Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Group Therapy: February 18, 2004


Hey, buddy. What’s up? I promise to try not to use strong language, you old sheep-fucker, you!

Listen, Brian, what about lunch? I’m thinking that that’s the only forum where we can get together, chat and be ourselves. The library’s too confining, too restricting. You have a job to do here. I respect that. I’m not going to ask that you be my therapist, here at CPK. I’m just going to ask that you think about getting together with me for lunch sometime.

The only practical problem I see is that I only eat at Zagat-rated restaurants. Only at Zagat-rated, Kosher restaurants. Glatt, kosher—at that. That could pose a problem. The only Zagat-rated restaurant in the neighborhood of which I’m aware is the Vietnamese restaurant across the street, Nam Viet. Problem is, although it’s Zagat-rated, I don’t think it’s kosher. Did you ever notice how hard it is to find a really good, kosher Vietnamese restaurant? Besides, I’m afraid that if I were to break the dietary rules and eat at Nam Viet, I might let loose with a torrent of military metaphors from the 60’s, you know, from the Vietnam era. Words like quagmire, dominoes, Tet offensive, and Hanoi Hilton might dominate the whole conversation. It could get very tedious.

By the way, you know what interests me? How people go about getting lunch at a restaurant. Or any meal at a public eatery, for that matter. Did you ever think of the process?

There’s a standard procedure. A standard protocol. First of all, you need to know whether the restaurant requires a reservation. If so, you have to call ahead. Then you arrive at the appointed hour. You get a waiter to seat you. He gives you a menu. You order. The waiter brings the food. You eat. You get the bill. You pay. You leave. If it’s Chinese, you come back two hours later. (Bad ethnic joke, but I do have racist tendencies).

In any event, that’s the basic procedure. You follow the rules, and you get your meal. It’s that simple. Or is it?

What if the year is 1950, you’re black, and you’re in a racist town in the south? Then what? What relevance does following the standard protocol have to explaining what problems you have as a black person facing Jim Crow restrictions? None. Absolutely none.

That gets back to the issue I raised in my letter to you from Saturday—February 14, 2004. I said that at my first session in group, one of the group members said that making friends is simple. You sidle up to somebody you like, you chat—probably about matters of common interest—and you may grow closer over time. If the parties are agreeable to friendship, a friendship will emerge over time. Basically, “follow the yellow-brick road, and you’ll eventually land in Oz.”

Do you see where I’m going with this? The normal process for growth and development of any entity, whether developing a friendship or getting a meal will never explain problems that fall outside the natural process of growth and development. The “average-expectable process” will never, by definition, explain factors that fall outside the average expectable process—factors that impair or defeat the average process.

Notice also how the “average expectable process” can be used defensively to explain away issues that the “powers that be” prefer remain sealed. Let’s say you’re dealing with an employment situation. The employer is a covert racist; he does not admit to racist practices because he knows they are unlawful. What does he do? He invokes the “conventional process” of obtaining employment, and tries to show that the job candidate did not fulfill the conventional criteria. “Well, we require that the job applicant have good speaking skills. At the interview (a conventional condition precedent to getting a job), the candidate did not impress us with his verbal skills. Basically, what the employer will do is show how the candidate failed to satisfy one of the conditions precedent to the conventional process. That strategy will always provide a deceptively rational explanation for actions that actually fall outside the conventional process; in this case, namely, racist animus.

Another metaphor. In medical school, students study physiology—the way organs develop and function under ordinary conditions (or average expectable conditions). But there is also the field of pathology—the study of disease states. The two fields—namely, physiology and pathology—are distinct.

Back to my basic problem: how friendships normally start, grow and are maintained does not explain (pathological) factors that impair or prevent the development and maintenance of relationships.

Another analogy: political science. I still have my sister’s college textbook for her introductory course in political science: Government and Politics: An Introduction to Political Science (by Wahlke and Dragovich). What is political science? The study of states, their functions and structures. What is a state? It is an entity that performs the executive functions for a group of persons who have sovereignty over a territory. Basically, the 601-page text covers issues pertinent to the normal operation of states—what might be termed the “physiology” of the state.

Looking at the text, I had an idea. What if I look up in the index issues relating to “pathological” state action. I looked up “holocaust.” I looked up “slavery.” What do you think I found? You guessed it. Nothing. NOTHING! It’s like looking for an entry on “cancer” in a physiology textbook.

With regard to friendship, the issue for me is not “how do conventional friendships form?” That’s fundamentally an issue of social “physiology.”

The pertinent issue for me is what is the nature of my psychological problems, and what do we know about how a person with my specific problems can overcome those issues to establish social relations. Perhaps, the norm is that people with my psychological problems are lucky if they make any friends in life. Maybe it’s the case that people with my problems typically don’t make friends. That needs to be recognized and the pertinent issues need to be understood.

Pardon me Nicole and Debra—but I am so FUCKING sick and tired of people saying: “Well if you want friends, you just do the following conventional things, and you’ll make friends. If you’re not making friends, you must not be doing things right.” I find it especially disheartening when a black person spouts the “conventional wisdom” about solving life’s problems.

Anyway, thinking about all these ideas I came up with an idea that may apply to me and my social problems.

You’re familiar with affirmative action? As it applies to African-Americans, the idea is that given the fact that blacks are a minority, and given the fact that African-Americans struggle in American culture with what are called “the vestiges of racism,” black people need some protection against the biases inherent in absolutely race-neutral university admissions.

I was thinking about my family environment. It was really a narcissistically-disturbed environment, as Warren Brodey would say (see Brody’s paper “The Dynamics of Narcissism” in the 1965 annual The Psychoanalytical Study of the Child). What about recognizing that I suffer from “the vestiges of narcissism.” And what about recognizing that if I go about seeking admission to a friendship in the conventional ways, friendships will often elude me.

Here’s the radical idea I offer. How about some recognition that I need an “affirmative action program” for making friends?

What do you say, Brian. Let’s do lunch under a social “affirmative action program” that would pass muster under our constitution. Talk to Eric. Or Alvin Poussaint, M.D. up at Harvard. Maybe those brothers have some ideas.

Check you out later, buddy. Remember, George Wallace changed. You can too.

No comments: