Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Shout from Copenhagen, Thomas E. Kennedy


Benjamin Katz lives in Copenhagen, a psychologist with a private practice bordering on the north side of the center of the city. His advice to his clients is clear, strong, practical, tactical and strategic, effectively illustrated with references to story and art.

"Remember Lot's wife," he might say to a person trying to leave behind an untenable relationship. "Remember what the angel said to her, 'Don't look back.'"

Or he might illustrate the need for change with reference to the Tales of the Dervishes – the river meeting a desert which threatened to destroy it transforming into a cloud and gliding across the sky to bypass the desert, then raining back into a river when safely on the other side.
Or, on the need to continue to function despite contradictions, he quotes Whitman: "Do I contradict myself? I am complex!"

Or to a man destroying his life by succumbing to excessive appetite, he might tell the story of Odysseus and the sirens who would lure him with seductive songs to wreck his boat on the rocks.

Or he might enlist images – Goya's charcoal, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters – as a cautionary instrument to reinforce consciousness when assailed by the monstrous images of self-doubt.

Benjamin Katz's book The Fifth Narrative described the state of humanity and its future journey from the point of view of five great stories. In it, he wrote, "…great narratives influence us as well as we influence them. In the long run, we will, if we give ourselves a chance to survive, transform ourselves to creators, which is our utmost purpose and meaning in our existence." The creation he refers to is the creation of a sustaining life narrative, filled with stories to illuminate our way through the labyrinth we face.

Benjamin Katz's wisdom is rich with illustration – from literature, art, film, music: from the Bible to the Beatles, Buber to Buñuel, Carroll to Candide, Hemingway to Huxley, Simon & Garfunkel to Goya, The Deerhunter to The Little Prince… His intellect is informed by and well-furnished with ready illustrations from Greek and Hebrew writings, Kundera, Lampedusa, Lao Tse, Machiavelli, Nietzsche, Orwell, Erasmus, Hesse, Swift, Tolstoy, Turgenev and many others.

And what is more, he has that exceedingly scarce characteristic in our complex massive society: a world view.

And now, I am delighted to report, he has written a new book. It is a brick of a book – nearly 600 pages – yet at the same time it is a gem, with many facets. The book is titled Global Psychology, a title which might immediately sound too big for the heart or soul of one man or woman, but this global view is addressed to the individual in his attempt to live a satisfying, feeling, rational, spiritual, individual life amidst the complex network and seductive sirens of our contemporary world.

Ben Katz was born in Palestine, in 1943, when it was still an English colony. His childhood was shadowed by atrocities and wars and the trauma the holocaust had inflicted on his parents, who left Poland in 1933 to start a new life, "liberated from heavy Jewish mentality and centuries of traditions" to follow their vision of building a just, socialist society. They never saw their families again. Eleven members of Ben's family died in Nazi gas chambers or concentration camps.

Katz says that every conscious person must have a story of his or her life which must make sense to him and grant him some control and meaning if he is not to be doomed to lose his nerve and spirit. Our stories, he suggests, are always built upon our relation to three questions about person, society and species: Where do I come from? Who am I? Where do I go?

"The need to have a meaningful life story," Katz writes, "which sheds ultimate significance and meaning upon ourselves and our lives, is so profound for us as to make us easy prey to our own mental and other agencies' manipulations, be it religion, ideology, or tribal, clan, or national history and identity."

Katz book has two main purposes: to make the reader aware of the most debilitating mental traps and problems that sap life energy from most humans and to present a variety of working tools and techniques, insights and attitudes to reduce psychological, social and existential problems and doubts.

The first half of the book focuses on the micro reality of the individual life and the attainment of a fulfilled life. The second half focuses on the individual's macro reality and the attainment of a new, sustainable and evolving vision as a robust human being in a global setting.

In essence the book discusses the negotiation of the labyrinth of a poorly evolved consciousness – avoiding the many sirens waiting to seduce us into self-destruction – toward the creation of a conscious and meaningful life narrative.

For anyone who does not wish his life to be a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing, Benjamin Katz's Global Psychology ( is warmly recommended.

Greetings from this ancient kingdom!
Thomas E. Kennedy (
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