Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Ideas of Reference and the Criminal Mind

I was terminated from my job as a paralegal at the law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld after I lodged a harassment complaint against my supervisor and other firm personnel in late October 1991. The firm claimed that it had determined, in consultation with a psychiatrist, that my belief that I was a harassment victim was delusional: that I exhibited "ideas of reference," attaching a self-referential meaning to trivial events in my work environment.  The psychiatrist reportedly advised the employer that my thinking style might dispose me to become violent.

Be that as it may.

Theodore John "Ted" Kaczynski (born May 22, 1942), also known as the "Unabomber" (a portmanteau of university and airline bomber), is an American mathematician, social critic, anarcho-primitivist and Neo-Luddite who engaged in a mail bombing campaign that spanned nearly 20 years, killing three people and injuring 23 others.

The following is a brief excerpt from a court-ordered psychological evaluation of the Unabomber. The evaluation states that the Unabomber suffered from a delusion of harassment -- comparable in some way to my belief that I was a job harassment victim. His delusional persecutory beliefs arose at a time when he was socially-isolated. The psychological evaluation disclosed prominent ideas of reference to which he responded with extreme rage and a wish for revenge.  By implication, the mere presence of ideas of reference in an individual do not in themselves indicate a propensity to violence.  Rather, it is how the individual reacts to or handles the ideas that is significant.  In my own case, ideas of reference are associated not with anger but an arousal of my instinct for research.  What is the meaning of the statement?  What is the nature of the interpersonal dynamic?  Also, I am able effectively to defer judgment, waiting for additional information that might explain ambiguous data.   The Unabomber struggled with feelings of humiliation by others.  I, by contrast, am not particularly concerned that others might judge me negatively.

Here is a portion of the psychological report:

Mr. Kaczynski presented a clearly organized belief system that he was being harassed and harmed by modern technology. He stated that he believed that the system as it exists is bad and rebellion against it is justified. He further stated that freedom and personal dignity have greater importance that comfort and security. This belief system was explored at length with Mr. Kaczynski and it was evident that it had developed in his early 20s, during a period of time when he was feeling particularly isolated. This appear to stem from his acceptance of a variety of ideas that he had culled from reading books such as the "Technological Society" referenced above. It is interesting that he had not only latched onto the ideas that were presented, but had expanded them to the extreme and accepted the suggestions and premises, many of which were only opinions stated by the authors, as if they were fact. He has subsequently devoted his activities and time in rebellion against a future as he accepted it would be. In essence, the ideas that he collected and wrote about in the early 1970s remain the basis for his current belief system. He feels compelled to live a life of extreme isolation and to focus his energy against the aspects of society that are attempting to control the masses. This includes a focus on advertising, genetic engineering, computer technology, business, certain aspects of education, chemical companies, etc. He expresses philosophical and personal concerns about these issues and feels personally threatened by the potential advances in these areas. Included in this is his inability to critically read newspapers, magazines, and books to determine if statements carry any actual merit. He tends to collect pieces of literature, opinions, and comments that support his views and use them as justification for continuation of his ideas. Mr. Kaczynski has intertwined his two belief systems, that society is bad and he should rebel against it, and his intense anger at his family for his perceived injustices. He talks openly about his ability to direct his anger from one set of ideas to the other quite fluidly.

Upon extended interview, it was evident that Mr. Kaczynski is extremely sensitive to even minor criticism and tends to perceive this, or even an absence of encouragement or positive response from an individual, as a deliberate attempt at humiliation or harassment. He also tends to seek support and interaction in ineffective ways and will frequently write an individual believing that an innocuous question will provide a hint of the type of response that he is looking for from the person receiving his correspondence. Evident also is his inability to identify common social cues in the environment. Historically, this appears to have been a problem even before solidification of his ideas in the late 1960s and early 1970s. There is evidence of ideas of reference in review of Mr. Kaczynski's history over an extended period of time. Incidents within the environment involving noise or human activity are perceived by him as personally directed and he responds with extreme rage and a wish for revenge. As outlined in the body of this report, historically during certain time periods he has described examples of what appear to be ideas of reference in his belief that individuals who are talking at some distance from him, have him as a topic of their conversation and are speaking negatively about him, and are impacting in a destructive or hostile way on his well being.


Gary Freedman said...

The child's dyadic relationship [with the primary caregiver] slowly merges into the oedipal triadic relationship with the parents by the end of the fourth year, ushering in a severely conflictual situation for children of both sexes. If identification with the parent of the same sex has been proceeding well, this identification now serves as a stabilizing force, facilitating the temporary surrender of incestuous wishes and the modulation of hostile aggressive wishes towards the parent of the same sex. Sublimation of the sexual and aggressive drive derivatives can now proceed, with curiosity directed towards other areas. A significant landmark during latency is the gradual emergence of a scientific approach to learning and thinking. The why and wherefore of things become very important: concepts of the world and people begin to expand, and the development of reasoning steadily advances. Curiosity about sexuality gives way, under reasonably adequate psychological conditions, to curiosity about the wider aspects of the world, a sublimation of a portion of sexual as well as aggressive wishes that continues into adult life unless inhibitions arise because of psychological conflicts that were insufficiently resolved during the pre-oedipal and oedipal periods. Galenson, E. "Comments." In: Ostow, M. Ultimate Intimacy: The Psychodynamics of Jewish Mysticism, pp. 144-150 at 150 (Madison, CT: International Universities Press, Inc.: 1995).

Gary Freedman said...

Gary Freedman said...

My attitude to people is Rooseveltian!

"Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred."