Leaks, Journalism, and the Unconscious Mind

Glendale, California
Sunday, June 11, 2017



Leaks, Journalism, and the Unconscious Mind

For all their theoretical infighting, the different psychoanalytic schools share a common interest in one human phenomenon:

The unconscious mind.

You might consult a Jungian or a Freudian. You might work with a practitioner interested in Intersubjectivity or Relational psychoanalysis. Perhaps, particularly if you live in South America, your psychoanalyst has a Kleinian orientation.

Or, you might work with someone like me who picks and chooses metaphors fitting best with patients’ descriptions of their worlds. I agree with Robert Wallerstein that various psychoanalytic models provide “a plethora of theoretical metaphors.”

Any of these psychoanalytic, psychodynamic, or psychoanalytic psychotherapists will assist you in understanding the parts of your subjective experience lying outside your conscious awareness.

These hidden aspects of mind exist on a continuum.

For example, we all have “secret” thoughts or feelings we share with no one. These are conscious. However, we don’t like reflecting on them.

As we move towards the unconscious end of the spectrum, other common propensities, disavowal, say, or denial, occur. Here, whatever we are avoiding is harder to access. Finally, unconscious patterns, feelings, and cognitions exist which, by definition, are entirely outside of our consciousness.

As I have mentioned in recent posts, comparisons between mind and politics go back to Plato — probably even earlier. By analogy, the conscience of an individual person, for example, functions much like the judicial system of a government.

The various informational leaks recently earning banner newspaper headlines, like the ones a few years ago by Edward Snowden, or more recently by Reality Winner (what a name!), are the societal equivalent of discoveries from the unconscious.

They broaden our knowledge.

They serve an important, almost crucial function in a democratic (or any) society.

Psychoanalytic practitioners seek information about the unconscious in varied ways. You’ve all heard of the Freudian slip. It happens. Some patients intend to describe their love for their spouses, but instead “mistakenly” speak words representing their hatred.

Freud considered dreams the “royal road” to understanding unconscious themes. But, again, many paths lead to the same endpoint. Behavioral patterns often represent unconscious themes or schemata. Patients who tend to abuse loved ones, or to find themselves abused, typically manifest unconscious propensities to repeat these patterns.

Another common trend surrounds inconsistencies between the conscious and the unconscious. Patients might tell their psychotherapists they have finished grieving a loss. They are “done” dealing with their father who died years ago, or their wife who left them. At some later point, they surprisingly fall into tears when discussing the loss.

One of the main, agreed-upon ways psychodynamic psychotherapy works is by bringing these signs of the unconscious mind into conscious experience.

In the few examples just given, patients have the opportunity to explore their previously-unknown anger at their spouse, their sadistic or masochistic patterns, or their unresolved losses. These occur regardless of the particular theoretical orientation of their psychoanalysts.

In like manner, leaks exposed by journalists reveal hidden trends in politics. Snowden’s leaked information revealed a treasure trove of secret activities by the US government of which many of us US citizens were blissfully unaware.

Starting in June 2013, Snowden shared information revealing secret NSA surveillance programs. Most of these showed that unwarranted spying on American citizens was occurring. The first program revealed direct NSA access to private Google and Yahoo accounts.

Later, Snowden leaked information revealing a secret court order that required Verizon to hand the NSA millions of Americans phone records on a daily basis. An article by The Guardian quoted Snowden as saying, “I, sitting a my desk, could wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president.”

The NSA also gathered intelligence on foreign soil. They accessed the oil giant Petrobas, Brazil’s largest company. It also spied on UNICEF, Medicins du Monde, the Israeli and the German Prime Ministers, and others.

Just days ago, Reality Winner, a 25-year-old federal contractor for the NSA, leaked information regarding a 2016 Russian military intelligence cyberattack to The Intercept, an online news outlet. Our own government did not want the American public to know it; Ms. Winner, barely out of her adolescence, sneaked it out.

She now awaits trial for federal charges, likely for violating the Espionage Act of 1917. Passed in June 1917 (interesting one-century coincidence), shortly after the US entered WWI, the Espionage Act was originally intended to prohibit interference with military operations or recruitment. It is now broadly applied to anyone suspected of supporting enemies of the United States.

How did information about Russian hacking into the US electoral process support our enemies?

How does information about the NSA spying on us support our enemies?

Noam Chomsky once quipped:

Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.

Propaganda typically appears in more obvious forms, like when Trump said, just a few days ago, “Comey’s testimony was all lies.” Or when huge insurance companies, like Anthem Blue Cross, seemingly show interest in our health by promoting free, yearly physical examinations. In truth, they only want to save money by treating illnesses before they become expensive.

They don’t care a whit about your health. They want to collect as much premiums as possible and pay as few claims as possible.

The information leaks, actively and wisely sought by journalists, serve a crucial function. They reveal what is, quite literally, unconscious, hidden-from-view, secret.

We should know them.

They promote freedom.

They promote democracy.

In the final analysis then, it behooves you to reflect on what it means when the word “hate” slips out of your mouth regarding someone you love. Knowledge of previously-unconscious thoughts, feelings or behavior leave you with greater agency and control over your own life.

Similarly, it benefits our free society to encourage journalists to reveal their analogous slips or what is otherwise hidden from our view.

Journalism’s mining of secret information, leaked or not, empowers us.


Chomsky, N and Herman, E. (2002). Manufacturing consent: The political economy of the mass media. New York: Pantheon.

Wallerstein, R. (2013). Metaphor in Psychoanalysis and Clinical Data. In Metaphor and Field: Common Ground, Common Language, and the Future of Psychoanalysis, Ed. S. Montana. New York: Routledge, pp 22-38.

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