The Pathological Twisting of Bradley Manning: Part Two: Social Change as –Post-Adolescent Idealism”

The Pathological Twisting of Bradley Manning: Part Two: Social Change as “Post-Adolescent Idealism”

Pathological diagnosis can be used by medical and psychological professionals as a neutralizing technique by transforming social discontent into personal doubt and imaginary demons. For the vulnerable subject involved it can function as a kind of mental pill that if swallowed can leave them impotent and unable to defend themselves or see reality clearly. In this excerpt, the psychological experts attempt to define Manning’s actions as a maladjusted developmental phase.

Q. What is post-adolescent idealism?
A. So post-adolescent idealism, it’s a normal state of adult development that people go through between, as they transition from adolescence into adulthood. It’s a period of time when people are more focused on, well, become focused on making a difference in the world, societal changes, things like that. It’s a transition because in adulthood your (the transcriber was unable to hear) in childhood your world is kind of small, you win contests, you’re the best in your school in something. As you transition into adulthood, there is a transition where you realize you are not really the best of anything perhaps. As you grow up and you learn that. That transition period you still are holding on to some of that idealism from youth. And you get exposed, as you become an adult, things in society and things that you think you can make a difference, because you made a difference in your adolescence. And drives a lot of activism on college campuses, even the riots that eventually throughout history have happened on campuses. Leads a lot of people to the Peace Corp, all sorts of various things like that. It’s a normal stage of human development.
Q. And how would a narcissistic personality trait impact the normal development of this phase of being idealistic or having idealism?
A. So along lines of the kind of grandiose sense of self-importance. And it would tend to exaggerate that some with your ability to accomplish something and make a big social impact. There would be more likely to take a lead in that type of position or even act alone rather than someone with less narcissistic personality trait may join a club or become part of a group. Someone with more narcissistic kind of tendencies might lead out, take a stand on their own or even feel like they were only the one able to accomplish something (p. 8).

In this statement the impulse for social change, the outcry for social justice and the imagining of a better world is reduced to pathology and subjected to the regime of psychological diagnosis. The implication is that those who take the risk to speak out when others are silent are pathologically narcissistic. This statement reveals how diagnosis and pathology can be used as a form of social control and regulation as it legitimizes only normative behaviors, those sanctioned by the status quo. One might question whether the intended message is also to the American people, that they need to watch out what websites they visit or information they share, the threat being that if they don’t, they may find themselves not only criminalized, but pathologized as well.

Q. Are you familiar with the IM chats between Pfc Manning and Zachary Antolak, who is now going by the name of Lauren McNamara?
A. Yes, I reviewed them.
Q. Within that chat Pfc Manning states, I’m trying to figure out a way to prevent a civil war the second we leave, referring to Iraq. What significance do you attach to that statement by Pfc Manning?
A. I think that leads into this kind of focused adolescent idealism and his narcissism that he felt he, as a young enlisted soldier, part of a huge organization with that goal, and he’s identified that he’s himself is trying to figure out a way to prevent this. This ideology is very common in that post-adolescent idealism where you really feel like you can make social impact. And his stance is feeling like he’s the one to do that really speaks to kind of that narcissistic grandiosity. (p. 16).

Manning reported that when he decided to share the documents with the American public, he hoped he would have an impact on the way the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were being waged. He has become a global figure not because he aspired to be but because he believed that what he had discovered could make a difference. Manning’s disclosures along with other recent disclosures by Assange, Snowden, and others raise important issues about what constitutes “whistle blowing” and when it is considered legitimate. Speaking up about dysfunction in a dysfunctional group is most often threatening to those in power and can be dangerous as there is often no one who will validate the reality you see. In this way, you threaten to destabilize the dysfunctional equilibrium. Manning and others who have been labeled by some as “whistle blowers” are forcing American society to consider under what circumstances disclosure is a protected right and how that protection should take place? In Manning’s case as a person speaking out about potential abuses of military power, did it make sense that he was tried by a military court?

Q. Did Pfc Manning have the ability at that time to appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions? A. He did.
Q. Even though he could appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions, was there a reasonable explanation for his actions based upon what you saw?
A. Yes.
Q. And what is that?
A. As he was very stressed out, and did not have a lot of people to turn to, either at the unit and not getting response from his peers back home, he became, I think, very enthralled in this idea that the things that he was finding were injustices that he felt morally to right, very in line with his belief system, as far as righting wrongs, when he sees them, and trying to balance obligations that he’s taken on. Because he knew he had an oath to his job as a soldier, but also saw this as something that conflicted, as far as his ideology as well, trying to balance those things. (p. 23)
Q… the degree of stress that he was experiencing at that time in your estimation, how did that influence his thought process?
A. I think it definitely impaired it. So he was, again, he’s got this idealistic thing, he’s got this little world that he has become more and more isolated in. I think it really impaired his ability to think beyond more broadly about the significance of what he was doing, the significance of what he was releasing, which in reality hasn’t had near the impact that he hoped with regard to ending all war. It was more apt to put him very narrowly focused in this kind of post-adolescent idealistic kind of cause, very hyper-focused on this cause he was involved and he had difficulty thinking about anything else. (p. 25)

In an effort to seal the coffin, Dr. Moulton applies the final pathological nail, to use diagnosis to imply that those that are sick do not know how sick they are, so whatever they say is a result of their sickness and therefore can be discounted. In this case, outrage, dedication, and courage to speak out are twisted and turned into symptoms of a diagnosed disease in an attempt to neutralize the content of their message. The implication is that those that will judge his fate don’t need to consider the legal validity, moral ethics, or constitutionally of what Manning did by simply attributing his actions to pathology. The implication is that he did something abnormal, and the only question left is to what degree he is a criminal or a maladjusted disturbed young man.

Q. What level of understanding does Pfc Manning have of his personality traits?
A. Relative…it’s mostly people with abnormal personality traits don’t have a lot of insight into that. He does have some recognition that he has a temper and can have a temper when he gets upset. You know, as far as like his psychological understanding, specifically where that lies and so forth, it’s about average, maybe a little bit above average of typical people who have abnormal personality traits. If we have a lot of insight, probably would stop doing things we do.
Q. What about the post-adolescent idealistic phase. What understanding does he have of that?
A. I couldn’t tell you for exact certainty unless he specifically had a course in adult development. I don’t know that that would be on his radar. A lot of times when people are in that phase, they don’t know they are in that phase. It usually takes an outsider to identify that for them.
Q. And what about the connection with GIB, how did that impact self-awareness, what his thought process was?
A. It certainly added to his stress. Like I mentioned, gender is the main core of identity that often leads to identity in other things. This was evident in some of the ancillary interviews that were done… Bradley really hadn’t entirely figured out what his role in the world was going to be or what he wanted to be. He had some grandiose ideas about being President of the United States since he was 13 and wanted to make a big difference in computer programming and wanted to do physics, and he has a broad array of interests. But, as far as what he was to become or what he wanted to do, he knew he wanted to do something great, but wasn’t sure what that would be. He was definitely struggling to find himself, as far as his identity and so forth. I think that impaired his ability to really rationally think through of the consequences of what he was doing. (p. 27)

Manning now is positioned as the “incompetent subject,” the young man whose abnormal personality traits and pathology caused him to believe he could change things, but his narcissism and gender identity disorder made him throw away his life and decide to sit in four concrete walls for the next three decades.

The reality is that in spite of whatever opinion one has about Manning’s actions, he has become a global public figure and raised a number of important issues that will continue to be debated on a national and global scale. I am reminded of the brilliant moment at the end of Ken Kesey’s film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest when Billy comes out of a hospital room in the morning after his first great sexual adventure. Nurse Ratched, the icon of pathological evil, comes into the hall and sees Billy smiling and disheveled from having too much fun all night. She looks at him and asks him, “What would your mother say?” Billy is unable to fight back, defenseless due to the lack of options in his thoroughly pathologized and medicated mind. He recoils and disappears to his room to cut his own throat. Manning will likely be treated by military psychologists and doctors with no alternative forms of “treatment” provided along with the brutality and horrors of facing decades in prison. I hope that he will find access to other points of view and not lose his perspective and feel there is no alternative to pathology and diagnosis.

On August 14th, 2013, seven days before his sentencing Manning made an apologetic statement.

A. First, Your Honor, I want to start off with an apology. I’m sorry. I’m sorry that my actions hurt people. I’m sorry that it hurt the United States. At the time of my decisions, as you know, I was dealing with a lot of issues, issues that are ongoing, and they are continuing to affect me. Although they have caused me considerable difficulty in my life, these issues are not an excuse for my actions. I understood what I was doing and the decisions I made. However, I did not truly appreciate the broader effects of my actions. Those effects are clear to me now through both self-reflection during my confinement in its various forms and through the merits of sentencing testimony that I have seen here. I’m sorry for the unintended consequences of my actions. When I made these decisions, I believed I was going to help people, not hurt people. The last few years have been a learning experience. I look back at my decisions and wonder how on earth could I, a junior analyst, possibly believe I could change the world for the better on decisions of those with the proper authority. In retrospect I should have worked more aggressively inside the system. As we discussed during the Providence statement, I had options and I should have used these options. Unfortunately, I can’t go back and change things. I can only go forward. I want to go forward. Before I can do that, I understand that I must pay a price for my decisions and actions. Once I pay that price, I hope to one day live in a manner that I haven’t been able to in the past. I want to be a better person, to go to college, to get a degree and to have a meaningful relationship with my sister, with my sister’s family and my family. I want to be a positive influence in their lives, just as my Aunt Debra has been to me. I have flaws and issues that I have to deal with, but I know that I can and will be a better person. I hope that you can give me the opportunity to prove, not through words, but through conduct, that I am a good person and that I can return to a productive place in society. Thank you, Your Honor. (pp. 39-40)

Although he apologized, Manning refused to assign a psychological attribution to his actions and demonstrated a strength in continuing to state the political meaning behind what he did. In fact, a few days after his sentencing, he went further and boldly declared that he is now Chelsea Manning and will live proudly as such during and after his prison term. As “helping professionals” we are all implicated when we assume and exercise the right to use a pathological diagnostic system to define another human beings experience. My hope is that Chelsea Manning is an example that helps us all recover our “post-adolescent idealism” and the delusion that we can make and need to make a difference. Of course, that is just my pathology revealing itself again.

1. Bradley Manning’s statement on February 13th, 2013 at his providence military inquiry.…

2. The text of the court martial military hearing on August 14th, 2013.

— Matthew Jacobson

Today’s guest contributor, Matthew Jacobson, PhD, is a writer, mental health professional, and documentary film activist who has recently moved back to the Seattle, Washington area after finishing his doctoral studies at the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona in Barcelona, Spain.

Read more stories by Matthew Jacobson

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