Carlo Strenger

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Carlo Strenger, 2010

Carlo Strenger (born July 16, 1958) is a Swiss-Israeli psychologist, philosopher, existential psychoanalyst and public intellectual. He serves as Professor of psychology and philosophy at Tel Aviv University, as senior research fellow at the Center for the Study of Terrorism at John Jay College, the scientific advisory board of the Sigmund Freud Foundation in Vienna and the Seminar for Existential Psychoanalysis in Zurich. His research centers on the impact of globalization on meaning, personal and group identity. As a publicist he focuses primarily on the Middle Eastern Conflict on which he takes a liberal perspective. Having favored the two-state solution for many years, he has recently expressed skepticism that it can still be implemented given Israel's settlement policy and the weakness of Palestinian leadership.[1]

Early life and career[edit]

Carlo Strenger was born in Basel, Switzerland into an orthodox Jewish family. He describes his transition from Orthodox Judaism to secular atheism as the defining experience of his life.[2] Already an atheist, he spent a year at a Yeshiva after completing high-school and then started his studies in psychology and philosophy in Zürich, Switzerland. He moved to Israel, trained in philosophy and clinical psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he received his Ph.D. in 1989, and taught modern thought at the Department of Philosophy. He then moved to Tel Aviv, Israel where he currently lives with his wife, Julia Elad-Strenger, a political psychologist.

Contributions to psychoanalysis[edit]

From 1986 to 2000 Carlo Strenger’s focus of research was on psychoanalysis. His first Book Between Hermeneutics and Science[3] argued that psychoanalysis had insufficient evidential foundation because of its almost exclusive reliance on clinical data, and argued that psychoanalysis needed to interact with mainstream science to avoid becoming irrelevant.

During the 1990s he was in private practice in Tel Aviv, while teaching as an adjunct professor at Tel Aviv University. He aimed at combining psychoanalytic and existentialist motifs in his clinical work and presented his existential psychoanalytic perspective in Individuality, the Impossible Project (1998).[4]

Some critics[5] saw the book as a major contribution to psychoanalysis, arguing that Strenger’s perspective on the self as an emerging creation rather than pre-existing entity was philosophically and clinically revolutionary. Others took issue with Strenger’s very liberal approach towards sexual perversion and argued that his respect for the patient’s subjectivity made him underestimate some of his patients’ pathologies.[6]

Carlo Strenger, Berlin 2012

Research on globalization and its psychological impact[edit]

From 2000 onward, Carlo Strenger has researched the impact of globalization on personal identity and meaning. He has written a number of papers and two books on the topic, The Designed Self and The Fear of Insignificance. He speaks regularly about globalisation and world-citizenship, among others at TEDX Jaffa 2012.

In his The Designed Self (2004)[7] he argued that Generation X’s experience of life was very different from that of earlier generation. No longer suffering from suffocating taboos, GenXers were faced with a fluid world and great pressure to succeed.

The self had become an endless experiment, and GenXers expected to have spectacular lives in which professional success needed to be combined with experimentation in the domains of sexuality, lifestyle and shaping the body almost at will. Strenger argued that one of the problems of this generation was that it no longer felt rooted in deep cultural traditions, and instead turned to popular culture for guidance. Strenger’s account combined individual case-studies with interpretations coming from a variety of disciplines like psychoanalysis, existential psychology, sociology and cultural criticism.

Some critics saw the book as an innovative and thought-provoking interpretation of the experience and identity of a generation that had grown into the world of global markets and communication networks.[8] Others thought that Strenger was too pluralist and open in his interpretive approach and that he did not offer an integrated theoretical perspective.[9]

Research on midlife[edit]

Strenger has also researched a number of other implications of the changing global order. He has proposed to rethink midlife transition in view of increased life expectancy, and argues that midlife change must become a cultural norm in "The Existential Necessity of Midlife-Change" a much quoted article in the Harvard Business Review.[10] This requires the ability to assess ones weaknesses and strength objectively to make realistic decisions, a process that he has called "active self-acceptance".[11]

The Fear of Insignificance: Searching for Meaning in the Twenty-first Century[edit]

In his The Fear of Insignificance: Searching for Meaning in the Twenty-first Century[12] Strenger argues that a new species he calls Homo Globalis, defined by its intimate connection to the global infotainment network, has emerged. Homo Globalis lives in a culture that celebrates spectacular achievement and preaches that everything is possible, as reflected in Nike's slogan "Just do it!". Alternately Homo Globalis seeks solace in pop-spirituality and scientifically unfounded self-help precepts, neither of which offer any lasting relief from the fear of insignificance.

Using findings of existential psychology, Strenger argues that it becoming progressively more difficult for Homo Globalis to maintain stable self-esteem, because every achievement is compared to the spectacular success stories publicized by the media. Strenger attacks the fashionable relativism of pop-spirituality, claiming that this actually prevents Homo Globalis from attaining a stable worldview.

As an alternative to the myth of "Just do it" and the precepts of pop-spirituality, Strenger suggests a concept of 'active self-acceptance', in which persons achieve a sense of selfhood and their personal mission through a sustained quest for self-knowledge. Strenger’s position, while politically liberal, is culturally conservative, and his remedy for the malaise of Homo Globalis is a return to the ideal of liberal education. He claims that only sustained intellectual investment in a reasonably based world-view can give Homo Globalis a stable sense of meaning and identity.

The Fear of Insignificance has been translated into a number of languages including French, Italian, Portuguese and Korean. Strenger writes on the topic of The Fear of Insignificance in a blog called Homo Globalis at Psychology Today, and has given extensive interviews on the topic.

Research on Jewish Identity and World-Citizenship[edit]

Strenger has been interested in modern Jewish identity, particularly in modern Jewish Universalism, and has written about it in a variety of publications.[13] In The Fear of Insignificance (2011) he has worked out a psychology of world-citizenship.[14] To what extent are humans able to widen their ability for empathy and concern beyond the culture of their upbringing? He claims that the development of modern Jewish Universalism provides an interesting paradigm for this identity, and has portrayed Sigmund Freud, Hannah Arendt, Isaiah Berlin,[15] Leo Strauss and Philip Roth[16] as examples. In his Israel, Einführung in ein schwieriges Land (Suhrkamp 2011), he has argued that Jewish Universalist ethics is currently in conflict with dominant nationalist tendencies in Israeli politics.

Political writing and views[edit]

Strenger has been publicly involved in Israeli politics and culture since the late 1990s when he represented Israel’s left in a weekly radio talk show,[17] in 2003 elections he was on the strategy team of the Labor party. He joined the Permanent Monitoring Panel on Terrorism of the World Federation of Scientists in 2004, the Center for the Study of Terrorism at John Jay College at CUNY in 2012 and has written academic analyses of the Middle Eastern Conflict from the point of view of Existential Psychology.[18]

The German publisher Suhrkamp has published his psychopolitical analysis of Israeli politics and society, Israel, Einführung in ein schwieriges Land (Israel, Introduction to a difficult Country), and Strenger has given extensive interviews on Israeli politics in the German media. Strenger's central claim is that Israel must be understood as a belated country that is currently in a culture war about its identity, with central issues like the relation of religion and state as yet unsolved. He also analyzes the complex, guilt-ridden relation between Europe and Israel, and claims that the Middle Eastern conflict is, among others, intractable because of the exclusive claim of monotheistic religions to absolute truth.

Since 2007 Carlo Strenger has been a regular contributor to Israel’s leading liberal Newspaper Haaretz, on which he also runs his Blog Strenger than Fiction.[19] He is a columnist for Neue Zürcher Zeitung and writes occasionally in Britain’s The Guardian[20] ,The New York Times and Foreign Policy and blogs on the Huffington Post.[21]

Strenger is a proponent of the two-state solution, i.e. he claims that the only way to end the Middle Eastern Conflict is establishing a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital alongside Israel.[22] His criticisms of Israel’s settlement policies are often quite pronounced,[23] and he sees Israel’s failure to engage with the Arab League Peace Initiative as an indication of political and strategic short-sightedness.[24] But since the end of 2011 he has expressed growing skepticism that the two state solution can still be implemented given Israel's move to the right and Palestinian's ineffective leadership.

Nevertheless he also criticized Palestinian self-representation as pure victims, and calls for responsible Palestinian leadership to move towards credible peace proposals.[25] He also strongly attacks attempts to delegitimize Israel's existence.[26]

Strenger has written sharply critical analyses of the involvement of religion in Israeli politics and claims that Israel needs to adopt the secular model of France and the US to avoid constant clashes and to stop what he sees as an ongoing culture war in Israel.[27]

But Strenger has also been critical of the failure of Israel’s left to deal with the events leading from the end of the Oslo Process to the second Intifada and the rise of Hamas. He sees this failure as a symptom of what he calls the ‘Standard Left Explanatory System’ that evolved in Europe in the 1960s, which assumes that all ills in the non-Western world are a function of Western wrongdoing, and never ascribes responsibility to non-Western agents like Islamic countries and groupings.[28]

Strenger describes himself as a classical European Liberal,[21] and claims that his political views are application of this liberal position to Israeli politics and the Israel-Palestine conflict. But some of his critics from the Israeli right categorize him as belonging to the extreme left.[29] Strenger is an advocate of a liberal form of Zionism reaching back to Ahad Ha'am and has developed this vision in an essay entitled Knowledge-Nation Israel [30] and a number of opinion articles.[31][32]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Stenger, Carlo (3 April 2013). "We've lost: It's time to think about one state". Ha'aretz. Retrieved 7 April 2013. 
  2. ^ Carlo Strenger (2002), From Yeshiva to Critical Pluralism, Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 22: 534-558. http://www.pep-web.org/document.php?id=pi.022.0534a
  3. ^ Carlo Strenger (1991), Between Hermeneutics and Science, an Essay on the Epistemology of Psychoanalysis. Psychological Issues Monograph no 57. Madison, Connecticut: International University Press.
  4. ^ Carlo Strenger (1998, Individuality, the Impossible Project. Madison, CT: International Universities Press. Paperback Edition: New York: Other Press, September 2002.
  5. ^ Stuart Twemlow (2002), Review of Individuality, the Impossible Project. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 50: 1072-1077
  6. ^ Linda Chernus (2002), Review of Individuality, the Impossible Project. Clinical Social Work Journal, Vol 29/1.102-105
  7. ^ Carlo Strenger (2004), The Designed Self. Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press
  8. ^ W.Meissner (2005), Review of The Designed Self. Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic. Vol 69, no 3, 253–254.
  9. ^ Josh Miller (2007), Review of The Designed Self. The American Journal of Psychoanalysis (2007) 67, 203–205.
  10. ^ Carlo Strenger and Arie Ruttenberg (2008), The Existential Necessity of Midlife Change. Harvard Business Review, February 2008, pp. 82–90. http://www.annbadillo.com/annscan/files/HBR-MidLifechange.pdf
  11. ^ Carlo Strenger (2009), Sosein: Active Self-Acceptance in Midlife. Journal of Humanistic Psychology. Vol 49, no 1, 46-65.
  12. ^ Carlo Strenger (2010)The Fear of Insignificance: Searching for Meaning in the Twenty-first Century. New York: Palgrave-Macmillan. Hebrew Translation and Editor: Julia Elad-Strenger. Tel Aviv: Kinneret. 1
  13. ^ C. Strenger (2010)Freud, Jewish Universalism and the Critique of Religion. In Beit-Hallahmi, B. (ed.). Psychoanalysis and Theism.Lanham, MD: Jason Aronson
  14. ^ Critique of Global Unreason, Part III
  15. ^ C. Strenger (1997), Hedgehogs,Foxes and Critical Pluralism. Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Thought. Vol 20,1997 (pp 111-145)
  16. ^ Carlo Strenger (1998), Individuality, the Impossible Project. Chapter 6. Carlo Strenger (2011)The Fear of Insignificance: Searching for Meaning in the Twenty-First Century. Chapter 4
  17. ^ Carlo Strenger, Fear of Insignificance, Chapter 8
  18. ^ Carlo Strenger (2009)The Psychodynamics of Self-Righteousness and its Impact in the Middle East. International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies. 6: 178–196.
  19. ^ Strenger than Fiction-Israel News - Haaretz Israeli News source
  20. ^ Carlo Strenger | The Guardian
  21. ^ a b http://freud.tau.ac.il/~strenger/leadership_and_politics.html
  22. ^ Carlo Strenger, A Two Way Process, Comment is Free, The Guardian, January 27, 2009. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jan/27/israelandthepalestinians-gaza.
  23. ^ Carlo Strenger, Israel's Iron Wall. Comment is Free, The Guardian,March 11, 2009. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/mar/11/israel-palestine-netanyahu-lieberman
  24. ^ Carlo Strenger, Why Israel does not Engage with the Saudi Peace Initiative. Haaretz, July 8, 2007. http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/why-israel-does-not-engage-with-the-saudi-initiative-1.222614.
  25. ^ Carlo Strenger, What Victimology doesn't account for. Guardian, December 30, 2008.http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/dec/30/gaza-hamas-palestinians-israel
  26. ^ Carlo Strenger, Why I Celebrate the Tel Aviv Centenary. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/oct/15/israel-palestinian-territories
  27. ^ Carlo Strenger, Why Israel Must Become a Secular State, Haaretz September 27, 2009, http://www.haaretz.com/blogs/strenger-than-fiction/why-israel-must-become-a-secular-state-a-thought-for-yom-kippur-5770-1.7090
  28. ^ Carlo Strenger, The Self-Righteous Left's Simplistic World.Comment is Free, The Guardian July 28, 2009 http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jul/28/israel-free-speech-middle-east.
  29. ^ http://www.feuj.org/blogs/15561,the-showdown-at-the-tel-aviv-university-corral.php
  30. ^ Knowledge-Nation Israel: A New Unifying Vision : Azure - Ideas for the Jewish Nation
  31. ^ Strenger than Fiction, Jewish Liberals of All Nations Unite http://www.haaretz.com/blogs/strenger-than-fiction/strenger-than-fiction-jewish-liberals-from-all-nations-unite-1.287913.
  32. ^ Strenger than Fiction, Angry Liberal Zionism can inspire a new Generation of Israelis http://www.haaretz.com/blogs/strenger-than-fiction/angry-liberal-zionism-can-inspire-a-new-generation-of-israelis-1.293046

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