July 20, 2007

“You Have Issues”

Recently, dear reader, we had opportunity to recall the late Philip Rieff. Mr. Rieff, a brilliant sociologist and public intellectual who taught at the University of Pennsylvania, seems to have made only two mistakes in his life: Writing ponderously and (briefly) marrying Susan Sontag.

Other than that, however, in our book Mr. Rieff could do no wrong. His sartorial tastes—which were just this side of Tom Wolfe—were pretty impressive as well. More importantly, Mr. Rieff penned brilliant tracts bemoaning the eclipse of traditional morality at the hands of Freudian psychobabble.

In his landmark work The Triumph of the Therapeutic (1966), Mr. Rieff documented, among other things, the baleful effects that the replacement of a religious understanding with Freudianism would visit us all. The book rightly launched Mr. Rieff into the public intellectual stratosphere.

We had reason to reflect anew on Mr. Rieff’s oeuvre as the result of a less-than-delightful cause. Perambulating down a busy street the other day, one of the senior editors of “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly”—let’s just call him “Chip”—bumped into a gaggle of children around (he would guess) 12 years of age.

This is not, admittedly, the sort of thing that usually brings to mind Philip Rieff. But wait; there’s a reason behind our connection after all.

Amongst this gaggle of kiddies—supervised by what looked like a few harried camp counselors—were two children engaged in some verbal fireworks. For some reason, a boy and a girl were (figuratively) at one another’s throats, ready to pull out all the oratorical stops in their polemical arsenal.

Whilst “Chip” passed this unsavory scene, he heard the boy screech a line he’d never heard uttered by so young a creature. Aiming for a rhetorical knockout punch, the lad said to the lass: “You have issues.”

“You have issues”? Yes, “You have issues.”

Not “Your mother wears combat boots.” Or “You’re fat.” Or even “You’re a slut.” But “You have issues.” Where the heck did this kid learn his taunts?

The Triumph of the Therapeutic, indeed! Somehow, it seems, useless psychobabble has even corrupted the youngest amongst us.

For what is more pseudo-Freudian than the phrase “You have issues”? That such armchair psychologizing has infected the world of playground epithets speaks to the power Sigmund Freud wields over us all.

Posted at July 20, 2007 12:01 AM | TrackBack