Podcast / On The Nose
On the Nose is our biweekly podcast. The editorial staff discusses the politics, culture, and questions that animate today’s Jewish left.
Political Depression
0:00 / 01:06:03
August 10, 2021

As climate change-induced flooding and wildfires wreak havoc across the globe, and the Delta variant brings us into another perilous phase of the pandemic, the Jewish Currents staff is thinking about political depression—and how to cope with it. What does it mean to bring political feelings into therapy? Editor-in-chief Arielle Angel, publisher Jacob Plitman, culture editor Ari M. Brostoff, and contributing editor Joshua Leifer discuss the relationship between melancholia and the left, the difficulties of reconciling the therapeutic subject with the social collective of movement politics, and how therapy might be radicalized.

Articles and Podcasts Mentioned:

Beautiful Losers” by Sam Adler-Bell

How to Be Depressed” from Know Your Enemy

Feel Tank” by Lauren Berlant

The Family Romance of American Communism” by Ari M. Brostoff

I Feel Better Now” by Jake Bittle

The Anti-Antidepressant Syndicate” by Jess McAllen

Scientology’s Lonely Turf War” by Danielle Carr

Books Mentioned:

Half-Truths and One-and-a-Half Truths by Karl Kraus

Studies on Hysteria by Sigmund Freud and Josef Breuer

Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud by Herbert Marcuse

The Romance of American Communism by Vivian Gornick

The Republic by Plato

Thanks to Santiago Helou Quintero for producing and to Nathan Salsburg for the use of his song “VIII (All That Were Calculated Have Passed).”


Arielle Angel: Welcome back to “On The Nose, a Jewish Currents Podcast. I’m Arielle, I’m the editor-In-chief of Jewish Currents. In thinking about what we wanted to talk about this week, we were trying to do something sort of light for summer, and it didn’t actually feel right. Particularly as many of us are sort of depressed, or as we kind of more accurately put it politically depressed, in relationship to actual events, and not just our internal emotional state, or through some interplay of those things. And so I thought, this week, I’ve talked to many of my colleagues individually about their therapy, it’s kind of a pet conversation of mine. But I thought that we could all talk together, basically about political depression, and, and about how and whether we can bring that into our therapeutic relationships. So I thought we would start by introducing ourselves and saying, whether you are politically depressed at the moment and why. I am politically depressed at the moment. I think the thing that’s been doing it is, these images of the flooding in China, like I saw these pictures of people in the subway with water up to their necks in the dark. And it’s made me feel completely insane. And I think that has been compounded by the race in Ohio, and watching kind of like, single issue, Jewish Democrats, sort of, like, drown out our ability to like deal with climate crisis in any meaningful way. Because of Israel. So that is what I’m thinking about at the moment.

Ari Brostoff: I’m ArI’m the culture editor at Currents. I definitely feel politically depressed right now. I think, for me, it’s really crystallized and simultaneously, the return of this sense of limbo between a quarantine and not quarantine, I’ve had two COVID scares in the past two weeks being exposed to people who had breakthrough cases with the Delta variant. And, I’m fine, but it feels very...hard to know what’s going to happen next. And, then simultaneously, the eviction moratorium running out which then later Biden, extended through October has been, at least set off a very scary moment, because I’ve been doing a lot of building organizing, and many of us are waiting for funds to come through from New York State for rent relief from the past year. And we had felt like we’d won this kind of political victory from being on this rent strike, and then wound up just feeling once again, just kind of in this limbo as we wait for them to actually pay out these funds that are being held up and terribly mismanaged. So I just have this kind of sense of dread.

Joshua Leifer: HI’m Josh. I’m a contributing editor to Jewish currents. I would say that I am politically depressed.

AA: Josh, are you ever not politically depressed?

JL: Well that’s what I was gonna say is that...political depression is sort of like my...is my...is kind of my default. I was gonna get to that, which is that..Yeah, I was saying I’ve been trying to insulate myself from from the climate grief and the pictures of just environmental destruction, whether they’re in China or in Germany, or in the Arctic or in the West Coast like there was a day - I’m currently on the Upper West Side of New York - and there was a day when the whole sky was just smoggy from the wildfires out west. And I was I felt very overwhelmed by what this would mean for the future of life on Earth. But I also think that the climate, grief in particular gets at such a deep sort of mortality related anxiety that it feels it quickly consumes everything. And so I’ve been just trying to keep that at bay, basically, and deal with my more like, mundane political depression, about the transformation of Jewish identity into a vulgar nationalism. And, the fact that the occupation may never end...you know, when I...Arielle, you joke that I’m sort of always politically depressed. And I think that’s partially because I had a very kind of whiplash experience and politicization as a younger, as like a teenager of getting politicized about the occupation and on issues of Israel, Palestine, and then immediately encountering, basically, right after in Israel, Palestine, the immovable reality of the settlements, and just what had happened to Israeli culture over the last decades. And so I guess for almost a decade now, myself, I’ve just had this...the foundational political attachment for me is to a future that I don’t actually believe is possible. And then sort of all of my other political commitments followed from that, but it’s very, like the err political depression. is that one.

AA: Thank you, Josh, for that. That really like perfect expression of, of your being. Jacob, what about you?

Jacob Plitman: Hello, everyone, I’m Jacob Plitman. I’m the publisher of Jewish Currents. And I am not feeling politically depressed. In fact, I feel skeptical of the very idea of political depression. So take that everyone else who’s spoken. And I guess, I mean, I’ve always assumed we’re gonna get into this throughout the throughout this episode, but I guess what I mean by that is depression itself, I just don’t really understand how it relates exactly to politics. I mean, if, politically, obviously, these are somewhat sort of liberal doldrums, with the return of, of Democrats to the White House. And obviously, I’m as horrified as everyone else about the climate catastrophe that’s unfolding seemingly faster and faster. But horror and grief, and these other feelings were describing I understand, but but actually, I don’t really relate them to depression, which I, which I feel as a sort of, a sort of numbness or nothingness or lack of energy, when I don’t feel I don’t feel de energized, I feel quite energized, actually, about a lot of things, even if I feel relatively skeptical, or even hopeless about the possibility of the kind...of the scale of changes that we need happening at the, on the timeframe in which we need them. But all that’s to say, I think, I feel...I actually feel quite a bit in which is different than the feeling I associate with my actual clinical depression, which is a sense of, of non feeling or emptiness or disconnection.

AA: I guess we could be very precise about what we mean by depression, I think the reason that I’m putting it that way is just to describe a situation of going into therapy and being depressed about something that or let’s not use depress, just upset about something that is happening in the world. And, and the condition of sort of being asked to attribute it elsewhere or, or to, to look at that experience of being upset about something that’s happening in the world or being engaged with something in the world to the extent that it makes you unhappy. And thinking like, that’s actually not the problem. The problem is something emotional, or the problem is your parents or the problem is is something else. And I guess my question for this episode. I mean, I guess my question for this episode is individually I know that we’re all in therapy. I personally have a new therapist, and, and that we’re all very political people. And I guess I’m sort of curious about how you’re each dealing with this in your therapy? Like when you come in and say...or talk about politics for example, are you directed elsewhere? And should you be? Or are you asked to sort of like, you know, go deeper into that? I guess that’s, that’s where I would start.

JP:I guess I would quickly say, I mean, I say this as someone who’s been in therapy straight for two years, and and unmedicated. So I don’t know if it’s the pill is talking, but I think I agree with Karl Kraus, when he said that, you know, psychotherapy, and psychoanalysis is the disease to which it purports to cure. And I think that might be true, I think it might be true. Because I think that part of what I experienced within the context of therapy, I mean, my own therapist and shout out Randy, if you’re, if you’re listening to this, she has a pretty clean division actually between, like the the sense of personalizing a political problem. And like how to avoid essentially, I think, the risks of making the problems of the world to reduce them to personal problems, where basically, I mean, her feeling about this, and I think this has come through a lot of tense conversations between she and Is I think, basically, that the point of the therapy is to get control over yourself, and to react to actually get to a point where one has a control enough over one’s infantile reactions, that one can actually perceive the world and thereby react to the world rather than react to one’s upbringing, essentially, or once one’s life experience outside of a political or political reality, or at least a political reality that one could, that one could alter, for instance, I’m not going to be able to no matter how good I organize, change the way I was brought up in one way or another. However, if I can deal with that in some way, I might actually be able to see the world and then to do something,

AA: Jacob, I just, I actually just want to clarify, because I don’t feel like I totally understand. Are you saying that actually the kind of conflation of the personal and political in therapy means that you don’t actually see the world as it is? And that this is the thing that your therapist is trying to get you to do?

JP:I guess what I’m saying is, when I first went to therapy, I went to therapy, specifically because I couldn’t sleep. And I couldn’t sleep because I developed PTSD from the work that I did in Greece with refugees. And I would have all these kinds of wild symptoms, like I would be walking down the street and see someone who vaguely resembled a resident of the camp that I’d worked in. And I would be briefly completely convinced that this person had made it somehow to Brooklyn. And like, I would have this like wild desire to be like Achmed, or whoever, like what whoever the person was that I knew when I was working with these refugees, and these persistent delusions, essentially, that I was having, as I walked around, were driving me completely crazy. And I was like, grinding my teeth at night. And I could not essentially think about what was going on. And so when I went to her, basically what the conversations actually we’re about, we’re about getting control of the sort of wild fluctuations in feeling and frustration, in order for me to be able to be politically active, because what this was actually doing to me, was having me...I mean, I remember I was at the DMV, and I would just like lines... because I think in a kind of resonance with the long lines that existed to get water and food at the refugee camp, when I would be standing in a line, I would become apoplectically angry, like losing my mind angry, like spitting curses under my breath angry. Which was, which is embarrassing, and makes an antisocial. And so a lot of the work that I was doing had to do with like, not negating the fact that what I was experiencing was the kind of stamp of a political trauma, but getting a hold of myself so that I could actually react to the politics, and not just to the the imprint that they left on my brain.

JL:I mean, I think Arielle when you and I were talking about this before the podcast, I think the experience that we were talking about was one in which being in therapy, and bringing your political commitments to the session was met with the suggestion that perhaps in order to feel better, it would require surrendering an attachment to those political commitments. Or that’s how at least I experienced...would often experience what was happening when I started going. So I started going to therapy regularly after I had been living in Israel, Palestine. And at first I thought it was for...that what was really, what I really was dealing with was was PTSD from the experience that I had. They are covering protests in the West Bank. But it turned out to be a little bit different. I mean that that was part of it. But in order to feel better, I needed to somehow separate myself from a movement that I thought I had failed by having left. And, but I also didn’t want to give up on the movement in that way. Like in a... the way that I interpret it - and I think I’m just at a point where my actions have taken me further along the path of not being there - but that the...I felt the the demand of the therapy was to attenuate commitment or, or attachment to the political cause that I thought for so, for a long time was the meaning of my life.

AA: And do you feel like your therapist was like actively asking you to do that?


No. It wasn’t, it wasn’t... It was mor... it was more subtle than that. It was more tricky in the way that I would bring these dilemmas or obsessions that I had about my failure and my betrayal of people who I loved. And, you know, he would ask, do you think that? I don’t know by doing, by going home, you actually betrayed that at the end of the day? Do you think you betrayed them? Or at the end of the day? Do you think that your presence made such a difference? You know, all these it was by it was kind of by almost almost a dialogic process that I was reasoned out of what was an irrational what, what was construed, I guess, in some sense, as an irrational commitment to something that was making me... that made it impossible for me to continue on with my life. So I ended up basically, when I came back from Israel, I couldn’t begin a new life again. I was stuck either trying to get back there or go somewhere else, even though it actually wouldn’t have been hard to go back there. I simultaneously didn’t want to go back there because I had such a horrible experience in the day to day of the reality there. But I also felt like I’d done something horribly wrong by by leaving and going back to the comfortable life in America.

AB: I just wanted to note something interesting about that. The kind of opposition that I think Josh and Jacob set up in, in their original answers to the question, because Josh’s answer was, “I’m always politically depressed,” and Jacob’s answer was, “I don’t think that there’s any such thing.” And I think -

AA: The dialectic—

AB: Well, yeah, exactly what the, you know, the antinomies that have not yet been resolved, as I will do in this moment. But, no, I mean, I think that I really tend toward Josh’s sense of things. And Josh and I have definitely talked about the kind of philosophical tradition of thinking about left melancholy as some theorists call it. It’s something that Sam Adler Bell wrote about, and a really lovely piece last year and the podcast that Sam and Matt sent men do know your enemy had an episode about it that I loved. But yeah, there’s, I think there’s, there’s one tradition that goes back to people like Walter Benjamin, who were legally required to bring into every Jewish current conversation, of thinking about an aspect of state like, melancholia as being kind of a permanent condition of being on the left, because that position is characterized by wanting a world that feels very far away. And, and I think, in that sense, what Josh said about, you know, feeling like your originary kind of political investments in the end of the occupation might never be realized. Like, there’s versions of that, that we can say about basically, anything that we care about, I think, and I deeply feel this myself. But I also am thinking about how I wonder if it’s, if the language of political depression stops being useful, if we think about it as like have a permanent state of being or in Jacob’s version, like, I think it’s just sort of the other way around like a state that’s so permanent, that it’s almost like not worth calling it that, because that’s always what it is like, our feelings are always constituted by politics on some level. And so I guess what I’m thinking about instead is, it’s kind of about moods that come and go. And like, this is a thing that a lot of people in, you know, people who have, who work on so called effect theory, have like thought about in the past couple of decades, Lauren Berlant, who recently died, was actually like one of the main people who thought a lot about political depression. And, and what Lauren and and a lot of these thinkers were speculating about was like, how do we bring non cathartic feelings into our conversations about politics and organizing? And the kinds of conversations where we often want, like, big capital letter feelings to kind of lead the way? So what happens if you go to a meeting, and you’re bored, or you go to a protest, and you feel alienated, or you read the news, and you feel checked out, right, like those, those, I mean, there’s a million versions of this. But I think I really feel of two minds about this, because I do think that it’s really important to attend to those. And at the same time, there’s a way that really getting being hyper attuned to those kinds of like shifting moods can actually become just like a way of talking about feeling stuck. And I think it can also be helpful to just say, like, I’m not doing this right now. Like, you know, cathartic emotions or busts, kind of add, like, and sometimes I think, in like, like, I know, I personally will have like manic bursts of energy, where I will be able to, like, push through something and get there by doing some kind of political work. And other times, I don’t feel like I can do that. And I think right now, I don’t feel like I can do that. And that’s why I feel like right now in particular, as opposed to like, you know, whatever, some other moment, two months ago, where like, things were basically just as bad in the world, I might have felt different.

AA: I’m really stuck on the question of like, what we do about this in our, in therapy? And so I’m just curious, like, do you bring that stuff? Do you bring that question to your therapist? And do you feel like your therapist is trying to make those feelings go away? Or is your therapist trying to figure out how to make you more politically engaged? And what if those two things are in conflict?

JP:I mean, in my own conversations, it’s like we have arrived, I remember one conversation a year or so go into a conversation about the difference between a feeling and a condition. And that I think one can have a lot of, I mean, obviously, you have all kinds of feelings about all kinds of things all the time. But the argument that we kept getting into was whether or not those feelings are corresponding to an actual condition of one’s life or of the world. And I think part of the problem that I was confronting, and that was actually very useful, was the was the conflation in my own life and experience with these feelings that are sort of being attacked by you know, coming from my own experience, and misdiagnoses of the conditions that they represented. And I don’t think there’s a hard necessarily a sort of scientific line between these things. I mean, like, you know, declining wages in the United States is a condition. I also have feelings about that. And that doesn’t invalidate the fact that it’s a condition and it doesn’t mean it really anything I think about the feelings I have about it. But I do think it’s useful in that separating one’s feelings and one’s feelings regarding conditions, creates a place for the mind. Because the mind and I think that’s, that’s what’s at work in a lot of ways in, in psychotherapy, where you’re, you know, it’s a really it’s a it’s quite a it’s sort of an essentially modern conversation where you speak hypothetically to this kind of mirror of yourself. You know, it’s radically individualistic in that sense. But I think separating conditions and feelings gives room for the mind to do a kind of work that it doesn’t necessarily always get space to do. That is to say, the room to think, and to actually think through what politically is happening to develop an understanding that one could actually act on in a way, that is an understanding informed not just by the kind of primordial traumas and, and experiences that make up the ones before times whether they’re literal childhood or otherwise, but ones that can can address those experiences head on, in a way that allows one to use those experiences to develop what might be called in understanding, rather than simply sort of playing on those same traumas and experiences the way that, you know, a musician plays a score.

AA: Right. I mean, you seem you seem to be like, on the side, I mean, you and your therapist, because it seems like you guys have have come to an agreement on the side of like, making this kind of separation makes you better able to arrive at some kind of truth in some in some way. I mean, that’s what I’m hearing.

JP:Yeah, I mean, projection is the enemy of the political. Like, if your projection, what it does, like you’re sort of, it’s like a kind of social and political hallucination, you know, and I think that I don’t begrudge anyone’s projections of, I’ve been known to have a projection or to myself. But at the same time, I do think it’s, it’s, it feels honest to say that the search for actual understanding, like true insight about oneself and one’s world, is the battle against projection and against the misunderstandings that one copy paste from one’s past onto one’s present that helps determine one’s future.

AB: Jacob, I think, I think I actually disagree. I yeah, I think, or I actually, I think I sort of like agree with your conclusion, but not with your premise or something. I actually think the baseline disagreement here might be that, as I understand it, therapy, the kind of psychotherapy that has kind of come down to us from like, the psychoanalytic tradition, actually, is not individualistic. It, there’s versions of it that certainly are more invested in encouraging the person undergoing analysis to, you know, really develop like a coherent ego, and to sort of, and that very much goes along with the most kind of like politically quiescent versions of psychotherapy, where it’s really just about kind of adjusting yourself to the world. But I don’t actually think that that’s the interesting version of analysis or even of therapy, as it’s like, more, kind of commonly practiced today, I think, the really interesting version, and that, you know, it’s like a deep insight of Freud is that our, our psyches, like even at the level of the unconscious of what we’re not consciously experiencing, are completely wrapped up in other people. And then and then and in our relationships with them. Going back to like, your earliest parental relationships or familial relationships, that but also on a broader level, like your relationships with the world around you. And that is actually kind of just like a given. And, and the qualities of the mind, like projection, let’s say are a kind of inherent quality of the fact that we are constituted by our relationships with other people. And so I think that from that perspective, yeah, it’s great to try and get your neuroses under control enough that you can, like, both like, live in a way that isn’t driving you crazy. And also allows you to like have some agency in the world, which is the conclusion that I think you’ve also arrived at, but I don’t think that there’... I don’t think it’s because those things represent some kind of like false consciousness, it’s, it’s actually just like, it’s really just about being able to identify that and just like knowing what they are. And that’s, I think, a lot of the work that you do in therapy.

JL:I mean, I think this surface is an interesting tension, one that I have felt in my own sessions, and also that we were talking about last week about the kind of subject that often seems the therapy is, has in mind is the ideal one. And that one, which in my own experience, felt opposed to what it meant to be a person involved in political movements that demand a lot of a person. That it demand, in fact, perhaps a degree of self Abnegation. The...the mode of therapy that I have experienced is one that cares a lot about the individual self, it wants to protect the self, it does the kind of thing that Jacobs talking about, which is it wants to create space for the self to think for the self to be free. But what if a certain kind of political affiliation or strategy requires something far more dramatic, some kind of self sacrifice? You might argue that the impulse for that self self sacrifice is that itself is a kind of projection and is rooted in some kind of childhood experience. I know, this is something that I have also, that is part of it. But But I also do think that there comes a time in the life of a movement, where and perhaps an attachment to like the bourgeois unitary self, has to be fought back against. And so the question is, really, is there a sort? Is there... I don’t know if there’s an answer to this, but at least in my own experience, it’s often felt as though there’s a tension between a movement itself and the subject of, of analysis, and perhaps that, that tension, or that that that conflict isn’t real, or I have come to think of that it is for particular reasons.

AA: No, I’m...that’s exactly the tension of my therapy right now. I mean, basically, I mean, like, I’m, I’m, like, very directly in this in the center of this with a new therapist, where like, the question that I came in with was, essentially my own self sacrifice as it relates to the magazine, and, you know, like, overwork, and all those kinds of things. And me basically saying, and her basically saying over and over, but why do you care about this thing so much, you know? And me trying to explain my commitment to, to the cause, basically, you know, like to changing a certain kind of conversation around ISRAEL PALESTINE to like, kind of changing a Jewish American conversation or whatever. You know, and for me, it’s like very self evident that like, this is a thing that would be worth self sacrifice for. You know? And of course, like I’m coming to, it’s kind of unfair to her, because on the one hand, I’m coming to her with a problem, which is that, like, I’m self sacrificing. And on the other hand, every time she says to me, “Well, let’s think about why you’re self sacrificing.” I’m sort of saying, Well, isn’t it obvious that this is something worth doing? Or like that this is something worth sacrificing for? Or that like, if if I could be sure that that, that this sacrifice didn’t need to be made? Maybe I wouldn’t make it but I’m not sure that that’s true, or whatever, you know. And it has led to a lot of tension also, because there’s sort of this like, continued probing of like, well, what is this really about? Like, what’s up with your parents? Like, we’re like, what is you know, what is this really about? It reminds me of actually 15 years ago, when I kind of understood what climate change was where I like, called around to a lot of therapists being like, I can’t do anything, because there’s no future. And they were like, well, what is this really about? And I was like, well, actually, it’s about climate change. And so there, I do have a sort of resentment at the same time, I need relief, right? Like I need to be able to separate myself from this vision of self sacrifice to this higher cause or something. And on the other hand, like, I don’t know, I also believe in the, in the necessity of sacrifice on some level or like, I believe in the in the moral good of that on some level. So I’m in a bind.

JP:Well, I think that’s exactly what I what I meant earlier, where I mean, the subject as Josh was saying, the subject I think the sort of stereotypes, I don’t want to gloss all therapy at all theory altogether. But I think the sort of stereotype subject of therapy, the individual seeking to get free by individual means of rectifying the traumas of one’s childhood, I mean, that that that person can’t do politics. I mean, that’s, that’s a person trying to escape politics.

AA: But that’s the only person doing politics. I mean, wouldn’t I mean, like, for the most part, it’s like, it’s not like any of us are free of that.

JP:No, no, of course . But I think the the idea that you would do this work in absentia of political action or that you could, that you could seek anything like personal liberation through, you know, purely individualistic means, I mean, I think that’s sort of transparently cuckoo, you know, like, there’s just no way. I mean, because like, unless this world is already suited for you, and I don’t even know who that would refer to, I mean, even including the super rich, but unless this world is, is suited for you, then there is no healthy acculturation into this world. I mean, it would be like deciding to, to become crazy in order to, in order to fit in a crazy world. So I just think the only way that makes sense for me to think about it is like, to what degree there are pieces of one’s relationship to politics in the world that are like fragments? And in projections and hallucinations that are not necessarily related to, to what one can and should do. I think those are the purview of therapy. But the idea that one would go into therapy and sort of be cured of anxiety, you know, I mean, I think what that would mean is that you go into therapy, and then you die. You know, I don’t really know, I don’t know any other cure for anxiety, other things other than death.

AB: Right. But I think that, that that’s not necessarily what therapy wants from you either. I actually think that the goal of therapy itself is not necessarily to cure you of anxiety in the way that I think you’re talking about Jacob. So Freud has this famous line about the goal of psychoanalysis being to transform neurotic misery into common unhappiness. And I think that there’s actually a lot of what we might call like a psychoanalytic culture or something that actually is also the very much like the Jewish effect, often associated with psychoanalysis. There’s like a very particular kind of dark humor to it, I think, that I find to be actually just like a very good or useful, like way of thinking about a kind of like, goal for living in the world. But I also think, I guess two things: one is that I definitely resonate with what I think Arielle and Joshua was saying about kind of trying to work out in therapy. Or noticing in therapy, a tension between your own kind of mental health or like sense of ease or something, and your political work. And the thing that I was actually thinking of was, I don’t know, if you guys know, this concept that Herbert Mokuba has, who’s one of the Frankfurt School thinkers who was really interested in psychoanalysis, but he has this idea of, he differentiates between basic repression and surplus, repression. And basic repression, he says, is like, what you need, in order to just like, survive, basically, in the world. Like, the, you know, like you, you know, like, don’t have sex with your mother and murder your father, to take an example at random. Like, don’t throw your sister in the fire, whatever. And, and, and so he differentiates those forms of repression from what he calls surplus repression, which he says, is the kind of repression that the the kinds of internalized prohibitions that we’ve adopted, because of relations of domination, capitalism, obviously, as the kind of like driving engine of them. And so I find that very useful and thinking about like, okay, like our, if you sort of translate the political question into the terms of analysis in that, in that sense, then the world that we’re fighting for is the world where we will all still have to obey some kind of laws to like, survive and like live with each other. But we can eliminate the the surplus ones, the ones that we actually don’t need, because they just instantiate existing power relationships. And I feel like there’s a version of that that actually just like comes up in like the sort of day to day of therapy, where sometimes, like, I know, I’ll come into therapy, and I’ll be like, I’ll just like rant about politics, until I kind of run out of steam. And then I get the inevitable question of like, what is this really about? And then, in a way, it kind of normalizes it, and makes it like a lot of other things that come up in therapy, where sometimes I’ll be like, No, it’s really about the thing that I’m saying it’s about, and sometimes it won’t be like, sometimes it will go on off in a different direction. And like, and so I actually think that it’s that kind of like, day to day or like session to session parsing out that like, actually is where a lot of that work comes in. And I think it’s super helpful to have a therapist who’s like, really, you know, kind of, like, on the level politically, so that you’re not fighting more than you need to be.

AA: I mean, I know Ari that you have, like, a young, hip DJ therapist, but like, I think the rest of us like don’t have that. Like, Josh, I was wondering if you could tell us about your therapist, because I don’t think like, for example, like, I don’t think you would classify your therapist as like, a leftist. Right?

JL:You know, he’s, he’s very cagey intentionally, and we don’t we, it’s funny, because even though I come in as as a political person, much of what we talk about is not actually politics, because I am aware enough that a lot of my grief and problems don’t necessarily derive from my political commitments. But he, I mean, we, to the extent that I have been able to get to know him over, over the years, I mean, he has a certain connection to Israel and Hebrew and, and, and can make, you know, can we have a, he has a frame of cultural frame of reference, that’s that I find comforting and that helps. And so I feel like, heard by him, even though politically we, you know, I don’t I don’t even know, which I think is both a source of anxiety for me. But also... but also useful. But I mean, I think like there’s one - but sometimes it does come up, and the reason why, what I was gonna what this this is that surfaced for me was that when I... I remember a call talking about feeling as though the movement or being a political person required me to submerge some of these desires or feelings because they were counterproductive to the movement or they were selfish or they... for whatever reason... and he... and my therapist made a comment about how traumatizing the experience was for people who grew up in Kibbutzim and what... and what it meant....In that it actually... I had come in a functionally, with a very idealized sense of what it would be to live a politically committed life, almost, you might say, a totally committed life, to a cause where you everything from morning to night is devoted towards building the world you want to see. And, of course, these sort of utopian political arrangements were tried and one of the places where they were tried whereas in the Kibbutzim in Israel, and it’s a troupe, I not... I’d actually would be interested in reading about the extent to which this is true, but certainly in popular consciousness about people who grew up on Kibbutzim, there’s a lot of talk about the trauma of what it was like to live in a place where it was almost impossible to actually be an individual. I think you see this in writing about people who grew up in communist cultures and emerged into post communist life feeling a little bit lost. And I think part of you know, some people become attached to the the the ways of being that that existed before but basically, that the eradication of the self as a feeling thinking things separate from the cause was actually not a good thing. And I wanted to reject that because I felt like that was conceding to the...status quo like, you know, if we don’t believe, if we don’t believe that we can change the nature of subjectivity, then how are we going to be able to, you know, build socialists. Now, this is not what I believe now. I mean, this is this is sort of at the beginning of a process. And I think one of the things that people who still have utopian horizons for politics, need to think about as people may when faced with the prospect of having to radically change their lives and alter their desires and think about themselves anew might actually resist that even violently. This is why I feel even more pessimistic about the possibility of, you know, fundamental political change. I mean, we, whether on issues of climate change, or even just like income inequality in the United States, that people have become attached ways of life, but not just attach that they, that those are foundational to their sense of beings. And so to force them to live in a different way, or to try to push them to live in a different way is impossible, because that requires them to give up on themselves, essentially,

AA: I mean, something that it makes me think of, I mean, this is kind of a different point, but it feels related in my head is just that, like, I don’t know, if you guys have ever met, like very, very long time activists, but like, a lot of them are not okay. You know, like, they’re really not okay, I mean, and that, that can show up in like, so many different ways. You know, from just like, you know, real PTSD, or like a way of engaging with people that just like, doesn’t feel healthy, or like a kind of ego over inflation or like, a sense of a martyr complex, or all kinds of different ways. I mean, we don’t have to pathologize all those things. And also, like, if you look at kind of like the biographies of great activist men, or whatever, it’s like they neglected their families, they like they were run arounds, all this kind of stuff, whatever, you know,. And, and I guess, like, maybe another way of thinking about it is like, like, one way of thinking about it is like, this is just the cost of doing business or whatever. And another way of thinking about it is like, our movements would be better if that wasn’t the case, or like, if it didn’t, if like, they didn’t do that to people, you know, if that wasn’t the cost of admission, you know?

JP: Right. But I think, I think...I mean, that’s definitely true. And I mean, on the one hand, I know personally, many people that I think would feel various ways of what you just described. And at the same time, I also know people that have been in a lifetime of struggle, and even though they’re in their 70s, or 80s, I think are generally well balanced and even keeled, folks. And the only pattern I should sort of, oh, no, no, of course, I know, you’re not remarking on everyone that did activism for a long time. But the only the only pattern I can see is like the people that did this for a long haul, like whether they were involved in the labor movement, or, you know, a variety of causes. I mean, immigration is one that has many elders that have been fighting, fighting these various fights for decades, is that they have an extremely strong social fabric around them. And I think that that’s, you know, I think we’d be remiss not to discuss Vivian gore. Next, you know, the romance of American communism, which Ari has written about in the past, highly recommend that essay, which is a work that in sort of, both loving and also complicated detail, describes the interior and social lives of people who made up the Communist Party in the United States via interviews and other conversations. And part of what is so tear jerking to me and I know to a lot of people is the the sort of, like, fierce intensity of their relationships when they were in the party, which for many of them was what was ripped apart in 1956 or otherwise. There are many beats for people as they sort of got alienated from the party or thrown out, or, you know, there were a variety of sad endings for being in the, in the CP. And I think that there’s a real lesson there, where part of part of the reason that you get these kinds of alienated, often men, who have done this kind of work for a long time, is because this is exactly the kind of, you know, spiritually accent grenaded subject that is having a bad time, all over the place. I mean, this is an this, I think, is related to this sort of, you know, stereotypical subject of therapy, this kind of like lone self, that though bound up with other people is already brought up. And I think that’s definitely true even in even in a Freudian context, you know, this kind of lone self that is not deeply interwoven into a social context in a way that is so anti individualistic, and so, so sort of countercultural in a way compared to a stereotypical life here in the United States. I think it’s exactly those resources that have been taken from us and I mean, it’s it’s akin to why organizing the gig economy is so difficult because you know, delivery guys on on E bikes here in New York City never see each other. There’s no There’s no office, you know, they don’t have co workers. I mean, Uber driver Just don’t interact with each other. So you’ve got this, this sort of like gig world, which is in many ways the the latest, I don’t want to be optimistic and say final development, but the latest development in in sort of the labor relation where you’re, you’re all alone, you know, communicating just with the receiving orders from your phone. And so I think that part of the rebellion that’s happened, you know, especially from communities, I mean, central Latin America is full of stuff like this from the EZLN, you know, all kinds of things that have gone on in indigenous communities in South America. I mean, there’s a collectivist I think, push against this way of being that, you know, on the one hand is, is, is tragic, I think, to some degree, because of the just the sheer amount of force arrayed against these struggles in the form of the state, you know, the capitalist state, but on the other hand, is very beautiful. And I think, I think when I mean, I don’t want to name anyone, but some of the some of the veterans of Jewish Currents who have been involved in this magazine for decades, several of these people are just like this, where it’s like, they’ve always had a community around them, and their community has made them strong.

AA: Sure, but like, I just want to really quickly, like say that the community in in the romance of American communism is also the problem, right? I mean, like, it’s not that the community gets torn apart, apart necessarily, from the outside, it’s at the same kind of tensions that we’re talking about now, between collective and individual intrude in such a difficult way that it becomes that like, some people think they don’t want to do it anymore. Like, I’ve lost myself. Like, in the beginning, I felt like I found myself in this, and then I realized that I had lost myself in this, you know, it’s like, I think it’s this and I think that that’s actually the central tension that we keep coming back to, as it relates to therapy is, like, you know, is, you know, like that, that therapy is, in some way, moderating a desire to go too deep into the collective, or can can moderate that desire. Whereas, you know, it seems to require, whereas like, the movement seems to require the opposite. So, I just want to like complicate the picture of like, the Communist Party as like, it was just a beautiful community or whatever, because in some cases, the community was the problem.

JP: For sure. And no, one’s clearer than about that, then Vivian. Gornick.

AA: Yeah, for sure.

JL: Right. But no, but it’s an interesting test case to think about, right? One of the other points in the Gornick book is that, arguably, these are people who are very deluded about what is actually happening in the world, willfully. And that they’re not just, you know, it’s not just about the submerging of desire into a collectivity, it’s actually about even rejecting what one’s experience with their own eyes for a broader fiction or for ideand, and, yeah, so I mean, but I also think that the reason for the... re-appreciation of Gornick’s book is that a lot of young people on the left are yearning for that kind of immersive, immersive political experience. And that even if... even if the members of the CP USA in 1953 were deluded, at least they believed that they were doing something important and thought that they were working towards a transcendent world historical -

AA: And thought they could win. Yeah.

JL: I mean, yeah, they thought they could win. And maybe they and maybe they live their whole lives within that delusion. But you know, maybe it’s maybe I mean, this is this is not psychoanalysis, but maybe, you know, maybe it’s better inside the cave. A much deeper, more, you know, ancient question about like, self knowledge.

AB: I mean, I think that the thing that we keep circling around here is the question of how people get attached to each other and to their political goals. And when...when political disappointments which might also take the form of personal disappointments, like feeling betrayed by one’s comrades or being left in a position of uttering a critique that other people are ready to make it and then feeling castigated for that or whatever the case may be. And it can be, I think, you know, large scale or small scale. I think the question is always, like, how do you get stuck in that or maintain a kind of psychic flexibility where you don’t get stuck in that. And that, I think, really seems to me like the kind of pivot between, like, the position that that Arielle was mentioning, like, you sometimes see older, lifelong activists wind up in of, of being deeply resentful or deeply traumatized in a way that’s that, that feels very unworked out, versus people who have spent their lives and movements and actually seem like, they maybe have like a kind of, you know, Serenity mixed in with their ongoing fury or something like that. And, and I think, yeah, I mean, there’s definitely a way that all of this can get mapped on to like, something like in Gornik book, like the rise and fall of a party, but like Gornik whole move, and I’m not saying that I necessarily, this is, this is not necessarily the, like, strong suit of the book, actually, in my opinion, but I think it’s worth saying, like, like, she’s actually very kind of structuralist about it or something, where she’s just like, this is like a quality of social movements, period. And like, and at the end of the book, she shifts away from talking about the Communist Party and stuff talks about her own experience, and the women’s movement, and winds up finding this kind of like mirror experience, that, that she has getting, like really deeply into feminist organizing, and then falling out with it. And she’s like, Oh, this is what happened to my parents generation with communism. And I think that at that level of abstraction, it actually becomes like, hard in some ways to say anything, like, super, sort of, like, politically useful. But, but I do think it’s relevant here in the sense that like, the, like, the way in which one becomes attached to the movement to the cause, like, to the people in it to an image of yourself, like, those actually do seem like the kind of like operative factors here. And like, and I guess, I mean, the last thing I would say is just that, you know, I definitely get the skepticism of therapy as like, this kind of, like, panacea, or whatever. But I think that one thing I just think about a lot is like, this huge gap that exists between like, therapy or mental health care for poor people, and mental health, health care for people who can afford it. And it’s a huge gap. And I think like, as much as I think, you know, we very rightfully, like...can mock the kind of like, excesses of like therapy, culture and self care and like, all of these, you know, often, at least, like, in this era, very kind of neoliberal ways in which people who do have the means can just, like indulge themselves in like, you know, a fantasy of becoming whole. Like, I don’t actually think that that means that we need to give up on therapy. I think what it means is that we need to create kinds of institutions that like actually do radical therapy, like politically informed therapy that’s accessible to everyone at any price point, because the way that mental healthcare works now for poor people is it’s completely carceral like it’s literally just like are you taking your meds? Like are you, like...have you filled out your unemployment paperwork? Like, it’s just, it’s, it’s like the worst kind of... like policing version of what mental health care can look like. And so I just think that like having, I don’t know, I feel like when you see that version, it becomes a lot harder to like dismiss the kind of like bougie version, because I actually think that everybody deserves some version of the bougie version. But just like at, you know, in a, in a, in an iteration that is like, just like much more accessible and like, you know, is actually like speaking to people’s whole and material lives.

AA: Well, so I guess, I guess to wrap up, I might ask just one quick question to see if anyone actually has an answer to this, like, what would it mean, besides the accessibility question, like, what would it mean for therapy to be more radical? Like both like your own therapy? Or like, what would, what would a kind of ideal look like?

JL: I’m very torn about this. I mean, I think it’s interesting that we’ve been able to have this conversation without referencing the law, or the old but now forgotten, left to tradition of less skepticism of psychotherapy. And, and particularly medical treatment, also, it sort of faded into the the dustbin of 1970s history. Although there have been a few interesting pieces. I think there was one in the Baffler. And then there was one also on the Pioneer Works website about the these histories, but I mean, you know, I if this, we were having this conversation, 40 years ago, someone might say that, you know, perhaps the normalization of therapy culture is preventing more....more...it’s neutralizing unassimilable feelings and angers and resentments. And it’s actually, you know, shoring up and unjust status quo. So, you know, I don’t actually think that’s true of therapy. But if you were to, you know, so in that case, the ideal one might be, might be one that helps people, you know, understand their own...feel powerful enough in their lives to change the conditions that are making them sick and hurt. That I think would be the ideal.

JP: I think you should be able to smoke inside.

AA: I mean, I do think that for me, it really comes to like the starting point of like, I hear what Ari’s saying about, about being able to say, is this what this is really about? But I do think that at a certain point, that it should be an allowed answer that yes, it is what it is really about. And if...and if such is... if that is the case, then like, the goal of therapy should be to help people think about what it means to change the those circumstances. Even if the answer is political action. You know, like, even if the answer is something that like, isn’t immediately available, or something like that. I don’t know, I guess, I guess, like, the thing that’s bothering me right now is, is the negation of the idea that it can be about politics. And I feel like a radical starting place would be one that actually, like allows people to lean into that more and allows for that starting place to open up other kinds of possibilities. In the work.

AB: Yeah, that seems totally right. To me. And, and I guess that goes back for me to, to what I was saying about the way you can kind of parse out that the question of like, whether X thing happening in the world is what it’s really about by like, coming into therapy with that, and then sometimes you leave with that. And that I think, can also be itself a powerful thing.

AA: Right, like, that could be galvanizing.

AB: Yeah, exactly. I think that can be very clarifying. You kind of wind up at this like immovable object.

AA: Right? It’s not me, it’s capitalism or whatever.

AB: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Yeah. And I think I think there there is, like a kind of differentiation that you can do you through that process between what’s going on with you and what’s going on with the world. That actually is, yeah, is like very helpful in figuring out how to actually be like a person who can do anything in a movement.

AA: All right, well with that, thank you for listening. This has been On The Nose with Jewish Currents. If you would like to, you can subscribe or leave us a review. I don’t know if we have many reviews now, I think we would like to have more. And that’s it. See you next time.

Closing Credits: Can’t get enough Jewish Currents? Keep in touch with us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. And visit Jewishcurrent.org to subscribe and see our latest. A very special thanks to Nathan Salsberg for providing us with the music from his album “Landwerk No. 2” and to Santiago Helou Quintero for producing this segment. Thanks for listening. That’s all from us.

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