Latest Articles and Papers

Free Associations

| Home | Contents | Rationale | Search | Feedback | Interesting Links |


W. Gordon Lawrence, MA, Dr rer oec.

'The industrial revolution raised the possibility of creating a world of plenty. But a century after the heroic period of Japanese, European, and U.S. industrialisation we are no closer to realising the dream of the industrial revolution, the dream of modernism, the dream of progress.'

Joseph Schwartz, 1992, THE CREATIVE MOMENT. Jonathen Cape, London. 201-2.

'We are at the beginning of a new era, characterised by great insecurity, permanent crisis and the absence of any kind of status quo...'

M. Sturmer quoted in Eric Hobsbawm 1994, p.558


The use of psycho-analysis as a tool of cultural enquiry and criticism allows us to see what is taking place at an unconscious level in all the groups and institutions in which we participate but only, of course, if we wish to pay attention to this social phenomena. This heuristic perspective was first pioneered by the early scientific workers in the Tavistock Clinic before the 1939 War and after it by early members of the Tavistock Institute.

The startling discovery they made was that much of the stuff of the social arrangements human beings make to organise their social life is to defend themselves against psychotic anxieties. In this context by 'psychotic' is meant: the fear of annihilation, the fear of being made a nothing, the fear of not being able to make sense of what realities may be, the fear of disorder and chaos, the fear of disintegration, the fear of loss, ending and death. These fears are acutely present in psychic life during earliest infancy and can be reactivated at any time in our subsequent lives when persecutory circumstances trigger them.

Psychotic anxieties suffuse our institutional lives in contemporary societies. Robert Young has written 'much if not most of our group behaviour and institutional arrangements, are quite specifically and exquisitely designed to avoid consciously experiencing psychotic anxiety. Moreover the psychotic processes are in danger of breaking through from moment to moment.' (Young, 1994, p. 156)

Understanding the fear of psychosis which is present in institutional life allows us to understand something of, what I call, the 'rational madness' which suffuses the social configurations which human beings co-construct collectively. By this I mean that the human desire to have order, say, in an industrial organisation, often masks a profound madness which can never be looked at because that might lead to a deconstruction of the order.

One of the problems of using psycho-analysis a a tool of cultural enquiry and criticism is that the original insights come from working with patients. So the idea of 'madness', at least in the popular imagination, comes to lie at the heart of the diagnosis. It is for this reason that we should prefix whatever clinical term we are borrowing with the adjective 'social': hence, social psychosis, social depression and social anxiety. Here, I want to emphasise that the psychosis does not necessarily belong to the individual per se but is, in fact, socially induced. Example: in 1975 I coined the term 'socially depressed' when working with managers in companies which were likely to fail commercially. Most managers were denying this probability but a few were depressed. To be sure, they had a propensity to be depressed as characters and so were available for feelings of depression which their colleagues were denying but, in this context, they were much more in touch with realities than their insouciant colleagues. They could anticipate what the future of the company would be if current policies were pursued.

As it was, they were not heard, indeed were disregarded, by their colleagues who continued to manage as they had always done, believing that matters would work out for the best in the end. A number of these companies became bankrupt because their managers, all honourable men (there were no women), could not understand that the world of commerce and business was changing. British Steel, at the time (1975), was losing a million pounds a day but the managers continued to construe their roles and functions as before.

It is because of the heuristic perspective which recognises the powerful influence of psychotic anxieties that I address what I discern as being a salient dynamic in contemporary institutions in the Northern Hemisphere. If it is not salient it is one that has to be continually guarded against. To put this another way: despite beliefs in the 'democratic way of life', desires to have, what Popper (1966) called, the 'open society', and valuing the fact that individuals manage themselves in their roles (Lawrence, 1979), there is always a tendency in institutions, and in the larger containing society, to regress to simple, hierarchical models of authority as a way of preserving a sense of security and stability.


The working hypothesis I wish to explore is:

As the environment is experienced as becoming more uncertain - and there is reality to this - the management of institutions become more anxious (stressed, if you will) as they interpret their experiences of the events and happenings of the institutions relating to its environment. This evokes and activates dormant psychotic anxieties because their phantasy world comes more to the fore than the conscious, ratiocinating qualities of their minds. So there is a pressure on managers of institutions to bring into being organisational forms and structures which offer themselves and other role-holders a feeling of certainty which in fantasy will withstand the environmental uncertainty and banish the psychotic anxieties. In this social arrangement the majority of the role holders mutually collude. Consequently, they collectively bring into being consciously and unconsciously, authoritarian organisations which generate a totalitarian, possibly fascist state-of-mind in the participants in the institution.

The corollary is:

Such an organisational culture diminishes the capacity for thought and thinking and so role holders at all levels become less able to relate to the external environment which is perceived as being in a state of flux. They become entrapped in the inner, political world and life of the institution, in a life of action and reaction, doing not being. The preoccupation is with personal survival which is essentially narcissistic. This frame of mind does not allow them to anticipate the future in any way other than in individual terms. And so crises, particularly financial ones, repeat themselves till they reach such a magnitude that the institution as an enterprise fails. This is because the role holders of the institution are less able to use those aspects of their 'ego',their psyche, to transact between the inner and outer world of their institution.

[Throughout this essay I use the term 'totalitarianism' as a metaphor, conveying the sense of control over the totality of social life. Institutions I see as being social units which deliberately constructed and reconstructed to seek specific goals. Corporations, armies, hospitals, churches and prisons would be included.]


'Destructive Capitalism'

We live in age of hyper-uncertainty. One reason for this is the acceleration of, what Joseph Schumpeter called, 'destructive capitalism'. By this is meant that capitalist institutions are continually destroying by making redundant their former structures and methods. This is because competition continually causes them to change to match their competitors' performance. This is taking place throughout the industrialised world. The acceleration of capitalism has been fuelled by a disillusionment with socialism in all its forms because policies of public ownership, central planning by the state, administrative direction as regulatory controls have been seen to have failed because their rigidities hinder innovation, structural change and economic growth.


What is now described as globalisation also is causing lasting structural change. Globalisation comes about through:

'Ever freer movement of final goods and services from optimal production locations to optimum markets. Vanishing exchange controls over outward outwards movements of capital from the richer economies. Liberalising inward trade and investment policies in the "developing" world. Specifically political transformations in China and India, having the potential long term effect of adding to the world's labour supply hundreds of millions of people sufficiently literate and disciplined to be eligible for highly skilled jobs in the world market.'

(Jay, 1994)

Changing Production Locations

One result of globalisation is that the institutions of the established capitalist countries cannot compete against the low production costs of, say, the Pacific Rim or India - wages in the east can be as low as four per cent of those in France, for instance, Consequently, so-called 'smart' institutions are running down their organisations in the Northern Hemisphere - 'down-sizing' is the word in vogue. We now speak of 'deconstruction ' or, more bluntly as the Australians do, of 'slash and burn'. And I could go an adding detail of how institutions in the Northern Hemisphere are undergoing radical change.

Production has to take place somewhere in the world. What is happening now is that managers in the Northern Hemisphere are learning to bring into being 'virtual factories', or 'factories in the mind' in the Southern Hemisphere. Because managers are now computer literate it is possible to manufacture elements of a product in different parts of the world, assemble the product in another country and sell it in the richer Northern Hemisphere while still being based there.


While it is exciting to learn of such new trends and understand the commercial possibilities of shifting capital from the Northern to the Southern Hemisphere, for instance, the major result is the growth of unemployment in the Northern Hemisphere. In Britain, for example, we have seen the virtual disappearance of coal miners and those who are now employed in the private sector are working for less money than they received when the industry was nationalised. Other heavy industry occupations are experiencing the same conditions. In the OECD it is predicted that unemployment will rise to 35 million by the end of the millennium. To put this figures in perspective: in 1990 unemployment was 25 million and about 10 million in 1950.

The Spread of the Capitalist Model

Increasingly, in traditional industrial societies the public sector services are being privatised. Capitalist thinking has taken over the running of hospitals, prisons and public utilities. The same criteria believed to be useful in running businesses, such as biscuit making factories, are now applied to all institutions, including universities. Consequently, role holders in such institutions are having similar experiences to those in conventional business enterprises.

Le Casino des Incertitudes

In a recent seminar for managing directors of a group of companies all which I have just tried to describe was summarised in the phrase le casino des incertitudes which was coined to describe how it feels to be a manager now. Managers are, if you will, experiencing Chaos Theory at first hand. They have to live with paradox and have to find entrepreneurial creativity in the face of unpredictability and an unknowable future. All that can be done is to try and discern the shadows which the future casts before it.

The picture of a predictable economy does not fit reality. In fact any economy seems to be on the edge of time, rushing forward, coalescing, decaying or deconstructing, certainly changing and making novel configurations which have no single optimal outcome. It is this living with uncertainty that is the defining feature of contemporary life.


I want to emphasise that to be in business is experienced as being at high risk and it causes anxiety for owners, shareholders and employees at all levels. Essentially, in the first instance, it is managers who carry the anxiety of the persecution that being in a risky commercial situation engenders.

Managers have to respond to the protean environment which is forever in flux. Because of their roles they are always managing the boundary between the inner and outer worlds of their enterprise. The survival of institutions relies on how well or badly senior managers 'interpret' the inner and external realities of the institution. This relies on how they make use of their minds and so, what can be called, the' mental disposition' of managers is critical in this interpretation of realities.

Managers being human come to their roles with their personal psychic history. My hypothesis is that given the nature of the changing, turbulent, global, commercial environment which generates anxiety and fear managers are often pressed into only being able to interpret reality from the paranoid-schizoid position. This, if you will, is the mental set which is mobilised.The paranoid schizoid position is one in which

'...anxieties of a primitive nature threaten the immature ego and lead to a mobilisation of primitive defences. Splitting, idealisation and projective identification operate to create rudimentary structures made up of idealised good objects kept far apart from the persecutory bad ones. The individuals impulses are similarly split and he directs all his love towards the good object and all his hatred against the bad one.'

(Steiner, 1987, pp. 69-70)

I fully accept that some managers will have a valency for this psychic position and will fall more readily into it than others would do. At the same time, however, I am also postulating that managers can be driven into this position by other role holders who are 'followers' in the institution. The managers interpret from the paranoid-schizoid position because they have sanction, albeit unconscious, from whatever groups in which they make their interpretations and decisions. This is because role holders in institutions use those role holders who are in boundary management positions, i.e., managers, as 'containers', receptacles, for their feelings, even though none of the parties involved may recognise this.

Why are these managers placed in the paranoid-schizoid position? The reason I am suggesting partly lies in the mental disposition of those who are subject to the managers. Elliot Jaques, using Kleinian ideas in the context of his action research in industry during the Glacier Metal project, hypothesised that 'institutions are used by their individual members to reinforce individual mechanisms of defence against anxieties.' Through the processes of projective and introjective identification individuals become linked behaviourally with their social institutions. Consequently, 'one of the primary cohesive elements binding individuals into institutionalised human associations is that of defence against psychotic anxiety'. (Jaques, 1955, pp. 478-9)

This basic insight was elaborated by Bion when he wrote that the central dynamics of institutions cohered around the participants' primitive psychic impulses which were based on the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions.

In contemporary institutions the participants' persecutory fears about the state and conditions of the external environment triggers psychotic anxieties. This is a repetition, but on a larger scale, of what Menzies Lyth found when working in hospitals. There she showed that the unconscious psychotic anxieties and the actual structures of the organisation of the institution come to be woven together in such a way that they constitute 'a social system of defence against anxiety'.

In hospitals nurses have to confront illness, death and dying which provokes psychotic anxieties of annihilation. In order to defend against this the managerial systems of hospitals come to be disciplined and rigid in order to minimise risks of causing injury of any kind, such as an over dosage of drugs. This all becomes tied together conceptually and emotionally as a method of containing the psychotic anxieties.

Similarly, in western. traditional capitalist economies managers and all the other role holders are continually being faced with the ending of their institution, which will result in redundancy and unemployment for all the role holders, for the reasons I have tried to indicate. Managers and others, I repeat, are faced with real fears which are not products of phantasy.

There is, then, a collusive process taking place in institutions. Managers are driven into interpreting the realities of the environment from a paranoid-schizoid position and they are held in that position by the other role-holders who need them to be in it so that they can avoid experiencing their psychotic anxieties.

Thus a 'social system of defence' comes into play. It is for this primary reason that a totalitarian-state-of-mind comes to be acceptable to the majority of the role holders and because it offers the fantasy of security.

The wish for psychic and political security by the majority of role holders is realised by projecting into the management, particularly the 'top' ones, the feelings that they are omnipotent, omniscient and capable of satisfying all desires for dependency. The price which has to be paid for this unconscious projection is a rigid, authoritarian organisation with its associated culture of dependency.

In turn, the management - the 'leaders', if you will - have to introject these feelings. They as a result, in time, become more narcissistic or, a better word in this context, 'hubristic'. The evidence for this comes from what seems to be a particularly British phenomenon which is the belief that all progress, particularly in a commercial company, comes from the top director. This is because in Britain we value 'expressive individualism' and laud the 'outsider-acquisitor' whop is 'driving, clever, dynamic, blunt, and tenacious while unafraid of hard work.' (Hampden-Turner and Trompenaars, 1994, p.305) Such people once they are in role reward themselves enormously such as the head of British Gas or British Telecom or the water and electricity utilities.

Such role holders come to idealise themselves, They see themselves as good objects and keep themselves far apart from bad persecutory ones which, for the most part, are located in the environment. So any competition comes to be seen as an 'enemy' which has to be killed off. This has the further function of giving other role holders holders in the enterprise a bad object into which they can project their unwanted feelings of hostility. Hence, we have aggressive advertising campaigns which aim to destroy any competition. Such a campaign was mounted by British Airways against Virgin Airways.

But always we have the nagging questions: why are such people selected for their roles and why are they sustained in them, at least for a time? I am continually amazed as to how such hubristic leaders receive sanction for what they do. All of them are surrounded by role holders in the institution, often they have advisers and nonexecutive directors, if it is a commercial company, and always accountants, analysts and bankers. They too, in my view, are implicated in the rise of narcissistic leaders and, in a sense, feed the paranoid-schizoid interpretation of the business situation.

The answer to my question lies, more clearly, in the selection process itself. Old style British generals, for example, were selected because they were 'authoritarian personalities'. The army, then, with its rigid and tightly controlled structure, grounded in architectonic beliefs in obedience and command hierarchies, offered them safety 'in the ambiguous world of emotions and relationships'. (Dixon, 1994) Any self doubts they had were absorbed in the rigidities and rituals of the armed services. Such characters were anxious to avoid failure and, so, preserve their fragile self esteem. This fitted the selectors' profile of the ideal general, i.e. they wanted to have people who would offer clear cut, decisive leadership.

In some measure history is repeating itself but now in the non-military sphere. The uncertain, global environment causes employees at all levels fear of unemployment, at the very least, which, in turn, provokes their primitive, psychotic anxieties. Consequently, managers are driven into interpreting realities from a paranoid-schizoid position. For those who have a valency for this position anyway their narcissistic, or hubristic, qualities are given free reign because the collusive process which the majority of role holders have collectively constructed in their minds and behaviourally act out gives them unconscious sanction to be so. The resultant totalitarian-state-of-mind of the organisational culture is subscribed to because it offers temporarily relief from psychotic anxieties.

There are, at the very least,three consequences in terms of how individuals relate to realities as they so construct them.

One, in a culture which is based on a totalitarian-state-of-mind there is only room for, what Winnicott called. the 'false' self to be deployed in relationships because the 'true' self has to be kept secret. Sebek, a psychoanalyst in Prague, writes:

The false self in a totalitarian society defended and protected the true self that could be expressed only in a limited, relatively "safe" space, for example, in a family, with a spouse...In the totalitarian system as prescribed by communists, conditions were especially ripe for the creation of the false self. This false self was usually on the surface of personality and supplanted the true self...the false self adapted to the requirements of the totalitarian power - in terms of subjugation, passivity, resignation and obedience.'

(Sebek, 1993, p. 2)

In institutions it is the same. Role holders only deploy selected aspects of their available personality. They can only be calculative, goal orientated, rational - in short, essentially schizoid.

Two, all this has consequences in terms of thinking as I indicate in the corollary to my principal working hypothesis. When a totalitarian-state-of-mind is salient in an institution thought and the capacity for thinking becomes diminished. I think this is how it takes place.

The unconscious preoccupation is with projective identification with the hubristic leader for the reasons of defending from psychotic anxieties. The price which has to be paid is a rigid, authoritarian structure with its associated culture. The culture only rewards, and so reinforces, thinking which is sure-fire and certain, which is logical, which is convergent, because the the overarching fear is of making mistakes. The fear of mistakes is such that it becomes dangerous to have thoughts which are different from the majority.

Three, in such a culture role holders can only proceed in their thinking from certainty to certainty, from the known to the known. When crisis and uncertainty are experienced by them they search for a source of salvation which is consistent with the dependency culture that a totalitarian-state-of-mind spawns. Such institutions project into their top role holders omnipotence and omniscience and when they search for understanding of any kind they look for the same in anyone who may come to help them with their current problems and issues. The promise of the narcissistic-hubristic leader is that, messiah-like, he will save the institution and miraculously will carry them forward to a glorious future.

Any intervention into the life of the institution has to fit this mood. So experts are called in to reengineer the organisation, or the banks are called on to provide, what they call, a 'rescue package'. These are examples of intervention which are grounded in, what I call, the 'politics of salvation'. The management of such institutions with such a state of mind become trapped by the idea that they can survive by a quick painless intervention, a magical new idea promising a 'millenarian' or utopian future.

But such tactics inspired by the politics of salvation are never grounded in an honest, searching appreciation of the situation, never the product of lateral or divergent thinking and so the institution continues with its culture based on its collective totalitarian-state-of-mind.

As I outline these social processes I want to make it as clear as possible that they are, for the most part, collusively produced. To be sure, there will be occasions when they are brought about through the use of naked power. But even in so called 'open' societies there are always wishes to defend against psychotic anxieties and so the form of civilisation is always pressed towards that of a closed society.


How do we find alternatives to the complex configuration of emotions to defend against psychotic anxiety which produce the totalitarian-state-of-mind within institutions? Or, more particularly, how can mental dispositions be mobilised which will not interpret the realities of the environment exclusively from a paranoid-schizoid position?

As I said earlier, I have encountered for something like twenty years role holders - managers in particular - who were in what I called the socially depressed position. By this I mean that they were not depressed totally because of their psychopathology but, to be sure, because of their valency for depressive feelings they could register such feelings which were being projected into them by their colleagues. They, of course, were denying such feelings and remaining untroubled and insouciant.

In the main I have believed that the depressive position was the one from which managers could start to interpret the events and happenings in their environment in a way that enhanced reality testing.

The depressive position is an important developmental advance in that it allows for objects in the environment to be recognised as whole objects, containing both good and bad aspects. This shift is possible because there starts to be concern for the object, the other. This position is one of integration, of responsibility for conflicting emotions and parts of the individual in relation to objects (Harris, 1988, p.158), i.e. whatever constitutes the Other.

The recognition of whole objects comes about because of ' increased capacity to integrate experiences and lead to a shift in primary concern from the survival of the self to a concern for the object upon which the individual depends. Destructive feelings lead to feelings of loss and guilt which can be more fully experienced and which consequently enable mourning to take place. The consequences include a development of symbolic function and the emergence of reparative capacities which become possible when thinking no longer has to remain concrete.'

(Steiner, 1987, pp. 69-70, quoted in Young, 1994, p. 78)

In terms of institutional managers this depressive position is the one from which market and commercial realities can begin to be put into perspective, The depressive position allows the manager to begin to have concern for the other employees in the institution, for the nature of relationships with customers and with suppliers. The field of vision, so to speak, of the manger becomes larger and he, or she, is able to see it in its totality without taking refuge in simplistic splitting. It is the position from which the realities of an environment which is best understood by Chaos Theory can start to be made sense of - even though it goes against accepted logic.

As it is, the manager is, for the most part, pressed into oscillating between the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions. This is because the advance of 'destructive' capitalism has been such that the primary tasks of institutions have come to be changed in the last few years. The primary task is the reason for existence, or the work of the institution. As it is, the belief in capitalism has caused managers to think of their institutions as being to make or save money. This primary task has supplanted work orientated tasks. For a motor car company, say, this would be to research, develop, manufacture and sell motor cars for sufficient financial return to maintain the company. The pressure to make and save money presses managers and other role holders into the paranoid-schizoid position whereas a work orientated task holds them in the depressive one because the totality of activities are regarded as a complex whole, having meaning which transcends the simplicity of economics.

From my role perspective, which is that of a consultant and action researcher, working in the original Tavistock tradition with heads of business companies and heads of religious institutions which are having to convert their traditional work activities into private companies in order that they can survive, I feel that in the Northern Hemisphere we are caught in a commercial drama of our own making. Time and time again I encounter the social phenomena I have been trying to describe all of which are social systems of defence against psychotic anxieties which makes the substance of civilisation. Continually I have to ask myself what psychic, political and spiritual postures do I take in my role? What I offer now is speculative, of course.

Essentially, I think that I have to acknowledge 'La Condition Humaine' and THE TRAGIC POSITION

The human condition of this century has been brilliantly mapped by Eric Hobsbawm in his AGE OF EXTREMES (1994). We find ourselves approaching the millennium faced with political, economic, moral and spiritual crises. Any attempts we make to save ourselves from these seems to be doomed for the most part, or a palliative at best. There is a disillusionment in the air which is masked by manic economic activity with the consequences I have described. To be sure, we are having to put our faith in the exciting new technologies such as Information Technology and the Internet. There must be hope in transnational dialogues but we do not know what will be the nature of the relationships which will be generated through these. In the end, I have to believe that we have to understand the oldest of existential puzzles: what it is to be human and what are the ends of being so.

My postulate is that we begin by acknowledging the existence of the tragic. In this I do not wish to make a detour through Greek thought but to stay with where we are at this point in history. This conviction finally took shape for me on my last visit to Bulgaria in 1993. Then I had taken a group of French businessmen to meet with politicians, emergent business managers, academics and some people from the media. Our task was to try to understand what it meant to be in business in Bulgaria at this point in history. During one of the plenary meetings I found myself suffused with the feeling that the last two or three generations of people in most of the countries in the Northern Hemisphere have never had a free choice in life. Or rather, their choices have been limited even if they were in the paranoid-schizoid position and so able to exercise power and domination particularly over those who could embrace the depressive position and make themselves available to think outside of the salient, ideological frames. My association was to the discussion by Jung of one of his patients when he concluded, after a discussion of her treatment, that the patient had never been born. Putting the two experiences together I find myself saying that perhaps the twentieth century will be the one when we recognise that we have never allowed ourselves to be born collectively as human, sentient, beings. But to do that we have to look at endings.

I said earlier that our thinking which informs a psycho-analytic perspective on human affairs derives, in the first instance, from work with patients. I do the same in what follows.

Neville Symington working with a patient was able to help her make the journey from the paranoid-schizoid position to the depressive one. She was a very angry patient but once she attained the depressive position she began to realise that whatever deficiencies she had experienced during infancy and childhood could not be blamed either on herself or her parents. In particular, her father had had to work abroad because of the economic crisis in their country of origin. His absence and the related problem had been the source of many of the troubles and difficulties which the patient had experienced, causing her so much subsequent distress and pain. Symington writes that 'this realisation ... brought my patient in touch with the tragic: an integral part of la condition humaine and extremely difficult to bear.' He concludes with his belief that 'the depressive and paranoid-schizoid positions are a defence against this deeper level of non-meaning.' (Symington, 1986, pp.275-6)

My hunch is that while the Kleinian positions are certainly defences in the way that Symington suggests they may also be looked upon as psychic and emotional experiences which are essential for the management of the transition to being able to attain the acknowledgement and acceptance of the tragic. But this is my gloss and may be apostasy.

Turning again to institutions: in the last decade all institutions have moved towards a simplification of their existence to economic survival, thus reflecting the world-wide pervasiveness of capitalist thinking. Capitalism is interpreted narrowly and literally as an end in itself. And , at the same time, alternative economic models have been found wanting. Consequently, as I say in my working hypothesis, role holders in institutions are preoccupied with economic security and survival. Thus the conditions are created for the social dynamics I have outlined. This gross simplification of human life can be seen as a world wide social system of defence against acknowledging the tragic and taking authority and responsibility for the exercising the human ability to discriminate between what is patently good and what is incontrovertibly evil. If we cannot differentiate, we can only be 'psychopaths'.

This century has experienced global tragedy in terms of wars, pogroms and policies of extermination that beggars the imagination. Human beings have near perfected the manufacture of death. All of these are devised and managed by psychotic personalities - paranoid-schizoids to a man.

I end with the question: how are we to break this vicious, degenerative cycle of human affairs?

We know that the politics of salvation merely compounds the issues. There are no '-isms' to rescue us and to offer us a millenarian future because we know that they have failed in the past. What is the alternative?

My final working hypothesis is that we can start to take responsibility and authority for the future when we acknowledge and give meaning to the tragedy of being human and rigorously identify the psychosis present in what passes for civilisation.

The Politics of Revelation

I have argued that totalitarian-states-of-mind are nurtured by the politics of salvation which, by their nature, preempt divergent thinking. By contrast, the politics of revelation are more a state of being than doing. I mean by revelation the work of being available for experiences whether psychotic-like or not, generating working hypotheses on these experiences and making interpretations on the significance of the experiences. It is through the politics of revelation that individuals come to recognise that they are having experiences which derive from the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions. Such people are those in institutions who have minds and thoughts and are capable of thinking and having dreams. They question to find the skull beneath the skin of contemporary life.

Individuals who are committed to the politics of revelation are always striving towards, what Bion (1970) termed, 'O' which signifies the original 'thing in itself' of an experience. 'O' represents absolute truth which can never be known by any human being but it is the journey to attain a version of it which makes us preeminently human. 'O' is more possible to attain if we can find a sense of and respect for the unconscious, for otherness, for mystery and death (Cf. Weatherill, 1994) which are present in our lives no matter how hard we try to make them absent.

'Le Trahison des Clercs'

Earlier this century the phrase 'Le Trahison des Clercs' was used to describe those intellectuals who colluded with the powers of fascism, and all the other '-isms'. They were the people who despite their educational and social opportunities and intelligence went along with the forms of power which, it turned out, were profoundly evil. Today it is less easy to discriminate for we are repeatedly told we live in a world of relativity.

Nevertheless I think that if we take on the heuristic perspective that psycho-analysis as a tool of cultural enquiry and criticism offers and commit ourselves to the politics of revelation we are left with little choice but to expose the presence of psychosis in our social institutions, no matter where it may lead us. Let us not commit treason, once again, against the human race by remaining silent because we do live in an eco-systemic environment in which, as Meister Eckhart pointed out some centuries ago, 'everything is in everything else. All is one.' Sandor Weores, the Hungarian poet, discerned the shadows the future cast before it when he wrote: 'Time for black prophecies are over: the Winter of History is whistling around us.' Our silence will have catastrophic consequences.

Paper read at the inaugural conference on 'Group Relations', of the Institute of Human Relations, Sofia, Bulgaria, 1995.


Bion, W.R. (1970) ATTENTION AND INTERPRETATION. Tavistock Publications, London.


Hampden-Turner, C. and Trompenaars F. (1994) THE SEVEN CULTURES OF CAPITALISM. Piatkus, London, 2nd ed.

Harris, Martha (1988) Depression and the Depressive Position in an Adolescent Boy. In Spillius, Elizabeth B. ed. MELANIE KLEIN TODAY. Routledge, London.

Hobsbawm, Eric (1994) AGE OF EXTREMES. Michael Joseph, London.

Jaques, Elliot (1955) Social Systems as a Defence against Persecutory Anxiety. In Klein et alia , eds. (1955) pp. 478-498

Jay, Peter (1994) On the Grip of an Age of Fear. THE TIMES, London.

Klein, Melanie et alia, eds. (1955) NEW DIRECTIONS IN PSYCHO-ANALYSIS. Tavistock Publications, London.

Lawrence, W,G, (1979) A Concept for Today: The Management of Self in Role. In Lawrence, W.G., ed.


Lawrence, W.G. (1994) The Politics of Salvation and Revelation in the Practice of Consultancy. In Casemore Roger et alia, eds. WHAT MAKES CONSULTANCY WORK. South Bank University Press, London.

Menzies Lyth, I.E.P. (1959) The Functioning of Social Systems as a Defence Against Anxiety. HUM. REL. 13: 95-121

Popper, Karl (1966) THE OPEN SOCIETY AND ITS ENEMIES. Routledge, London. 2 vols.

Sebek, Michael (1993) Aggression in Society and on the Couch. IMAGO East-West, London.

Steiner, John (1987) The Interplay between Pathological Organisation and the Paranoid-Schizoid and Depressive Positions. INT. J. PSYCHO-ANAL., 68: 69-80.

Symington, Neville (1986) THE ANALYTIC EXPERIENCE. St. Martin's Press, New York.

Weatherill, Rob (1994) CULTURAL COLLAPSE. Free Association Books, London.

Young, Robert (1994) MENTAL SPACE. Process Press, London

6280 words

Copyright: The Author

The Human Nature Review
Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM

US -
Keywords: logo

UK -
Keywords: logo

 | Human Nature | Books and Reviews | The Human Nature Daily Review | Search |