Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Justin Frank Responds

In a fascinating development, one of my readers showed psychiatrist Justin Frank my post about his "analysis" of George Bush. Dr. Frank was unmoved by the criticism:
Justin Frank: This is an important question concerning the fact that I never met with George W Bush personally. I am using the technique of applied psychoanalysis which was first introduced by Freud in his analyses of Leonardo, Moses, and Little Hans. That technique, applying psychoanalytic principles to available material, is now used by CIA psychiatrists hired by the US Government who work at the George H.W. Bush Center in Langly VA. I think these techniques should be available to the American public as well. Therefore the APA guidelines you cite do not pertain to my work - Bush on the Couch is not about being "asked for an opinion about an individual" but rather it is an in depth study of writings, videotapes, biographies, news reports, of an individual.
My first reaction is to say that if we're relying on psychoanalysts for our intelligence data, then it's no wonder that the CIA is in such a shambles. Psychoanalysis has no scientific basis or empirical support. It's essentially a form of literary analysis, heavily dependent on symbol and metaphor and the developmental theories of a man who collected no systematic data and rarely observed children. But Frank and I do agree on one thing: I am willing to concede that Frank's analysis of George Bush is precisely as valid as Freud's analysis of Moses.

But I digress.

I find Frank's ethical defense unconvincing. Again, the code of ethics states that:
On occasion psychiatrists are asked for an opinion about an individual who is in the light of public attention or who has disclosed information about himself/herself through public media. In such circumstances, a psychiatrist may share with the public his or her expertise about psychiatric issues in general. However, it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.
I suppose Frank considers his review of public statements and press coverage to qualify as a psychiatric examination; however, the first sentence quoted above suggests that reliance on "information...disclosed through public media" is precisely what the standard forbids.

He also justifies his book on the basis of the election decision before us: "I hope to enrich the discussion about our choices for president in 2004." Other people have made similar comments, and I'm afraid I just don't get it.

If you're not going to vote against Bush because he panders to his wealthy supporters at the expense of the middle class and poor; because of his utterly ineffectual response to the threat of international terrorism, both before and after 9/11; because he led us into an unnecessary, bloody war and then butchered its execution; because he surrounds himself with arrogant, corrupt and incompetent advisors; because when his theories come into conflict with facts, he throws out the facts; because his tax cuts place a crushing burden of debt on future generations without even providing temporary relief to the majority of Americans; because he assists those who would make the United States a theocracy; because he has squandered our international alliances; because he tells bold-faced lies; because no civil liberty appears to be safe from him save the right to own firearms; because he has said that his ideal Supreme Court Justices are Scalia and Thomas, and there are likely to be vacancies on the Court next term - if any or all of these reasons don't lead you to oppose Bush, are you really going to be swayed by concerns about his childhood survivor's guilt? If you're unmoved by the thousands of Afghan and Iraqi civilians killed, the hundreds of dead American soldiers, will it really make a difference to hear that as a boy, Bush shot frogs with a B.B. gun?

(Incidentally, later on in the Post discussion is an example of exactly the kind of armchair misapplication of psych which I hate most:
Then there is a nagging sense, too, of something on the Autistic Disorder spectrum (299.90). He appears to meet five criteria: (1b) failure to develop peer relationships (see diplomatic failures); (2a) delay in, or total lack of, the development of spoken language; (2c) stereotyped and repetitive use of language (responds "9/11 changed everything" to any questioning of his policies); (3a) encompassing preoccupation with one or more interest that is abnormal in intensity or focus (see Iraq obsession); and (3b) apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines (see same).
To which anonymous commenter I say: No, you fucking idiot. No. You owe an apology to all people with autism and their families, for this mockery of their agonizing struggle.)