The menace of consumers, sorrow in Pennsylvania, child abuse at the Fed, and other matters. PSYCHO

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Your servant was about to reach for a newsmagazine in the local stationery store when he suddenly found himself staring fascinatedly at an adjacent publication with the arguably grabbiest headline of the year. It was the summer 1991 Journal of Psychohistory, and the irresistible head was ''The Psychological Origins of the Gulf War and Recession.'' Hard to pass by, eh? We couldn't, and in the ensuing weeks acquired additional psychohistorical reading matter before the fever moderated. Psychohistory is a discipline that aims to enlarge your understanding of history's tides by studying the big players with the help, or presumed help, of psychoanalytic insights. The literature thusly generated is often fun to read, although a fellow frequently has trouble grasping the historical relevance of the claimed insights -- that Lincoln's sex life was troubled, that Robert E. Lee was ashamed of his father, that the Shah was overwhelmed by his father, that Reagan has a fear of castration (said to be evidenced in, for example, his choice of Where's the Rest of Me? as the title for his autobiography). In a much more daring version, psychohistory moves outside the realm of individual psychology and offers predictions based on readings of the national psyche. An endlessly daring innovator in this genre is Lloyd deMause, who edits the Journal of Psychohistory and is responsible not only for that grabby title but for the lead article, ''The Gulf War as a Mental Disorder.'' Lloyd's basic proposition: The daily political dramas served up by the media are in large measure a playing out of ''national dreams.'' Psychohistorians can divine ''the unconscious emotional life of a nation'' by looking for certain recurrent themes in the public dialogue. He says that this technique led him to predict the attempt to assassinate Reagan in 1981: ''In March of 1981 . . . I saw group-fantasies clearly indicating that Reagan would be shot . . . I jokingly remarked to the students in a political psychology class I was teaching ((at New York's Baruch College)) that perhaps I should alert the FBI . . . but it wasn't until the students burst into the next class hour shouting, 'He was shot! Just like we said he would be!' that I realized how amazingly predictive the analysis of group-fantasies can be.'' Not having a tape of either class hour, we are in no position to rebut this astounding claim, but we did find ourselves talking back to deMause's dream- based analysis of the Gulf war. He says that America needed an episode of violence early in 1990. Studies of imagery appearing in the press showed a country suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a psychic ailment associated with destructive impulses. The PTSD was manifested in recurring media images featuring Hurt Children and Terrifying Parents (deMause's caps). Example of the former: the cover of a Money magazine story about college admission agonies, headed ''Sacrifice of the Children.'' It all seems more reminiscent of Jeane Dixon's predictions than of Freud's. You have to believe that if there hadn't been a Gulf war, deMause would have pointed to some other events as confirming his forecast of a country eager for pain and suffering. Before the war broke out, he seemed to believe the pain would mainly flow from federal budget cuts and tight money. Writing just before Saddam attacked Kuwait, deMause predicted an orgy of ''child sacrifice,'' observing that in shooting for near-zero inflation, ''Alan Greenspan quietly condemns thousands of children to death in the recession he produces.'' Now you know why there was a recession.