Friday, September 16, 2011

It's the Psychic Economy, Stupid!

With this post, I want to get into the question of why -- why do human groups repeatedly fall into millennial thinking, even though it has never once succeeded in bringing about the hoped for transformation? I'm actually doing this before I have even outlined the persistence and pervasiveness of the phenomenon, but that can be obtained through Landes' Heaven on Earth, and even he acknowledges that he's dealing with only a small representative sampling.

It seems to me that either you get it and accept it as a real and enduring motivation in human beings, or reject it as so much pseudo-historical speculation. Landes himself wonders if his ideas about millennial thinking prove too much.

Which is ironic, because this is precisely what millennial movements do: they prove too much -- everything, really. They have an easy answer to every problem, whether it is kill the Jews, eliminate fossil fuels, board the spaceship, break out the guillotine, or grow the government.

This is going to be an instance of high-risk blogging without a neural net, because I don't yet have any idea if I will be able to answer or even really address this question of why. Rather, I am relying solely on memory -- or, more accurately, the memory of a memory.

That is, I vaguely remember reading this book about fifteen years ago, Object Relations, The Self and the Group. I had plucked it from the shelf at *random* while browsing a bookstore near UCLA, and noticed that not only had the forward been written by a familiar personage, but the book delved into the theories of W.R. Bion, my central influence back in grad school.

Little did I know at the time that the choice hadn't been random, but that my future Bob had directed me to this particular tome because I would need it for my "blog" seventeen years later. But that's the way the cosmos works, isn't it? (Bion called it a memoir of the future.)

Upon reading the book -- which I recall as being pretty dry and academic, probably not recommended to a general audience -- I thought to myself, "gosh, this is the best book I've ever read on the subject of group psychology."

But that's pretty much all I remember. However, I retain the belief that developmental psychoanalysis is the deepest and most comprehensive model of human thought, behavior, and development; and that the individual is obviously the key to understanding the group. So we're about to find out if the passages I highlighted fifteen years ago still have any relevance to the problems of today's space-age Bob.

So here goes. Let's begin with the quote by Freud on the title page: The contrast between individual psychology and social or group psychology, which at first glance may seem to be full of significance, loses a good deal of its sharpness when it is examined more closely.

One of the reasons for this blurring, in my opinion, is that psychoanalysis reveals the individual to be a kind of group -- inhabited by a host of benign and malevolent "objects," or powers and principalities, so to speak -- while the group can be fruitfully regarded as a kind of individual.

One doesn't have to believe the latter to be literally true to see that groups often seem to have a mind of their own that conditions the subjects of which they are composed, especially as applied to riots, herds, mobs, and mindless, reactionary groupthink. But enough about the left.

Likewise, it has been said -- possibly by me -- that a neurosis is analogous to a private culture, whereas a culture is very much analogous to a public neurosis.

Doesn't this explain a great deal? The neurotic obviously doesn't fit in with his surroundings, but the real problem is a kind of civil war within his own psyche: this impulse in conflict with that standard, desire at war with conscience, will power in rebellion against aspirations, etc. In this regard, neurosis is just a part of the human condition.

But think of the craziness of culture. Landes wrote his book knowing that he was in contravention of the academic police, in this case anthropologists who regard all cultures as beautiful and adaptive save for their own.

Due to the dictates of relativism and multiculturalism, one is not permitted to say that many cultures are downright nuts without having one's license to bloviate yanked. So Landes has placed himself at risk by describing the craziness of all these groups, from ancient Egyptians to Marxists, from primitive cargo cults to modern UFO cults.

In my book I attempted to answer the question of why human groups are generally so crazy. In order to fully support the theory, I would need to write another book or two of at least 500 pages each. But that's not the kind of guy I am, which is to say, an academic.

Rather, I am a soph-taught slackademic and gentleman loaffeur, so once something makes sense to me I move on and retain the theory until something better comes along and displaces it. I just have wayyyyy too much ground-of-being to cover to dwell on all the particulars. I do not want to spend my life proving that this or that tree exists, meanwhile underlooking the whole forest. Besides, I've got thousands of other people doing that for me, counting and categorizing all the trees.

Anyway, one of Bion's ideas was that the mind, no different than the "world," was something that required adaptation. Once you think about it, it makes perfect sense: for just as there is an external environment, so too is there an internal environment. The human cosmos always and unavoidably has an exterior and an interior, and much if not most human conflict comes down to trying to get these two to line up.

When we are "in" a culture, we are generally unaware of the extent to which it "contains" us. In particular, a functioning culture contains any number of primitive aggressive and sexual impulses. In the absence of the culture our primitive natures would be "unbound," so speak. Most of us -- especially blue state liberals -- do not appreciate the thin red line that separates civilization from barbarity.
Look at the riots in Europe. Look at Nazism. Look at left wing union thuggery in America. Look at those two undulating heathens on the right, abandoning themselves to the savage voodoo rhythms.

In the book, I suggested that culture is a kind of group adaptation to "mindedness" -- to the exceedingly odd circumstances of having thoughts. After all, thoughts are the problem, aren't they? No thoughts = no problems, an equation to which our two dogs will happily attest.

Only humans have this problem of persecutory thoughts, e.g., worries about the future, regrets about the past, obsessions over our standing in the hierarchy, envious thoughts, greedy thoughts, sexual thoughts, health and death-related thoughts, etc.

Culture serves as a kind of apparatus to contain and direct these; or, to put it another way, if the culture fails to contain them, it cannot last. When it fails, then all the previously contained primitive material seeps through and comes to the fore.

One might say that a culture is subconsciously felt to be "legitimate" when it more or less adequately reflects our interior being. Revolutions are triggered when the disjunction becomes too extreme.

This was the case of our Founders, who were increasingly aware of an unbridgeable gap between their natural rights as British subjects and the unjust laws to which they were being subordinated. Likewise, the Tea Party rebellion is nothing but the reflection of a similar gap between what the Founders intended vs. what the modern left would like to impose upon the nation.

It is as simple as this: Obama's vision is in violation of my deepest values, principles, and hopes. I could never, ever, be comfortable in a leftist world, which, to me, would be hell on earth.

I am sure that leftists feel the same way about traditional American values, since they say this all the time. After all, Obama was elected with a promise to fundamentally transform the country. This should have set off alarms in anyone who loves America and doesn't want to see it fundamentally transformed into Europe, just fixed.

It is beside the point that Europe doesn't even work for Europeans. Rather, it is a question of values, not mere economics. That socialism doesn't work is well understood. Why then does it persist? Because it reflects the values of the people who put their faith in it, and values trump economics.

Here is what Thatcher said on the subject, and it is worth tattooing on the forehead of every leftist professor:

"The economic success of the Western world is a product of its moral philosophy and practice.

"The economic results are better because the moral philosophy is superior.

"It is superior because it starts with the individual, with his uniqueness, his responsibility, and his capacity to choose.

"Surely this is infinitely preferable to the Socialist-statist philosophy which sets up a centralized economic system to which the individual must conform, which subjugates him, directs him and denies him the right to free choice."

Freedom. It's a fearful burden. No wonder the left wants to build a world reflecting this psychic fact.

13 Comments:

Blogger Van said...

"... and that the individual is obviously the key to understanding the group."

... and makes the Group (potentially) worthy of the Individual.

9/16/2011 09:00:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Good point, Van.

Also, notably, while the leftist may hate traditional America and its values, it is a culture within which he is still capable of functioning and thriving. Sadly, the reverse is not at all true; if it were, then we could just shrug at their silliness and carry on with our lives.

9/16/2011 09:19:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"Here is what Thatcher said on the subject, and it is worth tattooing on the forehead of every leftist professor:

"The economic success of the Western world is a product of its moral philosophy and practice.
"The economic results are better because the moral philosophy is superior.
"It is superior because it starts with the individual, with his uniqueness, his responsibility, and his capacity to choose.
"Surely this is infinitely preferable to the Socialist-statist philosophy which sets up a centralized economic system to which the individual must conform, which subjugates him, directs him and denies him the right to free choice."

Freedom. It's a terrible burden. No wonder the left wants to build a world reflecting that fact. "

And it is a burden for them, a profound one. Freedom requires you to not only choose, but to acknowledge that you must choose, and that one choice is better than the other, that there is a Right and there is a Wrong.

Deny that, and society can be given the responsibility for taking care of you... accept it, and the burden of life is upon your own shoulders.

9/16/2011 09:59:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Obama's vision is in violation of my deepest values, principles, and hopes. I could never, ever, be comfortable in a leftist world, which, to me, would be hell on earth.

Indeed. The point that keeps coming up in this series is that people like Obama have no idea where they are going. They keep trying to bring an enemy into focus in order to keep their group cohesive. (I think that transcends the left/right dichotomy.)

If the definition of psychosis is being split from reality, these folks are beyond neurotic. Or, they all think they are going to be in the overseer class. They need to talk to some of my Vietnamese or Chinese friends.

9/16/2011 10:49:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Imagine thinking as Obama has his whole life. And then finding out now, this instant, that it doesn't work and can't work and can only get worse. And miracle of miracles he truly want to fix the country rather than transform the foundation. How quickly can he (anyone, yourself in his shoes) come up to speed?

I mean, I'm trying to imagine how long it would take, what that would be like for a person even if he were willing.

9/16/2011 11:37:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

The severe disjunction between fantasy and reality is enough to make a guy clinically depressed.

9/16/2011 11:39:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Yeah, was wondering if those were trial balloons. For more Lincoln-like points or something.

I know it's pretty damn near-deadly to have "your world" crash down on you when you're not the President.

9/16/2011 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

He was certainly pitched as the New Lincoln. I think all we got was a Continental kit on the Pinto.

It could be too that clinical depression would be a handy out for him if he wants to bail without "failing".

The left could blame his depression on all us mean ol' racists out here who are too stupid to appreciate what Obama has tried to do for us.

9/16/2011 12:02:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Speaking of depression. I mean, the mental kind. Was thinking the other day while cutting the grass (that was for you, Van :-) That maybe there is a vertical version of the genome. As in, some traits(?) or temperaments or sensitivities seem to carry-on through family generations "no matter what". Maybe these are not flaws or maybe they are purposeful with respect to some telos or memoir of the future. I'm wondering if what I'm talking about is what is left over or rather, what would persist if you could place aside a person's culture.

9/16/2011 12:10:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

...and place aside their genes. Maybe there's nothing wrong with their genes. Or with the way their parents raised a person who tends to be depressive. Place aside depressive mind-parasites that may have been handed down if that's possible. Would there still be something left if not THE thing which makes the person receptive or sensative to this tendency?

9/16/2011 12:18:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Mush said, "The left could blame his depression on all us mean ol' racists out here who are too stupid to appreciate what Obama has tried to do for us."

This reminds of Bailie's description of suddenly formed new "unity minus one" I think that's what he called it.

9/16/2011 12:21:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

So, it's not in the DNA, and it's not in the culture -- general or family. The only thing left is a spiritual predisposition. The sins of the fathers unto the third and fourth generations.

WV says morbstik -- I need one of those.

9/16/2011 12:47:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Yes, maybe.
I'm not suggesting that genes and such are not a factor. Just that maybe say there is a thing in each generation that is like a genome (a plan) but in a generational line -- the vertical nature. A mirror of the genome on the vertical plane.
Let's say a man must struggle with his alcoholism on a daily basis, not for himself, but for his grandson who will have the same "sensitivity" but maybe not to alcohol. And that the thought of the future grandson struggling, who he may never know, may sustain him in his own struggle every day. In turn, the grandson succeeds by knowledge of the grandfather.
If we're sticking to a generational telos here, maybe there are more people in the 14+14+14 generations line spoken of in Matthew 1:17 but were serving different ends and so are not mentioned.

wv: parabe

9/16/2011 07:29:00 PM  

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