Applied Psychoanalysis > Society

Psychoanalysis and Society

By Vlad Muschevici

When psychoanalysis was at its beginnings, a collocation such as "psychoanalysis and society" would have been incomprehensible.  Psychoanalysis was nothing else but a method, as many others, used to treat mind disorders. Or such a method stands up from the field of medical practice, thus assuming a well determined role, circumscribed to the interests regarding the collectivity's mental health. It was the period when it ruled the idea that mind disorders are hereditary maladies, related to certain brain degeneracy and thus they did not concern the society as a whole. Pretending to apply analytical practice to the healthy, normal life of the society would have been an attitude both absurd and blameworthy. Besides, it is symptomatic in this case the fact that, even today, there are still voices who impute psychoanalysis its interference in fields other than the medical one, as if by adopting this position psychoanalysis would outrun its competences (1).

There are people, even intellectual ones, who still believe psychoanalysis deals with madness and because of that they do not understand what it has to do with healthy people! Of course, all these persons did not read the famous book Psychopathology of Everyday Life, written by Freud at the beginning of the last century, and which made a point when proving that normal life also have its pretty often abnormal episodes. It was of course the moment when psychoanalysis rose above the narrow circle of its purely clinical interest, in order to take into account social segments and life categories, which, up to that point, had nothing to do with an abyssal research.

  • Christian ethics and psychology

Until the psychoanalysis appeared and imposed itself in the mentality of the West, the social life on the whole was controlled by Christian ethical and moral values. The last ones were logically resulting from a rudimentary psychology, a psychology (or, if we want to, an anthropology) which was limited to the analysis of the conscious life contents. A psychology which ignored absolutely everything concerning  the psychical unconscious and which, under the influence of the Christian mysticism (or the pagan one), was projecting outside the events of the unconscious psychic, creating a real army of spirits, demons, devils, etc., an army of negative astral entities, which were assuming all the defects of the human spirit.

These entities could have been controlled through magical means (exorcism, occult rituals, etc.), which offered the dominant church - except its statute of guide in heaven related issues - also the power to "tie and untie" the "secular" issues. Of course, the church did not hesitate to get the utmost from its enviable position in the hierarchy of social institutions, speculating the human credulity, naivety, superficiality and stupidity. 

As long as human psychology was limited, as we have showed, to studying the conscious part of our mind, the problem of the individual's relationship with himself, with the others, with the world as a whole, reduced itself to the attentive cultivation of Christian virtues and when this behavior was deviated from the normal rule, there were methods and means to attenuate the "sin", to purge it or to anathematize it. Not to mention the deeds of the Inquisition, facts that could not have appeared in a mental and social climate that would have rejected the definition of our soul only on the level of the conscious life. Actually the Inquisition was an institution imposed by the circumstances of human mind evolution and the egoistic interests of individuals who have always known how to take advantage of circumstances and people.

  • Psychoanalysis and the soul reform

The appearance of psychoanalysis and its imposing on the Western conscience was the consequence of a total overthrow of the Christian vision on the human's soul structure, an overthrow with no equal (or measure) in the events of human universal history. From the moment when Freud proved the existence of the psychic unconscious, he described the nature of its psychical contents (repressed sexual and aggressive impulses), showed the role of repression in the constitution of human ego, all that had been supreme value for the human society - meaning the ethical-moral Christian claims - and even the image of the one-dimensional human created by the Christianity collapsed dramatically. Even if today we still meet ideas and concepts which are related to the Christian ones - these contents are fervent and obstinately sustained especially by the Christian-orthodox church - they can not darken the obvious truths exhibited by the psychoanalytical knowledge. They only appear as some lamentable remainders of a culture which did not understand that life is not a projection of the conscious mind and of the puritan consciousness - on the contrary, if we want to be fair, we have to admit that life stubbornly objects to our efforts of rationally ordering it. Psychoanalysis shows precisely, in this sense, that most of the conscious human structures and attitudes are not dictated by rational intentions but by unconscious (unwilling) impulses.

This is how we come to the conclusions brilliantly exposed by Freud in his works: religion is a kind of collective neurosis and a desire to manipulate the outer world with the means of the (world of) desires. (1)

  • Freud discovers the relationship between mental malady and unconscious life

We thus understand how it was possible for psychoanalysis, which had initially started on the field of medicine practice, to impose through its studies in other fields of human life: society, culture, religion, etc. This became imperative since Freud discovered the relationship between the mental malady and the effervescence of the unconscious life. Then, since he acknowledged the obvious fact that all people possessed an unconscious and that its activity could not be blocked or inhibited without causing painful distortions  of the human soul. And if the unconscious is present in each of us - whether we know it or not, weather we declare ourselves mentally healthy or sick - then it is obvious that our activity, no matter its nature, must come out from the subtle interference of the unconscious. In other words, in any human activity - religion, culture, politics, etc. - there is an undeniable mark of the psychical unconscious presence. And here we are already on the territory of psychoanalysis, in its major interest area.

  • Psychoanalysis becomes a method of analysis of our complex behavior

Psychoanalysis becomes, from being sort of appendix of medical practice, rather a method of social and cultural analysis with no precedent in human history, dethroning religion from its absolute role of sovereign over human thinking. (I do not mention philosophy because it is obvious for us today that modern philosophy, except existentialism, has nothing in common with real life. Consequently it can not pretend - as in once did, in the period of its blooming in ancient Greece - to explain the world and, at the same time, to offer a pertinent vision on the multiple and complex relationships which connect the individual with the inner and outer world).

In our modern society psychoanalysis becomes a pragmatic method of analysis for our complex behaviors, imposed by the various roles we have to play in the day-to-day life.

But what is the finality of this analysis?

As in the case of religion, this time psychoanalysis wants to understand why life is seek and which is the antidote for its sickness. Only that, unlike religion, psychoanalysis refuses any metaphysic argument, which comes from belief (revelation) and it is imposed dogmatically. It searches for pragmatic solutions, and when it does not find them, it tries to invent them. We thus understand that psychoanalysis, with its methods of investigation and diagnosis, appears as an extension of the extraordinary capacity of adapting to life of human mind, capacity which was inhibited by the plague of religious ideology.

Life, society, adaptation, we have here, if we want, a formula which simply synthesizes all that the human phenomenon includes. And psychoanalysis is capable to X-ray all these events with specific instruments extracted from its analytical practice.

1. "Religion is an attempt to master the sensory world in which we are situated by means of the wishful world which we have developed within us as a result of biological and psychological necessities". (Sigmund Freud: New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis - 1933).


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