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In the Crevices Between Submission and Revolution: Disguised and Public Resistance in Caste, Slave, and Feudal Societies Part I

PART I

Orientation

Simplistic notions of Domination and Resistance: Polarized Dualities

When we examine the relations between those in power and those who are subordinate, a typical way of framing these relationships is as a duality. On one hand, those in power are ruling using various power bases such as force, coercion, and/or charisma. The impact of these power bases keeps people passive. In fact, some claim that that powerless people come to agree they deserve to be in the position they are in. At the other extreme are open insurrections where the powerless temporarily rebel or even enact a revolution to overthrow those in power. The problem is that there are no in-between stages or a spectrum between pure submission on the one hand and revolution on the other.

From force to coercion

The ultimate basis of domination in complex state societies is force. However, the use of constant force only works in times of conquest or open rebellions. When domination acquires a kind of social continuity, other forms of dominance are set in motion. James C. Scott, in his book Domination and the Arts of Resistance uses his experience as a sheep herder to compare the situation of sheep penned in by an electric fence with the dominant relations in human society.

If sheep are pastured in a field surrounded by a powerful electric fence, they will at first blunder into it and experience the painful shock. Once conditioned to the fence, the sheep will graze at a respectful distance. Occasionally, after working on the fence, I have forgotten to switch on the power again for days at a time, during which the sheep continue to avoid it. The fence continues to have the same associations for them despite the fact that the invisible power has been cut. (48)

In human affairs, this captures the movement from the use of force to coercion or the threat of force. However, the analogy breaks down when we compare the difference between the motivations and actions of sheep and humans.

With sheep we may only assume a constant desire to get to the pasture beyond the fence – it is generally greener on the other side of the fence since they will have grazed everything on their side. With tenants or sharecroppers, we may assume both a constant testing through poaching, pilfering…and a cultural capacity for collective anger and revenge. The point is that the symbols of power, provided that their potency was once experienced may continue to exert influence after they may have lost most or all of their effective power. (48)

The problem with social scientific understandings of power dynamics is that there is not much explanation of what is in between submission and revolution. But James C. Scott argues that rarely can we see a case where an individual slave, untouchable, or serf is being either entirely submissive or entirely insubordinate. In between submission/acceptance and open revolution there are other states of power.

Barrington Moore widens the spectrum between complete submission and revolution by arguing there are two other grades of resistance before the third stage of revolution:

  • lower classes criticize some of the dominant stratum for having violated the norms by which they claim to rule;
  • the lower classes accuse the entire stratum of failing to observe the principles of its rule;
  • the lower classes repudiate the very principles by which the dominant stratum justifies its dominance. This would be to identify with alternatives to the dominant system.

Scott argues that the historical evidence clearly shows that subordinate groups have been capable of revolutionary thought that repudiates existing forms of domination. However, subordinate groups are not born with revolutionary consciousness. They prefer squatting to a defiant land invasion. They prefer evasion of taxes to a tax riot. They would prefer poaching or pilfering to direct appropriation. It is only when these behind-the-scenes measures fail that they might be open to more drastic measures. Scott argues that there is a whole spectrum of resistance that occurs before even the first of Moore’s three gradients, as we shall see shortly.

My presentation of Scott’s work has five parts. In this introductory section, I will discuss three theories of submission, “thick”, “thin” and “paper thin” states of submission. Then I will probe into Scott’s three dimensions of submission including material, status and ideological dimensions. In the second section I will cover what Scott calls the “public transcript“ which is dominated by elites. These forms include things like parades and coronations and control of language. There are also forms of resistance such as the gathering of crowds and how terrifying they were to elites because they were public gatherings of subordinates without authorization. Interpersonal forms of resistance include mocking body language and verbal language including voice intonation and sarcasm. This will conclude Part I of this article.

In Part II I describe Scott’s notion of the hidden transcript. Hidden transcripts require secret social sites in which to discuss, rehearse and resist elites. Elites attempt to minimize this hidden transcript by taking away social sites and attempting to atomize individuals. In the second section of Part II, I discuss two forms of resistance that come out of the hidden transcript. One is social-psychological strategies and the other is the cultural strategies of resistance. In the last section of Part II, I describe Scott’s analysis of how the process of resistance turns into open insubordination. This is the electrifying time when the hidden transcript goes public. The general movement of both articles goes from the public transcript controlled by elites, to hidden transcripts controlled by subordinates to a return to the public transcript, this time controlled by subordinates who are now becoming insubordinate.

Theories of submission

When the upper class has power in everyday life, force is not used directly to keep the lower classes continuing to produce a surplus but by enacting a public display of their submission though speech, gesture and manners. How do we make sense of how this can happen? For liberal pluralists, the absence of significant protest or radical opposition is taken as a sign of lower-class satisfaction with the existing order. John C. Scott disagrees.

Thick and thin forms of submission

At the other extreme of the political spectrum, “fundamentalist” Marxists contend that on a deep level, perhaps on an unconscious level, the lower classes are aware that their position is unjust and in revolutionary situations  will discover what has been buried inside them. According to them, in revolutionary situations the lower classes will become a “class-for-itself”. How do these Marxists explain the consciousness of the lower classes in non-revolutionary situations? They contend that in these times the working class has been convinced that the upper-class justifications for their power are legitimate – and they actively believe in those values. They consent to their position. This is what Marx called “false consciousness” or class-in-itself mind-set. Scott labels these Marxist depictions of the lower classes as a “thick forms of consciousness.” This means that as people become socialized, the mask that they wear to do their job and reproduce hierarchical relations grows slowly onto their face and over the long-haul the face becomes the mask.

I find this term “fundamentalist” useful to describe a scholastic approach of some Marxists to socio-historical issues which rely too heavily on original texts to explain new events in the world and resist dialectical incorporation of new research which has emerged since the text was  written. In addition, there is a denial of the fact that some of Marx’s predictions were simply wrong.

Both liberals and fundamental Marxists agree that the lower classes in their normal conditions are satisfied or have “bought” the existence of class society. More skeptical of this are those left-wing critics who think the lower classes are unhappy with their situation but they think it is natural and inevitable. Instead of being satisfied or yielding consent, they are resigned to their situation. Scott calls this theory “thin” forms of lower-class submission. This is close to what Gaventa calls intimidation or the rule of anticipated reactions. This means the lower classes elect not to challenge elites because they anticipate the sanctions that will be brought against them. It is an estimate of the hopeless odds which discourage a challenge. Zygmunt Bauman sees power relations as being kept intact because alternatives to the current structure are excluded. He says “The dominant culture consists of transforming everything which is not inevitable into the improbable.” Here there is still a mask but it is thinner. The lower classes are less “snowed”.                                                           

Scott’s super-thin forms of submission

From Scott’s research, he thinks there is little evidence for the ideological incorporation of the lower classes and much evidence that the dominant ideology gives support and cohesion to the upper class rather than the lower classes, similar to pep rallies.  For Scott, what both thin and thick forms of consciousness don’t explain is how social change could ever originate from below. Instead, he argues that all these theories miss the disguised and public forms of resistance which are the subject of this essay. Scott says that these “in-between” forms of resistance are predominant in caste, feudal, and, slave societies.

Besides historical study, Scott draws from social reactance theory. Social reactance theory works on the assumption that there is a human desire for freedom and autonomy. When subordinates feel that their subordination is freely chosen, they are most likely to comply. When subordination is perceived as not freely chosen, there is resistance. In persuasive communication studies, when threats are added to a persuasive communication, they reduce the degree of attitude change. In fact, threatened choice alternatively tends to become more attractive. For Scott, there is little chance that acting with a mask will appreciably affect the face of the actor. If it does, there is a better chance the face behind the mask will, in reaction, grow to look less like the mask, rather than more like it. Nevertheless, Scott specifies 3 conditions under which a “paper thin” mask metaphor may be apt:

  • when there is a good chance a good many subordinates will eventually come to occupy positions of power. This encourages patience, emulation and explains why age graded systems of domination have such durability; and
  • when subordinates are completely atomized, kept under close observation and have no opportunity to talk things over or engage in either public or disguised resistance. This might occur when subordinate groups are divided by geography, culture and language.
  • When there is a promise of being set free in return for a record of service and compliance. 

Scott’s work is the study of forms of resistance which exist in everyday life and are not revolutionary but exist as a kind of guerrilla warfare. His studies are drawn from pre-capitalist hierarchical societies including the reports of slaves, serfs, and untouchables. He ignores the specific differences between slave systems in North America or South America as well as differences between agricultural civilizations in China and India and European feudalism. He claims that his analysis has less relevance to forms of domination in industrial capitalist countries such as scientific techniques, bureaucratic rules or capitalist forces of supply and demand. Scott’s work is an attempt to track how struggles of lords and serfs, slave owners and slaves, Brahmins and untouchables are played out under coercive, rather than force conditions in everyday life.

Scott’s three-dimensional theory of subordination and resistance: material (technological and economic) status and ideological

James Scott divides the political economy of domination and submission into three dimensions: material domination and material resistance; status domination and status resistance; and ideological domination and ideological resistance. Please see Table 2 for an overview of how these dimensions play themselves out in dominance and resistance situations. Material domination includes the appropriation of grain, taxes, and labor by agricultural elites. Status domination consists of forcing subordinates to enact their subordination through ritual humiliations, etiquette, demeanor, gestures, verbal language such as “my lord,” or “your highness”. Soft speech levels include who speaks first to whom, codes of eating, dressing, bathing, cultural taste, and who gives way to whom in public.

Status indignities form a social-psychological bridge between the subordinates’ material condition and cultural ideological justifications for why they are in the state they are in. Status indignities are the subjective and inter-subjective experience of being poor and landless. For example, they are in psychological despair because they cannot afford to feed guests on the feast of Ramadan; they are upset by wealthy people who pass him on the village path without uttering a greeting; he cannot bury his parents properly or their daughter will marry late, if at all because she lacks a dowry. The worst indignities are suffered by audiences of those who form the social source for one’s sense of self-esteem – that is closest friends, families, and neighbors. Ideological domination includes whatever religious justifications exist for why the upper classes deserve to be in the position they are in. Scott calls all three dimensions the “public transcript”.

Material resistance is divided into two types, public resistance and disguised resistance (cells 2 and 3 of table 2.) Public material resistance is what you might suspect. The usual tactics used by subordinate groups in reformist or revolutionary situations include petitions, demonstrations, boycotts, strikes, and land invasions. Public status resistance includes insubordinate gestures, postures, and open desecration of status symbols. This might include the victim’s pleasure at seeing superiors dressed down by their superiors. Once this occurs, things are never the same. Public ideological resistance includes counter ideologies which propagate equality, such as liberalism or socialism. They might also include religious heresies of spiritual equality.

The three dimensions of public dominance correspond to what most sociologists and theories of power address. Scott might call this “high politics”. Formal political organization is the realm of elites where resolutions, declarations, and laws are enacted by politicians used in written records, news stories, and law suits.  In countries with a liberal industrial capitalist orientation, an exclusive concern with open political action will capture and normalize some forms of resistance such as petitions, demonstrations, boycotts and group organizing to make them ineffective. Political liberties of speech and association have lowered the risks and difficulty of open political expression.

But in conservative, dictatorship, industrial capitalist societies or in the slave, caste, and feudal societies most people are subjects, not citizens. If high politics is considered to be all of what politics is, then it appears that subordinate groups in these societies lack a political life, unless they engage in strikes, rebellions, or revolutions  – that is, “resistant” politics (second cell).

“Infrapolitics” is the circumspect struggle waged daily by subordinate groups and is like infrared rays, beyond the visible end of the spectrum. If formal political organization is the realm of elites, infrapolitics is the realm of informal leadership of nonelites, of conversation and oral discourse. “Infrapolitics” provides much of the cultural and structural underpinning for the more visible political resistance that may come later. Infrapolitics is a kind of guerrilla warfare where one side advances to see if it its tactics survive or are attacked and if so, with what strength? This is the subject of Scott’s work. He argues that to focus on the visible coastline of high politics misses the continent of infrapolitics.

Forms of disguised infrapolitics fall into three dimensions, material disguised resistance, status disguised resistance and ideological disguised resistance. Together all three are called “the hidden transcript.” Scott’s interest is in the status and ideological dimensions rather than the material dimension of infrapolitics because the material dimension has already been covered by Marxist fundamentalism.

Direct resistance by disguised resisters includes masked appropriations of food or land and anonymous threats. Practices of material disguised resistance include poaching, squatting, desertion, evasions, or fraudulent declarations of the amount of land farmed. In addition, direct resistance can include simple failures to declare land, underpayment, delivery of paddy spoiled by moisture or contaminated with rocks and mud, and foot-dragging. The lower classes can use gullibility and ignorance that are elite stereotypes of them such. These may incluede “laziness” to do less work and resist taxes, land dues, conscription and grain appropriation. In playing dumb, subordinate make creative use of the stereotypes intended to stigmatize them. Refusal to understand is also a form of class struggle.

Status disguised resistance includes what subordinates say and do with each other behind closed doors to counter status insults. This includes rituals of aggression, tales of revenge, gossip, rumor, and the creation of autonomous social sites. Gossip and rumor are designed to have a double meaning. This applies also to folk tales, jokes, songs, rituals, codes, and euphemisms.

Ideological, disguised resistance includes the development of dissident subcultures, millennial religions, myths of social banditry, and the return of the good king, carnival and world-upside down arts and crafts, which was also very powerful. Ideological disguised resistance also has a double meaning such as jokes, euphemisms, and the Br’er Rabbit stories of slaves. Altogether, there are six forms of resistance, three forms of public resistance, and three forms of disguised resistance. The table below helps to differentiate them.

The Public Transcript of Domination and Resistance

The public transcript is the open interaction between subordinates and those who dominate them. The public transcript is the self-portrait of the dominant elites as they would have themselves seen. This can take the form of collective performances such as public displays with little interpersonal interaction and interpersonal performances where there is actual dialogue.

Dominance performances: parades and coronations

Formal ceremonies such as parades, inaugurations, processions, and coronations celebrate and dramatize the rule of dominators. They are choreographed in such a way as to prevent surprises. All parades imply a hierarchical order, a precise gradation of status, with the king at the head and the lowliest at the rear. They are authoritarian gatherings. In formal ceremonies, subordinates only gather when they are authorized.

Rather like iron filings aligned by a powerful magnet, subordinates are gathered in an arrangement and for purposes determined by their superiors…

In a parade, there are no horizontal links among subordinates. Without the hierarchy and authority that knits them into a unit they appear as  mere atoms with no social existence….subordinates are nothing but potatoes in a sack (61-62)

Who are these performances for? At first guess, you might think that coronations serve the purpose of displaying to their subordinates the might and coordination of the dominant. But according to Scott, they are not very successful in doing this. He claims that this domination performances is a kind of self-hypnosis within ruling groups to buck up their courage. The authorities want to create appearance of unanimity among ruling groups. This is why it is very important that ruling classes suppress members of their own class from disagreeing publicly.

Public Transcripts of Domination: Interpersonal

Deferential behavior by subordinates in public interactions includes encouraging smiles, appreciative laughter and conformity in facial expression and gesture. Gender differences in language are interesting here. For example, women use tag questions and a rising tone at the end of a declarative sentence, including the use of hyper-polite tones, linguistic hedges, stammering, and no public joking. (Scott says it is interesting to consider that there are few women comedians.) Subordination and domination are built into the different usages in terms of bodily functions. Scott sites the following examples: “Whereas commoners bathe, the Sultan sprinkles himself; while commoners walk, the Sultan progresses (assuming a smooth, gliding motion); while commoners sleep, the Sultan reclines.” In slave societies, slaves are referred to as boys, whereas whites are referenced as “mister”.

The upper classes also use euphemisms, that is verbal language, gestures, architecture, ritual actions, and public ceremonies to obscure the ultimate force-basis use of rule. For example in terms of language,  “pacification” is used instead of “armed attack and occupation”; “calming” for “confinement by straightjacket”; “capital punishment” for “state execution”; “re-education camps” for “prison for political opponents”; and “trade in ebony wood” for “traffic in slaves”. Scott says when bosses fire workers they say “we had to let them go”, as if workers in question were mercifully released like dogs straining on their leashes.

On the other hand, the practices of their opponents are vilified and presented in categories which delegitimize their opposition. Authorities deny rebels the status of public discourse and try to assimilate their acts into a category that minimizes the political challenge by calling them bandits and criminals, hooligans, or mentally deranged. Religious practices that challenge the corrupt practices of the authorities are labeled heresy, Satanism, or witchcraft.

Public transcripts of resistance: crowds

An unauthorized gathering was potentially threatening. It is so threatening to the upper classes that they call such gatherings “mobs” or “rabble”. In other words, they think people run amok because they have no authorities ruling over them. A gathering is an unauthorized coordination of subordinates by subordinates.

In an agricultural bureaucratic state in the East or a feudal society in the West, the presentation of a petition to the ruler to redress peasant grievances was itself a capital crime.  Gatherings of five or more slaves without the presence of a white observer were forbidden. The authorities were uneasy about the holidays because they lacked the structure of work and brought together large numbers of slaves. This is why there was a law in France in 1838 forbidding public discussion between work peers.

Pubic transcripts of resistance: interpersonal

Those in subordinate positions may refuse to enact submissive facial gestures, make way for elites on the street, or addressing them with mock intonations or exaggerated submissiveness, refusal to laugh at jokes of the upper classes.

Public transcripts of resistance: ideological

Holding the elites’ feet to the fire

Elites cannot do just as they please. Because much of their power is legitimized, they must at least make a passable attempt to perform some valuable social functions. This requires that it must:

  • specify the claims to legitimacy it makes;
  • develop discursive affirmations it stages for the public transcript;
  • identify aspects of power relations it will seek to hide (its dirty linen);
  • specify the acts and gestures that will undermine its claim to legitimacy;
  • tolerate critiques that are possible within its frame of reference; and
  • identify the ideas and actions that will represent a repudiation of profanation of the form of domination in its entirety.

Elites are vulnerable to attack if these conditions are compromised.

For example, in feudalism, honor, noblesseoblige, bravery, and expansive generosity are expected from the aristocrats. The feudal contract would be negated by any conduct that violated these affirmations such as cowardice, petty bargaining, stinginess, the presence of runaway serfs, and failure to physically protect serfs. In the case of the Brahmins, elites would need to possess superior karma, vital ritual services, refinement in manner, presiding at key rites of birth, and observance of taboos are expected.

Return of the Just King

Very often the lower classes play off the king against the aristocracy. It is the king who represents the true interests of the serfs, untouchables, or slaves against the abuses of the nobles. Scott argues that, Lenin notwithstanding, there is simply no evidence that the myth of the Czar promoted political passivity among the peasantry. Furthermore, there is a fair amount of evidence that the myth facilitated peasant resistance. When petitions to the Czar failed, instead of turning on the Czar, serfs then suspected that an imposter, a false czar was on the throne. Under the reign of Catherine II, there were at least 26 pretenders. Pugachev, the leader of one of the greatest peasant rebellions, owed his success in part to his claim to be Czar Peter III. The myth of the czar could transmute the peasantry’s violent resistance to oppression to any act of loyalty to the Crown.

Fundamentalist Marxists, using thick forms of subordinate consciousness, claim that the myth of the kind czar is an ideological creation of the monarchy, then appropriated and reinterpreted by the peasantry. Scott argues that these myths were the joint product of a historic struggle rather like a ferocious argument in which the basic terms – simple peasant, benevolent czar – are shared but in which interpretations follow wildly divergent paths in accordance with vital interests.

Throughout Europe and southeast Asia there are long traditions of the return of a just king. Indian untouchables have imagined that Orthodox Hinduism has hidden sacred texts proving their equality. Slaves have imagined a day when they would be free and slave owners punished for their tyranny. Contrary to Gramsci, radicalism may be less likely to arise among disadvantaged groups who fail to take the dominant ideology seriously because they haven’t yet constructed an alternative.

Summary

Subordination requires a credible performance of humility and deference, while domination requires a performance of haughtiness and mastery. Transgresses of script have more serious consequences for subordinates, and subordinates are closer observers of the dominant because there is more to lose. The same is true for women in relation to men and children and in relation to their parents. People in dominant positions think characteristics of subordinates are inborn, rather than staged for them.

Coming Attractions

Up to now all the resistance offered by subordinates does not include any systematic interpersonal discussion by them. There must be a specific social gathering site, usually in secret where subordinates can speak freely. Secondly, those subordinates must be trustworthy, often members of the same slave master family, kin or neighbors, and have very specific working conditions as we shall see in Part II. We will explore two forms of disguise. Disguising the message and disguising the messenger. What is the place of myth and folktales? Are these stories diversions from revolution or rehearsals for it? Is smashing statues or reversing roles in carnival cathartic releases which then make people more docile or do they provide people with a structure for systematic revolt? Finally, what are the conditions when the hidden transcript of resistance finally turns into a public transcript of insubordination or revolution?

All of this will be covered in Part II.

 

 

The post In the Crevices Between Submission and Revolution: Disguised and Public Resistance in Caste, Slave, and Feudal Societies Part I first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Aryan Right-Wing Mythology for the New Age: Carl Jung, Mircea Eliade and Joseph Campbell

Orientation

My three-year stint in the New Age

In 1984 at the age of 36, I decided to return to school with the intention of becoming an art therapist. I attended Antioch University in San Francisco for my undergraduate degree and then went to a New Age spirituality school the following year for my master’s degree (California Institute of Integral Studies). At the time, Carl Jung, Mircea Eliade, and Joseph Campbell were treated as if they were gods. On the surface, it seemed like a good fit for me. After all, as an art therapist I could work with images, and Jungians were all about images. I was attracted to the prospect of making images not as art-for-art’s-sake, but in the service of spirituality or even pagan magic. Mircea Eliade was the guru of comparative religion. He wrote a 3 volume set on A History of Religious Ideas and like Jung, he thought modern life was a degeneration from ancient or even tribal times. Most likeable of all was Joseph Campbell. I mean, watching him on Bill Moyers, what’s not to like? I was thrilled by the sweep of his Hero with a Thousand Faces and I read his four-volume comparative mythology. I read all these books before I re-entered college, so I knew exactly what I was getting into. But there was a fly in the ointment. I was (and am) a materialist Marxist and had no intention of giving that up. Plus, I went to school in very conservative times, five years into Reagan’s two years of presidencies. It wasn’t until later that I realized how politically conservative Jung, Eliade and Campbell actually were. Further, thanks to Robert Ellwood’s book The Politics of Myth, I realized that they were all anti-Communist as well. This article is about Ellwood’s book. Besides Ellwood, other sources for this article are The Jung Cult and the Aryan Christ, both by Richard Noll.

Why was right-wing mythology attractive in post-World World II Yankeedom?

After World War II, there was an upsurge of interest in mythology in the United States. Why was this? Mythology is typically associated with time periods that are prior to the 19th century – the Greeks, the Romans, or the Renaissance. It seemed that the philosophy of the Enlightenment had buried mythology as another indicator that the days of conventional religion, magic and storytelling were over. But the industrialization process, along with two world wars and the rise of fascism seemed to put a damper on Enlightenment dreams for Europe. Not only this, but myth was used by European countries throughout the 19th centuries to build nationalist sentiments to fuel the war. Myth was an expression of the connection between collective humanity (not individuals) and an animated spiritualized nature (not inert). Myth is experienced through imagination, intuition, poetic stories, and rites.  There was an anti-Christian, anti-Jewish strain since both these mainstream religions were modernist and rejected myth for history. “Now we see where history has led us”, the mythologists might say.  If the modern world was fallen, the shortest road to paradise might lead backward to the Middle Ages, the ancient world or even to tribal societies.

It is completely understandable that Europeans might be drawn to myth because of the casualties, whether or not they won or lost the war.  After all, these mass murders were achieved with modern weapons.  But why would myth become popular in the United States that was on the winning side of the war and had suffered few causalities comparatively speaking? All three mythologists developed a following in the United States. In addition, the United States was anti-communist in the 1950s. Communism was associated with the “progress” orientation of the modern world. Why would the Yankee population reject both liberal modernity and communist modernity? The answer is that it was only the upper and upper-middle classes in Yankeedom that was enthralled with mythology. The middle and working classes were satisfied with their traditional religions.

Is myth inevitably associated with the right wing?

A second issue worth discussing is the politics of myth. All three mythologists we study – Jung, Eliade and Campbell – were associated with the extreme right. Why is this? Is there something about socialism that makes it less possible to use mythology? Some may say that the further to the left you go on the political spectrum the more skeptical people become about religion or mythology. But Jung, Eliade, and Campbell would argue that myth is not a stage of social evolution, nor does it occupy a particular place on the political spectrum. They would say myth is a set of rites and stories present in all societies. If we take this to be true, that will mean myth would be operative across the entire political spectrum.  In other words, it doesn’t explain why the left has not used myth more.

Commonalities Among Post-World War II Mythologists

Condemning the secular Enlightenment

All three mythologists had major problems with the beliefs and institutions of modernity. They each thought Enlightenment secularism, empiricism, and rationality was responsible for the sad shape the world was in during their time. Jung thought that without spiritual institutions, the darker side of humanity runs rampant. He believed that this is true because this dark side is not sublimated through spiritual practices such as ritual enactments and mythic storytelling. The two world wars were the result of the collective unconscious run amok. Were people in touch with their mythological roots, and brought them to life regularly, they would not act them out in wars.

Western science is guilty of hubris

All mythologists implicate science in the state of the world because science is guilty of hubris in thinking that humanity can chart its own course. Quantitative measurement, statistics, probability, rationality, and objectivity took the heart and soul out of life. Personal experience, storytelling, use of imagination, and appreciation of mystery were left high and dry in this type of world.

The Jewish nature of capitalism

Another modern institution these mythologists condemned was capitalism. Capitalism hollowed out and commercialized religious holidays. While none of these mythologists were pro capitalist, it is easy to imagine that Joseph Campbell might support the pre-corporate capitalism of small traders. What is more important is that all three tended to connect capitalism to the Jews. Instead of critically examining the economic system of capitalism, they blamed the Jews in subtle ways for the spiritual poverty of the West. It is almost as if they were implying that if it wasn’t for the Jews, capitalism would be fine.

Perennial esoteric spirituality

However, to these mythologists, not all spiritual institutions are equally valuable. All three mythologists were, in different ways, hostile to the Jewish and Christian religion. All believed they were complicit in creating modernist problems. These religions denied the importance of spiritual experience and were marred in thin superstitious rituals and material wealth. Their sacred presences that were simplistic dualities of good and evil and they failed to address complexities of modern life. Mythological stories are really complex stories and solutions to common human problems that have been lost, marginalized, and demonized by Western religion. All three mythologists were followers of a spiritual Gnostic tradition which claims there is a hidden spiritual knowledge that the ancients were aware of but which had been lost, thanks to modernity. This Gnostic tradition teaches that the material world is unreformable and it is better to withdraw from it in order to perfect itself. The Gnostics believed that exoteric religion was institutionalized religion for the masses and they thought the Enlightenment was right to criticize them. However, all religion has an esoteric hidden teaching that contains the best of all religion and was followed by the great prophets of all these religions.

Though Jungian spirituality is highly idiosyncratic, 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 and Vedanta’s tradition of yoga. According to Robert Elwood, Campbell flirted with Hindu traditions but ultimately settled with the pagan traditions in the West, from Homer to the Holy Grail. He also loved Native American mythology.

Scholarship lacks time and space grounding

In terms of scholarship, all three mythologists were interested in literary mythology as opposed to folklore. Not surprisingly, they all were influenced by the German romantics – Herder, Schelling, and Wilhelm Wundt. As might be expected by their rejection of science, all three mythologists were criticized by anthropologists and history scientists for their universalizing religious symbols, myths, and rituals. None of them did fieldwork or research in philology, textural studies. More importantly, all three were notorious for decontextualizing mythology from the technological, economic, and political circumstances in which myths were formed. In other words, these mythologists abstracted and compared myths independently of the time and place in which they occurred. They were opposed to any notion of cultural evolution. They saw no pattern of myths as they evolved over time and space. Since myths are supposedly eternal the time and place they occurred in was irrelevant.

Political reactionaries

To be a reactionary means to want to return to an earlier time politically. This is a common theme of all romantics. Where do these mythologists want to go? Ellwood argued that Jung wants to return to a medieval time in which all the world was a sacred symbol, where people knew how to do rituals, and when storytelling was meaningful rather than hollow. Eliade yearns for the 19th century Romanian Renaissance of peasant culture. Campbell’s ideal time seems to be during the period of pioneers, cowboys, and native Americans before they all were overshadowed by cities, industry, and commerce.

In the world of practical politics, Jung was initially sympathetic to the Nazis in the early years, but soon regretted it. Likewise, Eliade had connections with the fascist Romanian Iron Guard in the 30s but withdrew from them around 1940. Ellwood says that Joseph Campbell was easily the most right-wing of the three. Even by 1940 he was slow in understanding the destructiveness of the Nazis. As a teacher at Sarah Lawrence, he also was not supportive of racial minorities and feminism in the 1960s and threatened to fail students if they went to protests. Ellwood characterizes Campbell as to the right of William Buckley. All three mythologists were anti-communists with Campbell being the most extreme. The influences on all three mythologists were either fascists or conservatives including Nietzsche, Sorel, Ortega y Gasset, Spengler, Heidegger Frobenius, and Thomas Mann.

Interestingly, the publisher of both Campbell’s and Jung’s work, Bollington, was owned by Paul Mellon, and related to Andrew Mellon. 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. Norbert Frye did much to make mythic analysis of Shakespeare and other literature an academic fashion.

All three lost credibility in the sixties as many people were breaking away from the individualism these mythologists supported. They were becoming more political and more critical of the capitalism Mellon lived and died by. It wasn’t until the mid 1970s when the country turned more conservative and the New Age grew during the counterculture that Jung, Eliade and Campbell regained popularity.

Carl Gustav Jung and Wotan’s Return

Collective unconscious

Despite his dabblings into anthropology, (Totem and Taboo and Moses and Monotheism) Freud was interested in the unconscious primarily as it related to the individual. But after Jung’s break with Freud in 1913, Jung underwent a spiritual crisis. He recovered, in part due to his experience of the unconscious that he perceived as collective. Whole nations and races had their own collective unconscious that could be tapped through their mythology and rites. Jung drew from a volkish German tradition that included sun worshiping movements as well as spiritualism and theosophy.

For Jung, the type of society had no independence from the psychological states of humanity. The type of human society was no more than a screen on which to project the storm and stresses of the soul of the group. This meant that the Germans had a collective unconscious as did the French, Italians, and the Spanish. Whether the society was tribal, feudal, or industrial capitalist was irrelevant. In the modern world the collective unconscious is repressed because religious rituals have lost their power and had been hollowed out by science, industrialization, and capitalism.

With the rise of cities and mass communication at the end of the 19th century, local communities were broken up. Masses of humanity became isolated, living next to each other without the community rituals that allowed them to maintain rhythm with the natural cycles of life. According to Ellwood, Jung agreed with Ortega y Gasset that there was a vast cloud of unreleased collective energy which accumulated with no rituals, symbols, or storytelling to ground the instincts and channel it into constructive outlets. The result is that when modern revolts, crazes, and fads emerge they combine the worst of tribal and modern life.

Political reactionary

As a conservative, Jung favored order, stability, and hierarchy. In his collective unconscious he had plenty of room for kings, queens, and warrior archetypes. Beyond his Swiss borders, he sometimes expressed admiration for Franco in Spain and Mussolini in Italy. Jung was very hostile to socialism and the prospect of levelling hierarchies. But the most controversial of all were Jung’s political attitude towards the Nazis. On the one hand, Ellwood tells us:

  • Most German protestant pastors (Jung’s ultimate roots) welcomed the accession of Hitler. They generally despised the Weimar regime for its cosmopolitan atheist or agnostic culture.
  • German volkish literature had broad distribution in Switzerland and its anti-Semitism was widespread.
  • Nazi groups and sympathizers within Germany were present in Swiss cities and towns.
  • Switzerland was bound economically to the Axis cause. Some 97% of Swiss exports went to Germany. Nazis had arrangements with Swiss banks.
  • Jung clearly had an anti-Jewish streak (as he did toward Christianity) and this was a foundation for his paganism. Jung talked about the rootlessness of Jewish intellectuals.

The Jew was domesticated to a higher degree than we are, but he is badly at a loss for that quality in man which roots him to the earth and draws new strength from below—a chthonic quality (57).

The Jews had a:

tendency of consciousness to autonomy with the risk of severing it almost entirely from its instinctual sources. (64)

The untimeliness of his writing about racial psychology at a time when millions of Jews were being slaughtered by Nazis says a great deal about Jung’s attitudes towards Jews. The weight of his authority and timing could only fan the flames of hatred of the Jews.

Qualifications about Jung’s anti-Jewish stance

To be fair to Jung, it is difficult for anyone to understand the full implications of a political movement when it is still in formation. Even people in the political center were sympathetic to the Nazis before they rose to power. The same is true for those who were initially supportive of the Soviet Union. Liberal intellectuals like John Dewey and Bertrand Russell were sympathetic to Russia. In the case of John Dewey, he maintained his sympathy as late as 1929 and well into the Stalinist era. Jung showed a very surprising lack of psychological depth in understanding the Nazi potential for mass violence. On the surface, the Nazis seemed to strive to undercut the alienation of mass society but instead returning to community roots. It is not so far-fetched to get behind this. By the beginning of World War II, Jung had recovered and was opposed to the Nazis.

The upsurge of the pagan god Wotan, like an extinct volcano roaring back to fiery life through National Socialism, could have given Jung a glimmer of hope since connections were culturally between the conscious and unconscious. This must have been a welcome relief to the thin modernistic anxiety of the Weimar republic.

We have to consider that Germany was home to some of the greatest scientists, philosophers, painters, and musicians for the last 300 years – Fichte, Kant, Hege and Leibniz. It was the home of the great science and industrial power that Germany became between 1850 and 1900. It is not far-fetched to think that whatever the Nazis were stirring up, it could be contained and integrated by the great traditions of Germany. Germany was a very civilized nation by European standards and by the end of the 19th century the envy of France and Britain.

If Jung were completely anti-Jewish, he wouldn’t have helped individual Jews such as Erich Neuman to escape.

No political scientist, natural scientist, philosopher, or artist can control what is done with their work. The Nazis made propagandic use of Jung, banning books and articles that were against them, and giving great attention to his writing that supported them. Whatever his upper-class public connections were, those connections were not strong enough to compete with the likes of the propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels.

After World War II, Jung seemed to learn from his mistakes and there was no further mention in his work about earth-rootedness and lost communalism. Paradoxically, Jung became preoccupied with individuation, a very modernist conception he previously condemned.

Ellwood suggests that a truer picture of Jung’s political position was that of the conservative Edmund Burke. Like he, Burke of A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, Jung was a romantic rather than a classicist. Unlike a classicist who held that what is most beautiful and what is tame, clear, and self-evident, Jung believed that it was the sublime that mattered – what is striking, irregular and mysterious.

Mircea Eliade and Nostalgia for the Sacred

Eliade’s life

Mircea Eliade led a tempestuous life in Romania for the first 38 years of his life. According to Ellwood, among other things he was a prolific and provocative newspaper columnist; a novelist whose works were praised extravagantly and denounced as pornographic; a dynamic lecturer at the University of Bucharest who virtually established the history of religions and Indology as disciplines; a political activist who was accused of fascism and a political prisoner for four months for his loyalties under the royal dictatorship of King Carol II.

Ellwood claims Eliade was the best known and most controversial of the passionate young Romanian intellectuals of his generation. He fled Romania after it became a satellite of the Soviet Union in 1945. In 1945 he taught at the Sorbonne in Paris, and then from 1956 on at the University of Chicago. In these roles he become the preeminent historian of religion of his time.

Rejection of secularism

Of the three mythologists, Eliade was the most uncompromising in rejecting the secular world. He rejected the scientific study of religion and its history and did not work to join with other scholars in their efforts to make religious studies in any way empirical. He thought the entire secular world is a poor cousin to the most important aspirations of life which are religious. For Eliade, ordinary means of knowledge based on the five senses are not only flawed but really spread a veil of maya (or illusion) over our knowledge of reality. He saw himself as a caretaker of spirituality in a secular age.  In the spirit of Indian idealism he saw the sacred, timeless as rich in being and the secular world as historical and degenerate.

Sacred space and time

To the secular, Eliade contrasted another kind of time, sacred time which is myth, not history. Myth foretells for us the re-enactment of the eternal time of Origins. Sacred space is the location where these myths are enacted. Geographically they are in the silent core of the whirling arms of the galaxies of secular life. In ancient civilizations the founding of a city was where the four directions met. In other words, the “heart” of downtown. These are the sacred places where myths are created.  Mandalas, mazes, or labyrinths of medieval Christianity help us to experience these centers of the world. These are devices for grounding consciousness.

History as an exile from eternity

Eliade believed that to live in a historical time and place was to live under fallen conditions. Mystical experience was to live beyond history and place. It is tempting to think that premodern societies were more akin to Eliade’s vision. But Eliade tells us that even primitive societies did not live in mythic time. They too saw mythic time as located in the misty past and they were living in degenerate times. However, they were at least committed at the beginning of every year to performing a ritual which restored mythic time and place. Eliade thought that the historical religions lost a sense of how to do this:

What I am sure of is that any future forms of religious experience will be quite different from those we are familiar with in Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, all of which are fossilized, outmoded, and drained of all meaning (116)

Reasons for an anti-historical approach

As a result of World War I, Romania experienced a kind of national renaissance. They had regained a number of provinces which were historically Romanian and this greatly enlarged their territory and population. In 1932, there began a time of intense struggle in Romania and across Europe as the fascist right and communist left battled each other for control of the continent. Some wanted Romania to liberalize, become more cosmopolitan and follow the lead of the Enlightenment. Eliade and his friends wanted no part of this. For them, Western liberalism would hollow out the Romanian national spirit. The peasants would be left out along with Orthodox Romanians. Liberal nationalism would also hollow out the mythological and symbolic dimensions of nationalism. Lastly the corruption and incompetence of the shallow democratic monarchy that ruled Romania in those days helped to make Eliade skeptical of liberalism.

Eliade had thus experienced the terror of the failure of historical events to turn out as he and his generation had wished them. Strenski, in Thinking about Religion, suggests that Romania’s historical catastrophe might well have been influential in either reinforcing or initially shaping his later thought about religion because the history in Romania had been a disaster for Eliade. Speaking about World War Eliade wrote “Today the master of all of us is the war. It has confiscated the whole of contemporary history, the time in which we are fated to live. Even when we’re alone we think about the war all the time. That is, we’re slaves of history.”

Within history’s wreckage, it would not be far-fetched for someone like Eliade, who had internalized both yogic methods of attaining higher knowledge as well as Nae Ionescu’s irrational contempt for ordinary means of attaining knowledge, to feel that he could access higher and deeper ways of understanding religious data and escaping history.

Societies that deny myth have violent consequences

Like Jung, Eliade thought that myth is present in societies even when these societies deny its power. In fact, societies which ignore storytelling, rituals, and the acting out of instinctual drives are drenched with violence because the proper grounding in these processes are denied. He says that those on trial in the Soviet trials were like archetypal gods in archaic societies. Eliade challenges Marxism’s standing as a secular science and claims it an aggressively prophetic and polemical theology. Their hope for a communist Paradise in the future is really a projection of the wish for a politics of nostalgia for an egalitarian past.

Scholarship lack’s space and time constraints

Like Jung, Eliade’s claims for mythic experience rides roughshod over any kind of social evolution or cross-cultural differences. Eliade mushes together shamanism from all over the world and in different historical settings into a single religious experience. The shamanism of hunter-gatherers is the same as those of people in agricultural states to him. It doesn’t matter whether shamanism in practiced in Indonesia or Africa, it’s all the same experience. There is no sense that there is any evolution from shamanism to practicing yoga, or that the effects of social class may have anything to do with religious practice. Like Jung and Campbell, Eliade cherry-picks which will show commonalities while ignoring cross-cultural and historical variation.  He will treat all examples as uncritically equal from a range of sources and cultural contexts.  

Flirting with fascism?

The Legion of the Archangel Michael was a political and spiritual movement with fascist and anti-Jewish leanings powerful in Romania during the 1930s. The Legion came to be better known as the pro-Nazi Iron Guard, founded in 1927.  It was a movement dedicated to cultural and national renewal by an appeal to the spiritual roots of Romanian people. The Iron Guard’s spiritual, romantic, spiritual, and mythic propaganda was attractive to Eliade. Unlike comparable fascist type movements in Italy and Germany, the Legion was explicitly Christian, like Romania’s Eastern Orthodox Church. The Jews were not only hated as unpopular financiers and foreign intruders but also as godless Bolsheviks.

Yet although Eliade had always been a cultural nationalist who like to speak of Romanian messianism, these views usually were relatively non-political. He prided himself on his friendship with Jewish novelist, Mikhail Sebastian and took a relatively moderate public position on the Jewish question. However, he was friends with fascists who were very political. Ellwood points out:

No one was more influential for the young Eliade then the charismatic fascist leaning philosopher Nae Ionescu (1890-1940). He was friends with the Romanian fascist intellectual Emil Cioran (85) …Eliade seems to have been directly inspired by the death in battle of two Romanian legionnaires who volunteered to fight in the Spanish civil war on Franco’s anticommunist side (87). He found time to compose a book in praise of Portugal’s benevolent dictator Antonio Salazar (90).

In 1940, the Legion came to power in alliance with the king and a pro-Nazi military dictator, Ion Atones, to create a National Legionnaire State. Eliade was clearly shocked by a series of assassinations that went on in the process of the National Legionnaires’ rise to power:

Romanian anti-Semitic atrocities were exceeded only by the Nazis in numbers and brutality leaving scores of desecrated synagogues and thousands of mutilated corpses. (Yet) In his autobiographies both the mythology and atrocities of the Legion are passed over in silence (91-92)

Qualifications and rebuttals

As with Jung, it is probably unfair to expect Eliade to know the direction fascism was going to take before Hitler was elected. In addition, there is the window between 1933 and World War II. One author claims it is more reasonable to see Eliade more like the fellow-travelers of Soviet communism who gave up their association but never repudiated the ideology. Ellwood kindly suggests that his passion for Romania was really the searching of a wandering soul for solid ground, rather than a political commitment that it might have been for others. There is good reason to surmise that the terrible experience with the Legend solidified his commitment that history was terrifying and he was better off in the mythic world.

His later work is an attempt to universalize spiritual experience and is one hundred and eighty degrees on the opposite side of any kind of the ethnic/racial nationalism of The Guard. After 1945 Eliade showed no interest in the political world or its causes. With other Romanian exiles he formed a circle to sustain the culture of a free Romania and to publish Romanian texts that could not be published in Romania itself.

Yet unlike Jung, Eliade seemed much more committed to fascism by his silence over the atrocities against the Jews by Romanians and his support of Franco. Also, most writers do not write books about people, for example, Eliade’s book on Portugal’s dictator, Antonio Salazar, with whom they had no sympathies.

Joseph Campbell and the New Quest for the Holy Grail

Joseph Campbell was the best known of all interpreters of myth in late 20th century America due to his scholarly, but easy to read books, his legendary “performances” when lecturing at Sarah Lawrence College, and his discussions with Bill Moyers on PBS.

The life of Joseph Campbell

Campbell was born in 1904 to Irish American parents. Both his grandparents arrived in the United States as poor immigrants escaping the Irish potato famine. However, Joseph’s father became a successful salesman and Joseph was raised to upper-middle class status which allowed him to travel, attend private schools and be exposed to the art and culture of the world, including concerts, plays and museums. His parents were moderately committed to Catholicism. Like Eliade, Joseph was an avid Boy Scout.  After being taken by his father to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, he cultivated a strong interest in Native Americans. Ellwood says he imitated their practices on camping trips.

Campbell began college at Dartmouth and then transferred to Columbia. He took comparative literature and anthropology with the cultural relativist, Franz Boas. His dissertation was on the Holy Grail.  He listened to Krishnamurti lecture in Paris on rejecting all dependence of external authority and possibly because of this, Campbell stopped attending Catholic Mass. In 1932 he travelled on a ship with a biological expedition to Alaska where he had first-hand observation of Native American culture. In 1934 he became a faculty member at Sarah Lawrence College. He loved German culture and read Spengler and Leo Frobenius. In fact, the first course he taught was on Spenglerian morphology. His direction in mythology was under the influence of Spengler’s cultural morphology. All the Germans he read were anti-modernists and against Weimer Republic’s liberalism.

Through Thomas Mann he met Indologist Heinrich Zimmer in 1941 and through Zimmer met Swami Nikhil Ananda of the Vedanta Society. When Zimmer died in 1943, Campbell inherited the responsibility for editing Zimmer’s manuscripts. The Zimmer connection enabled Campbell to become attached to the famous Eranos conferences which included Eliade; Gershom Scholem who had revived the study of Jewish Qabalah, Henri Corbin who was interested in Iranian mysticism, as well as Jung. Campbell became a major figure in the world of mythology with the publication in 1949 of his great book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

Campbell got to know Alan Watts but was never quite sure how much he liked the East. A trip to India left Campbell shaken with culture shock: heat, poverty, dirt, beggars, and the caste system. Also, at that time India was enamored with socialist visions and the prospect of friendship with the Soviet Union. By now, Campbell was on his way to being an anti-communist. Campbell turned Westward, towards the paganism from the Odyssey to the Holy Grail. Between 1959 to 1968, he wrote his great four-volume book on world mythology. For Campbell, the four functions of myth were:

  • Produce a mystical experience to awaken and maintain a sense of awe and gratitude
  • Create an image of the universe in accord with the scientific knowledge of the time
  • Implant a moral order
  • Give an account stage by stage through life

 Twentieth Century myths: individualism in space: Star Wars

In the application of myths to today, Campbell was no reactionary. He did not yearn for a yesterday in pristine animated nature where myths were enacted. He proposed the place for myths to play themselves out in the United States were in outer space. Outer space contains the location for enacting the heroes called to adventure comparable to the role of Arthurian fantasy or Wagner’s heroes in Germany. George Lucas had admired Campbell and so Campbell indirectly became associated with Star Wars. Six years later he became friends with Lucas and they were friends until Campbell died three years later.

Robert 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. The series 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. He is a hero but doesn’t know it. The intelligent robots are a kind of companion animal like Don Quixote’s Sancho Panza.  In Star Wars, Arthurian Legend and Wagnerian cycles of myths all show the ultimate futility of grasping for political power. How convenient for the conservative ruling classes of the United States to encourage people to withdraw from political power engagements into the private world of individualistic mythological journeys.

What kind of society would a Campbell view of myth construct? A society of heroes like Luke Skywalker of Star Wars would follow their own myths. Ellwood says there would be a ground crew of non-heroes who sing the praise of heroes as they provide for the heroes’ material needs. In other words, social organization remains the same and is unimportant, unlike for the crew of Star Trek.

Scholarship

Campbell was not really a folklorist.  Folk tales were to him inferior, undeveloped, or degenerate in relation to the great mythologies of higher civilizations. He started his scholarly career in literature and cultural studies and approached myth though the eyes of a cultural critic. Let’s hear directly from Ellwood:

Though remarkably widely read in mythology, Campbell exhibited limited interest of the usual academic sort in his subject matter. He evinced little concern about mythic variants or philological issues. (130)

In his methods he used the traditional equipment of a literary critic – comparison and analogy.

Campbell was fundamentally literary. Most of Campbell’s work got a favorable hearing with literary and drama critics and the literate public than with professional folklorists or anthropologists. An American anthropologist said Campbell did not adequately distinguish between the Great and the Little traditions. Like Jung and Eliade, he picks and chooses mythological symbols from different times and places and universalizes them, leaving behind the political, economic, and technological conditions in which they are rooted.

Right-wing politics

As stated earlier, the German writers he read were anti-modernists and against the liberal Weimar Republic. Even by 1940-1941 he failed to grasp the threat posed by Hitler. By the early 1950s he saw liberty far more threatened by communism than by McCarthyism. Campbell was not supportive of the movements of the 1960s. He was reportedly anti-Jewish, but Larson’s biography states that Campbell was anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic. I doubt that Campbell had the political interest enough to understand the difference between the two. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, we might say that he disliked the Jewish religion because of its early history battling paganism and its hostility to mythology in favor of its championing of history.

In spite of this conservative orientation, he was extremely popular at ultra-liberal Esalen and on the Bill Moyers show. Why was this? Ellwood suggests it was because the audience thought he was liberal because they were liberal and they thought any intellectual writing about comparative mythology would also be liberal. To be fair to Campbell, he did change. Thanks to the feminist exploration of the existence of matriarchies, he became more sympathetic to the place of goddesses in myth. Campbell spoke of ancient Hebrew conquest of Canaan as an example of pastoral fighting and promoting war against feminist goddesses.

Conclusions: Similarities and Differences

Let’s begin with the similarities:

  • Attitudes to the modern world: anti-modern, anti-rationalism and anti-materialistic science, anti-liberal Enlightenment
  • Esoteric spirituality: Gnosticism seeking hidden wisdom in the remote past in order to save people from entrapment in the false hopes of worldly political fantasies
  • Interest in literary mythology over folklore: myth became a magic potion by which one could again drink of the rejuvenation power of humanity’s primal vision
  • Mythological influences: Herder, Schelling, and the folk psychology of Wilhelm Wundt, Georges Sorel, Ortega y Gasset, Spengler, Heidegger Frobenius and Thomas Mann
  • Attitude to communism: all three were anti-communist
  • Publisher and funding: Bollington, Paul Mellon
  • Fieldwork: Philological or textual work on myth? Bad science. Theories not falsifiable.
  • Decontextualized myth from local culture in time and place and eternalized mythic stories

Broadly speaking, those attracted to New Age ideas when they began in the late 1970s are either apolitical or overwhelmingly liberal. They are either FDR liberals, centrists, and even a few neo-liberals. Those who are apolitical are less likely to understand or care about the very conservative political views of Jung, Eliade and Campbell. Those who were liberal in the late 1970s were riding the wave of at least fifteen years when Yankeedom was liberal politically (1960-1975). They naively assumed that any therapists interested in cross-cultural psychology (Jung) would be liberal rather than conservative, and anyone interested in comparative religion (Eliade) or comparative mythology (Campbell) would also be liberal by default. The purpose of my article is to give background that provides proof they were dead wrong.

First published at Socialist Planning Beyond Capitalism

The post Aryan Right-Wing Mythology for the New Age: Carl Jung, Mircea Eliade and Joseph Campbell first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Towards a Leftist Psychotherapy

Millions of Britons are suffering from stress-related mental disorders. The number of people with anxiety has been steadily rising for years. According to NHS statistics, more than six million people in the UK are taking antidepressants.

There is an acceptance that wide-scale mental distress is an unavoidable part of modern life. The general response to the crisis by government bodies and the media is to call for more treatment. While increased support is necessary, the focus on treatment hides the extent to which society is often responsible for personal distress.

The cause for much of this depression is social and political. Under neoliberal governance, workers have seen their wages stagnate and their working conditions and job security become more precarious. The individualising and privatising forces that underpin capitalism have led to the breakdown of communities and social bonds, leaving millions of people lonely.

Given the increased reasons for anxiety, it’s not surprising that a large proportion of the population diagnose themselves as chronically miserable. Converting that depression into a political anger is an urgent political project. This should be the job of the left, who are the natural critics of capitalism. I believe that we should develop a kind of ‘leftist psychotherapy’ in which mental distress is explained in relation to the power structures of society.

In this endeavour the work of British clinical psychologist David Smail (1938-2014) is instructive. His writings provide a searing critique of the psychology establishment, and a social constructivist model for how to better understand mental distress. I believe that building on his work could have a tremendous impact.

The Role of the Psychology Establishment

In his seminal text Power, Interest and Psychology, Smail explains how mainstream psychology reinforces the status quo. It does this by diverting us from connecting mental distress to the material circumstances that condition our lives. ‘The psychology establishment has nothing to say about how to apparatus of power and interest that so clearly operates at the level of society comes to be reflected in the subjectivity of individuals – or even whether it does’.

Psychology has become a technical profession, like chiropody or dietetics, which focuses on the pragmatics of relief rather than on any more abstract intellectual or scientific enterprise. The dominant forms of treatment in mental illness are drugs and therapy.

Antidepressants contain people’s depression rather than actually deal with the causes of depression. The focus on brain chemistry creates a horrible loop whereby massive multinational pharmaceutical companies sell people drugs in order to cure them from the stresses brought about by working in late capitalism. In this context, the message to patients is cruel; if you’re depressed because of overwork, that’s between you and your brain chemistry!

Smail was critical of therapy. He suspected that it is only effective to the extent that the therapist becomes a true friend to the client, involved in their world. The supposed process by which people are ‘cured’ of mental illness once they gain ‘insight’ into their problems is illusory, and therapists are to a large extent involved in wishful thinking.

He argued that therapeutic psychology gives patients a false understanding of reality. The focus on the individual turns ‘the relation of person to world inside out, such that the former becomes the creator of the latter. If the story you find yourself in causes you distress, tell yourself another one’.

Counsellors and therapists have a stake in maintaining an individualist and idealist account of emotional distress, for only such an account can legitimate the role of professional practitioner. ‘Psychology tries to be objective like a science – explanations of activities or interests undermines the ‘scientific’ rationale for our practice’.

This is not to say that drugs or therapy are harmful. Being able to talk to someone for an hour in therapy or having something which will take the edge of things via anti-depressants can make people feel better, but it doesn’t get to the sources of that sort of misery in the first place.

A Sociomaterialist Explanation of Mental Distress

Smail argued that feelings of well-being fundamentally arise from a public world. And in a society in which the concept of the public has been so viciously and systematically attacked – it’s no surprise, he argues, that distress has increased.

Interest and power are what determine events in our lives more than we are allowed to acknowledge. ‘The strength and integrity of the subject is determined not (as therapeutic psychology would have us believe) by efforts of individual will, but by the adequacy or otherwise of the environment (including, crucially, the public societal structures) in which it is located.’

It follows that where public structures are stable, supportive and nurturing, the individual may blossom and flourish; where they disintegrate the subject becomes demoralised and depressed.

To solve the mental health crisis we must ask broader ethical questions about how we treat each other. ‘We are bodies in a world: of course, in a physical world, but also a socially structured, material space-time in which what we do to each other has enormous importance’.

A Way Forward

To solve the mental health crisis it is necessary to critique the social conditions that we live in. Widespread mental illness is a hidden cost of neoliberal capitalism. Market forces have created heightened instability and alienation which has resulted in mass psychological distress.

The medical establishment reinforces the status quo by privatising stress. Those who struggle to meet the expectations of society are told that the problem is their family background or in the chemical make-up of their brain. There is a case to be made that anti-depressants and therapy are now the opiates of the masses.

As a collective, there is an urgent need for us to connect mental distress to systems of power and interest. If someone struggles to meet the cost of living, or to cope with the instability of working in the gig economy, it is vital that they understand that millions of other people are suffering for the same reasons.  Those incapacitated by depression and anxiety often feel tremendous guilt and self-loathing.  By connecting their illness to broader social forces, they may apportion less blame to themselves.

We need to challenge the idea that wide-scale mental distress is an unavoidable part of modern life. The kind of world we want is an ethical choice. We are not bound to accept that the ‘real world’ is one in which the ‘bottom line’ defines what is right and wrong. The ruthless world may be chosen, as it is by the current rulers of the globalised neo-liberal market. It can also be rejected.

The awareness that neoliberal governance is causing wide-scale mental distress can be a catalyst for social change. The left can drive this process by developing a ‘leftist psychotherapy’ that provides a theoretical framework for how the material conditions that we live in cause mental illness.

The post Towards a Leftist Psychotherapy first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Everything Is a Weapon

Have you ever wondered who’s pulling the strings? … Anything we touch is a weapon. We can deceive, persuade, change, influence, inspire. We come in many forms. We are everywhere.
— U.S. Army Psychological Operations recruitment video

The U.S. government is waging psychological warfare on the American people.

No, this is not a conspiracy theory.

Psychological warfare, according to the Rand Corporation, “involves the planned use of propaganda and other psychological operations to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes, and behavior of opposition groups.”

For years now, the government has been bombarding the citizenry with propaganda campaigns and psychological operations aimed at keeping us compliant, easily controlled and supportive of the police state’s various efforts abroad and domestically.

The government is so confident in its Orwellian powers of manipulation that it’s taken to bragging about them. Just recently, for example, the U.S. Army’s 4th Psychological Operations Group, the branch of the military responsible for psychological warfare, released a recruiting video that touts its efforts to pull the strings, turn everything they touch into a weapon, be everywhere, deceive, persuade, change, influence, and inspire.

This is the danger that lurks in plain sight.

Of the many weapons in the government’s vast arsenal, psychological warfare may be the most devastating in terms of the long-term consequences.

As the military journal Task and Purpose explains, “Psychological warfare is all about influencing governments, people of power, and everyday citizens… PSYOP soldiers’ key missions are to influence ‘emotions, notices, reasoning, and behavior of foreign governments and citizens,’ ‘deliberately deceive’ enemy forces, advise governments, and provide communications for disaster relief and rescue efforts.”

Yet don’t be fooled into thinking these psyops (psychological operations) campaigns are only aimed at foreign enemies. The government has made clear in word and deed that “we the people” are domestic enemies to be targeted, tracked, manipulated, micromanaged, surveilled, viewed as suspects, and treated as if our fundamental rights are mere privileges that can be easily discarded.

Aided and abetted by technological advances and scientific experimentation, the government has been subjecting the American people to “apple-pie propaganda” for the better part of the last century.

Consider some of the ways in which the government continues to wage psychological warfare on a largely unsuspecting citizenry.

Weaponizing violence. With alarming regularity, the nation continues to be subjected to spates of violence that terrorizes the public, destabilizes the country’s ecosystem, and gives the government greater justifications to crack down, lock down, and institute even more authoritarian policies for the so-called sake of national security without many objections from the citizenry.

Weaponizing surveillance, pre-crime and pre-thought campaigns. Surveillance, digital stalking and the data mining of the American people add up to a society in which there’s little room for indiscretions, imperfections, or acts of independence. When the government sees all and knows all and has an abundance of laws to render even the most seemingly upstanding citizen a criminal and lawbreaker, then the old adage that you’ve got nothing to worry about if you’ve got nothing to hide no longer applies. Add pre-crime programs into the mix with government agencies and corporations working in tandem to determine who is a potential danger and spin a sticky spider-web of threat assessments, behavioral sensing warnings, flagged “words,” and “suspicious” activity reports using automated eyes and ears, social media, behavior sensing software, and citizen spies, and you having the makings for a perfect dystopian nightmare. The government’s war on crime has now veered into the realm of social media and technological entrapment, with government agents adopting fake social media identities and AI-created profile pictures in order to surveil, target and capture potential suspects.

Weaponizing digital currencies, social media scores and censorship. Tech giants, working with the government, have been meting out their own version of social justice by way of digital tyranny and corporate censorship, muzzling whomever they want, whenever they want, on whatever pretext they want in the absence of any real due process, review or appeal. Unfortunately, digital censorship is just the beginning. Digital currencies (which can be used as “a tool for government surveillance of citizens and control over their financial transactions”), combined with social media scores and surveillance capitalism create a litmus test to determine who is worthy enough to be part of society and punish individuals for moral lapses and social transgressions (and reward them for adhering to government-sanctioned behavior). In China, millions of individuals and businesses, blacklisted as “unworthy” based on social media credit scores that grade them based on whether they are “good” citizens, have been banned from accessing financial markets, buying real estate or travelling by air or train.

Weaponizing compliance. Even the most well-intentioned government law or program can be—and has been—perverted, corrupted and used to advance illegitimate purposes once profit and power are added to the equation. The war on terror, the war on drugs, the war on COVID-19, the war on illegal immigration, asset forfeiture schemes, road safety schemes, school safety schemes, eminent domain: all of these programs started out as legitimate responses to pressing concerns and have since become weapons of compliance and control in the police state’s hands.

Weaponizing entertainment. For the past century, the Department of Defense’s Entertainment Media Office has provided Hollywood with equipment, personnel and technical expertise at taxpayer expense. In exchange, the military industrial complex has gotten a starring role in such blockbusters as Top Gun and its rebooted sequel Top Gun: Maverick, which translates to free advertising for the war hawks, recruitment of foot soldiers for the military empire, patriotic fervor by the taxpayers who have to foot the bill for the nation’s endless wars, and Hollywood visionaries working to churn out dystopian thrillers that make the war machine appear relevant, heroic and necessary. As Elmer Davis, a CBS broadcaster who was appointed the head of the Office of War Information, observed, “The easiest way to inject a propaganda idea into most people’s minds is to let it go through the medium of an entertainment picture when they do not realize that they are being propagandized.”

Weaponizing behavioral science and nudging. Apart from the overt dangers posed by a government that feels justified and empowered to spy on its people and use its ever-expanding arsenal of weapons and technology to monitor and control them, there’s also the covert dangers associated with a government empowered to use these same technologies to influence behaviors en masse and control the populace. In fact, it was President Obama who issued an executive order directing federal agencies to use “behavioral science” methods to minimize bureaucracy and influence the way people respond to government programs. It’s a short hop, skip and a jump from a behavioral program that tries to influence how people respond to paperwork to a government program that tries to shape the public’s views about other, more consequential matters. Thus, increasingly, governments around the world—including in the United States—are relying on “nudge units” to steer citizens in the direction the powers-that-be want them to go, while preserving the appearance of free will.

Weaponizing desensitization campaigns aimed at lulling us into a false sense of security. The events of recent years—the invasive surveillance, the extremism reports, the civil unrest, the protests, the shootings, the bombings, the military exercises and active shooter drills, the lockdowns, the color-coded alerts and threat assessments, the fusion centers, the transformation of local police into extensions of the military, the distribution of military equipment and weapons to local police forces, the government databases containing the names of dissidents and potential troublemakers—have conspired to acclimate the populace to accept a police state willingly, even gratefully.

Weaponizing fear and paranoia. The language of fear is spoken effectively by politicians on both sides of the aisle, shouted by media pundits from their cable TV pulpits, marketed by corporations, and codified into bureaucratic laws that do little to make our lives safer or more secure. Fear, as history shows, is the method most often used by politicians to increase the power of government and control a populace, dividing the people into factions, and persuading them to see each other as the enemy. This Machiavellian scheme has so ensnared the nation that few Americans even realize they are being manipulated into adopting an “us” against “them” mindset. Instead, fueled with fear and loathing for phantom opponents, they agree to pour millions of dollars and resources into political elections, militarized police, spy technology and endless wars, hoping for a guarantee of safety that never comes. All the while, those in power—bought and paid for by lobbyists and corporations—move their costly agendas forward, and “we the suckers” get saddled with the tax bills and subjected to pat downs, police raids and round-the-clock surveillance.

Weaponizing genetics. Not only does fear grease the wheels of the transition to fascism by cultivating fearful, controlled, pacified, cowed citizens, but it also embeds itself in our very DNA so that we pass on our fear and compliance to our offspring. It’s called epigenetic inheritance, the transmission through DNA of traumatic experiences. For example, neuroscientists observed that fear can travel through generations of mice DNA. As the Washington Post reports, “Studies on humans suggest that children and grandchildren may have felt the epigenetic impact of such traumatic events such as famine, the Holocaust and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.”

Weaponizing the future. With greater frequency, the government has been issuing warnings about the dire need to prepare for the dystopian future that awaits us. For instance, the Pentagon training video, “Megacities: Urban Future, the Emerging Complexity,” predicts that by 2030 (coincidentally, the same year that society begins to achieve singularity with the metaverse) the military would be called on to use armed forces to solve future domestic political and social problems. What they’re really talking about is martial law, packaged as a well-meaning and overriding concern for the nation’s security. The chilling five-minute training video paints an ominous picture of the future bedeviled by “criminal networks,” “substandard infrastructure,” “religious and ethnic tensions,” “impoverishment, slums,” “open landfills, over-burdened sewers,” a “growing mass of unemployed,” and an urban landscape in which the prosperous economic elite must be protected from the impoverishment of the have nots. “We the people” are the have-nots.

The end goal of these mind control campaigns—packaged in the guise of the greater good—is to see how far the American people will allow the government to go in re-shaping the country in the image of a totalitarian police state.

The facts speak for themselves.

Whatever else it may be—a danger, a menace, a threat—the U.S. government is certainly not looking out for our best interests, nor is it in any way a friend to freedom.

When the government views itself as superior to the citizenry, when it no longer operates for the benefit of the people, when the people are no longer able to peacefully reform their government, when government officials cease to act like public servants, when elected officials no longer represent the will of the people, when the government routinely violates the rights of the people and perpetrates more violence against the citizenry than the criminal class, when government spending is unaccountable and unaccounted for, when the judiciary act as courts of order rather than justice, and when the government is no longer bound by the laws of the Constitution, then you no longer have a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

What we have is a government of wolves.

Our backs are against the proverbial wall.

“We the people”—who think, who reason, who take a stand, who resist, who demand to be treated with dignity and care, who believe in freedom and justice for all—have become undervalued citizens of a totalitarian state that views people as expendable once they have outgrown their usefulness to the State.

Brace yourselves.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People and in its fictional counterpart The Erik Blair Diaries, “we the people” have become enemies of the Deep State.

The post Everything Is a Weapon first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Forgetting Freedom a Generation at Time

In the 16th Century, French essayist Etienne de la Boetie, amazed at people’s obedience to perceived authority, penned Discourse On Voluntary Servitude. It wasn’t obedience per se that disturbed him, but that he saw people as “driven to servility,” when refusal to comply would end their servitude: “(I)f, without any violence [tyrants] are simply not obeyed, they become naked and undone and as nothing.”

For Boetie, being free is the natural state for humans, and he wanted to understand “…. how it happens that this obstinate willingness to submit has become so deeply rooted in a nation that the very love of liberty now seems no longer natural.” He was ruthless in his assessment of the people he saw: “[T]he essential reason why men take orders willingly is that they are born serfs and are reared as such.”

Boetie’s “… and are reared as such” alludes to intergenerational relationships: “It is true that in the beginning men submit under constraint and by force; but those who come after them obey without regret and perform willingly what their predecessors had done because they had to.” This is as we’ve seen since early 2020, as the young developed world views while watching a terrified parental generation yield when commanded to mask up, to isolate and to keep distance from other humans. Given the direction of society, coming generations will certainly see increasing levels of submission to authority as normal. No longer will it be “new” normal. Just normal.

And what is ’normal’ to be? Let transhumanist Yuval Noah Harari explain that people now may be the last generations of Homo sapiens, because “elites” (his word) have the technology to hack our bodies, as one might hack a computer, because after all, individual persons, we are told, are just algorithms. Therefore, they can be engineered en masse, with genetic code “edited” according to “our” intelligent design, and not the design of “some god above the clouds”. Concepts of soul and free will, he tells us, are over, and IBM and Microsoft clouds will now drive evolution. A new regime of mass surveillance from “under the skin” is emerging.

Harari’s “under the skin” mirrors the predictions of Klaus Schwab, guiding figure of the World Economic Forum, seen here explaining the coming fusion of people’s physical, digital and biological identities. Microchips will soon be implanted within bodies, this allowing direct connection between brains and the digital world. Individuals and the cloud, you see, are to be essentially one. And when you add to this the editing of human (for the time being) DNA, the sky truly is the limit.

But really, hasn’t “predictive programming” been habituating us with years of messaging in cultural and entertainment outlets? But of course! — such a claim would naturally be denounced as “conspiracy theory” by establishment interests, but that alone is reason for a closer look. One finds that “nudge units”, governmental programs employing platoons of psychologists and marketing experts, created to influence public perceptions and behavior, are not only acknowledged, but are so successful that countries all over the world are creating their own. The goals of predictive programming and those of nudge units are in perfect synch. That being so, any argument that nudge units would overlook the power of predictive programming to familiarize the public with oncoming conditions is absurd.

Bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel is noteworthy for his opinion — a particularly interesting “nudge” — that humans attaining age 75 should cease clinging to life which, by then, is “faltering and declining”, transforming “… how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us.” He doesn’t advocate suicide, just a withholding of major attempts at the preservation of life. This has implications for the passage of information within a civilization over time. Whereas cultures everywhere, and through time, have revered elders as narrators of cultural history, for Emanuel the wisdom acquired by the very old from their unique view of the passing of generations is not, in itself, important enough to cherish.

Emanuel’s position fits well with the coming techno-utopian world conceptualized by Harari, in which a great “useless class” is created: “What should we do with all the superfluous people, once we have highly intelligent non-conscious algorithms that can do almost everything better than humans?” Superfluous! Thus is utilitarianism as an underlying techno-utopian value established. And because the rest of the technophilic pyramid of power prays to the God of Efficiency in the Church of Artificial Intelligence, the only logical path forward would be to disappear the useless bottom layer. The logic inherent in AI would make it unavoidable.

In 1956, psychologist Carl Jung, in The Undiscovered Self, wrote that making people functions of the state “externalizes” them, causing the loss of “their extramundane point of reference …. relation to an authority which is not of this world”. Jung speaks of the importance of a spiritual connection, not based on learned religious dogmas, but internally sourced, “which alone can protect …. from the otherwise inevitable submersion in the mass”. How radically opposite that is to Harari’s mocking reference to anything not definable algorithmically.

66 years before psychiatrist Mattias Desmet referred to the collective reaction to the Covid19 ‘Pandemic’ as “mass formation”, Jung was describing the “collective possession” that “displaces the individual in favor of anonymous units that pile up into mass formations.” Referencing the Nazi’s Third Reich, Jung wrote that it would not be surprising “if another civilized nation succumbed to the infection of a uniform and one-sided idea. America ….. is perhaps even more vulnerable than Europe, since her educational system is the most influenced by the scientific Weltanschauung [worldview] with its statistical truths.”

It is doubtful that Jung foresaw the fatal dangers of transhumanism, the very melding of consciousness with the digital sphere, but for him the purely scientific existence, dominated by cold technical logic, was dreadful enough: “In this reality man is the slave and victim of the machines that have conquered space and time for him.” Nevertheless, his optimism remained intact: “Slavery and rebellion are inseparable correlates”.

But here’s the rub: “Inseparable” would no longer apply in the planned-for transhuman experience. Slavery could be guaranteed, because rebellion could easily be — and certainly would be — rendered impossible if the Great Reset’s promise to a cloud-connected humanity were ever to be fulfilled: “You will own nothing and you will be happy.” For how could any form of rebellion possibly arise from hackable algorithms engineered to experience happiness regardless of conditions? Techno-utopian engineers would naturally create nothing but models of obedience perfectly content with whatever their situations might be. This prospect is what our descendants will face.

The post Forgetting Freedom a Generation at Time first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Forgetting Freedom a Generation at Time

In the 16th Century, French essayist Etienne de la Boetie, amazed at people’s obedience to perceived authority, penned Discourse On Voluntary Servitude. It wasn’t obedience per se that disturbed him, but that he saw people as “driven to servility,” when refusal to comply would end their servitude: “(I)f, without any violence [tyrants] are simply not obeyed, they become naked and undone and as nothing.”

For Boetie, being free is the natural state for humans, and he wanted to understand “…. how it happens that this obstinate willingness to submit has become so deeply rooted in a nation that the very love of liberty now seems no longer natural.” He was ruthless in his assessment of the people he saw: “[T]he essential reason why men take orders willingly is that they are born serfs and are reared as such.”

Boetie’s “… and are reared as such” alludes to intergenerational relationships: “It is true that in the beginning men submit under constraint and by force; but those who come after them obey without regret and perform willingly what their predecessors had done because they had to.” This is as we’ve seen since early 2020, as the young developed world views while watching a terrified parental generation yield when commanded to mask up, to isolate and to keep distance from other humans. Given the direction of society, coming generations will certainly see increasing levels of submission to authority as normal. No longer will it be “new” normal. Just normal.

And what is ’normal’ to be? Let transhumanist Yuval Noah Harari explain that people now may be the last generations of Homo sapiens, because “elites” (his word) have the technology to hack our bodies, as one might hack a computer, because after all, individual persons, we are told, are just algorithms. Therefore, they can be engineered en masse, with genetic code “edited” according to “our” intelligent design, and not the design of “some god above the clouds”. Concepts of soul and free will, he tells us, are over, and IBM and Microsoft clouds will now drive evolution. A new regime of mass surveillance from “under the skin” is emerging.

Harari’s “under the skin” mirrors the predictions of Klaus Schwab, guiding figure of the World Economic Forum, seen here explaining the coming fusion of people’s physical, digital and biological identities. Microchips will soon be implanted within bodies, this allowing direct connection between brains and the digital world. Individuals and the cloud, you see, are to be essentially one. And when you add to this the editing of human (for the time being) DNA, the sky truly is the limit.

But really, hasn’t “predictive programming” been habituating us with years of messaging in cultural and entertainment outlets? But of course! — such a claim would naturally be denounced as “conspiracy theory” by establishment interests, but that alone is reason for a closer look. One finds that “nudge units”, governmental programs employing platoons of psychologists and marketing experts, created to influence public perceptions and behavior, are not only acknowledged, but are so successful that countries all over the world are creating their own. The goals of predictive programming and those of nudge units are in perfect synch. That being so, any argument that nudge units would overlook the power of predictive programming to familiarize the public with oncoming conditions is absurd.

Bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel is noteworthy for his opinion — a particularly interesting “nudge” — that humans attaining age 75 should cease clinging to life which, by then, is “faltering and declining”, transforming “… how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us.” He doesn’t advocate suicide, just a withholding of major attempts at the preservation of life. This has implications for the passage of information within a civilization over time. Whereas cultures everywhere, and through time, have revered elders as narrators of cultural history, for Emanuel the wisdom acquired by the very old from their unique view of the passing of generations is not, in itself, important enough to cherish.

Emanuel’s position fits well with the coming techno-utopian world conceptualized by Harari, in which a great “useless class” is created: “What should we do with all the superfluous people, once we have highly intelligent non-conscious algorithms that can do almost everything better than humans?” Superfluous! Thus is utilitarianism as an underlying techno-utopian value established. And because the rest of the technophilic pyramid of power prays to the God of Efficiency in the Church of Artificial Intelligence, the only logical path forward would be to disappear the useless bottom layer. The logic inherent in AI would make it unavoidable.

In 1956, psychologist Carl Jung, in The Undiscovered Self, wrote that making people functions of the state “externalizes” them, causing the loss of “their extramundane point of reference …. relation to an authority which is not of this world”. Jung speaks of the importance of a spiritual connection, not based on learned religious dogmas, but internally sourced, “which alone can protect …. from the otherwise inevitable submersion in the mass”. How radically opposite that is to Harari’s mocking reference to anything not definable algorithmically.

66 years before psychiatrist Mattias Desmet referred to the collective reaction to the Covid19 ‘Pandemic’ as “mass formation”, Jung was describing the “collective possession” that “displaces the individual in favor of anonymous units that pile up into mass formations.” Referencing the Nazi’s Third Reich, Jung wrote that it would not be surprising “if another civilized nation succumbed to the infection of a uniform and one-sided idea. America ….. is perhaps even more vulnerable than Europe, since her educational system is the most influenced by the scientific Weltanschauung [worldview] with its statistical truths.”

It is doubtful that Jung foresaw the fatal dangers of transhumanism, the very melding of consciousness with the digital sphere, but for him the purely scientific existence, dominated by cold technical logic, was dreadful enough: “In this reality man is the slave and victim of the machines that have conquered space and time for him.” Nevertheless, his optimism remained intact: “Slavery and rebellion are inseparable correlates”.

But here’s the rub: “Inseparable” would no longer apply in the planned-for transhuman experience. Slavery could be guaranteed, because rebellion could easily be — and certainly would be — rendered impossible if the Great Reset’s promise to a cloud-connected humanity were ever to be fulfilled: “You will own nothing and you will be happy.” For how could any form of rebellion possibly arise from hackable algorithms engineered to experience happiness regardless of conditions? Techno-utopian engineers would naturally create nothing but models of obedience perfectly content with whatever their situations might be. This prospect is what our descendants will face.

The post Forgetting Freedom a Generation at Time first appeared on Dissident Voice.

A Paean to “Warm-Hearted Sex”

The upper-class married men of Sigmund Freud’s Vienna, like those of Tolstoy’s aristocratic milieu, often led debased, clandestine sexual lives which clashed with their more genteel, conjugal relations. They had invariably married within their own class, of course: unblemished young ladies from good families, versed in the arts of cultured conversation and amateur musicianship. Young ladies who had saved their “treasure” — only to find themselves shocked and unprepared for the raw male passions of the bridal suite.

Such men, by contrast, were certainly “experienced.” Since their days in college and in military service, they had freely visited brothels in the customary red-light districts.  Moreover – to our present-day dismay – children as young as 14 could legally become registered streetwalkers. Such poor children, probably abused in earlier years and desperate for cash, were easy prey for such well-heeled “gentlemen.” Sexual release was sought and obtained–but with the usual hangover of queasy shame. In short, as Freud realized, these men admired women whom they could not desire, and desired women whom they could not love. (There were exceptions – one of Leo Tolstoy’s older  brothers warmly loved and married a prostitute.) But generally, as Freud described, these upper-class males experienced a conflicted eroticism: affectionate tenderness vs. uninhibited sensuality. The outcome was devastating for so many of these genteel
couples: often impotent husbands, often frigid wives.

But what possible relevance could Freud’s observations in Vienna, well over 100 years ago, have now? Well, as I wrote briefly in my book Riddles of Eros (1994), researcher Alfred Kinsey’s tremendously influential books on human sexual behavior (1948, 1953) introduced an unfortunate misconception – that sexual behavior occurs simply to discharge sexual tensions. The preposterously overpraised Kinsey researchers not only promoted the misguided notion that sex is nothing more than such “release,” but also that there are six equally valid “outlets” in which to achieve it. (Bestiality, anyone?). Like hunger or the need to “evacuate,” the sex-drive merely urgently sought for tension-reduction (ejaculation, climax, whatever).

Since the 1960s, the generally easy access to reliable contraceptives has been a great boon for “planned parenthood.” And, more recently, with the availability of generally reliable “morning-after” pills (still under-publicized to uninformed teenage girls), the numbers of abortions performed per annum should have dropped precipitously. But they haven’t, at least in the U.S . — and one explanation is that, while the product is over-the-counter in most states, its price may discourage purchase. (Of course, these products are freely provided in many other countries).

After Kinsey, Masters and Johnson, and Wilhelm Reich (who insisted that only total orgasms would lead to emotional health), the prevailing conception became a purely physiological one. Like other bodily functions (e.g., hunger), sexual tension could be pleasurably released through satisfactory sexual activity with an available “partner.”

What resulted, for so many starved for real human contact, was a depersonalized casualism. For the sexual encounter, Kinsey notwithstanding, is by nature a highly intimate one. Human touching and embracing are not only sexually arousing, but highly emotionally communicative, extending a trusting vulnerability which for a time transcends emotional isolation. Such contact, when defensive dissociation is overcome, is of the utmost intimacy far transcending mere conversation. Such misunderstanding of sexual intimacy has, in my opinion, devalued its subjective, uniquely personal quality – and reduced varied sexual encounters for many to merely an impersonal consumption of pleasure.

The post A Paean to “Warm-Hearted Sex” first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Enlightenment Sets the Record Straight

Negative characterizations of human beings abound. It is common to hear people assert that humans are naturally greedy. Or competitive. Or stupid. It should also be noted that the one making this declaration never includes himself or herself. The messenger is innocent. But the rest of us are judged as being wholly no good. Most of the apples are bad. This view is not new and has a rather rich history. Much of Christian dogma has cast a dim view of human nature. In the Christian interpretation of the Old Testament, the doctrine of original sin holds that, due to Adam and Eve’s transgressions, the rest of us hit the ground at guilty. During the Reformation, the highly influential French reformer John Calvin (1509-1564) built this notion into his joyless and strict theology and ethics.

In this essay, we will look at a string of philosophers from the Enlightenment who redrew what it means to be human. While many have deemed humans vicious creatures, we will consider some thinkers who felt this was not the case. They focused on our internal sense of humanity and the abundant goodness that can be found in people.

Every thinker we will look at—Shaftesbury, Butler, Hume, Smith, and Rousseau—had Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) in his sights. They felt Hobbes characterized human nature in a narrow, reductive way. Hobbes’s name has become a label denoting just such a judgment of humanity. “Hobbesian” now means the opinion that people are terrible and prone to violence. But while his viewpoint was indeed materialistic and mechanical, and he did feel that people needed the protection of a sovereign power, Hobbes does not say people are terrible. If you encountered Hobbes in high school or college, chances are the quotes you were taught came from Chapter XIII (around three pages in total) of his masterpiece Leviathan. Excerpts from chapter XIII are in all the textbooks and it is there where all the familiar quotes come from. In this section, I simply wish to do some corrective work on the subject. The goal is not to include Hobbes with the other thinkers we will discuss—he certainly stands apart from them, but he’s not the Grim Reaper either.

It is common for political philosophers to begin with a consideration of human nature. In order to properly investigate how humans should arrange and organize themselves in the best possible way, it stands to reason that we should decide on what is the essence of human nature; in a sense, that is what I am doing in this essay. We have to know just whom—or what—we are organizing. If people are naturally aggressive and vicious, this must be taken into account when designing systems of governance for them. Likewise, if humans tend to be kind and cooperative, we will need a much different system. The method many philosophers utilized was to consider humankind in a “state of nature.” That is, what are we left with when we subtract those systems of governance? What kind of creatures are humans when we consider them on their own, in the wild, with no overarching political or economic structure of any kind? This is not to suggest that this state of nature at one time existed; think of it more as a thought experiment.

Hobbes’s conception of humankind in a state of nature starts with the idea that everyone is more or less equal and free. The playing field starts level, for even body and mind; even the weakest person can conceivably kill the strongest. So I could potentially kill you and steal your apples, but you might kill me in the process. However, the threat of someone, or a confederacy of someones, killing me and stealing my apples does exist. No one is stopping them. Also, there is the risk of there being no apples. So, now we are in competition. The threat of scarcity also looms for Hobbes. And scarcity can lead to things getting ugly. But all in all, the Hobbesian state of nature is a set of circumstances where people are more prone to mind their own business. Someone could try and do me in to get my apples, but they probably will not. So if I see you out on the savanna, I’ll probably just ignore you, and you me. Leading Hobbes scholar Richard Tuck maintains,

The common idea that Hobbes was in some sense “pessimistic” about human nature is wide of the mark, for his natural men [people in a state of nature] were in principle stand-offish towards one another rather than inherently belligerent.1

For Hobbes, there are three principal causes of what he calls “quarrel”: competition, diffidence, and glory. The first could be the case where things are scarce and I might do you violence because I need your apples. The second pertains to the insecurity of the state of nature, where you might kill me and take my apples, so if I perceive you as a threat, I might club you over the head. And the third sees violence occur where I might want people to be impressed with me, so I club you over the head just to burnish my image. But what Hobbes does not say is that we are destined to do one another violence. He does not paint the state of nature as a place of bloodshed and wanton slaughter. The threat of that exists, but that’s it. Hobbes says,

[W]hen taking a journey, he armes himselfe, and seeks to go well accompanied; when going to sleep, he locks his dores; when even in his house he locks his chests; and this when he knowes there bee Lawes, and publike Officers, armed to revenge all injuries shall bee done him…. (Leviathan, XIII)

So, when I go to sleep, I lock my door (not dore, it’s 2022). Does this reveal anything about my philosophy of human nature? You lock yours, too. We all do. Are we all Hobbesian in the common, negative sense? No. He then says, “Does he [the guy locking his door] not there as much accuse mankind by his actions, as I do by my words? But neither of us accuse man’s nature in it.” (Leviathan, XIII) There, he just said it out loud. He is not accusing human nature. You lock your doors at night because someone might come in and kill you (and maybe take your apples). But that probably will not happen. You will sleep soundly and you and your apples will be just fine. So, Hobbes is making the case that there needs to be a power—a leviathan—something that proclaims officially, “No one is to kill anybody and take anyone’s apples, and if you do, you will be punished. We’ve got guns.” People need a “a common Power to keep them all in awe, and to direct their actions to the Common Benefit.” (XVII) And the power will “tye them by feare of punishment to the performance of their Covenants, and observation of these Lawes of Nature….” (XVII) Nevertheless, Hobbes highlights in the state of nature this mutual fear of one another, this possible threat, life being potentially “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short” (XIII) without the necessary security arrangements.2 So, while Hobbes does not say what so many attribute to him, his emphasis is not on cooperation and sympathy, as some Enlightenment thinkers chose to do, as we will now see.

*****
During the Enlightenment, thinkers began to cast human nature in a new light. Two philosophers who made early contributions to this new way of thinking were Anthony Ashley Cooper, Third Earl of Shaftesbury (1671–1713) in his essay “Inquiry Concerning Virtue or Merit” and Joseph Butler (1692–1752) in his influential Fifteen Sermons.

Anthony Ashley Cooper, Third Earl of Shaftesbury, better known as Shaftesbury, introduced what would become “moral sense theory,” suggesting that we possess a native capacity to experience and judge moral circumstances. As mentioned, in a challenge to Hobbes, Shaftesbury took issue with Hobbes’s reductive picture of human nature. In the “Inquiry,” Shaftesbury says that we experience “moral objects” much like we experience physical objects:

So, we experience moral judgments just as we experience a painting and approve or disapprove of it aesthetically: “There is a common and natural sense of what is sublime and beautiful in things; and someone who denies this won’t be taken seriously by anyone who has attended properly to the facts.”

Shaftesbury maintains this sense of right and wrong is natural and a “first principle in our make-up”:

Because a sense of right and wrong is as natural to us as natural affection itself, and is a first principle in our make-up, there is no theory, opinion, persuasion or belief that can immediately or directly exclude or destroy it.

Joseph Butler in his sermons influenced a long list of philosophers by also focusing on the moral conscience, that “principle of reflection” bestowed upon us by God (Butler was devout and became a bishop) to judge and regulate our conduct.

Butler maintains that it is too obvious to require the making of the case that we have something in us that leads humans toward the good. Yes, humans can fall prey to “ungoverned passions” and do one another harm, just as humans will do themselves harm. So, we are not divine, but we do have a nature. Just as leopards and flies have a nature, we too possess one. Our nature is acting in accordance with this principle of reflection or conscience. This faculty has an authority and, as he says, a supremacy and goes so far as to say (in the second sermon): “Had it strength, as it has right; had it power, as it has manifest authority; it would absolutely rule the world.”3 Butler observes that we are oriented toward one another. We find “satisfaction and amusement” in our various interactions. As he observes:

There is such a natural principle of attraction in man toward man, that having trod the same tract of land, having breathed in the same climate, barely having been born in the same artificial district or division, becomes the occasion of contracting and familiarities many years after: for any thing may serve the purpose. (Sermon 1)4

So, we bump into a fellow citizen during our foreign travels and form a bond. It seems silly that we do this. Why should I care, if I’m in Jordan, if I cross paths with an American? It is probably silly; actually it is quite silly. The point is that we all do this. It’s a reflex. And Butler says there’s a good reason for it. It lies at the center of what we are.

Shaftesbury and Butler influenced a generation of thinkers. Among the most preeminent were David Hume (1711–1776) and Adam Smith (1723–1790). Both members of the Scottish Enlightenment, Hume and Smith were not only intellectually simpatico, they were close, lifelong friends. Their friendship coincided with a renaissance that took place in Scotland, which up to that point had been a breeding ground of poverty and disease. In the early eighteenth century, Scotland then became the center of some of the most path-breaking and influential intellectual work in Europe—the capital, Edinburgh, itself got labeled a “hot-bed of genius.”5 Hume and Smith played major roles in this story.

Hume was twelve years Smith’s senior, and by the time Smith wrote his two major opuses—The Theory of Moral Sentiments (first edition 1759) and The Wealth of Nations (1776—the year Hume died) Hume’s literary output was winding down. Hume’s thought therefore had quite an impact on Smith. In many respects, Smith can be viewed as a revision or an expansion of what Hume was attempting to achieve. The two thinkers did see eye to eye philosophically, but this should not be taken to mean that Smith merely offered a retread of Hume’s work. Smith’s moral philosophy is far more developed than Hume’s, and in many ways superior.

To start with Hume, he challenged the history of philosophy’s assumption that moral judgments are the product of reason. Philosophers, for centuries, took the position that if I saw someone steal an old lady’s purse, my moral judgement of it was an intellectual event. I drew conclusions, using my reason, that the theft was wrong. Hume disagrees. My moral judgment of the theft is akin to getting nervous before I give a speech or getting jealous when I see what I perceive to be flirtation on the part of my date with another person at a party. (Maybe I’m wrong, but the initial feeling of jealousy I certainly did not choose; it was merely a response.) For Hume, I cannot access moral matters intellectually, because intellectual matters deal with two kinds of knowledge: statements like “All bachelors are unmarried men” or “x=x.” Or knowledge that requires empirical verification: “All bachelors are tall” or “water boils at 100C.” The former set produces no new information and the latter does, but you have to verify it. The statement “All bachelors are tall” is absurd, but it’s a type of knowledge or statement. Tall is not part of the concept bachelor—unmarried man is. So, Hume says that our moral judgments must be taking place elsewhere. For him, it is more of a “neck-down” proposition than a “neck-up” one. In his major philosophical work A Treatise of Human Nature, he famously concludes “Morality is more properly felt than judg’d of….” (Treatise, 3.1.2)

In other words, as I examine a murder scene, the only things available to my senses and my reason (my intellect) are the facts of the crime scene. I can do detective work, I can do forensic analysis, I can come up with hypotheses, question the perpetrator, do lab work, get statements from witnesses, etc. This is all that is available. The right and the wrong of the situation are not on display. I cannot examine the scene for immorality. I cannot take it to the lab. The immorality of the scene I brought with me to the scene. It is only when I turn my reflection inward that the sentiment—my moral judgment of the scene—reveals itself. It is in me, in the form of a feeling. I internally judge the murder as immoral; there is no immorality at the murder scene.

If Hume is right, this has broad implications for the species. For one, we don’t get our morality from religion or our parents, it is an internal sense that we have. (Hume was keen to remove God from the picture; his irreligious perspective—which he made no attempt to hide—was something that rankled among some of his contemporaries and prevented him from securing a teaching position.) Moreover, Hume is saying that our core sense of morality is biological. We possess an internal sense of right and wrong and it registers at the level of sense. If we see a heinously immoral act, like a child being abused, we will feel it. It is a response. This is not to suggest that we will always agree. Hume accounts for distance and “disposition of our mind.” If I am present at the scene when the murder took place, it is going to probably affect my day. If I see it on the news, it probably will not. If I read about it in a history book, it definitely won’t. I can also have bad facts and misjudge a situation, like the perceived flirtation at the party. But, I cannot have a wrong feeling. I’m not wrong for feeling jealousy, if that is what I perceived. Maybe I was wrong about the facts—my date was simply getting directions to a restaurant she thought I would like—but the jealousy was not wrong.

In a later work entitled An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (known as the Second Inquiry), Hume discusses the concept of virtue. He states that “It is the nature, and, indeed, the definition of virtue, that it is a quality of the mind agreeable to or approved of by every one, who considers or contemplates it.” (§VIII) In other words, we find the virtuous agreeable; we are hardwired to find such things of use as pleasing. Were we terrible creatures this certainly would not be the case. Hume continues with a bit of a literary flourish, “[It] cannot be disputed, that there is some benevolence, however small, infused into our bosom; some spark of friendship for human kind; some particle of the dove, kneaded into our frame, along with the elements of the wolf and serpent.” (§IX) On a personal note, I really find this passage both beautiful and accurate. Some particle of the dove, kneaded into our frame. Sure, we can proceed like the wolf and the serpent, but we are not the wolf or the serpent. We just have those moments. But the particle of the dove is in there. It is part of what we are.

On to Hume’s very good friend Adam Smith. This is the very first paragraph in Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments ((There are many editions of Smith’s Moral Sentiments, but I recommend the scholarly Cambridge edition: Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, ed. Knud Haakonssen (Cambridge, 2002).)):

How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it. Of this kind is pity or compassion, the emotion which we feel for the misery of others, when we either see it, or are made to conceive it in a very lively manner. That we often derive sorrow from the sorrow of others, is a matter of fact too obvious to require any instances to prove it; for this sentiment, like all the other original passions of human nature, is by no means confined to the virtuous and humane, though they perhaps may feel it with the most exquisite sensibility. The greatest ruffian, the most hardened violator of the laws of society, is not altogether without it.

“How selfish soever man may be supposed”—this is basically a shot at Hobbes. This view of humanity was alive and well in the eighteenth century. If anything it was worse. “[P]rinciples in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.” We know this to be true if only we consult our own experiences. “[T]he emotion which we feel for the misery of others …” Again, we know this to be true. Your friend’s pet dies, you feel something. Your friend loses her job, you feel something. Even characters in a film—whom you do not know and do not exist—you cry, you feel sadness. “That we often derive sorrow from the sorrow of others, is a matter of fact too obvious to require any instances to prove it….” “The greatest ruffian, the most hardened violator of the laws of society, is not altogether without it.” We are quick to write off people in prison as being lost causes, but Smith’s point is a sound one.

Smith’s moral philosophy is also based on sentiment and sympathy, which Smith uses in an all-encompassing way to “denote our fellow-feeling with any passions whatever.” (1.1.1.5) But at times, Smith significantly departs from Hume’s approach. In a sense, it is more active we might say. Where Hume’s is a more passive transmission of sentiment, Smith employs what he calls imagination.

Put another way, it’s not a mere transmission of sentiment; I, through imagination, connect with the person’s circumstances. Rather than run through the technical aspects and specifics of Smith’s moral philosophy, I wish to center on his view of human nature, which permeates Moral Sentiments. In Part 3 of the text, Smith makes the following observation:

Man naturally desires, not only to be loved, but to be lovely; or to be that thing which is the natural and proper object of love. He naturally dreads, not only to be hated, but to be hateful; or to be that thing which is the natural and proper object of hatred. He desires, not only praise, but praise-worthiness; or to be that thing which, though it should be praised by nobody, is, however, the natural and proper object of praise. He dreads, not only blame, but blame-worthiness; or to be that thing which, though it should be blamed by nobody, is, however, the natural and proper object of blame. (3.2.1)

This is a powerful thought. “Man naturally desires, not only to be loved, but to be lovely.”

Smith highlights the existence and role of our conscience:

Nature, when she formed man for society, endowed him with an original desire to please, and an original aversion to offend his brethren. She taught him to feel pleasure in their favourable, and pain in their unfavourable regard. She rendered their approbation [approval] most flattering and most agreeable to him for its own sake; and their disapprobation most mortifying and most offensive. (3.2.5–6)

At the center of what we are, Smith is saying, there is a native preference for approval. We seek praise and praise-worthiness. And it is through this native sense that we judge our actions and the actions of others:

He [the Author of Nature] has made man, if I may say so, the immediate judge of mankind; and has, in this respect, as in many others, created him after his own image, and appointed him his vicegerent [ruler] upon earth, to superintend the behaviour of his brethren. (3.2.31)

He likens the conscience to a tribunal, to “that of the man within the breast, the great judge and arbiter of their [humankind’s] conduct.” (3.2.32)

I will close the Adam Smith discussion with what is probably my favorite Smith quote. Russian writer Anton Chekhov has a similar quote6 which gets more attention, but I like Smith’s better: “If we saw ourselves in the light in which others see us, or in which they would see us if they knew all, a reformation would generally be unavoidable.” This applies to individuals and whole societies. Humans are not very good at seeing themselves.

Another Enlightenment thinker we would be remiss to not include is the Genevan philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1788). Rousseau was an influential thinker who in part inspired Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments. Rousseau and Hume knew one another, were friends for a time, and then had a falling out. Rousseau is probably the only person to have had interpersonal difficulties with the illustrious Scot, as he was basically adored by everyone who knew him. But at that point Rousseau’s mental health was declining, so we can cut him some slack.

Rousseau in his essay Discourse on Inequality (known as the Second Discourse), reconsiders the state of nature we discussed with Hobbes, and how other thinkers have employed it. Rousseau maintains that the major political philosophers who used the state of nature as a point of departure—for example, Hobbes and English philosopher John Locke (1632–1704)—started with civilized man and not man in a state of nature. He argues that aspects of socialized life have been imputed to their descriptions of the state of nature. It is Rousseau’s position that humans do not need an overarching structure to provide them protection (Hobbes) or to ensure property rights (Locke). That we were (hypothetically) better off in the state of nature and that it was civilization and the overarching political and economic structures that have created our worst ills. “Man is born free,” Rousseau famously stated in The Social Contract, “and everywhere he is in chains.” It was modernization that put those chains on us. That we were healthier, stronger, more dextrous, and altogether happier in the state of nature. Interestingly, this is the general sentiment in the current literature. Roughly 12,000 years ago, humans transitioned from being foragers and hunter-gatherers to growing crops, attaching themselves to a given parcel of land.

But alas, we cannot return to the state of nature, so we have to make the best of it. It is in his descriptions of humankind in the state of nature that Rousseau, like all the thinkers we have discussed so far, cast humanity in a much nicer light.

At the center of his characterization of humans in the state of nature, Rousseau notes the role of pity in human life. For Rousseau, this “natural sentiment” of pity places a check on our behavior. As he states, “[M]en would never have been anything but monsters, if nature had not given them pity to aid their reason.”7 He goes on to say:

Instead of the sublime maxim of reasoned justice [the Golden Rule], Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, pity inspires all men with another maxim of natural goodness, much less perfect but perhaps more useful than the preceding one: Do what is good for you with as little harm as possible to others.8

He expounds on the concept:

Pity is what, in the state of nature, takes the place of laws, mores, and virtue, with the advantage that no one is tempted to disobey its sweet voice. Pity is what will prevent every robust savage from robbing a weak child or an infirm old man of his hard-earned subsistence, if he himself expects to be able to find his own someplace else.8

And this is a thought worth meditating on. If we were naturally greedy and heartless, imagine what kind of world we would live in. Rousseau already said it above: we would be little more than monsters without this sense of pity. The world would be a nightmare. We might be tempted to point to the news as proof that the world is largely chaos and violence. This is false. If we were at the core unpleasant, the world would be a complete nightmare. And it isn’t. People want their children safe, for them to have good schools to attend, to get along with their neighbors, to have a job—one that pays something—and they tend to be touchy about foreign tanks on their streets. In the Middle East, in East Asia, in South America, in Europe, and all over the United States, I have encountered the same thing. This cannot be a coincidence.

So, very similar to Smith, Rousseau asserts we possess an innate sense and an inclination to not do harm. Likewise, similar to Hume, he calls into question philosophy’s age-old emphasis on reason being the sole source of our “repugnance at doing evil”8: “[T]he human race would long ago have ceased to exist,” he states, “if its preservation had depended solely on the reasoning of its members.”8

In fact, what are generosity, mercy and humanity, if not pity applied to the weak, to the guilty, or to the human species in general? Benevolence and even friendship are, properly understood, the products of a constant pity fixed on a particular object; for is desiring that someone not suffer anything but desiring that he be happy.

Rousseau selects a choice quote from the Roman poet Juvenal: “Nature, in giving men tears, bears witness that it gave the human race the softest hearts.”9

We are seeing confirmation of this Enlightenment redrawing of human nature across the sciences, in primatology, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, and psychology. Hume and Smith are now the talk of the town.

  1. Richard Tuck, Hobbes: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 65.
  2. I guess I had to include this quote, even though it was with hesitancy. It gets quoted everywhere by everyone. It’s in all the textbooks. But it gets trotted out to suggest that Hobbes is saying that is what life in the state of nature is like. And he is not saying that. When you see a quote get used to death, something is usually amiss. Like Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” concept or his “propensity to truck, barter, and exchange” quote. One gets tired of seeing these quotes. They are overused, misused, and distort what the thinker was saying. The text—all of it—must be tended to.
  3. Butler, Fifteen Sermons, 31.
  4. Butler, Fifteen Sermons, 21.
  5. Dennis C. Rasmussen, The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship that Shaped Modern Thought (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017), 55.
  6. “Man will become better when you show him what he is like.”
  7. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Basic Political Writings, ed. Donald A. Cress, 2nd ed. (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2011), 63.
  8. Rousseau, Basic, 64.
  9. Rousseau, Basic, 63.
The post The Enlightenment Sets the Record Straight first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Naive Documentary (-ies) Makers Barely Scratch the Surface!

W.E.B. DuBois: ‘To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships.’

This documentary (see below, first one linked) is not news, and then, of course, it’s Trump in office blather, too. As if UK, Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Portugal are havens for social and people and environmental justice.

How Poor People Survive in the USA — vapid.

The documentarian is done, really, through the auspices of Euro trash context, POV, narrative framing. Contrarily, you have to be in the mix, in the middle, from the chambers of power, schools, colleges, social work, to real journalism, and into the mess personally, with daily fear of losing the job and seeing savings go go go. That is the slippage in the death spiral of USA. 

This is a Reservation/Rez Society. Boarding School Society. Celebrity Cults. Internment Camp FEMA Village (Soon). This entire unfolding of history the past 70 years has been this big time military propaganda operation embedding into all systems. Confusion creator. Mystical hatred or subservience  while praying for that blue-eyed, blond hippie Jesus. Dirt poor, and loving Trump. College student loans over $100K,  and loving AOC and Biden.

The enemy for me, and I’d say for 80 percent of USA, is that grouping — colonized Eichmann’s, the upper classes, the dream hoarders, the intelligence/knowledge workers, the higher ups in education-medicine-incarceration-pharma-medicine-energy-banking-data collecting-surveillance-real estate-Chamber of Commerce-AI-science-ag-retail-logistics-transportation, and then, MIC, congressional military complex. Join the mercenary forces, and lucky you, get your teeth pulled and a GI Bill.

Bullshit.

Ahh, my old platform to rail against the system — LA Progressive! Terminal Velocity no More! Or here! Paul Haeder. 

I’ve asked why the stuff I send and publish elsewhere is no longer getting up on LA Progressive. No answer! Again, this documentary is broken (above), but that is documentary making, most times — focused, rarified, gatekeeping on steroids, with people on the projects not deep systems thinkers, and a willingness to leave out a lot.

Stan Brock memorial remembers founder of Remote Area Medical, Wild Kingdom  star

Missing:

  1. Tens of millions on the edge of the cliff of eviction, foreclosure, endless bad jobs, in the car or van, bunking up with family or friends, while working for middle managers who do not care, and the upper management and the billionaires and millionaires.
  2. Inflammation — Capitalism is a complete, holistic, top-down disease, creating inflammation in the veins, brain, organs, belly. But worse — cuts the thinking process, deforms the mutual aid ethos, destroys collective action, kills the ability to squat and reappropriate wealth, land, whatever.
  3. The rat race of those with a roof over their heads that continue to fuel prescriptions, Disneyland la-la-land thinking, buy-buy-buy, watching sports-stars-musicians, I got mine, you better fight to get yours
  4. This country, USA, is the rotting roots and DNA of Europe, of that narrator above. These are not real people, and they are so sculpted in news speak, in priviledge.
  5. This documentary doesn’t get to the fabric of colonization of cities, schools, the bullshit of privatization, and this wacky religious and wacky elitist country of Indian Removal, Enslavement then and now, and Nomadlands.
  6. Americans are children, and that is thanks to the Media, the Boss, foolish k-6 education, and, well, we are here now, 355 million, and this is pre-covid crazies. Now? Complete imprisonment!

Oh, hell, the list is a thousand points long: Stan Brock, Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom. This is one fellow, and great heart, but in a world of Space Suits, Billionaires and Yachts, Lies Casted in Media-Banking-Digitalization, well, one guy. “He founded Remote Area Medical in 1985 to give people in need essential health care. Since then, RAM has provided free dental, vision and basic health care to more than 740,000 people.”

 

Here, the documentary on RAM above, description: During the U.S. debate about healthcare reform, the media reporters and news crews and filmmakers failed to put a human face on what it means to not have access to healthcare. Remote Area Medical fills that gap; it is a film about people, not policy. Focusing on a single three-day clinic held in the Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee, Remote Area Medical affords us an insider’s perspective on the ebb and flow of the event, from the tense 3:30 a.m. ticket distribution that determines who gets seen to the routine check-ups that take dramatic turns for the worse, to the risky means to which some patients resort for pain relief. We meet a doctor who also drives an 18-wheeler, a denture maker who moonlights as a jeweler, and the organization’s founder, Stan Brock, who first imagined Remote Area Medical while living as a cowboy in the Amazon rainforest, hundreds of miles from the nearest doctor. But it is the extraordinary stories of the patients, desperate for medical attention, that create a lasting impression about the state of modern health care in America.

This can’t be ramped up, taken to the ultimate level? It’s socialism, brothers and sisters, the only way forward. Forget the hate that the right and the middle of the road have against socialism. They will ply the words of “one world government.” Or, the “government controlling us.” They will talk about Universal Basic Income. They will say it is brainwashing, and communism, and, well, that socialism means all rights are taken, managed, given to and taken away by some master groups of dictators. So we are dead in the water with capitalism by any means necessary: predatory, parasitic, casino, dog-eat-dog, shock therapy, zombie, trickle down nothingness.

That is, you know, vaccine passport, no. But, there is no Forced Healthcare for All. No, Massive Take Over the Empty Lots and Buildings for Massive Rehousing. No guerrilla farming everywhere. Nothing. Because, well, Capitalism is All about “We are all champions. We are all the New Eve and Adam. You can rest assured that the masters will NOT take care of you, but at least you have the stars and bars, god almighty, baby-land.”

This exceptionalism is what has detroyed many in the 80 percent. Many. They will work and think and do things against their own well-being. When you are a lost dog in this country, a limping stray, a hungry desperate pooch, well, you will jump to the master, run for the beasts of slapping, kicking, yelling, and hitting. Under the table, curled up, belly and organs exposed as its tail is between the legs.

Heartbroken Senior Dog Cowering At A Shelter Just Wants To Be Loved
Inflamed — Moreover, they point out how modern medicine has often missed these necessary connections—to our global detriment. What is needed is “deep medicine,” which, according to the authors, “requires new cosmologies, ones that can braid our lives with the planet and the web of life around us.”
 
Rupa Marya and Raj Patel spoke to YES! about the ravages of colonialist capitalism, the failures of modern medicine to treat them, and, most importantly, how a “deep medicine” approach can heal us all.
 
*This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
 
Sonali Kolhatkar: Is the title of the book, Inflamed, a metaphor for what is happening to our planet and its living systems?
 
Rupa Marya: It’s not at all a metaphor. It’s a description of what’s happening inside of our bodies and around us on the planet and our societies. The inflammatory response is the body’s ancient evolutionarily conserved pathway to restoring its optimal working condition when it’s been thrown off by danger or damage or the threat of damage. (Source, Yes Magazine)
 
No jobs, no good jobs, decayed systems, penalties, bad credit, criminal offenses, drugs, booze, and bodies torn at a very young age with multiple chronic diseases, many many diseases.
 
https://youtu.be/YrEwPp2bG48
 
This is the system that the beautiful people in the sciences, in technology, in the Reset Star Chamber, all of those hoarding money and the opportunities have set loose, and these fascists want these people — us, we the people — on UBI, held as data pools — body snatchers, mind snatchers, attention snatchers, activity snatchers, all part of mining people, putting us, them, the 80 percent, in the cloud, in algorithms, in data banks, all mashed up for social impact — do as we say, follow what we command, eat-drink-think like we say, and you will get the tokens, man, the money, the slice of a 200-square-foot-per-person habitat. No pets allowed.
The post Naive Documentary (-ies) Makers Barely Scratch the Surface! first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Building Bridges from Pierre Janet to Lev Vygotsky: Transitions to Communist Psychology

Orientation

In his time, the late 19th to mid-20th century, Pierre Janet was considered a great psychologist and rival to Freud. But in Yankeedom he is barely known today. I bring him up in this article, not only because his ideas are worthy of being known, but because in many ways his was a precursor to the work of the communist psychology built by Lev Vygotsky, Alexander Leontiev, and Alexander Luria. In the early part of this article, Janet’s ideas are favorably compared to Freud in the importance of conflict; the origin of neurosis; the ways in which patients are trapped; how centralized the personality is; therapeutic techniques; the place of transference; the ideal patient; and adherence to the scientific method. In the middle section of the article Janet’s theory of three levels of personality are discussed.

Psychologists have spent many years dissecting different spectrum of the mind. These include all aspects from sensations to perceptions to thinking, to analyzing, comparing and contrasting, evaluating, deciding and planning. But what about what people do? After all, psychology is not just what is in the mind or heart. Psychology also studies gestures, postures and movement. Part of this article distinguishes reflexes from behavior, actions, habits, conduct and practical-critical activity. In the last third of the article, these different forms of doing are compared. I close with the similarities and differences between Janet and Vygotsky and socio-historical psychology. As resources for this article, I used Henri Ellenberger’s large tome, The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry which has a long Chapter on Janet. The second resource is Jaan Valsiner’s and Rene van der Veer’s book The Social Mind. Valsiner is also the author of a large biography of Vygotsky. Lastly I shall reference B.R. Hergenhahn’s book An Introduction to the History of Psychology, which I used for many years while teaching the subject.

Family background

Pierre Janet was a medical doctor born in 1859 who died in 1947. His early years of psychological work overlapped with the great hypnosis period of Jean-Martin Charcot and the The Nancy school. Janet was a consummate Parisian. He was born and died in Paris. He came from an upper middle-class family who produced many scholars, lawyers and engineers. His father became a bookseller, specializing in music while his mother was very religious. Pierre was the oldest son of a young mother who was 21 at time of his birth, while his father was 45. His parents were very distant and the only relative who showed interest in Pierre was his uncle, Paul.  Paul wrote books on philosophy which were classics in France for two or three generations. He also wrote many studies on the history of philosophy. Paul’s son wrote studies on philosophy of science and on the psychology of scientific discoveries. Pierre’s mother died in 1885 well before Janet became famous. He wanted to do psychopathological research and decided to take up medical studies. Janet began his medical studies in 1889 and completed them in 1893. He worked in Charcot’s wards. Charcot died in 1893. In 1894 Janet published a book on philosophy he had been working on for 12 years. He was married in 1894. Janet wrote two books on neurosis: Character and Neurosis: An Integrative View and Obsessions and Psychasthenia.

Intellectual influences

Janet was deep into French intellectual life, and he crossed paths with Maurice Blondel, the sociologist Emile Durkheim; the socialist Jean Jaures, and the psychologist Alfred Binet. Janet was very intellectually ambitious. In his Latin dissertation, Janet chose Francis Bacon and the alchemists as topics and thought he was in a similar situation as Bacon. He wanted to found a new experimental psychology based on synthesizing science and magic. He became life-long friends with process philosopher Henri Bergson who was very interested in memory for his arguments about creative evolution. Late in his book Matter and Memory, Bergson refers to Janet’s research on dissociation of personality, hypnosis and suggestion.  They shared an interest in Charcot’s work. Janet also studied the work of Proust and Valery on memory. Over the years, he built a vast and comprehensive system in which almost every possible aspect of psychology found its place. He kept a card catalogue of his books. Late in life he became friends with the author James Baldwin.  Further In his quest to understand the unconscious mind, Janet became interested in graphology and narcoanalysis as a way to link hypnosis to chemical substances. Lastly, he explored electric shock therapy for curing depression. He kept an extensive herb garden in which he collected and classified herbs. He enjoyed hiking and botanizing in the Fontainebleau woods.

He was not only a scholar but a very skillful clinician and psychotherapist, and an admirable lecturer. As a teacher he tried to follow the Socratic Method. He believed there would come a time when a man could travel through the past in the same way as he now travels through air. He would have nothing to do with journalists and granted no interviews.

Freud vs Janet: Similarities and Differences

Both Freud and Janet were medical doctors and they were interested in the same kinds of neurotics, namely obsessives and hysterics. Both were interested in the importance of traumatic events in the shaping of personality and they both valued working with hypnosis to get to the trauma.  Both were interested in patients who were “stuck” (fixation) and they both thought fixation kept people from living in the present. They both also believed that fixation haunted the patient’s future. For Janet, fixed ideas narrowed consciousness in the present which kept the person from completely functioning in the here-and-now at work. They both dismissed parapsychology and religion. Janet thought that therapy would eventually replace religion.

However, they differed in important ways. First, here is a summary of Janet’s psychological analysis.

  • The discovery of subconscious fixed ideas is caused by a traumatic or frightening event that has been replaced by symptoms. This narrows the field of consciousness.
  • Hysterical crisis are disguised reenactments of fixed idea.
  • Fixed ideas are subconscious characteristic, a feature of hysteria vs obsessive neurosis, and were unconscious.
  • Obsessions and phobias were conscious.

For Freud neurosis came about because of repressed sexuality, and as the patient being arrested at the phallic stage of development in either the Oedipus or Electra complex. Janet thought Freud’s ideas about sexuality were “over the top”.  Janet thought the foundation for neurosis was the inability to do creative work in a consistent, expanding manner which he called “conduct”. There were two types of neurosis:

  • Asthenias syndrome – insufficiency of psychological force; and,
  • Hypotonic syndrome – insufficiently of psychological tension.

These will be discussed later.

Both agreed on the importance of conflict psychologically, but the location was different. For Freud the conflict was driven by the clash between the id and the superego.  For Janet, there was conflict between psychological force and tension. Their techniques were different. Freud interpreted dreams and used free association techniques to get at the unconscious.  Janet, anticipating the surrealists, used automatic writing as an active role play to get at unconscious drives. Though Freud did not think much of the ego compared to the id and the superego, he still saw the ego as a centralizing and coordinating force in the structure of the psyche. Janet thought neurotics had no centralizing force. Like Gurdjieff, Janet thought his patients did not already have an I. They had to make one. Janet claimed priority over Freud in having discovered a cathartic cure for neurosis brought forth by the clarification of traumatic origins.

They were on opposite sides of the fence when it came to the relationship between patient and therapist. Freud wanted to cultivate transference and this meant encouraging dependency in his patients. Janet discouraged dependency and expected his patients to internalize their conversations and to become autonomous, the sooner the better.  For Janet it was very bad for someone to be overly dependent. This craving to be hypnotized and need to confess to the psychiatrist had to be gradually stopped. Janet’s method was to phase the sessions out.

Further, the settings and the classes they worked with were different. Janet worked in public hospitals with working-class and poor people. Freud had a private practice with upper-class people. Lastly, their ideal types were different. The motto of Freud’s genital character was “love and work are the well-springs of life”. For Janet, rational-ergastic work was the goal which Janet claimed was scientific practice. The table below summarizes their differences.

Janet vs Freud Compared

Janet

Medical Doctor

Category of comparison Freud

Medical Doctor

Yes – psychological force vs tension Importance of conflict Yes – id vs super ego
Lack of activity practice in work

·      Asthenias syndrome -insufficiency of psychological force

·      Hypotonic syndrome –

insufficiently of psychological tension

Origin of neurosis Repressed sexuality

 

Oedipal complex

Electra complex

Fixed ideas narrowed consciousness in the present now In what way are patients stuck? Fixations haunted people at different stages of development
No centralized I

(The same as George Gurdjieff)

How centralized is the personality? Ego was relatively centralized vs id and superego
Automatic writing

Active role play

Therapeutic techniques Dream interpretation

Free association

Discouraged dependency Place or misplace of transference Encouraged dependency
Rational Ergastic work: scientific practice Ideal Genital character

“Love and work are the well-spring of life.”

Worked in hospitals

with working class

Setting and social class of patients Worked privately with the upper classes
Experimental Scientific follow-up Speculative

Janet’s ideal state

The highest manifestation of humanity for Janet, like Vygotsky and Marxists, is the ability to act upon external objects and change reality in the service of adaptation and to introduce an increase of order (today called negentropy). This includes an ability to completely focus on the here-and-now at work.  Janet called this “conduct”. For Janet, the individual is capable of controlling both force and tension in his conduct. This opposes the natural tendency of the mind to roam through the past and the future rather than staying present when working.

Levels within Psychology

Janet divided the human being into three levels.

Lower tendencies

Lower tendencies include reactive tendencies like expressive, explosive acts. Without psychological regulation, these are tendencies which are like instincts or reflexes. Still within the lower level there are perceptive tendencies which aim at modifying something in the exterior world through waiting and searching rather than taking the initiative. Habitual actions are also included.

The second layer within the lower level are imagination, representative memory, fantasy and daydreaming. There are two inferior levels: emotional reactions and useless muscular movements. Lastly, at the highest of the lowest level are the socio-personal tendencies in which there is differentiation between conduct directed at others and the conduct directed at one’s own body. Examples of this are imitation, collaboration, command and obey, learning and playing roles, hiding and showing, play, sex, and ceremonies.  Social emotions at this level include effort, fatigue, sadness, joy, and delusions of persecution

Middle tendencies

Middle tendencies include elementary intellectual tendencies These include verbal language, symbolic thought, production, and explanation. Human actions began to be dissociated from bodily contact.  Results from discussion among individuals and other social members include doubt, deliberation, and decision.

Highest tendencies

Higher tendencies are labeled by Janet as rational–ergetic tendencies or conduct.

This is the tendency of focused work. This means the capacity to stick things out even if it derives no initial satisfaction.Virtues include voluntary action (rather than being told what to do) initiative, perseverance and patience. It includes the capacity to endure waiting and using the rules of logic. The person at this level is capable of experimenting when a system is criticized according to its practical result.

Then Janet says something very interesting. He says the search for individuality extends into time (history) and space (around the world.) By this he means that conduct at this level involves being concerned about how his work is part of history and interacts with other cultures around the world. A person at this level has confidence in the concept of progress.

Exploration of Neurosis

For Janet neurotics were for various reasons stuck at levels one or two and were not capable of conduct.  For Janet, a good experimental approach consists in knowing one’s patient well—in his life, schooling, characters and his ideas—and to be convinced that one never known him enough. Psychological energy consists of force and tension. Psychological force is the quantity of elementary psychic energy available to accomplish numerous prolonged and rapid acts. They are both intended and manifest. Psychological tension is the capacity to utilize his energy at a high level in the hierarchy of tendencies of coordination and any creative and scientific act.  Janet did not believe the supersession of neurosis involved an absence of tension. Tension can be good depending on the right kind. The greater the number of psychological operations synthesized, the more novel the synthesis. The more novel the synthesis, the higher the psychological tension.

When dealing with a neurotic, the first concern is to evaluate psychological force and psychological tension involved. There are two syndrome that can result from this evaluation.

Asthenia syndrome— is where there is an insufficiency of psychological force

In a mild version of this syndrome, patients are dissatisfied with themselves. They are unable fully to enjoy happiness or pleasure and they become easily anxious or depressed. An intermediate stage is a kind of withdrawal. It is not so much that they are dissatisfied with themselves, per se, but there is an unhappiness with people. There is a feeling of a void, where they do not like people and do not feel liked by others, The most severe form of the asthenia syndrome. This syndrome is where someone is unable to work at a steady occupation. For Janet, like Marxists, meaningful work is the most important thing in life.

Hypotonic syndrome – is where there is insufficiency of psychological tension for managing higher level functions.

Primary symptoms are the incapacity to performs acts of psychological synthesis. This means the lower, middle and higher functions are not coordinated. Secondary symptoms are a waste of nervous energy that cannot be utilized at the desired level. For example, distracting oneself on the job on the internet or with mindless chattering with others. What also goes with this are feelings of inadequacy which come from working at a job below their qualifications.

The treatment of asthenia syndrome: managing the psychic economy

Janet’s suggestions for treatment of the first syndrome was to

  • Increase in energy. These involve some very practical suggestions about regulating energy. Teaching patients the best way to prepare for sleep; structuring the distribution of breaks throughout the work day, and taking vacations during the year. Secondly having a qualitative diet, including vitamins.
  • Diminishing expenditures. Janet emphasized getting rid of what he called “energy leeches”, people who drain energy with their problems and not contribute anything. Janet said that people are very bad at terminating relationships, even when they are counterproductive.
  • Liquidating debts – Janet had a very strange term for this, but what he meant was getting rid of fixed ideas or traumatic reminiscences.

All these interventions are involved in helping patients get to level three to be able to conduct rational-ergetic tendencies.

Treatment of hypotonic syndrome

Derivations meant channeling agitations by transferring them into useful or tolerable activities to increase and heighten psychological tension. Janet looked down on drugs, travels, and love affairs because they are temporary and uneconomical. Lastly, there is training in performing a complete and achieved action and build-up to those steps.

On the whole, when therapy went well it was a therapeutic revolution. The reason for this is because it demonstrates how a healthy relationship to the therapist can be a model for the patient’s relationship with others. In an optimal sense the patient would be able to use the modeling of their relationship with the therapist to build a new community based on what has been learned. Most importantly, the therapeutic relationship should be able to promote conduct at the highest level, preforming work that is rational-ergastic.

From Janet’s Conduct to Vygotsky’s Practical-Critical Activity

In order to understand how Janet’s concept of “conduct” is a bridge to Vygotsky’s “practical critical activity,” we must start by defining a whole spectrum of human “doings” or “ways”. I begin with reflexes at the simplest part of the spectrum on the left, moving toward practical critical activity as the most complex level on the right.

Reflexes

Reflexes are innate instincts that happen very quickly and are a product of biological evolution. All animals have reflexes, and no mental life is necessary to have them. Neither do you have to be conscious for reflexes to happen. Examples include sweating, pulling away from a fire, or knees reacting to the tapping of doctor’s hammer. Reflexes stay more or less the same during the lifespan but they become less sharp with age. Human beings have little control over reflexes. They are a normal part of everyday life. They are in place because they help us to survive since biological beings’ reflexes do not require any theory coming from an individual experiencing them. Reflexes are biological doings which are innate, automatic, and part of nature’s formula for success as a biological species.

Behavior

Behavior is different from instincts because it is based on learning and occurs among virtually all mammals. Like reflexes, no mental life is necessary. Behavior can change simply because of associations happening before the behavior (Pavlov) or consequences after the behavior (Skinner). Consequences can be reinforcers (positive and negative) and punishers (positive and negative). You don’t have to be conscious of your behavior in order to have it. For example, a male who is violent with his partner and children might not know what his behavior will be right before he becomes violent. However, his “warning signs” are known by his wife and children because it is in their interests for survival to recognize it. Behaviors are not as fast as reflexes because learning takes time before the behavior becomes automatic through associations and consequences.  Examples of behavior include most postures, gestures and voice inflections that are molded without any conscious or mindful intention.

Behaviors can change over time, or they can become habits, as we shall see. Unlike reflexes, behavior can be changed if feedback is received. Like reflexes, behavior permeates the everyday life of virtually all mammals, but unlike reflexes, behaviors can be maladaptive. Like reflexes, behavior requires no theoretical activity on the part of an individual member of a species. it is important to keep in mind that what is automatic and occurs below the level of consciousness is not necessarily biological. It seems natural because it happens quickly. But there was a time when it did not happen quickly, but we weren’t paying attention. An example is driving a stick shift. There was a time when you had to think about what you were doing, and your behaviors were awkward. But then your body “got it” and you performed it well and quickly. It seems like a reflex. Behaviors are doings which are learned, occur below the level of consciousness. They can be individual or social, given the level of complexity of the organism.

Actions

Unlike either reflexes or behavior, actions require the participation of the mind and being conscious of what the individual is doing. Actions are limited to primates and are especially prominent in human beings. Actions are the result of the intentions of the mind carried out in space and over time. Actions occur more slowly and are more deliberate because, at least in humans, they require setting goals, making plans, and making lists before carrying them out. Unlike reflexes and behaviors, actions may have a direction which persists over time and is less subject to interruptions. Actions are part of everyday life, but they are often crowded out by reflexes and actions. A standard to measure actions are individual evaluations of past problems along with actions designed to reduce stress. Actions are doings which are learned, can be cultural and involve the mind’s intervention in solving problems and changing one’s direction constructively.

Habits

Like actions, habits can be either individual or cultural experiences, but their focus is mostly on primates and especially human beings.  The mind is involved some of the time and sometimes not, as habits can be formed consciously or they can be acquired unconsciously. Bad habits are usually unconsciously formed but it takes the mind to develop a plan in order to form new habits. Sometimes consciousness is necessary, and with bad habits it occurs unconsciously. Habits are learned slowly at first but can be sped up and dropped into the unconscious. A way to think about this is at its best, habits are behaviors that have stood the test of time, by first making them actions.

Examples of bad habits are drinking too much alcohol, drug abuse, smoking, or eating junk food. Good habits are painting four hours a day every Tuesday and Thursdays from 6pm to 10pm. Another good habit can be writing four days a week from 5am to 7am every Wednesday or Friday. Habits are actions that have thickened and have a more committed direction. Other primates are likely to have unconscious habits but not conscious ones. Habits can be controlled and strengthened with negative feedback as the system is held in equilibrium. Or habits can result in positive feedback where bad habits are amplified and can drop from the socio-cultural level to a biological level, such as alcohol or drug addiction. The standards to be measured are the past of an individual and relationship to present circumstances and future goals (actions). There is no theoretical activity required for habits. What makes good habits unique is that unlike behaviors, they can be repeated over time when steered by a particular goal that comes from action.

Conduct

This is what Janet was most interested in cultivating in his work with patients. For him it was the indicator of a most evolved human being. Conduct is drawn from social-cultural sources, particularly scientific practice. Individual learning is involved but that learning is disciplined by the rules, procedures and methods of science. It is unique to humans and both mind and consciousness are necessary. Conduct is a thick, very slow process that takes years of formal training that is required to be a doctor, lawyer, architect, teacher, engineer, or musician. Conduct requires the highest degree of control, not just for the individual but for the entire professional community. The standards to be measured include socially established standards of excellence which are collectively analyzed, criticized, and improved upon at conferences, in journals, or in the case of musicians, through cooperation, competition and critical audience response.

Unlike any other form of doing, in conduct theory it is necessary to inform conduct. Conduct improves theory, and theory then improves conduct by taking it to a higher level. Conduct is not a habit because it is not thickened by an individual’s goals, which come out of action, but instead out of the goals of a scientific field.  Conduct which is part of a social-cooperative institution has historical traditions with standards which are emulated and improved. The individual “conductor” is both the product of that professional community and a co-producer of it.

From Conduct to Practical Critical Activity

Similarities between Janet and Vygotsky

Vygotsky and Janet were similar in important ways. Both were against the reductionism of behaviorism – there was more to human beings than stimulus-response. Both thought that the study of consciousness was important for its role in mediating the relationship between reactions to the environment and the behaviors that followed. They were both sympathetic to Gestalt theories of perception as wholes rather than bits or atomistic information. Yet they were critical of the passive sense of the environment that Gestalt’s perceptions emerged from. Both Janet and Vygotsky were also critical of subjectivist psychology such as psychoanalysis because they ignored the place of doings that we have discussed.

At the same time, both Janet and Vygotsky were against biological reductionism. They would oppose theories of temperament which argued that people are born with a certain personality. Rather they would say that personality is the result of temperament and socialization. In the process of being socialized, individual experiences accumulate resulting in a personality which is more than temperament. Both Janet and Vygotsky were against overspecialization within a field at least in part because they were well-rounded as intellectuals. Both were interested in theatre, painting, and poetry, and these made their theoretical insights into psychology richer.

Furthermore, both Janet and Vygotsky were committed to sociogenesis. For each, the origin of all psychological functions begins not inside the individual, but in cooperation between people. Only later do these socio-historical experiences become internalized. These internalization processes become social again when the individual goes back into the world to work. Lastly, both psychologists thought that meaningful work was central to psychological health. Each felt that human beings were at their best when they were working. For Janet it was rational-ergetic conduct, while for Vygotsky it was practical-critical activity.

Differences between Janet and Vygotsky

Scale of sociogenesis

A major difference between Janet and Vygotsky has to do with the scale at which conduct and practical-critical activity took place. For Janet what was social was pretty much at a micro-social interaction. For him, sociogenesis was between the individual and their families, teachers, and therapists. The closest Janet came to a larger scale sociogenesis was when he referred to the scientific community. For him, conduct expresses itself in two settings:

  • In the therapist’s relationship with his patient.
  • In the psychologist’s relationship with the scientific community.

In both cases the psychologist has a theory, and the theory is turned into conduct in therapeutic interventions and at scientific conferences. As a result of this conduct the theory is improved so that the next round is improved because the theory has improved.

In the case of Vygotsky (please see my two articles What Is Socialist Psychology Parts I and II for more in-depth coverage.) Practical critical activity does not take place between an individual and a community. Rather, practical critical activity is a collective political practice in which communities intervene politically to change a society. For example, a socialist community has a theoretical commitment to run candidates from their party in the next election. Some want to do this while others say it is a waste of time, and that their practice should be focused on organizing workers. They go ahead with the campaign. The campaign results in a certain number of votes. That was their practice. The practice then turns into a more refined theory based on how they made sense of the results. The new theory then engaged in a deeper, hopefully more advanced practice. In other words, there is a dialectical spiraling interaction between theory and practice. Janet would not disagree with the process but the process would be taking place at a collective and political level.

Social class

Janet worked in public hospitals with working-class and poor people. But as far as I know, he never incorporated class differences into his theory of conduct. On the one hand, his references to conduct were to professional activities. However, a lot of his interventions were with classes well-below those professions. What would make sense is that it was more likely the poor and working-class people would have trouble with lower levels, such as adequate sleep, good food and exercise. At the middle level working-class people might have difficulty fending off “energy leeches”, such as their families or counterproductive friendships. Working-class people might well have problems concentrating, since their work was often miserable and they are less likely to have mind-body integration where they were totally focused on the present, as in conduct. Vygotsky, like Janet, also worked with poor and working-class people, and as a communist I suspect he would be more likely to integrate social class into his practical-critical activity, but I am not aware that Vygotsky did this explicitly.

Human history

Janet’s sociogenesis not only operated at a micro level, but his incorporation of history into his theory of conduct was only vaguely developed, if at all. It is reasonable to think he had an appreciation that his interventions were not limited to immediate social interaction, but that these interactions accumulated and became a thickening historical collective conduct embodied in the practice of psychology as a professional field. Janet was well aware that his conduct interventions were part of a history that was developing between Charcot, the Nancy School, Freud and himself. He did have a sense that this accumulation of knowledge of the scientific community led to progress historically, as well as progress between Europe and the United States.

Vygotsky was extremely conscious of his theory as rooted in history. He was also conscious that his work with Leontiev and Luria was attempting to create a communist psychology. He knew his practices were political and he struggled to overcome whatever anti-communism he faced when he journeyed to psychology conferences. He had a deep sense that what he was co-creating was new. He wanted to create a Das Kapital for the field of psychology.

Practical, Critical Activity Defined

Like Janet’s conduct, practical critical activity is unique to the human species. No other animal does this. But unlike Janet’s conduct, practical-critical activity is not primarily about individual learning, but rather a socio-cultural relationship between socialist political theory intervening in industrial capitalist society. Likewise, the reflective moment of mind is not an individual mind but the superstructure of knowledge of society (science, art, math, philosophy) from which theory is drawn. Being collectively conscious is essential to practical critical activity. The speed at which the theory – practice-theory takes place is slower than conduct because more people are involved, and the interventions take place at a larger scale. The direction of practical-critical activity is a spiral – either improving the world or making the world worse because of the existence of wars, economic crises, or fascism. Practical critical activity is not a normal part of everyday life – with the exception of revolutions. Days and weeks can elapse between rounds of theory – practice – theory. The standards by which practical critical activity is judged is optimally that the self-organization of the working class is improved. What happens is that new technologies are invented which shrink the ratio between necessary labor and freedom, so the human species creates more and more negentropy with less and less collective labor. This practice is critical, reflective and, at its best, resists habits not becoming old and conformist because the social-historical world is constantly changing.

In sum, practical-critical activity is a uniquely human socio-historical activity. It is the structured, recursive, and meaningful political process executed by human beings. We intervene in the infrastructure, structure, and superstructure of society for the purpose of promoting socialism. We do this by drawing from the accumulated wisdom of past super-structural knowledge to reflect, analyze, compare, and contrast, evaluate, and plan our next intervention. Optimally, this takes the shape of a spiral, with higher and higher interventions which are more depthful, fuller of breadth, and expansive.

Conclusion

The purpose of this article is fourfold. The first is to introduce the neglected work of one of the great psychologists of the late 19th and mid 20th century, Pierre Janet. I do this by contrasting him favorably to Freud. Secondly, I present his theory of three levels of human functioning. Thirdly, I present a neglected subject of psychology, the field of “doings”. I contrast five ways of doing: reflexes, behavior, actions, habits, and Janet’s category which he called “conduct”. Fourthly, I close the article by contrasting the similarities and differences between Janet and Vygotsky. One of the main differences between them is that Vygotsky’s theory allows for a sixth way of doing: practical-critical activity. The last part of my article shows the ways practical-critical activity is different from Janet’s conduct.

• First published in Socialist Planning Beyond Capitalism

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