By Dr David Laing Dawson
In our history psychiatry overplayed its hand. As the theories of Freud, Jung, Adler and others caught on, some psychiatrists and psychologists thought we might have something to offer society as a whole. Perhaps psychological intervention could reduce violence generally, and even prevent war and promote peace.
This was overreach. And we are all aware now, I think, that the tools of psychiatry/psychology are more apt to be misused by the state (The Soviet Union), the CIA, Casinos, and by marketing, or building a better soldier, creating brand loyalty, selling junk food to kids, keeping a scholar or athlete focused.
For the most part the profession of psychiatry retreated to being a medical specialty engaged in the treatment of mental illness.
I was thinking of this while watching neo-nazi Christopher Cantwell on his Youtube video. He was an organizer and marcher in Charlottesville, and then a social media hit when he alternately ranted and sobbed on a self-produced video, after hearing there might be a warrant for his arrest.
Why any young and not-so-young American (or German or Canadian for that matter) might proclaim himself a Nazi today is a puzzle. As has been pointed out, they did not grow up watching their fathers lynch Negros or blame Jews for a recession. Where on earth does this come from?
But watching the performance of Christopher Cantwell it occurred to me that I had seen this many times before.
Troubled boys between age 14 and 17. Some ADHD, some labile emotions, and some developmental/cognitive immaturity. Within a half hour they might talk prison talk full of expletive laden revenge, need for respect, blame, threaten, and then cry, weep, apologize to me and their mothers. There is a frightened little boy inside that would-be thug.
They are trapped developmentally, still children dependent on adults, angry their needs are not immediately satisfied, experimenting with male roles of toughness, power, strength, (often borrowed from gang, drug, and prison cultures), ultimately terrified of adulthood and its demands for skills and responsibility.
Most get through this. Good parenting, time for the brain to develop and mature, some boundaries and structures that promote skill building and confidence, more self-reliance, less blaming of others. Sometimes pills for either ADHD or anxiety or both are required.
That is where Chris Cantwell is. I don’t know how much he truly believes what he says, but he is still, developmentally, 14 to 17, at once angry, blaming, playing a macho role, labile and fearful.
So yes, good parenting, some accessible mental health services, the right school system, opportunities to develop skills and confidence, could reduce the number of young men who become neo-nazis, or terrorists for that matter.