03 April 2012

Sure I'm shaking in my shoes as I'm sending out the news

It sickens me to link to the Daily Mail, aka the Daily Heil, but this argument about how CBT is not therapy is very interesting. The argument is basically that CBT patches up the symptoms of mental illness well enough to get you back to work but doesn't actually deal with the sources of the problem. I would suggest that this may be the case for "official" applications of CBT, as the British NHS are doing; but the CBT workbook that I'm using in my personal practice works, as the Scientologists put it, "on a gradient", in that the first part is the kind of psychological first aid / meatball surgery to which Dr James refers, but the second part actually looks at the sources of character aberration (Rules for Living, Bottom Line), which I have found by far the most interesting and useful.

Really, all that "therapy" is, in this regard, is teaching the subject to look at her own mind (habitual patterns of thought and behaviour) objectively, or as the Sufis put it "with the eyes of sincerity and truth". This means an "exteriorising" from the habitual patterns of the ego, which has evolved to survive as best one can in the specific circumstances of growing up - which is why, as Dr James correctly states, learning to look at bad things from your childhood is very important. (The therapist or spiritual guide can serve as a "temporary point of objectivity" until you have your own objectivity, which is why "doing it yourself", or without someone whom you really trust, is much, much harder.) And all this is, CM argues, precisely identical to the Marxist notion of the working class evolving into consciousness of their own real interests and out of dependence on capitalist ideology.

But surely CBT has a point that the first priority should be to stop your ego making things worse for you in the here-and-now? CBT and Marxism agree that consciousness evolves through self-activity. The problem with the past is that it is past, you can't change it, you can only learn to accept it for what it is. But acceptance of past and present reality also means responsibility for your actions in the now, your ability to create the future. If you can't actually take responsibility for everything you do - if you believe that you have to keep making things worse because of bad things that happened when you were little, or that the planet is doomed because capitalism has screwed everyone up beyond redemption - then you really do need someone else making your decisions for you. We make the new world, we make our new selves, with the flawed material we have.

On this subject, I'm also intrigued by the argument that CBT is "un-British" in that it valorises "American" goals such as positive thinking and going for goals. This is a nationalist version of the Marxist argument made in this article, which is quite gobsmacking and shows that some academic leftists are taking the concerns of CM seriously now. The authors' point that Freudian psychoanalysis evolved in an era where the abiding psychic problem of the bourgeoisie was neurosis and guilt, but that these days the representative symptom is depression, really bears further exploration. Depression basically boils down to an incapacity to work or consume properly, which means that you're not doing your job as a subject of capitalism.

So the argument is that "positive thinking" really means "trying to make you fit into the machinery of the Black Iron Prison". So... what is the alternative? I've talked about this before - if you understand that the goals of working hard so you can make big money so you can spend it on leisure items are False Goals implanted by The Bad Guys and there's no real point to it - what do you do then? One of the major problems with actual-existing radical groups is that they end up acting just like capitalist workplaces. Bill Logan used to use bourgeois management-training programmes in his Trotskyist grouplet, or so former members tell us. Tony Cliff said "to defeat an enemy you must be symmetrical to it", but does that mean that revolutionary parties are supposed to exploit the labour-power of their cadres, to expect (as James Cannon did) the cadre to achieve all their personal fulfilment in work/leisure activities endorsed by The Party? Is this not a precise analogy to the "introjection" of traumatising personalities into the psyche - your mother screamed at you so you grow up learning to scream at yourself?

Too many committed revolutionaries are forced out of active politics by political groups which unthinkingly replicate the productivist logic and the "you should be happy doing THIS" moralism of late capitalism. Those who want a new world have to learn to marry dialectical materialism and "metapsychology"/non-dualist spirituality. We have to understand that since our practice creates the new world, we need to be objective from our personal and collective practice. We have to remember that patterns of belief and behaviour which enable the ego/group to survive in a harsh world can be precisely counterproductive to self-actualisation/creating real political change. Loving-kindness is truly revolutionary practice - anything else is creating a new boss who will be the same as the old boss. The discipline of the barracks or of the capitalist workplace have no place in our movement.

Grazie mille to Comrade Seymour for publishing the article which led me to these links.


  1. This sort of looks like what the Discordians called Knights of the 5-sided Temple.

  2. What does? I don't think I mentioned any soldiers or bureaucrats.