Individual Sins or Cultural Inevitabilities?
As the casualties of the “Weinsteining” effect continue to mount – striking down seemingly invincible idols across Hollywood and Washington – I am forced to take a step back from the carnage and ask what this is all really about. Unfortunately, American society has no shortage of crimes and coverups; from corporate greed that steals from millions, corrupt politicians who sell their countries interests for votes, and a dishonest media that confuses facts for clicks, our country’s character is under siege across numerous fronts. And yet, this hunting spree of public outrage has zeroed in on a single target: Harvey Weinstein and those like him. How and why has this come to be?
A central component of psychoanalysis, accepted by virtually all psychologists today, is the theory of repression. According to Freud, when our unconscious mind detects a psychological “event” capable of disrupting our normal functioning, it acts to hide the existence of that stimulus from our conscious perception. This can take the form of a forgotten memory, or a misplaced emotion, or even a false sense of identity. Far from being a passive reflection of our true psychological makeup, our consciousness is actually carefully constructed in order to hide those aspects of ourselves which might cause us too much pain or trauma.
Unfortunately, instead of fixing the problem, repression often allows the painful item to continue festering just below the surface, resulting in psychological disorders and complexes. Think about those times in which you’ve chosen to downplay a problem at work, in your home, or with yourself in order to avoid having to deal with it. Did the problem go away on its own? Of course not. More likely, it grew until the point where you had no choice but to deal with the consequences of your own dereliction.
Therefore, an essential aspect of psychoanalytic treatment is the process of recovering those repressed memories or emotions in order to release the pent up energy in a constructive and healthy manner.
But the same process occurs on the societal level as well. We rage at football players who refuse to stand, so that we don’t have to acknowledge the feelings of abandonment these players are expressing. In other words, when we can’t handle the disease, we attack the symptoms. Weinstein and Co. were not created ex nihilo; they are symptoms of a far larger societal breakdown. Nourished by a culture of selfishness, pleasure addiction, and materialism, their acts are indicators of a far more elusive and dangerous illness that can’t simply be erased by a hip social media campaign or weekend rally.
While we’re hard at work suppressing the symptoms of social failure, we allow ourselves a self-righteous sigh of relief. After all, there’s hardly time to repair the widening cracks in our foundation when we’re hard at work applying fresh coats of gleaming paint.