The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has been seismic in its exposure of systemic cracks and flaws across the spectrum. Assumptions about what once felt relatively predictable in terms of health and economic safety, job and educational security, and expectations for the future have been upended by the destructive course of the virus. And at the national level, in the equally unpredictable convergence of events that determine historical moments, the fault lines of foundational and transgenerational racism that undergird our country have been highlighted.
I am not yet an analyst. I am a pediatrician for urban public schools and state-regulated behavioral health facilities. In my current capacity, I address the medical needs of hundreds of minority kids and families who are excluded from traditional psychoanalytic culture but who could deeply benefit from this healing art. Every day, I witness both the need for psychodynamic applications on a programmatic scale and imagine possibilities for public health partnerships to enable this process.
I feel as if I’ve been punched in the throat. Being treated like a person is scary here. One must then recognize that one is indeed a person, which then makes one aware of the inhumane realities of this place. I thought I understood then. But as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, I got an even better understanding…
Danger during the war in Aleppo was marked with sound and smoke. During the pandemic, danger is boundless. It can be everywhere and anywhere. The most fashionable and well-off person can carry the virus and pass it on to me, while on the other hand, an armed person walking next to me on the sidewalk could be harmless. The invisible danger is what makes the virus lethal. In war, if the sound is far away, then I can assume I am safe.
Portland protesters armed with leaf blowers and cardboard signs face off with masked federal agents sporting fatigues and riot gear—guns, truncheons, and shields. Orange tear-gas clouds plume up from the tarmac as the agents grab protesters and hurl them into unmarked cars. These are images typically associated with far-off, war-torn countries ruled by authoritarian regimes—not democratic governments. But in less than six months, some of the most toxic elements of the US national psyche have risen to the surface, denuded by the global pandemic and bull-horned across the country by the divisive and belligerent rhetoric of the White House.
Last week, I dug up a box of my parents’ old letters. They were written before my parents were married, while my mom was still in Taiwan and an ocean away from my dad in the United States. A surprising number of the letters were in English; the writing is stilted, and it’s clear that English is neither of my parents’ first language, but the mundane recounting of their days felt somehow both endearing and sacred. Holding the tangible artifacts of my parents’ courtship in my hands, I imagined for the first time the twentysomethings they were when they wrote those letters.
I relocated from San Francisco to Caracas, Venezuela, in March 1999, just one month after Hugo Chávez assumed the presidency. He presented himself as a socialist intent on helping the underclasses and ending corruption, and I was ready to sign up. In addition to my practice and teaching at Universidad Central de Venezuela and Universidad Católica Ándres Bello, I started writing a monthly article in the English-language newspaper under the title “The Psychology of Everyday Life,” addressing topics such as childrearing and adolescent issues.
In the Anglo-American world, men are brought up to value a body image that is hard, flat, and impermeable, more like a wall, whereas women are taught to value or at least be content with one that might be softer or more flexible and is certainly leaky, like a fence.
Donald Trump’s penchant for attacking his opponents by projecting onto them his own disavowed personal attributes and apparent self-assessments has been a consistent feature of his rhetorical style and remarked upon by many observers. For instance, in her recent book The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump, Michiko Kakutani (2019) observes, “Trump has the perverse habit of accusing opponents of the very sins he is guilty of himself: ‘Lyin’ Ted,’ ‘Crooked Hillary,’ ‘Crazy Bernie.’
In explicating the thought of Socrates, Nietzsche wrote that philosophy was an effort “to harm stupidity” (The Gay Science, §328). According to Nietzsche, humanism teaches us that it is our egotism that is to blame for our misery. Socrates taught the youth of Athens that it is our thoughtlessness that is to blame.