emerge about Snowden, and as he leaks more material that has little to do with violations of civil liberties, the gap between the political narrative he wants and the actual facts only grows wider – and so we reach for other explanations.

Two points:
1) Snowden’s earlier career seems to have been relatively well-compensated. We could just as easily question whether people who claim to obey the government because it’s the right thing to do actually have ulterior motive for doing so (see above). People have complicated motivations that get added together–they want to do right and to do well. If we’re willing to sweep all that complexity under the rug when we look at the establishment, people who challenge the establishment should get the same courtesy.

2.) You can’t accuse him of hypocrisy just because he leaks more information than you would–his stated values are clearly very different from yours. Though he claims to have acted differently from Manning in being more selective with his leaks, he also said that he admires what Manning did.

I can’t see into Snowden’s heart, and I have far less interest in looking there than you do–the government ought to be way more forthcoming about these surveillance programs, if the programs really are as innocuous as the gov’t claims they are then there’s no reason they should be classified, and none of that has anything to do with Snowden’s motivation. I would absolutely love it if a norm were established in which all countries offered bounties to leaking defectors from rival countries. Whatever Snowden’s motivation, and whatever quibbles I have with some of the way he’s presented information to the public, I hope that in the future Snowden won’t seem so unusual, that more people will leak and flee wherever they need to.

13

hix 06.18.13 at 9:24 pm

Makes perfect sense. The medical aspect aside, pychology is the hyperindividualist social science opposit to sociology. From this one persons perspective, the makro environment is fixed. Those who do not function within that makro environment are the ones who need to be fixed. Natural that only those who act outside what is approved by the mainstream are the ones psychology is applied to. Q: “Why did Snowden not shut up and function like all the others”
A:”Because disorder xyz, we need to pay attention and fire or fix people with those traits”

14

anon #23 06.18.13 at 9:25 pm

Doesn’t this post basically describe what Robin does all the time, with both liberals and conservatives?

How is what’s being criticized here any different than what goes on in the Burke/Palin book? Robin is slightly less overly psychological, but it’s a difference of degree, not kind.

15

William Timberman 06.18.13 at 9:32 pm

An acquaintance of mine said yesterday of Snowden: He violated his contract. We can’t have people like him just doing whatever they want. Snowden no, Cheney yes, apparently. What kind of $&*%Q@ world does that leave us?

16

Antoni Jaume 06.18.13 at 10:18 pm

Timberman, I’ve read that capitalists want exit. But only for them, not for the rest. They owe the rest of the people nothing, everybody is expected to be compliant to them. In this way they do not have to send henchmen like Al Capone but can ask politely the police to force compliance.

17

Shatterface 06.18.13 at 10:19 pm

Since being diagnosed with Asperger’s I’ve become more and more conscious how psychology is used ‘normatively’. Psychological norms are defined by neurotypicals and those who don’t conform as defined as ‘abnormal’. When someone commits an act or expresses an opinion deemed unacceptable for ‘normal’ people there’s an urge to bracket them among the ‘abnormal’. Several recent spree killings have been attributed to people with Asperger’s despite little or no evidence the shooters had the condition; there was a Facebook page set up called ‘Cure Asperger’s – Stop Psychokillers’. Even ‘well meaning’ commentators calling for early mental health intervention helped keep the focus on individual psychology rather than a wider gun culture.

The thing is, the largest scale atrocities weren’t committed by psychopaths, borderlines, narcissists, whatever, but by people conforming to norms within a particular community; perfectly ordinary people being obedient to authority and finding that obedience easier because their victims have been defined for them as ‘abnormal’. That’s the lesson of Millgram’s experiments and the Stamford prison experiment. Behaviour is largely determined by context and circumstance not abnormalities in the individual brain, and people with mental health conditions, personality disorders or developmental disorders are far more likely to be victims of brutality than perpetrators.

The pop-psychologising of political discourse is an attempt to define ‘normaility’ as ‘like me’. It’s not as severe as the demonisation of the neurodiverse we see in the case of crime reporting but it does approach the use of psychology as a political tool we saw in the Soviet Union.

18

Tony Lynch 06.18.13 at 10:55 pm

Nope “Andrew F” – still not passing the Turing test. More work, guys!

19

Tom Slee 06.18.13 at 11:22 pm

I’d like to emphasize what Shatterface says. Not only does this labelling of “bad” people as “mad” people serve to undermine their political convictions, but it also stigmatizes psychiatric diagnoses by associating “mad” people with “all kinds of crazy (s0c) stuff”.

20

Nick Barnes 06.18.13 at 11:22 pm

“retail”? Are there wholesale psychoanalysts?

21

Salem 06.18.13 at 11:26 pm

Doesn’t this post basically describe what Robin does all the time?

Quite. I almost spat out my coffee when I read “The rush to psychologize people whose politics you dislike… has long been a concern of mine.”

22

David Kaib 06.19.13 at 12:10 am

William @15:

“He violated his contract. We can’t have people like him just doing whatever they want.”

The key part of that sentence is ‘like him’. He’s not the type of person who’s allowed to break the rules.

23

Corey Robin 06.19.13 at 12:16 am

Anon #23 and Salem: Curious what you have in mind. There’s a big difference, to my mind, between talking about people’s ideologies — their worldviews and the political projects that animate them — and the personal motivations that may or may not lead them to adopt those ideologies. I think of myself as being more interested in ideologies and worldviews and projects than in psychic motivations, but perhaps you’ve got something else in mind. Or perhaps I’m wrong.

24

William Timberman 06.19.13 at 12:30 am

DK @ 22

It was clear from the rest of the conversation that what this acquaintance meant was that Snowden was too far down the food chain to be aloowed make decisions of such significance — completely overlooking the fact that the NSA itself had already effectively given him the right to decide who gets spied on and who doesn’t. The upshot: citizens have no standing, unless they’ve been given a badge. Follow this logic to its obvious end, as it was followed in the DDR and the USSR, and decent people get reduced to a form of refuse, while the rest spend every waking moment competing with each other for a more impressive badge. Anyone who walks away from this competition is crazy by definition. People who think Snowden is fair game for character assassination, and should now be considered a non-person by all right-thinking citizens, should go watch Das Leben der Anderen again. They clearly missed something the first time through.

25

Barry 06.19.13 at 1:15 am

William Timberman 06.18.13 at 9:32 pm

” An acquaintance of mine said yesterday of Snowden: He violated his contract. We can’t have people like him just doing whatever they want. Snowden no, Cheney yes, apparently. What kind of $&*%Q@ world does that leave us?”

Seconding Antoni – ask this friend how angry he gets when the elites violate contracts and the law, and get away with it.

26

David Kaib 06.19.13 at 1:19 am

Contract rights, like property rights, are not inviolable. At least not for everyone.

27

William Timberman 06.19.13 at 1:31 am

It’s a popular opinion among people who aren’t moral philosophers. What they mean — I think — is that if you give your word, you should keep it. It never seems to occur to them that the other party to the kind of contract that Snowden signed with Booz Hamilton, and presumably with the NSA avatar of the US government has also implicitly promised certain things. As a state rather than an individual, however, it reserves the right to change the terms of the contract, or even the meanings of the words in which those terms are expressed, whenever it feels compelled by circumstance to do so.

Like the loyalty oaths that were de rigeurin the 50s and 60s, this isn’t what anyone in his right mind would call a fair deal, but as it’s the only deal on offer, people have come to believe that everyone should be equally bound by it, even in the face of compelling evidence that only poor suckers without a badge or a fortune actually have to.

28

dilbert dogbert 06.19.13 at 3:59 am

Psychoanalysts and Economists are equally scientific: Mostly Bullshit and Bad Numbers.

29

Harald K 06.19.13 at 8:16 am

So the question is not “what makes Snowden do what others don’t”, but “what prevents other people from acting on their political beliefs and values?”

This is an important question. Anyone who knows skilled Silicon Valley types know that his sentiments are widely shared, not just in the somewhat overtly idealistic corporations like Google and Twitter, but also in Microsoft, Oracle, Amazon etc. I see some hand-wringing and puzzlement at why they would hire “someone like Snowden”, with EFF stickers and stuff. But it’s no surprise, really: The NSA are limiting their potential recruitment pool enough already (which is probably a reason why they rely on contractors so much , by the way – an accidental way of working around their own ideological pickiness). You can have skill and initiative, or inclination to obey orders without questions, but rarely both. Command hierarchies are notorious killers of initiative.

I think Corey Robin’s explanation is the best: That it’s mostly family ties and other immediate loyalties that prevent more people from acting like Snowden.

I think Silicon Valley types, both leaders and more regular employees, underestimate their own power. They’re rich, they’re crucial to the economy, and they’re well connected to similarly important people all over the world. What would happen if some of them simply refused to comply with one of these secret orders? The government couldn’t well prosecute them in secret without raising some serious alarms, and the only alternative for government would be to expose the secret orders themselves.

30

Mao Cheng Ji 06.19.13 at 9:07 am

But of course it’s an in-group/out-group phenomenon, as 8 said. The Chinese and Iranian dissidents are courageous and heroic, the American ones are deranged. And that’s the only kind of consistency you’ll find in all this. And the post goes to obfuscate it, which is unfortunate, imo…

31

Phil 06.19.13 at 10:19 am

There’s something a bit more insidious going on here than simply labelling an outgroup as ‘crazy’ (on which Shatterface’s comment says it all). These profiles consistently hark back to personal histories rather than pathologies. The point is not that our specimen – be it Snowden or Bradley Manning or Randy Weaver – is weird in and of himself, but that something happened to him, way back; something that didn’t happen to you or me or the journalist.

Partly this derives from the deep cultural association between psychopathology and trauma – if Fred is warped, something must have warped him – but I think there’s more to it than that. The underlying idea seems to be one of immaturity or interrupted development. You and I have put away the childish play of symbols and fantasies – made our peace with our Mums and Dads and forgotten about wanting to be Prime Minister – but these guys are still stuck back there, working through their old issues with big gestures and grand statements.

Breaking the bounds of common sense and everyday life, committing yourself to positions that make life difficult for you and are hard for others to digest – there’s no explanation for that. It can only mean that, despite appearances, what you’re doing isn’t actually a contribution to our common life at all – it’s just your stuff.

32

Mao Cheng Ji 06.19.13 at 11:27 am

Shatterface’s comment is not good, imo. Blaming the “gun culture” is not any more useful than blaming mental disorders.

33

Andrew F. 06.19.13 at 11:28 am

House, I don’t want to turn this into an argument about Snowden specifically, since I think the OP was making a more general point. :) If the thread goes otherwise, though, I’ll be happy to give my two bits.

Consum, my question explicitly assumes that that many others share Snowden’s political beliefs and values. Your useful formulation of the question is essentially identical, but with a different emphasis.

The formulation of the question doesn’t imply a positive or negative judgment of the person or behavior that we’re querying. We might just as well ask, “why did person X stop to help the stranger, when no one else (with similar ethical beliefs) did?” as we might ask “why did person X leak top secret information, go to Hong Kong, etc., when no one else (with similar political beliefs) did?”

Flipping it, as you have, to ask “why do most people (with similar political beliefs) not leak top secret information, go to Hong Kong, etc., when person X did” is useful I think from a cognitive vantage, but it’s the same question ultimately. In both cases we’re attempting to explain differences in behavior between X and a given group.

My point is that political beliefs can be problematic as a complete explanation for the same reason the examples of bad analysis that Corey gives are problematic. For instance, many people share Snowden’s political beliefs, but do not act as Snowden did. The explanation you gave for why many people with similar beliefs do not act as Snowden did is also problematic: Snowden also has family ties, relationships, and certain material comforts, so these items by themselves don’t suffice as an explanation.

A summary of my own views:

We legitimately look for factors beyond political beliefs when (and these items are not necessarily mutually exclusive):

1 – many people hold the political beliefs in question, but the holding of those beliefs does not predict the behavior we are attempting to explain. Others, many others, share Snowden’s libertarian ideology, but that ideology does not predict Snowden’s behavior.

2 – the behavior does not seem to be a requirement or recommendation of the political beliefs in question. For example, person X thinks that all government communications should be transparent to the public, and he then exposes various communications of those not in government. Many similarly think that Snowden’s recent leaks about specific IP blocks in China, and about spying on foreign diplomats, go beyond the requirements and recommendations of the beliefs he described initially. Some think otherwise, of course.

3 – the behavior actually conflicts with the political beliefs in question. The self-proclaimed Robin Hood who turns out to be a black market profiteer would be an example.

4 – we have trouble understanding or empathizing with the political beliefs in question. Specifically, we intuitively find a stated political belief difficult to accept as a cause for someone’s behavior because we find the belief bizarre, ridiculous, etc. The clearest case would be the various political beliefs that a paranoid schizophrenic might offer as the reasons for his behavior. The less clear cases would be the in-group/out-group examples other have raised.

5 – we can understand the political belief in question, but we reject it as clearly wrong. It is so clearly wrong, we may think, that “no one in his right mind” could truly believe it, so we must turn to another explanation. Put differently, we institute a psychological explanation without reference to the actor’s stated political justifications on the ground that the stated political justifications are obviously wrong. A judgment of political beliefs ultimately drives the explanation here, whether done intentionally or not.

6 – knowledge of the person in question causes us to weight factors other than the stated political beliefs more heavily. For example, I might know that X feels constantly unappreciated and even belittled at work, and that this has become of enormous, even obsessive, concern for X. When X then leaves his job with a large collection of damaging information, and releases it with the justification (this is purely a hypothetical) that “information should be free and all companies should be purely transparent”, my knowledge of X and his other concerns may incline me to include factors other than his political beliefs, even though X may really hold those political beliefs.

7 – we have reason to doubt that the person X really does hold the beliefs he espouses because of other knowledge we have about the person (this item is related to #5, in that both question whether the actor really has the beliefs in question). The defector who proclaims that he was motivated purely by a sudden love for democracy might be viewed suspiciously if he has a history as an ardent opponent of democracy.

We illegitimately look for psychological explanations when:

A – we want to paint an unflattering portrait of the proponent or holder of a political belief to which we are opposed;

B – we want to distract attention away from the political belief in question to reduce the influence of that belief;

C – we want to “pollute” public conception of a political belief with undesirable links to other characteristics.

I do think that many of these factors can run together. The behavior of the expositor, after all, is as subject to mixed motivations and factors as the behavior of the expositor’s subject.

34

Mao Cheng Ji 06.19.13 at 11:43 am

” These profiles consistently hark back to personal histories rather than pathologies.”

I don’t think this is very meaningful pattern: they just need to fill the page. Nor is it always true: Ramsey Clark, for example, is just plain nuts, end of story.

35

Tim Wilkinson 06.19.13 at 12:39 pm

Tony L @18 – But seriously, I must say I have some very real concerns about Andrew F’s motives in spending so much time unflappably – robotically, almost – reciting specious mil-int-sec, and general right-wing establishment, talking points.

Why, we might well ask, would someone put quite so much effort into promoting what they present as dispassionate, apolitical common sense, (though often in fact, as here, it’s poisonous stuff) when the only observable payoff is well-deserved but mild abuse, dismissive ridicule and, when people can be bothered, withering refutation? It’s a lot of trouble to go to just for the sake of some rather joyless trolling.

We may observe that AF maintains the kind of punctilious politeness one would normally associate with alethonymous types like Tim Worstall, who has explained that his (nakedly ideological) contributions here are intended to build an online presence in support of freelance writing.

So we know about Tim Worstall, and can comprehend his ‘behaviour’. We know too about the similarly disciplined – if still less impressive – Watson Ladd. He’s enough of a tool to provide a link to his Platypus organisation, which is basically dedicated to trolling the existing left out of existence and thus – if I have the official doctrine right – allowing something else to emerge in its place, somewhere down the line (or something like that – ask Chris Cutrone). This too is comprehensible, if barely so.

But we don’t know what Andrew F is up to – there seems no good explanation for his unusual behaviour. What could explain this spookily indefatigable, imperturbable and entirely humourless dedication to churning out carefully constructed defences of – and offensive moves on behalf of – the official narrative vis-a-vis the GWOT, US aggression, etc? Especially given that the reference to Barry being ‘rude’ is about the closest thing I can remember to a personal reaction – and that was only made as part of a weak, tendential, discrediting exercise.

I think important and troubling questions arise over Andrew F’s motives.

—–

BTW, contra the tenor of AF’s comment about this leak ‘not being the Pentagon Papers’, Ellsberg has written that the NSA revelations are more important than his own – or indeed any other leaks in US history (where are the Snowdens of yesteryear?).

Andrew F’s line is inconsistent here, since he seems to suggest both that Snowden is far more culpable than Ellsberg and yet – madly enough – that S would be well advised to come home and face the music!

Snowden certainly is quite different from Ellsberg inasmuch as he is operating under an even more repressive system than Ellsberg was, and is vanishingly unlikely to gain the benefit of having his trial thrown out. Not to mention that Ellsberg appears to have been rather lucky that a planned MKUltra-ish discrediting technique aimed at him was botched. This is still relevant: I strongly suspect that such tactics are still in use by Western spooks – why wouldn’t they be? – David Shayler may well have been a victim, for example – but I digress, and into, ahem, ‘paranoiac’ conspiracist territory at that.)

Snowden’s jeopardy is further compounded, since it was no doubt with the above in mind (along perhaps with his lack of eminence as a decision theorist, ex-RAND/CIA analyst, jungle-hacking factfinder etc) that he decided not to risk the full Rawlsian come-and-get-me civil disbedience shtick and instead oh-so-dishonourably fled the jurisdiction and (he hopes) the reach of US executive action.

As we have seen, flight provides an extra opportunity for the likes of Andrew F to attempt – for all I know with some success – to poison public opinion against the fugitive. This is the classic double-bind of the person who, expecting to be railroaded, engages in the ‘guilty’ conduct of running from the police. And the more S is discredited and vilified, the more leeway is likely to be given to those who would like to crucify him.

Of course details about S’s personality or behaviour or motives shouldn’t be, and for most of us aren’t, of much interest, notwithstanding smearers’ pretence that they didn’t start it but are merely countering some cult of personality – thus smearing ‘supporters’ too.

In particular, just to be clear, given that no-one seems to be denying the allegations (‘old news’) and that IIUC they are supported by documentary exhibits, such character assassination certainly shouldn’t be able to put the genie back in the bottle – not even if it should be put about that the latest target is a megalomaniacal rapist, internet sex pest, disturbed gender disphoric weirdo or whatever, as well as – gasp – a non-efficient contract-breacher.

It seems, though, that personal smears can in reality serve to cast a penumbral suspicion over a leaker’s revelations – some of those engaged in smearing him seem to hope so, at least. Such speculation and innuendo can certainly muddy waters and provide a distraction, especially once the initial furore has died down and, e.g. a large chunk of the leaker’s Wiki page is given over to some manufactured ‘controversy’ or other.

36

bianca steele 06.19.13 at 12:57 pm

What would happen if some of them simply refused to comply with one of these secret orders?

Not to beat a dead horse, but what bothers me more is the idea of some of them (at whatever level) being all like, “It’s so cute that you’re being so conscientious about getting this security feature to work. Don’t you know? Classified! Above our ‘pay grade.’”

37

bianca steele 06.19.13 at 12:58 pm

That should have been “Don’t you know? (cough) Classified! (cough)”

38

Walt 06.19.13 at 1:00 pm

I’ve been wondering if Andrew F is getting paid by somebody. Honestly, it’s less embarrassing than the alternative that it’s his sincere opinion.

39

Rich Puchalsky 06.19.13 at 1:29 pm

“But seriously, I must say I have some very real concerns about Andrew F’s motives in spending so much time unflappably – robotically, almost – reciting specious mil-int-sec, and general right-wing establishment, talking points.”

I don’t care about his motives. He provides the perfect argument to argue against: “principled” with the wrong principles, archetypal, obvious in its denial of evidence, competent but slightly below spec.

The real opposition piece suitable for a left-wing site looks something like this. And it hits, rather the deference to unsupported authority which is a tough sell for us, the proper note of more-knowing-than-thou cynicism combined with personal attack.

40

mathmos 06.19.13 at 1:38 pm

Comment sections are often visited by paid shills. The industry exists for it. As to who is or isn’t, difficult to say. But as the OP proposes, psychologizing political disagreements is fruitless and confusing. Better to simply recognize possible shills for what they function as, that is objectively as shills, and disentangle yourself from their distraction. The less time you waste there, the more time for extra-blogging activities having an impact on the world.

41

Andrew F. 06.19.13 at 2:09 pm

I participate because I enjoy discussion and appreciate the value of different points of view.

I don’t respond to personal insults Tim because they’re not worth my time.

As I said in my last comment, I didn’t want to turn the thread into a discussion of the specifics of Snowden, since the OP made a more general point. Still less do I want to turn the thread into a string of efforts to troll me with personal insults. So I’ll bow out for a while. Enjoy the discussion everyone.

42

DBW 06.19.13 at 2:12 pm

The mid-20th c. model for psychopathologizing the enemy was developed by liberals who were working from the assumptions of the terms of the “culture and personality” school of social thought. The result was figures like Richard Hofstadter–and Western Marxists attempting to synthesize Freud and Marx in order to explain fascism, as in Adorno et al.’s _The Authoritarian Personality_; it’s original target was the far right, I think, although liberal historians would later use it to characterize radical abolitionists and other “outliers” on the left. But it is in this sense that Robin’s _The Reactionary Mind_ is the inheritor of Hofstadter’s _The Paranoid Style_: an attempt to use abstracted psychological categories to characterize collective forms of belief. This is related to, but different in important ways, from the singling out of particular individuals as narcissistic or suffering from some particular psychological disorder. It is a form of cultural criticism rather than a form of clinical diagnosis. The question of whether it makes sense to use psychological metaphors to characterize ideologies, world views, or cultures is separate, it seems to me, from whether it’s appropriate to target specific individuals as pathological for their political behavior.

43

Omega Centauri 06.19.13 at 2:16 pm

What is different between Snowden and others with similar beliefs and opportunities who don’t follow through in dramatic fashion? I think of this more as a change of state in a bi-stable existence (coming from a physics background). Once you cross the line -I’m going to leak the more eggregious -but less compromising of legitimate secrets bits, you’ve crossed the Rubicon. Now your former colleges and even much of your former country is your sworn enemy. So you start to excercise less judgement in determing what to release next -you want to get back at them because they’ve now made you the subject of a vendetta. So basically a tiny diference in beliefs personality or circumstances may be all thats required at some crucial juncture to trun left instead of right, and the rest pretty much follows as a consequence of that decision point.

44

Jesús Couto Fandiño 06.19.13 at 2:58 pm

Character assasination with (not so) modern paintjob, film at 11

45

ajay 06.19.13 at 3:36 pm

Or, you know, the claims he likes to make about how the CIA might hire the Triads to rub him out one day. It’s not “psychoanalysis,” or a smear, to wonder whether he’s an entirely reliable narrator.

Because it’s ludicrous to think that the CIA might conspire with local gangsters in an plot to assassinate someone, he said, pushing aside the lid of the cryogenic chamber in which he had been frozen since 1958.

46

ajay 06.19.13 at 3:39 pm

Also, 18 and 35 are not only fairly juvenile, but – given the subject of this post – deeply ironic.

47

Tim Wilkinson 06.19.13 at 3:45 pm

Rich – I disagree – I think the linked comment is rather too obvious and aggressive. I don’t deny that similar tactics can be and no doubt are used, but that’s not really a great example in my opinion.

I do agree that much of Andrew F’s output can actually be useful as a kind of reminder of the kind of positions that need to be refuted, but overall I think it functions as a time-waster and, as here, a provider of some pretty insidious memes. Insistent repetition has its own persuasive power, even on those who consider themselves immune. Recall too that the audience of the site is much much wider than the pool of commenters, and will include some who are much more inclined to accept the kind of stuff AF churns out – stuff which they might not be exposed to, or not in such a receptive state of mind, elsewhere.

I agree that it generally doesn’t matter if someone is a stooge or just an amateur troll, and that there is no point in trying to divine the difference. It’s also normally rather bad form to start accusing people. Doing so may well backfire in any case, because the accusation can never be firmly substantiated, always has a tinfoilish quality and provides ample opportunity for wounded protestations about supposed ‘insults’. In Andrew F’s case, my comment was intended really as a pastiche of his own remarks about Snowden (notwithstanding “I don’t want to turn this into an argument about Snowden specifically” – do me a favour!), and not some quixotic attempt at stoogefinding. (Well done ajay, for getting halfway to the intended irony.) I thought this was rather obvious but apparently not.

On the broader topic of blog-comment propaganda – this not connected to Andrew F – it does of course matter if a commenter is or misrepresenting their own expertise or sincerity and are asserting authority or special knowledge – that’s a rather different matter, and it’s actually very hard to counter what one considers such inadmissible testimony (assuming that one supposes it might stick) without getting within an implication or two of the accusation of lying.

—-

DBW – glad someone else brought up the highly relevant topic of Hofstadter’s ‘paranoid style’, which is part of a wider tradition that includes Popper, Pipes junior etc., and has established something approaching a taboo among the educated classes, especially the media and academe. I disgaree that one can distinguish the ‘cultural criticism’ aspect from the personal smearing aspect though – the very use of the term ‘paranoid’ functions to blur that boundary very effectively. But I’ve done my proselytising about the ‘paranoid conspiracist’ trope on another thread, so will spare CT readers any more here.

48

Consumatopia 06.19.13 at 4:11 pm

Surely the greatest irony is in Andrew F insisting on psychoanalyzing Snowden while getting offended at people looking at his own motivations.

I don’t think it’s worth sorting out whether he’s paid or not, but I do think it’s worth making special note of his disingenuousness (whether paid or not), because he spends at least as much time on making performances of reasonability and assertions built on those performances as he does on actual logical arguments. That’s not to say that his posts are devoid of factual or even informative content–often they’re quite informative, if misleading–but he’s frequently trying to put himself in the role of a neutral arbiter of a discussion rather than as a participant within it.

Also, while Snowden’s underlying character has nothing to do with whether FISA procedures should be more transparent (in fact, if Snowden is dishonest but the NSA and CIA had dishonest people working for them, that’s more reason for transparency), our judgment of a poster’s underlying motivations probably has a lot to do with how we should engage with them.

Anyway, regarding his proposed psychoanalysis:

1,3, 6) People always have multiple reasons for everything they do. The problem is applying special scrutiny only when they challenge authority. I haven’t seen you take as much interest in psychology elsewhere as you have in this and other Snowden-related threads.

2). “Some think otherwise, of course.” Yes, they do. If two people with similar but not exactly the same political beliefs hold a different opinion on an action, then it’s not surprising that some of them endorse an action while others oppose it. Inarguably, a lot of people, including some other prominent leakers, hold beliefs that would recommend or require the sort of actions that Snowden engaged in. All talk of ‘not all libertarians do this’ is idiotic–there isn’t anything that all libertarians do.

4, 5) These will always tend to reflect more about the judge than the judged.

The explanation you gave for why many people with similar beliefs do not act as Snowden did is also problematic: Snowden also has family ties, relationships, and certain material comforts, so these items by themselves don’t suffice as an explanation.

Nothing is going to universally “suffice as an explanation” for human behavior. That’s a transparently ridiculous standard. There’s a tension here–political beliefs and values for some people inarguably point in Snowden’s direction, family ties, relationships and material comforts point in the other direction. There’s no surprise that when there is that kind of tension that most, but not all, people are pulled harder to the latter. Furthermore, given that there exist selfish reasons for avoiding radical action, that implies that it shouldn’t delegitimize those actions if there are selfish reasons for engaging in them as well. It may very well be the case that personal arrogance, desire for fame, or dissatisfaction with his life, in addition to genuine political belief, drives Snowden’s actions. But any honest discussion of Snowden would have to admit that genuine political belief is probably a large part of what drove Snowden, (whether or not his actions are ultimately misguided) and a lot of what prevents other people with Snowden’s values from emulating Snowden is not very laudable.

49

Bruce Wilder 06.19.13 at 4:35 pm

I presume Andrew F. is paid for his work. That the apparatus would pay someone to haunt a place as obscure as CT is scarier to me, than any projection onto an individual’s psyche.

50

Corey Robin 06.19.13 at 4:39 pm

DBW @ 42: “But it is in this sense that Robin’s _The Reactionary Mind_ is the inheritor of Hofstadter’s _The Paranoid Style_: an attempt to use abstracted psychological categories to characterize collective forms of belief.” If you could give me a specific example of where I do this, I’d be grateful. As I said above at 23, I think of that book as trying to describe a form of belief, as opposed to any kind of psychological category at all. And given that my first book on fear was dedicated to critiquing the whole Hofstadter line of argument re paranoid styles, precisely b/c of its psychologizing (I trace this back all the way to Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws and Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, but that’s another story), it’d be weird if I wound up writing a book doing the same. Not impossible, but improbable. Anyway, some specific examples of where I do this would be welcome. Thus far, no one’s given me one.

51

roger nowosielski 06.19.13 at 5:08 pm

@ In short, it’s all a matter of authentic versus inauthentic speech. Hard to prove, but you know it when you see it.

52

Ronan(rf) 06.19.13 at 5:22 pm

I wish someone would pay me to write comments on their blog.. Anyone? Bidding war? Used to be that you’d get a halfpenny to return the old milk bottles, back in the day, and a farthing if you washed them yourself. I assume this would be the contemporary alternative?

53

Marc 06.19.13 at 5:48 pm

Given the subject matter, it’s pretty ironic to see so many people trying to discredit, psychoanalyze, or otherwise belittle a blog commenter who writes things that they disagree with.

It’s almost as if the process of dismissing the other is not something that the locals are immune to.

54

roger nowosielski 06.19.13 at 6:10 pm

Tedious as his arguments have been — his greatest fault, imho — I’m not quite convinced that Andrew F. has not been genuine.

55

Shatterface 06.19.13 at 6:13 pm

I’d like to emphasize what Shatterface says. Not only does this labelling of “bad” people as “mad” people serve to undermine their political convictions, but it also stigmatizes psychiatric diagnoses by associating “mad” people with “all kinds of crazy (s0c) stuff”.

Thanks. It reminds me that when a correlation was discovered between atheism and Asperger’s some religious commentators siezed on this to discredit atheists as ‘mentally deficient’. As an Aspie and an atheist I found this doubly offensive since they were dismissing my atheism as a result of my neurotype and dismissing my neurotype as a defect.

The alternative hypothesis that belief in gods is a spandrel associated with a misapplication of Theory of Mind to non-thinking phenomena was ignored.

56

Bruce Wilder 06.19.13 at 6:19 pm

The artful, discretionary “dismissing of the other” is a valuable craft skill, to be husbanded and conserved.

57

roger nowosielski 06.19.13 at 6:26 pm

@55

Thomas Szasz in The Myth of Mental Illness has long alerted us to the fact that ascriptions of madness, et cetera, and many acts of labeling of “deviance” in general, are but forms of social control. Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, as well as extensive critique of the medical profession, paints the same picture in living color.

58

DBW 06.19.13 at 6:31 pm

Corey@50: Don’t have the book with me today, but will be able to look and be more specific in the next couple of days, if you can wait. I actually thought I was absolving you of the charge of psychologizing the political activities or beliefs of particular persons by putting your book in the tradition of Hofstadter–concerned with collective forms of belief and using psychological categories as metaphors to understand systems of intellectual orientation, rather than clinical diagnostics. Being compared to Hofstadter is a complement in my book! The very notion of a “reactionary mind” speaks to this use of psychological metaphor to understand political thought. But, as I say, I can get back to you with more specifics.

59

Barry 06.19.13 at 6:58 pm

Tim: “Andrew F’s line is inconsistent here, since he seems to suggest both that Snowden is far more culpable than Ellsberg and yet – madly enough – that S would be well advised to come home and face the music!”

It’s just a variation on the ‘it’s old news, move along, nothing to see’ combined with ‘he’s a traitor for leaking classified information’. And, of course, the establishment press has now openly admitted ‘authorized leaks good, unauthorized leaks bad’.

60

Shatterface 06.19.13 at 7:00 pm

I was going to query the title of the thread since not all of the psychological terminology being thrown at political oponents is psychanalytical.

Psychoanalysis is a very specific cluster of pseudoscientific theories associated with Freud, Jung and others: it’s not taken particularly seriously by psychologists as a whole and it’s arguably only political and literary theorists who have prevented it sinking into well deserved obscurity.

Psychoanalysis is particularly useful since it makes claims that are impossible to refute: contradictory evidence can be twisted into confirmation by invoking imaginary psychodynamic processes like reaction formation or denial.

You can’t get away with that kind of bullshit by claiming someone has a brain tumour: they can disprove this with a brain scan.

And it’s fascinating that even qualified practitioners of psychoanalysis will diagnose, with absolute conviction, the neuroses of someone they haven’t met – or even groups of people they haven’t met – but spend years or even decades before making a tentative diagnosis of a paying client.

61

Collin Street 06.19.13 at 8:09 pm

I mean, if Andrew F were posting about Doctor Who/football/trains/whatever this would be an easy call, but apparently politics is special or something.

He’s a Sad Internet Obsessive, with his particular bent being political rather than Star Trek or how Batman could totally beat everyone.

62

novakant 06.19.13 at 9:48 pm

#60

I don’t know, the basic assumptions of psychoanalysis listed in points 1-6 here all seem pretty convincing to me. Besides, it’s not so much about the analyst coming up with a definitive and comprehensive diagnosis – because even if that was possible what would you do with it? go home and change your life? – but rather about a gradual, dialectical process of self- discovery. (Of course there are idiots like in any other field.)

63

Shatterface 06.20.13 at 1:20 am

No, there’s no evidence that any of those psychodynamic processes exist and point 4 is self-refuting since if it were true we wouldn’t even suspect it were true. Much of Freud’s own work was fraudulent, he misdiagnosed actual medical problems (including cancer) as neuroses and psychoanalysis as a whole is proven ineffective at best.

It’s a pseudoscience based on steam age metaphors. Psychoanalysis is to psychology what astrology is to astronomy, or inteligent design is to Darwinism. Freud was the L Ron Hubbard of his day.

64

gordon 06.20.13 at 2:57 am

This reminds me of some US comic books of the 1950s, particularly Batman and Dick Tracy. In both, villains were weird. We remember The Joker, The Penguin, Mr Freeze etc. from Batman, and Flattop and others (it’s been a long time; there were others but I can’t remember them) from Dick Tracy. Is there a social-psychological analysis about the weird differentness of these people? I’m sure there must be!

Oh, and don’t forget – re: Fiedler – that “Encounter” was CIA-sponsored.

65

JimF 06.20.13 at 3:50 am

gordon@64: see Arthur Asa Berger, The Comic-Stripped American and Lil Abner: A Study in American Satire.

66

Tim Wilkinson 06.20.13 at 1:32 pm

I don’t think it’s quite been explicitly stated, but obviously one function of psychopathologising certain opinions or outlooks is ‘agnotogenic’ – deterring people from adopting a certain opinion for fear of being thought defective in some way (or indeed of actually being defective – subliminal defence mechanisms are no respecter of the direction of causation). I refer to the Emperor’s Clothes parable for illustration (though in actuality this kind of groupthink is more robust than in the story – the naive child is normally told to shut up).

This function can be recognised regardless of what kind of (or of kinds of) functional explanation one prefers – intentional, quasi-Darwinian, structuralist, something else, or – most plausibly – some combination of some of these, possibly nested.

I of course personally have in mind the particular example of the ‘paranoid’ conspiracy theorist, and could recite a long list of variations on the theme that run the gamut of pathologising, psychologising, and purported diagnosis of cognitive flaws. But the phenomenon goes wider than the specific case of ‘conspiracy theories’.

Note of course that I am here in some sense ‘psychologising’ the consumers of psychologising tactics (Marc: I don’t do so ironically, so maybe it’s ironic that I do so). I think this is fair enough, though, since it’s not an arbitrary psychological gloss overlaid on a different subject matter in ad personam fashion. Rather the discussion is fundamentally concerned with psychologically manipulative rhetoric – a bit of ‘agnotology’, if you like. I’m not trying to bully or shame or place any blame. Of course the anti-conspiracy theorists (to stick to my preferred case) as ever have a spurious ad hoc answer for that too: To observe such phenomena, I must consider myself impervious to them, so my observations are born of a supercilious self aggrandisement, and are tantamount to Dismissing the Other as ‘sheeple’ – a term I hear complained about far more than actually used, btw.

But anyway, my main point was just to explicitly observe that the psychologising/pathologising of certain opinions often performs an agnotogenic function.

67

Andrew F. 06.20.13 at 5:24 pm

Consum, you misread my comment. I described in general my views on when we legitimately look for psychological explanations that discount political beliefs, and when we illegitimately discount political beliefs. The list of characteristics I mentioned certainly do not all apply to Snowden. There is no psychoanalysis of Snowden in my comment, proposed or otherwise.

As to the value of explanation that relies on the presence of political beliefs, if a very high percentage of persons WITH the beliefs proposed as an explanation do NOT engage in the behavior we seek to explain, then the explanation simply is a bad explanation (in comparison with good social science explanations – I’m not imposing expectations of explanation that we would apply in something like physics). In fact it’s likely to be a “just so” story in the worst sense, mixed well with whatever biases we bring to the table.

Tim, Bruce, it’s true. I’m paid to make comments here in order to influence your opinion. Handsomely paid in fact. You are both that important. Right now there is a special team from an extra-special-spicy-hot #5 codeword classified CIA unit (composed of overpaid contractors working out of a hotel bar on Waikiki) who do nothing but analyze your comments for the President. And let me tell you, he’s worried. Really worried. If you can uncover information operations as high speed and covert as this one, what else can you see? He thinks he’s playing 11 dimensional chess, but maybe it’s all as transparent as tic-tac-toe to you. Do you guys also know about our efforts to inflate the number of “Likes” that the NSA gets on Facebook? What about our undercover operatives on the Jersey Shore, Big Brother, and various telenovelas? Anyway, we’re shutting down the whole op. Nicely done connecting those X’s and O’s.

68

novakant 06.20.13 at 9:00 pm

#63

Funny, the majority of the listed axioms would seem pretty evident to me, simply by observing human behaviour or watching any half-decent film, play or TV drama.

To commemorate the passing of James Gandolfini here’s a nice article on the The Sopranos and psychoanalysis.

69

Limericky Dicky 06.21.13 at 12:27 am

Accusers said Edward J Snowden
betrayed those to whom he’s beholden.
Beleagered and flustered, he
surrendered to custody,
and now wears a jumpsuit with mould on.

70

Fu Ko 06.21.13 at 9:35 am

My money says Corey Robin’s critics in this thread did not read his book. Either way, there’s nothing “psychological” about his analysis. Quite the opposite: it posits a material, rather than psychological, motivation for the paradox of right-wing “irrationality.” It is psychological only in the sense that it refutes psychological explanations of the right.

Also, whether Andrew F. is a paid shill or not, it’s far from implausible that paid shills would write on a blog such as CT. I’ve seen PR campaigns for relatively minor bands sic unpaid interns on forums far more obscure. Astroturfing is a real thing. And CT is not all that obscure. E.g., it has its own Wikipedia article — which mentions that CT was ranked in Technorati’s Top 100 blogs, and ranked number 33 in The Guardian’s list of the world’s 50 most important blogs. If we look only at left-wing political blogs, CT would be ranked quite high indeed.

It is eminently plausible for a well-funded PR campaign to have shills posting to literally all of the top 100 political blogs.

71

Tim Wilkinson 06.21.13 at 1:14 pm

Huffington Post
10 Jun 2013
Christopher York

Ken Clarke Explains David Cameron’s Bilderberg Visit After Question From Michael Meacher

In scenes of anticipation unmatched in the Commons since the Iraq War vote, ministers have been forced to explain their attendance to the the sinisterly secretive Bilderberg meeting last weekend after an MP was granted permission to ask an ‘urgent question’.

To make things even more exciting Ken Clarke would be answering on their behalf.

Tellingly, asking the question would be MP Michael Meacher, the very same Michael Meacher who wrote the foreword for 9/11 government cover-up book, ‘The New Pearl Harbour’.

Clearly the entire Commons, not to mention the fevered journalists watching events unfold, were expecting a conspiracy of the highest degree (magnitude David Icke or above).

Would the entire British government be exposed as one copulating reptilian mass controlling us all through tainted milk supplies?

Would Ken Clarke turn up without his human skin exposing his true rough scaly, and (possibly) flakey lizard form?

Was John Bercow’s decision to allow the question all part of a ruse to deflect attention form the Speaker’s true role of ‘New World Order Puppeteer’?

Is the whole thing a carefully constructed ploy to keep Alex Jones’ attention away from the real global conspiracy of why Theresa May appears to be developing terrifying and deadly psychic powers?

After getting the rather tedious business of immigration and policing out of the way, the question came. Urgently.

“I rise to ask the chancellor of the exchequer to now to make a statement on the Bilderberg conference which he attended.”

The chancellor rose looking relaxed and licking his lips with his (possibly) forked tongue.

“Mr Speaker this is a first time for me as I have never previously been asked a question in the House of Commons on behalf of a private organisation for which the government has no responsibility.”

Clarke outlined his role as part of the steering committee and then set out in exasperated tones the terrible dullness of the reality of Bilderberg.

It is “for no other purpose than to hold meetings”, invites a wide-range of people but “takes no decisions”.

Even Ed Balls was there, he added.

Clearly struggling to make a meeting of some of the top business and political minds in the world the slightest bit conspiratorial, Clarke exclaimed: “I’m trying to guess at what on Earth people are asking a parliamentary question about for!

“If the honourable member for Oldham finds something deeply disturbing in all this then I would only advise he finds different people to exchange tweets with!

“Perhaps the House will be allowed to return to something of real public interest.”

This was still not enough Meacher. He demanded transparency. Then he got confused about what the word “conspiracy” meant.

“Of course it’s not a conspiracy!

“But at the same time we’ve got 130 of the world’s top decision makers don’t travel thousands of miles simply for a cosy chat!”

Which is it to be, Mr Meacher? To conspiracy or not to conspiracy?

Somewhere, not too far away, Alex Jones got even angrier.

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Shatterface 06.21.13 at 6:34 pm

Funny, the majority of the listed axioms would seem pretty evident to me, simply by observing human behaviour or watching any half-decent film, play or TV drama.

Freud’s theories are still taught in film and literature courses so if fictional characters behave according to Freudian conventions that’s no more evidence of the ‘truth’ of psychoanalysis than the behaviour of characters in the work of L Ron Hubbard proves the axioms of scientology.

Do you really want to have sex with your mother? Do you identify with your father as a reaction to your fear of being castrated by him for your incestuous desire? Do all women lust after their father and suffer from the shame of castration? Why is there no actual scientific evidence for any of this after over a century? How did Freud ‘discover’ all this when the defence mechanism he describes would prevent him from doing so? Why did he come up with a theory about male psychosexual development first, then extend it to women by analogy when his patients were almost exclusively women? Why do women stubbornly cling to the idea their clitoris is a legitimate source of pleasure when Freud thinks they should have transferrd all these fealings to their vagina?

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Consumatopia 06.21.13 at 9:25 pm

Consum, you misread my comment. I described in general my views on when we legitimately look for psychological explanations that discount political beliefs, and when we illegitimately discount political beliefs. The list of characteristics I mentioned certainly do not all apply to Snowden. There is no psychoanalysis of Snowden in my comment, proposed or otherwise.

I did not misread your comment. You did, in fact, analyze Snowden’s psychological motivations @3 and @33. You are now lying about this, even though we can all scroll up and see that you’re lying. Even a couple of the numbered points @33 mention Snowden’s case specifically as an example. I understood that although you were psychoanalyzing Snowden, you intended those numbered to apply generally (though obviously you wouldn’t have bothered crafting a set of general principles for legitimately delegitimizing political motivations if you didn’t want to delegitimize Snowden’s political motivations). My objections to those points also apply generally.

As to the value of explanation that relies on the presence of political beliefs, if a very high percentage of persons WITH the beliefs proposed as an explanation do NOT engage in the behavior we seek to explain, then the explanation simply is a bad explanation (in comparison with good social science explanations – I’m not imposing expectations of explanation that we would apply in something like physics). In fact it’s likely to be a “just so” story in the worst sense, mixed well with whatever biases we bring to the table.

So much idiocy in such a short amount of text.

A) I’m not trying to build a predictive model of whistleblowing. I’m just pointing out what’s bogus about your psychoanalysis–we know that people have lots of motivations for avoiding actions even when those actions are called for by their beliefs. We also know that lots of people hold beliefs that would call for what Snowden has done (thus the praise Snowden receives from some quarters, including other whistleblowers.) It therefore makes no sense to use other people’s inaction, or (some) other people’s disagreement with Snowden’s actions, as evidence that Snowden does not believe as he says he does.

B) You are not distinguishing between sufficient and necessary causes. As I wrote, “It may very well be the case that personal arrogance, desire for fame, or dissatisfaction with his life, in addition to genuine political belief, drives Snowden’s actions.” I think Snowden’s political beliefs are a necessary, not sufficient, cause for Snowden to act as he did. If you insist on correlations (though n is absurdly small here), ask yourself how many people WITHOUT Snowden’s claimed beliefs would act as Snowden is acting. You’re talking to me about causation and giving me a conditional probability claim, but what you need to disprove is difference between two conditional probabilities, e.g. Pr(Action|Belief) and Pr(Action|Absence of belief).

C). Because no set of a beliefs could be a sufficient cause for a person’s action (belief, alone, causes nothing), the tendency to analyze the associated causes only when people deviate from the norm is a bad and pernicious form of analysis. It leads us to mistaken conclusions (the “just so” stories that you, not I, have spent the thread stitching) and serves the interests of authoritarians (which is, of course, the point.)

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Andrew F. 06.21.13 at 11:39 pm

Oy vey.

Consum, I wrote that my set of characteristics applies when we legitimately look for factors beyond political beliefs. I noted that political beliefs are problematic in those instances as complete explanations. In other words I listed instances where we would legitimately look for factors beyond professed political beliefs. That does not mean political beliefs cannot be part of the explanation in such cases.

I finished my comment at 33 by noting:

I do think that many of these factors can run together. The behavior of the expositor, after all, is as subject to mixed motivations and factors as the behavior of the expositor’s subject.

As to Snowden, I haven’t given any explanation at all for his behavior; I noted briefly that some think that certain of his actions went well beyond what would be required or justified by his professed political beliefs, and I also carefully noted that some disagree that assessment.

You called that argument “psychoanalysis.” That’s not “psychoanalysis” as I use the term, or as the term is usually used. Instead it’s a view as to what actions are required or justified by certain beliefs. You called my view idiotic, and a lie; I’ll be kinder and apply the terms idiosyncratic and idiopathic to the causes of those two claims.

As to the number of people who leaked top secret information and then fled to a foreign country, let me just say, with a glance at much of the 20th century, that a fair number of those people weren’t libertarians, strictly speaking.

And speaking of that period in our history, incidentally, it tends to be the authoritarians who look for “dangerous beliefs,” not the tolerant.

Finally, I’d say much of the thread now amply illustrates the problems with attributing bad motives to interlocutors hastily – but you should certainly provide another example if you’re up to it. I’m out.

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Consumatopia 06.22.13 at 1:22 am

This is exactly why it’s important to call out liars. Because I’ll run out of time before Andrew F runs out of lies. Paid shill? No idea. But dishonest and unreasonable? That evidence is right on my screen, and I see no reason not to point it out.

I mean, it started quite early, with ” I don’t want to turn this into an argument about Snowden specifically”, despite your post @3, and your discussion of Snowden’s motivations elsewhere. It doesn’t piss me off so much that you’re lying as that you think anyone is stupid enough to buy bullshit that transparent.

As to Snowden, I haven’t given any explanation at all for his behavior; I noted briefly that some think that certain of his actions went well beyond what would be required or justified by his professed political beliefs, and I also carefully noted that some disagree that assessment.

You called that argument “psychoanalysis.”

No, I did not call that argument psychoanalysis. You went beyond that argument.

In the other thread, you said “This isn’t whistle-blowing. This seems now to be a very misguided enterprise of self-aggrandizement.” (The errors that lead you to that conclusion were pointed out.) In this thread, the purpose of your first post was to justify psychological analysis of Snowden. “The unusual nature of [Snowden's] behavior, and other facets intriguing to us as social creatures, compel us to ask ‘what is different about this person, such that he did X, while most people with similar beliefs, or exposed to similar beliefs, did not?’”

The narrower argument you now limit yourself too is still idiotic. If many people sincerely disagree with your claim that Snowden’s actions were unjustified by Snowden’s claimed beliefs (I certainly do), then Snowden probably belongs to that set of people. It tells us absolutely nothing that some people disagree with Snowden or that some people agree with some of what Snowden says but not all of it–that’s true for every possible belief.

As to the number of people who leaked top secret information and then fled to a foreign country, let me just say, with a glance at much of the 20th century, that a fair number of those people weren’t libertarians, strictly speaking.

How many of those leakers gave information about surveillance to reporters interested in civil liberties to share with the public, then continued to make public statements and arguments about that surveillance? No one has entirely pure motives, but it’s unlikely that Snowden’s political stance is just an elaborate ruse. It is harder to explain Snowden’s actions without political belief than it is to explain them with those beliefs. (That’s not a complete explanation, but no one was demanding a “complete explanation” but you, and you only demanded that of other people, never yourself.)

Consum, I wrote that my set of characteristics applies when we legitimately look for factors beyond political beliefs.

Actually, the implication was the other direction, you said that “We legitimately look for factors beyond political beliefs when …”. I explained why some of those factors would be very useful for delegitimizing people outside the norm, and not very useful for honest analysis. When someone challenges the state, we look at them closely for other motivations. If someone just follows orders, we take their stated politics for granted–even though, just like for those challenging the state, they have combinations of motivations just like everyone else.

And speaking of that period in our history, incidentally, it tends to be the authoritarians who look for “dangerous beliefs,” not the tolerant.

Funny how you put something in quotes but Ctrl-F says nobody said that. Of course, some ideas are wrong in harmful ways. If you want to believe incorrect things that cause people harm, well, it’s a free country. But it is, in fact, usually the authoritarians who show as little regard for truth as you do.

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roger nowosielski 06.22.13 at 3:24 am

Just re-read your article, Corey, and this passage caught my attention:

“For whenever liberal intellectuals are confronted with political extremism, the knotty social intelligence that normally informs their work unravels. The radical is reduced to a true believer, his beliefs a litany of crazy proverbs, his personality an inscrutable paranoia. Whether the cause is communism or the Black Panthers, feminism or the abolitionists, the liberal resorts to a familiar ghost story—of the self, evacuated for the sake of an incoming ideology—where, as is true of all such tales, the main character is never the ghost but always the teller.”

If I get the gist of most of the subsequent comments on this thread correctly, the bulk of the critique against “psycbologizing” has been directed against the right, very little against the left, the liberal left. And now I wonder, since most of the interlocutors on CT threads fall into the very category of people you’re indicting, very few are true radicals.

And so I ask in earnest: What’s with this massive denial? Does most everyone hear suffer from a collective myopia?

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roger nowosielski 06.22.13 at 3:25 am

… here …

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Fu Ko 06.22.13 at 3:59 am

Roger, actually, it’s just that we’re all crypto-radical extremists here. Didn’t you know?

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Andrew F. 06.22.13 at 7:51 am

[snipped various comments to the effect that I am a lying liar, the importance of noting that I am a lying liar, that Consum is pissed that I have so little regard for his ability to spot bullshit, and assorted and vituperative name-calling] I mean, it started quite early, with ” I don’t want to turn this into an argument about Snowden specifically”, despite your post @3, and your discussion of Snowden’s motivations elsewhere. It doesn’t piss me off so much that you’re lying as that you think anyone is stupid enough to buy bullshit that transparent.

My post @3 includes two references to Snowden, out of about 24-25 sentences and 500 words.

And when someone responded just to those two references, I stated up front and clearly that, given the OP’s more general point, I did not want to turn this into a discussion of Snowden in particular.

Hell, that was my second post in the thread. It’s pretty damn clear. Now, in other threads there has been much more discussion of Snowden, but some of us are able to discuss more general issues related to Snowden without personal insults and paroxysms of paranoia. To repeat for you, I stated here that the OP had a more general point in mind, and so I did not wish to turn the discussion into a hashing out of Snowden.

You proceeded to misread as a “psychoanalysis” of Snowden my summary of general instances of when we find legitimately that political beliefs fail to suffice as explanations (to guard against a repetition of an earlier misreading by you, that’s fail to suffice as explanations which does not imply political beliefs are never factors). Indeed, you write regarding his [Snowden's] proposed psychoanalysis: and followed that colon by addressing each general instance I gave as though it were all part of a psychoanalysis of Snowden, with varying degrees of coherence.

I suggested to you in response that you’ve misread my comment, and that I haven’t psychoanalyzed Snowden; that I haven’t offered any explanation at all for his behavior here. I’ve referred to particular aspects of his case here and there as an example of a more general point, carefully noting when others might disagree with my characterization of the example.

The question is whether, assuming that X has undertaken action P because, he claims, of political belief B, we are justified in looking beyond B as an explanation when action P is not required or justified by B.

Whether Snowden fits or does not fit into that general description, whether he is or is not a good example, is a sideshow here – even though it may well be in the main event in another discussion or another thread. Though it’s not nearly as wasteful a sideshow as the bizarrely childish accusations of lying and bad faith found in so many of the comments above, including yours. It’s a little sad when threads on reddit are able to demonstrate more respectful discussion of different viewpoints than conversations on CT.

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Consumatopia 06.22.13 at 11:21 am

It is, indeed, important to emphasize that you are lying. No discussion can go anywhere once you start misrepresenting the discussion itself. It is absolutely hilarious to see you talking about good faith after your transparent misrepresentations.

My post @3 includes two references to Snowden, out of about 24-25 sentences and 500 words.

Yes, indeed, you have three sentences referring specifically to Snowden. (Which puts an end to any claim that you “didn’t want to turn the thread into a discussion of the specifics of Snowden”.) The rest of the post is dedicated to a justification of a closer look at “psychological explanations” for events you deem to be of an “unusual nature”.

And when someone responded just to those two references, I stated up front and clearly that, given the OP’s more general point, I did not want to turn this into a discussion of Snowden in particular.

Someone responded to your 3 sentences directly referencing Snowden with 5 sentences. It obviously didn’t “turn into” a discussion of Snowden–Snowden was in the discussion from the start.

Hell, that was my second post in the thread. It’s pretty damn clear.

Yes, it is indeed pretty damn clear. You’re lying. You were discussing Snowden from the start, and in the second post. You also discussed “general” issues, to apply to all the other “unusual” people like Snowden. You did both. Anyone can scroll up to 3 and 33 and see this.

Now, in other threads there has been much more discussion of Snowden, but some of us are able to discuss more general issues related to Snowden without personal insults and paroxysms of paranoia. To repeat for you, I stated here that the OP had a more general point in mind, and so I did not wish to turn the discussion into a hashing out of Snowden.

Except that your discussion of the “general issues related to Snowden” is so shallow that it’s clear that your only interested in it because of Snowden–because you want to justify the kind of psychoanalytical sliming that people like him are faced with.

You proceeded to misread as a “psychoanalysis” of Snowden my summary of general instances of when we find legitimately that political beliefs fail to suffice as explanations (to guard against a repetition of an earlier misreading by you, that’s fail to suffice as explanations which does not imply political beliefs are never factors). Indeed, you write “regarding his [Snowden's] proposed psychoanalysis”: and followed that colon by addressing each general instance I gave as though it were all part of a psychoanalysis of Snowden, with varying degrees of coherence.

“regarding his [Snowden's] proposed psychoanalysis” “his” does not refer to Snowden, it refers to you, Andrew, the one who is proposing psychoanalysis. While the 7 points may not represent psychoanalysis, they do represent proposed psychoanalysis–calling for and defending psychoanalysis in a wider (but not fully general, and therein lies the problem) set of cases that includes Snowden’s.

Indeed, we can see that although my response to those points mentioned Snowden (just the points themselves mentioned Snowden!) I was addressing them just as generally as you wrote them–I disputed your claim that “We legitimately look for factors beyond political beliefs when…” any of those seven factors applies–some of those factors lead to flawed or disingenuous analysis.

You misread me if you think I ever claimed that political beliefs suffice as “complete explanation” I keep repeating this, BTW, because you keep repeating the error you made @33, claiming that I proposed anything as a “complete explanation”. (Your post at 67 seems to indicate that you’re looking for complete explanations, calling anything else a “just so” story, but given that that post was a confused muddle for reasons outlined at 73, I should let that one slide.)

Anyway, “complete explanation” is a standard that you invented in responding to me. The whole point of my first post @12 (to say nothing of the OP) was to point out that beliefs don’t suffice as complete explanation for “normal” people any more than they do for “unusual” people. The problem is the tendency to paper over the normal person’s hypocrisies while casting special attention over “unusual” people. This is not only a problem for justice and fairness, it’s a problem for analysis–science doesn’t just seek to explain “unusual” things, it should apply to the ordinary and the extraordinary alike.

I suggested to you in response that you’ve misread my comment, and that I haven’t psychoanalyzed Snowden; that I haven’t offered any explanation at all for his behavior here. I’ve referred to particular aspects of his case here and there as an example of a more general point, carefully noting when others might disagree with my characterization of the
example.

You’re defending psychoanalysis of Snowden, such as you engaged in very recently and is linked to in the OP. If you cite an example to back up your general point, it’s perfectly reasonable for others to refute what you say about the example in the process of refuting your general point (or even just because they disagree with what you say about the example.) You started out talking about Snowden, for some reason you wanted to hide that.

And you were not so careful to acknowledge disagreement over your belief that Snowden’s actions are inconsistent with his stated motivations. Indeed, it wouldn’t make sense for you to acknowledge that disagreement, because it’s hard to argue that someone is being insincere because their actions and stated beliefs diverge when there is wide disagreement over whether there actually is any divergence–Snowden, quite plausibly, is on the other side of that disagreement, and thinks his actions are consistent on this point.

The question is whether, assuming that X has undertaken action P because, he claims, of political belief B, we are justified in looking beyond B as an explanation when action P is not required or justified by B.

No, the question whether we are justified in looking beyond B as an explanation when it is widely argued that P is required or justified by B. And the answer to that may well be yes, the problem with your analysis is not that you’re looking beyond political motives, but that you’re very selectively interested in looking beyond political motives. Which is what the OP is talking about.

Whether Snowden fits or does not fit into that general description, whether he is or is not a good example, is a sideshow here

I don’t think it is, but, hey, you were talking about exactly that. You claimed that Snowden fit that description, and you repeatedly used him as an example. That you’re now distancing yourself from that says a lot.

I doubt very much that you are finished. That’s why I’m making my judgment of your dishonesty public. Those who understandably, decided not to spend their time verifying that you lied (which is what’s so convenient about lying about the very discussion you’re engaged in–you can just lie even more when people point that out) will at least know that dishonesty is something to be on the look out for from you.

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Consumatopia 06.22.13 at 1:14 pm

just the points themselves mentioned Snowden

should be just as the points themselves mentioned Snowden.

And you were not so careful to acknowledge disagreement over your belief that Snowden’s actions are inconsistent with his stated motivations.

not so careful in your first post, I meant to say. Not sure why I bother since you’re just going to lie about what I say anyway…

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Andrew F. 06.22.13 at 3:15 pm

You misread me if you think I ever claimed that political beliefs suffice as “complete explanation” I keep repeating this, BTW, because you keep repeating the error you made @33, claiming that I proposed anything as a “complete explanation”.

I did not say you proposed anything as a complete explanation. I did not say that anyone did in fact. Not every claim in a comment is directed as a disagreement. If you’re interpreting statements in that stance, then it’s no wonder you’re having problems understanding what you’re reading. I highlighted my statement that we always act with mixed motivations, in fact, to show you that we largely agreed. You really ought to take a breath, and try rereading before you respond – you’re unintentionally providing a clinic on how written communication can lead to miscommunication.

What I did say is that we sometimes look beyond political beliefs as explanations for legitimate reasons (as well as illegitimate reasons). Do you seriously disagree with that statement? Of course not. Now I know that you want to explode here and tell me that yes, of course I don’t you ragingly dishonest idiot, what I said was… but hold your eagerness for the self-satisfying rant in abeyance for a while, and continue to read. I’m getting to where you disagree.

I then gave seven general characteristics that might legitimately justify adducing factors other than political beliefs to explain a given action. You object to the application of some of them to Snowden, and to the perceived spirit in which they’re being applied at all to Snowden.

Here’s the key point Consum. It doesn’t make any difference to the validity of the characteristics I gave whether they’re being applied correctly to Snowden, or being applied correctly but with malicious intent. It’s not important to the general discussion. That’s why I’m entirely happy to jettison Snowden as a particular example for the purposes of this discussion. I also gave the example of a paranoid schizophrenic – I view the nature of paranoid schizophrenia to be as essential to the discussion as Snowden (which is to say, not essential at all). Do you think that I want to turn the thread into a discussion of paranoid schizophrenia? Of course not.

Bizarrely you attack me as being dishonest and distancing myself from my views on Snowden; you note suspiciously that my interest in beliefs and psychological factors was not in evidence until Snowden made himself public. It’s almost as though you geared up for a rhetoric filled fight about Snowden, waged against the evil authoritarians with an indignant fury that makes your keyboard tremble, and you can’t quite accept that what you’ve encountered instead are some general speculations about the place of political beliefs in explanations of behavior. Believe it or not Consum, my interest in explanations generally – and my interest in political behavior – and my interest in a great many things – pre-date my awareness of Snowden.

Confusingly, you called my list of characteristics “proposed psychoanalysis,” which it’s not. I also gave more particular examples of those general instances ranging from the paranoid schizophrenic’s professed political beliefs to the ordinary thief who attempts to call himself Robin Hood to a disgruntled employee’s cry for information transparency to a defector from an authoritarian government who suddenly found himself an ardent democrat.

You object to my focus on unusual behavior, noting that so called normal behavior requires more than political beliefs for explanation. I agree with you. Since the OP focused on our approach to explaining instances of unusual behavior, I’ve focused on the same. But the general points I raise are as applicable to attempts to explain behavior undertaken by most of a given population as they are to instances of unusual behavior. If you’ve read them as somehow being restricted to unusual behavior, then that’s another example of misreading on your part.

Anyway, in the future try taking people a little more at their word in a discussion, even when topics come up that you’re passionate about. I think you’ll find that conversations become more fruitful, and that you’ll actually be able to better understand their points. You’ll also save yourself the pointless aggravation of reacting to non-existent dishonesty or deception. Best of luck to you Consum. Take care.

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Buck 06.22.13 at 3:54 pm

If you didn’t catcn it on cryptome last night you missed some of the most evil stuff
Snoweden has revealed to the world. Numerous manuals on hacking into many, many coporations and also one called “White House Spy manual”. Nasty stuff. Cryptome says ithe material is with a citizen review board and has filed a lawsuit in Federal Court. No doubt numerous other copies abound.

OFF topic, also a humorous tale about a Guccifer Bush. probably something to do with Carlysle group.

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Consumatopia 06.22.13 at 4:15 pm

I did not say you proposed anything as a complete explanation.

Earlier, you wrote:

The explanation you gave for why many people with similar beliefs do not act as Snowden did is also problematic: Snowden also has family ties, relationships, and certain material comforts, so these items by themselves don’t suffice as an explanation.

There is, of course, no problem unless you thought I was trying to offer a complete explanation, though I made it explicit I was not.

Or:

As to the value of explanation that relies on the presence of political beliefs, if a very high percentage of persons WITH the beliefs proposed as an explanation do NOT engage in the behavior we seek to explain, then the explanation simply is a bad explanation (in comparison with good social science explanations – I’m not imposing expectations of explanation that we would apply in something like physics). In fact it’s likely to be a “just so” story in the worst sense, mixed well with whatever biases we bring to the table.

This makes no sense unless I was offering a sufficient explanation for Snowden’s actions, which neither of us were.

It is not that I am interpreting every statement of yours as a disagreement. It is that the particularly statements you made either claimed to be objections to me or make no sense in any other interpretation.

I then gave seven general characteristics that might legitimately justify adducing factors other than political beliefs to explain a given action.

You did not say “might”. This is an important distinction, because it means that if you’re principles can be used to justify the kind of slime that was linked to in the OP, then your principles are invalid. That means that even if you discard an example, other people can still keep using the example to refute your claim. So when you say “It doesn’t make any difference to the validity of the characteristics I gave whether they’re being applied correctly to Snowden, or being applied correctly but with malicious intent.”, that’s false. In the original form you wrote 33, it would matter.

That said, even in weakened form, The example of Snowden, and all the libertarian non-Snowdens, illustrates the emptiness of the first two of your seven principles. It doesn’t make sense to expect beliefs to “predict” behavior, nor is it interesting that some people agree on some but not all things. These will result in bad analysis even if applied neutrally–they just aren’t sensible.

You object to my focus on unusual behavior, noting that so called normal behavior requires more than political beliefs for explanation. I agree with you. Since the OP focused on our approach to explaining instances of unusual behavior, I’ve focused on the same. But the general points I raise are as applicable to attempts to explain behavior undertaken by most of a given population as they are to instances of unusual behavior. If you’ve read them as somehow being restricted to unusual behavior, then that’s another example of misreading on your part.

Go back to post 3. You were not just discussing the analysis of unusual behavior, you were justifying applying more analysis to unusual behavior.

(I’ll concede that you may not have continued to insist on this point in later posts, but I can hardly be blamed for criticizing what you said earlier when you hadn’t disavowed it.)

Here’s the thing. You were a lot more interested than anyone else in looking at Snowden’s motivations in other threads. You also continued to say (illogically) that there was some inconsistency between his actions and claimed beliefs (there might be some inconsistency, but not in the way you’re indicating.) And here we have a post on “Edward Snowden’s Retail Psychoanalysts in the Media”, in which you were compelled to defend the application of additional psychological scrutiny to the “unusual”, with several references to Snowden. (Precisely the kind of error the OP was talking about.)

When people object to what you’ve said about Snowden, or use Snowden as an example of what’s wrong with your general principles (just as you used Snowden to illustrate your principles), you say “I don’t want to turn this into an argument about Snowden specifically”. Despite your analysis of Snowden’s psychological motivations, or your defense of selective psychological analysis, you claim that you aren’t proposing any psychoanalysis. Andrew, that is a lie.

It’s almost as though you geared up for a rhetoric filled fight about Snowden, waged against the evil authoritarians with an indignant fury that makes your keyboard tremble, and you can’t quite accept that what you’ve encountered instead are some general speculations about the place of political beliefs in explanations of behavior

It’s almost as though you realized that what you wrote at 3 was clearly reprehensible, so you’ve spent the rest of thread trying to obscure it. (Perhaps to yourself as well?)

You present quite the dilemma, Andrew. I’ll admit, you do enhance a lot of the discussion you’re involved in. But if you’re going to start lying about the conversation as you’re engaging in it, then it’s pointless to engage with you. That is what I take from this discussion. In any event, I have no interest in conversation advice from proven liars. Good luck to you as well.

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Purple Platypus 06.22.13 at 9:30 pm

Are there no moderators around? The pissing match between Consumatopia and Andrew F got pointless about ten posts back.

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jonnybutter 06.23.13 at 12:58 pm

Trolling is most certainly a very serious business.

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jonnybutter 06.23.13 at 6:35 pm

sorry – ht for the above to Ben Alpers

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Mao Cheng Ji 06.23.13 at 8:18 pm

I must say, all things considered, it probably has gotten somewhat better, more civilized, in the last few hundred years. Just to think of someone like Father Grandier of Loudun, and what he had to endure because of some minor policy difference between him and Cardinal Richelieu.

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Dan Lackey 06.24.13 at 10:15 am

A classic in the criticism of psychological criticism of political adversaries is Philip Rieff’s analysis of the testimony that led to the Atomic Energy Commission’s revoking the security clearance of Oppenheimer.

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Corey Robin 06.24.13 at 1:48 pm

Dan at 89: I don’t know that piece. Do you have a reference. I’d love to read it. Rieff is one of my favorite writers, and it’s interesting what you say here b/c his whole book on Freud was about how Freud had transmuted classical political references into a psychological idiom.

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