Challenge Capitalist Social Relations
A Direction for Change
The realities of mental health professionals and the
realities of recipients of mental health services appear to be
fiercely conflictual, dramatically dissimilar. But, at length,
their situations encounter a conjuncture of common interest, in
the achievement of effective needs response and interdiction.
The professionals, coming face-to-face with this eventuality, are
pressured to replace arrogance with humility and force with
persuasion, while the recipients must act from strength and self-
esteem. To construct an principled alliance of these groups is
tantamount to creating an engine for reform which challenges the
therapeutic system's disconnect from social dynamics.
The present system of social sanction and empowerment by
state regulation gives psychotherapy a largely arbitrary power, a
coercive power both unjustified and corrupt. Professionals find
it easy to be irresponsible and manipulative, tending to promote
ultra-individualism and train therapy recipients to personal
opportunism at public expense. Progressive professionals with
incipient social critiques are hamstrung by the contradictoriness
of a structural empowerment for the wrong purpose. The need is
to redefine the helping process, to create a new kind of helping
role aiding people with their needs as they identify them, in
solidarity with the struggle for social progress.
Attention to the business of society, the social work
discipline, is limited by the depth of its critique and the scope
of its empowerment. To criticize in depth the vested interest of
authority is to get stuck on the impossibility of honoring truth
and pleasing authority at one and the same time. The helping
practitioner must contemplate conscience and navigate with
diplomatic skill through a myriad of political obstacles and yet
survive socially. The way, in principle, to bootstrap this
social dilemma is to set up a code of responsibility, to provide
a supportive, social venue for discussions about efforts to
wrestle with problems of conscience.
The fallacy of promoting social change through the helping
process is manifested in the heroic self-images of therapists,
habituated to potency and fearful of transcendence by ego death.
They are quick to see the demand for real change as an affront,
that the bitterness of victims of their system is nothing but an
effort to derogate them personally. It is hard for prisoners of
self-starting ego dynamisms to see clearly, when they are
invested in their work and stand accused that their habits are
obstacles to systemic reform. Yet, whatever the social
dysfunctions of therapists, they are generally susceptible of
education and should take comfort in the fact that the object of
change is really reinstitutionalization, not trashing therapists.
The Maturation of Mass Psychology
A history exists of efforts to inject progressive politics
into the dilemma of social interventions versus political
realities. The Social Therapy (ST) movement adapted Vygotsky's
theory that process serves as both tool and result, enabling them
to invert the social / political impossibility by taking the
progressive process as tool. That is, the perspective of the
theory of activity led them to reinterpret the dilemma of social
versus political, by making it a locus for exposing its
conflictual nature and reorganizing its social basis.
Unfortunately, and unreasonably, ST has posed itself as tool and
result for reorganizing the political Left and deviated from the
intermediate task of psychiatric reform.
The Bolshevik blinders of ST obscure their grand idea of the
importance of making progressive psychology tool and result in
changing history. Indeed, their over-valuation of the subjective
component of making and analyzing history has cost them their
ground as grassroots workers in social change. Organisms are
bloodied in a transforming way by their involvement with history
and defined when the quantity of the bloodletting exceeds their
response capacities. ST itself is absorbed in the blood of its
own birthing and does not credit the autochthonous mental
patients' movement for moving the scope of the possible beyond
their reductive therapy canon, beyond their intentionality.
Before the Marxist psychology of ST, there was the trend of
conventional transactional analysis in a generic radical package,
Radical Therapy (RT). Their vision of educating and purifying
the Left movement psychologically had the opposite limitation to
that of its progressive psychology counterpart ST, trailing
behind rather than running ahead of movement work. The mental
patients caught RT in the act of trying to control their movement
and streamed past them into the main arena of grassroots movement
activity. The RT trend is languishing today in a marginalized
state, circumscribed by its own gaming, while radical innovation
has moved in novel directions such as the 12-step self-help work
process and child abuse survivors' groups.
The radical humanist movement connected with personal growth
psychology is progenitor of the RT and ST movements. Not being
radical organizationally, it lacks the pretense of being a
substitute for the Left movement and renders unto Caesar what is
Caesar's. However, its center at Esalen has both preserved and
developed an affinity with the Soviet experience in psychology as
well as served as a pole for holding up the counter-culture.
Here, in gestation, are the beginnings of a new paradigm, which
in the above movements is only an availability, a fledgling new
social psychology of abuse.
The Ideology of Social Conditioning
When you try to change people's behavior, you run into
stuckness, into habituated behavior conventionally described as
"repetition compulsion," often functioning at cross purposes with
need. Radical social intervention meets a curious opaqueness of
process where people become stubborn and contrary, an unmapped
interface between ego and abuse. In the 20's Reich developed
Sex-Pol Leagues in Germany to challenge people's psychological
commitments to the old order and penetrate that opacity. Just
so, any helping process that is informed by social dynamics must
contain some plan for engaging people's fears and reworking their
social reflexes, their systems of habits.
There is deliberate social repression that is aimed at
preventing progressive directions in social dynamics and at
perpetuating vested interests. A classic instance of reactionary
social intervention is the self-maintenance system of medical
model psychiatry, which assassinates the characters of people
whose behaviors are suspect and, most of all, those who are
critical of the system's values. In the 50's, McCarthy employed
political terror modeled on this intervention approach to
inculcate the habits and attitudes of clinging to the old order.
Recent repression patterns, like Cointelpro in the 70's and
today's attacks on the counter-culture and the infrastructure of
society, are mainly refinements of this intervention process.
The partisans of social repression advocate it as a positive
virtue, as an elitist ideal which people of privilege should
uphold. They undertake to train people to the "free enterprise"
values of greed, status-seeking, and the like, to behavior that
is predatory upon the struggle for social justice. They formerly
contrived a Me Generation psychology with a yuppie practicum;
they are deeply into questions of social design and cultural
management in pursuit of their business purposes. Real human
beings at the seat of government, in the CIA, in the estates of
the rich sit and develop schemes of social conditioning to bend
people's attitudes and habits to their objectives.
The social relations of capitalism constitute precisely the
field of contention for any helping process that purports to go
beyond the presently sanctioned operating realm of individual
psychology. If you promote the attitudes attendant on fostering
alienation and exploitation, attendant upon appropriating a
person's labor power, you enhance the prestige and salience of
the old order. From shameless reptilian attitudes to cold-
blooded social conditioning, capitalist social relations burden
all the work of organizing and struggle. In order to change
people's behavior, control of the parameters of social relations
must be wrested from those presently in command of them.
An Existential Psychology of Activity
The capitalist who turns abuse for profit can afford harsh
and abrasive attitudes as well as gentler-seeming demeanors
backed up by the violence of authority. The unwholesome style,
the essential rudeness, of capitalists can be modified
cosmetically, as by jogging or health regimes, or reformatted, as
by psychological advice or training. Head-to-head, the defender
of the oppressed is both pressured by an ambience of the people's
aggravations, and embarrassed by the quasi-wholesome hypocrisy of
her adversary, to return abuse for abuse. To gain the
psychological advantage, those who have nothing to lose but their
chains must abide their bitterness and challenge their
oppressor's denial gracefully.
Mental dysfunction is labeled "mental illness" in honor of
the medical model, the biological projection of the social
relations system that militates against social change.
Conventional social psychology, which accommodates the medical
model permits and encourages this language, the language of
character assassination in the name of biology. The helping
process should avoid crippling itself with such labels, adopting
instead usages that acknowledge and reference the problematic of
capitalist social relations. Appropriate empowerment for helping
modes is closely linked to identification with the subjectivity
of its target population, to respect for their dignity.
A person suffering a disturbance of being is not aided by
ferocity which makes further disturbance in the being; this is a
bad helping tactic that cries out for an alternate remedy. It is
necessary to understand a disturbance as a reflection of the
social condition, rather than as a private affliction. First you
disentangle the experienced conflict, then you embrace the denial
and wrestle with it until your feelings refocus on the objective
social basis of the conflict. The harmony of your being is
sustained by your abstraction of this process and by the organic
nature of engaging the source of the disturbance in its essence
and in a direct and appropriate manner.
Fighting abuse with abuse is a self-limiting approach which
is a poor palliative and surely not a substantial remedy to
capitalist social relations. The reductive formulations which
are the paraphernalia of positivism are themselves ultimately an
abuse of being, and are the raw material for new capitalist
attitudes. The old Soviet remedy of Pavlovian conditioning of
the masses, backed up by brutalities, failed as a remedy when it
resulted in new reactionary social relations. The way out is to
go with the existential critique of positivism, concentrate on
articulating and cherishing the social being itself, and actively
produce wholesome social relations.
Towards a Discourse Strategy