Every so often, I have one of those horrifying little experiences that leads me to question my firmly held belief that most of Freud’s thought is utter nonsense.
In this case, I am thinking of a recent exchange with a friend. I have long known that this person had a particular view of power dynamics in the world that he held with particular fervor. The depth of his conviction on this point has always surprised me a bit, as I think that there is limited emperical support to his claims. In the course of our recent exchange, my friend began talking about his family. I was suddenly struck by the fact that the dynamic he described was a perfect microcosm of his macrocosmic view of social power. Generally speaking, I don’t like to pyschologize the opinions of others. Maybe what someone thinks about X really is simply the result of a complex set of negotiations between her id, ego, and superego. In most discussions, however, the move to psychologize a position is — in my view — an illegtimate attempt to dismiss an argument. Maybe anti-gun control activists really are working out some sort of a phallic facination with weapons, but strictly speaking this fact has no bearing on the truth of claims about the effect of gun control on crime. Much better, I think, simply to have a debate on the merits and let the psychology slide.
I can’t help but thinking that more often than not, our view of the world probably is simply an attempt to reconstruct on a macrocosmic scale our microcosmic experiences. I think that my friend’s passionate ideas about social power are in large part passionate ideas about his own family. Closer to home, I am quite certain that I tend to dismiss as peripheral claims about how the Church “really is” that do not accord with my own experiences. For example, I don’t really believe that Mormons have a big hang up about evolution. On the other hand, I have never had any powerful experiences of Mormons railing against evolution. It has always struck me as a kind of boring non-issue. Yet, I know that for some evolution is a definining religious and intellectual crisis, one which exercises a powerful influence on what Mormonism is “really like.” Whose right? Whose wrong? It is a tricky question, but not one about which — I think — psychology has a great deal to say. Nevertheless, I’m fairly certain that we are too quick to generalize from our own experiences. Or at least, I think that people who disagree with me are too quick to generalize in this way…