Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Monday, August 07, 2006

  On being smeared

How low will the superpatriots stoop to justify the neocon agenda of war, war, and yet more war? Pretty darn low, apparently.

After my post the other day on the Qana bombing, the reaction to it among the Fighting 101st Keyboardists was hyperbolic and uncomprehending. By rejecting their conspiracy theory, it turns out I've handed a victory to the terrorists.

One superpatriot even insinuated that I'm dangerously psychotic, literally. He described what purport to be the clinical details of a mental breakdown dating to the 1970s. It is despicable, all the more because the author is allegedly a practicing psychoanalyst. And 'ShrinkWrapped' is no lonely ranter; his blog is a favorite among right wingers. Just the other day, Wolcott took aim at him for making "the narcissism of the Left his house specialty."

But attributing an actual mental breakdown? I suspect that it's slanderous-and anyhow, it's malicious in the extreme.

For background on the right wing conspiracy theories about Qana, and my own post on the topic, see the Appendix below. Those who haven't been following this curious story might want to begin there. For the rest of you, I thought I'd proceed straight to the responses from the internet's superpatriots.

Richard Landes at Augean Stables wrote a lengthy, obtuse rebuttal expressing his conviction that I suffer from Bush Derangement Syndrome. That's about the level of analysis on display throughout. Accordingly, his post has been quoted with approval at various right wing sites. I'll postpone discussion of Landes, who (touchingly) is deeply concerned about "the tone at Daily Kos".

Psychoanalysis unleashed

Among those who linked to Landes' rebuttal was the blogger ShrinkWrapped (hereafter 'SW'). This commentary of his came up for discussion in one of the first posts at the new Online Blogintegrity, where Phila remarked that SW is a

posterchild for balls-out, in-your-face onlinified integritudity. This weird site is the magnum opus of a "practising Psychoanalyst, Psychiatrist" who uses his professional skills - though not, Lord knows, his professional ethics - to "make sense of" such fashionable ailments as Self-Hating Jewishness (i.e., being a Jew who fails to glorify the Israeli hard right in thought, word, and deed), and Conservative Fatigue Syndrome (i.e., a mild, easily reversible malaise that occasionally strikes loudmouthed assholes who've spent six years or more defending the indefensible).

ShrinkWrapped's discussion of self-hating Jews leads naturally to a discussion of Bush-hating lefties:

If we are at war with Islamic fascists, then those who oppose many or most of the Bush administration's efforts to use our full armamentarium against the Islamist enemy, including the ACLU, parts of the Democratic party, much of the MSM, almost the entire political and media establishment of Europe, and millions of people throughout the West, would be most charitably described as using the defense of denial to avoid knowing what the danger is and a small but influential sub-set would be employing "Identification with the Aggressor" in order to minimize their feelings of vulnerability and threat. Those people would be consciously aiding and abetting our enemies out of an unconscious process which includes "Identification with the Aggressor."

Even more than Charles Krauthammer, SW has a habit of attributing various psychoses to those whose politics he doesn't attend to, as Wolcott also notes. And true to form, before getting around to discussing my Qana post, SW presents a detailed psychological portrait of a deranged and dangerous "Michael C.", which he describes as "a true story". It's no secret that my name is Michael Clark, and I cannot imagine what point this portrait could have here unless it's intended as a profile of the author of the post under discussion (whom SW goes on to describe as having "twist[ed] his mind into knots to avoid even questioning his basic assumptions").

I won't quote his highly inflammatory profile because I have a professional (academic) reputation that could be damaged by such garbage. In brief, SW alleges that "Michael C." went bonkers from failing in his coursework while attending a Northeastern university; that he became increasingly delusional, paranoid, and messianic; that he became violent and threatened police with a knife; that he has come to believe he is Jesus Christ; and that he has had multiple Paranoid Schizophrenic psychotic episodes. All of this SW dates to the late 1970s.

It's a vile piece of work. The only truth in this portrait is that I attended Brown beginning in the late '70s, a fact that a few minutes of googling would turn up. The rest is pure fiction, though SW presents it as a case study. In fact, in a subsequent post, provoked by a highly critical email he received, SW states "I often use the behavior of my patients as a way to illustrate and illuminate points I am trying to make." (He goes on to assert "I have never diagnosed someone based on their political views". It is a highly defensive post; count the weasel words as you read.)

You will not be surprised to learn that the Code of Ethics of the American Psychoanalytic Association does not permit professional psychoanalysts to blab in public about the conditions of patients:

Except as required by law, a psychoanalyst may not reveal the confidences entrusted to him in the course of his professional work, or the particularities that he may observe in the characters of patients. Should he be required by a court of law to give testimony relating to the confidences of his patient, he should make use of all legal means to safeguard his patient's right to confidentiality.

The only obvious defense for ShrinkWrapped, I suppose, is that he never treated me and instead is making all this up. I could find nothing in the Code directly pertinent to 'making stuff up', but it does include this passage:

Each psychoanalyst should endeavor to safeguard the public and the profession of psychoanalysis against psychoanalysts deficient in moral character or professional competence. He should expose, without hesitation, in an ethical fashion and through appropriate channels, illegal or unethical conduct of fellow members of the profession.

Do we have any psychoanalysts in the House, who might care to discuss the ethics of Shrinkwrapped's fake case study? Or failing that, any lawyers who'd care to comment on the matter of on-line slander?

There's not much that needs to be said about SW's 'analysis' when he finally does get around to discussing my Qana post. He simply slathers a layer of psychobabble onto Landes' pronouncements:

What occurs in young people with Schizophrenia seems to have an analogue with nations and clans. The left has become increasingly unhinged in reaction their increasing marginalization.…

When your entire world view is at risk, when an admission of even the most minor fact that is in contradiction to your perceptual scaffold is taken as an existential danger, then you will forced into the most untenable positions in order to hold onto your sense of yourself.

Those who gleefully attack Israel for its disproportionate response, for committing genocide, or collective punishment against the victim Lebanese, must simultaneously believe the Israelis are evil monsters bent on genocide, super human military villains, and spectacularly inept at the murderous warfare they are accused of. It doesn't add up and it damages one's critical facilities to continue to believe such nonsense.

The press, meanwhile, caught up in their need for dramatic stories, lends themselves [sic] as tools to some of the most vicious, overtly genocidal, anti-Semitic forces on the planet.

Shorter babble: To reject the superpatriots' gross error (regarding the time-stamps of photographs from Qana) is a mark of a desperate and crumbling mental state. Facing up to error is not, as historians are prone to say, getting the facts straight.

Herds of a feather

The Augean Stables website features an illustration of a different Labor of Herakles than the one it takes its name from. I kid you not. But more than mere foolishness, Richard Landes shares SW's fondness for psychological analysis from afar. In fact, he shows up at Shrinkwrapped to gush about the repulsive post I just described:

this is a fantastic post. i guess this is the best of the blogosphere….in a way it's harder for me to believe that the left is so unhinged -- i was genuinely surprised by the tone at Daily Kos (which i don't read)

When Herakles is done with that Hydra at the top of the website, he'll have to clean up the irony that's dribbled all over the Stable floor from the cattle-herder's complaints about the tone of the anti-war left. What's more, Landes accuses me of ad hominem attacks upon those who refuse to let go of the discredited 'evidence'…thus demonstrating that he thinks the term refers to unwelcome deductions about the intellectual honesty of his fellow partisans. For smears, by contrast, the term 'fantastic' applies.

Anyway, Landes' evident pride in not reading Daily Kos squares perfectly with the grand-eloquent hash he made of my Qana post—which by his own admission appeared at Daily Kos. It's far from clear that he understood even the basic point that any conspiracy theory involving the collusion of photographers from multiple news agencies is, by its nature, 'improbable'. Strong evidence, rather than a mélange of confusions and ignorance, needs to be brought to bear to support an improbable theory.

For Landes as for so many other Fighting Keyboardists, rejecting their laughable errors, questioning their assumptions, ignoring their inconsequential observations, and excluding their unproven inferences is tantamount to-OK, you got there ahead of me-playing the dupe to Hizbollah (if not actively supporting Islamofascism). Only a fool, you see, does not understand that Hizbollah is capable of propagandizing.

Linked to their desire to deny any sympathy to the Lebanese civilians under attack, is a passionate defense of the Israeli offensive, the Bush administration's indifference to the suffering in Lebanon, and above all a full-throated assault upon the MSM. The latter is the flower-bed of their rage, I suspect, and the justification for so much bile directed against conspiracy-deniers. They fancied that they'd caught the media red-handed, and that their triumph would also help to discredit all the stories of carnage in Lebanon and Iraq. Here for example is Landes' introduction:

An extremely revealing piece at Daily Kos on the Qana Affair (hattip LGF) Smintheus, who has been known to rail against the MSM for getting their stories wrong, expresses his serene confidence in the MSM getting it right. One has to ask — as with the critics of Qana — how much what one wants to believe effects [sic] the evidence… in this case, apparently, a deep desire to believe Israel guilty, and the Hizbullah and the MSM innocent.

I believe you'd search in vain in my post for any expression of "serene confidence in the MSM getting it [what?] right," or a desire to believe anybody guilty or innocent of whatever these parties are supposed to be guilty or innocent of. That's simply the beginning of a catalogue of errors, unfounded assumptions, misreadings, and condescensions that pepper his paragraph-by-paragraph commentary on my post. It's worth poring over as an example of how the true-believers can read a fairly straight-forward essay and end up on another planet. Here is his conclusion:

And in the end, as they rub their hands in combined agony and glee, clucking over how Israel’s crimes have intensified global jihadi sentiments around the world, they protect one of the major sources of our woe: a deeply irresponsible media.

Tragedy amplified by smug partisanship.

But where does this smug hostility come from? What on earth possesses smenthius [sic] and his friends to think they know what’s going on in Lebanon? I guess, when it tells them what they want to hear, they believe the MSM. My question is, why is this what you want to hear?

Perversely, the one element which is most glaring by its absense from Landes' 'analysis' is the central point: that the Qana conspiracy theories reflect the intellectual dishonesty of the extreme right wingers. Oh well, I suppose there are only so many issues one can mangle in a diatribe.

Appendix: Background

My Qana post focused on one aspect of the conspiracy theories that the superpatriots have been floating, under the tutelage of Rush Limbaugh. Based upon a truly and spectacularly profound ignorance of how photos are time-stamped on line, a British blogger at EUReferendum advanced a nearly baseless theory that rescuers at Qana paraded around for several hours with bodies pulled from the rubble. Allegedly, the bodies were loaded, unloaded, and loaded again into ambulances for the benefit of photographers from several agencies, who all went along with this Hizbollah PR charade and knowingly submitted phony dossiers of photos of the fake event.

War boosters in the U.S. seized upon this conspiracy theory, eager to tear down the MSM. And even after the news agencies pointed out that the main 'evidence', irregularities in the time stamps, amounted to nothing more than a mirage, that did not dampen the enthusiasm of the conspiracy theorists. Conceding nothing, they accused the agencies of a coverup.

They've also piled up a molehill of circumstantial and, as far as I can see, inconsequential 'evidence' to bolster their original pillar of straw. I didn't describe this other 'evidence' in detail because nothing appears to follow from any of it. For example, they're utterly obsessed with 'The Man in the Green Helmet' (Mann mit Hut, Mann mit Hut!). This rescuer, visible in the recent photos, was also present in the rescue operations at Qana massacre in 1994. Well goodness gracious, that's exciting. Let's sit down for a moment to catch our breath.

Anyhow, my main point in that diary was this: The superpatriots' defense of war policies is intellectually dishonest to the point of absurdity. I took it as an example of the intellectual bankruptcy of so many of George Bush's most vehement supporters.

The wider range of their conspiracy theories is nearly beyond belief. Some of the true-believers are trying to convince the world, the Israelis in particular, that Hizbollah itself bombed the building in Qana, and that civilian corpses were shipped into Qana to be concealed in the building. This mess of a theory is predicated on dubious observations, all gleaned at third hand but tenaciously maintained, about the true condition of things in Qana. The confusion and alleged slowness of the rescue efforts is also said to be highly (!) suspicious, whereas the Israeli admission that it bombed the building is so trivial as to warrant no mention. This post is typical of much else that has been popping up on the right wing of the U.S. blogosphere (note the unsupported assertion that the farmer's concrete block basement looks like a bomb shelter). I won't stray any further into that ludicrous debate. A rebuttal of the conspiracy theories by Jefferson Morley at WaPo is worth consulting, if only because true-believers show up in the comment section.


  • I just ran across this post of yours, so my comments may seem a bit dated, but they are relevant to SW's continuing direct and indirect suggestions to his lay audience and a few psychotherapist/ideologues in his audience that psychopathology accounts for much of the disagreement with him.

    When I questioned the soundness and propriety of his tactics, one of his unapologetic readers challenged me to provide a psychoanalytic formulation of Shrinkwrapped's politics. After carefully considering the ethical ramifications for a couple of days, I obliged and, needless to say perhaps, many of his readers objected to the experience wearing the shoe on the other foot.

    My posts are:



    and here.

    Shrinkwrapped felt that I, unlike him, had abandoned the ‘high road.’ Right.

    As to the ethics of revealing patient information, I’ve winced a couple of times reading Shrinkwrapped’s blog although I did not see any instances where he appears to have crossed an ethical line professionally. I stay away from discussion of specific patients altogether because I simply don’t want patients to feel that psychoanalysts or psychotherapists use them for any purpose other than what is legitimate in the course of professional practice with guaranteed protection of their identities. If Shrinkwrapped outs a patient of his own or outs a patient seen in clinic or hospital where he had access to privileged information, he has breached professional ethics. If he claims to have treated someone and invents a treatment history, he has also committed an ethics violation. If he merely repeats what is already a damaging, public story and does not claim to have gained his information from sources other than those in the public sphere, then it is unlikely that there is any professional breach of ethics, which doesn’t exclude the possibility of slander.

    By Anonymous Dr X, at 2:59 PM  

  • Dr. X, thanks for the comment. As I tried to indicate in this post, I'm virtually certain that SW committed a gross ethical violation in this case.

    He prefaces a discussion of my post, without explanation, with a discussion of the extreme psychosis of one "Michael C." It's obviously meant as a smear of the blogger he's discussing. That's the only context in which this "profile" has a place in his post.

    I emailed him and asked that he take the inflammatory post down. He replied that he would do so if I insisted (I did insist, but he did not remove it). He also claimed that he did not intend "Michael C." to refer to me; he said it was instead a composite portrait of two former patients (thus contradicting his blog post, in which SW said it was a profile of a single patient).

    This is of course nonsense. The mathematical probability that SW just happened to choose both a first name and last initial which by pure chance is identical to my own, is almost infinitely small. (Say for the sake of argument that there is one chance in 20 that you might choose "Michael" as a fake first name; and there is one chance in 20 that he selected "C." as a fake last initial. That means the mathematical probability of choosing "Michael C." at random is one-twentieth times one-twentieth, or one in 400. The actual probability is much lower, I'm sure, but I can't be bothered to do the onomastic research to prove exactly how low it is.)

    So SW is just a weasel.

    He posted a "profile" of somebody he never treated, but claims to have treated. The purpose of doing it was to smear the person. And he made all of the "facts" up out of whole cloth. If that's not unethical, I don't know what is.

    In fact, if I knew his identity, I would register a formal complaint with his profession organization. The man should not be practicing professionally. He clearly has very severe psychological or psychiatric problems of his own, as well as holding his profession's ethics in contempt.

    Isn't it shocking that people read his stuff and applaud him, in all his creepiness? I'm afraid that you will not change many minds about him or his fans. True believers rarely can stand to look at themselves as others see them. They seem to invest so much of themselves in whatever picture of the world they've accepted, that they cannot modify the picture without shattering their image of themselves. SW has a lot of Jim Jones in him.

    By Blogger : smintheus ::, at 11:30 PM  

  • I took a more careful look at SW's post and your post. You definitely have a point about the odds of this being mere coincidence. But even if his choice of a pseudonym was purely a matter of coincidence, I personally find it disgraceful that he left the post up after you contacted him.

    By Anonymous Dr X, at 12:43 AM  

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