The Freedman Archives

The following is a collection of letters written by Gary Freedman to his imagined friend.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A Sense of Resignation


December 6, 2004

Hey, buddy. How are you enjoying The Final Days of fall? Are you resigned to the approaching winter season?

I passed the time this weekend with some tapes: "The Three Faces of Eve" starring Joanne Woodward, and Leonard Bernstein conducting something or other.

To tell you the truth, I'm in a state of profound resignation. It's hopeless, utterly hopeless. My situation with The Mad Monk, that is. She is absolutely impossible to interact with. It's as if we have two radically different mental economies; in truth, we may as well be adherents of two fundamentally opposed ideological systems.

Dr. Bash is a mental Marxist, who places a premium on conformity and conventionality. Woe betide the free thinker in her midst.

Dr. Bash is altogether lacking in any deep conviction regarding her own values, which, no doubt, has served her well in life. As Otto Kernberg -- "El Grande" -- has stated: "Narcissistic personalities are ideally constituted for the assumption of leadership under the conditions of large-group processes. Such peoples' lack of deep conviction regarding their own values makes it easy for them to get along with the group. A narcissistic personality who can communicate effectively (in English or Hebrew!) can provide the large group with an acceptable ideology and convey a sense of certainty without triggering the group's envy against individualized thinking. These abilities make such a leader the soother of the large group tensions. By the same token, the large-group members' identification with the narcissistic leader reinforces some of the pathologically narcissistic characteristics of 'static' crowds. These groups are conventional, ideologically simplistic, conformist, and able to indulge themselves without guilt or gratitude; they lack a sense of personal responsibility or a deep investment in others."

What works for certain leaders and the groups they lead also works, I would say, for some psychotherapists and their conventionally-compliant patients. Unfortunately for The Mad Monk (and for me) I am not a conventionally-compliant patient.

I've had some recent correspondence with the DC Department of Employment Services. I asked the Department to help me with a job search, and reported that I suffer from a mental disability. I received a reply from the Department that requests that I obtain a written statement from my therapist (Dr. Bash) about my current mental status. Of course, Dr. Bash balked. "I don't think I'm going to write anything," said Dr. Bash. "But I'm disabled," I replied, "the Department of Employment Services wants to know about the nature of my disability, and how that disability might affect my work performance." Dr. Bash then said: "You're not disabled." I replied: "I'm not disabled?" Dr. Bash said: "No." I then said: "Why did Social Security approve my claim? They must have had some reason to say I was disabled." Dr. Bash responded: "No. They approve every claim. It doesn't mean you're disabled if Social Security approves a disability claim. The fact that Social Security determined that you are disabled has no meaning."

Interacting with Dr. Bash is a form of torture that perhaps only an adept of George Orwell could fully appreciate. "All history was a palimpsest," Orwell wrote in the novel 1984, "scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary." "If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened [or that the event had no meaning, NO MEANING] -- that surely was more terrifying than mere torture and death."

Reprise: "Narcissistic personalities lack a sense of personal responsibility or a deep investment in others." What Dr. Bash does not appreciate is that if she certifies me as not disabled (unqualifiedly) and fully employable, and if I were to commit a tortious act in the workplace that is a product of my mental illness, both she and the District would be legally liable. As I've said before, Dr. Bash's motto is: "I have no insight and I take no responsibility."

I'm losing my patience with The Mad Monk. Dr. Bash does not see me as an individual; she reduces everything meaningful in me to "the nominal, the degraded, the undifferentiated." Meaning -- given, found, or created -- enables one to love life and live it. We create meaning because we cannot exist without it. Of all creatures only humans anticipate death, and only humans make interpretations.

My sense of personal identity comes from my sense of who I am as a unique individual in society and in the universe. The moral problem for me is to discover what I myself think or want, not what my peers, my social group, or society requires of me. For me, the goal of communication is self-expression, whether or not that self-expression disturbs organization, disrupts a harmonious relationship with others, or conflicts with the laws of the universe.

In old age Sigmund Freud would proclaim, in proud defiance of the prevailing order, "I disturbed the sleep of mankind." In Shengoldian paraphrase one might aptly state: Freud dared to make a fuss. Let that be my epitaph. "I made a fuss."

For some patients, Dr. Bash's "de-individualization" might have some therapeutic effect, to the extent that it can heighten a patient's regression and promote Dr. Bash's ability to influence the patient's thinking. For Dr. Bash such a procedure is therapy; I would call the technique she employs a form of brainwashing. According to Kernberg, therapists may contribute to a patient's regression "by their ideologically determined denial of differences between individual patients, their implicit expectation that all patients have the same needs, and their consequent expectation that all patients will react or participate in similar ways." I, for one, fight such regression every step of the way. I will not be shorn of my identity and assigned a generic status.

I am an artist. Yes, I am an artist, even if I fail to bring forth a single work of art. I lack the practical skill and the theoretical basis to be a musician, painter, or sculptor and the general, historical, and linguistic education for poet and philosopher. Well, the skills might be acquired; the rest I have. It seems too late for acquiring these skills systematically, moreover, beginning in youth, because of ignorance, and at ripe manhood, because of knowledge, I have lacked perseverance and focus on a small area. I am a miniaturist at heart.

My mind is a cornucopia, overflowing with ideas and interests, and brimming with a Wealth of Notions. Instead of choosing an art, I study the artist type, that is myself, one who has a creative gift and drive even if I never produce a work of art in the conventional sense. Self-consciousness, I say, is the artist's only good fortune.

I will tell you who I am, from A to Z -- or at least to W (we free spirits and intellectual vagabonds don't always make it all the way to Karlsbad, so to speak). I Accept disorder, and, yes, I am Withdrawn. But I am altruistic, energetic, industrious, persistent, self-assertive, and versatile. Then too, I am attracted to the mysterious, I defy conventions, am independent in judgment and thinking, and have oddities of habit. Some would say I am radical. It's true I can be discontented, I can disturb organization, and I am a fault-finder. I make mistakes, am stubborn, and temperamental, and so on. But that's who I am.

I am not like other patients. I do not have the same needs. I do not react or participate in the same way. Do I need to remind you? I am more observant than other people; in addition to seeing things as others do, I see things as others do not; I am independent in my cognitive faculties, which I value very much; I am motivated by my talent and values; I am more capable of holding many ideas at once and comparing more ideas; I see a more complex universe; I am more aware of unconscious motives and fantasy life; I have a strong ego that permits me to regress and to return to normality; and the objective freedom of my organism is at a maximum, and my creative aspirations are a function of that objective freedom.

What motivates me? I would say the following things motivate me: drive, dedication to work (letter writing being my central preoccupation), resourcefulness, striving for general principles, desire to bring order out of disorder, and desire for discovery. Again, I value independence, self-sufficiency (as long as that self-sufficiency is financially supported by one or other government agency), tolerance of ambiguity, and (like The DC Court of Appeals) the ability to defer judgment.

I am an individualist.

I am forever hearing Toni Morrison's words ringing in my ears. "I am not LIKE Faulkner. I am not LIKE this writer or that writer. I am Toni Morrison. I write like Toni Morrison." You tell 'em, soul sister!

But it's true. For some people, for some patients, Dr. Bash's ideologically-simplistic technique can be effective -- her personality style can even be appealing -- particularly (if not exclusively) to those who derive a sense of narcissistic integrity, or self-esteem, by the act of adopting conventionalized group norms. Mind you, though -- by way of analogy -- the Communists, in their worldwide proselytizing mission, frequently exploited similarities between their ideology and preexisting facets of native culture. I emphasize the word "exploitation." That's what Dr. Bash does; she exploits the need of some patients to see a simple, conventional universe. She offers a simplistic ideology that, in fact, works for those patients who are easily seduced by the mindless charm of the commonplace. For such people, The Mad Monk can be quite attractive.

Let's elaborate the analogy cited above, the analogy of Communism. The allure of an exploitative and simplistic foreign ideology, namely, Communism, to the members of a native culture has been analyzed in the case of Vietnam.

Traditionally, the Vietnamese notion of society was not that of an aggregate, a collection of people, but that of a complete organism. The whole of society was much greater than the sum of its parts because it reflected and duplicated the overall design of the universe. Within his society the individual had no separate existence. His sense of personal identity came from his sense of participation in the society and in the universe. The moral problem for the individual was to discover not what he himself thought or wanted, but what the society required of him. The goal of speech was less to express the individuality of the ego than to arrive at a harmonious relationship with others and with the laws of the universe. "Truth" was not a conquest of reality, but an attempt to harmonize with it -- an ethical as well as a scientific goal.

"Individualism" had much the same connotation for the Communists that "egotism" or "selfishness" had for the non-Communist Vietnamese: it was immoral behavior and the very expression of anarchy. For traditionalists and Communists alike, virtue consisted of the sustained effort to reduce the gap between the individual will and the will of the community that itself expressed the objective laws of the universe. However else they differed, all the Vietnamese sects and political groups of the 1930's and 1960's directed their efforts towards creating a conformity of opinions, values, and life-styles, towards creating a community that would once again give the individual his "place" and raison d'etre.

For the Confucian the reduction to the communal and anti-individual -- even to the burning of books -- was not a sign of authoritarian sterility and constriction, but a sign of moral clarity, order, and self-control. "And no technical material. Don't read any technical material," as Dr. Bash would put it.

As a Buddhist bonze once said, "You Westerners believe that you can destroy an idea by killing the man who holds it; we, on the other hand, believe that you must change men's ideas." Or, as Dr. Bash said to me several months ago, "I am trying to break you of your ideas."

The Mad Monk is still carping about my going to Adas Israel, the local "Buddhist Temple." "Go, go, you'll meet people." Participate in social activities the way other people participate, and you'll make friends. Such is Dr. Bash's Confucian wisdom. As for the inner life, the "inner structure of the soul," the distinct identity of the individual -- well, these things don't exist for her.

Several weeks ago, Dr. Bash said something revealing. "If you go to the synagogue," she said, "what will you say? How would you initiate social interaction." I replied: "I guess I would go up to someone and introduce myself. I'd say, 'Hi. I'm Gary Freedman.'" Dr. Bash then said: "No, no! Don't say that. Say something like, 'My, my, I had no idea there would be so many people here!'" Note the significant dynamics of this seemingly trivial statement. Dr. Bash decried my assertion of personal identity, and directed me to affirm the importance of the undifferentiated group. She disparaged my qualitative declaration of personal identity, emphasizing instead the moral imperative to affirm the importance of the nominal, the degraded, the undifferentiated quantity.

In any event, -- what was I talking about? Oh, yes. The Communists. God, how I hate the Communists! I despise them. I loathe them.

Be that as it may.

Dr. Bash is forever trying to socialize me. I am not a social creature. Regardless of any affinity I have for Bob Strauss, I am not a social animal like Strauss.

Like Strauss, I am (at least in fantasy) a man of enormous talent and drive. Unlike Strauss, I never developed a gift for making and keeping friends, which requires effort, hard work and talent. My relationship with my parents was good enough, I suppose; with my sister more or less satisfactory; with women -- well, let me put it this way -- I never found a babe who'd fetch me the late-night edition of the local newspaper; with my coworkers cold and aloof and, in the end, bad enough to do me in, not good enough to make me into a world figure like Strauss.

With Strauss people always knew who he was. He played no roles, only himself. With me, one never knew. My neighbor, press secretary Jeff Lieberson, said of me that I "can don a personality by opening a door -- a door with or without a mezuzah." With my Republican acquaintances I can be the concerned conservative striving for free markets and more personal liberty; with my Jewish acquaintances I am a supporter of the arts; with you, buddy, I am a political analyst and older brother; with Rubenstein I played "the laughed-at mama's boy," Woodrow Wilson, brooding over how NOT to throw like a girl; with Sid Rothstein I played Strauss -- literally; with Attorney General John Ashcroft I am a freakish nut case -- the author of bizarre and obnoxious letters; with my old friend Craig the Embalmer I play Harry Truman, just hoping for a chance for an invite to 4701 Connecticut Avenue.

I think it was Lieberson who said, "When he didn't want to be anybody but himself, he sent for General Bonaparte."

It is a mark of how many different Freedman personas there are that when the transcripts of the Freedman Diaries were made public, many men who had had intimate contact with me over long periods of time -- Jeff Lieberson; writer Steve Hess at The Brookings Institution; Republican insider Andy Gerst, and others -- were shocked. They had never heard me talk like that. In fact, Andrew Gerst never heard me talk. Period.

(By the way, Brian, Steve Hess -- he's a presidential historian -- he used to live in the neighborhood: Porter Street, I think -- did you ever see him in the library? You know he's related to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Of course, that's what they all say.)

How is it that I am a man without friends? How can a man who has so much talent, brains, ambition and fantasized success feel so insecure, snubbed, unrewarded, misunderstood and ignored? It is not insignificant that with all the words expended on me, I myself have provided the most insightful analysis. I was reminiscing at The Shops, back in February 1992, with Craig the Embalmer, shortly after my job termination at Akin Gump.

"What starts the process, really," I explained, "are the laughs and snubs and slights you get when you are a kid. Sometimes it's because you're poor or Irish or Jewish (or half-Jewish) or ugly or simply that you are skinny. But if you are reasonably intelligent and if your anger is deep enough and strong enough, you learn that you can change those attitudes by excellence, personal gut performance, while those who have everything are sitting on their fat butts. . . . When you get to the top you find you can't stop playing the game the way you've always played it . . . so you are lean and mean and resourceful and you continue to walk on the edge."

With me, the anger runs so deep it never left me. I am the angriest bugger imaginable. I am a man who could never trust others and has never had any real friends. Nearly everyone who worked closely with me has commented on this. Strauss once told his secretary Kathy Ellingsworth after a meeting with me that he couldn't understand how a man could go through life without friends.

I've had hundreds of associates, thousands of acquaintances -- from Moscow to Vatican City. Most of these people admired me. But unlike Strauss, the ever-popular Strauss, only a handful of people have liked me. Jeff Lieberson felt that people didn't like me for the simple reason that I don't like people. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told Bob Strauss that "Freedman had no truly close friends," and remarked on my "congenital inability ever to confide totally in anyone."

Even with General Bonaparte, a supposedly close friend, there was distance -- generally an arm's-length distance. I once said, "I never wanted to be buddy-buddy. Even with close friends. I don't believe in letting your hair down, confiding this and that and the other thing -- saying, 'Gee, I couldn't sleep, because I was worrying about this or that and so forth and so on.'

"I believe you should keep your troubles to yourself. Some people are different. Some people think it's good therapy to sit with a close friend and, you know, just spill your guts. For me, a good conversation about nothing is about all I can tolerate."

Quite frankly, I think of chatty people as weak. Others would regard them as normal and feel that it might be a terrible thing to go though life without at least one intimate friend. Not me. Those who have known me have said that sometime in my youth I must not have been loved or trusted. Reporter Brian Bolter recalled a remark Kissinger made to him about me: "Can you imagine what this man would have been had somebody loved him?"

"What do you mean?" Bolter asked. Bolter was squinting.

"Had somebody in his life cared for him," Kissinger replied. "I don't think anybody ever did, not his parents, not his peers. He could have been a great, great man had somebody loved him." Kissinger added: "Listen, Bolter, you should have gone for the radial keratotomy instead of Lasik. You get what you pay for, buddy. That squinting is driving me nuts."

In any event, the theme of the unloved boy is central to the numerous psychobiographies of me. At least the ones I've written. It was all my mother's fault for spending too little time with me, too much time with my sister or with herself. It was all my father's fault, for spending too much time at work, too little time with his son working on the kid's pitching arm. Pops did not love me enough, so I could not love.

Of course, Dr. Bash has many problems with that analysis. "Who can say how much love is enough? Who can say that your childhood was in any way so exceptional that it scarred you for life? What son ever had a father who loved him enough? What successful man ever had a mother who was loving enough, forgiving enough, understanding enough? Let's face it, not every man can have a Barbara Bush for a mother."

"Your father," says Dr. Bash, "spurred you, disciplined you, made you work, demanded more of you. This helped you become ambitious, eager to show your parents what you could do; it is hard to see how it made you incapable of love."

"A man's character is his fate," according to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. I have gifts in abundance -- brains, acceptably nice looks, good health, a marvelous memory, knowledge, superb acting ability and stage presence, awesome willpower, among others. Indeed, I have nearly every gift that the gods could bestow. The one that I most lack is character. Virtue comes from character. That is why I despise virtue and rail against it -- from here to Karlsbad.

Another quality that I lack is an ability to respect others. In 1986, Craig the Embalmer spoke to the point, admitting that he could not explain it: "Der Freedman went through, and it is probably still in him, a process of some kind that made him disrespect people. I don't know whom he respects even now -- really, really respects."

I put myself first, always. First, last and in between. In his poem "Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce," Robert Penn Warren has Joseph wanting to continue the fight against the U.S. Cavalry, to preserve his own honor and self respect. But Joseph asks himself, 'What right had I / To die -- to leave sick, old, young, women -- merely to flatter / My heart's pride?" And then Joseph has a flash of insight. He decides to surrender, explaining, "A true chief no self has."

U.S. Cavalry, my ass. They shoot horses, don't they? That's what I always say. I'll continue the fight. I don't care who I hurt.

OK, so I'm not a true chief. I can no more "no self have" than I can bring myself to love, trust, and respect my fellow man.

I do have respect for many foreign leaders: above all, for General Bonaparte and The Prime Minister. General Bonaparte was a model and inspiration for me. An exciting fellow, indeed! The theme of rising from adversity, has an obvious appeal to me, but there is more depth (and girth) to it than that. I've written about the little man from Corsica in my book "Leaders" with great affection, but also insight.

"He acted a part," I wrote, "played a role he himself created in a way that fit only one actor. Even more, he fashioned himself -- rising to top form -- so that he could play it. He created General Bonaparte, the public person, to play the role of General Bonaparte, personification of France." I've often quoted the General, approvingly, to the effect that "a leader must choose between prominence and happiness. (Though, admittedly, too much prominence -- unadorned prominence in public places -- is illegal in most jurisdictions.) A leader must endure strict self-discipline, constant risk taking, and perpetual inner struggle." Like the General, I have allowed no one to get close to me, and shun the intimacy of my fellows.

As I like to say: "The minute you start getting familiar with people, they start taking advantage." To begin to understand me is to read my remarks about General Bonaparte. How accurate I am in portraying the deep and complex character of Bonaparte is a separate subject. But in describing my hero as a self-created man, a man of self-discipline, a risk taker, an aloof man who had no friends and who underwent perpetual inner struggle, I am surely giving an excellent self-portrait.

My private life, like my public has been full of contradictions. I've had many acquaintances. But of intimate friends I've had almost none. Bob Strauss was only the most prominent man who knew me well to comment on how odd it was that I was so lonely in a profession filled with so many gregarious personalities.

That's what I don't get about Dr. Bash's advice. She keeps telling me, "Place yourself among friendly, sociable people, and you'll make friends." That doesn't always happen for people. A person has to have the psychological ability to form and maintain relationships as a necessary precondition to making friends. Simply placing yourself among sociable people won't cure the intrapsychic forces that militate against normal social adjustment.

I don't open up with people and share my feelings with them and enjoy their company. Besides, in my job you can't enjoy the luxury of intimate personal friendships. You can't confide absolutely in anyone. You can't talk too much about your personal plans, your personal feelings. Particularly when your personal plans might include acts of dubious legality.

Sure, I'm lonely. But I'm trapped in a situation in which I cannot be myself, not ever.

I guess you could say that I've disqualified myself for love by refusing to ever open myself to it and thus become vulnerable, except with you, buddy, in these letters: the one place where I do have an intimate relationship.

A pity that none of the staff at the Cleveland Park Library could summon any positive feelings about me. But when it came to a ban on my visits to the library, whether or not I had been guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors, as you alleged, Brian, nearly every single employee, in a reading room in which I had visited nearly every day for thirteen years, was ready to vote me guilty. This is one of the prices I pay for being friendless.

Check you out next week, buddy. Freedman in winter needs a garment to keep warm and safe. So do you, Brian. You need a garment and a flu shot. Get immunized. It's a good thing.


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