Sigmund Freud was a perverted old cokehead, but he had some useful insights. One of them is that anxiety works like a spring (my paraphrase). You need a spring to have a certain tension in order to work, but if you compress it too tightly, it breaks. Anxiety that can’t be discharged (his term) in healthy, socially beneficial ways instead gets discharged in unhealthy, neurotic ways.
That’s what happened with Anna O., history’s most famous psychiatric patient. She had a very turbulent love/hate relationship with her father, as tightly wound girls do. When he became deathly ill on a family vacation, the unresolvable tension caused a whole host of physical symptoms, including hysterical paralysis. Pioneering psychologist Josef Breuer “talked her through” it, finally resolving the emotional conflict and “curing” the patient.
All this would’ve been interesting, but largely irrelevant, were it not for World War I. The world at large didn’t care about the problems of overprivileged Jewish girls, but they did care about their soldiers suddenly going crazy in the trenches. Once military doctors finally ruled out a physical cause*, they were left with Freudian explanations: A soldier can’t stop fighting, because he’s an honorable, dutiful soldier. Yet that soldier must stop fighting. The only honorable way out is a wound. If the enemy doesn’t wound him, then, his subconscious will. Hence the bizarre “conversion disorders” — hysterical blindness, paralysis, mutism, etc. — characteristic of “shell shock.”
But a funny thing happened. While everyone now acknowledged the real power of the subconscious mind, we sort of… forgot… about it. Psychology, particularly psychotherapy, went back to being a ghetto Jewish preoccupation. Bored, over-privileged housewives might go to a shrink to talk through their “issues,” but as for the rest of us, well, if we weren’t going into combat anytime soon, why bother? Outside of a few crusty old reactionaries (like yours truly) making fun of SJWs, when was the last time you heard the word “neurotic”?
But that’s the thing: either the subconscious is real, or it isn’t. When we say “neurotic” (the few of us who still do), we usually mean people like Anna O. — rich, cosseted, politically active human toothaches who try to force the entire world into the all-encompassing drama of their Daddy Issues (see also: Virginia Woolf). But that’s not how Freud meant it. According to him, we’re all neurotic to some degree or another, because that’s just how anxiety works.
We all have strong emotional impulses that run counter our self-image. Hence the entire panoply of pop-Freudianism: The preacher who constantly rails against homosexuality from the pulpit is secretly gay (“projection”). The strict, controlling, everything-in-its-place type is a sadist (“anal-retentive”). The player who can’t settle down with any woman is actually trying to find a Mommy figure (“Oedipus complex“). And, of course, the — ahem — daddy of them all, the crippling Daddy Issues that make feminists such fun.
But that’s just the thing: Either anxiety works that way or it doesn’t. Just because we don’t see a specific syndrome in ourselves doesn’t mean we don’t have a whole bunch of anxiety we need to discharge. Just because it’s subclinical, in other words, doesn’t mean it’s not real, or unimportant. See for example the legions of keyboard commandos who show up in the comments of any blog with more than fourteen readers. Yeah, sure, it’s possible that those guys all got kicked out of SEAL Team 6 for being too badass… but it’s probably classic identification. They’re deeply uneasy about the world and their place in it, so they construct themselves an identity as the Rambo of Evergreen Terrace.
With me? And now, at long last, to the point: The Wuhan Flu. This is that.
Everyone who has thought about it for five minutes knows that something’s not right. Scroll through the comments here and here. As y’all have noted, actual hard information on the coronavirus is hard to come by. Is it fully air-transmissible? What are the infection rates? Hell, what are the death totals? And speaking of the death totals, even if you trust China’s figures (which no reasonable person can possibly do), they seem…. low. Like, really low. I actually trust Italy’s government to deliver some vague approximation of the truth, and even there, where they’re in full-blown freakout mode, it seems to kill off old folks with compromised immune systems and lung problems at a fractionally higher rate than your garden-variety flu.
So, you know… it’s the flu. Not great by any means, and more infectious (possibly) than some other flus in our recent past, but for all that just the flu. The ongoing sky-is-falling global freakout has next to nothing to do with the actual bug. We live in a deeply anxious age, and that anxiety has to discharge somehow. It’s global hysteria — classic hysteria, Freudian hysteria, an excess of stress that must be discharged by “converting” it into behavior.
The people who are freaking out about it aren’t worried about dying from it. No, really, they’re not. Nor should they be — no reasonably healthy person under age 70 has any reason to be worried about that. Instead, what they’re worried about is powerlessness. We’ve all long suspected that we’re ruled by idiots and grifters. We’ve all long sensed that our “leaders” hold us in deep contempt. And we’ve long known that none of our problems are worth anything to the global pirate capitalist class. The only reason those bastards care if we all drop dead from the plague is that they can’t sell enough iCrap to each other to keep the company stock price up.
We know this. But we can’t say it, and we can’t act on it, because doing so goes against our self-image. Our media, our education system, our “culture” (such as it is) has spent the last half-century telling us what special and unique snowflakes we all are, even as it’s forcing us into ever-greater conformity. We’ve broken all the taboos, transgressed all the boundaries, liberated all the oppressed. If there ever were to be such a thing as “social justice,” then truly we’ve achieved it, here in this best of all possible worlds where you can lose your job for not addressing your co-worker as a wingless golden-skinned dragonkin and 6’2″ dudes with beards down to their collarbones can go wee-wee in the little girls’ room….
….and yet. And yet. And yet feminists (just to stick with a theme), despite running everything for the last 30 years, still can’t get that lousy 25 cent raise. Seven out of every five college girls are sexually assaulted the minute they step on campus, despite boys being as rare as sasquatches on most campuses (and despite the ever-growing clamor for free college for everyone). You’re free to — hell, you’re practically required to — make up your own pronouns, but you’re not allowed to ask just how a degree in “gender studies” could be worth even one dollar in student loan debt, let alone one hundred thousand dollars. We keep agitating for change, keep voting for it, keep tweeting about it… and nothing happens.
That profound sense of powerlessness is exactly, and I do mean exactly, what screwed up Anna O. She hated her father for not allowing her any personal agency. In her heart of hearts she wanted him dead. And yet she knew herself to be a loving daughter, so that overwhelming sense of relief — indeed, of joy — she felt when he kicked the bucket sent her around the bend.
And so it goes with us. We can’t get off the college / McJob / debt / frivolous consumption treadmill… and yet we must. Life can’t go on this way…. so it won’t. We can’t consciously stop working, stop buying, stop watching sportsball, stop running our kids from daycare to soccer practice to SAT prep to study dates… so we’ll do it unconsciously.
The question then becomes: What happens when the anxiety is discharged?
The reason psychoanalysis works — and it does work, though not in the way Freud thought it did — is because the patient brings all this unconscious stuff into her conscious mind. She commits to small, meaningful changes, which themselves form the basis for a new, changed identity. Are we going to see that? Are the obsessive sports-watchers (classic transference, obviously) going to wake up and realize that hey, I didn’t die after 48 hours of no sportsball, maybe I should think about that? Or will we go back to the same pattern?
Hysterics are hysterical because it works. All that psychic energy has to go somewhere. The key is bringing the conflict into consciousness. If we really want to affect meaningful change, my fellow Dissidents, now is the time. Be ready to “help” your friends and neighbors once the panic burns out in a few weeks.