Friday, August 07, 2009
The psychology of Henry Louis Gates
This is a speculative psychological probe of the now infamous infantile tantrum of Prof. Gates.
Aside from the obvious facts that he had, apparently, just returned from the airport from a trip to China (hence, likely a long time of plane travel plus connecting flights), and then upon arriving at his home found that he could not get in the front door because, apparently, he had lost or misplaced his house key, and so had to enlist the help of his taxi driver from the airport to jimmy open his own door—aside from these facts that would predispose most people to becoming more stressed than they might have been already, we must adduce other, deeper psychological triggers for his extraordinary outburst that day.
Prof. Gates has spent his whole academic career of several decades helping to construct a working mythology of black accomplishments in literature, the arts and philosophy that depends upon a demythologization of the ostensible superiority of white Western (pre-eminently American) accomplishments in these same areas. A major part of this project of mythologization interlocked with demythologization—basically a mythomachy, an opposition of one myth with another myth deemed, of course, to be truer—involves a complex revisionism both of history and of culture. This revisionism is calculated to explain away the ostensible inferiority of black culture, and simultaneously to locate the causes of that ostensible inferiority both in white oppression of blacks, and in a mendacious cover-up by whites of black accomplishments—i.e., a false history, or a mythology in the pejorative sense.
Gates is thus a propagandist, not a real scholar. His own sense of cultural inferiority amid a superior white culture causes him pain—a pain of course exacerbated by the subculture of racialist resentment fomented by blacks and white Leftists: and to assuage that pain, he embarks upon a project of revising reality and thus of eliminating the source of that pain.
The decades go by, from the late 60s during his undergraduate years at Yale into the early 70s, to the late 70s during his graduate work at Clare College at the University of Cambridge, in Massachusetts, and during those two decades, enormous progress is made in civil rights in America. But progress to a mind like that of Gates—like most Leftists—only exacerbates his impatience with a reality that does not reflect the utopianism it demands. The imperfect progress of America, in fact, actually stimulates anti-American hatred, and the Leftist obsessively concentrates all his energy and attention morbidly on the glass half empty, threatened by the glass half full of the reality of the superiority of America, because it threatens the Second Reality of his utopian entelechy. Civil rights progress in America in such a mind is remythologized into a framework that interprets it as the fitful, merciful largesse of the Southern white plantation owner who might be kind to his slaves, but who defends the overarching institution of slavery and consequent denigration of blacks as less than human—who, in fact, actually requires the institution of slavery in order to lend the appropriate context for his kindness and favors to blacks. Civil rights progress is thus in this grotesque caricature to be critiqued, deconstructed and rejected as not radical enough.
One never quite gets from such deconstructionists and demythologizers as Gates, however, precisely what it is they want from whites: what can whites do that will finally satisfy him, that will finally assuage that gnawing pain that irks his soul so much? He would have no answer, other than to violently overturn the order of reality and force black superiority upon white society, by hook or by crook. Nothing less than a military coup d'état à la révolution du Toussaint L'Ouverture, it seems, would suffice. (And we all know how well that revolution has worked in South Africa, where horrific racist violence against whites has become the norm, and where life for blacks has become a typical African hell.) Meanwhile, his project of revisionist historiography and anthropology within the Second Reality of his academic ivory tower—facilitated by numerous awards, chairs, grants and various demonstrations of respect and appreciation by the white colleagues and institutions that surround him (perhaps most, or all, of them merely the “Smiling Faces” of hypocritical whites who are really racists under their friendly masks)—helps at least to some extent to mollify his gnawing existential pain. But while mollifying it, it also keeps its flame alive. The decades go by and his career continues to ascend, despite the ongoing racism of white America: the 80s, during which he joins the faculty at Cornell as well as Duke; then the 90s when he becomes part of the prestigious cream of the cream, at Harvard—as Chair of the Department of African and African American Studies and Director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. Nevertheless, semi-consciously, he remains constantly aware that his Second Reality is not Primary Reality, and full satisfaction will never come until the latter is replaced with the former, somehow. This desideratum helps to inspire him to keep on keepin’ on, as the decades go by.
When a person who is afflicted by an obsession with utopian perfectionism remains deeply conflicted by a desire whose full satisfaction is continually frustrated by circumstances, often that person experiences a paradoxical sensation the more that the desire seems to approach the satisfaction for which he has been longing: rather than relax and rejoice as he sees more and more signs of his desire on the road to bringing satisfaction, he becomes more and more frustrated and angry. Perhaps this is not a complex psychological phenomenon: it may merely be a case of the infantile personality who demands total results now, and thus becomes more infantile, impatient and angry when only partial results are forthcoming. It is the “all or nothing” mentality: giving such a person partial satisfaction often turns out to be worse than giving them nothing at all. This dynamic can sometimes produce an intolerable pressure in the psyche when the partial results are so massive, they are tantamount to fulfilling the dream of the desire. Such a situation arouses a terrible conflict in the soul: it is so close, and yet it is still the same old shit of partial results because it has not gone all the way to perfection. The nearness to perfection can, in fact, function like a demonic temptation to the one who lusts after perfection, attempting to seduce him to relax and stop aiming for the utopia at the Mountaintop. Such, one reasonably conjectures, has been the state of Gates’s mind ever since America finally elected its first black President.
So here we have Gates in the summer of 2009: Blacks have come so far—the former police commissioner of Cambridge, a black; the current mayor of Cambridge, a black lesbian; the current governor of the state of Massachusetts, a black; and now the President of the United States, for the first time, a black. This sets up in the mind of Gates not relief that finally—Hallelujah!—our day as a black people has come! No, it sets up, rather, an intolerable pressure in his heart and mind, that even with a black President, the same old racist shit keeps happening. Reality remains untransfigured. At least, the same old shit keeps happening in his imagination. And if ostensibly it is not actually happening, it must really be happening beneath the surface appearances: if a white cop comes to my home to investigate a possible burglary—a few months after my home was indeed burglarized before—and shows no ostensible signs of actual racism I can point to, well, he must be racist nonetheless. The mere fact that he is investigating the home of a black man—a black scholar to boot—is proof that he must be racist. The experience of a racist white cop targeting a black scholar and treating him like a nigger becomes unbearable precisely because now we have a black President of the United States of America. The pain in the heart of Henry Louis Gates became intolerable when, on that pleasant summer afternoon on a leafy street in Cambridge on July 16, 2009, that racist white cop confronted him. This can’t be happening—not in Obamerica! The pain hit deep in the pit of his soul as he realized white America was still getting away with oppressing blacks, after all these years, all these decades. Even after Obama, nothing had really changed. The pain became an agony of seething pressure on his brain. He had no choice but to explode in rage at reality still untransfigured.