Decision-Making Politicians and Financial Leaders Should Be Psychologically Examined.

“Without the ‘orienting beacon’ of the primary, live, object…
a cataclysmic ‘black hole’ depression is experienced in
which life becomes chaos”
Sheila Spensley – “Frances Tustin”, Routledge, 1995

“There is a great deal of pain in being an individual and a
separate person. The need for merging is an addiction”

Marvin Lifschitz

“The baby is distressed but this distress is soon mended
because the mother returns in X + Y minutes. But in X + Y
+ Z minutes, the mother’s return does not mend the baby’s
altered state. Trauma implies the baby has experienced a
break in life’s continuity”

Donald Winnicott

“Healthy mental growth seems to depend on truth as the
living organism depends on food. If it is lacking or deficient,
the personality deteriorates”

Wilfred Bion

Usually the term “antisocial behavior” is applied to those individuals who obviously transgress the norms of legal behavior. But today when we see an explosive multiplying of drastic mistakes in political, economic and financial decision-making that produce results gravely affecting the life of large populations, it is time to focus psychological scrutiny on the conduct of the people with political authority and the high level professionals with extensive social responsibilities.

The arbitrary change of the war against the enemy who attacked us on 9/11 to people who had nothing to do with this attack; the mistakes made in predicting the course of the war in Iraq (which led to substantial casualties and astronomical cost of this frivolous war to the American taxpayers); the recklessly unprofessional behavior of our financial elites (including bad lending and gambling with derivatives); and ruthless economic practices like firing American workers and hiring foreign labor – all these abuses of power deserve to be considered as antisocial behavior. With a sociopathic personality as its psychological background, antisocial behavior of such a scale seems impossible without the presence of a psychotic turbulence in the personality of the transgressor. The dire mistakes made by the people in charge of political and economic policies are rooted in their childhood traumas. Political and socio-economic authorities that endangered the well being of the American people must become the objects of psychological study. Their mental and emotional condition has to be traced back to their childhood experiences.

Winnicott’s theory of the absence of the positive primordial object and Bion’s concept of the primordial object as “No thing” can be a source of precious help to us. The childhood trauma responsible for the antisocial position of the adult is a result of losing the dyad with the primordial maternal object. The loss that tears this blissful dyad apart is responsible for our later unconscious attempts to restore the dyad by using the objects in our environment (people, groups, ideas and images) as surrogate primordial objects. It can be my dyad with an amorous object or with an object over whom I am victorious (Saddam for Bush Jr.), it can be my profit/money (without which I as if don’t exist at all), it can be my megalomaniacal feeling that I/we am/are the best in the world and deserve unconditional admiration, or it can be my identification with the perfection of a super-star as my own embellished image. The trauma of a failed primordial dyadic bonding (blissful unity with the mother/primary-care-giver) makes us obsessed with creating new dyads. It makes us impatient, belligerent, over-greedy, too proud and too aggressive. As a financial decision-maker (let’s say, commercial bank’s CEO) I cannot resist the seductive call of profit by any price exactly because I unconsciously feel that this profit is a return of my primordial object with its promise of ultimate plenitude of being. My unity with money/profit becomes the new incarnation of me as a baby in dyad with mother as profit. I need profit as a new mother. Profit-achievements are transformed in my unconscious into a new motherly lullaby.

“Absence and loss occur in the human experience early on…The theme of absence and its psychological horrors are manifest in Winnicott’s writings. How does the infant deal with the experience of the absence of mother? Winnicott explores the mother’s coming and going in interacting with the infant. There is a continuity-discontinuity cycle that is experienced. If mother comes back in some tolerable time, the infant’s deprivation and bad experience is mitigated. If, on the other hand, the mother does not come back within a tolerable time, the infant is so distressed, and the waiting time so painful and intolerable, that it is hard to hold his belief in his mother’s existence alive in his mind, or for that matter, belief in his own existence.” (Marvin Lifschitz, “Constructing a Psychology of Addiction from Winnicott’s ‘Absence’ and Bion’s ‘No Thing’”) For Bush Jr., for whom his mother was not emotionally generous but was an authoritarian and cold symbiotic figure, the chance to triumph over Saddam and to control Iraq’s oil was like the return of the primordial mother that restored his belief in the reality and value of his own existence. The same is true for the CEOs of financial institutions involved in the chain of collapses since October 2008 who continue to collect super-inflated salaries/bonuses/benefits even while it’s taken from the American people – paid by American taxpayers. CEO’s cannot resist obscene profits of questionable legality because it is the primordial mother who is symbolized by these profits for the little child inside them. We say an enthusiastic “yes” to the mother’s new incarnations – to a group with a megalomaniacal mandate, to a nation with a pretension for world domination, to a political leader who talks down to his opponents, to a super-star personifying perfection. The economic leaders who fire American workers (while waving the American flag) and hire cheap Chinese or Indian labor – cannot resist profit because for them it is not just profit. It is the return of the primordial object of the child-mother symbiosis – of a giant me-mother or mother-me.

Bion calls the absence of the primordial object “the no-thing – or no breast…when the object is absent there is an absence of fulfillment for the desires of the infant. There is pain over this absence, and this absence is experienced as a ‘no-thing’. One then attempts to close off absence by keeping oneself out of contact with inner reality. What’s really present is absence. Instead of experiencing the absence and representing it, that is symbolizing what’s missing; i.e. how do I feel that it’s not there, the person evacuates psychic reality… As Bion writes…’the emotion is replaced by a no-emotion – this can mean no feeling at all, or an emotion such as rage, which fundamental function is the denial of another emotion.’ Bion links hallucination as a way one fills up the absence and the missing gratification… If the person is unable to represent the no-thing that leads to mindlessness… the hallucinating the missing gratification is linked to psychology of addiction. That is one is addicted to fill up the space where absence should be… There is no space for thinking and meaning: one is not interested in the truth about oneself.” (Marvin Lifschitz, ibid.)

The facts of BJr.’s childhood tell a tragic story about the dying of a boy’s soul under the crushing power of the parental non-attendance (his parents were too interested in their son’s success to attend his real intellectual and emotional needs). The result is the emptiness of his soul – what is present in his soul is only “no thing” and “no breast”. “The pain of the absence” creates in the child the panicky desire to lock himself “ out of contact with inner reality”, out of feeling the absence of benevolent parental objects inside that are capable to warm, vitalize, reassure, encourage and lovingly direct the child’s probing into the world. It is this absence that motivates people in the position of leadership to invent wars from nothing, like god created the world. The antisocial behavior of the political and economic decision-makers takes place because there is no meaning of life in their adulthood – their sense of self was destroyed by their childhood trauma.

Identification with benevolent parental figures creates a potent nucleus of psychological and existentially intellectual development inside the child’s psyche. Positive parental images are gladly internalized by the child and become the “transitional” psychological energies and structures between external world and the child’s internal reality, a kind of downloaded “program” for his emotional and spiritual growth. The absence of such benevolent “software” consisting of positive and loving parental images creates a predatory abyss inside the child’s psyche, an abyss full of being-less, suspicious and dangerous objects that frighten and torture the infantile soul with the expectation of apocalyptic nightmares. Thus the potential for adequate thinking about reality is completely blocked. Instead we see what we saw during eight years of the Bush-administration – “rage as the denial of other [human positive constructive] emotions.” The only game a traumatized psyche can have is a blind clash with dangerous reality. BJr. and his entourage’s hallucinations about satisfactions are doomed to be mixed with a vengeful search for victory and control over the bad objects which were developed in their psyche. If your internal objects are threatening/dangerous and engulfing, then the only thing you can do is to battle them to death – “Osama”, “Saddam”, “Liberals”, “Communists”, “Socialists”, “Decadents”, etc., are only conventional names for the terrorizing internal objects representing the very absence of positive parental identifications in childhood.

“For Bion tolerating the no-thing is linked with vulnerability, openness and learning from experience. Conversely, ‘by treating objects as no-things and no-things as objects makes it impossible to use symbols as vehicles for experiential learning. We associate this state with murder… thus actual murder is to be sought…’” (Marvin Lifschitz, “A Bionian perspective on the Demon Lover Complex”, Psychoanalytic expressions: A Journal of Art and Words.) In other words, if I am prone to kill or if I plan the financial collapse – these destructive behaviors distracts me from being occupied with contemplating the fact that I never had and do not have positive and loving objects inside my soul. Here is a psychological prelude to the eight years of Bushmerican rule and to the antisocial financial behavior. People mistreat others to fill (and by this to get away from) their menacing internal emptiness. I need to bomb, to torture or to make super-profit when I feel that I am nothing, that I am not able to love myself and anyone else.

“When one is not met with a proper emotional feeling by the mother…thinking is atrophied. Bion writes: ‘in the place where feeling was… (there is created) a domain of the non-existent… this is followed by an externalization or evacuation of non-existence.’ Non-existence immediately becomes an object that is immensely hostile and filled with murderous envy towards the quality of existence where it is to be found… One hallucinates that one can rid of pain, understanding and meaning by attacking.” (Marvin Lifschitz, ibid.) That’s why people like BJr. are so desperately in need of enemies and wars. That’s why people like Bernie Madoff have a psychological need to rip people off.

The defensive feeling that vulnerability and openness are bad for you keeps the person in a hallucinatory idealized world. The psychotic attitude cannot tolerate building-up of experience. “If I allow experience to build, I don’t know where it will lead.” (Marvin Lifschitz, ibid.) People whose childhood was marked by the deficit of benevolent parental objects are prone to be conservatives because their experiential function is subdued – they feel that to let themselves experience life (instead of permanently calculating advantages) is too dangerous. That’s why they are afraid of a truly free market and prefer monopolistic control over the market.

The absence/lack of good/benevolent parental introjects during our infancy and childhood continues to be with us our whole life and continues to poison our capacity for rational thinking, feeling and acting. “Without ‘the orienting beacon’ (Margaret Mahler) of the primary, live, object, that is, without the emotional relationship within which the primitive projective-introjective processes might begin to forge identification and meaning, a cataclysmic ‘black hole’ depression is experienced in which life becomes chaos. Bibring (1953) called this ‘primal’ depression. Winnicott (1960) talked of an infantile psychotic depression in which there was a threat of ‘failure to go-on-being’. For Laing, writing in 1960, implosion, fear of engulfment and petrifaction presented the most extreme ontological threat to the human mind. Mahler (1961) saw infantile depression as the experience which ‘ushered in’ the psychotic break with reality, while Bion (1963) described a psychological catastrophe.” (Sheila Spensley, ibid, p. 47-8, p. 46).

*Sheila Spensley is a British clinical psychologist as well as a child and adult psychotherapist.
Marvin Lifschitz is a psychoanalyst practicing in New York.
Donald Winnicott was a British child psychoanalyst, the author of a theory of transitory objects.
Wilfred Bion was a British psychoanalyst who has advanced our knowledge of the structure of human psyche.