Psychoanalytic Perspectives on a Turbulent World

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'This is a much needed book, giving a readable, insightful and constructive perspective on many of today's societal, political and economic ailments. It is my fervent hope that it finds a large readership in the leadership echelons of our society. Whoever reads it will have difficulty putting it down as, the content is gripping.'- Anton Obholzer, psychoanalyst and organisational consultant, formerly director, Tavistock Centre London'At a time when our world badly needs thinking that takes us out of our conventional boxes, these papers bravely and thoughtfully offer new perspectives on key problems. The authors gathered together in this important volume show how terrorism, war, financial crisis, and corporate irresponsibility gain much of their intractable power by drawing on unconscious motives and working through unseen mechanisms. They also help us to understand the extraordinary demands placed on our leaders.- Ken Eisold, former President, ISPSO; founding faculty and former Director, Organization Program, The William Alanson White Institute; award winning author of What You Dont Know You Know

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SCENE ONE. A beam of darkness—understanding the terrorist mind

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H. Shmuel Erlich

Nowadays not even a suicide kills himself in desperation. Before taking the step he deliberates so long and so carefully that he literally chokes with thought. It is even questionable whether he ought to be called a suicide, since it is really thought which takes his life. He does not die with deliberation but from deliberation.

—Søren Kierkegaard (1846)

Terrorist violence has increasingly become part and parcel of our everyday life. Different world areas feature daily in the news and have become associated in our mind with terrorism—to mention Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Middle East—but the phenomenon is undoubtedly much more widespread and no one anywhere is immune to it. Recent terrorist attacks in India and Indonesia followed on the heels of those in the West: Great Britain had its share with Sinn Féin in Ireland and London, Germany coped with the Baader-Meinhof gang, Italy with the Red Brigades, Spain with ETA, and the United States was catapulted to the top of this list by the attack on the World Trade Center twin towers, which came only a few years after the Oklahoma City bombing. World-wide security precautions, personal searches, and careful baggage scrutiny are constant reminders of the prevalence of terror and the fear it inspires. In many ways, terrorism has succeeded in changing—perhaps forever—our feeling of personal and social security and our accustomed mode of life. The fact that we have become blasé about it and willingly submit to intrusive scrutiny is testimony to the extent to which terrorism has become an integral global component of our daily lives and cultural experience.

 

SCENE THREE. Psychoanalysis and international relationships: Large-group identity, traumas at the hand of the “other,” and transgenerational transmission of trauma

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Vamik D. Volkan

During her presidency of the European Union in 2006, Austria declared the same year to be the Year of Freud as well as the Year of Mozart. Freud’s and Mozart’s pictures were everywhere in Vienna. At the same time, I had the pleasure of being the Fulbright/Sigmund Freud Privatstiftung Visiting Scholar of Psychoanalysis, living in Vienna for four months, with an office at Berggasse 19. In celebration of Freud’s 150th birthday the Sigmund Freud Foundation in collaboration with the Bruno Kreisky Forum for International Dialogue brought together psychoanalysts and diplomats from various countries such as Austria, Norway, Turkey, and United States to expand Freud’s theory of group psychology.

When large groups (i.e., ethnic, national, religious, and political ideological groups) are in conflict, psychological issues also contaminate most of their political, economic, legal, or military concerns. People assigned to deal with these conflicts on an official level usually establish short- and long-term strategies and mobilize resources to implement them. In so doing they develop assumptions that support psychological advantages for their own group over that of the “other”. At this meeting our focus was on another type of psychology, more hidden, mostly unconscious, addressing obstacles that thwart peaceful, adaptive solutions to large-group conflicts. We noted that at the core of this psychology lies the concept of large-group identity, which is articulated in terms of commonality such as “we are Polish; we are Arab; we are Muslim; we are communist”. Large-group identities are the end-result of myths and realities of common beginnings, historical continuities, geographical realities, and other shared historical, linguistic, societal, and cultural factors. Large-group identity can be defined as a subjective feeling of sameness shared among thousands or millions of people, most of whom will never know or see each other. Yet, a simple definition of this abstract concept is not sufficient to explain the power it has to influence political, economic, legal, and military initiatives and to induce seemingly irrational resistances to change.

 

SCENE FOUR Oedipus Rex at Enron: Leadership, Oedipal struggles, and organizational collapse

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Mark Stein 2

This article is intended to contribute to our understanding of the December 2001 collapse of Enron. The existing literature on Enron’s demise falls largely into two broad areas, involving either “micro” psychological explanations or “macro” accounts that emphasize the workplace and its environment; this paper is an exploratory study that focuses on a new interpretation which links the two areas more closely together. It is proposed that Enron’s culture was influenced by both “micro” and “macro” factors: an experience of unsuccessful paternal authority figures within the family history of Enron’s leaders, coupled with an experience of problematic government and regulatory regimes associated with the gas industry. Drawing on concepts from psychoanalysis and its application to organizational dynamics, it is argued that these “micro” and “macro” factors helped to generate an Oedipal mindset in Enron’s leaders according to which external authority was seen to be weak and not worthy of respect, and that this contributed to Enron’s demise. Implications for theory are examined.

 

SCENE FIVE. Narcissism project and corporate decay: The case of General Motors

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Howard S. Schwartz

Note: This paper was first published in 1990, as part of my book Narcissistic Process and Corporate Decay: The Theory of the Organization Ideal (New York University Press). It is reprinted herewith with explicit permission of NYUP.

Given the present condition of General Motors, it seems opportune to republish it now. The paper has been condensed for reasons of space and I have changed a few terms for theoretical clarity. It is written so that the citations of my own work refer to the original published sources, rather than to other chapters of the book, but otherwise I have left it basically as it was. One addition to the text is in order. I report below that, at the original time of writing, GM’s share of the US market was 35%. Following that, except for a brief period after the 2001 attacks on the US World Trade Center, GM’s US market share declined monotoni-cally, averaging almost 7% per year. It has not been profitable since 2004 and in 2008 lost 30.9 billion dollars. On June 1, 2009, General Motors filed for bankruptcy. On June 10, it was bought by a new entity that is owned primarily by the United States government.

 

SCENE SIX. Beneath the financial crisis

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Burkard Sievers 2

This thing we’re in doesn’t yet have a name. It is variously called, in placeholder shorthand, the global financial meltdown, the financial crisis, the credit crisis, the recession, the great recession, the disaster, the panic, or the bust.

—Paumgarten (2009, p. 42)

What first appeared as a financial crisis limited to US banks soon spread and began to threaten national economies around the world. The collapse of banks, the dramatic increase in unemployment rates, the critical state of the entire automobile industry, the decrease in national GNPs (gross national product) for this and next year, and other factors have forced us to face a world that is no longer what it used to be—or at least the one we experienced during our lifetime. And nobody is able to predict with any certainty how long the economic crisis will last.

The predominant public discourse on the financial crisis and its aftermath appears to be broadly limited to a political and economic one. It thus is focused on finding the appropriate choice of financial and economic means to diffuse the actual and potential damage and thus to encourage banks to offer credit both between themselves and to their customers, to boost production and consumption, and to bail out financial and economic enterprises which threaten to collapse without huge government support.

 

SCENE SEVEN A dynamic reading of The funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales

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Wesley Carr

Diana, Princess of Wales died in a motor accident in France in 1997. The news came out during the night. At about 6.20 a.m. on a Sunday morning the phone rang in the Deanery at Westminster, my home as Dean of Westminster. That world is one with which few are familiar, so a little background information is provided.

Westminster Abbey, one of the world’s great religious buildings is England’s royal church and a national shrine. Monarchs are crowned there; members of the royal family frequently attend services; thousands are memorialized and a million visit each year. The dean is responsible for its work and is accountable to the monarch alone.

I had been appointed Dean of Westminster in February 1997 and as such would be responsible for the order of service as well as being the minister who presided over the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales.

It is difficult at this distance in time to recall the intensity of feeling that Diana’s death aroused throughout the country and in large parts of the world. Yet although there were only five days to complete the funeral service, people were remarkably calm and seemed to be living with a subdued intensity. After the service, I went outside the abbey to talk to the people. They were milling around and not leaving. I had thought to open the abbey for a one way stream of visitors who could see the spot where the coffin had stood. It would not have been a problem to do. The crowd could not have looked less belligerent, but the police in charge ruled against me: the officers thought that they would not be able to control the riot that would probably ensue when I would eventually have to close the doors and not everyone had been through.

 

SCENE EIGHT. Barack Obama’s postpartisan dream: Leadership and the limits of the depressive position

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Laurence J. Gould

As soon as I started covering Barack Obama,
I knew he was going to be in Trouble. …
He was going to be the kind of guy who whipped you up and then,
when you were all excited left you flat, and then, when you were deflated
and exasperated and time was running out, ensorcelled you again
with some sparkly fairy dust.

(Maureen Dowd, “Less Spocky, More Rocky”, The New York Times, September 9, 2009)

As a sceptical supporter of Barack Obama suggests above, she and many others are troubled by what they increasingly regard as a potentially serious limitation—namely, raising impossible expectations that he either cannot or will not meet. Variations on this sentiment could, by now, be multiplied a thousand fold, and taken together form the core of what has become a consistent popular narrative about Obama’s leadership. It is the purpose of this paper to recast this narrative in psychoanalytic terms. In this sense my aim is to contribute to the development of a general, psychoanalytically-informed theory of leadership capacities and personal requisites. As such, it is not about Obama’s leadership per se, as it is an exemplification, writ large, of the issues I wish to address, refracted through the prism of his struggles. Specifically, I attempt to articulate a conception of how he takes up the role of the presidency internally (the-role-in-the-mind), on both the conscious and unconscious level, how it is enacted, and how one may understand this, with particular reference to M. Klein’s theory (e.g., 1935, 1940, 1946) of developmental positions. Before proceeding, however, a few caveats are in order. I will then turn to filling out the popular narrative of Obama’s leadership, suggested by the opening quote. I will follow by providing a psychoanalytic transliteration, that explores the states of mind that I hypothesize animate this formulation, and conclude with some general considerations about leadership that can be extrapolated from it.

 

SCENE NINE. Images of leadership

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Susan Long

Leadership is one of the most widely explored roles in social science. The role holds a certain fascination, perhaps because it is often sought but not always achieved; but most likely because leadership and authority draw on both aggressive and sexual phantasy; on power and passion. The idea of a leader evokes a mixture of emotions and attitudes. On the one hand is the presence of authority, power, heroism, and celebrity: the image of a commanding, attractive, perhaps even fierce god-like figure. On the other hand are ideas of service, loyalty to a task or cause, and care of followers: the image of the dependable, good shepherd or loving parent. Further, there is the image of the lonely philosopher leader who has a vision for the future not yet fully comprehended by others.

This is not the place for a review of leadership theories taken from social science. Theoretical reviews abound as do reviews of the often made arguments about whether leaders are born or made; or whether leadership is the result of personality traits or the environmental context; or whether indeed leadership is situational, dependent on the right mix of person, time, and task. In this vein, it seems that the most sophisticated current theorizing sees leadership distributed throughout a community or organization: leadership exercised at all levels and in many different ways in many organizational systems, including task, socio-emotional, political, economic, management, technical, and socio-technical. This line of thinking about leadership is primarily in terms of leadership as a function, whether or not one is constitutionally predisposed or whether one learns to lead on the job or in a management education programme. It is one of many roles in a group, taken up by many people. I would add that leadership occurs between roles; between leaders and followers and exists in the relation and the associated relationship between the role holders.

 

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