The Three Strands of Psychoanalysis and other Social Movements
Every social movement can be thought of as either a reflection of or an intervention into a set of changing social circumstances. The Civil Rights Movement reflected the fact that the South was industrializing after World War II and so the South had to make room for a free labor market. The Civil Rights Movement also intervened to change the hearts and minds of whites in the South so that formal social segregation might be abolished. This question of whether a social movement is a reflection or an intervention is not simply the empirical one of deciding whether the movement or changed circumstances came first. Attitudes might start to change before the Civil Rights Movement made a change in attitude into a goal, and changes in legislation may indeed have been crucial in structuring a labor market already undergoing alteration. The question is a theoretical one in that it requires a re-conceptualization of the forces that might serve as either causes or effects. The idea of intervention has to be expanded to include the dynamics by which a movement defines its own means and ends.
The history of the study of social movements has been to give social movements ever more agency. Movements become self-reflective rather than just reflections of their circumstances. Early Marxism had viewed social movements as, at best, easing the birth pangs of new social arrangements that were going to come about sooner or later. The social movement reflected the forces that were churning below. The working class would take power when the bourgeois could no longer sustain their ideology and their economy. But even within Marxism, those with a more fully developed imagination of the idea of revolution allow a degree of agency for those who make the revolution. Trotsky portrays the revolutionary moment as the time when the peasant looks into the eye of the Cossack and realizes that he will be allowed to pass. A great deal of suffering and history had gone on to make that moment possible, but the revolution was made at that moment by those who, in an instant, came to that realization (Trotsky, 1959).
Functionalists like Neil Smelser (1962) go a step toward providing movements with agency. Smelser saw social movements taking on their characteristic dynamics as a result of the sets of circumstances they select as those they would alter. So a demand for bread expresses itself as a riot and a demand for a new social order expresses itself as a revolution. It is the movement rather than history that chooses its goals. That means that a movement has its own dynamics even if the parameters of those dynamics are set by the goals. Choose different goals and the dynamics will be different. But there is still no evading the external question of what aspect of the social structure is implicated once goals are chosen. That the Civil Rights Movement chose to engage in non-violent demonstrations rather than guerilla warfare shows how its goals were implicit in its means. Theda Skocpol (1994, 1992) elaborates the functionalist model. She sees a social movement as generated by the ideological elaboration of a previous role, whether that is the role of the revolutionary or the role of the pension recipient. Old roles are extended or applied to new circumstances. Ideology remains at the service of the ever altering circumstances, but the ideas change in the ways in which ideas change: through contraction and expansion and other intellectual processes.
The argument of the present article takes an additional step towards giving agency to social movements. The ideas of a movement are self-generating in that the ideas that are characteristic of social movements have a particular internal dynamic. Every social movement has at its core a paradox. The life course of a movement is an attempt to resolve that paradox. When that task is accomplished, the movement comes to an end, whether or not it has accomplished its other, perhaps more practical task, of altering the set of circumstances in which it arose. That is because the movement no longer challenges a population's sense of the order of things, no longer has an informing insight whose complexities seem to give validity to that insight.
The Civil Rights Movement is a case in point. Martin Luther King, Jr., who became the personification of the movement, presented a paradox whose resolution, once accomplished, meant that the Civil Rights Movement had served its purpose. King based his appeal to the nation as a whole on the idea that Black people were worthy of respect and therefore entitled to the same citizenship rights as white people. That was to go against the grain of a caste system which had seen Blacks as systematically inferior. They were lascivious, dirty, lazy, and immoral. Everyone could see that to be a fact since, for the most part, Blacks were uneducated sharecroppers or had only recently removed themselves from that condition.
King turned the tables by showing that his followers were the ones who were neat and orderly and took the high road in political and moral argument, relying on voter registration, peaceful demonstrations, and a philosophy of non-violent civil disobedience, while their opponents relied on terrorism and cattle prods. He was able to contrast respectable Black teenagers with the likes of Bull Conner, and so the American population was awakened to the falseness of caste attributions. King's followers were the betters of their oppressors. That created the moral climate for the Voting Rights and Equal Accommodations Acts of the Sixties (Garrow, 1986).
That reversal of imagery, the paradox that those who are lower are in fact morally better, did not address the economic problems of those Blacks who were of the poverty class. But it did allow middle class Blacks to become integrated into public and political matters and, gradually, into previously all-white institutions. The paradox loses its force over the course of the Seventies and the Eighties precisely because there was the lessening of a sense of disjuncture in seeing a Black man in a three piece suit going to a law office. That means the claim of affirmative action on the conscience of white people had ever less resonance, since the Black man is not out of place being in a white person's spot, and so no special notice or action need be taken to put him there or respect him for being there. Rather, he is just another of those people in suits who have an advantage over the rest of the population. To the extent that the goal of the Civil Rights Movement was to put the Black man in the three piece suit, it had succeeded. The paradox resolved, there is no further force behind the movement, and that was already becoming apparent at the time of King’s death, which happened when he was leading a strike of sanitation men in Memphis, and so was shifting his attention from the middle class Black to the working class Black. That does not mean that King might not have pulled off that transition from one movement to the next if he had lived, or that there is no need for a movement to aid the poor. It only means that the paradox which had given life to one movement did not carry over to all of the issues that were of concern to that movement.
Every social movement carries with it not only a paradox, but three basic ways of resolving-- or simplifying-- that paradox. These strands lead to the disintegration of the movement because the previously unified movement follows three different paths and also because the three strands fragment the paradox and so rob the movement of its key idea. In other words, a social movement which gets rationalized dies. Its strands of thought are unraveled from one another and so there is no basic mystery left to unravel, the movement having spun off a set of ideologies that people may or may not come to believe.
These three strands are generated by an organizational problem: the role in the social movement of its elite. What can the leadership of the movement do to bring its followers into engagement with the world outside the movement? There are three possibilities. The leadership will be able to bridge the gap and assimilate its followers and their opponents. Or else, the leadership will not be able to do so and so simply remain a leadership that can point out the contours of a better or truer world to its followers or counsel them to accept and applaud their separation from that other world. Or else, the leadership will succeed to the extent that they are able to achieve success for some of their followers.
That certainly happened in the Civil Rights Movement. King always maintained his allegiance to the idea of non-violence because that was part and parcel of the paradox of the moral superiority of blacks over segregationists. His aim was integrationist, an idea he shared with W. E. De Bois, who had argued it some fifty years before. Other leaders looked for a more rational analysis—which is to say, where the ends of a movement seem more likely to be fulfilled, at least in their eyes. Black separatists thought there was no hope of assimilation, and so the need was to find a way to develop the Black community. That might not mean a land of their own, but it would mean congressional districts Black citizens could dominate and Black centers of commerce dominated by Black businesses. The goal was the equality of ethnic communities rather than assimilation into an overall integrated community. Political power and the use of the threat of violence to back that up were as American as apple pie. The trouble with that view, as enunciated by Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X, is that what they wanted was more difficult to accomplish than what King set out to accomplish. As Reverend Abernathy, the close associate of King put it, what had Malcolm X ever accomplished? King had changed the nation.
Other Black leaders at the time of the Civil Rights Movement, such as Whitney Young and the NAACP, took the third course. They championed the idea of using the white man's tools to find away into the white man's house. The way to equality was through the board room and the law court. Success starts at the top and trickles down to those with the fewest resources. The worlds of white and black are not that different, and leadership eases the transition from a caste society to a caste-less society by operating within the values shared by the two communities. A thousand leaders will bloom, some in politics, some in business, and some in the ministry, each of whom, in his or her way, will serve the needs of the black population as a whole or some segment of that population.
All three of these avenues have been traveled since the Civil Rights Movement sputtered to a close after the death of King. King’s route inspired generations of political rhetoric, even that of Barack Obama when he gets on a roll. The separatism route still remains a rhetorical banner for hip hopers and others who say nothing will ever change even if it has. The legal route resulted in the Supreme Court upholding Affirmative Action in 2003. The key question, however, is not whether the movement has or has not been successful in reaching one or another of its goals along one or another of these routes, or whether the movement only frames changes that would be taking place anyway, but whether the central paradox of the movement, which makes the movement into an autonomous actor, has been resolved into separate and contradictory ideologies. The same question arises, as we shall see, for the woman's movement, the union movement, and all the other movements that, over the past few hundred years, have engaged in trying to provide an ascribed status with full citizenship.
A good way to illustrate as vividly as possible this idea that there are three strands inherent in the paradox that lies behind any social movement is to turn to an intellectual or cultural movement because these types of movements tend to produce a literature that is not only polemical and political but examines the convolutions of its own paradox and how that paradox can be rationalized into one or another of the three ideological strands. Intellectual movements, such as Darwinism or Keynesian economics or Modern Art, entertain a paradox that revolves around an issue of illusion and reality. They posit that the world is different from what it appears to be and therefore must consider how it is that people remain confused and how it might be possible for the elite, as intellectuals, to lead people from illusion to reality. That is different from the Civil Rights Movement, for example, which might regard the inherent inferiority of Blacks as an illusion, but did not think that caste inferiority was illusory. Rather, the question was how to replace one reality with another, more inclusive, reality.
The psychoanalytic movement lends itself to such an analysis. It should be remembered, however, that an intellectual movement is a subspecies of social movement, and so all of what could be said of any social movement applies to an intellectual movement. In particular, psychoanalysis is subject to the organizational formats that evolve from the rationalization of its paradox, and those formats are keyed to the role that the psychoanalytic elite will play in the liberation of its followers from the chains of illusion.
The Paradox of Psychoanalysis
The paradox that holds together the three strands of psychoanalysis is defined by the distinctive subject matter and method of psychoanalysis. The subject matter is the intimate details of a person's life, the stories and information one would find it difficult to tell even to a close friend. These data may be but need not be sexual. They can include fears about money or self-esteem and are most significant when they occur earlier rather than later in life. The general method of psychoanalysis is to provide interpretations of these stories. Such interpretations will liberate the person from the shameful emotions that are associated with the stories. The interpretations are literary in the sense that the details of a particular case are plundered until they can be assembled into a coherent narrative that provides a motivation for the person to act the way the person does in the visible or public world. That person can't talk back to his boss because his mother did not breast feed him. Sex, bathroom habits, and the smell of a mother's nightgown bear on one's occupation, the choice of a mate, and whether one will be stiff or yielding during confrontations. This conflict between the private and the public can be expressed in any number of oppositions, such as secrecy versus openness or emotion versus structure, but they all amount to the same thing: what is very private gets expressed in what is very public.
A number of supplementary paradoxes associated with psychoanalytic theory are generated from the essential psychoanalytic paradox. One of these has to do with the relation of a theory that describes how people behave to a morality about how people should behave. These become unraveled from one another in the course of the history of psychoanalysis. Freud (1963) thinks he is going beyond morality into a Nietzsche-like world where one can only assess whether people are strong enough to deal with the difficulties they encounter in life. Ego psychologists such as Erikson (1950) think that the time honored ideas of morality that stress integrity and justice are consistent with and grow out of a natural morality that can be abstracted from the ways people develop their selves over the course of their lives. And modern friends of psychoanalysis such as Woody Allen see the good orgasm as the sign of good character, and are quick to notice the moral shortcomings of others as signs of neurosis (Kadushin, 1969). So psychoanalysis is a kind of morality as well as an answer to moralists.
A second supplementary paradox concerns the unconscious. Freud (1989) thought that the unconscious was an inventory of desires always just poking their way into consciousness through symptoms and dreams and jokes and slips of the tongue. Eriksonians treat the unconscious as a kind of feeling state subject to interpretation but nonetheless experienced as such by the vast majority of humanity. You sense what you are before you can explain it or defend it, and you lever yourself into becoming a better person because the prior state feels wrong even if you can't explain why you want to abandon it (Coles, 1997). Contemporary thinkers, for their part, wonder whether there is any such thing as the unconscious at all. Either it is so recondite that it cannot speak its mind and so one takes for the unconscious the thoughts and desires that have been placed there by therapists (Crews, 1995), or else the unconscious is a more or less accurate record of what happened to a person rather than of what a person wanted to happen (Masson, 1984).
The most important supplementary paradox- the one most elaborated in psychoanalytic theory- has to do with the nature of sex. Freud thought, most certainly in his early work, that sex meant lust in the ordinary sense of that word. Male children felt sexual feelings that were of the same sort as feelings that adults had. Moreover, male children wanted to possess their mothers sexually and were put off that idea only by the fear of their fathers. You could see what had happened to those who had felt the rage of their fathers. They had turned into little girls. Both social taboos and universal fears contributed to the suppression and repression of lust. People become enraged and/or helpless and/or symptomatic as a result of this socially imposed condition.
The division within psychoanalysis over the centrality of lust, as that is commonly understood, was dramatically played out on the boat bringing Freud and Jung to Massachusetts from New York. They had stayed up all night discussing the case of Dora. They could not agree that a sexual wish lay behind the patient's latest dream. That was crucial, since the dream was the doorway into the unconscious. If the dream was not a clue to a repressed sexual desire, then there might be some other unconscious motivation that was inspiring the patient's symptoms. Freud insisted that, on further analysis, he had been able to describe the sexual nature of the dream, and so there was no need for Jung to posit a separate set of issues that could dominate dreams and the unconscious. Freud claims this issue as the one which led Jung to break with the psychoanalytic movement. (Freud, 1963a; Jones, 1953)
The development of ego psychology in the later Freud as well as in the work of Anna Freud (1967) can be seen as a way to fudge the issue of the sexual etiology of all psychoneurosis. If the ego has a separate course of development and is not just the resultant of the conflicting forces of the id and the superego, then the ego has its own needs that have to be served, and those can overwhelm the requirements of the id. The road is open for Erik Erikson and others to posit identity as the main psychological structure which is served by other psychological structures and needs.
The road becomes broad enough to allow substitutes for the trinity of the id, the ego and the superego as the generative force of human behavior, the three regarded by more orthodox Freudians as engaged in a battle with one another that will be there as long as human beings are around, however much individuals may accomplish more or less of a resolution of the three. There are neo-Freudians such as Erich Fromm (1941) who reduce psychoanalysis to a social psychology in that human emotions are a response to the social circumstances of their lives. Germans may not have had to choose between freedom and authority, those antipodes of human existence, but they did, and what followed was what followed. And there is the emergence of some very un-sex like aspects of the human condition that can serve as the basis of all intra-personal conflict. Binswanger has a sense of existential angst, a dread of one's own materiality, replace sex as the main issue in the formation of a self (Binswanger, 1963).
Social Movements and Social Problems
These three supplementary paradoxes reduce to the same essential paradox of the relation of private to public life. Are the conscious and the unconscious life, or morality and emotion, or sex and other needs, independent of one another, mutually interdependent, or pretty much the same thing? Any logically coherent view of one or another of these matters makes sense in the light of the primary Freudian insight that we are alive to ourselves and our desires when we dream.
Whether one cares to give priority to the question of sex, morality, or the unconscious as the root of the phenomena to be explained is merely a matter of how one cares to systematize the theory. Repression is still real if you regard it as yielding a Martin Luther who never can come to terms with his bowel habits rather than because it led to an ambivalent view of celibacy, as was the case with Gandhi, and it is still real if you regard it, as Binswanger does, as leading to personal loathing. Moreover, the various sub-movements within psychoanalysis each adopt a consistent view on all three questions of sex, morality and the unconscious, Freud most clearly dichotomizing his analysis of each, while Erikson finds all three to be plausible and reasonable compromises between what is underneath and what is on the surface, while what might be called post-Freudians remove the battleground to someplace else, whether between being and action, as in Binswanger, or history and fantasy, as in Masson. For their part, the previous generation of Freudian heretics, such as Adler and Horney, simply replaced the central role of sex with a generalized idea of power: who has the will to power or, negatively, who feels helpless in the face of others. But the idea of power does not conjure up the power of sex to convey queasiness, intimacy and personal history, and so may be a generalization too far, however much such a redefinition makes a psychoanalytically oriented psychology more acceptable as a way to move from the private to the public. All of that suggests that the various doctrines of psychoanalysis are best organized and better understood, and so properly named, as the three distinct strands into which psychoanalysis, like any other social movement, can be rationalized.
Sociologists are familiar with these three strands as the three standard ways of conceptualizing social problems. The first strand (or school) of social problems analysis focuses on the inevitable conflict of interests between major segments of society, these usually conceived of as social classes, but sometimes as races or genders. Every social problem can be understood as an expression of the warfare between the essential groups. Drug addiction, for example, is the result of capitalism poisoning its workers to make them docile and cheap to hire; prostitution is the result of women who become sex workers because sex is objectified in a male dominated society. Half measures will not deal with these problems because they will come back in another or combined guise. The opiate of the masses can become pornography. The only way to deal with these problems is to restructure the underlying system, and that requires an intensification of the conflict so that political and cultural control can be wrested away from those in control of the system.
What might be called the oppositional school of psychoanalysis holds the same point of view. It focuses on the inevitable disharmony between the psyche and the world. Only in some few cases of extended psychoanalysis will a person be brought into some begrudged adjustment to the social world. For the most part, people are caught up in the web of their own neuroses. And, indeed, so it has been since the beginning of the world, people very gradually and slowly collectively improving their mental health: the way they raise their children, the way they conduct their sex lives-- to the point where they can be rational enough to create, among other things, capitalism and secularism.
This pessimism is found in the cultural works of Freud, who therefore can be understood in his later work as a sectarian in the movement he founded. Exposure to the barbarism of World War I is enough to precipitate the fall of mankind to a much lower level of social evolution. Bad examples are enough to penetrate the armor of civilization. This view is also espoused by those cultural thinkers, from D.H. Lawrence to Lionel Trilling, who emphasize the warfare between the life of the daytime with its engagement in striving and getting and public pretense, and the life of the nighttime, with its engagement in lust and the complexities of family life (Rieff, 1966). The oppositional point of view is structuralist in that social life is essentially organized in such a way that provides for both the fact of a division between the psyche and the social and the fact that this division cannot be seriously breached. Jacques Lacan, a favorite among cultural Freudians, thinks of therapy as no more than a way to weave together the strands of a person's psychic life for its own sake. Psychic life runs parallel to overt life, but the power of talk to leverage a reduction of psychic induced disabilities is weak (Lucan, 1977, 1984).
The second school of social problems is the school of conflict control. In this view, social problems are the result of conflicts of interest that can be mediated in that some of the needs of each side of the conflict can be met. The adversaries need not be locked in combat to the death. So drug abuse, while partly the pastime of an underclass, can be alleviated through providing jobs, which offer a way of life that creates less stress, as well as by providing some socially acceptable form of stress reduction, such as cigarettes. Prostitution can be controlled by the creation of red light districts and health checkups and other improvements in the working conditions of sex workers.
Ego psychology is the version of psychoanalysis that provides a version of conflict control. People are not locked in their psyches. They wish to communicate not only inevitably private sexual urges, but also motives and feelings that have to do with the construction of identity and other matters such as the search for satisfaction in work and personal relations. These desires can be expressed in the social world because the social world has room for such desires. These ego pursuits usually do find their voice, especially to those with the ear to listen for motives that people do not know they are expressing. Navahos knew they were resisting the competitive model of education that violated their values, but it took sensitive cultural analysts to express that point clearly.
More recondite matters can also yield up their meanings. Steelworkers in Pittsburgh held fast to a way of life that gave them integrity even if they were quick to express their dissatisfaction with work at the mill (Erikson, 1968). Martin Luther, a notably articulate man, did not know how to say that his rebellion against the Church was a way of "holding in" the coalminer's sense that what is valuable is what is hidden underground (Erikson, 1967). This second school, whether sited in social problems or seriously ill patients can learn to gain control of the selfish emotions that interfere with the ability to live at peace with work and family.
The third school of social problems is the school of conflict resolution. There is no need to merely pick away at social problems. They can be eliminated if the proper social program is put into place. That is no pipe dream. Various standard childhood illnesses were eliminated through vaccination and public health measures. Racial prejudice can be reduced through legislation and education to the point that the object of racial resentment is moved away from one group to another, so that nowadays Southern and Southwestern politicians feel free to rant about Latinos even as they are aware that it is no longer acceptable to rant about African Americans. That doesn’t abolish the idea or feeling of prejudice; it only shows that it can be resolved for some peoples. Jews are now considered whites while seventy years ago they were a distinct race.
Other social problems that have been by and large abolished rather than simply reduced include the problem of the elderly as a poverty ridden community. That was abolished through raising social security benefits. Medical care for the poor and the elderly was provided through Medicaid and Medicare. It seems to be the case that social problems are abolished but only gradually through providing mechanisms to do so for one part of a problem population and then expanding them. Medical care, by law, now has to be provided for anyone who shows up at a hospital, regardless of their ability to pay. The only question is whether outlays by the government or by private health insurance providers are what pay for their care.
An alternative to the piecemeal approach to abolishing social problems is the approach of Emile Durkheim. He regards social problems as forms of deviance that can be abolished through education or psychiatry. That, at one time, was the approach taken towards homosexuals. They are deviants and, as such, are capable of cure. It is only a question of devising the tools to cure them. Another alternative is to allow social processes to proceed along their way. The housing foreclosure crisis will be abolished and not just alleviated when the market is allowed to settle and so the last of the housing bubble is washed out of the economic system. Destitute farmers dependant on price supports or payments not to raise crops will no longer be a problem when small family farms are finally all gobbled up by agribusiness, as has by and large happened, the remaining family farmers making a go at being hands on museums of what life used to be like.
The psychoanalytic movement also has its version of conflict resolution. People do not need to be at odds between their ids and their egos because the id can be accommodated in a society that has a more “mature” view of sexual relations, one in which there is not such a great discrepancy between private needs and public approval. That happens when sexual life becomes considered a normal part of a healthy life, people starting off on their sexual careers just as they do on their occupational careers, everyone having scars to show about both of these, whether in terms of busted relationships or having to switch occupations because there has been a turndown in the occupation one trained for. People of both sexes have to deal with reminders of past relationships when developing new ones and people teaching high school have to wonder if they might have made a go of a collegiate teaching career if they had applied themselves. These are not social problems, just aspects of the human condition which even a Marxist utopia would not have abolished. Most of what has been described as the third strand of psychoanalysis fits here. People move on from sex to the deeper existential and historical issues. Bad sex is only a symptom of something deeper.