Monday, May 16, 2011

Martin Gardner vs. Wilhelm Reich & Orgonomy (2)

There have been numerous attacks on Paul Kurtz's organizations, all now falling on the singular Center for Free Inquiry, from several directions. One is from advocates of parapsychology, who have expressed numerous complaints. I'm not to deal with them now. Wilhelm Reich's orgonomy does not belong to parapsychology, but it is fringe science nonetheless. Here is the second article I've found attacking Martin Gardner, and now Kurtz, Corliss Lamont, and the Amazing Randi along with him:

CSICOP, Time Magazine, and Wilhelm Reich by John Wilder, Pulse of the Planet #5, 2002, pp. 55-67.

Wilder links Time magazine and the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal in the scurrilous trashing of Reich's reputation. He reviews the attacks on Reich by the Freudians and the Stalinists.  Wilder accuses Einstein's secretary of sabotaging Reich's attempts to continue correspondence with Einstein. Historians of philosophy and ideas have not been kind to Reich, not Peter Gay, at least. Paul Edwards is claimed to have treated Reich favorably, except for his dismissing Reich's later orgonomy as crank pseudoscience. Edwards alleged Reich's American acolytes to be right-wingers:
Interestingly, Edwards now decries what he calls the ‘right-wing’ politics of [Elsworth] Baker and others of Reich’s students in America, as he believes they have missed the contributions of Reich’s ‘Marxist’ period. The reader should recall that Reich, himself, dismissed this part of his work as a ‘biological miscalculation,’ as immature, as being insufficiently aware of the of the extreme stubbornness of the Emotional Plague.
Wilder asserts that the Kurtz's skeptic organization is wedded to mind-body dualism:
Despite Edwards lukewarm admiration of Reich, CSICOP seems to be populated with men who adhere to modern civilization’s mind-body split, a split which underlies the mechanistic-mystical dichotomy that fuels CSICOP’s engines.
Wilder further complains:
The membership, organization, and style of CSICOP reveal its traditional patriarchal, ‘top-down’ authoritarian character. Its membership, according to Hansen, is 95% composed of ‘white’ males; and nearly 100% of its members are intellectuals, mostly drawn from the non-scientific disciplines, despite CSICOP claiming ‘science’ as its patron. Few active research scientists belong. The membership at large, the ‘Fellows,’ has little, if any, power to formulate or change policy.
Wilder likens Paul Kurtz to the Kurtz of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, who faces irrationalism with a psychological regression:
Facing these unexpected outbreaks of apparently irrational behavior in the masses [in the late 1960s], facing what Reich had faced in the early 1930s (due to what Reich termed the biological miscalculation), Kurtz struggles to reforge his Marxist-Humanism into a weapon of control and repression. While Reich had turned away from politics to supporting changes in child rearing, to advocating sexual reform, and to studying biophysics, Kurtz, still at his core a political man, seeks elitist political and social solutions to suppress these uncontrolled, ‘unscientifically’ emotional horrors emanating from the masses.
Kurtz is painted as a control freak—espousing one-world government, praising the behaviorist B. F. Skinner, engaging in scurrilous character assassination of scientific claims he disdains.

I need to point out a streak of anti-communist paranoia that runs through the article, not all instances of which I cite here. Corliss Lamont is excoriated for his pro-Stalinist position, for example.

Wilder moves on to attack Kurtz's skeptical colleagues, among them Wilder's arch-villain Martin Gardner. Gardner was apparently in his youth a fundamentalist and a radical socialist, later became a magician and eventually "the foremost advocate of atheistic scientific orthodoxy, of the science of his patriarchy." Wilder outlines Gardner's five symptomatic criteria for judging pseudoscience: according to those criteria, Reich and Einstein would be judged alike. Wilder finds these demarcation criteria (citing Popper for the term) unusable in practice.

Wilder also finds the presence of erstwhile and practicing magicians in the skeptical movement suspect. He deems magicians to be "cynical, nasty people" as someone else puts it. An illustration of this is the Amazing Randi's participation in Alice Cooper's sadistic spectacles.

I now skip to the author's Postscript of August 1, 2010. Here is the most telling statement of Wilder's position:
I want to clarify that I see Communism as a particularly vicious head of the Emotional Plague, a social pathology described by Reich. This Plague is a hydra that has many heads, like the Inquisition, the KKK, the NAZIs, and Al Qaeda. Cutting off these heads has not and will not permanently end the Emotional Plague, anymore than removing cancerous tumors, while necessary and important, ends an underlying cancer biopathy. There are right wing and left wing variants of the Emotional Plague. There are even middle-of-the-road and non-political variants. Read the studies of pathological mass action and inaction.
In judging all this I am not going to address any of Wilder's factual claims. Nor will I address his evaluation of magicians. I question his analogy of Reich and Einstein, but I have always had a problem with Gardner's demarcation criteria myself, so I will refrain from taking apart Wilder's ridiculous argument. I also don't think there is an infallible formal criteriology for labeling someone a paranoid, and in any case, sometimes real paranoia and real persecution overlap in the same suffering individuals. It is not the mere eccentricity of Wilder's argument that I criticize. It is his underlying metaphysical perspective, and the characteristically paranoiac way in which his systematizing reasoning proceeds. His copious historical references notwithstanding, historical reasoning is excised from his world view, recapitulating the late Reich's retreat to metaphysics. If everything is a result of the Emotional Plague, which is an ahistorical psychobiological category, then the real historical development of society and its ideologies is eclipsed by a metaphysics, and one which bears all the characteristics of a right-wing world view, and hence of right-wing paranoia, regardless of Wilder's actual apolitical politics. This bizarre indiscriminate linkage of communism with Kurtz, a Time editor, Einstein's secretary, Lamont, and Gardner is characteristic of a paranaoic world view, however one might rationally analyze possible deficiencies of any of these individuals.

Finally I must mention the Editor James DeMeo’s 2002 Postscript. DeMeo wrote the article I analyzed in my previous blog post on this subject. Here DeMeo attempts to link Prometheus Books with pornography and pedophilia. If this is not the paranoid mind in action, what is?

I imagine some readers will think I'm overly generous in even bothering to analyze a manifestly crackpot view as seriously as I do. But this is not a randomly generated piece of craziness: there is a conceptual structure underlying it which needs to be analyzed. The more astute and acute our analytical capability becomes, the better will be be able to distinguish the merely eccentric and marginal from the fundamentally distorted framework of a wrongheaded world view, whether or not there are partial truths in it.

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