Category Archives: Psychology/Psychiatry

Political and Spiritual Cults: From Rapture to Complicity to Aftermath in the Shadow of 20th Century Yankeedom

“The party is always right, even when it’s wrong”

— Democratic Workers Party slogan


Everybody knows what cults are

People who join cults are mentally unstable before they join and less educated than the general population. True or false? Cult members also define themselves as lonely. True or false? Most people who join cults are from the poor and working class. True or false? People are physically intimidated into joining a cult against their will. True or false? No matter how much your vocabulary changes once inside a cult, you can still control what and how you think. True or false? Cults draw certain kinds of criminal elements, who in a sense get what they deserve. Good people would not be drawn into such extreme circumstances. True or false? This last statement is a version of the “just world hypothesis”. The implication being that you, a good person, could never fall into a cult.

If you answered “true” to any of these questions, you might have fallen for the social media propaganda against cults. In fact, the overwhelming number of members of cults come from middle and upper middle-class backgrounds, are well-educated and have no serious psychological problems previous to joining the cult. Furthermore, people join cults voluntarily and they are lured into them by various social and psychological techniques which offer immediate gratification. In her book Cults in Our Midst, Margaret Singer says people have an initial resistance to thinking they could be “taken in,” without force.

Lastly, many people mistakenly think that thoughts and language can be neatly separated. This is mistaken.  No one can think independently of language. If you force people to not use certain words, and insist on people substituting new words, you can control their thinking process. As Orwell pointed out, when the state controls the vocabulary and strikes words from its dictionary, it narrows the thinking range that is possible. If you use the word “freedom” to express autonomous thinking, but the word “freedom” has now been labelled by a leftist political movement as “bourgeois individualism” you have a problem in using it. You cannot coin new words by yourself. There has to be a movement of people who agree to create a new word and circulate it among themselves. Cult members are slowly socialized by their leaders and lieutenants to change their vocabulary as they coin and circulate new words through forums, meetings and media events. Slowly the members find their own vocabulary changes accordingly.

How many kinds of cult are there?

There are at least three kinds of cults: spiritual, psychological and political.

All three have left-wing and right-wing variants. Jim Jones’ People’s Temple; Marshall Applewhite’s Heaven’s Gate; Rajneesh’s Tantric yoga, as well Charles Manson’s “the Family” are all examples of left-wing spiritual cults.  Right-wing cults are Reverend Moon’s Unification Church, Kurt Saxon’s Christian Identity, James Wickstrom’s Posse Comitatus and James Butler’s Aryan Nation.

Examples of left-wing psychological cults Harvey Jackins’ Re-Evaluation Counseling along with Saul B. Newton’s Sullivan Institute. Right-wing psychology cults include L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology and Charles Dederich’s Synanon. Political cults on the left include Gerry Healy in Britain and the Democratic Workers Party in San Francisco. A great example of a right-wing political cult was Lyndon LaRouche’s National Caucus of Labor Committees.

For most of this article I will be speaking of cults in general. But when I get more specific about mechanisms of control, I will sometimes refer to the left-wing Democratic Workers Party. I refer to them not only because they are especially monstrous compared to other cults. I do so more because my readers are most likely to be interested in political cults rather than spiritual or psychological cults. Secondly, my readers are more likely to identify as left-wing rather than right-wing political people. I think this article will “hit home”, especially among Leninists. I am not suggesting or implying that all Leninist parties are cults.

What is a totalistic institution?

Defining a cult has more to do with how the organization is run, not the political, psychological or spiritual beliefs of the organization. Cults can be characterized as a type of “total institution” (Goffman). Others include mental hospitals, jails, army barracks, orphanages and religious institutions such as monasteries, convents or abbeys. In modern capitalist societies, people enter and leave many social institutions during the course of a day. Examples include a son or daughter of a family at home, a student at school, an employee at work, a member of the choir at church, a fan for a sports team and a member of the national guard on the weekends.  While all these groups have a broad similarity in economic ideology (being pro-capitalism), within each group the power dynamics between the authority and the members differ. Different institutions are organized tightly or loosely with high, medium or low expectations. Most importantly the individual in a pluralistic society, with membership in all these groups can compare and contrast social expectations of each group, develop their own ideas and synthesize the results using critical thinking.

In totalistic institutions, sleeping, eating, working and playing all happen within a single organization, enacted within the same place, at the same time in the same way.  In pluralistic societies members enter into and leave a group of their own volition. In totalistic institutions members do not come and go as they please. Boundaries are strictly controlled.  Unlike in pluralistic societies, in totalistic institutions the authorities are a single centralized body, with very little feedback coming from the periphery to the core. In pluralistic societies, surveillance may be in place in certain settings, like in the military or in church, but there is no central setting from which family life, school life or work life is all watched from afar at the same time. In total institutions, besides centralized surveillance systems, there is a network of spying that goes on between members, breeding insecurity and paranoia. In totalistic institutions, everyone is treated bureaucratically in the same way, where sensitivity to the uniqueness of a person and situation is lost.

What is a cult?

Cults usually grow in a climate of political, economic or ecological instabilities in which the existing social order has been compromised. A cult is a spiritual, psychological or political institution which is hyper-critical of the existing spiritual, psychological and political institutions and wishes to overthrow them while often aspiring to create “heaven on earth”. Because cults are usually new and have not had years to socialize people the way organized religions have, they have to work quickly and use extreme measures to draw and hold people. Because a religious leader of a particular denomination is part of a large bureaucracy, that leader can be relatively dull while maintaining the following of his parishioners. But a cult cannot afford that.

Cults usually have at their head a charismatic leader with a grand philosophy who gives dramatic right and wrong answers to complex but deteriorating social situations. The leaders usually have lieutenants, ideologically committed members who have very good social psychological skills to keep the membership in line. Cults lack a democratic structure and the membership is kept passive and happy during the initial stages while being slowly terrified as membership continues into the later stages of the cult.

Characteristics of cults include:

  • Emerging out of a political, economic or ecological crisis;
  • Recruitment of young adults between 17 and 24 of middle-class and upper middle-class origins who are likely to be undergoing some developmental crisis in their personal lives;
  • An authoritarian, charismatic leader;
  • A revolutionary, dualistic ideology;
  • Possessing a social-psychological array of tools for luring in new members and sustaining their commitment;
  • A lack of mechanisms for critical feedback from the membership;
  • A small group of lieutenants to isolate and keep atomized the membership through spying so that no coherent opposition can form;
  • The development of rituals, myths and celebrations that allow the group to mark time;
  • Demonization of outside groups that are competition with the cult;
  • Rigid, terrorized boundaries that make it extremely difficult to leave.


In their book, The Guru Papers, Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad identify two stages of cults: the proselytizing stage and the apocalyptic paranoia stage.

In the proselytizing ascendant stage, the guru sees the possibility of realizing his ambitions. The group is touted as being at the cutting edge of new knowledge. Outsiders are welcomed although they are treated with a kind of benign superiority. In the ascendant phase, the guru rewards the enthusiasm of his followers and grants them positions which have opened up within the hierarchy. The tone of the community is celebratory. The guru is accessible to the public and is charming and playful. In terms of the recruitment this is the “honeymoon phase”. The focus is to expand the organization and the emphasis is on the present.

The apocalyptic, paranoiac, decadent phase is when the numbers of recruits have leveled off and explanations need to be found. The public is now seen as too stupid and blind to acknowledge the merits of the cult. In the declining stage the message becomes pessimistic, with a doomsday “I told you so” tone. Outsiders cease to be welcomed in a spirit of satisfying curiosity. Rather they are seen as enemies out to destroy the organization. Part of the descendent phase also involves the guru making more grandiose claims while promising to invoke occult power. The membership begins to have doubts.

Some find the courage to leave despite threats of violence, law suits, character destruction and loss of employment. Others hang on for fear of the costs of leaving. In the descendent phase recruits are expected to give far more than they receive in the way of time, energy and money. They are expected to work long hours recruiting, selling products and fundraising.  Because the organization is not growing, like most organizations this leads to squabbling for a diminishing set of resources. All too often the cult ends in scandal or tragedy.


As we all know, when individuals are socialized within the first seventeen years of life, they are socialized by their families, their schools (including teachers and students), the various forms of media (tv, internet media), their religion, the state (propaganda to join the military) and their friends as well as by sports and music celebrities. All these forces are unified in presenting capitalism in a favorable light, but in other ways these socializing forces don’t agree. Broadly speaking, families, religion and the state appeal to the conservative forces of order and patriotism. Schools, mass media and entertainment celebrities are more liberal. As I said earlier, the diversity between these socializing influences allows the individual to develop thinking skills of comparing and contrasting which develops critical thinking.

But beginning in the teenage years, (and maybe even sooner) the individual begins to question these sources of influence. As early as ten or eleven, children are very aware that their parents are full of contradictions and are hardly infallible. By high school, some have developed Piaget’s formal operational thinking which helps them to critically evaluate religious claims about God and the afterlife. While in high school they may resent military recruiters in their schools. The problem with sports and music celebrities is that while they while they are held up as models, there is no feedback or dialogue which allows the individual to grow. By high school, one’s face-to-face friends may more likely to be the most solid socializing influence they have.

By the time the adolescent reaches seventeen, they have arrived at a developmental crisis. Do they continue on to college? Do they try to find full-time work? Do they join the military? Do they get married? It is here that cults might make their first appeal. Why now? Because developmentally, teenagers and young adults are in a fork in the roads of their lives. Additionally, the old forms of socialization have lost their stability and the teenager may be ripe for a new socialization process or a new group membership. If the individual decides to go to college, throughout the college years including graduation, they are suspectable to cult propaganda.


The UC campus in Berkeley California stretches from south to north going from Bancroft Way at the south side to Hearst Ave. on the north side. There is a major walkway that begins at College and Bancroft and goes all the way to Hearst, cutting through the center of the campus. On both sides of the walkway there are tables with people stationed at them, inviting students to join clubs. Some of those clubs are front groups for cults. In addition, there are public bulletin boards advertising everything from movies, to offers for housing roommates, to free meditation classes.

The members of cults that are stationed at these tables are attractive, neatly dressed and extroverted. They are good social psychologists who can pick out a student that might be mildly depressed, lost or disorganized. These “hawkers” will call out to them, ask how they are doing and ask them if they’d like to hear a free talk and eat pizza afterwards. Once the person has come to the table, the hawkers will seize on anything the person says and respond in a very sympathetic way. They listen very carefully and keep the focus on the recruit. They are so engaging that they make an impression. Before the person leaves the table, they will be handed a flyer which appeals to nebulous conflicts like these:

  • Is it hard to make friends here at school?
  • Is college life harder than you thought it would be?
  • Is your romantic relationship lacking the things that you want?
  • If you have a job does it lack meaning?
  • Are you troubled about the state of the world, but feel powerless to do anything about it?

Then comes the pitch. “Come hear a talk by a celebrated expert in the field of psychology, religion or sociology on how to deal with all these problems in a meaningful way. Small group discussion afterward and free pizza. All are welcome.”

If the person attends the talk, there might be 50 people in the room, all of whom the recruit doesn’t know. What the recruit also doesn’t know is that 40 of those people are already in the cult. When any new people come into the room, the recruiters make sure they surround each new recruit and sit on either side of them and in back of them if possible. They engage the newbie, ask them questions about themselves before the talk even starts, and they make sure they compliment the newbie on their intelligence and insight. The leader giving the speech is usually an attractive, articulate, charming man with a sense of humor and a flair for the dramatic.

Once the leader makes their speech, the recruiters turn, and ask the newbie what they thought of the speech. They guide the newbie over to the table where there is pizza. The recruiters may hand them over to a new batch of recruiters who continue the discussion over pizza. Before the evening ends the recruits are told the time and place of the next meeting. Very causally they are asked for their email address “so we can keep you posted on up-and-coming events”.

At this point the recruit might feel like they just had an extraordinary date. They feel charged up and eroticized by some of the recruiters and might feel that they want to return to see one or more of the recruiters again. By comparison, these evenings are much more powerful than the times spent with family, friends and certainly religious services. After a couple of weeks the newbie returns again and the same thing happens. Now, the newbie is going to these talks three out of every four Sunday evenings. Their roommates, family and friends might inquire about where they have been. The newbie is not sure how to describe it. They might say this a “psychology group”. Both friends and family are not impressed and ask more probing questions. The newbie starts to feel defensive and stops talking about it, but continues to attend. This experience dovetails with a talk the leader gives the following Sunday on the nature of crisis.

The leader discusses how crisis involves the prospect of transformation and in that transformation, you meet new people while you have to let go of people that might be holding you back. This gently suggests that the newbie’s friends and family might not understand the nature of social change that the cult is part of and they are not among the enlightened ones (unlike the people in the cult). They also make a prediction that in the future they can expect their friends, families, church or state might not appreciate this cult and that is the price to pay for group enlightenment. But in the long-run, they may come to understand.


Ascendant phase

The first, ascendant proselytizing phase of the cult is characterized by the following rewards. First – in terms of beliefs, a promise of the transformation of the world along with simplistic answers to complex questions. The cult then gives a sense of mission and purpose along with a sense of superiority over the ignorant and unenlightened masses. In terms of behavior, there is massive positive reinforcement which includes “love-bombing”: a great deal of attention to the recruit and their problems, along with an immediate, intense connection with many people. There is a promise (and deliverance in some cases) of erotic adventures. A regular dose of altered states of consciousness is achieved through chanting, hypnotic techniques of dissociation, group dancing, vertigo and hyperventilation. Along with this, a new identity is given which is often accomplished through changes in clothing or hair. At the climax in her recruitment just before she joined the DWP, author and sociologist Janja Lalich says: “Eleanor, leaned over, her face almost touching mine, she looked me in the eyes and said, ‘isn’t this what you’ve been waiting for?’ That’s all it took. I asked for the application”.

Descendent phase

Geographical isolation and physical deterioration

For the most part cults begin in cities, but in some cases, for various reasons (cheap land, control of members) they move to more rural areas as in the case of Jim Jones and Rajneesh. Especially if they are isolated in a rural area, they may be cut off from alternative forms of media. At this point with or without the move, in the descendent phase, the honeymoon is over for cult members. They are expected to work long hours in various phases of organization and as a result, become sleep deprived. In the DWP militants signed into a log book for keeping track of time, as if they were punching in their time cards in a factory. The organization does not provide for medical or dental insurance and their body begins to feel the wear-and-tear. Cult members who are older and have established incomes are pressured to contribute financially on a regular basis.

Atomizing the individual

Within the organization, the lieutenants work especially hard to keep people atomized so members cannot compare notes or consider their problems in any kind of collective way. In fact, the Democratic Workers party had a rule called “no gossiping”. But what they really meant was no comparing notes between members. Notice how comparing notes, a natural thing that is done in groups, was demonized by associating it with something bad.

Controlling vocabulary

The cult member’s vocabulary is controlled by the leadership and any kind of criticism is pathologized with certain labels. For example, in the DWP, “bourgeois individualism,” “careerism”, “grandstanding”, “factionalism” and “liberal” were used as “curse words” to shut down articulation of problems. In spiritual circles “unenlightened” or “materialism” might serve similar purposes.

Attacking the self:

True confessions

There are a number of ways one’s identity can be broken down. One of the ways the DWP used that was a requirement to write one’s personal history from a class point of view. Then they would write all the privileges they gained as a result of their class location. Finally, the recruit would have to present this in front of the whole group, exposing weaknesses to all.

Criticism and self-criticism

Once the true confessions are in place the cult member is treated to endless rounds of criticism and self-criticism. Once individual vocabulary is controlled and they have confessed their past privileges it is relatively easy for members to monitor each other by pointing out how current mistakes might be connected to their “middle-class” past.

Internalization of the party voice

When neither the leader or their fellow members were available the individual was controlled by their internalized “party voice”. When by themselves and in need of making a decision, they were to ask themselves “what would your older member say?”

At this point, they are in so deeply that they have burned their bridges with their families, friends, workers and no longer have a perspective of what’s happening to them. At the same time, it begins to dawn on them that maybe they should consider getting out.


At this point, the reader might say what is wrong with these cult members? These were once hypercritical people who questioned everything? Where is that spirit now? Why don’t they just run away? There are at least nine very good reasons why people stay.

Attachment to the new belief

Cult members have worked very hard to desocialize themselves from previous beliefs. They have worked hard to acquire and internalize new beliefs and the prospect of having to give them up with no belief system to call their own is extremely painful.

Cognitive dissonance

Research has shown that once people commit to something publicly, through actions, speaking or writing about it, they are much more likely to stay with their commitment. Without understanding this, to an outsider, cult members’ behavior seems crazy. What cult members are doing is unconsciously changing their beliefs to justify the increasingly irrational behavior of the leader during the cult’s descendent phase. They don’t see their beliefs as having changed because there is no one in the community to point that out, including many people who don’t want to see it because they are in the same boat.


Just as in personal romances, once you put time, effort and resources into a relationship, you acquire a stake in it and are reluctant to give it up. Buying furniture together, a house, pooling finances, having children all become obstacles to throwing in the towel even if you are unhappy. So too in cults, the members have put in long hours of work, they have seen some success, they probably contributed financially, and they just don’t want to come up empty-handed. In addition, cult members then face the start-up costs of investing in a whole other institution and life. The thinking goes – “maybe it is better to wait it out. After all, things may change for the better.”

Peer pressure

Contrary to what most people think, peer pressure is far more powerful than even the commands of authority figures. Soldiers have reported having endured horrible times, not because they were obedient to the authorities, but out of loyalty to their comrades. Members of cults have gone through ordeals that might not be as intense as the ordeals soldiers go through in eight weeks of boot-camp, but the ordeal lasts much longer. In both cases feelings of extreme loyalty are produced in soldiers and cult members. They don’t want to let their comrades down.

In addition, because cults count doctors, lawyers, social workers with advanced degrees among their numbers their presence makes it more difficult to leave for the less professional cult member to leave. In order to do that those on the lower rungs of the hierarchy would have to consider that these highly trained professionals have been duped themselves. How could they all be wrong?

Exhaustion from overwork allows little time for self-reflection or objectivity

In the descendent phase of cults, rank-and-file members are working fourteen-hour days, sometimes more. After several weeks and months of sleep deprivation, medical and dental negligence, internal group meetings and public displays of solidarity for public consumption, cult members are exhausted.  There no vacations, no hobbies, no musical concerts nor ball games.  Who has the time to reflect on where you have been and where you are going?

Burned bridges separate the member from their past

When you join the military, you come back to a civilian life that is intact when your four years are up. If you join a convent and then realize after a few years later it is not for you, your family and friends are still there. Because cults are extremist groups, it became necessary to cut off family, friends, workmates and church in order to become a member. For a departing cult member, there is anger, confusion, hurt, revenge and shunning waiting for them on the outside. The prospect of making amends is daunting. In addition, you cannot so easily recover who you once were. You may always be a stranger to your former groups. Even so basic a thing as changing your name back or growing your hair out takes a great deal of courage. The prospect of having no friends on the outside is enough to keep you in.

Being ridiculed and called names by cult members is very painful

If you consider wanting to leave and state your reasons to others, you may receive a vicious reaction because you might be bringing up the self-doubts of other members they would rather not face. You can expect to be called a spy, traitor, materialist, bourgeois or less evolved. These are the very words used to denounce those outside the cult. Now you are one of the enemies, an infiltrator. You’ve watched this happen to others who tried to leave and now it is happening to you.

Fear for your life

The wealthier cults such as scientology or the Moonies play hardball. They will threaten you with lawsuits, loss of employment, character assassination and death. Members of the DWP “goon squads” would break into the homes of former members, beat them up put them on a plane with a one-way ticket and no money. Margaret Sanger, in her book Cults in Our Midst depicts some of the things done to her. They stuffed her mailbox with a dead rat every week while she was testifying in court against a cult. Rats were put in the ducts of her house, so she was treated to a house full of screaming rats upon returning home.  She needed an armed guard to be taken to and from the courthouse. She was kept on the witness stand for 12 ½ days by cult lawyers cross-examining her. Her office was broken into and files stolen. Her school lectures were disrupted regularly.

Guilt and embarrassment over having participated in the group to begin with

A cult member begins to have inklings that some of the things their cult did were pretty horrible and that they were complicit in it. it takes time to understand and be compassionate with yourself as to how you could be so naïve as to have joined and why you stayed. If you stay in the cult your complicity in what was enacted can be put off or rationalized.


There is a reason why I have held off describing to you the pathological characteristics of the leaders of cults. The reason is because of what I alluded to in my article Revolutionary Group Dynamics. In evaluating negative experiences in groups, people have a tendency to a) blame the leaders, or b) pathologize the intelligence or mental health of the followers. What I wanted to do here is draw attention to why the majority of cult members put up with the abuse, stayed in the cult and were complicit in what the cults did without thinking their intelligence or sanity has been insulted. My point is that these members would have been complicit regardless of the psychological health of the leaders. Now that we have gone through the reason why most members were complicit, we can turn to the leaders.

In their book Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships, Janja Lalich and Madeline Tobias claim that most cult leaders can be diagnosed as sociopaths, narcissists or borderline personalities. Here are fifteen of their characteristics:

Glibness and superficial charm

Cult leaders are captivating storytellers and exude self-confidence.

Conning and maneuvering

Cult leaders are good at psychological maneuvering and do this almost as second nature, and maybe even unconsciously. The leader divides the world into suckers, sinners and himself. He is very perceptive and good at sizing people up. Cult leaders have an innate ability to attract followers who have the skills and contacts that the leaders lack.

Grandiose sense of self

He enjoys tremendous feelings of entitlement. He must always be the center of attention and cannot tolerate yielding the spotlight.

Pathological lying

Sociopaths lie coolly and easily. It is almost impossible for them to be consistently truthful. Leaders tend to create a complex belief system often about their own powers and abilities which they themselves get caught up in believing. They are rarely original thinkers and are more likely to be plagiarists and seldom credit the true originators of their ideas. They are talented at passing lie detector tests.

Lack of remorse, shame or guilt

They do not have friends. They have accomplices and victims and accomplices frequently end up as victims. For sociopaths, the ends always justify the means. In fact, they might not even separate ends and means in their own minds.

Shallow emotions

While sociopaths may display outbursts of emotions, these are more often than not responses calculated to obtain a certain advantage. They rarely reveal a range of emotions or a depth of emotions over time. The cult leader can witness or order acts of utter brutality without experiencing a shred of emotion. They are callous and lack empathy.

Incapacity for love

Love requires revealing strengths and weaknesses and it means trusting another person over time. The sociopath does not have the attention span, the depth or the capacity to self-reflect on any of this.

Sensation Seeking

Temperamentally, the sociopath is drawn to dangerous, thrill seeking behavior. He takes foolish risks and expects others to do the same. Robberies and shoot-outs with the authorities are par for the course (Jim Jones, David Koresh).

Impulsivity and lack of behavioral control

The cult leader has temper tantrums and fits of rage which the lieutenants are in charge of stage-managing. This behavior is a well-kept secret. If leaked, the behavior of the leader is collectively rationalized away by the followers as the work of his enemies.

Early behavior problems with juvenile delinquency

As teenagers, sociopaths frequently have a history of behavioral problems and run-ins with juvenile authorities. They often get by academically, taking advantage of other students or even teachers. They often have a history or theft, arson, and cruelty to others.


They rarely accept blame for their failures or mistakes. Scapegoating is common. The blaming may follow a ritualized procedure such as a trial, gestalt “hot seat denunciations”, or in the case of leftist cults, criticism and self-criticism.

Promiscuous sexual behavior and infidelity.

Multiple relationships and marriages, rape and sexual acting out are common. At the same time, they are stringent about the sexual behavior of followers, insisting on celibacy.

Erratic work history of fits and starts

The sociopathic cult leader tends to move around a lot, making countless efforts at starting over as they seek out fertile new ground to exploit. One day they may be a rock musician, the next a messiah; one day a door-to-door salesman the next the founder of a self-rejuvenation program.

A materialistic lifestyle

The leaders of cults often present their movement as opposed to the decadence, shallowness and preoccupation with commodities of the dominant order. But in practice, these leaders often justify having these same luxuries for themselves. The leaders of cults often have many cars, houses, boats, planes, properties while they thunder against their followers who have the least in the way of material comforts.

Criminal or entrepreneurial versatility

Cult leaders change their image and that of the group as needed to avoid prosecution and litigation. They resurface later with a new name and a new front group, as Werner Erhard has done.


People who manage to make their way out of cults are a mess and are badly in need of social support. Deprograming, exit counseling and strategic interaction approach are three ways to help ex-cult members get on their feet.  According to Lalich and Tobias, there are five areas that are badly in need of attention.

  • Practical, everyday living
  • Emotional volatility
  • Cognitive inefficiencies
  • Lack of social networks and being socio-culturally out of touch
  • Theoretical instability

Practical, everyday living

Shell-shocked ex-cult members have lost their sense of how to manage everyday life. For example, people have to find work, while having to explain large gaps in their employment history which could span five to ten years or more. The work they did under the banner of the cult cannot be used as a reference. This would involve making up fake organizations to cover up their involvement, while claiming the skills they learned in the cult. Emotionally, the last thing ex-cult members need is more deception. If they are lucky enough to find a job, they have to learn to manage their money and set up a budget. If the ex-cult member is older this may mean relearning old skills. In the case of a young cult member this may involve learning new skills from scratch.

Something as simple as finding an apartment to live in can be overwhelming for someone who hasn’t done this in years. The rise in the cost of monthly rents over the last 15-20 years will come as a great shock. As mentioned earlier, cults typically do not provide medical and dental care. Since cult leaders rarely pay attention to such mundane things, the ex-cult member may badly need a physical check-up, blood tests and dental work at the same time they are trying to investigate a medical and dental plan while probably knowing nothing about how to proceed.  While cults often fetishize eating particular kinds of food (being vegetarian), the diet of cult members is often not well-balanced, especially during the later stages of cult work when the cult member is asked to work long hours. In addition, the times members eat is likely to be erratic because of the flurry of activity that is always going on. Lastly, matters of daily routines may be hard to set up as cults have their members constantly on the run and doing new things. DWP members were often asked to stop a project on a dime, and then throw themselves into a new one. Having a regular time and place to take walks, visit friends, and listen to music after dinner have to be established.

Emotional volatility

Ex-cult members may suffer from PTSD, insomnia, and frequent bouts of dissociation, including an inability to concentrate because of triggers or flashbacks. They are likely to feel depressed after a loss of group support and may feel a loss of self-confidence because their support systems are suddenly gone. There is real fear of cult retribution whether they have reason to be concerned or not. They also may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of taking legal action over child custody or conservatorship. It is no accident that members of cults lose their sense of humor. Humor tends to reveal the relativity of situations. It adds a comparative perspective that is dangerous in cults that want everyone to think in an absolute rather than a relative manor. Cults tend to be dead serious, and humor relieves that and gives members a break which is not to be encouraged.

Cognitive inefficiencies

While a great deal of critical thinking in relation to society is common among cult members when they first join, critical thinking is not rewarded or is tightly structured once inside the cult. Weighing the pros and cons of occupations, schools, choice of partner is not something that is practiced in cults. This results in ex-cult members being either indecisive when they get out or making rash decisions. Because they may have difficulty concentrating, they may not be able to think analytically about the causes or consequences of things. They may suffer from memory loss or they may have to overcome false memories they may have been propagandized to believe when inside the cult.

Often times, cults disrupt education and cult members are not likely to continue their education once inside the cult. Spiritual cults may tell the member they have a “natural way of knowing” which will not do much for them in searching for work or in being an active political person. A major challenge they must undertake is detoxifying their vocabulary from cult either-or thinking. As Orwell pointed out, if you control a person’s vocabulary you control their thinking. So, the ex-cult member needs to expand their vocabulary to re-introduce neutral language, use ambiguous terminology and to use metaphors. One of the major problems in cult thinking is taking everything literally.

Lack of social networks and being socio-culturally out of touch

One of the best things exit counseling or the strategic interaction approach can do is give ex-cult members an immediate support system, no questions asked. It is rare that an ex-cult member who has burned bridges with their families is going to have the welcome mat rolled out when they come knocking. It takes time to process hurt feelings, anger and confusion. These connections could take months to restore or even years, depending how long they have been away. The ex-cult member’s friends may have moved away, gotten married become sick and may be in no position to resume a relationship even if they wanted to.

Making new friends is extremely difficult. How do you account for being in a cult for eight years? Why would someone want to be friends with someone with such an intense background? Are ex-cult members dangerous people? In addition, ex-cult members have a mistrust of others as a result of being in a cult. They may be paranoid and afraid they are being watched by others, the “fishbowl effect”. Since cults usually blur boundaries between work and free time, friendship and sex, the ex-cult members are likely to have enmeshed boundaries when they try to make new friends.

Theoretical instability

Lastly, cults inspire people by claiming they are building a new world, and cult members have roles in that transformation. Compared to that, ex-cult members are likely to feel they have chosen an unenlightened, boring life. It is easy to understand why ex-cult members who have not had exit counseling might jump into a new cult.

Whether the ex-cult member has been involved in a spiritual, psychological or political cult, the ex-member needs to find a new grounding within that field. If a member has been in a spiritual cult of transcendental meditation does this mean they must give up Hindu or Buddhist religion completely? Can you practice these religions in a non-cult like way? If you have been in a psychological cult based on the work of social psychologist Harry Stack Sullivan, does that mean you no longer can study his work? Lastly if you have been in Leninist political cult, does that mean you have to renounce Lenin completely? Probably the answer to these questions depends on how badly you’ve been burned. The worse you’ve been burned the more extreme your reaction will be. If you haven’t been burned too badly, you might be able to be more dialectical and not throw the baby out with the bathwater.


Cults arose in Yankeedom beginning in the 1970s and I’ve covered their continuance into the late 1990s under conditions of ecological, economic and political decline. Cults find their audience among educated, idealistic middle-class and upper-middle class people who are rightfully hypercritical of the existing order and who are attracted to a vision of a radical transformation based on greater equality, justice, peace and love. They do not know they are members of a cult until they are at least partially integrated into the organization and then they are caught between the world they once knew and the world they hope to create. They are initially lured into the organization through the implementation of sophisticated social-psychological techniques and they then become complicit in the cult’s reproduction of these techniques over time if they remain. If members leave, they face a great number of the psychological problems as I’ve described in the last section. Fortunately, there are now well-organized institutions that are specifically designed to help ex-cult members reintegrate back into the existing order.

  • First published in Socialist Planning Beyond Capitalism.
  • The post Political and Spiritual Cults: From Rapture to Complicity to Aftermath in the Shadow of 20th Century Yankeedom first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    Your Right to Your Opinion Ends with My Right to Might

    No ruling class could survive if it wasn’t attentive to its own interest consciously trying to anticipate control/ initiate events at home & abroad both overtly & secretly.

    The dirty truth is that many people find fascism to be not particularly horrible.

    Michael Parenti, 1 POLITICS AND ISSUES, Fascism In a Pinstriped Suit, p. 32 – Dirty truths (1996), first edition

    As a trauma-informed social worker (no, it’s not some buzzword or new age trend) who has worked in prisons, in closed homeless facilities, in memory care day programs, for teenager foster youth and adults living with developmental disabilities, as well as worked with veterans who are homeless (in a clean and sober facility) and with the basic human beings who find him or herself homeless in Portland on the streets in a tent, I understand the deep well of historical and familial baggage people have.

    I understand we can either “make it” through childhood traumas with a modicum of sobriety when it comes to self-esteem, self-care, self-enlightenment or we just are in a constant stage or healing and rehealing (that’s true for most people I know, and myself, as well).

    As I repeated many times to my daughter when she was growing up in El Paso and then Spokane (and she visited me in Seattle and Portland where I worked with the so-called down and out), when you see that toothless smile, the grime, the shaky hands holding up that sign, “Anything helps . . .  Please Help a Vietnam Veteran . . .  My Family Needs Money to Feed Themselves,” remember that that adult once was loved, coddled, and even cared for (even for a few moments in the hospital). That adult did not wake up one day in elementary school, when the teachers asked, “what do you want to be or do when you grow up?” and then responded: “I want to be addicted to pot and alcohol by age 12, meth by 17, heroin by 23 and then homeless at 25. I want to be put into the criminal justice system, have a long rap sheet, have my veins collapsed by age 36, my heart out of whack by age 40, constant headaches the rest of my life, shakes and delusions, and be carted off every month or two by an ambulance passed out with urine-soaked and shit-smeared pants.”

    I recommended to her to be smart, to protect herself, to know her surroundings, but to treat these people – even the ones in the street yelling at voices and demons with their pants half down or completely naked from the waist down – as people who once, maybe for a short span of time, were honored/loved as children, as  babies, as gifts of the world, with people galvanizing so much hope and future and potential into the thin vulnerable surface of a baby.

    Story after story, case after case, and you end up age 63, still writing, still teaching, still working in social services, and now, on the Oregon Coast, in an amazing ecosystem, but also held in a kind of captivity during this time of police killings, BLM protests, lockdowns, spiraling and spiraling numbers of people on the edge, with each new day producing another 500 people ready to be entered onto that statistical category – “One Pay Check Away from Eviction or Foreclosure” and “One Mental Health Crisis from Suicide.”

    If it were just that simple. Eviction, or foreclosure, well, not good on the old credit record, but if the person has safety nets, people they call friends and family and compatriots, then a soft-landing might be in store with an eviction or loss of a job or foreclosure or mental health crisis.

    Unfortunately, we have  a tendency to not want to admit failure after failure, our precarity after precarity and certainly we do not want to see that life in the USA is one thin ice episode after another. Fine one day, the next month bankrupt because of a cancer or chronic disease.  We want to have this thin gossamer of hope that tells us (deludes us) that there is a chance things will not only turn around, but that we will have learned from the hardships and will have benefitted from the all and that we will be better people after all those hardships and that we will not only survive but thrive after all those bad bad things happening to us.

    Somehow people believe there are agencies and people and armies of volunteers in the ready to help. That is the big lie of dog-eat-dog capitalism. Odd.

    George Lakoff used to harp on narrative framing, discussing why, say, a house painter or truck driver or warehouse forklift driver would even have any mental or logical reason to identify with someone like, say, George W. Bush. Yale, silver spoon, East Coast background, millions upon millions in the family coffer way before 1960, and now, in that era, just a regular kind of guy.

    Nope – I knew many military men and women who did not suck Southern Comfort, sniff coke, womanize/manize, do no-shows (AWOL) in their Guard unit, and alas, attack every American left of his right wing mentality.

    Really, I am not pulling this stuff out of thin air. I was a military dependent – Azores, Maryland, Albuquerque, Paris, France, Munich, Germany, Scotland, and then Arizona – who had a great life traveling throughout Europe and the UK and USA before I was 14. I knew hundreds upon hundreds of military men and women. War veterans (my old man, shot in Korea, shot in Vietnam, 31 years total Army and Air Force combined). I worked with a few World War I vets as a journalist in Arizona. Plenty of WWII vets, and of course, Vietnam vets.

    I taught college-level writing and literature classes to military on an Air Force fire-fighting line, on a military post, and in an NCO Academy. Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Washington.

    I ended up years later in Vietnam working as a journalist/biodiversity team member. I have met and been deeply connected with ex-military in Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Honduras.

    Radical teacher, writer, activists, social services guy, and here I was, in 2018, working with down and out veterans who not only face homelessness, but PTSD, disabilities, trauma after trauma. Hands down, most of the thousands of military I worked with, then, supported my journalism, my writing, my teacher, albeit many were taken aback at my history with the military and my own familial history – grandfather who flew tri-planes for the German Navy in WWI, German uncles and relatives who were on the Russian front, Scottish and English uncles and relatives who were in submarines, on ships and as grunts in WWII.

    Here’s an article I wrote for my column in Portland, for Street Roots, on that former Army medic, 75, pepper sprayed in Portland as a photographer. Story: Feds sprayed chemicals into the eyes of a retired ER nurse and veteran

    There was a nanosecond or two where I considered attending West Point, and having a few ins there, I might have had a chance to get accepted. I understand the military, and that it is a blunt instrument, and that General Smedley Butler, who not only wrote War is a Racket, but broke up a business-influenced military coup attempt against FDR.

    I’ve reported on cops as reporter on the so-called police beat for several daily newspapers. I have worked with Central American refugees, with prisoners and ex-prisoners, with seniors in a continuing education program, all with some sort of trauma and multiple traumas, including survivors of death squads in Guatemala, horrific injustices and rapes inside the wire, and a few Nazi death camp survivors.

    Hands down, the idea for me is expression, self expression, working through (mostly not to the end of it) multiple adverse childhood traumas, and then those trauma inflicted through into adulthood. Perfectly fine 17 year old high school heavyweight wrestling champ, goes into the Marines, and comes back to Spokane, my student, completely obliterated emotionally as a man.

    Battle of Fallujah, 18 years old, and three major areas of trauma – orders to flash lights twice, honk once, and if the person (civilian) is in the road, just mow over him or her. For my student, Jacob, that was a woman who looked like his grandmother, under the chassis of the Stryker vehicle, and as a private, he was ordered to “go find her fucking head and put it next to the body after we drag her worthless ass out from under the vehicle.” Imagine, taking a head, one that was just alive minutes before, to this headless body. A head that was more ways than one resembling his grandmother on his mom’s side, a Mexican granny.

    Next, the battle field, Fallujah, and house to house, step-by-step combat, and again, Jacob and his cohorts (thousands and thousands over the years) told to shoot anyone left standing, sitting squatting. “If they fucking lift their hands and wave a white flag, better for you to get a clear shot . . . no worries about an AK-47 or hidden grenade.”

    The last one of many traumas for Jacob happened on “Thanksgiving,” and he was on a mission to retrieve three dead buddies. They brought the cadavers back to base camp, and Jacob wanted to just crash in his cot – read, listen to music, sleep. “No way, soldier. This is Thanksgiving, and I want your ass in the mess pronto. We got President Bush coming in a live feed, and you will sit down and eat all this food shipped in and cooked by your fellow grunts.”

    Oh, that, and the fact Jacob was amped up on amphetamines fed to the soldiers for long-duration battles, and the steroids they administered (ordered to take) as part of the battlefield triage – enough anabolic steroids in the body will allow for healing, no more bruised muscles, no more fagging out because of torn ligaments, bruised bones, bone spurs (how ironic, with Orange Menace Cadet Bone Spurs laughing all the way to his deferments).

    And other some such stuff, like forced vaccinations and some odd duties in Afghanistan and UAE.

    You can take the boy/young man away from the Middle East, but you can’t take the Battle of Fallujah out of the man. That sort of thing. Stuck in a community college class, five years later, and Jacob was up shit creek – how to relate to students, to faculty, to the assignments. I was one of his healers. I even got him in on a conference in Seattle – a first, really – as an undergraduate student talking about trauma and social justice as it dealt with his military trauma and indoctrination. He met David Zirin, the head speaker of the event.


    In reality, after working so long and hard at all these avocations and these gig jobs and part-time appointments and non-permanent full-time assignments – while still writing, still reporting, still organizing – I have a few lifetimes under my belt when it comes to trauma, people, war, injustice and the will to live.

    In the end, though, the concept of expression and debate and 1st amendment principles goes North/South/East/West. No matter how much the idea of free speech is aspirational it certainly is not a reality in a society that forces people to be conscripted in K12, forces people to pee in a cup before employment (guilty/suspect first until proven innocent) and to undergo credit-real estate-background checks, to be hirable only after references are contacted and  work history verifiable. Think about how much free speech we have when we want to tell a cop he or she is part of a killer force. Try it, to their face. Try telling a DA or judge they are engaging in criminal injustice and arbitrary punishment. Try telling the supervisor that there is something wrong-dangerous-unethical about something in the company-corporation-factory. Try telling a governor that “to mask or not to mask” is not the way to tackle the pandemic, the SARS-CoV2, etc. and tens of millions out of work, near destitute.  Try going to work NOT wearing a mask. Try giving the thumbs down (or middle finger up) to a bunch of neo-Nazi’s or Proud Boys while the cops are protecting them. Free speech in universities? Come on, there are millions of incidents of faculty, students and others who were shunted away from any free speech or so-called academic freedom. Try telling the so-called progressive union you are working for the Jill Stein campaign when the union(s) endorsed Barack Obama in May before the election.

    Having my free speech taken away or questioned is a sort of trauma I relive over and over and over.

    We understand the censoring of free speech on social media. We understand the algorithms that wipe clean Google searches for many many topics. We know how we are just data fields for the masters of the universe, and that if we dare kick and scream or try and buck the system, we are then cobbled or kettled away from the so-called mainstream. Our money and land and minds will be seized. Free speech my ass.

    Try not standing for the National Anthem and Pledge of Allegiance (I have not stood since age 13, with all sorts of hell to pay). I’ve had sodas thrown at me and hotdogs tossed at my back in college stadiums. I have been yelled at in high school events. I was screamed at as a wrestler when I stayed on the mat. I was pulled from wrestling matches when I stayed on the mat during the bloody National Anthem.

    No hat off during a star-spangled banner rendition. That gets people pissed off.

    As a follower of many revolutionaries and thinkers outside the box, I can certainly get tied up in some contradictory thinking, and, alas, it is highly probable that we all need to embrace oppositional ideas (not just black v. white, but many views and slants and POV’s) to understand our own narrative contexts and how the world really works. Of course, the concept of thinking outside the box is almost impossible in a supra-colonized society like the USA, an oligarchy, and a war and imperial nation tied to the notion of Capital Trumping All. Free speech may have a lot of grounding in what are community standards of what is acceptable speech and what the culture may or may not tolerate (my belief is close to the ACLU’s in terms of protect hate speech – for), but in this predatory and parasitic capitalism, the boss and the bank and the brigadier general the blue line trump all.

    Attempting to define one’s perspective outside the lines of corporate-financial-surveillence-taxation-penalizing-fining-tolling-penury constraints is more dangerous than yelling, All Black Lives Matter or ACAB – All Cops Are Bad/Bums/Bastards/Brutes/ETC.

    I have been told as a college adjunct to not force (what is that?) students to read the Fight Club and to see a few clips from the movie as a discussion point about male identity and Dystopian thinking.  The idea is to give students in a state college alternatives  if they have a PG13 rule at home and if they deem anything offensive, anti-American, profane, violent. Or anti-Christian.

    I have been told to not bring up so many political issues in my writing classes, that too many students are writing about climate change, GMOs, collapse of civilization, social justice/injustice, USA’s role in genocide, etc., etc. “Why don’t you just keep the reading list to things like The Shipping News or The House on Mango Street, if you want to deal with multiculturalism?”

    Yep, free speech gives many many Americans headaches. Fine. But, to have to deal with a neighbor’s adult son, age 41 and, and a friend of his in his 30s, on a Saturday night while I am watching a film at 10:40 pm stripes away the very definition of not just what free speech denotates, but what trespassing and home invasion does to shunt free speech, or expression (as in putting up a sign on our property).

    Here I am, in a small house, with a glass screen to shunt the Pacific winds, leading up to a two-step stoop to the front door. On the window, about six feet up, the above sign — around 12 by 18 inches. Notice it is an American flag as the background. Notice it is something many of you have seen, I am sure, posted in your own neighborhood. Not my pro-Antifa sign, my upside down American flag sign, or other such radical things. Simple and easy for a semi-liberal to understand.

    So, two strapping fellows yank it off while the movie sound is not that high. Thinking there is some other noise-producing thing going on outside, like a raccoon in the garden or a cat on the car roof, I open the door and the sign is ripped down and the two lurking men are dashing away, less than 20 yards across the street, with the sign. I yell at them, sort of flabbergasted that they didn’t just drop the sign when I called them “you pieces of shit … what did you do?” Then, the one gentleman yells – “Call the fucking cops then . . . . hahaha.”

    We are talking almost 11 pm, and my spouse was sleeping, and, well, I went outside, with the lights on, and had a flashlight, but the two bums slinked in this guy’s retired parents’ big ass two story home with all the lights off. I was willing to talk, really, as in mediate – “You two fucked up, so now return the sign.”

    You see, in America, Free Speech is trumped by the Second Amendment. What do you do knocking on a door at 11 pm when the house has no lights on? In a real world, well, you knock on the door. In America, you know that a 9mm or shotgun could very easily greet you at the door, or just go through the door.

    Trauma. Now, two stupid men with nothing else to do but to take this property down and steal it can’t fathom the world as it really is. Sure, they were probably drunk, inebriated. That’s what a lot of white guys, young and old, do down on the coast. Saturday night. A big moon. No wind. Drunk.

    But again, the trauma that my wife had at age 21 really plays into this scenario. I would have had no problem on my own knocking on the door. I know I would have pointed my car’s headlights over at the doorway so there would be proof they could see me. I would have asked for the sign back. I would have stepped back off their stoop because in America, a man’s stoop is his castle.

    You see, coming onto our fenced property (small yard) and then physically ripping down a sign is both invasion and theft. I heard the ripping sound twice, 20 minutes apart, and alas, so, it took them two attempts to pull OUR sign down, and that is also a form of stalking.

    What about the trauma of people shits like this are triggering? What about the lack of values stealing a sign? I have told many a person that the Reagan hat or Bush hat or Clinton hat or Trump hat were insults to my intelligence. However, I said it calmly, and I knew they had a right to the stupid hats on their heads. Same with yard signs –Blue Lives Matter (bizarre and racist). If the gal or guy is out watering their weeds, I have told them that the sign is illogical and out of place. And then, if there is a discussion, great. If there is a “fuck you . . . fuck off” (which is usually the case), then I laugh and walk off, keeping an eye out for my back because the United Snakes of America has a history of back-shooting Native Americans, Blacks, Asians, Latinx, poor white people, women, Middle Eastern-looking humans.

    A country imbued in “might makes right” will indeed incubate all manner of idiots, whether that be a college provost or president, or some Joe the Plumber making more than the college president putting in toilets and unclogging sewer lines.

    So, the Lincoln County sheriff deputy is called Sunday morning. He takes down information. He makes a notation of the trauma this incident inflicted on my wife. We talk more before he goes over to the offenders’ house. It turns out the deputy had 14 years in US Army, and the last 5 years he was in the Seattle area working on a special task force and investigative unit on sexual crimes (rape) in the military.

    He understands fear, trauma, and what some people might sense as an invasion of their home, their sense of safety and future engagement with these nutty neighbors. That’s how my spouse feels. And the deputy gets the “man thing,” that I am still not afraid of authority, or mock authority, or big man rules the roost authority. He knows I would be out there talking to them now, but the trauma on my spouse trumps all.

    This family is an across-the-street neighbor.

    So, now, ugly No Trespassing signs I’ve put up on the chain-link fence. I had to purchase and install an extra light for the front porch. That sort of crap. The deputy suggested a no stalking order requested by my spouse from a judge. In the end, the conversation with the dipshits across the way was not cooperative, the deputy said. The tall guy, one of the perps, said, “I have nothing to say.” The father hemmed and hawed, but they never admitted to it. The deputy said he told them in no uncertain terms there was no reason for any of them to be in our yard, let alone messing with our property, the sign.

    While the deputy was cooperative with us and empathetic (I told him about my military experiences, my dad’s and such), the bottom line was that I did not have photographic or closed-circuit evidence, and alas, that’s the new normal. “I can’t make him cooperate, but I made it clear that there should be no trespassing onto your property.”

    This is America – small town or big town. Some of the other neighbors talked to me about “the sheriff’s vehicle in your driveway . . . what’s up.” And, here in the USA, sometimes the information spigot is forceful – lots of information about the California son who did the rip-off with his male friend. “He has been there for two months and he just stays inside and drinks all day.” You know, trauma after trauma/after addiction after addiction. Another neighbor said the other son, this guy’s 39-year-old brother, well, they both look alike, and that guy has “been on and off the wagon for a year.”

    Then, itchy fingers, and my spouse finds the old parents on line, on Facebook, and then one of the son’s as well, with amazingly hateful posts – “With all these logging trucks, they should go to Portland and just run over those scumbag protestors.” And then tons of likes and hearts on that post.

    I am grounded, and always have been. Capitalism under the USA, NATO, most of Europe and Canada, well, these societies are war societies and war organizations with continuing criminal enterprises called banks. No matter how hard a small minority of folk tries to shed the war complex and the MIC, no matter how hard they attempt to be anti-war, anti-racist, anti-corporatist, the majority in this country (Not just MAGA) are flag wavers, believers in exceptionalism for the white race/culture and in this country, believers in the adage “the man/woman with the most things/money/power when they die are the best people on earth (or wins)”.

    Know your enemy and know your debater. Know how people frame things, and know motivations, and understand/study the epigenetics of their lives, what agnotology is, and why someone like Gore Vidal might write a book titled, The United States of Amnesia.

    I go to Christian Parenti for some framing and dicing of the system that is the world’s most horrific and terroristic —

    Here, some riffs on free speech (does it really exist in the USA?) by the ACLU!

    Finally, in 1969, in Brandenberg v. Ohio, the Supreme Court struck down the conviction of a Ku Klux Klan member, and established a new standard: Speech can be suppressed only if it is intended, and likely to produce, “imminent lawless action.” Otherwise, even speech that advocates violence is protected. The Brandenberg standard prevails today.

    First Amendment protection is not limited to “pure speech” — books, newspapers, leaflets, and rallies. It also protects “symbolic speech” — nonverbal expression whose purpose is to communicate ideas. In its 1969 decision in Tinker v. Des Moines, the Court recognized the right of public school students to wear black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War. In 1989 (Texas v. Johnson) and again in 1990 (U.S. v. Eichman), the Court struck down government bans on “flag desecration.” Other examples of protected symbolic speech include works of art, T-shirt slogans, political buttons, music lyrics and theatrical performances.

    In 1971, the publication of the “Pentagon Papers” by the New York Times brought the conflicting claims of free speech and national security to a head. The Pentagon Papers, a voluminous secret history and analysis of the country’s involvement in Vietnam, was leaked to the press. When the Times ignored the government’s demand that it cease publication, the stage was set for a Supreme Court decision. In the landmark U.S. v. New York Times case, the Court ruled that the government could not, through “prior restraint,” block publication of any material unless it could prove that it would “surely” result in “direct, immediate, and irreparable” harm to the nation. This the government failed to prove, and the public was given access to vital information about an issue of enormous importance.

    It took nearly 200 years to establish firm constitutional limits on the government’s power to punish “seditious” and “subversive” speech. Many people suffered along the way, such as labor leader Eugene V. Debs, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison under the Espionage Act just for telling a rally of peaceful workers to realize they were “fit for something better than slavery and cannon fodder.” Or Sidney Street, jailed in 1969 for burning an American flag on a Harlem street corner to protest the shooting of civil rights figure James Meredith.

    This is a propaganda poster of a Native American man claiming that 100 million of his people were slaughtered on their homeland by European colonizers. This picture reminds us that the Native Americans were almost completely killed off on their own land. I chose this pin because the same thing is happening to my people in Palestine and Gaza right now. It is important for us to remember events like this so that we do not make the same mistake again.

    The post Your Right to Your Opinion Ends with My Right to Might first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    The Political Economy of Preternatural Parapsychology: From ESP to Extraterrestrial Civilizations

    Man’s longing for the marvelous: the underground of the human psyche finds its counterpart in the meanderings of a mythical labyrinth, the subterranean meetings by candlelight, secret passages hidden within the double walls of castles, treasures concealed in gullies.

    —  The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz by Johann Valentin Andreae, Joscelyn Godwin (Translator), and Adam McLean (Contributor)


    In my two-part article on neoliberal psychology, I named three orientations to the self. The first was realistic neoliberal psychology which is mainstream and results in the development of an “entrepreneurial self”. Then I discussed two types of rebellious romantic psychology that developed in the 1970s through the 1990s. The first type came out of the human potential movement and gave birth to what I called the “expressive self”. Then in the early 1980s, as part of a conservative reaction against the 1960s movement, an upper-middle and upper-class form of psychology coalesced around the work of Carl Jung, Mircea Eliade and Joseph Campbell. This resulted in what I call a “mystical self”.

    But what was also a big part of a romantic reaction against neoliberalism was an interest in the paranormal or parapsychology, which straddled the boundary between psychology and the occult. For example, where does reading other people’s minds (telepathy) fit within neoliberalism? What about those who claim to see into the future (clairvoyance)? What about psychics who claim to move external objects with the power of their minds (psychokinesis)? What about those who claim to have astral bodies which exist outside the physical body? How do we make sense of an increased interest in ghosts who inhabit haunted houses?

    What about paranormal phenomena whose advocates claim that alien spaceships have landed on earth? Or authors who claim that extraterrestrial civilizations built the Egyptian pyramids? Or Hoagland’s “Face on Mars” claim? I call the interest in parapsychology or paranormal events the preoccupations of an “adventurous self”. The purpose of this article is neither to debunk parapsychological or paranormal claims nor to attack the individuals who believe in them. Rather it is to ask:

    1. Why do these beliefs continue to exist despite being dismissed by scientific methodology time and again?
    2. What political and economic conditions might have existed in the United States between 1970 and 1990 that might make these beliefs especially appealing?

    Natural, supernatural and preternatural

    In Western history, according to Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park in their book Wonders and the Order of Nature, St. Thomas distinguished between three kinds of physical occurrence. The first is events in nature which are predictable and subject to natural laws. These natural laws are formulated and studied by scientists. At the other extreme, there are physical events which are deemed “supernatural” or miraculous, divine events caused by God, without physical intermediaries. But in between these poles are “preternatural” events such as marvels or wonders which are anomalies within nature and science and might be subject to control through intermediary forms. The intermediaries are claimed to be either humans performing magic or demons thought to control nature through physical intermediaries such as the elements or vapors.

    While natural events are predictable, supernatural or preternatural events are not, but for different reasons. Further, those events which are subject to natural law occur frequently and are part of everyday life. Both preternatural and supernatural events are rare and, in some way, they occur beyond the world of everyday life. Copernicus’ description of the relation between sun and planets is part of a natural law. The claim by Catholics of God’s intervention at the healing sites of Our Lady of Fatima are considered miracles. Claims for ESP or telepathy are considered to be natural wonders. Medical diagnoses based on astrology and the use of correspondences are examples of preternatural events.

    Paranormal and parapsychology fall under the category of preternatural. While supernatural religion appeals to some kind of divine intervention that keeps us passive and awe-stricken, interest in the paranormal requires actively probing an unseen world using our supposedly unexpected powers which come out of a sense of wonder. This is why I call people who have an interest in the paranormal or parapsychological processes “adventurous selves.”

    Who believes in paranormal phenomena and parapsychology?

    In their book, How to Think About Weird Things, authors Theodore Schick and Lewis Vaughn give the following statistics about people in the United States:

    • 55% believe in psychic or spiritual healing.
    • 41% believe in ESP.
    • 32% believe that ghosts or spirits of dead people come back in certain places and situations.
    • 31% believe in telepathy or communication between minds without using the traditional five senses.
    • 24% believe that extraterrestrial beings have visited earth at some time in the past.
    • 26% believe in clairvoyance, or the power of the mind to know the past and predict the future.
    • 21% believe that people can hear from or communicate mentally with someone who has died.
    • 25% believe in astrology, or that the position of the stars and planets can affect people’s lives.
    • 21% believe in witches.
    • 20% believe in reincarnation, that is the rebirth of the soul in a new body after birth.

    The right-wing political and economic setting mid 1970s to 1990s

    When social life is relatively prosperous and the economy is expanding, people in the middle and upper-middle classes tend to gravitate to the moderate or liberal spectrum of their religion. However, in the hard economic times beginning in the 1970s and to the 1990s, when the economy is contracting and there is some kind of ecological and/or political crisis, the traditional religions are implicated, the center does not hold and people are scattered into the left or right wings of fundamentalist religion, cults or parapsychology.  There are at least four possible reactions:

    1. The working-class joined a more fundamentalist religion as happened in the Christian churches in late 1970s.
    2. The upper-class and the upper middle-class who were established professionals were drawn to the conservative psychology of Carl Jung, the esoteric religion of Eliade or the mythology of Joseph Campbell. The results of these involvements culminate in what I’ve called a “mystical” self.
    3. Those in the middle-class and upper middle-class who have not found a satisfactory professional position or have been by-passed in their professional life, those who have status anxiety, often strike out on their own and become interested in parapsychology and paranormal phenomenon. These folks maintain their individualism by not attaching themselves to traditional religious or scientific organizations. They may even start their own organization.
    4. Those middle-class and upper middle-class people who are hypercritical thinkers and who criticize all the world’s religions are drawn to social spiritual movements that want to create a revolutionary life on earth. These people have been burned by organized religion, think in terms of conspiracies but want to be part of a new spiritual community. They will likely be drawn to cults.

    Adventurous vs the mystical self

    Like the mystical self of the Jungians, the adventurous self has an anti-modern view of life. Those who believe in parapsychology often imagine that modern life has dulled their natural psychic abilities and they imagine that people in tribal or ancient civilizations were able to read minds or move objects without touching them. The Jungians are more straightforward about being anti-science. Jung never tried to make his concepts like the collective unconscious, or his archetypes scientifically verifiable. Followers of ESP and psychokinetics, however, do make attempts to test their participant’s ability by using scientific methods. As we shall see, parapsychologists do a very bad job of it, but they do try. Both Jungians and parapsychologists are opposed to organized religion. Jungians explicitly reject patriarchal religions for pre-Christian, pagan traditions. Those who investigate parapsychology are more individualistic and critical of all religions. Many see any kind of spirituality as attempts to repress the exploratory powers of human beings.

    By why are Jungians and those who are interested in the paranormal not able to appeal to a more popular audience? Some smug Jungians claim that their knowledge is esoteric and is not fit for popular consumption. However, those interested in the paranormal are not just critical of organized religion. They tend to believe that political and scientific elites intentionally get in the way of cultivating paranormal skills. After all, if people could produce altered states of consciousness themselves the religious authorities would be out of work. In the case of UFO enthusiasts imagine that the US government is hiding secrets of UFO visitations. Both Jungians and parapsychologists are anti-intellectual and trust their intuition more than their reason, although parapsychologists make some attempts to use rationality in their attempts to set up experiments.

    People interested in paranormal phenomenon will rely on groups, attend conferences and form clubs for emotional support. These groups will often support and even create collective experiences through UFO conferences as people in attendance may even report seeing UFOs if these conferences are held in the open air. The class origins of the two groups are different. The Jungians consist of upper middle-class and upper-class people who have established themselves professionally and are looking for a worldview that simply supports their achievements and gives them serenity. Those interested in parapsychology are usually young, and as Zusne and Jones say in their book Anomalistic Psychology, have either not established themselves in a profession or have been rejected professionally in a particular field. They are attempting to find a place for themselves in a new field with fewer professional demands. For example, Madame Blavatsky’s followers and the followers of the Society for Psychic Research were disproportionately upper-class women looking for activities to fill their time.

    Jungians and their followers tend to be very well educated and have at least master’s degrees. Followers of parapsychology tend to be self-educated and get their reading lists from occult bookstores located in large cities. The leaders of parapsychology may or may not have their degrees in psychology and have found their way to parapsychology by doing their own reading. It is not possible to receive advanced degrees in parapsychology in the US. The major players in archetypal psychology are Carl Jung, Mircea Eliade and Joseph Campbell. In parapsychology the leaders have been Charles Tart, Stanley Krippner, and Uri Geller, and for alien abduction, the psychiatrist John Mack. Their historical influences have been Mesmer, Madame Blavatsky and William James. Please see Table C for a fuller contrast between the mystical and the adventurous self.Limitations of parapsychology in using the scientific method

    There are many, many reasons why parapsychology does not measure up to scientific standards. First, we will examine why they don’t and then we’ll discuss why people continue to believe in parapsychology and paranormal phenomenon anyway. To begin, the evidence given for paranormal experience is not statistical nor have double-bind tests been undertaken. Instead, anecdotal evidence is offered such as case studies, testimonials and celebrity endorsements. Parapsychologists take advantage of the evolutionary biases for stories over statistics to sway people.

    Secondly, the quality of sense data is usually nebulous. Imagining seeing a UFO or a face on Mars usually occurs when visual conditions are cloudy. In good science, the sense data is crystal clear and is verifiable.

    Thirdly, in parapsychology, different types of data are thrown together eclectically without the recognition that some data might contradict others. Good science dialectically criticizes and eliminates contradictions within the data so all the evidence is logically connected. Another problem with parapsychology is that it violates the principle of conservatism. In providing a theory which explains one thing, parapsychological theory, it throws into question what is already known. This means that you solve one problem but you’ve created new problems. Science at its best has theories which explain new phenomenon while keeping in place all the knowledge about the past.

    In good science, one of its major expectations is that you state the conditions under which you will admit that you are wrong. This is called falsifiability. A scientific theory that is proven wrong is better than a theory that is not provable because failures allow science the opportunity to eliminate one theory from the field. With parapsychology, what is being measured does not usually lend itself to quantification so that it cannot be proven right or wrong.

    In order for a scientific theory to be testable, it has to be able to be replicated in order for other scientists to test the phenomenon and see for themselves. In parapsychology, phenomenon often happen spontaneously or under conditions not likely to be replicated. This means the theory cannot be solidified and stabilized by other scientists. Another vital characteristic of a scientific theory is that it keeps its assumptions realistic and close to the surface of the data. Too often in parapsychology, their theories are so complex that you would have to provide more empirical data to support all the assumptions in between the surface data. So, for example, if you believe that there really is a face on Mars instead of just weird topographic sand configurations, then you have to explain what kind of civilization did this, what tools they used and for what purpose. Weird sand configurations are far more down to earth.

    In parapsychology it is very common for experts in one field to use their expertise in one field to claim authority over a field in which they have no special knowledge. For example, imagine a medical doctor using their position to speak authoritatively about the relationship between quantum physics and consciousness. In legitimate science an expert in one field sticks to their field and doesn’t claim expertise in another field.

    Typically, before a scientist publishes a book, the manuscript goes through peer review. Because parapsychologists mix together many fields, a peer review of their work is not easy to come by. Unfortunately, cultivating scientific generalists is not supported by corporations or federal governments. In any event, those claiming unusual theories, instead of finding peers to evaluate their work, go directly to the media in the hopes of directly reaching the public. Because parapsychology theory is exotic and not too technical, it has mass media and public appeal. This is what happened with Velikovsky’s book Worlds in Collision, published in 1950. The problem then, is that skeptical scientists are left wasting their time doing control damage and refuting theories with no scientific foundations.

    There are pros and cons to being affiliated with an organization. For one thing, a scientist’s real research interests might not have trouble being funded. But at the same time, working for an organization requires that people keep their feet on the ground because the reputation of the institution is on the line. Unconventionality is looked on with suspicion. Parapsychologists are most often not affiliated with a respectable, established organization. Some parapsychologists who are wealthy or know how to tap wealthy donors may start up their own institutions. If not, in classical romantic style they call themselves “independent researchers”. This is a sign they are free-floating. They also present themselves as “heroic mavericks” whom no institution could contain.

    Another tendency of parapsychologists is to imagine established scientists as stodgy old people set in their ways who feel threatened by parapsychologists’ “revolutionary findings”. This is a very unfair characterization. Most working scientists have a mixture of creativity and prudence.  There is a field of psychology called “anomalous psychology” which explains extraordinary happenings by known psychological causes. In the best of all possible worlds, parapsychologists would be familiar with all the current anomalous psychological explanations before coming up with a new theory.

    Often times, for example, UFO buffs are not familiar with the various accounts by scientists as to why people see UFOs. In other words, UFO enthusiasts should exhaust all scientific explanations before introducing a parapsychological explanation. Most often these enthusiasts don’t know what the range of scientific explanations are.

    In addition, parapsychologists imagine that the authorities are out to get them. They can only imagine it is because their discovery would threaten the “powers that be”. They don’t consider the reason their theory is not paid attention to is they haven’t played by the rules of the scientific method. Unconventionality is not always a virtue. More times than not, it be a sign of incompetence.

    Parapsychologists often have a romantic notion that scientists are lonely geniuses who struggle in isolation apart from everyone. But working scientists participate in a community of scientists where peer review doesn’t hold them back, but rather it actually improves their work. Because parapsychologists often don’t have institutions to answer to, there is little at stake if their theory doesn’t hold up. For practicing scientists, they have invested a great deal of their careers developing or protecting a theory. It is natural that they would have more to lose if they were wrong. It makes sense why they would be slow to incorporate a new theory, especially if it played fast and loose with the scientific method.

    Parapsychologists are often anti-modern. They like to refer to the “ancient wisdom” of tribal or agricultural civilizations as if something that’s old assumes something inherently good about it. In critical thinking, parapsychologists commit the fallacy of “appeal to tradition”.

    Most working scientists are modernists and think that modern science has made advances based on what people in the ancient world developed.

    If you notice the claims and tones of parapsychologists, they are usually dramatic, quick, simple and painless cures for our problems. Scientists, on the other hand, are very careful about making promises. They proceed by trial-and-error, working slowly and claiming no more than probability for their hypothesis. Parapsychologists usually do not use neutral language. Their language is loaded with virtue words like “holistic, balanced, right-brain and intuitive”. Vice words are “mechanistic, dualistic, left-brain, linear and intellectual”. The problem is this vocabulary does not make it easy to be objective and to weigh things in such a way that the language doesn’t give away which side you are on.  Lastly, parapsychologists see themselves as open while scientists are depicted as closed, smug and cynical. Scientists usually see themselves as Carl Sagan did, combining skepticism and wonder. They see parapsychologists as gullible and sensationalistic.

    But all these criticisms of parapsychology don’t seem to stop people from flocking to the latest book party, movie or media event of a parapsychologist.  In the next section we turn to the political, social and psychological reasons why interest in paranormal events and parapsychology persists.

    Decline of living standards in Yankeedom: parapsychology as a psychology of reactance

    “Reactance theory” is a psychological response to a perceived loss of freedom to act and to think. The discoveries of modern science can appear to be either deterministic constraints on individuals or the individuals are thought to be subject to chance probabilities. Neither of these theories support a notion of individual freedom so dear to Yankees.  Becoming interested in preternatural phenomenon or using parapsychology to find out about it is seen as adventurous and restores the individual’s sense of freedom.

    Economic, political and ecological life in the United States seems to be falling apart and it is difficult for people to understand why.

     As a socialist, I have an explanation for why things are falling apart but most people do not have the will and the patience to really study systems analytically in order to make sense of them. Yet people don’t want to give up. Believing in the existence of ESP or clairvoyance gives people hope and an escape from difficult material circumstances. The paranormal world restores a mystery to life that has been lost by the commercialization of ritual and myths. Paranormal psychology, with its foundation in a psycho-physical unity, gives people a structured explanation of why things are as they are. At its worst, parapsychology is running away to other worlds instead of facing and dealing with the real world and its problems.

    Though most people interested in parapsychology are upper-middle and middle-class who are represented by both political parties, there is a sense that the political system has nothing to do with what they were taught about democracy. They believe that the world is run by people behind the scenes.

    This leads to a sense that appearances can be deceiving. If the state can lie about what is going on in politics, it can also lie about what it knows about paranormal UFOs.  Generally, there is a consensus among parapsychologists that what’s on the surface can be deceiving and the official authorities cannot be trusted on any level. This leads to a paranoid, conspiratorial mindset. At its worst, everything the authorities do is a conspiracy and there is no room for coincidences or ruling class incompetence.

    Science has not delivered on its promise to make a better life for all.

    Because most people do not understand the capitalist nature of science, those interested in the paranormal see science as a separate field which they judge negatively. Instead of criticizing the capitalists’ use of science, paranormal proponents blame science as a field for the failure to make a “better living through GE.” This leads among those interested in the paranormal to an anti-science romanticism. According to this way of thinking, science is mechanistic, cold, mathematic and too hard to understand. A mystical occult framework is hopeful, emotional and has definite answers (rather than probability) to the big questions. They fail to notice that science in the 20th century from quantum physics to relativity theory, from General Systems theory to complexity theory is anything but mechanical and dead.

    There is an increasing sense of our personal lives being out of control with an unpredictable work-life and growing debt.

    This leads to a completely understandable sense of wanting to have control over our personal lives. Some paranormal philosophies suggest that we “create our own reality”. Our mind can heal our physical problems and we can travel to other times and places through past life experience or astral projection. These are compensations for a perception that our lives are not in our control.

    Cross-cultural surveys of happiness show people in the United States are not very happy.

    Especially since most people interested in the paranormal are economically comfortable, if not wealthy, there is a sense that resources and money are not the only things in life. This drives them into parapsychology. It is common to hear testimonials of people who are “born-again” CEOs renouncing their former materialism and seeking to find meaning in ghost-hunting, extraterrestrial conspiracies or talking to their dead relatives.

    Lack of security and unity in personal life and with the family.

    It is no secret that Yankee family life is in shambles. The demands of work scatter families all over the country and leave scant time for connecting. Even before children mature and move out, family life is characterized by lack of quality time together, overwork, school debts and drugs to cope with anxiety and depression. It is no accident that stories of people talking to the dead have the same scenario. Who doesn’t want to hear from a psychic that their dead family members are happy on the other side and waiting for them with open arms? Funny how no psychic reports that the other side is about the same as this one or, even worse, as they find out your family is still upset with them for marrying who they married. It’s very clear and sad that people have to imagine another world in order to have conversations with their family that they couldn’t have in this one.

    Difficulty finding adventure and mystery in current work life.

    People want adventure and mystery in everyday life and want to have fun. Because they don’t understand that the scientific process of discovery is full of wonder and adventure, they seek it in other worlds. ESP, telepathy, clairvoyance and ghosts give some sense of mystery and hope that is missing from work that is either meaningless or, if it is meaningful, is dulled by the difficulty of working in a corporate culture. It makes complete sense that the popularity of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter is partly due to the championing of  rebellion against the muggles and their deadening life.

    People in the US seem so passive compared to people in other countries and are willing to put up with anything.

    The box office blockbuster, The Hunger Games shows how rebellion is not far from people’s minds. Today of course, there is a current uprising of the Black Lives Matter movement, so rebellion is on the table. But during the 80s and 90s rebellion was hard to imagine. Feeling they are part of a secret society, a UFO organization or a spiritual organization helps people to feel they are not passive automatons. They know what is going on and they are active in doing something about it, if not in the political economy, at least in their private lives.

    Fear of death, clinging to life.

    People interested in paranormal phenomenon or in developing parapsychological skills want answers to the big questions. If we believe in past lives and reincarnation the belief is that we will never have to face dying. Unsatisfied with the answers religion gives about life after death, those interested in parapsychology want to find out for themselves. Is there life on other planets? Not satisfied with science’s answer of “no, not yet”, they wonder if the state and the scientists would tell us if they had gotten an extraterrestrial signal? Maybe extraterrestrials have already come here?

    Personal troubles don’t seem to have a single cause. Multiple causations and chance are unsatisfying answers.

    All the movies referred to (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, the Hunger Games) have characters that are clearly malevolent and help to explain the main character’s difficulties. As strange as this may seem, having malevolent characters is better, imagining that chance might be operating. At least you can see the contending forces fighting and at the end you will know who won, who lost and why. Unlike personal life, where there are too many variables to track, imagining your life like these movies can be a relief. Scapegoating, believing in ghost possession, believing in sorcery for good or bad and conspiracy theories gives life drama, hope, and clarity.

    Lack of universal health insurance makes hospital care brief and gives doctors scant time to visit with patients.

    In the light of the pharmaceutical industrial complex, it is understandable that people are drawn to alternative medicine such as homeopathy or acupuncture.

    Both these alternatives seem to bypass the hospital bureaucracy, the impersonal switching of doctors and medication where the side effects are often worse than the illness. Hospitals are divided into specialists, many of whom do not consult with other specialists so that the patient feels like no one is driving. The benefit of holistic medicine, apart from whether it works or not, is the fact that whoever you work with seems to have the big picture in mind and you can understand the general principles of what they are trying to achieve just from reading a book or two.


    There are many psychopathological reasons why people might believe in parapsychology. My purpose is not to tear people apart, but rather to try to explain the logical reasons why people are drawn to parapsychology. Their motives are expressions of the deep unhappiness that people feel about life under declining capitalist societies during the 1980s and 1990s.

    The bottom line is this. Good science develops slowly, accumulates information by trial-and-error, is very careful in its claims, its evidence and its method for proving hypothesis. It makes no promises for happy endings, continuous adventures and razzle-dazzle. Its best claims are matters of probabilities. Scientists will happily admit when they don’t know something, often being able to suspend judgements for the present. But for those living in economically unstable times, governed by decadent political parties, in debt, with insecure professional job prospects, a fractured family life, and a chaotic health care system, the promise of science is weak medicine. These people need something dramatic, hopeful, mysterious, quick, comforting and thrilling. Paranormal phenomenon and parapsychological claims fit the bill and are a stronger remedy in darkening times.

    • First published at Planning Beyond Capitalism

    Contemplating Human Extinction Terrifies Most People: A Strategy for Survival

    Any serious study of the relevant scholarly literature reveals at least four possible paths to imminent human extinction, that is, human extinction within five years: nuclear war, the climate catastrophe, the deployment of 5G, and biodiversity collapse.

    Moreover, as I have documented previously, under cover of the non-existent ‘virus’ labeled COVID-19, the global elite is conducting a coup against humanity. That is, by bombarding us with fear-mongering propaganda to focus our attention on the ‘virus’, the capacity of virtually all people, including activists, to devote attention to the coup, and to resist it, has been effectively eliminated.

    Unfortunately, it has also meant that, despite the extensively documented evidence of the four paths to imminent human extinction, it is even more difficult than usual to get people to focus on this point. This means that engaging people to consider the evidence for themselves is extremely difficult: it is easier to live in delusion, reassured by elite-driven narratives promulgated through education systems and the corporate media which effectively convey the message that there is either no serious cause for concern (yet) or, perhaps, that the time frame allows for an adequate official response in due course. In either case we, as individuals or groups, do not really need to do anything differently; going along with the elite-driven narrative, including time frame, will ensure our survival.

    Of course, as those paying attention to the evidence already know, being obedient to the elite-driven narrative is a recipe for extinction. We have already exceeded 2°C above the pre-industrial temperature, the ongoing and rapid deployment of 5G will be catastrophic, biodiversity is already collapsing (and will be seriously accelerated by the rising temperature and deployment of 5G) – for just the latest in the ongoing stream of disasters, hundreds of elephants have recently died in Botswana’s Okavango Delta – and, according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, nuclear war is now a greater possibility than at any previous time in human history. For summaries of the evidence and further documentation in each case, see ‘The Elite’s COVID-19 Coup to Destroy Humanity that is also Fast-Tracking Four Paths to Human Extinction‘.

    In this article I would like to explain why people are so terrified of the truth and what we can do about it so that an effective response to each of these threats can be implemented (assuming, problematically, that there is enough time).

    Why are Most Human Beings so Terrified?

    Virtually all human beings are terrified and they are terrified for the same reason: the child-raising process that sociologists like to label ‘socialization’ should be more accurately labeled ‘terrorization’. Why? Because from the moment of a child’s birth, parents, teachers, religious leaders and adults generally regard themselves as responsible for terrorizing the child into obedience of the commands, rules, conventions and laws that define the nature of permissible behaviour in their society.

    This means that provided the child responds obediently to parental (or other adult) commands, obeys any rules imposed (by the parents, teachers and religious figures in the child’s life), learns all relevant social conventions for their society and, ultimately, obeys the law, they are allowed to live, recognized as compliant citizens, in their society.

    Unfortunately, from society’s viewpoint, evolutionary pressures over vast time scales have led to each human individual being given Self-will to seek out and fulfill their own unique destiny: evolutionary pressures do not predispose any individual to obey the will of another for the simple reason that obedience has no evolutionary functionality.

    Consequently, it takes enormous terrorization during childhood to ensure that the child surrenders their Self-will at the altar of obedience. To achieve this outcome and largely unknowingly, parents use a large range of behaviours from the three categories of violence that I have labeled ‘visible’ violence, ‘invisible’ violence and ‘utterly invisible’ violence.

    A common element of this terrorization is that the child is frequently threatened with, and/or actually suffers, violence for being ‘disobedient’. Of course, this violence, assuming it is even recognized as such (given that ‘invisible’ and ‘utterly invisible’ violence are just that to virtually everyone), is invariably labeled ‘punishment‘ so that we can delude ourselves that our violence is not harmful.

    This means that virtually every single individual has been successfully terrorized into being submissively obedient. And, fundamentally, this obedience includes accepting the elite-driven narrative delivered by education systems and the corporate media in relation to issues crucial to human survival.

    So despite our preference for believing otherwise, those individuals in our societies who survive the education system capable of thinking for themselves, or even of ‘clear thinking’, are rare. And then they must also survive (preferably by refusing to access it) the propaganda (that is, lies) presented as ‘news’ by the corporate media. Given that another outcome of being terrorized throughout childhood means that most people are very gullible, perceiving lies is a huge challenge in itself.

    Of course, this powerless imperative to believe the lies we are told and to behave obediently in response is always reinforced by the fear of violence (‘punishment’), including the fear of social ostracism for resisting elite narratives, but it is also reinforced by other fears: for example, the fear that makes people feel powerless to respond in any meaningful way, the fear of changing their behaviour, and the fear of feeling out of control of their own destiny. After all, if extinction is imminent and we are to avert it, we will need to do some fundamental things – including thinking and behaving – very differently. But we are not allowed to think or behave differently, are we? That would be disobedient.

    This can be readily illustrated. When a young child does not get what they need, the child will have an emotional reaction. This will always include fear, it will probably include anger and it will probably include sadness, among other feelings. However, almost invariably, parents behave in a manner intended to prevent the child from having their emotional response (and using this information in formulating the appropriate behavioural response in the circumstance). They do not listen to the child while they express their feelings. Instead, they act to make the child suppress awareness of their feelings.

    At its simplest and apparently most benign, the parent might comfort the child in the misguided belief that this is helpful. But it is not, unless you want a submissively obedient child.

    Another simple and common way in which we suppress the emotional awareness and, hence, capacity for emotional expression of a child is by giving them food or a toy to distract them from how they feel. The fundamental outcome of this act is that we unconsciously ‘teach’ the child to seek food and/or material items as substitutes for feeling and acting on how they feel. But this is absolutely disastrous.

    The net result of this behaviour is that virtually all people in industrialized societies have become addicted to material consumption, and the direct (including military), structural and ecological violence that makes excessive consumption in these societies possible. All so that we can suppress how we really feel.

    And, therefore, the very notion of substantially reducing consumption – a central part of any strategy for human survival by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from industrial production and transport, checking the collapse of biodiversity by halting the destruction of habitat such as rainforests, denying financial incentive to deploy technology for 5G, ending wars (and the threat of nuclear war) for resources – becomes ‘unthinkable’.

    Because the fundamental imperative of materialist societies is ‘Consume!’ (so that corporations can profit). And we do not have the emotional power to disobey that imperative because deep in our unconscious remains the childhood terror of resisting the offered food or toy and insisting on expressing how we feel and behaving powerfully in accord with that. It is far simpler to just put something more in our mouth or use one of our ‘toys’. Who wants to feel scared, sad or angry instead?

    In essence, the individual who has been terrorized into obedience is no longer capable of thinking for themself and then behaving in accord with their own Self-will. This means that imperatives of the global elite – mediated through its agents such as governments, education systems and the corporate media and enforced by legal systems, the police and prison cells – are readily obeyed by the vast bulk of the human population.

    And because the global elite is insane, this obedience means that we are submitting to the elite coup and complying with its imperatives that are fast-tracking humanity to extinction on four separate paths, as noted above.

    To reiterate: At this most critical moment in human history, when a coup is being conducted against us and four separate threats to human existence and all life on Earth require our engaged attention and powerful response, it is almost impossible to get people to even acknowledge these threats, let alone to consider the evidence and act strategically in response.

    Which means that profoundly altering our approaches to parenting and education, so that we produce powerful individuals, is critical to any strategy to fight for human survival.

    So what can we do?

    Well, if you would like to fight for human survival, it would be useful to start by giving yourself time to focus on feeling your emotional responses – fear, anger, sadness, dread…. – to the elite coup and the four most imminent threats.

    If you do not do this, you are unlikely to be able to engage meaningfully and strategically in the effort. You will, most likely and unconsciously, simply put your attention elsewhere and go back to what you were doing.

    So once you have a clearer sense of your emotional reactions to this knowledge and have allowed yourself time to focus on feeling these feelings, you will be in a far more powerful position to consider your response to the situation. And, depending on your interests and circumstances, there is a range of possible responses that will each make an important difference.

    Fundamentally, you might consider making ‘My Promise to Children‘ which will include considering what an education for your children means to you, particularly if you want powerful individuals who can resist violence.

    You might consider supporting others to become more powerful.

    If you wish to strategically resist the elite coup against humanity, you can read about nonviolent strategy, including strategic goals for doing so, from here: Strategic Aims.

    If you wish to powerfully resist the primary threats to human existence – nuclear war, the deployment of 5G, the collapse of biodiversity and/or the climate catastrophe – you can read about nonviolent strategy, including strategic goals to focus your campaigns, from here: Strategic Aims.

    You might also consider joining those who are powerful enough to recognize the critical importance of reduced consumption and greater self-reliance as essential elements of these strategies by participating in ‘The Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth‘.

    In addition, you are welcome to consider signing the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World‘.

    Or, if you want something simpler, consider committing to:

    The Earth Pledge

    Out of love for the Earth and all of its creatures, and my respect for their needs, from this day onwards I pledge that:

    1. I will listen deeply to children. See Nisteling: The Art of Deep Listening‘.
    2. I will not travel by plane
    3. I will not travel by car
    4. I will not eat meat and fish
    5. I will only eat organically/biodynamically grown food
    6. I will minimize the amount of fresh water I use, including by minimizing my ownership and use of electronic devices
    7. I will not own or use a mobile (cell) phone
    8. I will not buy rainforest timber
    9. I will not buy or use single-use plastic, such as bags, bottles, containers, cups and straws
    10. I will not use banks, superannuation (pension) funds or insurance companies that provide any service to corporations involved in fossil fuels, nuclear power and/or weapons
    11. I will not accept employment from, or invest in, any organization that supports or participates in the exploitation of fellow human beings or profits from killing and/or destruction of the biosphere
    12. I will not get news from the corporate media (mainstream newspapers, television, radio, Google, Facebook, Twitter…)
    13. I will make the effort to learn a skill, such as food gardening or sewing, that makes me more self-reliant
    14. I will gently encourage my family and friends to consider signing this pledge.


    Given that submissive obedience is the primary behavioural characteristic of all ‘good citizens’, it is going to take a monumental effort to defeat the elite coup and avert the now imminent extinction of Homo Sapiens. This is because most common human behaviours – from parenting to consumption habits – have been shaped to serve elite interests, and it is these behaviours that must change.

    Of course, this is also why lobbying elite agents – such as governments and corporations – cannot work. Apart from the fact that they exist to serve elite interests and obey elite directives accordingly (rather than respond to grassroots pressure which they function superbly to dissipate), governments and corporations cannot meaningfully impact the crises that confront us.

    That power is ours but we must use it, and deploy it strategically.

    Revolutionary Group Dynamics: How Minorities Influence Majorities, from Group Complicity to Collective Creativity


    From the macro to the micro

    When it comes to stereotypes of the masses of revolutionary people, the masses have built barricades that look like forts which they hide behind, armed with guns. But if we trace the behavior of masses back far enough to pre-revolutionary situations, masses become groups. In order to understand how masses of people become a revolutionary force, we first need to understand how groups, small groups of ten to twenty people, become revolutionary. By revolutionary I don’t mean that groups consciously advocate for revolutions. By revolutionary I mean that people in the group understand the science of how minorities in groups can influence majorities to change, no matter what the contents.

    Who is to blame when groups go wrong?

    The most typical responses people give when groups fail to meet their expectations are to:

    • blame the leaders;
    • blame stigmatized, obnoxious individuals.

    For example, at a staff meeting, staff members will say to each other “the leader should have done this or they should have done that”. Psychological analysis of the leaders is in no short supply. The leader is a narcissist, a control freak, an alcoholic or a dictator. Another common strategy is to target members of the group that are stigmatized in some way. They are deemed as recalcitrant, needy, talk too much, talk too little, don’t listen, are unrealistic, are cynical, depressed or inarticulate. Usually people will say to each other, “if only the stigmatized people would get fired, transferred, get sick or find another job, everything would be fine”. But everything wouldn’t be fine. Most groups will unconsciously produce the following to do the work for the majority of people:

    • more bad leaders;
    • more stigmatized individuals.

    From by-standing to complicity

    However, there is a third possibility. Let us assume a group has sixteen people. It has two leaders and two particularly obnoxious members, leaving twelve other members. How is it that two leaders and two stigmatized individuals can control twelve other people? Why don’t those twelve other people take control of the situation, challenge the leaders’ faults publicly and shut up the obnoxious individuals? After all, its twelve against four. Why don’t those who appear as bystanders jump into the fray? Why are they putting up with a miserable situation? That is one of the subjects of this article.

    Groups of human beings are not machines. They are composed of individuals with free will who can coordinate, cooperate, obey or leave a group. Because groups become “alive” as they function over time, the truth is that in groups, there are no neutral bystanders. Every member of the group is either actively or passively producing expansion or contraction of the group’s power. Those twelve people are complicit in whatever happens in the group, for better or for worse.

    My experiences in groups:

    Blaming leaders and stigmatized individuals

    I have been in groups most of my life. From the age of seven to the age of twenty I played in pick-up baseball and football games. During the same window of time, I endured 12 years of Catholic education in grammar and high school where I was taught by nuns and brothers. For the first 13 years of my life I blamed leaders and obnoxious individuals for group problems. My understanding of groups changed when I became involved with radical political groups.

    Awakening to complicity

    In my twenties I participated in Men’s Liberation Collective, a radical psychiatry group, community and in a council communist political group. In those groups I learned about Wilhelm Reich and his theory of mass complicity.  In my early 40’s I worked as a group counselor for an organization called Men Overcoming Violence. This was a 40-week program which met once a week to help men gain communication skills so as to not resort to battering their partner. I worked in group settings in two half-way houses in San Francisco.  I spent about eight months in what I would now call a cult, a left-wing political psychology group. Beginning in 1989 and for the next 27 years, I taught psychology courses at universities and community colleges, including classes in group dynamics and mass psychology. These classes ranged from eight to 40 students. Throughout those years my appreciation of group complicity was a key to understanding why rebellions in groups don’t occur more often. It was both revealing and frightening.

    Theories of groups

    Reactionary theories

    The earliest years of social psychology in the 2nd half of the 19th century were dominated by political reactionaries who hated groups. Taine, Le Bon and Sighele had never forgotten what the masses did during the French Revolution. For them the whole (the group) was less than the sum of the parts (the individual). In other words, something degenerative happened to individuals when they joined a group. Without any empirical research they characterized groups as childish, criminal, beastly, savage, irrational, impulsive, blood thirsty, primitive, cruel and fickle. Despite the lack of scientific research behind these pronouncements, this stereotype is a staple of mass media today, with the “looting” mantra splashed across the headlines, whenever a natural disaster or a social uprising appears. For them Lord of the Flies depicts what happens in groups without strong leaders.

    Leftist theories

    At the other extreme on the left, whether they are anarchists, communists or social democrats, they all believed that the working-class in masses was heroic. All workers had to do is was overthrow the capitalists and their kind, gregarious and cooperative tendencies would come to the fore. For them the whole (the group) is more than the sum of its parts (the individuals). Major social change only comes about through mass action. The challenge is to awaken in the masses confidence they have the numbers to take over the world. The problem these leftists were unwilling to face is that workers are conflicted about what to do in a revolutionary situation and they can be turned into fascists with the right kind of political manipulation such as used by Goebbels and Hitler.

    Mass complicity theory of Wilhelm Reich

    When I was first starting out in the early 1970s on my radical political journey, Wilhelm Reich was required reading for being a situationist communist. I read every book of his that was translated into English. Reich was the only psychologist whose theories were more sexual than Freud’s. He had a theory of character armor which explained that working class people didn’t rebel more because they had character armor in their bodies that prevented them from having good orgasms. For Reich, good revolutionaries were bodily unarmored and had good orgasms. I never had a problem with orgasms, but I investigated Reichian therapy to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I spent three years in Reichian therapy.

    Typically, either leftists don’t know about Reich or if they do know about him, they refer to the Mass Psychology of Fascism and then say he went crazy. It’s fair to say that the last fifteen years or so of his life Reich did go around the bend, but he never lost his insight into the mass complicity of the masses in the situations we were in. Reich once said that there never could have been a Hitler if there wasn’t a little bit of Hitler in a whole lot of people.

    Reich was at his best at criticizing the masses from a left-wing point of view. He argued the fascist rulers were much smarter than communists because they knew mass psychology. He demonstrated how mass complicity works in his books “Listen Little Man” and “the Murder of Christ“.

    How Minorities influence majorities—from complicity to power

    Let us return to our group of sixteen people: two leaders, two stigmatized individuals and twelve members who are complicit. In our Men Overcoming Violence group, we taught men communication skills so that they don’t batter their partners. In our group we gave our members an opportunity to shape the direction of the group in terms of when we met and how consecutive the meetings were. Since part of the mission of Men Overcoming Violence was to communicate in a non-violent way, we were open to the men practicing this as group members in our program, not just on their partner.

    On one occasion, a group member – I’ll call him Antonio – complained that 40 weeks in a row with no break was too much. Men needed a Saturday off now and then where there was no meeting. For the rest of this article, I will use this example to show how group members moved from passive members who were complicit, to members assuming some power as to what the direction of our group would be.

    At the end of our two-hour Saturday meeting we allowed 15 minutes of time for members to meta-communicate about how the meeting went and how the program was going for them. It was here that Antonio first brought up the problem of meeting every single Saturday.  The following italicized headings are the steps necessary by which a minority in a group can impact a majority. When minorities impact and change majorities the group has gone through a revolutionary process.


    Antonio made a proposal both to all members of the group and to the group counselors that we should have some breaks between meetings. He made his pitch to a dead silent reception. Mistakenly, Antonio interpreted this as a sign that no one liked his idea. Dejected, he didn’t say any more. But what Antonio didn’t realize was that group silence can mean many things besides rejection. It can mean some members were not paying attention. It can mean they were paying attention but were apathetic and don’t care. It can mean that some members want to think about it. It could also mean they agree with Antonio’s proposal but are afraid to speak about it publicly because they are afraid to speak publicly about anything. They might agree but withhold saying anything about it because that would violate subgroup norms, whether they be race or class customs.

    So, the first skill Antonio needed to cultivate in moving the group from complicity to power was perseverance. Antonio had to bring up his proposal more than once. People needed time to get used to it and those who didn’t agree would have time to think about how they could rebut it. If Antonio brought his claim up repeatedly, he gave the message that he was determined, and he was not giving up easily. In private, we counselors encouraged Antonio not to give up and to try to pitch it again, which he did.

    Rhetorically compelling

    It was not enough that Antonio repeats himself. He had to make his position rhetorically compelling. Aristotle argued that there were four considerations in being rhetorically successful. The claim has to be logical, meaning the person had to have their facts straight and there must be a tight relationship between the facts or the reasons and the claim. The argument also has to come from a reliable source, whether as a primary or secondary source. The third consideration is that the argument was not just rational. It had to have heart and it had to show imagination. In Antonio’s case part of his evidence needs to be something like – he can go to a ballgame with his son on the Saturdays he has off. The last ingredient in being rhetorically compelling is that the claim has to be timely. There has to be a necessity to the claim. There has to be an urgency such that if something is not done now it may be too late. Why is it now or never?

    Then the counselors and the rest of the group criticized Antonio’s claim. We told him that the claim had to be specific about how often and in what sequence he expected these breaks to occur. It wouldn’t do to simply say “let’s take a break when the group feels like it”. The breaks needed to be built into our institutional setting. His claim had a pathological (emotional appeal) because he talked about all the places he would go with the time off. His source was good since he was a respected group member who did his work and participated in the program. The timing of the argument was not good. We had only held three meetings, so members had not been ground down by the wear-and-tear of the group in order to make his appeal compelling. Had he brought it up after 10 or 12 meetings in a row, he might have had a better reception.

    The rest of the group members and the counselors discussed Antonio’s claim and we decided if we went along with Antonio’s pitch the best time for breaks would be every eight weeks, because that was when we allowed new members to come in. We told the group that if they agreed to take a break it would need to be every eight weeks. However, it wasn’t just the counselors’ decision. It was still up to the group.

    Find allies and get them to commit to a public agreement

    Even if you persevere and repeat yourself and even if Antonio had followed all four of Aristotle’s criteria of logos, ethos, pathos and kairos, he is only one person in a group of 16. His claim can be dismissed by the group members, whether to themselves privately or to other group members on personal grounds such as these. Antonio is:

    1. heroic but unrealistic;
    2. a rebel and a troublemaker;
    3. a victim of a psychological disorder and has a need for attention; and,
    4. just an extroverted personality.

    Antonio needed to find allies. How did he do this? He got the phone numbers of the members whom he senses might be sympathetic to his claim because of what he knows about them and talks to them between the meetings. It is not enough to get them to be sympathetic over the phone or privately in person. It has to be public. I remember as an adjunct faculty member, I would bring things up at faculty meetings. Other teachers would listen politely, but nothing would be said or done. Then after the meeting, a couple of adjuncts would come up to me and say how much they appreciated what I said. I thought to myself “why in the world didn’t you say anything when I was making an appeal in the meeting”? Finding allies to change the direction of a group means asking them to make a commitment to speaking in public before and after you make your pitch. It means verbalizing their own reasons at the time.

    How many allies do you need? It is a mistake to think you have to convince all or even half the members. You just need to have enough to make an impression that you are a political force within the group to be reckoned with. What that means is that the majority will be affected by your presence and your views will be taken into consideration even if they are not discussed. In a group of sixteen, three or four people is enough. In other words, about 20-25% of the group.

    Anticipate the objections of the majority and rebut them

    Between meetings, Antonio drew up on paper three columns. In the first column he put the names of the people he thought would be opposed to his proposal. In the middle column, in bullet form, he listed their objections. In the last column he rebutted their objections, as much as he could, and committed his arguments to memory. When he made his proposal at the next meeting, he said something like, “I know there are significant objections to my proposal. Some of you may feel that it drags the program out even longer than it already is. Others may feel like having two weeks off with no group structure might cause a relapse to being violent. Well, I thought about that and here is my answer”.

    He didn’t name the people who might object, he simply named the objections. That kept those members from being put on the spot and less likely to be defensive. He didn’t pull out the paper and read it. That would be perceived as being too lawyer-like and might be a turn-off. He also didn’t name every possible objective because that would be overkill. He could save those objections if he needed them for another round of group discussion. Anticipating objections and rebutting them like this will build up his credibility: “Wow, Antonio has really thought about this. He’s done his homework. He’s serious” these members might think to themselves.

    Be Flexible

    None of these group members will want to follow the proposal of someone who seems rigid or fanatical. Even if Antonio is right about everything, it is better to intentionally give ground on the little issues. People are far more willing to work with you, if they feel that you are dialectical and can go back and forth on an issue and concede points. Antonio did do this and we think this is one reason he was able to keep his allies.

    Present your message so that it appeals to the whole of the group

    As much as possible, try to make the claim as an appeal to the interests of the group as a whole. In Antonio’s case, he suggested to one of the counselors that his proposal would be welcomed by counselors so they would get a break too. He also argued that this would be better for the men who enrolled in the problem long after Antonio’s cohort graduated. Of course, there is Antonio’s self-interest involved. However, as much as possible, if there is some part of the proposal that appeals to wider interests, it might have a better chance of passing.

    Seize spatial seating advantages on the day of the meeting

    It is very important that if there is any flexibility in the seating arrangements that Antonio take full advantage of them. If the tradition of the group is for everyone to be seated (including the counselors) it will be too much for Antonio to stand to make his proposal. But if it is possible to stand without it seeming weird as the act of standing commands more authority than sitting.  In addition, Antonio had three allies. On the day of his presentation he made sure that each of his allies were evenly spread out so that they could see each other and interpret others’ body language. Also, if they were spread out, they appear to be independent voices rather than as part of a clique. One ally spoke before Antonio, and one spoke after Antonio. They all gave different reasons for wanting the break every eight weeks.

    Present your message so that is part of a plan

    Since the counselors already suggested that they would go along with Antonio if the breaks were every eight weeks, the structure was set. However, he still had to convince the rest of the group. Would the eight-week break proposal go into effect immediately or would it be gradual? Since some group members were not convinced that extending their program an extra five weeks was a good idea, Antonio suggested that they try two breaks in the next 16 weeks and then revisit the proposal.

    Having a plan also means having an articulated division of labor as to who will do the work, a timeline for each step to be taken as well as some measurable indicator of whether the proposal was a success or not. Antonio and his allies agreed to write up a questionnaire at the end of the 40-week program and ask members on a scale of one to ten how successful the proposal was. The questionnaire also included essay questions, asking what group members did with their time off, and whether they had any violent incidents during that time.

    Meta-communicate: reveal the steps you took to move the majority to other group members

    Antonio’s methods should not be kept secret by Antonio and his allies. Antonio should reveal all the steps in this article to his fellow group members so they too could try to influence the majority of the group on other issues. In this way, the twelve formerly complicit members of the group move to become active minorities so that the group maximizes its collective creativity by making all members capable of transforming the group. In this way, leaders would be reduced in stature because the seat of creativity will be the group rather than the leaders.


    All members of a group are always co-responsible for what happens to it, whether we like it or not. Most of the time most members in groups are dragged along in the galleys of groups unaware of what is happening, stupidly blaming leadership or annoying individuals for what happens in the group while doing nothing about it. But it doesn’t have to be this, as this article tries to demonstrate. Complicit members can become active minorities who demand that majorities come to life and maximize their resource basis through collective creativity of the group. To do that is to revolutionize group dynamics.

    • First published in Planning Beyond Capitalism

    Neoliberal Psychological Romanticism: From the Primal Scream to the Collective Unconscious Part II


    In Part I of this article, I begin by grounding neoliberal psychology in the political and economic reality of neoliberalism between 1970 to 2020. First, we discussed the historical origins of neoliberalism, and then its economic exploitation, mystification and ideological use to control people. I briefly discussed the realities of the practice of neoliberal economic policies which has resulted in cannibalization of the infrastructure. Further, I show thirteen instances in which neoliberalism shows its class bias. Neoliberalism is an ideology because the upper and upper middle classes of society do not use neoliberalist economic policies on its own class. It is only applied to neoliberal practices when it comes to middle-class, working-class and the poor who experience this cannibalization.

    In practice, neoliberalism strips the individual of his social, qualitative, historical and cross-cultural connections so that all social life can be reduced to a quantitative, measured and calculating cost-benefit analysis. Everything is saleable and reduced to a price. At a micro level, neoliberal psychological realism results in what is called the “entrepreneur self”. This entrepreneurial self is manifested in at least five areas in which neoliberal psychological realism takes place:

    • in the thinking processes of the working class;
    • in the commercialization of child development;
    • in the relationship between Barbie-doll toys and the obsession with being thin;
    • in hookup sex; and,
    • in the preoccupation with living in the present through its ideological use of “mindfulness” psychology.

    In this Part II article, I discuss two forms of romantic resistance to neoliberal psychological realism: humanistic psychology and the human potential movement on the one hand, and New Age spirituality on the other.

    To counter the entrepreneurial self of realist psychology, romantic psychology develops an “expressive” self that was the result of the work of Maslow, Rogers, Fritz Perls and Arthur Janov. This expressive self peaked in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The other kind of romantic psychology is in cultivating what I call a “mystical self” as embodied in the work of Carl Jung, Mircea Eliade and Joseph Campbell. This “spiritual psychology” peaked in the early 1980’s and continued to cultivate followers at least well through the 1990’s.

    In the next few pages, I will review selectively some features of romantic neoliberal psychology as they relate to the humanistic psychological construction of an expressive self. Please see Table A for a deeper comparison between the entrepreneurial self of Part I and the expressive self.

    The human potential movement early years: New Deal liberalism

     Abraham Maslow

    The seeds of romantic psychology began in the United States, not in the 1960s, but decades before. Maslow was very influenced by the anthropological, cultural relativist work of Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead. Both anthropologists challenged the progressive theory of cultural evolution. They were extremely sympathetic to tribal societies and each championed what they thought were their liberating sexual practices. (This anticipated the sexual revolution of the 1970s). The neoliberal political and economic movement began with the Freiburg Circle in the 1930s at roughly the same time. Abraham Maslow began his optimistic quest to rescue psychology from the clutches of what he felt was the pessimism and determinism of Freudians and behaviorists. Maslow first mentioned his famous “peak experiences” as far back as 1946. According to Joyce Milton (The Road to Malpsychia), Maslow was a New Deal Liberal, and as late as 1960, Maslow maintained a respect for Marx. Among his most enthusiastic students was Abbie Hoffman who switched his major to psychology and took every class Maslow offered.

    Carl Rogers

    Parallel to Maslow, Carl Rogers, another humanistic psychology heavyweight, began studying at a liberal theological seminar in NYC in 1924. Five years later he worked for twelve years on the front lines of counseling, working with problem teenagers and abused children as a staff psychologist in Rochester, New York for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. He developed a following among social workers and pastors.

    In the early 1960s, Rogers published On Becoming a Person which outlined his version of Maslow’s self-actualization. Increasingly, Rogers was critical of most institutional authority including psychiatrists, and this translated into how he did therapy in the 1960s and 1970s. Rogers did his best to level the playing field, insisting that a person’s emotions and personal experience were the most important guides to health. Rogers became a champion of self-directed therapy in which the client determined the goals, processes and when they ended therapy.

    Esalen Institute

    The home of the human potential movements in the 1960s and 1970s was Esalen, located in Big Sur, California.  The two co-founders, Richard Price and Michael Murphy had different ideas about where Esalen was going. Michael Murphey identified more with a mystical tradition, having studied with Sri Aurobindo in India. Richard Price was more sympathetic to the experiential, drug-taking wing of Esalen. Throughout most of the 1960s, Esalen was closer to what Murphy wanted. This changed in the latter part of the 1960s with the wave of LSD use on a mass level and the growth of a counterculture.

    Shift to romantic neoliberal psychology

    By the early 1970s Esalen had moved from a more moderate, discipled approach to a drug-using, “winging it“ orientation. There was a willingness, and, in fact, an expectation by group leaders that people experiment with LSD. Fasting, trance states rebirth rituals, dream work, social nudity and group dancing were par for the course. Sexual encounters within group sessions were common.

    The cathartic theory of the emotions

    The foundation for virtually all humanistic psychology was the cathartic theory of the emotions. However, the venting approach to the emotions did not originate with therapists. It has roots in the Greek concept that audiences watching a stage play and emoting along with the story serves a cathartic purpose. Aristotle felt that viewing a tragic drama would allow catharsis to occur for the audience, draining off pity and fear. According to Joyce Milton, the cathartic method as a mental practice within the field of medicine was introduced in 1877 by Josef Breuer, perhaps best known for his theory of hysteria and his use of hypnosis. Later these ideas were taken up by Freud. In the hands of humanistic psychologists, the cathartic theory states that emotions are like steam under pressure. If not released, they will explode. Emotional ventilation is supposed to relieve inner frustrations.

    This theory was carried on in groups with Will Schutz’s encounter groups and Fritz Perl’s Gestalt groups. Therapists taught people to scream, beat pillows and confront each other. This also occurred in individual therapy with Janov’s Primal Scream therapy along with a spinoff group, “Center for Feeling Therapy.”

    Group Cathartic theory: Will Schutz and Fritz Perls

    Social psychologist Will Schutz helped to transfer relatively tame “sensitivity groups” in the 1950s to the dramatic encounter groups that began in the mid-sixties.

    Schutz conducted the groups as marathon weekend-long events in which sleep deprivation eroded inhibitions. After 24 hours without sleep, open and honest expression as well as actual tears, seemed to flow more easily. (Encountering America, p. 195)

    Fritz Perls was trained as a psychiatrist and Reichian therapist and led his first encounter groups in the mid 60s: Jessica Grogan tells us:

    In contrast to traditional encounter groups that relied on the self-direction of the group, Perls held the reins in his groups. He utilized the concept of the “hot seat,” a position in which the seated individual received his full attention. Another empty chair was set beside the seated individual and served as an object of projection (it became the victim’s mother or father).

    Perls then proceeded in the words of one Esalen historian to take the person apart by noticing and commenting on every defense mechanism, every body posture, every quiver of voice or eyes. Instead of allowing group members to interact with the hot-seated individual, Perls assumed full control while the group watched on in silence, and often, awe. After a brutal dissection of his subjects, Perls measured his success in tears. He then attempted to re-integrate the fractured person in order to create all new gestalt or whole person (Encountering America, p. 197)

    Arthur Janov and the Center for Feeling Therapy

    About the same time humanistic psychology was “letting it all hang out” at Esalen, in Los Angeles, Arthur Janov was developing what he called “primal therapy”. According to Janov, almost all of people’s problems centered around their parents not giving them the right amount of attention. The way Janov took his clients back in time to the original parental deprivation was a three-week isolation regimen with no external stimulation. When alone and not in therapy sessions the client was not to smoke, drink alcohol or coffee, watch TV, listen to the radio or talk on the phone. They were now raw enough to be taken back to the primal scene. As they got closer, they screamed more and more at their imagined parents. The idea was that once you got the screaming “out of your system” it was possible to begin living a full life instead of through muffled anger at parents.

    In early 1979 A spin-off of Janov’s emerged, the Center for Feeling Therapy.  They followed Janov’s method of having the new client stay in a secluded motel room alone for three weeks. A new client of the center met with a therapist in marathon three to seven-hour individual sessions during which the person was attacked and criticized. Over the next 10 years, the center grew very successful. There were 350 patients living near one another and sharing homes. As often happens in cults, the demands of the therapists grew more bizarre and at the end all twelve therapists associated with the center lost or surrendered their licenses.

    The problem with the construction of a romantic, expressive self is not just that the therapists had no scientific basis for the cathartic theory of the emotions, but that they stirred people up on marathon weekends but offered no structure for them to integrate all of what was stirred up after the weekends were over. Several suicides at Esalen in 1968-1969 served as painful indications of the Esalen staff’s inability to provide comprehensive services for the mess they had created. For more on the dark side of the human potential movements, see Singer and Lalich’s book, Crazy Therapies.

    The sun sets on the romantic expressive self

    The numbers of those involved in the counterculture during the 1967 Summer of Love was no more than 100,000 people. But by the early to mid-1970s “flower power” had become mainstream and hippiedom had arrived. As the counterculture became a more mainstream phenomenon, psychology found a new life in self-help books. From 1972 to 1979, self-help books mushroomed across bookstore shelves, but many were written by authors untrained in psychology. Nevertheless, as in any large bookstore, the psychology section contains at least 10 shelves of self-help books for every shelf of books that attempted to uphold some scholarly standard. Many self-help books actually disparaged psychotherapy directly.

    By the mid-1970s, the humanistic movement seemed more self-indulgent rather than awakening a higher and deeper self. After 1975, Association for Humanistic Psychology (AHP) participation began to decline. In 1976 and 1977, the annual conference attracted about 2,000 participants. By 1980 that number was 1,000. Literary critics turned on the field and John Updike wrote that the American ride had run out of gas. The expressive self was withering on the vine.

    Neoliberal Romantic Spiritual Psychology: The Mystical Self

    In the early 1970s, feminist women’s spirituality was in crisis. On one hand, women fought for more inclusion within Protestant, Catholic and Jewish religious institutions. But for other women, all the world religions were patriarchal. They were drawn to pagan and neo-pagan traditions. Many joined already existing magical groups that centered on people like Aleister Crowley and the Golden Dawn, while others like Starhawk started wiccan groups from scratch. At the heart of this movement were goddesses and gods and their mythology. Psychologically, all these groups were more or less influenced (whether they knew it or not) by the psychologist Carl Jung, the historian of religion, Mircea Eliade and the mythologist Joseph Campbell.

    Commonalities between Jung, Eliade and Campbell

    All three were anti-modern, rejecting science and materialism. Their idealistic past was either the medieval world (Jung), 19th century Romanian peasant culture (Eliade), or the early American West, including Native Americans (Campbell). Jung and Eliade rejected democracy and flirted with fascism. Campbell dissociated himself from the 60’s anti-war and civil rights movements. He was not sympathetic to minorities, feminists or toward liberal social programs. Campbell once said he would flunk any student who took part in political activism. All three were anti-communist.

    All three mythologists developed a following in the United States. Why? On one hand, their theories went with the emerging anticommunism of the 1950s. On the other hand, they also corresponded to the growing uneasiness of the American middle classes and what they feared was too materialistic a way of life.

    All three mythologists were, in different ways, hostile to Judeo-Christian religions, all of which they believed were complicit in modernist problems. Modern religions denied the importance of spiritual experience and were marred in superstitious rituals and material wealth. For all three, mythological stories are really about solutions to common human problems that have been lost, marginalized or demonized by traditional religion. All three mythologists were followers of a spiritual gnostic tradition which says there is a hidden spiritual knowledge that the ancients were aware of, but which has been lost, thanks to modernity. This gnostic tradition teaches that the material world is not reformable and it is better to withdraw from it in order to perfect oneself.

    Though Jungian spirituality is eclectically Western, it is fair to say that Jung admired what he imagined to be pre-Christian German paganism. If James Hillman is any indicator, Jungian psychology is a modern version of the archetypal, polytheistic psychology of the Renaissance. The roots of Eliade’s religious beliefs are Hindu’s Vedanta tradition of yoga. According to Robert Ellwood, Campbell flirted with Hindu traditions but ultimately settled on the pagan traditions in the west, from Homer to the Holy Grail.

    Carl Gustav Jung and Wotan’s Return

    Collective unconscious

    In The Politics of Myth, Robert Ellwood tells us that after his break with Freud in 1913, Jung underwent a spiritual crisis and came out of it with an array of archetypes drawn from pagan sun-worshiping volkish mysticism to which he later added other western esoteric traditions such as alchemy. Jung took Freud’s personal unconscious and collectivized it, arguing that nations and races each had a collective unconscious which could be tapped through their mythology and ritual. Jung thought that levels of the unconscious lay like geological strata in the psyche. Mythology was to culture what dreams were to the individual.        

    In the modern world, the collective unconscious was repressed because modern religion has lost its ancient roots in mythology and ritual. Modern masses are alienated and lack the symbols, myth and rituals that would ground collective psychic energy and provide integration. Jung followed Ortega y Gasset in claiming that modern humans isolate socially from others, while also separating from their unconsciousness and instincts. To be fair to Jung, given this pessimism towards modernity, it is understandable that he flirted with the Nazi movement. Because of their rootlessness, modern humanity’s collective unconscious had more power and can be easily distorted into a monstrous hybrid which results in the worst of tribalism and modernism (Nazism). Jung realized this later.

    Mircea Eliade and nostalgia for the sacred

    Rejection of secularism

    Eliade fled Romania after it became a satellite of the Soviet Union in 1945. In the same year, he taught at the Sorbonne in Paris and then, starting in 1956, at the University of Chicago. In these roles he became the most important historian of religion of his time. Eliade radically and systematically rejected the very epistemological and ontological foundations of the modern secular world. He thought the object of the study of religion was beyond historical analysis. For Eliade, ordinary means of knowledge and experience are not only flawed but are a “Veil of Maya” over our knowledge of reality. He saw himself as caretaker of spirituality against the assault of secularism. Why should he not try to engineer a religious destruction of the confidence in secular consciousness?

    Eliade seemed to hold a degenerate theory of the history of religions. Rather than primitive societies consisting of backward, superstitious people, Eliade was all for Frazer’s description of bloody sacrifices, drunken banquets and carnivalesque masquerades as sacred activities.  Like Dumezil and other “order” theorists, Eliade felt that historical consciousness and modernity was a catastrophe for humanity’s sense of the sacred.

    Sacred space and time

    The arena of sacred time is myth, not history. Eliade believed that to live in historical time and place was to live under fallen conditions. Mystical experience was to live beyond history and place. Myth tells us of the eternal time of origins. Sacred space is the location in which myths are enacted. The world’s spiritual sites have common properties – they are perceived to be the navel, or center, of the world. This center is the cosmic tree where the perpetual regenerations of the world take place. Thus mandalas, mazes or labyrinths of medieval Christianity helps us to experience this center.

    Joseph Campbell and the New Quest for the Holy Grail

    The life of Campbell

    According to Ellwood, Joseph Campbell was the best known of all interpreters of myth for late 20th century Americans due to his lively and highly readable books, grand lecture hall performances and PBS appearances with Bill Moyers. He was born in 1904 to Irish-American parents and both his grandfathers arrived in the US as poor immigrants who escaped the Irish potato famine. Joseph’s father was a successful salesman who rose his family to upper-middle classes status which exposed Joseph to the arts and cultures of the world, allowing him to attend concerts, plays and museums. After being taken by his father to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, he cultivated a strong interest in American Indians.

    Spiritual influences

    Through Thomas Mann, Campbell met Indologist Heinrich Zimmer. When Zimmer died in 1943, Campbell received the responsibility of editing Zimmer’s manuscripts. The Zimmer connection enabled Campbell to become attached to the famous Eranos conferences which included scholars like Eliade, Gershom Scholem who had revived the study of Jewish Kabbala, Henry Corbin of Iranian mysticism, as well Jung. Campbell became a major figure in the world mythology with the publication in 1949 of The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

    Despite his flirtation with Indian religion, a trip he made to India made him think twice because of the poverty and the disease he witnessed. In the end, he turned westward. Besides Native Americans, Campbell was drawn to Homer’s Odyssey and stories of the search for the Holy Grail. From 1959 through 1968 he wrote a great four-volume world mythology.

    According to Campbell there are four functions of myth:

    • a mystical experience to awaken and maintain a sense of awe and gratitude;
    • an image of the universe in accord with the knowledge of the time (in the sciences);
    • implementation of a moral order; and,
    • to give an account stage by stage through life.

    20th century myths: individualism in space: Star Wars

    In the application of myths to today, Campbell was no reactionary. He proposed the place for myths to play themselves out today was in Outer Space. This is our mythology in a way that is comparable to the role of Arthurian fantasy in Victorian England and Wagner’s heroes in Wilhelmine Germany.

    Ellwood makes a very interesting comparison between Star Trek and Star Wars as a way to demonstrate Campbell’s individualistic roots. Star Trek was about cooperation between the crew, not the individual. It isn’t even about the patriotism of, say, the United States. The crew members included people of many ethnicities. It was about humanity in space. In these episodes there was a direct struggle for power between humanity and extra-terrestrial civilizations. In the case of Star Wars, the theme was about the individual heroism of Luke Skywalker. In Star Wars, Arthurian legend and Wagnerian cycles of myths all show the ultimate futility of grasping for power.

    Politically this has conservative implications.  How convenient this is to encourage people to withdraw from political power and engagements into the private world of mythological journeys. What kind of society would Campbell’s view of myth construct? Most likely a society of heroes like the characters of Star Wars who follow their own myths. Meanwhile a ground-crew of non-heroes (the working class) sing about heroes and the songs that keep the social order together. It is ironic that in spite of his conservative politics, he was extremely popular at Esalen.

    The mystical self as the playground of the upper classes

    What kind of Americans were drawn to Jung, Eliade and Campbell?

    Interestingly the publisher of both Campbell and Jung’s work, Bollington, was owned by Paul Mellon, related to Andrew Mellon who was one of the wealthiest men of that time. Given the conservative tendencies of Jung and Campbell, it is not surprising that they found so much money to “spread their word” at a time of rabid anti-communism in the fifties, and as a reaction to the liberal and radical sixties with its expressive self.

    Overwhelmingly, those drawn to Jung, Eliade and Campbell are upper middle-class and upper-class wealthy people – doctors, lawyers, architects and ministers from the upper middle-class as well as the independently wealthy. They are people who laid low during the 1960s and 1970s and then stepped forward into the vacuum left by the human potential movement. They became the upper-class version of the swing to the right-wing politics. This was happening at the same time when the lower classes were gravitating towards a right-wing fundamentalism in the churches of the South.

    The place and misplace of romantic self

    As I said at the beginning of Part I, romantic emotional and spiritualist selves are two different answers to the experience of feeling trapped by neoliberal modern social conditions and realist psychology. Their proposals are either to flee from all social relations (expressive self of the human potential movement) or to search for a premodern social life based on an organic community. Their reaction is either for the individual:

    1. to detach from society and rebel emotionally, or;
    2. to reject the associative, social contract relations of modern life, not by denying our social identity as the expressives do, but to dissolve into pre-modern social life as in the Middle Ages or into pre-Christian paganism.

    Please see Table B for a more exhaustive comparison between the expressive and mystical selves.

    Neoliberal Psychological Realism: from Barbie Dolls to Hook-up Sex  


    In this two-part article, I trace facets of neoliberal psychology over a 50 years period, from 1970 to present. The first facet of neoliberal psychology is the “realist” phase in which capitalists strip the individual of as many of our social, qualitative (as opposed to quantitative) relations as well as our historical and cross-cultural identities so that everything can be reduced to an economic, quantitative, measurable, calculating short-term cost-benefit analysis. Every activity is saleable and reduced to a price. This psychology will be expressed as it applies to developmental psychology, toys, sexuality, thinking processes and attention span. This will be the subject of Part I.

    The second facet of neoliberal psychology is its romantic dimension. At the same time that neoliberal realist psychology was stripping the individual of his social and historical identity, some middle and upper middle-class individuals fled into what I call “romantic” neoliberalism which included humanistic, emotional expressive psychology popular throughout the 1970’s. Beginning in the mid to late 1970s and going through at least the rest of the 20th century was a kind of new age spirituality. This will be the subject of Part II.

    Taken together, there are three kinds of self under neoliberal psychology:

    Entrepreneurial self: realist psychology — Alexander Rustow

    Expressive self: romantic psychology — Maslow, Rogers, Perls

    Mystical self: romantic psychology — Jung, Eliade, Campbell

    Romantic, emotional and spiritualist selves are two different answers to the experience of feeling trapped by modern social conditions and realist psychology. Its reaction is either for the individual to:

    1. detach from society and rebel emotionally; or;
    2. reject the associative, social contract relations of modern life, not by denying our social identity as the romantics do, but to dissolve into pre-modern social life as in the Middle Ages and pre-Christian paganism.

    Exploitation, alienation and mystification in bourgeoise psychology

    In my two-part argument, What is Socialist Psychology? I argued that bourgeois psychology strips the human species of its social and historical identity and treats this isolated, alienated individual as ground zero of human psychology. Then it tacks on the social and historical dimensions as after-effects, as derivatives which weakly interact with this self-subsisting individual. On the other hand, in order to understand neoliberal psychology in a socialist, macro-cultural way, the dynamic between society and the individual under capitalism needs to start from work relations in terms of exploitation of the workers’ surplus value by the capitalists.  In addition, there is alienation of the workers:

    • in the commodities produced;
    • in the work process itself;
    • from other workers on the job;
    • from power settings where work processes are decided; and,
    • from themselves.

    In addition, the mystification of relations between capitalist and worker is such that workers develop what Marx called “false consciousness,” believing their conditions are not exploitative, alienating or mystifying. Because bourgeois psychology excludes any of these powerful concepts, it cannot successfully explain the unhappiness of people in capitalist society in any kind of systematic manner.

    While the oppression of people may ultimately depend on state violence, it is far more cost-effective if one can convince people that this system of oppression is natural and unchangeable. Propaganda works best as an ideology that denies, minimizes and misrepresents realty. As it turns out, exploitation, alienation, mystification and ideology are necessary ingredients in the ruling classes’ recipe for controlling workers.

    The power of ideology

    Paraphrasing Carl Ratner in his book Neoliberal Psychology, ideology includes at least the five following techniques:

    • Deny the truth of oppressive features of society;
    • Fabricate positive features of society;
    • Acknowledge certain injurious effects of oppression with the qualification that they are necessary evils that ultimately lead to improvement and fulfillment;
    • Acknowledge certain injurious effects of oppressions while attributing them to extraneous factors—mistakes, human frailty, or psycho-biological factors that ignore the real causes of problems in political economy; and,
    • Present alternatives to the status quo and make them appear an oppressive, evil, extreme, unnecessary and unfeasible.

    The whole point is on focusing upon rare, extreme, or sensational cases so as to narrow attention to individual causes of bizarre events. Focus is on individuals, not structures.

    Origins of neoliberalism as a political economy

    Carl Ratner argues that neoliberalism’s predominate ideological construct is called “entrepreneurialism”. This is the latest incarnation of individualism which began in the United States in the early 19th century. This term was invented by Alexander Rustow and other members of a neoliberal group called the Freiburg Circles in the 1930s. This was a right-wing reaction of economics of the Austrian school and its intellectuals in reaction to the Keynesian policies of FDR. In 1947 they met in Switzerland to found a Neoliberal society. It was convened by Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and Gary Becker. They were all anti-communists.

    The main theoretical architect of neoliberalism in the late 1950’s was James Buchanan. He led the neoliberal charge to destroy the institutions of the “matriarchal” state such as pensions, public education, unemployment and food stamps because it fostered underproductivity of the lower classes.

    By the late 1970’s, economist David Kotz says that capitalist classes of the core capitalist countries responded to the reforms of the New Deal by abandoning the capital-labor compromise which developed in the early 1950’s and attacking the trade unions. They lifted the state regulations governing capitalists and their bankers. The expansion of finance capital through credit increased the gap between industrial capital and finance capital, much of which produced no goods or services.

    In her book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, Jane Mayer discusses history of the Koch brothers neoliberal political-economy empire. Mayer explains that their unpopular policies had been used to fund alternative, private, secretive, organizations that influenced academic institutions, think tanks, courts, legislatures and the presidency.

    In spite of all this, Keynesian New Deal economics worked well throughout the 1950s to the mid- 60s. As Ratner says:

    What likely troubled the capitalist class most was the fall of the rate of profit after 1966. In the 1970s, US capitalism suffered a legitimacy crisis as the economy was mired in high inflation, unemployment and slower growth. The capitalist class mobilized politically in the 1970s. The laws regulating corporate political donations were changed. Neoliberal capitalism gave rise to some 25 years of relatively stable economic conditions after 1980. (Neoliberal Psychology, p. 53)

    Thirteen reasons why neoliberalism is an ideology and not a practice

    Neoliberalism claims to want to make society more productive by stripping off every layer of social life that is not strictly economic and reducing it to the micro-social relations of individuals competing in a market. Thus, for neoliberals every interaction is a transaction. A transaction is a short-term economic exchange where inputs and outputs are quantitatively measured with no state or social mediation. As Margaret Thatcher once said, “there is no society, only individuals”. But, in fact, this is an ideology because it contradicts what neoliberals actually do when it relates to their own social class. Here are some examples:

    • The neoliberal conference in 1947 was funded by corporate capitalism, not neoliberal individualists.
    • The Bank of England funded Hayek’s salary at the University of Chicago as well as the lectures Milton Friedman delivered.
    • Neoliberals form organizations in healthcare, education, legislatures, the justice system, space exploration, transportation and science. In other words, they conspired with each other, they didn’t compete.
    • They have established think tanks to control social policy. They didn’t let ideas of how the economy should be run as a “free marketplace of ideas”.
    • They started the American Legislative Exchange Council to integrate politicians with capitalists so that capitalists could write laws that politicians introduce into state and federal legislatures with lock-step uniformity.
    • At the very moment that neoliberals were writing their individualistic concoctions of capitalism — after World War II — capitalism had entered its monopolistic stage of the concentration of capital and property.
    • According to Ratner, entrepreneurs in the US compose only 9% of the population. “A few consultants and professionals (architects) have small businesses that fit that image.” (Neoliberal Psychology, p. 118).
    • Neoliberals surround themselves with collective institutions – The Chamber of Commerce, American Legislative Exchange Council and the Business Roundtable.
    • The rise of the bank conglomerates and financialization completely contradicts its individualist ideology.
    • Neoliberals undermine their own ideology with their imperialist foreign policy and militant interventions in foreign countries and overthrow democratically elected governments which do not submit to American economic and political demands. This is documented all over the world by Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine.
    • James Buchanan, who received his PHD from Friedman’s Department, was heavily funded by the Koch brothers;

    Neoliberal cannibalization of the infrastructure

    In practice, for the last 40 years neoliberalism has eaten away at the programs established by New Deal liberalism and this has been documented extensively. Since I want to address the psychological consequences of neoliberalism, I will be brief. Table A shows the effect of neoliberalism in six areas; hospitals, family life, workplaces, education, the capitalist state and financialization of life. There is a refusal to invest in the long-term consequences of the physical infrastructure (buildings, methods of harnessing energy) or the physical or mental health of workers. There is a stripping away of unquantified time such as hospital visits, break time, paid lunch, time at work. There is the destabilization of work schedules, decline in living stands and the narrowing of education to specialized knowledge to be able to do a job. In order to propagandize people to convince them that these conditions are normal, there is the marketization of language. This includes calling hospital patients “customers” or therapy patients “clients” or calling uber drivers “entrepreneurs”.  Therapists tell their clients to “invest” in a relationship. Small business owners are told to “leverage” their strategizes or “brand” their new organization; I am told that the teachers’ organization that holds my pension is conducting “wealth management’ for my “brokered” account.

    Neoliberal narrowing cognition of the working-class

    It is very important for neoliberalism to presents all classes as relatively equal, when in reality it needs low-wage workers to stay in their place and not think too expansively. Thanks to the work of Basil Bernstein on socio-linguistic codes, we have very clear distinctions between the way working-class students reason as opposed to how the upper-middle class students reason. We can imply this from their different uses of language. What Bernstein found is that upper middle-class students use universalistic meanings for words that can go beyond their jobs. Working-class students use particular meanings that are limited to their work. Unlike the upper-middle class, working-class students use simple and unfinished sentences where their full thought processes are likely to be cut off. Working-class students’ vocabulary is more limited and is more descriptive than analytic. In Piaget’s work, this translates as upper-middle-class teenagers thinking in a formal operational way while working class folks use concrete operations.

    Anyone familiar with Piaget’s stages of cognitive development would expect that upper middle-class adults would cultivate a more abstract form of thinking because this kind of thinking is necessary for lawyers, doctors, architects or engineers. If you are a bus driver or train operator, thinking more abstractly is less required to do your job. But if working-class and upper-middle class students are in school, how would these differences come to be? The short answer is the difference between going to charter schools or underfunded public schools as opposed going to private schools. Assuming there is a relationship between IQ scores and cognitive development, Ratner says there is a deterioration of verbal IQ scores among working class students between the ages of 8 to 11 and between eleven and fifteen years of age. In other words, the IQ scores were closer among students before the age of 8. However, after eight years of poor education working-class cognitive ability deteriorates.

    Capitalist marketing invades developmental psychology

    On the surface it may seem that developmental psychology has been in the realm of psychologists, educators and the children or adolescents they meet with in labs, field studies or in interviews. It came as a surprise to me to find that clothing manufacturers and advertisers were hard at work in the 1920’s and 1930’s to convince parents that they knew more about children than either psychologists or educators. Ratner points out:

    New emotions in parents and children were cultivated in the 1920’s and 30’s by clothing manufacturers and marketers in order to induce them to consume quantities of expensive clothing.

    Clothing merchants cultivated a distinctive new form of material love and material cognition of children. Merchants wrote quantities of articles and advertisements in trade journals and popular magazines expressing the following psychological themes (p. 159):

    Some examples of this are:

    • Mothers should express love for their children effusively
    • Children have an insatiable need for love
    • Children’s needs are great and must be satisfied quickly
    • Children like new stimulations. They are dissatisfied (bored) with stable, familiar conditions
    • Children are entitled to things
    • The good life is defined as having more material possessions
    • Children’s appearance is very important to their success and action
    • Children know themselves and are capable of making choices to make themselves happy
    • Parents do not really understand children’s needs and development and should not interfere
    • Children are impulsive, hedonistic and egotistical
    • Children identify themselves with material objects
    • Children are unique and require objects that bring out their uniqueness
    • Children want to grow up quickly
    • Mothers are insecure about rapidly changing social norms

    For the good life to be defined as an increase in material possessions, it serves capitalists to convince parents that they must express their love effusively through the accumulation of ever-new playthings for their children. How convenient it is for children’s appearance to be crucial to their identity and development and for children is identified with material options. Parents need to stop being old fuddy-duddies, for the times they are ‘a-changing.

    These clothing manufacturers and advertisers propagandized children’s emotions to be intense, impulsive and insistent and could only be satisfied by a whole industry of children’s clothing, toys and now a cornucopia of electronic gadgets. Children’s supposed independence and uniqueness had capitalist motives. As it turns out, the developmental category of “toddler” was not the invention of psychologists or educators but was originated by capitalists in the service of selling clothing products to parents.

    The Tyranny of Sleekness

    Barbie dolls

    If you are a woman, surely you remember Barbie dolls. In fact, according to Carl Ratner, 99% of three to ten-year-old girls owned them. One of the major characteristics of Barbie is her waistline, which is 39% smaller than the waistline, not of the average woman, but of anorexic women. But what does that have to do with the lives of 3-11-year-old girls? Who cares what Barbie’s waistline is? Well, apparently young girls do. By the time they are eight, a whopping 40% percent wish they were thinner. By the time they are eleven, 79% wish they were thinner. According to neoliberal ideology, socialization is fairly superficial with each girl free to choose their personal meanings. But this research shows that girls’ “free choices” conform to commercial pressures in a very predicable way.

    But what does neoliberal capitalism gain by women striving to be thin? In terms of selling products, if women were happy with their body shape, they would buy the clothing that went with that shape and that would be the end of it. There would be no striving, dieting and dieting programs. However, if your model is a Barbie doll and you are over 12 years old, you are in trouble. Whether you are a teenager, young or middle adult female, no matter what you do you, whether you have children or not, you will not be able to maintain the waistline of an average twelve-year-old, or even an anorexic 12-year-old. But what you will be guaranteed to do is spend plenty of money on clothes, dieting, and exercising. You will be strung along the line for the rest of your life. There is a reason that Macy’s advertisements have 12-year-old girls dressed to the teeth to look twice their age.

    Fast food

    According to Ratner, of all the commodities that are bought and used, there is no commodity that can be bought and consumed as frequently as eating. One may like to buy new shoes, but unless you are Imelda Marcos, there is a limit to how many shoes you buy, and the same is true for clothing, cell phones and the like. However, no other commodity can be bought and consumed as frequently as food. You can eat food continuously for 16 hours a day; at work, with friends, driving a car, watching TV or being on the internet. However, what kind of food will it benefit capitalists that you buy? Hint, it is not the good quality food which takes a long time to digest and after which the person eating feels sated.

    It is the cheap food which is digested quickly and is extremely stimulating. While providing instant gratification, unlike healthy food, there is no real satiation. It just stimulates new cravings. Most importantly from the capitalist viewpoint, fast food guarantees weight gain. Who might suffer most from weight gain? All the women who want to have waistlines like Barbie. So, the capitalists have women coming and going. First, they are exploited in that they invest in diets, gyms, training programs to aspire to possess 12-year-old bodies. Then women are exploited in consuming the fast food and then these “overweight” conditions are reproduced because they have gained weight that makes them even further away from Barbie.

    Lean products express neoliberalism

    As Ratner insightfully points out, the ideological fanaticism about thin female bodies (white women, mostly) is not just about the shape of women, but the shape of all products under neoliberal capitalism such as thin, light consumer products including cell phones, flat panel TV screens, and lap top computers. It is also reflected in architecture that emphasizes sleek lines and sharp angles. Sleekness represents capital on the move. Neoliberal capitalists don’t want to invest in anything that is stable or takes time to grow. Like thin people, neoliberal capital is agile and changes direction quickly:

    • The investor is nimble in shifting capital to finance and does not get weighed down in infrastructure and its inevitable depreciation.
    • The employer is nimble in anticipating demands and delivering products “just in time.”
    • The employer is nimble in hiring and firing employees and keeping its labor supply to match sales, no more and no less.
    • The manager is nimble in shifting work to low wage areas and shifting supply chains to lower cost areas.

    Sleekness cannot tolerate waiting, training, saving, persevering, planning or considering things for the long-haul.

    Neoliberal feminism: hook-up sex – no deposit, no return

    It is tempting to think that casual sex is a male preoccupation and that most women, regardless of class, do not want casual sex. But as Carl Ratner points out, “hook up” sex in college is something actively pursued by upper middle-class women. These women make a cost-benefit analysis of who they want to have sex with.

    They see building their resumes, not finding boyfriends, as their main job. They do not want to deal with the complexities of managing a relationship through school. One claimed that having one-night stands made her a true feminist. From a macro-psychological standpoint, a contracting capitalist economy increases competition for work and its impersonal economic relations make romantic entanglements slow and sticky. Therefore, these upper-middle class students have adapted. Furthermore, to increase the chances of a successful uninvolved adventure, these women rely on each other to determine if their choice is a good match. Her girlfriends help her decide.

    Normal signs of affection such as eye contact, holding hands or cuddling are avoided. If students were good friends, if they have sex, they are to act like acquaintances. If they were acquaintances initially, they should act like strangers. If they were strangers before they engaged in sex, they should not acknowledge each other’s existence at all.

    These hook-ups are not a retreat or an escape from the world of political economy, but an expression of it. How?

    • Young women avoid personal intimacy and dependency just as people at work avoid personal loyalty or dependence.
    • Young women plan to have sex with anonymous partners who are similar to anonymous strangers who exchange products on the market.
    • Just as the job market is uncertain in terms of fluctuating work time, salaries, work sites and workers, so sex adventures are rotated, unplanned and insecure.
    • The commodification of one’s body and identity in the sexual world is a micro cousin to the macro world of selling one’s labor to the highest bidder.
    • The accumulation of impersonal sexual conquests matches the accumulation of commodities when shopping.
    • The termination of a hook-up after sex, as Ratner says, parallels the management of the termination of workers:

    Terse strategies are prepared and implemented by personnel staff for summarily informing workers to some brief counselling resources if necessary, and then often calling guards to physically escort workers off the premises. (p. 171)

    Ratner summarizes beautifully the macro cultural perspective on sexual hook-ups:

    It makes people more adaptable to neoliberal activities required at work, school, in shopping and medical encounters. Neoliberal sex makes it easy to transition from the bedroom to the workplace. Hook-up sex makes lovers better employees, managers or students.

    The concrete neoliberal consequences of macro cultural psychology are that individuals are agents of neoliberalism, just as Milton Friedman was.  Hook-up participants are neoliberal revolutionaries. (p. 173)

    These Neoliberal feminists tear down the ramparts of traditional sexuality, just as Friedman and Neoliberal economics tore down the ramparts of the New Deal state structures.

    Mindfulness as spiritual libertarianism: transition to romantic neoliberalism

    The image that might come to mind upon hearing the term “mindfulness,” at least to many middle or upper-middle class people, is of a solitary individual, probably a Buddhist, in a meditative posture with their eyes closed and happily detached from the outside world.

    But the reality of mindfulness, at least the strand of it that was started in the United States under the leadership of Kabat-Zinn, has a contradictory relationship to Buddhism. In his book McMindfulness, Ronald Purser points out that mindfulness is a four-billion-dollar industry and more than 100,000 books have the word “mindfulness” in them or a variation of that term in their titles. When I first heard of the term mindfulness twenty years ago, I thought about it as a Buddhist approach to therapy. There are mindful therapies such as “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy” that fit this category, but in the hands of Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness has been used in work settings, school settings, in politics, even in the military and at the World Economic Forums.

    Purser compares Kabat-Zinn to Deepak Chopra in terms of being a spiritual salesman. One of Kabat-Zinn’s books, Full Catastrophe Living, has sold over 400,000 copies and has gone through fifteen editions. He founded a stress reduction clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School as far back as 1979 – perfect timing with the neoliberal elections of Thatcher in Britain and Reagan in the US. Why associate Kabat-Zinn with neoliberalism?  Why would “McMindfulness” as Purser calls it, be considered right-wing or entrepreneurial? After all, Buddhists don’t usually appear to be right-wing people.

    McMindfulness’ spiritual individualism historically

    The upper classes in the United States by the middle of the 18th century were disgruntled with traditional western religions. A century later, the Transcendentalists – Emerson and Thoreau – focus on direct experience which had Eastern influences. For Emerson, the significance of Asian religions consists of assimilation of the present into the here and now. Thoreau read the Bhagavad-Gita at Walden Pond and drew on its ideas. By the end of the 19th century the libraries of upper-class Bostonians were filled with books not only on mysticism and Eastern religions, but also on the occult.

    But, as usual, something dramatic happened when Buddhism got transported to the United States. Buddhism was stripped of its social context and became privatized spirituality, a spiritual individualism. In the 20th century D.T. Suzuki’s revisionist version of Zen made Buddhist meditation individualist enough to suit the Beats in the 1950’s.

    Defining McMindfulness

    For Purser, “McMindfulness” is a Western colonialization of Buddhism which says the causes of suffering are disproportionally inside us. The underlying cause of dissatisfaction is our chattering mind. By failing to pay attention to what actually happens in each moment, we get lost in regrets about the past and fears for the future. All we need to do is close our eyes and pay attention to our breath. We might think that mindfulness would have something to do with critical thinking, but in mindfulness, critical thinking is not welcomed. On the contrary, it is pathologized. Other distractions to mindfulness include “doing”, which is seen as a distraction, as well as long-lasting emotions like anger.

    But suppose you are angry about racism and police brutality that happened two days ago?  Just “release”, go back to deep breathing and focus on the present. This sequestering of mindfulness from emotion, action and socio-political situations is central to the creation of a neoliberal psychology. To those who persist in suspecting that mindfulness leads to socio-political passivity, Purser says we are offered “trickle down” social change. According to Kabat-Zinn, people will naturally become social change agents as an automatic consequence of mastering mindfulness. However, there is no research that supports this.

    Mindfulness is presented as a context-free technology which is simply imported from the East and applied to the West.  But the mindfulness movement does have a context; namely, the late 1970’s when neoliberal economics was just starting.

    Ruth Whippman points out that the positive psychology movement has been funded by some of the most right-wing conservative organizations. The John Temple Foundation founded by an evangelical Christian billionaire… The Foundation has doled out millions of dollars in grants and prizes to positive psychology professors (McMindfulness, p. 32)

    After the 2008 crash, corporate capitalists got the fever for mindfulness and passed it down to their employees who were encouraged to do more with less. These employees were “rebranded” as entrepreneurs of the self, using mindfulness to take full responsibility for their performance. In other words, work harder, faster and be mindful along the way.

    Is Mindfulness Buddhist or not? Manipulation of Buddhism

    Though a follower of Theravada Buddhism himself, Kabat-Zinn left all mention of Buddhism out and replaced it with bio-medical terminology at his clinic and when he was attempting to receive public funding. When trying to sell Mindfulness to corporations, Buddhism is denied. But in New Age settings, with people hungry for awakenings that are spiritual, talk about “dharma” is suddenly present.

    Coming attractions

    But is there any resistance to neoliberal realism psychology? Is it all gloom and doom? After all, the era just before the rise of the entrepreneurial self in the 1980’s we had the human potential movement of the 1960’s and into the early 1980’s. What was the relationship between neoliberal realist psychology and the humanistic psychology of Maslow, Rogers and Perls? Furthermore, the early 1980’s also saw the rise of Carl Jung’s spiritual psychology along with the mythological work of Joseph Campbell. Both Jung and Campbell seem the exact opposite to neoliberal realist psychology. Are they opposites? Is there overlap? How do we understand the relationship? Answers to these questions and more will be found in Part II of this article.• First published at Socialist Planning Beyond Capitalism

    A Story of Resurrection

    Trauma creates change you don’t choose. Healing is about creating change you do choose.
    — Michelle Rosenthall

    A feature on a local person usually doesn’t go down the rabbit hole of a person’s trauma and her battles scraping to get out of darkness.

    A few artists I’ve interviewed  unleashed catharses into their personal journeys, including personal hells; however, after reading my drafts, many have declined to “expose” so much of their lives for public consumption. The exposing of one’s trials and tribulations is powerful to readers, but many times opening up in person is easy; seeing it in print is devastating.

    “Out of sight, out of mind” is not a great place to find healing, though, and a person like Oregon Coast resident Kiera Morgan faces those demons head on. She embraces the good, bad and ugly of her totality.

    The Central Oregon Coast (where I live) has remarkable narratives of people who face down homelessness, incarceration, depression, poverty, illness — what some call the school of hard knocks to the tenth power. Trudging out of the dark into the bright burning light serves up powerful survivors’ tale. It is a microcosm to the rest of the USA, the world.

    Kiera Morgan fits this to a tee. I met her last year at Depoe Bay’s Neighbors for Kids (a non-profit for families in need of a place for children to be when parents are working) while I was giving a presentation on an anti-poverty program I am heading up in Lincoln County.

    Her nose for news quickly motivated Kiera to get me on camera for her weekly show, “Coffee with Kiera.” This is a newish Lincoln County digital platform of her own creation: Pacific Northwest News and Entertainment.

    A few months later, here I am talking to her on phone, my first interview conducted with the impersonal tools of social distancing.

    I ask Kiera several times — “Are you okay with the dirty laundry aired and published in a newspaper?”

    I am not ashamed of where I came from. I think my story could be a learning lesson for others.

    ACES — the deck is stacked

    Her story is one of reclamation — radio DJ-ing, theater and a newshound background. She has been out here since 1994. Setting down coastal roots entailed pain, struggle and personal discord. Kiera is now at her sweet spot — a good marriage to Tony Thomas (with Rogue Brewery in Newport  for 12 years) and her own involvement in civic and community programs.

    She has been on (or is currently a member of) such diverse advisory boards as the Salvation Army, Retired Seniors Volunteer Program, Partnership Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse and Central Coast Child Development Center.

    Sort of the “why” of Kiera’s involvement in these social services non-profits weaves back to her early years as well as her adulthood: she was born in Idaho 55 years ago; moved to Bend; ended up in Gresham by the age of five. She’s spent time in Portland, Pendleton, Sweet Home and, finally, the Central Oregon Coast.

    Though she’s not “just” defined as a child of early divorce, Kiera recalls a stepdad who was an abusive alcoholic. She ended up emotionally and physically battered.

    We bring up ACES — Adverse Childhood Experiences. I’ve worked in education, with gang prevention programs, newly released prisoners and foster teens. Training around ACES, I was galvanized to in understanding my students’ and clients’ childhood traumas. Those negative events early on have concrete outcomes — future violence victimization and perpetration, lifelong physical and mental health issues, substance abuse, homelessness and plethora of lost opportunities as adults.

    The adage, “it takes a village to raise a child,” is pivotal in how society should create neighborhoods, communities and situations where children can thrive. Letting children fall through the cracks and live in abusive, impoverished homes nullifies many possibilities of a thriving adulthood.

    Kiera emphasizes how our communities pay for this as fellow citizens get involved in substance abuse, are challenged with illiteracy and fall into myriad unhealthy lifestyle “choices.” As a community, we pay in many ways for these people failing through the cracks:

    Poverty, violent parents, substance abuse in the household and being a foster youth are all high-influencing ACES.

    Kiera ticks off all of the above. Her biological father was out of the picture, she says, not because that was his choice. Her mother was not emotionally sound to break away from an abusive husband, her step-father.

    She moved in briefly with her biological father who was a chef and baker in Rhododendron at an operation centered around rental cabins.

    “I would go to the restaurant for meals,” she says, emphasizing how she rode her bike to friends’ homes, and was able to hang with farm animals at her friends’ parents’ farms.

    “My dad was good-natured, a very positive person. He would literally give the shirt off his back to anyone in need. He was a happy man, and everyone called him, Hap.”

    Getting back up

    Kiera’s time with her biological father ended when a private detective, hired by Kiera’s mother, stated he saw Hap letting his young daughter hang out by herself in their cabin while her father was just around the corner working in the restaurant.

    More ACES: whipped by her step-father, and bruises on her body. “I literally had the design of his belt on me because he hit me so hard.”

    Her biological father would show up to his sister’s house. They called the police once, and the step-father told the officer the marks were evidence of normal disciplining. Nothing happened to the abuser.

    The young Kiera witnessed her stepfather’s heavy drinking. She had the marks of being swatted and belted, and she held in the emotional pain. The vicious cycle of a mother allowing the abuse of the child by a male step-parent put Kiera front and center into his rage. She was grabbed by the throat, her hair pulled and head slammed against the wall.

    The next day the sixth grader showed a teacher the fingerprint bruises on her neck and welt on the back of the head.

    Is this proof enough, or do I have to die before you believe me?

    This journey has more twists and turns in Part Two published on the OCT website, but as one bookend to her life, Kiera reiterates, “I want to be like my dad — loving and a smile on my face. It’s important for me to expand my web site. It puts me at peace knowing I can help others through the news site.”

    PTSD may stand for post traumatic stress disorder, but the label could mean Personally Tough Strong Dame after spending time with Kiera Morgan.

    So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive

    — Audre Lorde

    Kiera is open about her life, about survival. She recounts how she was living paycheck to paycheck in Sweet Home. She was with an alcoholic, a husband who “did get physical with me, punched me.”

    She emphasizes leaving an abusive spouse is not always an option. Kiera knows the psychological underpinnings of “battered spouse syndrome” by heart. She went back to this fellow many times.

    One instance, Kiera’s sister came to get her, and Kiera spent her time couch surfing, virtually homeless. She lived in her car. “Nine months pregnant. Jeff found out where I was. He told me he missed me. I knew better, though, but I went back to him.”

    The vicious cycle of believing a man can and will change when the bottle or the needle are more important in their lives is not atypical.

    At the end of her pregnancy, she was quickly feeling massive heartburn. Eventually she went to OHSU where she was diagnosed with toxemia, which meant bed rest. On Sept. 10, 1992, a six-pound, nine-ounce Nick was born.

    Foster parents bow out

    Being put into a foster home and being told that you are just like their own daughter is powerful. More impacting is having these foster parents tell you they are done fostering and want out of the deal.

    Kiera had that experience in 8th grade. Afterward, she got packed up and sent to a different foster home, this time in Gresham. “They had lots of kids. It was that they needed a babysitter for the other foster kids, and I was it.”

    Kiera laughs, telling me she constantly listened to the Billy Joel song, “My Life.”

    She had an older foster sister, aged 16, who stole and used drugs. “I could have easily gone down that path.”

    Her Aunt Jean told her that she was going to be her daughter. Another change in schools. “It was tough, even though I knew Aunt Jean loved me. I really loved music and that what really helped me get through some rough parts.”

    She was obsessed with record clubs, and she got into Queen, the Bee Gees, Journey, Cheap Trix and others.

    My aunt always encouraged me to work. I babysat and worked at an after-school program for a Montessori School.”

    Theater, she says, was a lifesaver for her. She was involved in the Overlook Acting Company that gathered in North Portland. She calls those people “my theater family.”

    She also got involved in the Big Sister program. That sister, Lois, paid for a plane ticket to go to Alaska so Kiera could visit Lois’s family. But tragedy struck — her biological father was killed in a sandstorm in Idaho, hit from behind by a semi. Kiera had only been in Alaska two days when she got the news of his death.

    She graduated from high school in 1983 at age 17 and went to work for a window treatment company.

    More tragedy. Her foster mom was aged 60 when she was diagnosed with an inoperative brain tumor. Kiera took care of Jean for three weeks, before she passed away.

    “I’ve been on my own since age 17.”

    After she died, an ex-husband of Lois showed and took away the house.

    Kiera was working in Beaverton for a dry cleaners, and then the day care center, and landed another job, at an Albertson’s bakery. There, she met a woman whose husband was director of the National Broadcasting School in Portland.

    Work, buses from one side of Portland to the other, and this amazing school. She graduated as valedictorian. Her first gig was with KFIR AM/FM in Sweet Home.

    It was a country station. “I had grown up on KGON since I was a baby. I was a rock ’n’ roller.”

    Country Western music grew on her.

    She ended up in an abusive relationship, but he was the father of her son. She ended in a domestic violence shelter in Pendleton. One thing led to another and she drove to Newport, found jobs and a house and ended up at the Shilo Inn as a DJ.

    She was in a small trailer up the Alsea River near Waldport, Oregon.

    Nick is 28 years old and had his first baby July 2019 with Amelia. Three years ago, Keira and Tony (they were married in 2001) bought a house in Newport Heights.

    Kiera’s life is one of struggle, but with plenty of highlights too: working for KZVS-Toledo, KFND, delivering newspapers, retail work for the Chocolate Basket. She also works for KSHL — the Wave, 93.7 FM — doing sales and PSAs.

    She and Tony have his son, Nathan, and girlfriend sharing the house with Rocky the cat and two shih tzus.

    Her takeaway at the end of the interview:

    I want people to feel hope.

    Q & A Rapid-fire

    PH: What makes you tick inside?

    KM: What makes me tick, is work. I am a hopeless workaholic. I like to stay busy and be in touch with what is going on around me.

    PH: What do you like about this county, this community?

    KM: What I like about Lincoln County and this community is the willingness to help others when they are in need. When the chips are down for someone or an event creates a situation where people need help, like right now, we step up and help.

    PH: What advice would you give a young woman who is in a viscous and abusive relationship? The elevator speech.

    KM: I would say to a woman in an abusive situation that they should use their best judgement to protect themselves and loved ones. Don’t always believe everything your abuser says. If you can get out and do so safely there are those who can help you recover and get back on your feet. Most of all get counseling!!

    PH: What are two big changes you have seen since first moving to Lincoln County almost 30 years ago?

    KM: One of the biggest changes I have seen is the effort to help those and a better understanding of homelessness. I think people now realize that those who are homeless are not that way because they are lazy, they are families who work but simply can’t afford high rents and costs of getting into homes or apartments with fees and credit checks. I am also proud of the changes being made to have a better understanding between law enforcement, the community and those who have a mental illness and the work to get them the help they need.

    PH: What are the top two issues that need addressing in Lincoln County?

    KM: One of the top issues that concerns in Lincoln County, in my opinion, remains the lack of quality child care! Families often can’t afford the high cost of child care so they turn to the next best thing. This is not always a safe choice but when we live in a county that is not a M-F, 9-5 community it leaves parents with little choice. There is an extreme lack of infant care. This makes two parent families choose between only one parent working or having to work opposite shifts, which puts a strain on families. If I have said it once I will say it a thousand times “you can’t have economic development without childcare.” Families need a safe place for their kids to go for them to be able to work, it also defeats the purpose when the parent is working is paying nearly all of their paycheck to childcare. Help from the state or from companies is essential. Homelessness would be the second. There are many options that could be explored that have been done in other areas including creating small house communities, instead of trailer parks that would be managed by programs such as Grace Wins or the programs in Lincoln City.

    PH: If you could do some things over in your life, what would they be?

    KM: I am old enough now to realize that the mistakes that we make in our lifetime are what helps us to learn and grow as a person and become better. Love and appreciate those you have in your life, as we truly never know when things can change.

    PH: What’s your basic life philosophy?

    KM: My basic life philosophy is happiness. Do what makes you happy, treat others with the respect and kindness that you would like to be shown.

    “De-Socialized” Self-Identity and Liberating Self-Awareness

    The unexamined life is not worth living.

    — Socrates

    From our earliest years, we are over-socialized.  An organized regimen of daily activity, we are taught, is the basis for a “productive” life.  Such “productivity” — unlike immeasurables such as deepening self-awareness — is later concretely identifiable in such acquisitions as university degrees, “positions,” “achievements,” and so on.  Of course, Calvinist-Puritan Europeans feared that “idle hands did the devil’s work” (sensuality, adultery, drunkenness, etc.).  To “keep busy,” by contrast, was to produce tangible results often beneficial both to self and community.

    But what of our highly active, even frenetic, daily lives in the early 21st century?  Of course, substantial effort is expended to develop “marketable skills” — in order to “earn money” and survive. Yet, within the oppressive constraints imposed on us every day, each person may nonetheless nurture an inner, contemplative space — perhaps ultimately unshareable but all-the-more uniquely individual for that.  In fact, as mega-corporate structures have tightened their control of people’s daily habits and inclinations (as in “algorithms,” “nudges,” surveillance, etc.), it becomes all the more imperative that each individual not only “choose-to-refuse” but also steadfastly cultivate an integrated self-identity (cf. my article, “The Sanctum of Self-Identity.”) Notwithstanding the prevailing ideology of “identity-politics” — in which unique individuals are reduced to mere social roles (of “race” and “gender”) — self-identity consists of one’s carefully-shaped values, ideals, critical intellect, and developing emotional/aesthetic temperaments.  In my earlier article “Marcuse: Art and Liberation,” I also insisted that the experience of humanistic art broadens and enriches individual awareness beyond the degrading limits of current social-economic status.

    De-socialization — the replacement of externally-imposed behaviors with radical non-compliance and carefully chosen goals of enlightenment and social-political activism — is facilitated by frequent moments of self-observation.  Some quick examples:

    1. Why am I anxious?  Was it something in ‘the news’?  Is it really necessary to follow the daily regurgitation of the ‘media’?”
    2. Why do I feel the insistent need to do something?  Is it fear that global crises are accelerating to the point-of-no-return?  Is this entirely true — or does fear-mongering by the media keep us glued to commercial-driven screens (and various forms of chemical and/or entertainment ‘escapes’)?”
    3. “Is my constant anger and resentment being manipulated and misdirected?  Am I becoming poisoned with hate — and toward group-label abstractions (“fascists,” “liberals,” etc.)?  How else might I confront human ignorance and bigotry?”

    Such observations may lead to the recognition of possibly self-destructive and/or anxiety-driven patterns.  (And, as well, the recognition that much of one’s daily activities are unnecessary.)

    Notwithstanding our ongoing historical struggle for an egalitarian-communitarian social order, each of us will remain substantially alone.  Indeed, this feeling of inner “privacy” — and thus, a modicum of “alienation” from others — is the price of self-directed autonomy and critical-thinking perceptions of others.  And with it, the enlightened self-realization which constitutes the most intimate form of liberation.

    What is Socialist Psychology: Child Development, History Shaping, Therapy and Revolutionary Situations:  Part II


    In Part I of this article I discussed how when Vygotsky’s work was exported to the United States it was narrowly defined as encompassing his work in child-development and cooperative learning. His interest in art history, European history and his commitment to Marxian political economy is barely mentioned. Secondly, I contrasted the differences between capitalist psychology and socialist psychology across the categories of psychological disorders, attitude towards social class, what is consciousness, motivation, emotions, intelligence, the place of the unconscious, consumptive patterns, work, free will and therapy. Then I showed how Marxian theories of individual human development differed from bourgeois nativist, behaviorist and constructionist theories of how people change. Lastly, I took a closer look at the similarities and differences between Vygotsky and his great rival, Piaget, in the following areas: the relationship between language and thought; the place of schooling in maturational development; and the role of adults in how children learn.

    In Part II, I will begin with the crisis that Vygotsky saw in western psychology. Then we will study his three-stage theory of how people learn (the zone of proximal development) in terms of child development. For the rest of the article, we will expand his theory of zones of proximal development beyond micro-psychology to three areas:

    • How the psychology of an entire class of people can change when historical circumstances require revolutionary change in occupational work
    • How the group rather than the individual is the focus of change in socialist therapy
    • How mass psychology changes during revolutionary situations that one author calls the “zone of proletarian development”

    I) Vygotsky, Luria and Leontiev and the Crisis in Bourgeois Psychology

    Somewhere in the late 1970’s when Vygotsky’s work was translated and published in paperback, neo-liberal psychologists covered up the fact that Vygotsky was a communist who wanted to build a Marxian psychology in the Soviet Union. They preferred not to know or care to know that it was impossible to understand fully Vygotsky’s work because it was based on a different ontology and epistemology. Dialectical materialist ontology and epistemology were foreign to the social contract theory that was the foundation of ontology and epistemology in the West, including the empiricist, behavioral or rationalistic systems.

    It was in 1924 that Vygotsky first identified what he saw as the crisis in western psychology. The schools of psychology in the West that were prevalent were Stern’s personalism, Freud’s psychoanalysis, Wundt’s introspectionism, Pavlov’s behaviorism and Kohler’s Gestalt psychology. In terms of today’s schools, personalism is like humanistic psychology; behaviorism in Vygotsky’s time was the conditioning of Pavlov. It was before the behaviorist work of B.F. Skinner. Gestalt psychology was closest to the cognitive psychology of today. While Gestalt focuses on lower levels of the mind, perception in cognitive psychology includes higher levels of cognition such as interpretations, explanations and assumptions.

    Against behaviorist mechanical materialism

    Vygotsky asked how do we understand the relationship between consciousness on the one hand and activity on the other? On the one hand he wanted to avoid the reductionism of behaviorism. Behaviorists argue that what goes on inside of people’s minds (consciousness) really doesn’t matter. Individuals are driven by past conditions and associations and the behavior that follows is a product of those associations.  Vygotsky criticized the behaviorists by saying higher psychological processes that take place in consciousness — thought, language, volition — originate as socio-historical processes that could not be explained by association-stimulus-response.  Human consciousness is constitutionally social not individual.  We set goals with others, develop plans for taking action and develop strategies for realizing the goals.

    At the same time, once we put our goals into actions with other people, we watch what happens and we learn from it. Some strategies work while others do not. From this we collaborate with others and set new and more refined goals, plans and strategies. We develop a practice. While some simpler human conduct is the result of previous associations which are unconscious, the most important part of human consciousness is purposeful and, most importantly, conduct is socio-historical activity not behavior.

    Behaviorists have a naturalistic approach that stresses human continuity with other animals. This is mechanical materialism. It doesn’t take into account the extent to which human society and history act as socio-ecological membranes (a “noosphere”, as Chardin might say) which house the structure for qualitative differences between humans and other animals. Human activity, human practice is both a product and co-producer of this socio-sphere.

    Against Introspectionism and Gestaltist Idealism

    Vygotsky also criticized Wundt’s empirical introspection for only dealing with the lower levels of consciousness such as attention, sensation and emotions in lab settings. (To be fair to Wundt, he did develop a “folk” branch of psychology which tried to account for the higher mental processes through the study of cultural products such as art and language.)

    Like introspectionism, Gestalt psychology limited itself to lower levels of consciousness, that is perception, which were governed by laws of Gestalt. The problem with Gestaltists, according to Vygotsky, is they treated consciousness as an independent function. Action for them was either a secondary derivative or they paid no attention to it. For Vygotsky, Gestaltists were philosophical idealist rationalists. What was in the mind had nothing to do with previous conduct or conditions. The laws of gestalt perception seem to come from nowhere.

    The crisis in psychology consists of an extreme dualism: behavior without minds or minds without actions. Vygotsky’s human practice, or activity theory dissolved the schizophrenic crisis in psychology. Human practice involves collective operations on objects through work. This creates consciousness, with consciousness grounded in social goals, plans and strategies. Consciousness is not floating above, or beyond human practice.

    Human socio-historical practice resolves the mind-behavior crisis

    Human practice is socio-historical, class mediated, irreversible and accumulating.

    Vygotsky believed that 1) the type of society, 2) the point in history and, 3) one’s class location mediated the relationship between individual actions and how the mind of the individual developed higher psychological processes. More generally, in strict Marxist terms, the level of the development of the productive forces (technology, methods of harnessing energy) and the relations of production (agricultural-bureaucratic, capitalist, socialist) and their dynamics and conflicts shapes how coherent or incoherent individual human practice becomes in terms of the tools used, the labor processes enacted with other people and the products produced.

    Human society, in its various historical expressions, mediates the relationships between objects in nature and the human psyche. The shape of our psyche — our thoughts, emotions, imagination and volitions — finds its leading edge or its degeneration based on what it invents in labor together with other human beings who are part of an irreversible historical process.

    II) Vygotsky’s micro-psychology of cooperative learning in individual development

    At a micro-level, Vygotsky has been called the father of cooperative learning. Vygotsky and his colleagues believed that all higher psychological processes begin and end as social processes. They originate first in structured, meaningful, cooperative and recursive local interpersonal relations between people. Only later do these skills become internalized, private and independent functions which individuals can carry out alone.  Finally, these skills are reapplied to the social world to larger contexts at a higher order of complexity.

    For example, in the interpersonal local stage, a father might work together with his son baking cookies. At first the dad does most of the complex activity himself and gives his son only the simplest tasks. Vygotsky called this part of learning “the zone of proximal development” because working socially is the leading edge of new individual learning for his son. But gradually the dad cedes more and more activities to his son. In the second, internalization phase the father will cede all activities to his son to see if he can do the baking activities himself. Now, suppose the dad wants to take his son to the next phase. He informs him that their neighborhood block is going to have a yard sale and he wants him to bake cookies as part of the sale. In order to involve his son in this project, he proposes again that they work together, only this time at a higher level.

    Why would baking cooks for a yard sale be any different from baking cookies for the son’s household? First, because they will be baking for strangers. This involves making cookies his son might not like. Second, he would have to think about baking for many more than two people. Third, he would have to decide on a fair price. While Vygotsky never coined a term for this third phase (which I am calling “global interpersonal”) I think he would be the first to agree that all psychological skills ultimately come back to the social world.

    Famously, Vygotsky’s work showed that all higher psychological processes do not begin inside of people the way Piaget or Heinz Werner may claim. Rather they begin in the structured, meaningful, recursive and cooperative relations between children and adults as they play and work. It is only later that the skills they learn become internalized. He called this first stage the “zone of proximal development.”

    III) Socio-historical psychology:  Luria and the Russian Revolution

    Vygotsky’s work concentrated on how children learn over a very short period of time. However, it tells us little about how adults learn over the course of generations. I am confident that Vygotsky would agree that adults continue to go through the same three phases of learning every time they learn to use a new tool or find a new occupation.

    But what about when a new economic system (capitalism) or technology (the printing press) revolutionized society as a whole? What happens to adults and their children when new systems emerge which require new occupations as well as upgrades of existing ones over many generations? Can this be traced? It already has!

    In the former Soviet Union, Alexander Luria set out to develop a new communist psychology, separating itself from the rationalist and empiricist traditions in the West. As we have seen, these rationalist, empiricist and behaviorist traditions treated the psychology of the individual as separated from the social and historical context in which he was produced. In the late 1920’s, Luria set out to demonstrate how the most basic psychological processes such as perception, the concept of self, how objects are categorized, and how people reasoned were changed by dramatic historical changes such as Russia’s transition to state socialism.

    To do this Luria asked questions of three groups: peasants who still lived on farms relatively untouched by the revolution. These were compared to peasants who moved from the farms to factories in the cities as well as those peasants going to school in cities. What Luria found was very different answers to his questions depending on whether people lived on farms or in cities. As peasants moved from the farmlands to the cities, their psychology changed. As they went to school and worked in factories, their perception, cognition, identity and categorization process became more abstract and universalistic. His point was to show that Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development could be applied to an entire class undergoing a rapid industrialization.

    Luria has since been rightly criticized for his misunderstandings of some of the peasants’ responses in his research questions. In part because of this, contemporary followers of Vygotsky’s work have distanced themselves from the historical side of socio-historical psychology, adopting the name “cultural psychology”. Mostly this is because Luria’s framework had embedded within it unilinear theories of social evolution as progress which have been discounted by cultural relativist anthropologists. As far as I know, by the late 1990’s, there have been no historical studies that attempted to apply Vygotsky and Luria’s theories to other historical periods. My two books, From Earth-Spirits to Sky Gods and Power in Eden attempted to do this in mapping the psychological changes among the different social classes they went through as they moved from the Bronze to the Iron Age.

    17th century example

    In general, changes in socio-historical institutions (such as the emergence of science, capitalism, absolutist states and new media (printing press, newspapers, coined money) demand changes in occupational skills by individuals in order to do their job within the new system.  These changes in job requirements then became internalized as psychological transformations, first at work and then at home in child-rearing practices, religious beliefs and recreational habits.

    As these institutional processes change over history, so do the psychological processes. For example, the 17th century was a vital time in developing a scientific methodology for experiments. It was also a time when merchants needed to increase the speed with which goods were consumed and produced. In the case of capitalism, this resulted in the increasing use of coined money, paper money, promissory notes and bills of exchange. In learning to use these new symbolic tokens, people had to reason differently. It is my contention elsewhere (Lerro, Lucifer’s Labyrinth, 2019)  that people needed to enhance the development of Piaget’s formal operational thinking in order to invent and then use these new symbolic tokens.  Whole societies can go through a zone of proximal development.

    Socio-historic zones of proximal development

    This socio-historical zone of proximal development goes through the following transformations:

    1. Ecological, demographic, economic and political crises require new forms of technology, economic exchange and politics in order to meet the crisis.
    2. Technological, economic and political changes in European society from the Middle Ages to the Gilded Age (such as the printing press, the telescope, microscope, double entry bookkeeping) provided the scene in which cooperative learning occurs on the job (zone of proximal development).
    3. These people (merchants, scientists or artists) then internalize what they’ve learned on the job and possess these learning skills independently for their private use as their subjective skills.
    4. These same workers then apply these skills to non-work social settings such as play, child-rearing or religious practices.

    In other words, the movement goes from social, to psychological to social.

    However, society is not static:

    1. New ecological, demographic, economic and political crises require new forms of technology, economic exchange and politics to meet the crisis.
    2. This requires new kinds of social institutions which invite new kinds of work.
    3. As people learn new work habits, new tools to use, new symbol systems to manipulate, there develops a new zone of proximal development.
    4. This leads to new internalization processes, a repeat of “1” in the previous paragraph, except on a higher level.
    5. After these skills have been internalized, we will see a further change in child-rearing, game playing and religious practices that reflect these new work habits.

    My book Lucifer’s Labyrinth is the story of how psychological processes that we might consider private actually evolved but they are driven by social and historical processes.

    Ontogenetic and socio-historical stages of development compared

    Table A traces Vygotsky’s three stages of learning both ontogenetically in the life of an individual and socio-historically in the lives of mental workers on the job:

    Table A —  Vygotsky’s theory of three stages of learning: ontogenetically and socio-historical application

    IV) Socialist Therapy

    The emotions as socio-historical productions

    In capitalist psychology, emotions are private and precious. They originate inside of people and they dissipate inside of people. In a socialist psychology, emotions are socially produced. Emotions as basic as sexual jealousy vary both historically and cross-culturally.

    It is very useful to distinguish feelings from emotions. Feelings may be in the body, physiological stares of arousal which are biological in origin. Cognitive psychologists tell us that in order to have an emotion there has to be a cognitive interpretation of what the physiological state may mean. In other words, in order to have an emotion we have to first think. But where socialist psychology differs from cognitive psychology is in asking where the thoughts come from. Whether thoughts are interpretations, explanations or assumptions, socialists say they do not start with the individual. Hunter-gathering, simple horticulture, agricultural states and industrial capitalist societies all have different interpretations, explanations and assumptions about what events mean.  They form the parameters of the thinking of any particular individual in each society. Even within a given society, different social classes, genders and ethnicities have various spin offs within these parameters. Lastly, any of these types of society change over the course of history. This means whatever emotion an individual experiences is mediated by:

    • The type of society it occurs in;
    • The social class, ethnicity or gender within the society;
    • The point in world history in which the emotion is taking place; and,
    • The interpretation, explanation and assumptions individuals make.

    Let’s take anger as our example. Generally, anger is a reaction to a violation of social rules, roles and expectations. But whether people express or repress anger and what they are angry about varies depending on the type of society, the time in world history and the micro-social location of the individual. These socio-historical conditions are mediators between the physiological state of arousal and the emotional state of the person. Emotions are sociohistorical productions before they are internalized in the mental life of the individual.

    Let’s say three people are riding in a car together and Jingle Bells comes on the radio. At that moment each person has a different reaction. One person experiences joy, another experiences resignation at having to empty his pocketbook, while another experiences a slow desperation creeping up. Although these are three distinct emotions, they are still rooted in our western civilization concept of Christmas. One may emote joy at the prospect of getting presents; another resignation because Christmas is so commercialized and a third a desperation because it is a time of year when families should be close, while his is not close. Jingle Bells in a hunting and gathering society wouldn’t mean anything because they have no religion with Christmas as one of their holy days. Even the event “Christmas” risks making it a cultural thing without a history. It didn’t always exist as the collective emotional reactions between buying presents and being close. Christmas is the self-conscious production of a particular commercial class at one moment in history.

    Alienation under capitalism

    Marx talked about how under capitalism commodities acquire a life of their own and disengaged from the situation which produced them. Alienation is the inversion of subject and object, creation and creator. It is a reversal of ends and means so that the means acquires a life if its own. Alienation creates people who are anti-social and anti-historical. They are anti-social in that they are atomistic. They either internalize their conflict as their private business or they externalize the conflict as having nothing to do with them.

    Most people who come into therapy are alienated from: a) the products of their labor; b) the process of producing the products; c) other people they are producing with; d) the power setting in which the product is distributed; e) alienation from themselves. The goals of social therapy is to lessen these forms of alienation by creating a microcosm of a socialist society within the group. The following is based on my understanding of the “social therapy” work done in New York City developed by Fred Newman and Lois Holzman in 1989 when I studied with them for a year.

    Atomistic groups under capitalism vs collective creative groups under socialism

    The goals of social therapy are to cultivate a “social” individual who gradually comes to see the activity of building and sustaining groups as well as a process by which individuals can solve their problems and the result of building them. Considerations of class, race, and gender in a group setting arise not because it is politically correct to discuss them. Rather, it is because these stratified boundaries get in the way of building the group.

    In bourgeois psychology, groups are treated as:

    1. no more than the sum of individuals;
    2. less than the sum of individuals;
    3. an entity that has a super-personally separate life from individuals.

    To give you an example of the third approach, when people join a group, they often dissolve into it, they reify the group. They make the group a thing, above and beyond anything they can control. When an individual withdraws from the group, the group is renounced as a resource, as the individual believes their problems are so precious that no one could possibly understand them.

    When the individual tolerates the members of a group, the individual renounces the capacity of the member being tolerated to change. The tolerating member does not consider that other members might be restless also and they are not alone in putting up with members who are hard to manage. When individuals rebel against the group, they assume that other group members are conservative, never change or are stuck in their ways. If the individual tries to dominate the group, the individual renounces their ability to get what they want through the collective creativity of the group. What withdrawing, toleration, rebelling or dominating have in common is the zero sum game, with winners and losers.  In socialist psychology the relationship between the individual and the group is win-win. In all these examples the group is a whole which is no more than the sum of its parts.

    The best example of when a group is treated as less than the sum of individuals, is in the Lord of the Flies novel. A group being less than the sum of individuals exists in the hyper-conservative imagination of Gustav Lebon in his books about crowds, or in mass media’s depiction of mass behavior during natural disasters where crowds develop a hive mentality.

    In socialist psychology the group as a whole is more than the sum of its parts, but the group is still the creation of concrete individuals. The group has no mystical identity floating above individuals. While there is no group without individuals, through the collective creativity of members, through creating zones of proximal development, the group acquires a synergy whose products are more than what any individual can do by themselves. A socialist psychology creates win-win situations through cooperation.

    A socialist psychological group challenges people who withdraw or dissolve into the group by asking what the group can do to give them what they want. The group confronts those who tolerate others by asking them who and what they are putting up with. What would need to happen for things to be different. To those who rebel the group asks what are you rebelling against and how could we change things to make the group more attractive to you. To those who try to dominate the group, socialist group therapy does not moralize against dominators, we simply say that you are losing out on the collective creativity of others by trying to subjugate them.

    In bourgeois group psychology the individual might say “I feel impotent, and the group needs to do something”. In social therapy what might be said is “We are impotent as a group and I need to do something about it as a group member”. Individuals must become tool makers, not just tool users; we must become role makers, not just role takers. We must act ever more inclusively and communally. This means exposing the unconscious commonalities between people that lie beneath individual differences. It means making a long-term commitment based on the belief that the commonalities between most working- class and middle-class people far outweigh the differences. We work to minimize alienation:

    1. a) by expanding the range of what the choices are;
    2. b) how the choices are made;
    3. c) for whom they are made; and,
    4. d) how they are consumed.

    Goals of socialist therapy:

    The therapeutic material the group works on is not the personal past history of individuals, neither is it in the world outside the group. Rather, the subject matter is how to learn to build the therapy group and improve it. The idea is that if you learn to build the collective power of a therapy group, you can then go out into the world and change it by your newfound capacity to change groups wherever we go, now and into the future. Learning how to change groups through the collective creative capacity of the group moves us from being products of history to being co-producers of it.

    The purpose of social therapy is to:

    • Address emotional problems;
    • Change the understanding of the dialectic of the relationship between the individual and the group;
    • Develop a practical-critical self-consciousness about one’s activity as historical beings; and,
    • Create a world-historical identity among members.

    V) The Zone of Proletarian Development in revolutionary situations

    Creative work of Mastaneh Shah-Shuja

    One of the boldest and creative attempts to apply Vygotsky’s work is Mastaneh Shah-Shuja’s book Zones of Proletarian Development. The title is a takeoff of Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development. What Mastaneh does that is original is:

    1. to take the zone of proximal development out of the sphere of ontogenesis and apply it to the development of group life of proletarians; and,
    2. this application is not applied to normal life but group life in revolutionary situations. These include riots, demonstrations, and carnivals.

    She applies the work of Vygotsky’s colleague Leontiev’s activity theory to an anti-poll tax riot in 1990, anti-war demonstrations and to various May Days, all of which occurred in Britain. She stretches activity theory far beyond its original application to show how workers move from what Marx had called “class-in-itself” to “class-for-itself” identity. In other words, how proletarians develop over the lifetime of revolutionary situations. I am interested in showing how this zone of proletarian development can apply to longer term situations such as natural disasters and worker takeovers of production.

    Natural disasters are similar to revolutionary situations

    San Francisco Earthquake

    I suspect that surprising to many, research in mass psychology shows that more times than not, natural disasters bring out the very best in people far more often than the worst.1 During the 1989 earthquake in San Francisco, the traffic lights had stopped functioning and I remember seeing a homeless man directing traffic at the corner of Market and Van Ness. This is a person who, half an hour ago, would not be able to get the time of day from a passerby. He is now a spontaneous director for traffic. Drivers are following his instructions. Neighbors who had never spoken to each other or workers who only yesterday were completely indifferent to each other’s lives are mobilized into action. Large segments of the population change from being passive order-takers to spontaneous co-creators, social engineers, most of whom had no prior experience.

    New York Snowstorm

    I would like to relate another “collective peak experience” of my own to give a further sense of what social life could be like. The setting is the middle of the 1960’s in New York City in the dead of winter. It had been snowing for days. Upon leaving my high school I discover that the snow drifts have smothered all traffic. Things are eerily still. In the distance I see a man approaching me. He gestures for me to come towards him. My fleeting reservation is no match for this extraordinary situation. He asks me to help him push his car to the side of the road. As we begin pushing, I sense that that load is suddenly lighter, realizing now we have been joined by two or three others who spontaneously pitch in. Having successfully achieved our goal, we proceed to help these latest arrivals dig their cars out. More people come along. Some suggest we all plow the entire street, since then we will all have access to the main road. We organize ourselves into little work groups and work into the night, making slow progress since it continues to snow.

    What is happening here? I am bustling about, shoveling here, pushing there with people I have never met and probably won’t ever see again. I’ve forgotten about eating, worrying about school or struggles with my parents. It is hard to believe I could become so close to so many strangers in such a short period of time.

    As this street-clearing project continues we begin to relax a little. Strangers are laughing and joking. Grateful neighbors are now out in the street offering hot chocolate, chestnuts and a hardy fire to warm up by. Someone throws a snowball from across the street. It comes from the hand of an older businessman. A man in a three-piece suit ducking behind a car to avoid retaliation. How bizarre! But then this whole episode suggests something forbidden, not of this world. Time seems to have stopped. Since no traffic is moving, the street is ours! We can do anything from sleigh-riding to castle-building to hide-and-seek. We did all three. We have created a new kind of social life. The labor of clearing the street, digging out cars and chopping ice was a spontaneous collective activity, achieved without coercion from authorities and without wage labor as an incentive. It was a group zone of proximal development.

    What do natural disasters have to do with revolutionary situations? Natural disasters are relatively short-lived. Revolutionary situations and what have sometimes followed — workers councils — can last months, and in some cases, years. The process of seizing control over social life and actually making decisions together with others about the production, circulation and distribution of goods and services is the stuff of “socio-historical” peak experiences, or, as one anarchist put it, “orgasms of history.”

    Social psychology of revolutionary situations

    The stereotype of a revolutionary situation in Yankeedom is of a “foreign” looking man sneakily moving together with a motley crew of followers with a bomb as they attack the White House. In this scene revolutionaries are either madmen or in the case of The Hunger Games, they are heroes. Nineteenth century socialists have naively presented the lower classes as downtrodden individuals who are really fearless, heroic individuals who, once they experience a crack in the existing order, throw off their chains, rise to the occasion, perhaps helped all by the leaders of leftist organizations.

    But in real revolutions, the situations are chaotic and complex and the leaders along with the masses are frightened. Let me begin by examining the emotional predicament of the participants when the traditional institutions are weakened or, in some cases, collapse.  What happens when the lights go out? What happens when there is no gasoline? How do people react when public transport has come to a stop? What do people do when radio and TV stations operate erratically, and credit cards can no longer be used? Initially, we are more likely to find individuals who are disoriented, not heroic. Further, as much as people may complain about this or that problem within the existing order, they are distraught upon realizing that no authority figures are going to restore order any time soon.

    Fredy Perlman, in his great book Manual for Revolutionary Leaders, describes the emotional state of an individual faced with these extraordinary circumstances:

    During the course of normal times, one had to rise at a given hour to be at a given place at a given time, in order to survive. And even then, the survival was not assured. Even people who did as they were told were constantly being removed, excluded, deprived. One lost all desires except one: to rise at a given hour so as to be at a given place at a given time. This project had become one’s entire habit structure, one’s personality. And one day…the guard doesn’t come and continues not to come – is it the end? Fear grips one’s heart. The daily anxiety one has learned to accept as a normal part of life gives way to desperation.2

    Human beings are amazingly adaptable, and that works both for and against us. In this case, even though the objective conditions of individuals under capitalism are fairly miserable, when these conditions suddenly cease to exist, the habit of going to work and engaging these conditions over and over again ceases. A disruption of the habit, even a miserable one, is disturbing, at least at first.

    At a more general level:

    The moment of the seizure of power is not a moment of independence but of anxiety in the face of independence. It is the moment when people are on the verge of independence, when they reach the frontier between the known and the unknown, between the familiar and the new and temporarily recoil…All the official authorities have been sprung into the air, but when…individuals have not yet…appropriated the power they have vested in the disposed authorities…Only one part of the dominant social relation has been sprung into the air, but when…individuals have not yet…appropriated the power they have vested in the disposed authorities…Only one part of the dominant social relation has been sprung into the air—the superincumbent strata; but when the other part of the same social relation—the subordination, the dependence, the helplessness—has not yet been sprung. It is the moment when the frontier between dependence and independence …appears to be an unbridgeable chasm…These conditions exist only during the brief moment after the objective relations of dependence are removed, but before the subjective consequences of these relations are remaining.3

    These exceptional insights require some commentary. In order to exist, any social order must have a spectrum of strategies, force, coercion (the threat of force), propaganda, entertainment on the one hand, and collusion of workers on the other. State force and coercion involves the military and police forces that are required to protect the property of the capitalists. However, while these violent forces are always present, they are not always active. In fact, in a society that is relatively stable, they lie dormant. What keeps society functioning continually in a way that is blatantly unequal economically and politically, without the force or coercion perpetually intervening? People’s willingness to support and go along with this through their work, with the institutions that oppress them. This is what I call collusion.

    The point here is that when people acquire the “habit” of collusion they become attached and dependent on the existing order over time. If they are conservative, they may fight to defend the existing order in revolutionary situations. Even if workers are progressive or socialist this habit of collusion will hold them back from becoming independent and seizing the reins of power. The gap between the known and the unknown, the familiar and the new is frightening at least as much as it is liberating. There is collective anxiety at the prospect of independence and freedom to organize social life in a new way. As the lower classes become used to this arrangement, they have difficulty imagining that things could be any other way, and they pass on these ways of thinking to the next generation. When the music of the dominant order slows down or even stops suddenly, the lower classes are still dancing the dance of collusion and dependence.

    All transformations from dependency to autonomy, whether they are social or psychological, enter a valley of death, mystically referred to as the “dark night of the soul”. There is an abyss in which the old dependencies are no longer possible but where a new autonomous way of living is still too fragile to be of reassurance. We either learn to accept the pain of temporary confusion until we develop the self-mastery that will make the dependencies no longer necessary, or we scramble to find new dependencies, new authorities which take over the power for us. The latter is the road to cults and fascism. The road to self-mastery and worker self-management is the road to socialism through the zone of proletarian development.

    The zones of proletarian development

    When we discussed the micro-psychology of Vygotsky, we said there were three stages of learning; local interpersonal, internalization and global interpersonal. The same is true when groups learn new things, as in Luria’s study of peasants during the revolution or when the middle classes were transformed by capitalism in the 17th century. It is true when group members in therapy expand their knowledge of how to create socialist groups into new groups. So, in revolutionary situations today, we have the stages of proletarian development.

    Local interpersonal

    In revolutionary situations, the first stage is local interpersonal where learning is with those close at hand. In a demonstration it is a particular site. In an occupation it would be a particular factory, store or office. In the case of a demonstration or a riot, the tools used are no longer the pens, pencils and books of an educational setting. Rather they include overturned cars, billboards, railings, torn off branches of trees, as well as thrown cobblestones, jack-hammers taken from building sites, chains, street barricades, red and black flags, Molotov cocktails and cell phones. For longer sieges groups built makeshift structures, workers cleaned up garbage, made beds from wood pallets and cardboard and designed storm drains as bathrooms. The proletariat learned also to avert gas canisters and tear gas.

    In a situation like this, it is easy to understand the seriousness, the fear of reprisals, the sense of being on unsure ground that must have gripped the participants. But at the same time, these feelings were also mixed with feelings of delight as a result of the collective creativity of the large groups of people. Is it so far-fetched to imagine that these experiences were similar but on a higher level as the description of the snow storm I mentioned earlier?


    At the micro-level of individual development, internalization has to do with the process of making what was learned in the local interpersonal a body of knowledge usable by the individual on their own without the presence of a group. But at the macro-level of proletarian development, it is the entire group that must process what was learned in the local interpersonal stage. Crowds have to discuss what they learned, what succeeded and what failed.

    During the period of deliberation (some may recall the general assemblies at Occupy) for very deep and long-lasting revolutionary situations, some of the more seasoned militants will revisit the controversies between anarchists, various varieties of Leninists and social democrats as to whether to remain local, federate or centralize; the extent of which the state should be reformed or abolished; which (if any) markets should remain in operation; whether a political party should be mass or secret, vanguard or not; whether or not they should participate or not participate in elections and if so, at what level. How much power should leaders possess? Should political bodies use representation or delegation? How long can the leaders remain leaders? More or less permanency or rotated? Should they be recalled immediately or do we grant leaders a longer learning curve? Still deeper discussions may refer to the achievements of the past for guidance in revolutionary situations: the Paris Commune, the factory committees during the Russian Revolution, the anarchist collectives in the cities and in the peasant countryside collectives during the Spanish revolution.

    Global interpersonal

    When we discussed the global interpersonal stage in individual development, we said that the young boy making cookies would be challenged by the prospect of making cookies for a block sale because he would have to accommodate different tastes in cookies; he had to determine a price he would sell the cookies for, and he had to bake at a volume far beyond what he was used to. Something similar goes on at the macro-level in a revolutionary situation.

    As far back as the Communist Manifesto, the main objective of the Communist Party was to extend and intensify class struggle and this was done by linking the specific struggle to the general struggle. We must demonstrate linkage between various aspects of the social movement and prevent fragmentation into single issues. We must attempt to spread the strike which forces us to cooperate at a more complex, expansive level with more people we do not know into new geographical locations and in situations they are unfamiliar with.  This is Engestrom’s “expansive learning”. This would involve overcoming religious and nationalist conflicts, as well as racist and sexist assumptions which get in the way of expanding the revolution, age biases, the division between white collar and blue-collar proletarians, all of which have kept the authorities in power by fragmenting our struggle. The hardest part of all is to set up systems of coordination across various locales. In the end we should aim to create:

    A single united body, it is impossible either for the brave to advance alone, the the cowardly to retreat alone

    — Sun Tzu, The Art of War

    • First published at Planning Beyond Capitalism

    • Read Part 1 here

    1. David L. Miller, 2014 Introduction to Collective Behavior and Collective Action.
    2. Manual For Revolutionary Leaders, Michael Velli, 187.
    3. Manual for Revolutionary Leaders, Michael Velli, p. 184.