Response to Andrew Samuels and Betty Sue Flowers

Steve Zemmelman, PhD

Both these talks are gems and I feel privileged to be in the company of such creative and ethical minds. I want to thank Andrew and Betty Sue for making the long journey to be with us, and to share their intelligent, challenging, thoughtful, pithy, humorous takes on different but related dimensions of the current situation in the polis.

Where we locate ourselves as individuals within a community of analysts and psychotherapists living in the bubble of a highly educated urban community like the Bay Area is at the core of what I wish to contribute to the discussion as respondent. For myself, coming from a very solid working class background with immigrant grandparents who fled the pograms of Eastern Europe, a father who worked nights sorting mail in the Brooklyn post office and a mother who worked as a typist in Manhattan, I have been privileged to be able to live out a version of the American dream. I share this snippet of my story because it gives you a sense of where I place myself within the broader narrative of how for so many the promise embedded within the story of working people in this country is drifting further and further away. I see both Andrew’s and Betty Sue’s talks as reflective of their respective locations, and as they plumb the depths of individual and collective psyche in this election, I wonder how much they are able to account for the fear and resentment underlying the loss of the myth – and the reality - of working and middle-class America.

Betty Sue points out how we are witnessing a deeply disturbing shift that substitutes persona for character, where image becomes increasingly independent of character. Her analysis of the problem goes further to show how authenticity, normally thought to relate to a universal standard of character, is being redefined as a congruence between the image one wishes to project of him or herself on the one hand and how one performs that image on the other. She argues that there is a confusion of authenticity with truth. She taps into the anger characterizing the spirit of the times, an anger in which she also astutely sees as a necessary, attractive energy of the id.  In this light, I want to note Gail Collins observation in yesterday’s NYT: “Boring people have never looked better.”

Read Response to Andrew Samuels and Betty Sue Flowers in its entirety.