psychic*blast writings images search login register








The Mass Psychology Of Misery Part2

(not yet rated)
ephidryn Oct 04, 2002 10:13 Read 287 times, Dig?
The Mass Psychology Of Misery * (1994) * Part 2
by John Zerzan

It has been the failure of earlier forms of social control that has
given psychological medicine, with its inherently expansionist aims, its
upward trajectory in the past three decades. The therapeutic model of
authority (and the supposedly value-free professional power that backs
it up) is increasingly intertwined with state power, and has mounted an
invasion of the self much more far reaching than earlier efforts, "There
are no limits to the ambition of psychoanalytic control; if it had its
way, nothing would escape it," according to Guattari.

In terms of the medicalization of deviant behavior, a great deal more is
included, than, say, the psychiatric sanctions on Soviet dissidents or
the rise of a battery of mind control techniques, including behavior
modification, in U.S. Prisons Punishment has come to include treatment
and treatment new powers of punishment; medicine, psychology, education
and social work take over more and more aspects of control and
discipline while the legal machinery grows more medical, psychological,
pedagogical. But the new arrangements, relying chiefly on fear and
necessitating more and more co-operation by the ruled in order to
function, are no guarantee of civic harmony. In fact, with their overall
failure, class society is running out of tactics and excuses, and the
new encroachments have created new pockets of resistance.

The setup now usually referred to as "community mental health" can be
legitimately traced to the establishment of the Mental Hygiene Movement
in 1908. In the context of the Taylorist degradation of work called
Scientific Management and a challenging tide of worker militancy, the
new psychological offensive was based on the dictum that "individual
unrest to a large degree means bad mental hygiene." Community psychiatry
represents a later, nationalized form of this industrial psychology,
developed to deflect radical currents away from social transformation
objectives and back under the yoke of the dominating logic of
productivity. By the 1920s, the workers had become the objects of social
science professionals to an even greater degree, with the work of Elton
Mayo and others, at a time when the promotion of consumption as a way of
life came to be seen as itself a means of easing unrest, collective and
individual. And b the end of the 1930s, industrial psychology had
"already developed many of the central innovations which now
characterize community psychology," according to Diana Ralph's Work and
Madness (1983), such as mass psychological testing, the mental health
team, auxiliary non-professional counselors, family and out-patient
therapy, and psychiatric counseling to businesses.

The million-plus men rejected by the armed forces during World War 11
for "mental unfitness" and the steady rise. observable since the
mid-'50s, in stress-related illnesses. called attention to the immensely
crippling nature of modern industrial alienation. Government funding was
called for, and was provided by the 1963 federal Community Mental Health
Center legislation. Armed with the relatively new tranquilizing drugs to
anaesthetize the poor as well as the unemployed, a state presence was
initiated in urban areas hitherto beyond the reach of the therapeutic
ethos. Small wonder that some black militants saw the new mental health
services as basically refined police pacification and surveillance
systems for the ghettos. The concerns of the dominant order, ever
anxious about the masses, are chiefly served, however, here as
elsewhere, by the strength of the image of what science has shown to be
normal, healthy, and productive. Authority's best friend is relentless
self-inspection according to the ruling canons of repressive normalcy in
the Psychological Society.

The nuclear family once provided the psychic underpinning of what Norman
O. Brown called "the nightmare of infinitely expanding technological
progress." Thought by some to be a bastion against the outer world, it
has always served as transmission belt for the reigning ideology, more
specifically as the place in which the interiorizing psychology of women
is produced the social and economic exploitation of women is legitimated
and the artificial scarcity of sexuality is guarded.

Meanwhile, the state's concern with delinquent, uneducable and
unsocializable children, as studied by Donzelot and others, is but one
aspect of its overshadowing of the family. Behind the medicalized image
of the good, the state advances and the family steadily loses its
functions. Rothbaum and Weisz, in Child Psychopathology and the Quest
for Control (1989), discuss the very rapid rise of their subject while
Castel, Castel and Lovell's earlier The Psychiatric Society (1982) could
glimpse the nearing day hen childhood will be totally regimented by
medicine and psychology Some facets of this trend are no longer in the
realm of conjecture; James R. Schiffman, for instance, wrote of one
by-product of the battered family in his "Teen-Agers End Up in
Psychiatric Hospitals in Alarming Numbers" (Wall Street Journal, Feb. 3,

Therapy is a key ritual of our prevailing psychological religion and a
vigorously growing one. The American Psychiatric Association's
membership jumped from 27,355 in 1983 to 36,223 by the end of the '80s,
and in 1989 a record 22 million visited psychiatrists or other
therapists covered to at least some extent by health insurance plans.
Considering that only a small minority of those who practice the
estimated 500 varieties of psychotherapy are psychiatrists or otherwise
health insurance-recognized, even these figures do not capture the
magnitude of therapy's shadow world.

Philip Rieff termed psychoanalysis "yet another method of learning how
to endure the loneliness produced by culture," which is a good enough
way to introduce the artificial situation and relationship of therapy, a
peculiarly distanced. circumscribed and asymmetrical affair. Most of the
time, one person talks and the other listens. The client almost always
talks about himself and the therapist almost never does. The therapist
scrupulously eschews social contact with clients. another reminder to
the latter that they have not been talking to a friend, along with the
strict time limits enclosing a space divorced from everyday reality.
Similarly, the purely contractual nature of the therapeutic connection
in itself guarantees that all therapy inevitably reproduces alienated
society. To deal with alienation via a relationship paid for b the hour
is to overlook the congruence of therapist and prostitute as regards the
traits just enumerated.

Gramsci defined "intellectual" as the "functionary in charge of
consent," a formulation which also fits the role of therapist. By
leading others to concentrate their 'desiring energy outside the social
territory," as Guattari put it, he thereby manipulates them into
accepting the constraints of society. By failing to challenge the social
categories within which clients have organized their experiences, the
therapist strengthens the hold of those categories. He tries, typically,
to focus clients away from stories about work and into the so-called
"real" areas-personal life and childhood.

Psychological health, as a function of therapy, is largely an
educational procedure. The project is that of a shared system: the
client is led to acceptance of the therapist's basic assumptions and
metaphysics. Francois Roustang, in Psychoanalysis Never Lets Go (1983),
wondered why a therapeutic method whose "explicit aim is the liberation
of forces with a view toward being capable 'of enjoyment and efficiency'
(Freud) so often ends in alienation either...because the treatment turns
out to be interminable, or...(the client) adopts the manner of speech
and thought, the theses as well as the prejudices of psychoanalysis."

Ever since Hans Lysenko's short but famous article of 1952, "The Effects
of Psychotherapy," countless other studies have validated his finding:
"Persons given intensive and prolonged psychotherapy are no better off
than those in matched control groups given no treatment over the same
time interval." On the other hand, there is no doubt that therapy or
counseling does make many people feel better, regardless of specific
results. This anomaly must be due to the fact that consumers of therapy
believe they have been cared for, comforted, listened to. In a society
growing ever Colder, this is no small thing. It is also true that the
Psychological Society conditions its subjects into blaming themselves
and that those who most feel they need therapy tend to be those most
easily exploited: the loneliest, most insecure nervous, depressed, etc.
It is easy to state the old dictum, "Natura sanat, medicus curat"
(Nature heals, doctors/counselors/therapists treat); but where is the
natural in the hyper-estranged world of pain and isolation we find
ourselves in? And yet there is no getting around the imperative to
remake the world. If therapy is to heal, make whole, what other
possibility is there but to transform this world, which would of course
also constitute a de-therapizing of society. It is clearly in this
spirit that the Situationist International declared in 1963, "Sooner or
later the S.I. must define itself as a therapeutic."

Unfortunately, the great communal causes later in the decade acquired a
specifically therapeutic cast mainly in their degeneration, in the
splintering of the '60's thrust into smaller, more idiosyncratic
efforts. "The personal is the political" gave way to the merely
personal, as defeat and disillusion overtook naive activism.

Conceived out of critical responses to Freudian psychoanalysis, which
has shifted its sights toward ever-earlier phases of development in
childhood and infancy, the Human Potential Movement began in the mid-60s
and acquired its characteristic features by the early '70s. With a
post-Freudian emphasis on the conscious ego and its actualization, Human
Potential set forth a smorgasbord of therapies, including varieties or
amalgams of personal growth seminars, body awareness techniques, and
Eastern spiritual disciplines. Almost buried in the welter of partial
solutions lies a subversive potential: the notion that, as Adelaide Bry
put it, life "can be a time of infinite and joyous possibility." The
demand for instant relief from psychic immiseration underlined an
increasing concern for the dignity and fulfillment of individuals, and
Daniel Yankelovich (New Rules, 1981) saw the cultural centrality of this
quest, concluding that by the end of the '70s, some eighty percent of
Americans had become interested in this therapeutic search for

But the privatized approaches of the Human Potential Movement,
high-water mark of contemporary Psychological Society, were obviously
unable to deliver on their promises to provide any lasting, non-illusory
breakthroughs. Arthur Janov recognized that "everyone in this society is
in a lot of pain," but expressed no awareness at all of the repressive
society generating it. His Primal Scream technique qualifies as the most
ludicrous cure-all of the '70s. Scientology's promise of empowerment
consisted mainly of bioelectronic feedback technologies aimed at
socializing people to an authoritarian enterprise and world view. The
popularity of cult groups like the Moonies reminds one of a time-tested
process for the uninitiated: isolation, deprivation, anticipation, and
suggestion; brainwashing and the shamanic visionquest both use it.

Werner Erhard's EST, speaking of intensive psychological manipulation
was one of the most popular and, in some ways, most characteristic Human
Potential phenomena. Its founder became very wealthy by helping Erhard
Seminars Training adepts "choose to become what they are." In a classic
case of blaming the victim, EST brought large numbers to a
near-religious embrace of one of the system's basic lies: its graduates
are obediently conformist because they "accept responsibility" for
having created things as they are. Transcendental Meditation actually
marketed itself in terms of the passive incorporation into society it
helped its students achieve. TM's alleged usefulness for adjustment to
the varied "excesses and stresses" of modern society was a major selling
point to corporations, for example.

Trapped in a highly rationalized and technological world, Human
Potential seekers naturally wanted personal development, emotional
immediacy, and above all, a sense of having some control over their
lives. Self-help best-sellers of the '70s, including Power, Your
Erroneous Zones, How to Take Charge of Your Life, Self-Creation, Looking
Out for #1, and Pulling Your Own Strings, focus on the issue of control.
Preaching the gospel of reality as a personal construct, however, meant
that control had to be narrowly defined. Once again acceptance of social
reality as a given meant, for example, that "sensitivity training" would
likely mean continued insensitivity to most of reality, an openness to
more of the same alienation-more ignorance, more suffering.

The Human Potential Movement did at least raise publicly and widely the
notion of an end to disease, however much it failed to make good on that
claim. As more and more of everyday life has come under medical dominion
and supervision, the almost bewildering array of new therapies was part
of an undercutting of the older, mainly Freudian, "scientific" model for
behavior. In the shift of therapeutic expectations, a radical hope
appeared, which went beyond merely positive-thinking or empty
confessionalist aspects and is different from quiescence.

A current form of self-help which clearly represents a step forward from
both traditional therapy, commodified and under the direction of
expertise, and the mass-marketed seminar-introduction sort of training
is the very popular "support group." Non-commercial and based on
peer-group equality. support groups for many types of emotional distress
have quadrupled in number in the past ten years. Where these groups do
not enforce the 12-step ideology of "anonymous" groups (e.g. Alcoholics
Anonymous) based on the individual's subjection to a "Higher Power"
(read: all constituted authority and most of them do not-they provide a
great source of solidarity, and work against the depoliticizing force of
illness or distress experienced in an isolated state.

If the Human Potential Movement thought it possible to re-create
personality and thus transform life, New Ageism goes it one better with
its central slogan, "Create your own reality." Considering the
advancing, invasive desolation, an alternative reality seems
desirable-the eternal consolation of religion. For the New Age, booming
since the mid-1980s, is essentially a religious turning away from
reality by people who are overloaded by feelings of helplessness and
powerlessness, a more definitive turning away than that of the
prevailing psychologistic evasion. Religion invents a realm of
non-alienation to compensate for the actual one; New Age philosophy
announces a coming new era of harmony and peace, obviously inverting the
present, unacceptable state. An undemanding, eclectic, materialistic
substitute religion where any balm, any occult nonsense-channeling,
crystal healing, reincarnation, rescue by UFOs, etc.-goes. "It's true if
you believe it."

Anything goes, so long as it goes along with what authority has
ordained: anger is "unhealthy," "negativity" a condition to be avoided
at all costs. Feminism and ecology are supposedly "roots" of the New Age
scene, but likewise were militant workers a "root" of the Nazi movement
(National Socialist German Workers Party, remember). Which brings to
mind the chief New Age influence, Carl Jung. It is unknown or irrelevant
to "non judgmental" bliss-seekers that in his attempt to resurrect all
the old faiths and myths, Jung was less a psychologist than a figure of
theology and reaction Further, as president of the International Society
for Psychotherapy from 1933 to 1939, he presided over its Nazified
German section and co-edited the Zentralblattfur Psychotherapie (with
M.H. Goring, cousin of the Reichsmarshall of the same name).

Still gathering steam, apparently, since the appearance of Otto
Kernberg's Borderline Conditions and pathological Narcissism (1975) and
The Culture of Narcissism by Christopher Lasch (1978), is the idea that
"narcissistic personality disorders" are the epitome of what is
happening to all of us, and represent the "underlying character
structure" of our age Narcissus, the image of self-love and a growing
demand for fulfillment, has replaced Oedipus, with its components of
guilt and repression, as the myth of our time-a shift proclaimed and
adopted far beyond the Freudian community.

In passing, it is noteworthy that this change, underway since the '60s,
seems to connect more with the Human Potential search for
self-development than with New Age whose devotees take their desires
less seriously. Common New Age nostrums, e.g. "You are infinitely
creative," "You have unlimited potential," smack of a vague
wish-fulfillment sanitized against anger, by those who doubt their o n
capacities for change and growth. Though the concept o narcissism is
somewhat elusive, clinically and socially, it is often expressed in a
demanding, aggressive way that frightens various partisans of
traditional authority. The Human Potential preoccupation with "getting
in touch with one's feelings," it must be added, was not nearly as
strongly self affirming as narcissism is, where feelings-chiefly anger-
are more powerful than those that need to be searched for.

Lasch's Culture of Narcissism remains extremely influential as a social
analysis of the transition from Oedipus to Narcissus, given great
currency and publicity by those who lament this turning away from
internalized sacrifice am respect for authority. The "new leftist" Lasch
proved himself a strict Freudian, and an overtly conservative one at
that, looking back nostalgically at the days of the authoritarian
conscience based on strong parental and social discipline There is no
trace of refusal in Lasch's work, which embraces the existing repressive
order as the only available morality. Similar to his sour rejection of
the "impulse-ridden" narcissistic personality is Neil Postman's Amusing
Ourselves to Death (1985). Postman moralizes about the decline of
political discourse, no longer "serious" but "shriveled and absurd," a
condition caused by the widespread attitude that "amusement and
pleasure" take precedence over "serious public involvement." Sennett and
Bookchin can be mentioned as two other erstwhile radicals who see the
narcissistic withdrawal from the present political framework as anything
but positive or subversive. But even an orthodox Freudian like Russell
Jacoby (Telos, Summer 1980) recognized that in the corrosion of
sacrifice, "narcissism harbors a protest in the name of individual
health and happiness," and Gilles Lipovetsky considered narcissism in
France to have been born during the May, '68 uprisings.

Thus narcissism is more than just the location of desire in the self, or
the equally ubiquitous necessity to maintain feelings of self-identity
and self-esteem. There are more and more "narcissistically troubled"
people, products of the lovelessness and extreme alienation of modern
divided society, and its cultural and spiritual impoverishment. Deep
feelings of emptiness characterize the narcissist, coupled with a
boundless rage, often just under the surface, at the sense of
dependency felt because of dominated life, and the hollowness of one
starved by a deficient reality.

Freudian theory attributes the common trait of defiance to an immature
"clinging to anal eroticism," while ignoring Society just as Lasch
expresses his fear of narcissistic resentment and insubordination" in a
parallel defense of oppressive existence. The angry longing for autonomy
and self-worth brings to mind another clash of values that relates to
value itself. In each of us lives a narcissist who wants to be loved for
himself or herself and not for his or her abilities, or even qualities.
Value per se, intrinsic-a dangerously anti-instrumental, anti-capital
orientation. To a Freudian therapist like Arnold Rothstein, this
"expectation that the world should gratify him just because he wishes
it" is repugnant. He prescribes lengthy psychoanalysis which will
ultimately permit an acceptance of "the relative passivity,
helplessness, and vulnerability implicit in the human condition."

Others have seen in narcissism the hunger for a qualitatively different
world. Norman O. Brown referred to its project of "loving union with the
world," while the feminist Stephanie Engel has argued that "the call
back to the memory of original narcissistic bliss pushes us toward a
dream of the future." Marcuse saw narcissism as an essential element of
utopian thought, a mythic structure celebrating and yearning for

The Psychological Society offers, of course, every variety of commodity,
from clothes and cars to books and therapies. for every life-style, in a
vain effort to assuage the prevailing appetite for authenticity. Debord
was right in his counsel that the more we capitulate to a recognition of
self in the dominant images of need, the less we understand our own
existence and desires. The images society provides do not permit us to
find ourselves at home there, and one sees instead a ravening,
infuriating sense of denial and loss, which nominates "narcissism" as a
subversive configuration of misery.

Two centuries ago Schiller spoke of the "wound" civilization has
inflicted on modern humanity-division of labor. In announcing the age of
"psychological man," Philip Rieff discerned a culture "in which technics
is invading and conquering the last enemy-man's inner life, the psyche
itself." In the specialist culture of our bureaucratic-industrial age,
the reliance on experts to interpret and evaluate inner life is in
itself the most malignant and invasive reach of division of labor. As we
have become more alien from our own experiences, which are processed,
standardized, labeled, and subjected to hierarchical control, technology
emerges as the power behind our misery and the main form of ideological
domination. In fact, technology comes to replace ideology. The force
deforming us stands increasingly revealed, while illusions are ground
away by the process of immiseration.

Lasch and others may resent and try to discount the demanding nature of
the contemporary "psychological" spirit, but what is contested has
clearly widened for a great many, even if the outcome is equally
unclear. Thus the Psychological Society may be failing to deflect or
even defer conflict by means of its favorite question, "Can one change?"
The real question is whether the
world-that-enforces-our-inability-to-change can be forced to change, and
beyond recognition.

Login to rate this

Comments from other users:

This story was written by ephidryn and has been brought you you by the letters D and V.
Invalid query: update users set activity=activity+1 where uid= You have an error in your SQL syntax; check the manual that corresponds to your MySQL server version for the right syntax to use near '' at line 1