Yeatsian Geometry

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosened upon the world.
Yeats.

“We need to open our eyes. There are over two million illegal immigrants bedding down in this state tonight! This state spent three billion dollars last year, on services for those people who have no right to be here in the first place. Three billion dollars! 400 million dollars just to lock up a bunch of illegal immigrant criminals… Our border policy’s a joke! So, is anybody surprised that south of the border, they’re laughing at us? Laughing at our laws?”

These are originally the words of Derek Vinyard, the Neo-Nazi protagonist of Tony Kaye’s cinematic masterpiece, American History X. The film tells the story of Derek Vinyard’s gradual realisation that the bigoted beliefs he has held for most of his adult life are mistaken. He then tries to prevent his little brother Danny from following in his footsteps and becoming embroiled in the race-related gang-violence that was rife in parts of the US in the 1990s. These words were terrifyingly more recently used by Donald Trump at one of his election rallies.

The film is over 19 years old yet its themes couldn’t be more relevant to our current political climate. We only have to look at the Brexit’s rabble-rousing rhetoric to see how closely related these sentiments are to the type of white supremacist vitriol that Vinyard preaches during the film.

We are now witnessing the highest levels of movement on record. About 258 million people, or one in every 30, were living outside their country of birth in 2017. A 2003 projection anticipated that by 2050, there would be up to 230 million international migrants. The latest revised projection is that there will be 405 million international migrants by 2050.

The experience of moving from one country to another tends to increase the likelihood of the use of primitive defence mechanisms as a protection against the difficulties of everyday life and in relationships in the new country. The danger of this social development is an increase in the use of splitting and in the use of ‘psychic retreats’ in an attempt to uphold an idealised inner and outer world without pain or conflict.

Today, we live in an age of anxiety about ‘post-truth’ politics. ‘Fake news’, targeted messaging and seductive persuasion are rife. Digital technologies have created extraordinary new possibilities But many of our contemporary concerns about the new dark arts of political persuasion have a longer history. In the mid-20th century, psychologists’ curiosity and dismay about our susceptibility to manipulation and control crystallised. Their work offer us food for thought in a new age of economic development, population movement and populist fervour. In the 1940s, the psychotherapist Money-Kyrle was worried about the power of radio and other mass media to reveal and provoke our worst selves. In his essay, ‘A Psychological Analysis of the Causes of War’, he explores the roots of conflict

‘The study of cases of melancholia, paranoia, and homicidal mania helps us to recognize psychological mechanisms which are present, to some slight extent, in all of us. These mechanisms may not greatly influence us as individuals; but they sometimes have a great influence on us as members of a state.’

In the 21st century, he would have been looking at our use and the incredible power of the Internet.

Vinyard-esque remarks are now a part of the mainstream. Hostile, political rhetoric that’s used all too often as a part of our normal political process and so it seems the important message of American History X, that “hate is baggage” and that “life’s too short to be pissed off all the time”, has been forgotten by many. The politics of division are thriving across the world, and we will all suffer for it.

On Anger.

My white therapist calls it my edge, I hear
Angry Black Women. She says, Strength
of Wilful Negative Focus. She says, Acerbic
Intellectual Temperament. I copy her words
onto an index card. She wants
an origin story, a stranger with his hand
inside me, or worse. I’m without
linear narrative and cannot sate her. We
perform rituals on her living room floor. I burn
letters brimming with resentments, watch
the paper ember in the fireplace, admit
I don’t want to let this go. What if anger,
my armour, is embedded in the marrow of who I am.
Who can I learn to be without it? Wherever you go,
there you are. She asks what i lose
if I surrender, I imagined a gutted fish,
silvery skin gleaming, emptied of itself-

Rage Hezekiah

‘Just because you’re invited, doesn’t mean you’re wanted’

From ‘Get Out’ by Jordan Peele

 

 

My role as a psychotherapist working in Central London brings me face to face with people of many different backgrounds, ages, races, class and political and religious viewpoint. The origins of psychotherapy lie in Europe which was mostly created by middle class white men to treat mainly white women. Much has changed about the world since then and much has changed in the way we see difference and otherness in the consulting room.

At the beginning of treatment and throughout the course of therapy, both the therapist and patient can expect to be silently evaluated by each other. This process leaves us open to our vulnerabilities. Psychotherapy may activate emotional memories that relate to issues such as trust, entitlement, , authority conflicts, and the possibility of being judged. The opportunity for the person in treatment to expose her difficulties and to have these accepted and validated by the therapist, are critical components of the work. A positive therapeutic relationship is predicated on creating a safe enough space to expose our thoughts and desires and the therapist’s ability to handle these, including navigating those occasions when our differences interfere with a sense of emotional safety.

With this in mind I was struck by the relevance of the film ‘Get Out’ by Jordan Peele. The film artfully attempts to allow a white person to see the world through the eyes of a black person for an hour and half.

In the film, Missy, the therapist uses hypnosis to stir up memories of main character losing his mother and the associated pain to enter his mind. She sends him to ‘The Sunken Place’ – this is used as a metaphor for the representation of People of Colour. The “sunken place,” is where people are weighted down by lies they have internalised about their history and racial trauma. This idea refers to W.E.B Du Bois’s theory of “double consciousness” where we see ourselves through the eyes of the dominant culture. Double Consciousness is an internal struggle that affects the Black psyche. Contemplating oneself through the eyes of others, you are forced to live double lives―the life of a person of colour and as a British citizen, both of which are not liberal to you. Hence, the term ‘double consciousness’. You know what racism feels and looks like, but white people do not know what racism is. They have never experienced it after all. They have never felt what it is to be suppressed by people of their own country. They have never felt that pain or misery that many people of colour have been breathing like air since their birth.

As a psychotherapist there is much to be learnt from this experience. Our role asks us to try to understand the difficulties experienced by another human being, quite often with very different backgrounds to our own. The film ‘Get out’ uses imagery and symbolism to demonstrate both the literal meaning of the dialogue as it unfolds, but also the more subtle unconscious aspects of how we relate to each other and the world.

My experience of my difference means that on occasions I can’t quite tell if what I’m seeing has underlying bigotry, or it’s just a normal conversation and I’m being paranoid. I admit sometimes I see race and racism when its not there. That dynamic in itself is unsettling. It is this dynamic the film is able to capture. These aren’t the racists Hollywood is traditionally more comfortable calling out and posturing against. They aren’t Neo-Nazis, or White Nationalists. These are good White People, proud, well off and liberal who are very likely being completely sincere about their Obama votes and desire to connect with a multicultural society. Peele highlights a very specific subset of White racism: Liberals who are insistent of their non-racism because they admire an abstract ideal of Blackness while not actually engaging or regularly encountering any actual Black people.

Peele isn’t showing us that one race is superior to the other. He’s showing us that ideas of racial superiority are learned and passed down in families, workplaces, social groups and through the media.