Another Look at Freud

Nassir Ghaemi reviews Peter D. Kramer’s Sigmund Freud: Inventor of the Modern Mind in Metapsychology Online Reviews (via Sci Tech Daily):Freud

Freud’s main vice was his dogmatism.  The man would not brook disagreement, at least about his main ideas.  In fact, letters exist between Freud and Stanley Hall (president of Clark University who had invited Freud to the US in 1909) in which Hall takes Freud to task about this habit (the letters were exchanged in the 1920s after the excommunication of Jung) and Freud defends his strict attitude.  Indeed, the virtuous flipside here is that Freud knew how to take a stand; he was courageous and clear about his ideas, a wonderful quality when one is right, a massive weakness when one is wrong.  The level of dogmatism that Freud bequeathed to psychoanalysis as a tradition was deadly from the start: So certain that their truth was the only one, or at least better than all the rest, psychoanalysts took over psychiatry (in the US at least) as if they were enlightened colonizers sent to the bush to save the natives.  As later psychiatric critics put it, case conferences became intolerably boring in the hands of psychoanalysts:  the end could always be predicted at the beginning, and all cases ended up in the same place – repressed unconscious sexual instincts, the Oedipus Complex or some variation thereof, and infantile wishes.  (Kramer cites a parody in a play by Moliere:  “If the patient loved his mother, it is the reason for this neurosis of his; and if he hated her, it is the same reason for the same neurosis.  Whatever the disease, the cause is always the same.  And whatever the cause, the disease is always the same.  And so is the cure: twenty one-hour sessions at 50 Kronen each.” p. 110))

Vice number two (Kramer brings this out clearly): he was extraordinarily ambitious.  Kramer describes how Freud seemed to go from idea to idea in his early medical career, seeking to hit a lottery ticket for fame; it did not seem to matter if the magic numbers alighted on the id or on cocaine: whatever made for fame was what Freud wanted. Now there is nothing wrong with wanting fame; we all dream of such acclaim (at least in adolescence).  But there are some risks, too, in sacrificing to what William James called “the bitch-goddess, Success.”