The Primal Mind

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The Roots of Authoritarianism in the 21st Century – Part 3

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by Peter Prontzos

Einstein was right (again!) when he wrote:

“…the personality…is largely formed by the environment in which a man happens to find himself during his development, by the structure of the society in which he grows up…The individual…depends so much upon society—in his physical, intellectual, and emotional existence—that it is impossible to think of him, or to understand him, outside the framework of society. It is “society” which provides man with food, clothing, a home, the tools of work, language, the forms of thought, and most of the content of thought.”

Indeed, the power of one’s culture is so profound – and subtle – that it can even reorganize the neural pathways in our brain. As Montreal neuroscientist Michael Meaney explains: “…the development of an individual is an active process of adaptation that occurs within a social and economic context,” e.g. poverty increases maternal distress and poor parenting, which then may lead to lower “cognitive outcomes” for children. And other studies have shown that “lower general intelligence in childhood predicts greater racism in adulthood, and this effect was largely mediated via conservative ideology [emphasis added].

Wilhelm Reich, in The Mass Psychology of Fascism, was among the first to point out that repressed, unfulfilled, and angry people are more disposed to violence and authoritarianism. Eric Fromm, who, like Reich, escaped from Nazi Germany, viewed authoritarian childhoods as likely to create adults who see obedience as the best way to win the approval of father figures in power, who, “…offered the atomized individual a new refuge and security. These systems are the culmination of alienation.”

One doesn’t have to be a Marxist to agree that, overall, “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.” Marx is not saying that ideas do not matter, only that the primary determinants of our worldviews are the concrete conditions of our existence. Our views are different than those of our hunter-gatherer ancestors because the world we live in is so dissimilar. So even though we are the most social and empathic animals, those central emotions are weakened because, neoiberal ideology promotes, free market capitalism is one of the most powerful of empathy-reducing belief systems, especially as manifested in cultures like the United States.

Social psychologists like Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo  of the Stanford Prison Experiment pioneered our understanding of just how powerful our social situations can be – even stronger than one’s individual disposition. The corporate media are a major factor in the construction of both the social unconscious and political ideologies. One reason for their influence, as Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman notes, is that “people tend to assess the relative importance of issues by the ease with which they are retrieved from memory – and this is largely determined by the extent of coverage in the media.”

Powerful and wealthy elites tend to control what is taught in schools and, more than ever, in the mass media. The corporate media give us a very biased view of reality. As Einstein noted:

“…private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions…”

A dramatic example was provided after the attacks on September 11, when the major U.S. media blindly went along with the obvious lies of the Bush regime as it carried out a vast propaganda campaign to get public support for two illegal wars. A current example of media manipulation is the lie that Iran has not lived up to its treaty obligations regarding nuclear weapons. A related problem is the fact that the corporate media almost never mention the one country in the Middle East that does have nuclear bombs – Israel.

These examples are only a few of the many ways in which our society and culture can determine our thoughts, feelings, and behavior.

In my next post, I’ll provide a conclusion to this essay.

 

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January 5th, 2019 at 7:45 pm

The Roots of Authoritarianism in the 21st Century – Part 1

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by Peter Prontzos

The rise of authoritarian movements and leaders around the world, from the Philippines to India to the United States, is one of the most dangerous developments in modern times. Not only are they anti-democratic and often xenophobic, but they are one more significant obstacle to dealing with such other dangers as the climate crisis and war.

This danger is not trivial: a 2018 report by the democracy watchdog group Freedom House suggests that…”democracy is facing its ‘most serious crises in decades.’ Seventy-one countries experienced net declines in the guarantee of political and civil rights.” And this is not just an aberration. “For the 12th consecutive year, global freedom declined. Since 2006, 113 countries have reduced their commitments to individual and collective freedom.”

“France, the Netherlands, Britain and the United States have experienced the rise of extremist groups and rising intolerance toward ethnic minorities and immigrants. Germany and Italy have seen a resurgence of neo-fascism. Systematic measures to weaken the rule of law, attempts to eradicate judicial independence, curtail civil liberties, restrict voting rights and intimidate journalists have occurred in Poland, Hungary, Turkey and the United States.”

“The Great Recession of 2008 was the social and economic context for the emergence of contemporary autocracy in Europe and the United States. The reaction to the recession…reflects what Harvard economist Dani Rodrik calls the, “political trilemma of the global economy”: the incompatibility between democracy, national [self-]determination and economic globalization. Right-wing extremists were able to effectively link job loss, “uncontrolled” immigration and loss of national identity with globalization.

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December 7th, 2018 at 3:01 am

The Truth About Janov’s Primal Therapy

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by Peter Prontzos

There has always been a lot of misunderstandings about Primal Therapy, as developed by the late Dr. Arthur Janov.

Probably the biggest misconception is that it’s all about screaming. That likely derives from the dramatic – but misleading – title of Janov’s first book, “The Primal Scream.” It is a catchy title, but it is not what his therapy is about.

Simply, Primal Therapy is a form of psychodynamic therapy which emphasizes the need for a person to connect with, feel, and release the pain of earlier traumas. Some of these traumas can go as far back as a person’s birth.

It is client-centered, that is, the role of the therapist is NOT to analyze, offer insights, and decide what a person’s real feelings are. Only the client knows – consciously or not – their own history, and they must make their own connection to their past if they are to heal.

The other part of the problem is that many people who know nothing of the true nature of Primal Therapy think that they can judge it, and condemn it. Such is the case in the obituary of Dr. Janov that ran in the N.Y. Times. Specifically, they cite a study which charges that there is little evidence to support Janov’s claims and that the therapy has been “discredited.”

That is a false and ignorant accusation. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Here are just a few samples of scientists, researchers, and therapists who have a much more accurate understanding of the claims of Primal Therapy:

Dr. Janov provides the scientific rationale for treatments that take us through our original, non-verbal memories – to essential depth of experience that the superficial cognitive-behavioral modalities currently in fashion cannot possibly touch, let alone transform.   – Dr. Gabor Mate

Dr. Janov is the best writer today on what makes us human – he shows us how the mind works, how it goes wrong, and how to put it right. – Dr. Paul Thompson, Professor of Neurology, UCLA School of Medicine

Forty years of neuroscience research convince me that Janov has discovered a way to rewire neurons in your brain. – Dr. David Goodman, Newport Neuroscience Center

 Dr. Janov’s works are, a valuable guide to creating healthier babies… – Paula Thompson, Professor Emeritus, York University

Dr. Janov’s essential insight – that our earliest experiences strongly influence later well-being – is no longer in doubt…His long-held belief…lies at the heart of the integration of neuroscience and psychotherapy. – Lou Cozolino, Professor of Psychology, Pepperdine University

And finally, referring to Janov’s later work:

Without an accurate developmental history of troubled minds, coordinated with a recognition of the primal emotional powers of the lowest ancestral regions of the human brain, therapists will be lost in their attempt to restore psychological balance.  – Dr. Jaak Panksepp, author of, “Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions”

I will conclude with an anecdote regarding Jaak and Dr. Janov. I first met Jaak at a conference at UCLA, where I was told by Dr. Norman Doidge (“The Brain That Changes Itself”) that – in his opinion – Jaak was the most important scientist in the world. Jaak’s specialty was the similar processes found in the brains of humans and other mammals.

Bruce was already aware of Jaak’s ground-breaking research, and arranged for us to all get together for dinner and discussion at Janov’s house. Art showed Jaak a video of a Primal patient re-living an agonizing birth.

The next day, in his presentation to the Interpersonal Neurobiology Conference at UCLA, Jaak said to the audience that the evening before he had seen a video of a person re-experiencing their birth, “that could not be faked.”

So – while there is still a need for more scientific research on the process and the effectiveness of Primal Therapy – the slanders aimed at the process, and at Dr. Janov, are seriously flawed.

Hopefully, this problem will be remedied by future research; not so much to be fair to Art, but in order to more fully develop effective therapy, and especially to use this knowledge to prevent babies and children from being hurt in the first place.

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October 4th, 2017 at 4:34 pm

Review of “Life Before Birth” by Arthur Janov

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by Peter Prontzos

This a modified review that first appeared in the Vancouver Sun:

“A paradigm shift is happening” in the way that we understand the importance of our life in the womb. That was the assessment of Dr. Marti Glenn at a recent Congress of The Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology & Health (APPPAH).

She pointed out that, “researchers are beginning to discover…that the events and environment surrounding pre-conception, pregnancy, birth, and early infancy set the template out of which we live our lives.”

While this paradigm shift is new to most people, it is a view that was put forth decades ago by Dr. Arthur Janov, whose new book, Life Before Birth, explains just how fragile we are while in our first home. He believes that many – perhaps most – children have been damaged at a much earlier age than has been traditionally acknowledged.

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Book Review: Childhood Under Siege, by Joel Bakan

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by Peter Prontzos

In civilized societies, perhaps the most despised person is the one who preys on children. Even in jail, child molesters are often segregated from other prisoners for their own safety.

Human beings have a natural tendency to love their children and most will do anything to protect them from harm. Noted primatologist Frans de Waal has made a convincing case that love originated from the evolutionary need to protect our young, who are uniquely vulnerable in their early years.

It is difficult, then, to understand why we — especially those of us who are parents — tolerate the kinds of attacks that are taking place on our children.

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November 5th, 2011 at 12:00 pm

The Social Determinants of Health

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by Peter Prontzos

This post contains a portion of the talk that I gave last month at the 16th International Conference of the Association of Psychology and Psychiatry for Adults and Children in Athens. While I began with a short discussion of primal theory, I also wanted to stress how social and economic factors create the basis for much of the pain in our lives.

Research has now clearly established that economic, and social variables – more than individual or family behavior – are the most salient factors overall in determining a child’s well-being.

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June 1st, 2011 at 9:53 pm

The Elements of Primal Theory

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by Peter Prontzos

Isaac Newton, one of the most celebrated scientists of all time, once remarked that he could see far because he was, “standing on the shoulders of giants.” In the same way, Arthur Janov’s ground-breaking approach to psychotherapy, primal therapy, combines some of the most important elements of his predecessors while providing a deeper and more complete theory of the healing process.

This became clear to me as I was reading the second edition of Louis Cozolino’s invaluable book, The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy.

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December 12th, 2010 at 11:12 pm

Peter’s letter to the LA Times

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by Peter Prontzos

Dear Editor,

There are a number of serious problems with your characterization of primal therapy, but I will discuss only the most serious one. The author claims that a “major flaw” with primal “is that studies have cast doubt on the existence of deeply repressed memories.”  The truth is the exact opposite.

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November 23rd, 2010 at 11:02 am

“A Paradigm Shift is happening!”

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by Peter Prontzos

That was the assessment of Dr. Marti Glenn, one of the keynote speakers at the 2010 International Congress of The Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology & Health (APPPH), which took place from November 11-14 at Asilomar, California.

And while she was not speaking of Primal Therapy per se, much of what she discussed is very relevant to Primal Theory. Indeed, most of the people who presented at the Congress, as well as those I talked with, seemed to have a very positive view of the key elements of Arthur Janov’s work.

This is not to say that there wasn’t some “booga-booga” as well (e.g. “As eternal consciousness, each soul creates a plan for their upcoming ensoulment…”), but most of the Congress focused on the emerging science of the pre- and perinatal periods of life.

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November 16th, 2010 at 3:30 pm