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287. Decrease (IV)

Among Nietzsche’s more negative contributions to world history, particularly Western history, is his observation: “There is a false saying: ‘How can someone who can’t save himself save others?’ Supposing I have the key to your chains, why should your lock and my lock be the same?” This comes from his notebooks, so, given it was never published, we can reasonably assume that perhaps Nietzsche did not fully endorse the view—or, conversely, since people often refrain from publishing their real thoughts, perhaps it is more real than anything he published under his own name during his lifetime. I have been unable to track down the full context, perhaps there is more to the quote; however, the quote, as presented, has taken on its own life; and, in my view, that life is largely pernicious.

Nietzsche fathered psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, the grandfather was Goethe: Nietzsche’s view that we should see life as constant growth—without moralised judgements—and augmentation of our power of action lies behind all therapeutic modalities today; even those pitched in scientific terms. Beyond this view, Nietzsche encouraged people to look to the depths, to the hidden motivations that lay behind their actions; he, along with Goethe, suggested the unconscious: the idea that our supposedly “moral” actions conceal desires for power or sexual domination. Today, therapy, in the broadest sense, is more important than any church in the West as regards how people deal with various life challenges: therapy forms our ethical and moral universe.

Therapy also remakes the world, the epicentre for recent ructions over transsexualism is the Tavistock Clinic, ground zero for therapy culture, located near Freud’s old home and tangentially associated with his family. Nearby is the prosperous suburb of Hampstead, a favourite haunt for the managerial technocrats who planned Britain’s post-war state; for them, therapy is a religion and to live within walking distance of the Tavistock is to be like a Catholic who lives within walking distance of Lourdes.

Nietzsche’s observation has become part of therapy lore because it supports—possibly it birthed—the hackneyed expression “the wounded healer”. The idea behind the wounded healer, an expression perhaps most associated with Jung, is perfectly expressed by Nietzsche’s quote. To put it in the vernacular: “I might be fucked up, an alcoholic whose children don’t speak to him, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be a therapist and help you.” The ancients crisply said, “Know yourself”; Nietzsche suggested, “Because I do not know myself I can know you.”

Due to the way human status systems work, it is actually possible to leverage nonsensical statements to increase status; almost all religions, of which therapy is one, work through the assertion of paradoxes and ideas that are superficially ridiculous. Tertullian: “I believe because it is absurd.” Christianity asserts that a man literally rose from the dead and that he was born to a virgin; and many were sceptical when these ideas were first asserted; yet, in status terms, if you go for a really big lie, a really outrageous assertion, people will find it more credible precisely because it is so incredible. “It’s so retarded, it must be true!”

It was okay, more or less, for Jung to be a wounded healer because he was, flirtation with psychosis aside, basically a ridiculously stable Swiss middle-class man with pleasant whimsical spiritual ideas that he presented in a quasi-scientific way; but the idea became pernicious when, by the 1970s, celebrity psychiatrists like R.D. Laing—raving alcoholics, depressives, and drug abusers with collapsed family lives—began to use the “wounded healer” concept to support the notion that their authority to help others derived from, frankly, being fucked up themselves. I once saw an American self-help psychologist interviewed. “You’ve been married five times,” said the interviewer, “how can you say you know what makes a good marriage?” “Well, the way I figure, I’ve had more experience than most. I certainly know how a marriage can go wrong,” he replied. It was a good answer, and yet…


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