remains of the day
do they hate us so much?"
are two questions which we fail to distinguish at our peril. The
first is: "Why do they hate us?" The second is: "Why
do they hate us so much?"
answer the first question, we must turn to history, the study
of politics, of religious and cultural differences, and so on.
It is crucial that we learn as much as we can, but it is also
important to recognize that these studies cannot address the second
question. When we ask "Why do they hate us so much?",
we are troubled by a sense that, in addition to the grievances
we can make sense of, there is also something irrational
about their hatred. And if there is an irrational kernel underlying
their acts, then in the very activity of trying to "understand
their pain" we may inadvertently rationalize this irrationality
away. In this manner, the search for knowledge-the search for
historical, political, and cultural causes-can keep us ignorant
of causes which do not fit into these explanatory frameworks.
ignorance is dangerous, for the current war is above all a psychological
war. The point of terrorism is not so much to kill people as to
instill terror in the psyches of those who survive. The terrorists
hope to affect us through our fears. And though there is obviously
a legitimate basis for some fear, there is also recognition that
the terrorists have succeeded in triggering something irrational
it seems like a quaint commonplace of the end of the 20th century
that if we are interested in psychological well being, we don't
have to pay serious attention to the structure of fantasy. Every
New Yorker I've talked to has said that when they feel unsafe
these days, it isn't a vague feeling; rather it comes in the form
of specific scenarios and images. Pills may help us with generalized
affects like depression and anxiety, but they cannot address the
specific nature of fantasy. Similarly, it is a reasonable hypothesis
that as the terrorists attacked the World Trade Center they were
enacting their own fantasies. That a generation of psychiatrists
has been trained without an understanding of how fantasy works
is, I think, on a par with having a generation at the CIA without
Arabists. It leaves us unprepared.
is an unfashionable thought for our time: For all the valid criticisms
that have been made, psychoanalysis remains the only interpretive
discipline which tries to understand another person's point of
view without thereby trying to rationalize it. It takes
seriously the idea that fantasy, both conscious and unconscious,
influences our outlook and our acts in strange and irrational
ways. Let me mention three areas of psychoanalytic thought which
are salient to the question of so much.
fantasy. Fantasy isn't just a story, it can also be a strange
form of mental activity, often physical and concrete. It is a
hallmark of psychotic fantasy that a person cannot tell the difference
between a symbol and the thing symbolized. (A psychotic patient
once said to me, "Everything was all right until my life
left me." Unlike a neurotic slip of the tongue, this person
took his soul to be a concrete physical substance inside of him.
In certain physical acts-feeding, sexual-he took himself to have
placed his soul inside his wife. When she walked out of their
home, he fell into a catatonic trance.) When the terrorists flew
into the World Trade Center, they were, I suspect, enacting an
omnipotent fantasy of destroying the bad. For them, it was not
that they were attacking a symbol of America, they were attacking
America itself. What really matters, however, is not what was
going on in their minds, but in what ways might
the terrorists' acts be unconsciously affecting both their sympathizers
and those of us who have been terrorized.
there is a concrete dimension to fantasy, then to respond with
"America under Attack" is to collaborate unwittingly
with the terrorists' fantasies. The right response should be to
combat the fantasy: "You have killed many innocent civilians.
They were our fellow citizens, and we shall seek retribution.
You have disrupted our lives. And, least important, you have attacked
one of our symbols. But insofar as you wanted to attack America,
you have utterly missed your target. America exists in our commitment
to freedom of thought and speech, in our commitment to freedom
of religious worship, in our commitment to opportunities for all
of our citizens. America you have only strengthened."
the terrorists were acting out a concrete fantasy, then it is
a mistake to think we will completely understand them if we can
come to understand their reasons. For it is not their reasons
which are causing them to act-but rather primitive fantasies of
attacking the bad, acted out in real-life dramatizations. (Note
the spectacular nature of the attacks.) Reasons may be there,
but they are superstructure, designed to make the act look reasonable
to the terrorists and their sympathizers. And, whatever was going
on in their minds, we should expect that their dramatic acts are
resonating deeply in the psyches of their sympathizers. If we
spend too much time trying to understand the terrorists solely
in terms of their reasons, there is a danger that we shall end
up unintentionally collaborating with their own rationalizing
defenses. Of course, we need to understand their reasons, but
we also need to understand that invoking reasons is often used
to hide and legitimate unreason.
transference. People create worlds of meaning that absorb others
into pre-assigned roles. Consider this extract from Osama bin
Laden's speech of October 7:
America is tasting today is a small thing compared with what
we have tasted for decades. For 80-something years our nation
has been tasting this humiliation and degradation. Its children
are killed, its blood is shed, its holy places are defiled,
it is ruled contrary to God's revelation, and nobody listens
. I say that the matter is clear and
the world leader of unbelief, Bush
against this small band
toiling to reverse the humiliation
of their religion.
I say that these events have divided
the entire world into two camps - a camp of faith in which
there is no hypocrisy, and a camp of unbelief, from which may
God protect you.
is much to analyze here, but I shall concentrate on the most important
aspect: the world is presented as split into extreme positions.
There is the humiliator and the humiliated. There
is the faithful and the unbeliever. And there is no in-between.
The fantasy seems to be that through certain omnipotent gestures
the roles can be reversed. The humiliator position has been occupied
by the infidel, but that link can be broken and soon the infidel
will be the humiliated.
we do not want to conduct therapy on the millions tempted by bin
Laden's vision. But we do want to speak to his sympathizers in
a language that grabs hold of their hearts and minds. We need
to be aware that bin Laden is appealing to a populace that splits
the world into extremes. We need to understand that for the time
being, no matter what we say to them, they are going to
interpret it as yet another message from a humiliator hell-bent
on humiliating them again. That is, we have to work inside the
this were a long-term therapy of an individual, one would hope
to open up an intermediate space in which there were more options
available than just the extremes of humiliation and retaliation.
But as an immediate political problem, we have to work within
the split-and realize that for bin Laden's sympathizers there
are only two positions, abject and grandiose. And so we should
be inviting them to join us in sharing a grandiose fantasy: We
are all the children of Abraham, and the children of Abraham,
if they work together, are capable of greatness.
New York Times reports that the CIA "sometimes scoffed"
at Afghan opposition commander Abdul Haq, that "many at the
agency saw him as an armchair general" and that even after
his death one senior American intelligence official referred to
him as "Hollywood Haq." The complaint seems to be that
he was a grandiose figure, lacking substance. This is precisely
to miss the point. If you are going to appeal to the grandiose
fantasies of the Pashtun, you need a grandiose Pashtun to do it.
If the Taliban and Osama bin Laden corner the market on Pashtun
grandiosity, we shall have a real problem. Especially when we
take the irrational vagaries of the human heart into account,
it was a serious strategic mistake not to take better care of
envy. This is the most difficult phenomenon to comprehend. Normally
when there is a dispute, each side thinks it is right and that
the other side is wrong, bad, or mistaken. But it also thinks
that the other side is pursuing what it thinks is good.
Even when people attack us, we think that from their point of
view we look bad, so that in attacking us they take themselves
to be attacking something bad. This is the broad-scale interpretive
framework from which it makes sense to find out as much as we
can about our opponent's alternative point of view. But envy is
an exception to this framework. Psychoanalysis points to a darker
impulse in the soul to spoil and destroy: not because one
takes it to be bad, but because one takes it to be good.
word "evil" has been invoked frequently in recent weeks.
But do we know what we are talking about? If not, then the door
is left open for shallow-minded relativists to claim that "evil"
is simply the term that each side gives to the other. It seems
to me that the concept of envy can lend real content to the idea
of evil. A bad act is one that mistakenly attacks something good,
under the misapprehension it is bad; an evil act attacks a good
because it is good. This is strange, and to survive, evil tends
to hide under a false appearance. (Consider the literary figure
of the wicked stepmother: she attacks her stepchildren because
she cannot bear their vibrancy, beauty, or innocent approach to
life. But she tells herself that they are bad and therefore deserve
punishment-not because she really believes it, but because
she needs to hide from herself the envious springs of her own
evil really does exist but tends to hide under a guise of righteous
indignation, this will have political as well as moral significance.
We have to abandon the assumption that if we come to better understand
another point of view, the understanding will bring with it a
certain sympathy. To understand human destructiveness we have
to accept that there is much about it that is irrational and ugly.
And as a political issue, there is a crucial difference between
confronting motivations which are destructive, but still operating
under a perverted image of the good, and confronting motivations
which are, at bottom, envious. In the former case, we need to
find ways to enter into that worldview and redirect it; in the
latter case, we have to face up to the fact that the problem is
not a conflicting conception of the good, but an elemental force
is true that America has historically been an insular country;
in some cases it has been insensitive to the needs of others,
and in some cases it has been an inconstant friend. Others may
well have reasons to be angry. But we also need to be aware of
a serious pitfall: that there's a difference between understanding
why they hate us and why they hate us so much. And if you conflate
the two questions, there is a danger that-in the name of understanding-you
will unwittingly participate in a process in which truly evil
impulses are given the phony legitimacy of a grievance. Resentment
and self-righteousness are often excuses which cover over envy
and give it an outlet. The phenomenon of envy should teach us
that just because people hate us that much, it doesn't
thereby mean they have a reason. More importantly, it doesn't
mean that the reasons they give us and give themselves are necessarily
what is motivating them. In this war we need to understand the
concrete movements of irrational thought: not to understand
its reasons but to learn how to deal with unreason.
Lear is the John U. Nef distinguished service professor in the
Committee on Social Thought, philosophy, and the College. Working
and teaching primarily in philosophy of psychology, psychoanalysis,
Plato and Aristotle, and Wittgenstein, he is on the editorial
boards of the International Journal of Psychoanalysis and
the Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association.
His latest book is Happiness, Death and the Remainder of Life
Jean Bethke Elshtain:
War versus Holy War
W. J. T. Mitchell:
War of Images
do they hate us so much?"