To Know Your “Enemy,” Know Yourself: Towards a More Profound Objectivity

“Objectivity” in reporting and analysis has developed a bad rep in recent years. The mainstream media is often blamed, but they’ve long considered it their responsibility to pit the two prevailing positions against each other. You could say it’s not the media’s fault that said positions, far from conservative and liberal, are most often center right to extreme right. But in the perceived need for access to power, the media too often accepts how far right well-funded conservative groups have slid the Overton Window.

When the spotlight is trained on reporting and analysis on our perceived enemies, the issue of objectivity is more deeply illuminated. In the spring issue of the Journal of Psychohistory (print only), psychoanalyst and Journal of Psychohistory assistant editor David Lotto explains in an article titled “On the Pot Calling the Kettle Black: The Perils of Psychohistorical Partisanship.”

Much of what psychohistorians are interested in is to understand the why of the many violent and destructive events which have and continue to cause so much misery in our world.

Difficulties ensue because …

A psychohistorian, being a part of the human race, is most often a member of or identified with one or more groups: an ethnic group, a nationality, or religion or perhaps more than one of each. … When the subject of a psychohistorical inquiry is one of these groups that the investigating psychohistorian does not belong to or is not identified with, the possibility arises of a biased or partisan account being given.

Especially “where the other can be accurately described as your enemy.” What Lotto is referring to, in part, is the endless psychoanalyses of the “terrorist mind” undertaken by authors and institutions. In other words, much more effort is expended on figuring out what makes al Qaeda and suicide terrorists tick than on what motivates the war-making mentality — and will to dominate — of the United States. “So what can be done?” asks Lotto.

One solution would be that anyone who is an “interested party” should remain silent — as a lawyer or judge might recuse her or himself from a case in which there was some meaningful connection to one of the parties.

But …

As psychohistorians we also want to encourage and not discourage those who want to explore, analyze, and hypothesize about the psychological motives that drive the actions of large groups or nations. Writing and publishing about such matters should be welcomed, not censored.

Aside from owning up to one’s affiliations, Lotto suggests (emphasis added) …

… that when engaging in psychohistorical analysis it would be useful to examine the behavior and motives of one’s own group or groups with whom one identifies that are similar to those being examined with respect to the other before embarking on the psychohistorical analysis of one’s enemies.

Furthermore, Lotto writes, if one sees only “the faults and psychopathology of others while being blind to similar processes operating within oneself and one’s own group. … there is the suspicion that projective identification is occurring — that one’s nasty and unacceptable aspects are too readily seen as being present in the enemy while absent in one’s own group.” As well “it affects the credibility of the source.”

Whenever I see a negative or harsh analysis of an enemy group which ignores the similar sins and shortcomings of one’s own group, I am immediately skeptical, as anyone who takes psychoanalytic psychohistory seriously should be, of the arguments made and conclusions drawn.

To help us further understand how to approach a “traumatic historical event such as a war, genocide, massacre, or forced migration that involves victim and perpetrator groups [Lotto] would argue that it would be beneficial to discuss the trauma history of both groups.”

The purpose of this would be to attempt to avoid the demonization of the perpetrator group by understanding that the perpetrator group may be responding to some historical trauma of their own which is being enacted through the violence directed to the victim group.

Lotto concludes that …

… the two actions of applying one’s analysis of the enemy other to one’s own group and of attempting to be aware and open about one’s own identifications and personal motives for writing about the subject under consideration could lead to a lessening of the influence of unconscious and unacknowledged motives and feelings.

Islamic terrorists, he adds …

… have replaced the godless communists whom were the enemy that we obsessed over for almost 50 years. The hypocrisy, in which an analysis of the behavior and motives of our terrorist enemies that makes no effort to acknowledge behavior and motives that are identical or very similar to those for which the United States is responsible, can be seen as an expression of American exceptionalism.

Which is [insert drum roll introducing the money quote here] …

… basically a form of national narcissistic personality disorder.