Presidential Historian and Research Psychologist: Herbert Barry, III

Paul H. Elovitz and Bob Lentz , Clio’s Psyche

Herbert Barry, III, was born in New York City in 1930 and grew up in Cambridge and then Brookline, Mass.  After receiving a BA in social relations from Harvard College, he was awarded MS (1953) and PhD (1957) degrees in psychology by Yale University.  He continued in psychology at Yale as a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow 1957-1959 and research faculty member 1959-1961.  He was an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Connecticut at Storrs in 1961-1963 and a Research Associate Professor in the Department of Pharmacology, University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy 1963-1970.  In 1970 he was promoted to full professor.

Clio’s Psyche (CP): Let’s begin with some questions on Presidential candidates and Presidents.  What are your impressions of Al Gore and George W. Bush?

Herbert Barry, III (HB): Al Gore has many attributes in common with Jimmy Carter.  Gore will be an energetic, effective campaigner for President.  If elected, he will probably continue the centrist Democratic policies of the Clinton administration.  George W. Bush is similar to Reagan.  George W. will inspire affection and trust from many voters as the Republican nominee.  If elected, he will probably reproduce Reagan’s policies of tax cuts, federal government deficits, and cautious assertiveness in foreign policy.

CP: Of their running mates?

HB: The Vice Presidential nominee needs to differ conspicuously from the Presidential nominee in a way that will attract additional votes.  The “observant” rather than “Orthodox” Jewish faith of Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Joseph I. Lieberman will attract populists, members of minority groups, and politically correct liberals.  The main benefit might be to take votes away from Ralph Nader, Presidential nominee of the Green party.  Because of Lieberman’s centrist ideology, Gore’s campaign will probably concentrate on the core Democratic constituency of liberals, labor union members, and poor people.

Dick Cheney, Republican Vice Presidential candidate, will help to maintain the allegiance of conservatives because of his ideology and links with former Presidents Ford, Reagan, and Bush.  George W. Bush will probably continue to emphasize that he is a “compassionate” conservative who desires to “leave no child behind.”

CP: Writing a year ago in Clio’s Psyche you predicted that Gore will be elected.  Do you stand by that forecast?

HB: I continue to predict a victory by Gore.  George W. Bush has great social skills and will be a strong opponent.  Gore has strong competitive drive and a habit of winning.  I believe the polls underestimate Gore’s support and will overestimate the support for the Green party nominee, Nader, who would draw most of his votes from Gore.

CP: Earlier in Bill Clinton’s Presidency you wrote very positively of his promise, of his style of consensus, conciliation, and compromise.  How do you evaluate him and his Presidency now?

HB: I expect that in the future Clinton will increasingly be evaluated on the basis of his performance as President.  He has broadened the support of the Democratic Party and helped to strengthen the United States as a global economic leader and peacemaker.  His personal sexual misconduct was greatly exceeded by some predecessors, notably Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.  The principal difference is that the sexual misconduct of the prior Presidents was not publicized.

CP: Again, writing a year ago in Clio’s Psyche, you speculated on an impending drastic change in American national life, based on an observed approximate 72-year cycle connecting the government’s inception, the Civil War, Roosevelt’s New Deal, and the year 2005.  What should we look for in our future Presidents?

HB: Major changes are impending in the United States political scene, in the world, and in the environment.  Examples include political realignments in the United States, global warming, the threatened use of nuclear bombs, and the spread of AIDS and other infectious diseases.  Another problem is a severe, chronic, and worldwide defect in taxation policy. Governments obtain most revenue from taxing products of human enterprise and labor. These taxes detract from productive activity. Governments should obtain more revenue from user fees and taxation on unimproved land. In 1861-1865, Lincoln successfully combated the threat to the Union. In 1933-1945, Franklin D. Roosevelt led national responses to an economic crisis and foreign military invasion. The next President is likely to face major new crises. I believe that Gore is more likely than George W. Bush to provide the needed leadership.  It is possible that the necessary economic and political changes can only be advocated and accomplished by a subsequent President.

CP: Why and when did you first get interested in the psychobiography of Presidents?

HB: In 1976 I bought a paperback book, Facts About the Presidents (1976) by Joseph Nathan Kane.  I felt thrilled because the facts on each President included the name and dates of birth and death of each of his siblings.  I was preparing a brief article, “Birth Positions of Alcoholics,” for a special issue of an Adlerian journal, Journal of Individual Psychology.  I was able to tabulate rapidly the birth orders of the Presidents and also submitted a report on that study.  The paper was rejected because the editor had previously received and accepted a paper on the same topic.

I then found evidence that Presidents who were the father’s namesake and the first son were more likely to be politically allied with than opposed to the preceding President.  Among eight Presidents who had the same first name as their father and were the first son, all except Carter were members of the same political party as the preceding President.  In contrast, eight out of nine Presidents who were later sons with a brother named after the father replaced a President of the opposing party.  The exception was William Howard Taft.  I presented a paper, “Birth Order and Paternal Namesake As Predictors of Affiliation With Predecessor By Presidents of The United States,” at the initial meeting of the International Society of Political Psychology in 1978.  The finding was published in an article in the second issue of the ISPP’s journal, Political Psychology, 1979, vol. 1, pp. 61-67.

CP: What is the impact of psychohistory on Presidential studies?

HB: I have repeatedly noticed that most of the Presidents have highly complex characters.  The Presidents therefore are suitable subjects for psychobiographies, which study origins of seemingly contradictory traits.  There are excellent psychobiographies of some Presidents, notably Jefferson, Wilson, and Nixon.  For example, Fawn M. Brodie, Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History (1974).  The author documented and argued persuasively that Jefferson was the father of the children of his slave, Sally Hemmings.  Most historians have respected Alexander L. and Juliette L. George, Woodrow Wilson and Colonel House: A Personality Study (1956).  There are several good psychobiographies of Nixon.  I recommend especially David Abrahamsen, Nixon vs. Nixon: An Emotional Tragedy (1976).  Insightful comments on the relationship of Reagan with his older brother are in a book by historian Garry Wills, Reagan’s America: Innocents at Home (1987).  I believe that psychobiographies have induced recent conventional biographers to pay more attention to the complex, contradictory characteristics of the Presidents.

CP: Which Presidents do you find most interesting?

HB: Lincoln, Jefferson, and FDR.  Abraham Lincoln succeeded in preserving the Union under circumstances that would have defeated almost anyone else.  His intellect and social skills are generally underestimated.  Jefferson is interesting because of his contradictory role as an eloquent spokesman for individual freedom, while still being a slave owner.  Franklin D. Roosevelt combined lofty idealism with political deceptiveness.  Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox was an accurate metaphor as the title of a book by James MacGregor Burns (1956).

CP: Historians frequently rate or rank the Presidents.  Often the bases are issues of leadership during a crisis period, war or peace, economic expansion or contraction, territorial expansion, etc.  How do you rate and rank a top five and a bottom three Presidents psychologically?

HB: In a newspaper column (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 13, 1987, p. 19) I listed my opinion of the 10 psychologically most mature Presidents.  Following is my present opinion of the top five, starting with the psychologically most mature.

  • William McKinley.  He was stable, rational, kind, and a more active and intelligent President than is recognized.
  • Gerald Ford.  He was highly genial and conscientious.  He effectively helped to heal the nation after Nixon.
  • James Monroe.  He combined extraordinary achievements with a very sociable, conciliatory personality.
  • Martin Van Buren.  He was serene and generally contented in spite of a highly political career.
  • Harry Truman.  He was devoted to his family and a diligent, wise leader in spite of great difficulties and his own limitations.
  • Following are the bottom three, starting with the psychologically least mature.
  • Theodore Roosevelt.  He displayed the temperament and often the actions of an egotistical, impulsive young boy in spite of his brilliant intellect.
  • Lyndon B. Johnson.  He was a domineering, conniving bully in spite of his great political accomplishments.
  • Richard Nixon.  He suffered from intense, disabling anger and feelings of insecurity in spite of his extraordinary self-control and achievements.

CP: Are there any childhoods of Presidents that you find illustrative/exemplary of the importance of childhood to psychohistory/psychobiogra-phy?

HB: Presidential leadership may have been developed as a result of unusual relationships with the father.  When Franklin D. Roosevelt was born, his father was 53 years old.  The father was an amiable companion rather than authoritarian figure.  The son developed responsible, protective behavior as a teenager due to his father’s failing health.  Washington and Jefferson were both less than 15 years old when their fathers died.  Each of these Presidents were the oldest son of their widowed mother.  Their responses to this status contributed to their subsequent leadership skills.  Three Presidents were born after the death of their father: Jackson, Hayes, and Clinton.  I believe they have in common an often successful effort to emulate an idealized father combined with difficulty of self control because they lacked a satisfactory paternal figure.

CP: Are there any birth orders of Presidents that you find illustrative/exemplary of the importance of birth order to psychohistory/psychobiography?

HB: Twelve Presidents were in the first half of large families of six or more children.  They are Washington, the first of six; Jefferson, third of 10; Madison, first of 12; Polk, first of 10; Taylor, third of nine; Fillmore, second of nine; Buchanan, second of 11; Grant, first of six; Benjamin Harrison, second of 10; Harding, first of eight; Eisenhower, third of seven boys; and Kennedy, second of nine children.  Only five Presidents from families of six or more children were not in the first half.  They are William H. Harrison, last of seven; Pierce, sixth of seven; Arthur, fifth of nine; Cleveland, fifth of nine; and McKinley, seventh of nine.

CP: What psychodynamics are there to Presidential candidates’ selections of running mates?

HB: Most Vice Presidents have been chosen to broaden public support by representing a faction of the party that differs from the Presidential nominee.  The election of Kennedy was probably made possible by the Southern electoral votes won because of Vice Presidential nominee Lyndon B. Johnson.  This policy sometimes produced problems.  William Henry Harrison, a Northern Whig, died and was replaced by Tyler, a Southern Democrat.  Taylor, a Southern Whig slave owner, died and was replaced by Fillmore, a Northern Whig opponent of slavery.  Lincoln, a Northern Republican, was replaced by Andrew Johnson, a Southern Democrat.  A contrast to this policy was Clinton’s choice of Gore.  Both were young centrist Democrats from adjacent Southern states.

CP: What is your assessment of third parties?

HB: Third parties have succeeded by replacing one of the prior two major parties, rather than by differing from both major parties.  The Whig Party replaced the Federalist Party in 1832.  The Republican Party replaced the Whig Party in 1856.  The Democratic Party has survived because it adopted some proposals of its minor party rivals, such as the Greenback and Socialist parties.  The Progressive “Bull Moose” Party in 1912 and the Reform Party in 1992 and 1996 were mainly the agents for an individual who sought to compete against both major parties instead of replace one of them.  In the future, the Green or Libertarian or Reform party might replace the Democratic Party.  An America First or Constitutional or Christian party might replace the Republican Party.

CP: Are there any psychological studies of the Presidency?

HB: Good information on each President prior to Clinton is by William A. DeGregorio, The Complete Book of U. S. Presidents (1991).  It is primarily a reference book but contains good, brief information on personality and early experiences.  I do not know of psychohistorical studies of the Presidency as a unique role or status.  I speculate that the extraordinarily high degree of achieved status has a psychologically beneficial effect on most Presidents.  Some Presidents have been characterized as growing into the job, such as Polk and Truman.  Sometimes the status inspires them to outstanding performance after their Presidencies, such as John Quincy Adams and Carter.

Clio’s Psyche (CP): Please tell us about your family background.

Herbert Barry, III (HB): During my early childhood, my father was an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Tufts College.  He then enrolled in Tufts Medical School and received the M.D. degree when I was 11 years old.  He became a psychiatrist, affiliated with the Massachusetts General Hospital, and was an active psychotherapist until he retired in 1985 at age 86.  Group therapy became his specialty.  He was founder and first president of the New England Society for Group Psychotherapy.  My mother never had a paid job, although she had some training as an artist and a thoroughly artistic temperament.  Income from a trust fund, established by her grandfather, exceeded my father’s salary at Tufts College and made his medical education possible.

One of my memorable educational experiences as an undergraduate was learning that according to the classification of W. Lloyd Warner, my parents were lower level upper class.  In childhood, a repeated experience was hearing my mother sometimes declare approvingly that the United States is a classless society, and at other times scornfully deride an action or custom as “so middle class.”

My ethnic background is English, Irish, Dutch, and French.  At some point in the future I might investigate and I hope to verify a family legend that I may also have American Indian ancestry.  My religious affiliation was originally Episcopalian.  In 2000 I joined the Unitarian Universalist church.

I was the first child, born nine months and two days after the wedding of my parents.  My siblings include two sisters and a brother.  For several days each year I am the same age in years as my “Irish twin” sister, born May 27, 1931.  My other sister was born when I was three-and-a-half years old.  My brother, born when I was 13 years old, is severely autistic.  He has never talked, and since the age of 10 years has lived with a foster family.

My father died in 1986 at the age of 87 years.  He was an important influence beginning early in my childhood.  I had many discussions with him on a wide variety of topics.  My mother died early this year at the age of 94 years.  A significant experience for my sisters and me was when I was 21 and a senior at college.  My father told my mother on Christmas Eve that he was in love with another woman and wanted a divorce.  Seven years later, my mother finally agreed to an uncontested divorce.  My father immediately married his secretary, with whom he lived happily for the rest of his life.  My mother did not remarry but had an active social life.  Her many trips to various foreign lands provided most of the subject matter for her paintings.

CP: What is your psychoanalytic/psycho-therapeutic experience and its influence on you?

HB: I had Freudian psychoanalysis for four years, beginning shortly after I started graduate school.  It was a therapeutic rather than didactic psychoanalysis.  My psychotherapy was not precipitated by a crisis, and I cannot identify specific benefits, but I believe that it greatly increased my self-knowledge.  I became consciously aware of the vast complexity of human thoughts and emotions.  My father paid 80% of the fees but was very ambivalent about my psychoanalysis.  He told me that he had declined the opportunity for Freudian psychoanalysis because he did not want to find out that much about himself.

CP: How do you define psychohistory?

HB: Psychohistory is when the behavior of individuals is analyzed with the aid of information about their early life and social environment.  The unit of analysis may be a nation or other aggregation of people, as in studies of group fantasy.  Inferences are made about persistent effects of early experiences on reactions to social situations.

CP: What is the importance of childhood to psychohistory?

HB: Childhood experiences are sources of irrational group and individual behavior.  Inferences from childhood experiences distinguish a psychobiography from a conventional biography.

CP: How are psychohistory and political psychology similar and different?

HB: Psychohistory focuses on the irrational emotions that influence overt behavior of individuals or groups.  Political psychology is more interested in the governmental structures and processes than in the psychological motivations.  For example, popular topics in political psychology are techniques for negotiating peace agreements and analysis of political communication.

CP: What brought you to psychohistory?

HB: In my first two years as an undergraduate, I majored in history.  At that time, I became aware of the book A Study of History by Arnold J. Toynbee.  I liked his identification and interpretation of general trends in the development and decline of civilizations.  I changed my major to social relations in my junior year because it seemed consistent with my search for general principles of behavior.  Many years later, I read an announcement of and attended the first meeting of the International Psychohistorical Association (IPA) in 1978.  I felt especially interested in the paper by Jacques Szaluta, “Apotheosis to Ignominy: The Martyrdom of Marshal Pétain,” published in the Journal of Psychohistory, 1980, vol. 7, pp. 415-453.  Several years later, in response to a letter from Paul Elovitz, I began attending the IPA meetings regularly.

CP: What special training was most helpful in your doing psychohistorical work?

HB: I believe that the most useful experiences were my psychoanalysis and readings about psychoanalytic theory.  Experiments in which I controlled the independent variables contributed to an appreciation of the limitations of observational studies, and thereby cautious inferences from the observations.  The use of laboratory animals in most of my experiments encouraged an objective view of behavior and its antecedents. My extensive training and experience in statistical analysis revealed that the credibility of psychohistorical inferences depends on the number of independent individuals or events, and on the consistency of the findings.

CP: Please tell us about your education at Yale and Harvard.

HB: I believe that my most educational experience at Harvard was my senior honors thesis. My advisor, John W. M. Whiting, was an anthropologist.  I made ratings on styles of pictorial art in 30 diverse, mostly preliterate societies.  I found that art styles were more complex in societies where independent ratings indicated more severe child training.  I had a difficult decision between the PhD program in social relations at Harvard and in psychology at Yale.  I chose Yale because it emphasized scientific experiments on laboratory animals and it was a psychology rather than a social relations department.  Although my major was experimental psychology, soon after my arrival Professor Irvin L. Child hired me, 25 percent of the time as a research assistant for a study of a world sample of more than 100 societies.  Child was co-author with John W. M. Whiting of a book published in 1953, Child Training and Personality, which reported a cross-cultural study.  Dr. Margaret K. Bacon and I made quantitative ratings on child training in dependence and related behaviors as well as on a wide variety of measures of adult culture.  Our purpose was to explain variations in adult culture on the basis of differences in child training.

CP: During your attendance at them, how receptive were these Ivy League institutions to psychoanalysis and psychohistory?

HB: I do not remember any interest in psychohistory at Harvard or Yale, but at that time I had very little knowledge about the topic.  The leading professors in the Social Relations Department at Harvard, such as Gordon W. Allport and Henry A. Murray, were ambivalent toward Freudian psychoanalysis.  At Yale, the Psychology and Psychiatry Departments were receptive to Freudian psychoanalysis.  Many graduate students were psychoanalyzed.  My psychoanalyst was affiliated with the Psychiatry Department.

CP: Do you think Yale and Harvard left their mark on Bill Clinton, Albert Gore, and George W. Bush?  How?

HB: I believe that the social contacts and prestige were more important than the academic advantages of Harvard Business School for Bush, Yale Law School for Clinton, and Harvard College for Gore.  Yale was George W. Bush’s father’s college, and the son was elected to his father’s elite Skull & Bones.

CP: Are there any mentors who come to mind?

HB: In my last two years at boarding school, I took a course on Public Affairs.  The highly intellectual and articulate teacher, Mr. Charles C. Buell, contributed to my interest in national and world events.  It was during an interesting time, from shortly before the Republicans won the majority in Congress in 1946, until shortly before President Truman was nominated for his generally predicted unsuccessful candidacy in 1948.  In my last two years as an undergraduate, I had many thoughtful discussions with a graduate student teaching fellow, Norman Birnbaum.  He became a Sociology Professor at Amherst College.  In graduate school, Professor Irvin L. Child was my principal mentor on psychosocial topics.  He taught a course on personality.  He encouraged and helped me to prepare my undergraduate senior honors thesis for publication, in 1957, in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, vol. 54, pp. 380-383.

CP: Please list the five people who you think have made the greatest contribution to psychohistory, in order of their contribution.

HB: Sigmund Freud.  He originated the framework for most psychohistory and contributed psychobiographies of Moses, Leonardo da Vinci, and Woodrow Wilson. Erik Erikson.  He wrote insightful psychobiographies of Martin Luther and Mahatma Gandhi.  He was a mentor and inspiration for several psychohistorians.
Lloyd deMause.  He has published prolifically; he founded and guides the International Psychohistorical Association; and he founded and edits the Journal of Psychohistory. Frank J. Sulloway.  He does not regard himself as a psychohistorian but one of the most important contributions to the field is his book Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives (1996).  He reported convincing evidence from a large number of people that birth order is an effective predictor of opinions on various scientific and political controversies.  The analysis includes other childhood conditions, such as conflict with a parent and the father’s ideology. Paul H. Elovitz.  He has done psychobiographies of several Presidents of the United States and psychohistorical studies of group responses, such as of refugees from the World War II Holocaust.  He has also founded and directs the Psychohistory Forum, and has founded and edits the periodical Clio’s Psyche.

CP: What impact did Erik Erikson have on you?

HB: I read his book, Childhood and Society, while an undergraduate.  It contained some anthropological information relevant to my cross-cultural interests.  I especially admired the chapter on Adolf Hitler.  Erikson vividly explained that the beginning of Mein Kampf was a fairy tale rather than an accurate autobiographical account.

CP: What books were important to your development?

HB: While an undergraduate, I read Freud’s New Introductory Lectures in Psychoanalysis.  In my senior year, there was The Psychopathology of Everyday Life by Sigmund Freud.  This book described many examples of how repression and denial affect normal behavior by emotionally healthy people, in addition to psychiatric patients.

My cross-cultural research was influenced by Ruth Benedict’s book, Patterns of Culture, classifying societies as Apollonian or Dionysian, and by Margaret Mead’s vivid accounts of different cultural customs.  Books and articles by George P. Murdock, whom I met when we were both at Yale, reported many interesting variations in social customs in several hundred societies.  His work was an important basis for my cross-cultural research with Irvin L. Child and Margaret K. Bacon.  When Murdock and I were both at the University of Pittsburgh, I directed the production of new ratings on infancy and childhood, published in Ethnology, a journal founded and edited by Murdock.  The research was supported by a grant to Murdock from the National Science Foundation.  A subsequent consequence was a project with Alice Schlegel on adolescence, resulting in a book Adolescence: An Anthropological Inquiry (1991).

An important influence on my study of birth order was a book The Promised Seed (1964) by Irving D. Harris.  In a study of famous men in various occupations, first sons were predominantly conformists and theorists, later sons were predominantly revolutionaries and empiricists.  The sample of men included several Presidents of the United States.

CP: What brought you to the study of birth order?

HB: I was very conscious of my status as the oldest and only male child when growing up with my two sisters.  It was not an entirely privileged status because I felt that my mother favored my sisters, especially my younger sister, Lucy, who was her namesake.  I believe that my interest in birth order as a psychological variable began after my PhD degree, when my father and I began to tabulate data on birth position of several hundred psychiatric patients at Greystone Hospital, in New Jersey.  He had obtained this information in a study of the effects of early childhood bereavement.

CP: Of which of your psychohistorical ideas and works are you most proud?

HB: I became aware that beginning with Thomas Woodrow Wilson, most Presidents of the United States who were not given their father’s first name had a middle name that reproduced their mother’s maiden name.  I found biographical evidence that they displayed strong early childhood identification with the mother, resulting in feminine characteristics combined with exaggerated adult assertiveness.  I reported this finding in a paper presented at an IPA meeting.  The paper was included as pages 26-40 in Paul H. Elovitz, ed., Historical and Psychological Inquiry (1990).

CP: More than that of most professors, your life is organized around scholarship and attending scholarly conventions.  Do you have any thoughts on this you would like to share with our readers?

HB: From 1963 until 1977, my salary was entirely paid first by a research grant and then by a Research Scientist Development Award.  My teaching duties since then have continued to be slight.  I have been able to devote most of my time to data analysis and writing.  I have thereby been able to divide my research among the topics of psychopharmacology, cross-cultural studies, and names, in addition to psychohistory.

CP: What are you working on now?

HB: I have prepared a proposal for a book, Personal Perspectives of the Presidents.  The subtitle will be Washington to Gore or George W. Bush, whichever is elected.”  I plan to complete the book in time for it to be published in 2003, during the next President’s four-year term.

CP: What training should a person entering the field of psychohistory pursue?

HB: The most important training is in psychology.  Psychohistory requires appreciation of the complexity of human nature, including reactions to irrational and unrecognized emotions and the effects of conflicting desires.  It is less important to know history, which is a chronicle rather than a set of general principles.  People who are capable of contributing to psychohistory are also capable of obtaining the needed historical information.

CP: What do we as psychohistorians need to do to strengthen our work?

HB: We need to obtain more detailed information to support our inferences.  Future studies should be applied to a larger number of individuals and should obtain more psychobiographical information on each individual.

CP: How can psychohistory have more influence in academia and on society in general?

HB: Psychohistory should become a recognized specialty both in psychology and in history.  An urgent need is a book that will be widely accepted as a text for a general course on psychohistory.  Courses on psychohistory will lead to books written for the general public.  The field may divide into two main branches, psychobiography (the study of individuals) and psychohistory (the study of shared sentiments, such as group fantasy or public consensus).  Academic courses and academic respectability are the most important inducements for psychohistory as a career choice.

CP: As a frequent presenter at the IPA and the International Society for Political Psychology (ISPP), how are these organizations similar and dissimilar?

HB: Both are small, specialized, multidisciplinary societies in the social sciences.  I believe that both were founded in 1978.  The IPA is more focused, with a dominant leader and an emphasis on severely pathological experiences in early childhood as causes of maladaptive adult behavior.  The ISPP includes a broader range of leaders and participants.  The annual meeting is in a different city each year, often outside the United States.  More people are members and attend the meetings of the ISPP.

CP: As a member of Mensa perhaps you could tell us something about that organization.

HB: The criterion for membership is the top 2 percent on standard intellectual tests.  This is not a highly restrictive requirement for academic achievers.  I believe that the majority of IPA members are eligible for Mensa membership.  The 50,000 Mensa members in the United States are less than 2 percent of the eligible population.  Several social gatherings each month constitute the principal activities of the local Mensa groups.  The conversations at Mensa gatherings are primarily social and situational, rather than introspective or theoretical.  The members who attend are extremely diverse.  Some are highly achieving academically or vocationally, but a larger number are underachievers.  Some people join Mensa briefly to prove that they are highly intelligent.

CP: How do you explain the growth and psychology of fundamentalism?

HB: I regard psychohistory and fundamentalism as opposite responses to the uncertainties of existence and the complexity of human motives.  Psychohistory recognizes these stressful conditions and tries to understand them.  Fundamentalism denies these stressful conditions and claims certainty based on religious faith.  In the movie, Inherit the Wind, on the Scopes trial in Tennessee in 1925, the fundamentalist prosecuting attorney declares “I am more interested in the rock of ages than in the age of rocks.”  I doubt that anyone could be both a psychohistorian and a fundamentalist.

I question the premise that fundamentalism is growing.  The increasing publicity about fundamentalists reminds me of the increasing publicity several decades ago about youths who got stoned on psychedelic drugs and rejected academic aspirations.   They were a noisy minority.  Some commentators incorrectly perceived them as manifesting the prevalent behavior of the new generation of youths. I regard terrorism as an extreme expression of fundamentalism.  Denial of the stressful uncertainties of life can induce a psychopathological compulsion to destroy one’s enemies as brutally and indiscriminately as possible.  Another incentive for terrorism is based on paranoid grandiosity, to be the agent for a notoriously infamous event.

CP: What are your thoughts on the psychodynamics of violence in our world?

HB: Violence is an expression of anger, which is a prominent component of human nature.  Lynchings and “ethnic cleansing” express anger displaced onto an outgroup.  Violence is controlled by a combination of love for other humans and social prohibitions against expression of anger.  Punitive child training expresses strong social prohibition but weakens love and tolerance. More permissive child training in recent years has generally strengthened love but also weakened social controls.  Love and tolerance prevail over hate and bigotry for most people who have experienced permissive child training.  I believe that violent behavior in recent years might appear to be more frequent and extreme only because more of the incidents are reported.

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