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Robert M. Young

[ Contents | Preface | Acknowledgements | Chapter: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |6 | 7 | 8 ]





The concept of second nature and of the historicity of the unconscious will seem excessively obscure to some and excessively Hegelian (or Frankfurt School) to others, so I will begin by justifying my topic. I believe that it lies at the centre of any inquiry into the social bearings and the political potential of any theory of human nature, and especially of psychoanalysis. The problem — and I consider it to be the problem — is how to develop a politically progressive rendering of psychoanalysis that does not fall into voluntarism on the one hand or fatalism on the other. My reason for including this chapter is that second nature is a concept which may help resolve the problem of avoiding the extremes of a too-sanguine belief in the capacity of humans to change, on the one hand, and biologistic reductionism, on the other. Psychoanalysis has to find a way forward which succumbs to neither of these extremes.

The most obvious way to approach a definition of second nature is to contrast it with 'first nature', and we are at once in deep water. First nature is nature per se, unmediated by human knowing. But nature unknown is an unknown-I-know-not-what, a Kantian noumenon. All we can know is phenomena. From this starting point, then, all we can know is second nature, nature mediated by thought, and all thought occurs inside culture. After writing that, I came across the following passage in an essay on the concept of human nature: 'Nature does not exist apart from culture. Each is constitutive of the other. It is misleading even to conceive of human nature as something that can exist outside culture' (Yankelovich, 1973, p. 424). This is, of course, the essential premise of the sociology of knowledge, i.e., that knowledge has a sociology and thereby gets constituted by particular interests and power relations (Mannheim, 1929-31). This is as true of knowledge of human nature as it is knowledge of any other department or set of phenomena in nature. It follows that it is true of psychoanalytic knowledge. We know this. It is the basis of sectarianism in psychoanalysis in Great Britain, and of the deep geographical divisions whereby particular orientations in psychoanalysis thrive in particular cultures and sub-cultures. It would be good if students of psychoanalysis were given some sense of the theory of knowledge — epistemology — and of the sociology of knowledge, including psychoanalytic knowledge. It would help us to have a better perspective — or better perspectives — on, for example, the history of ego-psychology in Germany, America and France (and the Lacanian reaction against it) and its failure to thrive in Britain, while Kleinianism and eclecticism have.

When we speak of the sociology of knowledge and the roots of particular sects and orientations, it is important not to think in terms of simple one-to-one reflections on a model of socio-economic base directly determining intellectual superstructures. The relationship is more subtle, and the claims of the sociology of knowledge are less startling and unfamiliar than might appear at first sight. We are not surprised when ideas in literature and science are characterised by adjectives like ‘Renaissance’, or ‘Victorian’ or ‘Prussian’. Few find strange the characterisation of the common law by Oliver Wendell Holmes as reflecting the prevailing compromises in a given society (Holmes, 1881). Then why be surprised that Lacanianism should be French, or that Hartmann, Kris and Lowenstein should write in Germanic scientistic terms, and that these ideas should be developed with enthusiasm within the American context in which psychoanalysis gained respectability by its affiliation with medicine (Hartmann, Kris and Lowenstein, 1953; Rapaport, 1954)? Both the metaphorical physiology of ego-psychology and the adjustive orientation of many of its American and immigrant exponents make perfect sense in the light of the social forces at work on knowledge in the period from the 1930's to the late 1950's. The same thing happened to some, though not all, of the members of the Frankfurt School when they were in America during the war (Jay, 1973).

I could go on at some length about second nature and the sociology of knowledge, and this perspective is essential to everything I am trying to say. However, I am keener to concentrate on related aspects of second nature. Think of the common sense or lay meanings of second nature. When we say something comes naturally to someone, we say, 'It's second nature'. What do we mean? We mean that it is so familiar, so much a part of who we are and how we are likely to respond in a given situation, that it happens spontaneously, without reflection. Second nature, in this sense, is an intuitive response — so much inside the individual's sense of self that no intention, no taking of thought, no praxis is necessary. Like common-sense, second nature is constituted by ideology.

At this point, my analysis connects with the idea that human nature is not biologically given, not instinctual (though not free from instinctual components either). It is, rather, an ensemble of social relations. By this I mean that in deep and fundamental respects, we learn to be human — not human in the abstract but human inside history, inside a given culture and sub-culture, and family — his father's son, her mother's daughter, daddy's girl, flawed, Jewish, working class, poised, a trier... but we too easily use the ideas of learning and of socialisation and acculturation non-specifically.

To be a child in the late twentieth-century is not the same as to be one in the seventeenth-century. Childhood has a history (Ariès, 1973; DeMause, 1974), just as it has a cultural relativity: a Sioux child, a Samoan child, an Aborigine child, a Nicaraguan child, a Kampuchean child. These, too, have histories, as any student of urban street children in Mexico City, Tokyo, Paris, or Sao Paulo can tell you, just as a Dickensian child in London could or a Puerto Rican child in New York can.

There are histories, sociologies, and anthropologies of any psychological phenomenon you care to name. At one level this goes against the most basic imputed modes of human nature of psychoanalysis. The primal horde was, for Freud, an event in history, and the Oedipal relationship and its containment lie at the heart of all religion, all civilisation (Freud, 1912-13, 1930; Gay, 1988, ch. 11). The recurrence and ubiquitousness of these structures were important elements in Freud's political pessimism, a topic to which I shall return.

I am old enough so that I don't have a dream that's not been shattered or driven to its knees, so I am not trying to offer a simplistic counter-position, one which, for example, suggests that if we remove repression, a sunny human nature will burst through. Learning that this is not the case has been the lesson of libertarianism for the 1960s and 70s. My own relationship to this is to be nostalgic for the lost hopes of that period without being utterly unrealistic. Nor would I wish to invoke a set of Freudian, Lacanian, or Jungian, transhistorical universals, though I do want to remind you that Freud said that we acquire the super-ego in a way that tends towards cultural continuity, since we do so at a time which precedes much of the acquiring of beliefs. He wrote, 'Thus a child's super-ego is in fact constructed on the model not of its parents but of its parents' super-ego; the contents which fill it are the same, and it becomes the vehicle of tradition and of all the time-resisting judgements of value which have propagated themselves in this manner from generation to generation... It seems likely that what are known as materialistic [i.e., Marxist] views of history sin in under-estimating this factor. They brush it aside with the remark that human “ideologies” are nothing other than the product and super-structure of their contemporary economic conditions. That is true, but very probably not the whole truth. Mankind never lives entirely in the present. The past, the tradition of the race and of the people, lives on in the ideologies of the super-ego, and yields only slowly to the influences of the present and to new changes; and so long as it operates through the super-ego, it plays a powerful part in human life, independently of economic conditions' (Freud, 1933, p. 67). The burden of this is that more is given and more is deeply sedimented in the child's personality than we care to acknowledge when hoping for personal and social change. Even so, my point is that it is still historical and therefore amenable to change, no matter how difficult it may be to achieve that change.

When we say that human nature is an ensemble of social relations, we must have a sense that social relations have a history and anthropology. There are layers upon layers. Anthropology takes us across cultures. History or histories take us through time — within, between and among cultures. And archaeology and evolution take us back down the phylogenetic scale. Individual development presupposes and is in part constituted and constrained by these biological, historical and cultural sedimentations — in genes, in a country and a community.

All this may seem terribly general and obvious, but I venture to say that it is often forgotten when we ask about psychoanalysis as a utopian or political project. We neglect to consider what we are up against when we speak of personal and social change or when we speak of changing the mode of production, to name but one desideratum. There are, as any designer of clothes, or as any psychotherapist or patient or consumer, knows, degrees of refractoriness, and these differ from individual to individual. Another way of putting this is that some forms of refractoriness are more deeply sedimented than others. I once saw a person become extremely anxious at the thought of taking a soft drink into a cinema when there was a notice that said not to do so. This only made sense to me in the light of that individual's having been brought up in South Africa, where the slightest act of non-conformism can have serious consequences. I know a woman who is excessively timid in the face of her husband's strictures. She was brought up in an isolated Irish village. I was myself never allowed to wear blue jeans until I went away to university, and I still feel risqué in doing so. These are mundane versions of a general truth. A person brought up in a hierarchical society will have the hierarchical principle deeply embedded in his or her character. The same is true of racism, sexism, elitism, authoritarianism, and a host of other undesirable traits. They will persist in the personality, no matter what enlightened attitudes have been layered over them. The fact that people can learn to behave well and in a relatively civilised manner does not root out these deeper attitudes, ones which will often show up under stress.

The sense in which I wish to invoke the concept of second nature is neither as general as the epistemological consequences of the sociology of knowledge, nor as the common-sense notion conveyed by 'It's second nature'. I wish to invoke a very specific sense used by Adorno (1973), Lukács (1923), Marcuse (1969, p. 11n), Jacoby (1981, pp. 118-20), Schneider (1975), and others in the Hegelian-Marxist and Freudo-Marxist traditions.

I then want to try to relate the project implied by the use of the concept to the process and, especially, the level of change which I think are implied in the work of Melanie Klein and Wilfred Bion. My general theme will be that there are great power and utility in the concept of second nature, while its advocates were for the most part not very sophisticated about the process required to change it. Indeed, some of them can be said to have had as naive a view of the change from second nature to a better individuality and society as Wilhelm Reich did in his more utopian pronouncements about the wonderful consequences of de-repression (Reich, 1969) or, indeed, as Marcuse seems to have been in some of his more sanguine pronouncements on 'instinctual radicalism' (Marcuse, 1969, ch. 1).

The Marxist concept of second nature is subversive of the common sense version I discussed earlier. Second nature is what we are up against in ourselves, our families and groups, our institutions and in the dead labour of the conversion of relations between people into relations between things, which occurs in the real subordination of manufacturing and in routine at work. It is the enemy of spontaneity and of Eros. It is thanatic, i.e., derived from the death instinct or Thanatos. Thinking about treating relations between people as though they were relations between things lies at the heart of Marx's critique of the fetishism of commodities. (Marx, 1976, pp. 163-77) It is part of a family of concepts about alienation in capitalist society, which includes the split between facts and values, the treatment of social relations as though they could be reduced to laws and the extension of the categories of science into other domains, which is characteristic of scientism, economism, so-called vulgar Marxism, and also characterised the Marxism of the latter part of the nineteenth century, during the Second International (Young, 1977). Those who have invoked the concept of second nature within the Marxist tradition see all of the above as forms of it. This analysis can be extended into more recent theoretical excursions of science into social relations which characterise sociobiology and functionalism in the social sciences and systems theory in psychotherapy and psychiatry (Young, 1981; Kitcher, 1985).

The person who did most to develop the critique of second nature within the Marxist tradition was the Hungarian philosopher Georg Lukács. The locus classicus for his work in this area is his essay on 'Reification and the Consciousness and the Proletariat' (Lukács, 1923, pp. 83-222). In it he characterised the ways in which human praxis, that is, willed behaviour based on thought-out goals, is converted into process. Reification means, literally, 'thingification' — the conversion of social relations into thing-like regularities, devoid of conscious, meaningful deliberation. He did not, however, originate the concept. Some would say Democritus did when he opposed Aristotle's belief that the qualification to rule was determined at birth, by nature. Democritus argued that it was informed by education, which constituted a 'second nature' (Jacoby, 1981, p 118). In the eighteenth century Rousseau saw second nature as something to create in order to repair what nature lacked — to provide organic unity. It was also a concept in Hegel's philosophy and was developed in Lukács' Theory of the Novel, where he describes second nature in vivid terms as 'a charnel-house of long-dead interiorities' (Lukács, 1971, p. 64). The self-made environment was described as a prison rather than a parental home (Ibid.).

In his fine book on the concept of totality, Martin Jay describes Lukács view as follows, 'Extrapolating from Marx's discussion of the "fetishism of commodities" in Capital and applying insights from Bergson, Simmel and Weber, he introduced the notion of reification to characterise the fundamental experience of bourgeois life. This term, one not in fact found in Marx himself, meant the petrification of living processes into dead things, which appeared as an alien "second nature". Weber's "iron cage" of bureaucratic rationalisation, Simmel's "tragedy of culture" and Bergson's spatialisation of dure were thus all part of a more general process' (Jay, 1984, p. 109). Lukács' view of the result of revolutionary change was that 'The mysterious impenetrability of the thing-in-itself will be revealed as no more than the illusion of a reified consciousness incapable of recognising itself in its products', once the external world is 'no longer perceived as ruled by alien forces experienced as if they were "second nature" (Jay, 1984, p. 111). Society as second nature was thus an illusion to be shattered (Jay, 1984, p. 269). However, to do this in theory is far from achieving de-reification in practice. 'Focusing solely on the "second nature"' that was reified history, he neglected to probe the role of 'first nature' in human life, a mistake for which Western Marxists of very different persuasions were to take him to task' (Jay, 1984, p.116). This was particularly true of the critiques of his work by Gramsci and Korsch.

Other Marxists who were, I suppose I should say, more pessimistic, have taken up the concept to good effect. Theodor Adorno wrote about the natural laws of history as ideology so far as they are hypostatized as unchangeable givens of nature (Adorno, 1973). Even so, they are real as the laws of movement of an unconscious society (quoted in Jacoby, 1981, p. 119). Second nature should be seen not as biology but as history that is congealed into nature. It became congealed because it is imprisoned in the dungeons of repetition both in social forms and in individual neurosis. It is frozen history in the social forms and frozen distress in the individual. (ibid.). (A group of psychoanalysts working to develop the mental health services in Nicaragua have drawn attention to a related phenomenon — the frozen grief of people suffering so much from social turmoil that they cannot mourn.) All forms of social and individual alienation can be thus characterised, including culture itself and especially capitalist institutions (Jay, 1984, pp. 43 & 78).

Jean-Paul Sartre also took up the concept and wrote about 'the inertia of infrastructures, the resistance of economic and even natural conditions, the binding of personal relations in things'. All of this is what Sartre called the 'practico-inert', the sedimentation of human actions into social structures that lost their human quality and resisted the freedom of individuals and groups (Poster, 1975, p.177-8). What in reality is the socially mediated sedimentation of second nature is therefore presented as nature as such, and in psychology is seen as primal, instinctual nature (Schneider, 1975, pp. 52, 59-60). So, reification becomes the capitalist form of second nature — 'the form of unconsciousness of an unliberated humanity' (Jacoby, 1981, p. 120). If we apply these concepts to psychoanalytic theory, the ego becomes reified and automated within these social forms. This can, of course, be as true of a nominally adjusted person as it can of a neurotic one. This issue was a central concern in Joel Kovel's book The Age of Desire (Kovel, 1982).

I won't be surprised if all this seems very new and esoteric to some and very old hat to others. What I am offering is a perspective which attempts to bring social critique and psychoanalytic theory into one shared mode of discourse. For example, psychosomatic disease can be seen as self-reification, the lodging of unresolved unconscious conflicts into organic structures and processes.

Now socialism and Marxism set out to cast all this aside, and Freud thought this a forlorn hope. De-reification is an attempt to recapture the human origins of the social world that have been mystified under capitalism as a kind of second nature. (Jay, 1984, p. 228) The revolutionary process — and especially the elimination of private property — is designed to overcome this alienation. Freud is often thought of as someone who did not hold overtly political views, although he is always considered a liberal. In fact, near the end of his life, he wrote a set of New Introductory Lectures (Freud, 1933) which were designed to help the publishing house with which he was associated to get out of a situation (which I know too well) of not quite being able to break even. In the last lecture he addressed himself to the whole question of psychoanalysis in relation to world views. He says that the political aim of the abolition of private property sprang from a misguided illusion about human nature. He did not himself take a view on the economic consequences of the Soviet attempt to build communism but said, 'I can recognise it's psychological presuppositions as an untenable illusion' (quoted in Gay, 1988, p. 549). He argued that aggression was not created by property but, rather, was a source of pleasure (ibid.). Freud's theory of civilisation 'views life in society as an imposed compromise and hence as an essentially insoluble predicament' (Gay, 1988, p. 547). He says that we can neither live without civilisation nor live happily within it, but at best we can achieve a truce between desire and control' (p. 548). Freud wrote, 'I recognise ever more clearly that the events of human history, the interactions between human nature, cultural development, and the precipitants of primeval experiences (as whose representative religion pushes to the fore) are only the reflection of the dynamic conflicts among the id, ego, and superego, which psychoanalysis studies in the individual the same events repeated on a wider stage. (quoted in Gay, 1988, p. 547)' Peter Gay comments: 'He could not have stated the essential unity of his thought any more forcefully' (ibid.).

I want now to dwell at length on Freud's most extensive comments on Marxism. It is important to have a sense of context for this passage. He is reflecting on ideology as world view — Weltanschauung, — something of which he believes himself to be free. The first world view on which he comments, albeit it briefly, is anti-scientistic anarchism, which he deftly caricatures and reduces to relativistic sophistry. He continues, 'The other opposition has to be taken far more seriously and, in this instance I feel the liveliest regret at the inadequacy of my information. I suspect that you know more about this business than I do and that you took up your position long ago in favour of Marxism or against it. Karl Marx's investigations into the economic structure of society and into the influence of different systems upon every department of human life have in our days acquired an undeniable authority. How far his views in detail are correct or go astray, I cannot of course tell. I understand that this is not an easy matter for others better instructed than I am.' (Freud, 1933, pp 176-77)

Having begun in a disarmingly diffident way, he moves onto the attack: 'There are assertions contained in Marx's theory which have struck me as strange: such as that development of forms of society as a process of natural history, or that the changes in social stratification arise from one another in the manner of a dialectical process. I am far from sure that I understand these assertions aright; nor do they sound to me “materialistic” but, rather, like a precipitate of the obscure Hegelian philosophy in whose school Marx graduated. I do not how I can shake off my lay opinion that the class structure of society goes back to the struggles which, from the beginning of history, took place between human hordes only slightly differing from each other. Social distinctions, so I thought, were originally distinctions between clans or races. Victory was decided by psychological factors, such as the amount of constitutional aggressiveness, but also by the firmness of the organisation within the horde, and by material factors, such as the possession of superior weapons. Living together in the same area, the victorious became the masters and the vanquished the slaves. There is no sign to be seen in this of a natural law or of a conceptual [dialectical] evolution.' (p. 177). He goes on to assert that 'men always put their newly acquired instruments of power at the service of their aggressiveness and use them against one another'.

Moving on, Freud indulges in a bit of potted history of military technology in a rather technologically determinist way and continues with what has become a familiar rebuttal of the base-superstructure model, the basic tenet of vulgar Marxism, which says that the social and cultural superstructure is a direct and unmediated reflection of the economic base. He reiterates a position which, in fact, Marx and Engels held and which every enlightened Marxist has also held, that is, that superstructure influences base just as much as base influences superstructure. He tells us that 'the relation of mankind to their control over nature, from which they derive their weapons for fighting their fellow-men, must necessarily also effect their economic arrangements.' (p 178). He then appears to offer us a sense of mediation: 'But it cannot be assumed that economics motives are the only ones that determine the behaviour of human beings in society. The undoubted fact that different individuals, races and nations behave differently under the same economic conditions is alone enough to show that economic motives are not the sole dominating factor. It is altogether incomprehensible how psychological factors can be overlooked when what is in question are the reactions of living human beings...' (ibid.). Freud next brings instincts into play and says, 'If anyone were in a position to show and detail the ways in which these different factors — the general inherited human disposition, its racial variations and its cultural transformations — inhibit and promote one another under the conditions of social rank, profession and earning capacity — if anyone were able to do this, he would have supplemented Marxism so that it was made into a genuine social science. For sociology too, dealing as it does with the behaviour of people in society, cannot be anything but applied psychology. Strictly speaking there are only two sciences: psychology, pure and applied, and natural science' (p 179).

We have here, again, Freud's own swingeing reductionism, at least as simplistic as anything of which he accuses Marxists. There is natural science, and there is psychology. There are, therefore, fundamentally no intellectual niches for what Durkheim called social facts. There is no sense of the relative autonomy of the social. There are, finally and fundamentally, no mediations: no economics, no social psychology, no anthropology, not even — finally — history.

I will offer two more paragraphs to make clear both his commitment to reductionism and his deep scepticism about Marxism. 'And although practical Marxism has mercilessly cleared away all idealistic systems and illusions, it has itself developed illusions which are no less questionable and unprovable than the earlier ones. It hopes in the course of a few generations so to alter human nature that people will live together almost without friction in the new order of society, and that they will undertake the duties of work without any compulsion. Meanwhile it shifts elsewhere the instinctual restrictions which are essential in society; it diverts the aggressive tendencies which threaten all human communities to the outside and finds support in the hostility of the poor against the rich and of the hitherto powerless against the former rulers. A transformation of human nature such as this is highly improbable' (p. 180).

In conclusion, he says, 'Unluckily neither our scepticism nor the fanatical faith of the other side gives a hint of how the experiment will turn out. The future will tell us; perhaps it will show that the experiment was undertaken prematurely, that a sweeping alteration of the social order has little prospect of success until new discoveries have increased our control over the forces of nature and so made easy the satisfaction of our needs. Only then perhaps may it become possible for a new social order not only to put an end to the material need of the masses but also to give a hearing to the cultural demands of the individual. Even then, to be sure, we shall still have to struggle for an incalculable time with the difficulties which the untameable character of human nature presents to every kind of social community' (p. 181). Reverting to Freud's claim that all social phenomena are really id, ego, and super-ego writ large, my aim in what follows is to canvas a crucial dimension of the problem — how we grant all that is appropriate to id, ego, and super-ego and to the family dynamic as prototype, as well as other, more primitive mechanisms, while giving due weight to the relative autonomy of the social. We somehow have to find our way between the extreme form of theories of nature and human nature which says that truth and human nature are made and not found (Rorty, 1989), on the one hand, and utterly fatalistic and pessimistic views, whether socially fatalistic or biologistically so, on the other.

I want to begin my conclusion by granting a lot to Freud. If he is right, and I regret to say that the middle quarters of the twentieth century, extending from the baleful consequences of the Soviet Great Cultural Revolution which began in 1929, to the Chinese events under the same name in the 1960s and beyond to the events of Kampuchea and other draconian and genocidal movements in several metropolitan and Third World countries - these events have certainly borne out Freud's pessimism. In the spirit of Sisyphus, I think that we must try again to push the stone up the hill, knowing that the chances of its rolling back over us are quite large. The problem, I suggest, is one of levels. The need is not to get away from the primitive but to work with it — not as fixed but as hard to shift.

Indeed, the key might lie in Freud's own motto: 'If I cannot bend the higher powers, I will stir up the lower depths' (Freud, 1900, p. ix). Herbert Marcuse offers us the beginnings of a compromise. He accepts the necessity of repression for civilisation. Here he is with Freud. But he distinguishes between socially necessary repression, on the one hand, and what he calls 'surplus repression', on the other (Marcuse, 1966, pp. 37-8). The second characterises a specific epoch and is available for attempts to modify it. For Marcuse, Freud's biologism is petrified or frozen history — second nature (Jacoby, 1981, p.31)

The psychoanalytic process seems to me to offer some insight into a potential process of de-reification. The first thing to say is that it is a slow process. It involves the conversion of dead and repetitious and inaccessible aspects of the self into more vivid, spontaneous and accessible ones which are to a degree amenable to conscious evaluation and to a degree susceptible to change. If lasting change cannot be achieved by willed, voluntary (much less coercive) praxis, then we will have to look deeper. Here I draw my central insight from Wilfred Bion's writings on groups. He says that 'there is ample evidence for Freud's idea that the family group provides the basic pattern for all groups' (Bion, 1961, p. 187). He adds, however, 'that view does not seem to me to go far enough. I doubt whether any attempt to establish a group therapeutic procedure can be successful if it is limited to an investigation of mechanisms deriving from this source. I would go further; I think that the central position in group dynamics is occupied by the more primitive mechanisms that Melanie Klein has described...' (pp. 187-8). He goes on to say, 'I do not believe that the phenomena I have witnessed are peculiar to a therapeutic group and that the understanding of group dynamics requires close attention to Freudian mechanisms, supplemented by the more primitive ones, which are also at work in psychotic anxieties, and which Kleinians discuss in terms of "the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions" and part-object relationships' (p. 188).

This is not the place to discuss these mechanisms in detail. I have done so elsewhere (Young, 1994). My point in referring to them is to stress just how primitively rooted the factors are which we must take into account if we are to understand the dynamics of collective processes. My own experience of working in groups and in collective projects over several decades certainly bears out a strong sense of just how distressing and bewildering group dynamics can be. One often feels helpless in the face of forces and interactions which threaten to overwhelm the ostensible project of the group. During the period of maximum utopianism, just when the prevalence of such experiences was beginning to dawn on left and feminist groups, a wag said that where Freud's generation may have been helped by The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, ours would benefit from an analysis of 'the psychopathology of every left group'. Bion concludes by saying that he considers the primitive reactions 'to contain the ultimate sources of all group behaviour' (pp. 188-89).

How can one give effect to this change of level of political work? First, we must change our model of change. The Freudian one, nicely illustrated in the concluding chapter of Karl Menninger's classic work, Man Against Himself, is that insight can lead one from neurotically distorted goals to realistic ones. It recalls Freud's famous motto: 'Where id is, there ego shall be; it's reclamation work like draining the Zuider Zee'. This has always struck me as a psychoanalytic gloss on eighteenth century rationalism. A different model has occurred to me of late. Change — including change in analysis — occurs by a process whereby great struggles occur on the surface of the sea of life, while, by an unclear and almost wholly unconscious process, the plates of the ocean floor move slowly in relation to one another. Not, then, primarily insight, but slow changes due to processes of containment, detoxification, re-introjection of projected and disowned parts. The problem changes from one of insight, on the one hand, or de-repression, on the other, to a change in the balance and resolution of forces internally, moving toward an ability to take full account of the forces at work in a given situation while at the same time being clear about the ones which one wishes to accentuate and promote. This is an adumbration of a political analogue of the depressive position and the kind of object relations are moving toward the perception of whole objects. My patients don't often have 'Aha' reactions, nor do I. It is a more molecular process, and change is often noticed retrospectively.

How can I illustrate this in non-clinical settings? Two recent films come to mind. In the first, 'Babette's Feast', a lifetime of willed moral practice, which had led to ossified, petty, and largely barren religious sectarianism, is touched and moved, in the face of strong intentions to the contrary, by dedicated, beautifully prepared, ample and generously given food: a feast for desiccated libidos. Profound healing and reparation occur through real soul food, and the beneficiaries have little idea about the means which are changing them.

In 'A World Apart' (written by the woman who was the young teenager in the film, Shawn Slovo, the real-life daughter of the heroine, Ruth Furst) a dedicated mother who was a political activist on behalf of black liberation in South Africa, nearly loses her daughter because the political cause prevented the mother from nurturing and containing the young girl. The teenager comes to a comprehension and to the beginnings of sharing her mother's political beliefs through direct experience of mothering and nurturing at the hands of a mother surrogate, the black family servant. Not only was the didactic behaviour of her mother ineffectual; it was counter-productive, while the care of the black nanny was profoundly effective in helping the daughter to develop and in bringing mother and daughter together. The mother was full of principles but could not look after the child. The daughter even says, pleadingly, at one point, 'But I'm your daughter!'. The servant could and did look after the child and succeeded in eliciting a degree of political consciousness in the context of care.

I am not merely advocating food and mothering, though the role and tonalities of loving servants would bear closer scrutiny. I am talking about stirring up the lower depths — by reparation, by focusing on the depressive rather than the paranoid-schizoid, position. I am advocating a politics of political containment, de-toxification and reintrojection, rather than of exhortation and guilt-induction - the politics of the breast rather than the lectern and the barricades, of Forest School Camps rather than Gordonstoun, of Live Aid and Sports Aid rather than guilt-tripping, of making rather than blaming and, in some cases, of being rather than doing. Many of the charities seem to me to have understood this of late, while the political parties have not. This is the direction I believe a left re-think might usefully take.

I want to close with a rather pessimistic quotation, but a degree of pessimism of the intellect, coupled with optimism of the will, might lead us to a version of psychological and social realism. It is from Karl Menninger's Life Against Death, in which he details all the ways in which we thanatically harm ourselves. His last sentence says, 'Toward the temporary staying of the malignancy of the self-destructive impulse, toward the averting of a premature capitulation to Death, we may sometimes, by prodigious labours, lend an effective hand' (Menninger, 1938, p. 413).


(Place of publication is London unless otherwise specified)

‘A World Apart’ (1988) colour, British Screen and Atlantic Entertainment Group, a Working Title production, produced by Sarah Radcliffe, directed by Chris Menges, written by Shawn Slovo.

Adorno, Theodor W. (1973) Negative Dialectics. Routledge

Arato, Andrew (1972) Lukács’ Theory of Reification’. Telos 11:25-66.

Ariès, Philippe (1973) Centuries of Childhood. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

‘Babette’s Feast’ (1987) colour, directed by Gabriel Axel.

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