Saturday, November 12, 2011

Why changing the world can never be achieved on its own

It typically takes years of frustration, sadness, and despair before a person decides to become a patient of psychotherapy. The life situation finally becomes so unbearable that they are willing to change anything to escape the pattern. The patient (one who suffers) will often come to realize that their options are to either change their own worldview, or to change the world they live in. Both of these options are like a serum -at once curing and poisoning.

Changing one's worldview is the task of calling in to question each belief, understanding, and ground in which one understands themselves and their world. It is a frame of reference, the grounds for reality, or the context in which the information of life is integrated into. This worldview (known in psychodynamic theory as Weltanschauung) is the basis of how we, individually, organize information into systems of knowledge. Theorists describe how information becomes knowledge only when organized by a given framework. Knowledge must be contained within a certain system of rules that govern how the information may fit together to form, what is regarded as, facts. Facts cannot exist in isolation; a fact can only exist within a contextual grounding.

This insight is typically attributed to the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein but has existed long before his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. The idea that fact can only exist within systems of knowledge -a concept which Wittgenstein called language games- finds its origin much earlier, in sophistic and "Eastern" thought. From the sophists and thinkers to the East of Greece, the history of language games leads through to the mysticism of Western and Eastern hermetic alchemy. This mystical alchemy treated the transmutation of base metals into gold not literally, but rather symbolically, as the transformation of Platonistic bronze and silver personalities into gold, philosopher kings. This is the project Freud made manifest from Plato, the desires of das Es (bronze) and das Über-Ich (silver), controlled by das Ich (gold). Freud's dynamics of the soul (psychodynamics) is partly based on the system Plato laid out in the Phaedrus dialogue as well as in The Republic

From Hermetic Alchemy we find the thread that runs through much of continental philosophy, including Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Freud, Sartre, through to Jean-Francois Lyotard. We find a brief emergence in experimental psychology with figures in the Gestalt movement including Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Kohler, Kurt Kofka, and Rudolf Arnheim. The postmodern philosopher Jean-François Lyotard discussed much of the idea of contextual dependence of knowledge in his texts The Postmodern Condition and Just Gaming.

The influence on psychotherapy, primarily through psychodynamic theorists and "existential" philosophers, soon branched into the existential-phenomenological movement. Irving Yalom, Rollo May, Victor Frankl, Karl Jaspers, and Otto Rank are just a few of the pioneering researchers in this form of psychotherapeutic change. Although today's popular cognitive-behavioral therapy describes something called cognitive reframing, this method is grossly superficial and does not probe into the deeper soils described by psychodynamic and existential thinkers. CBT typically remains centered around and privileges behavior and cognition over emotion and can be understood as the morbid fear of the necessary significance of emotion in humanness (intellectualization).

This intellectualization has been considered to be the plague of modernity, and long before Max Weber spoke of disenchantment , Friedrich Nietzsche was describing the very same affliction. While Martin Heidegger was managing a convergence between the end of metaphysics and the leap into mysticism (Caputo), Carl Jung was exploring the clinical wisdom of alchemy at Bollingen. What he found regarding the metaphor of change in the human psyche was outlined in three, thick, texts: Psychology and Alchemy, Alchemical Studies, and, Mysterium Coniunctionis.

Whereas Jung openly (and not without ridicule) explored the model of alchemical change, Heidegger chose to represent the turn towards the mystical through linguistic alchemy. Heidegger had the foresight that Jung either lacked or disregarded -that the richness of the mystical could only be folded into contemporary life trough a process of reconfiguring itself. This is the ultimate ending (and beginning) of Heidegger's turn towards poetry.

At some point the patient (the student too) arrives at personal change. Oftentimes the personal change that the patient experiences, through psychotherapy, results in the changing of their environment. Seldom is the person who has achieved personal transformation willing to remain in circumstances that were established before the transformation. Quite literally, this is a new person that will necessarily form a new Gestell (or Gestalt) -the grounds by which the system is organized and grounded upon for under-standing.

The second option for the patient is to change the world they live in. This kind of change is illusory and brings only a temporary sense of newness through novelty. It is not long until this person finds themselves, once again, in their repeated narrative. Freud called this the repetition compulsion, or the tendency for us to play-out, over and over, the same scenario with different people and situations. This is the reason why changing the world can never be achieved on its own. The change is always temporary and ultimately the self (as Weltanschauung, personality, or ideology) forces the new objects into the old narrative. The only way to change the world is through collective personal transformation.

This has been outlined by many traditions of philosophy and spirituality. But it was not until Heidegger that a systematic approach beyond metaphysics was explored. The ideas of Heidegger, passed down from Meister Eckhart and the hermetic alchemy, was applied to society, politics, and economics by Erich Fromm.

Fromm's thinking is a conglomeration of Judeo-Christian theology, Marxist economic theory, Freudian psychoanalysis, Buddhism, and the thinking of Meister Eckhart. If one reads Fromm chrono-logically one can see the weavings of these five groundings converging into a unique life-philosophy.

After World War One Sigmund Freud turned his attention towards cultural psychoanalysis. In texts including Totem and Taboo, Civilization and its Discontents, and Moses and Monotheism, Freud became increasingly interested in understanding culture, politics, and economics through psychoanalysis. This is where Erich Fromm started, not from the standpoint of individual psychodynamics, but from the view of a social psychoanalyst. Fromm's doctoral dissertation was a psychoanalysis of the Jewish diaspora. He then went on to publish his first psychoanalytic essay on Judeo-Christian dogma. Although Fromm diverted greatly from Freud's psychosexual foundations, he did continue where Freud left off, developing social psychoanalysis.

Fromm diverted from Freud in a very simple, but enormously consequential way. His claim was that at some point culture becomes a greater influence on the individual than biology. This shifts the project of psychoanalysis from a psychosexual to a psychosocial conflict. As thinkers including Erik Erikson, Carl Jung, and Wilhelm Reich were expanding psychodynamic theory, to varying degrees, on a social versus biological continuum, each were discussing social manifestations of the psyche. It was Fromm who, perhaps, became the most accessible to the layperson and who was able to turn very complex theories into workable life-philosophy for the everyday person.

What Fromm taught is important to us when we attempt to understand how to enact social change by considering the therapeutic models of individual change. Erich Fromm's social psychoanalysis offers insight into how to make social revolution happen, what that change means, and how to maintain that change after it has occurred.

Individual Change as a Model for Social Change

There is an old joke about psychotherapy and change:
"How many psychotherapists does it take to change a light bulb?"
"One -but the light bulb must want to change."
This joke illustrates one of the fundamental rules of psychotherapy; change is first and foremost an individual choice. This is why therapists find that court-ordered psychotherapy seldom works. The individual who enters into therapy, usually after years of personal struggle, chooses to make volitional change with the help of a therapist. The therapist does not convince the patient to change, nor do they change the patient, the therapist offers a facilitating method of effective and lasting change to the patient.

If we look at social change through this principle something becomes apparent. Any change that is forced upon an individual, institution, or society through law may temporarily effect change, but eventually will manifest as symptoms within the society. For example, hate crime laws may temporarily diminish violent crimes, but they do not eliminate hatred. The hatred remains, suppressed, and will eventually manifest as a pathology of culture. True social change must come, like the individual change, from a social desire to want to change.

How does one get a society or institution to want to change? Individual psychotherapy offers a model. Psychotherapists understand that there is no "one-size-fits-all" approach to therapeutic change. Each patient establishes their own identity through their own structure of desires. Sometime the therapist must assist the patient in understanding what their desires are, and accurately defining those desires. Oftentimes what we think we want turns out not to be what we wanted at all, but rather a less threatening substitute. It is through this initial process of therapy that the psychotherapist helps the patient to establish exactly what it is they want.

Now this offers us two lines of thought regarding social change. We can explore each by using the corporate institution as an example. If we view the corporation as the social institution that we desire change (e.g. as the patient), we realize firstly that it is we who desire the social institution to change, not the social institution itself. This is an important difference in that it brings to our attention that meaningful, lasting change comes from the desire of the subject to change, not the desire of the facilitator of change. This means that significant, indissoluble change can only occur if the subject (corporation) itself desires to change.

In the current situation of oligarchy and corporatocracy, we find that protest and occupation can effectively bring attention to a social injustice, but the laws and regulations that could potentially result from such political pressure are typically short-lived, nominal, or legally sidestepped. The relationship between the government and the corporations is simply too enmeshed for this to be an effective option for social change.

The strategy for durable social change must include a blueprint for motivating the institution to want to change. In one-on-one therapy the psychotherapist would use the method of elenchus to guide the patient towards certain conclusions, including the sensible resolution and desire towards a specific change. But with institutions the method must be different, for the social institution, which we desire to desire to change, is not a willing participant in our dialogue. We must meet the institution on its terms and understand the dialogue that is present.

Every corporation produces a product or service that the population consumes. The dialogue that exists is that of producer and consumer. The corporation produces not only what the population desires, but also manufactures desire in the population for products made by the corporation. As long as the corporation can dictate a populace’s desire it has accomplished its goal of retaining the consumers’ resources. If the corporation produces a product that is not desired by the population, or cannot manufacture the desire within the population for the product, the producer willingly desires to change its behavior by ceasing to produce that product.

This is the key to changing the behavior of all institutions -the consumer holds the power over the producer of products, services, and laws. The key to changing the behavior of these institutions is by speaking within the dialogue of producer-consumer or government-citizen.

We complain of the oligarchies and inflated costs of their products -but continue to consume those very products. We complain about the manufacturing of desire through marketing and propaganda, but we continue to desire. The only way to initiate meaningful and lasting social change, over political and economic power structures, is to first control the political, economic, and libidinal desires within ourselves. We must want to change ourselves first, before the change in the corporatocracy will follow.

The institutions will cater to the desires of the masses, and this is power over the producer. But for this to be effective the masses of consumers must organize to firstly control their desires and secondly set the terms of their demands. Only when the terms of their demands are met will they enter into the production-consumption dialectic.

The language that is spoken is the language of commodity. Economic boycott (voluntary doing without) and buycott (targeted consumption) are two of the most effective methods of initiating the desire for change in a producer. This is true of both producers of goods and service providers. Setting the terms and conditions  for consumption might include a demand on price reduction, a self-imposed social contribution to the community, or a social justice tax which ensures that part of the producer's profit is invested into the community that is consuming (supporting) the corporation.

Boycotts and buycotts are effective but have not been utilized efficiently. A mass boycott on housing, health care, education, and insurance could redefine the economic landscape of today. For example, if university students en masse boycotted tuition or loan repayment, the institutions would be forced to reconsider their tuition fees. It is a simple method of the manipulation of supply and demand. For years producers have been using advertising to manufacture desire in consumers, the empowered consumer will now effectively use the same techniques to orchestrate and pressure the behavior of the producers. This can be done in any product or service provider. It is a matter of mass action of the empowered consumer. At the end of the day the consumer holds the purse strings of our economy.

Boycott can also be effective in political institutions. Mass boycott of a political election is one of the most forceful displays of democracy. Mass withholding of tax revenue is another potent option that the citizen has, albeit with potentially higher consequences. The key is mass action. Effective influence can only result from mass, orchestrated, action.

As individuals we possess the power over economic, political, and existential freedom. Over time we have become complacent, indifferent, fearful, and irresponsible with these three freedoms. We have wrapped ourselves in a cozy blanket of compliance that demands an exceedingly high price for its comfort. If we desire true social change, true social justice, and a society free of the social classes that come to plague it, we must first make a personal commitment towards sacrifice through freedom of desire and want. We must unshackle ourselves from desire of material goods and services, making do with the bare necessities, in order to take control of the powers which have come to enslave us through the manufacturing of desire through greed, jealousy, power, and licentiousness. The power that institutions have gained was not given by the hands of government or business, but rather, by the hands that are our very own. If it is political and economic freedom that we desire, we must begin with personal liberation -freedom from ourselves (desire).