At an atomic level all the diverse chemical elements have something in common. They are all a mix of positive and negative charges. The toxic arsenic is a mix of positive and negative charges; the life-promoting oxygen is also a mix of positive and negative charges. In that sense all chemical elements are alike. At an atomic level the diversity (identity) and toxic properties of the elements are lost in an undifferentiated mass of benign electrical charges.
Be that as it may.
A few years ago I spoke to my psychiatrist about my maternal aunt, a notably tyrannical figure. The psychiatrist listened patiently to my extended narrative. He offered the following comments: “You seem to think your aunt is all bad. Your aunt also had positive qualities.” Then the doctor added, “All people are a mix of good and bad qualities.”
I thought of Leonard Shengold’s observations about the process of doublethink seen in victims of child abuse. Doublethink is the act of simultaneously accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct, often in distinct social contexts.
I saw evidence of doublethink in my psychiatrist’s comments. On the one hand he paid lip service — and only lip service — to the idea that my aunt had any bad qualities at all: “You seem to think your aunt is all bad. Your aunt also had positive qualities.”
In the very next sentence he reduced all people to a fungible mass of objects (like lab rats): “All people are a mix of good and bad qualities.” In the psychiatrist’s formulation Hitler is no different than the Pope — they are both people, they are both a mix of good and bad qualities.
There is a suggestion of anal sadism in the psychiatrist’s formulation. The psychoanalyst Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel sees anal sadism as driving the need to see individuals as indistinguishable from each other. In her essay “Perversion and Universal Law” Chasseguet-Smirgel refers to “an anal universe where all differences are abolished . . . All that is taboo, forbidden, or sacred is devoured by the digestive tract, an enormous grinding machine disintegrating the molecules of the mass thus obtained in order to reduce it to excrement.” In the anal universe Good and Evil are synonymous. Hitler is equal to the Pope.
Put bluntly, I think my psychiatrist was full of shit.