Individual and collective neurosis: The pathology of social normalcy
It is true that our knowledge of man is still incomplete. It is the task of the "science of man" to arrive eventually at a correct description of what deserves to be called human nature. A sane society implies a premise different from sociological relativism. It makes sense only if we assume that there can be a society which is not sane, and this assumption, in turn, implies that there are universal criteria for mental health which are valid for the human race as such, and according to which the state of health of each society can be judged. To speak of a whole society as lacking in mental health implies a controversial assumption contrary to the position of sociological relativism held by most social scientists today.
The species "man," cannot be defined in anatomical and physiological terms; its members share basic psychic qualities, the laws which govern their mental and emotional functioning, and the aims for a satisfactory solution of the problem of human existence. What has often been called "human nature" is but one of its many manifestations - and often a pathological one - and the function of such mistaken definition usually has been to defend a particular type of society as being the necessary outcome of man's mental constitution.
Perhaps in no other period in the history of mankind were tensions as powerful and encompassing as in the present age. Today, man lives under the strain of mounting tensions that affect every aspect of his life--whether personal or social, cultural or religious, economic or political, national or inter- national. The characteristics of modern mass society, which has lost the self-regulating power, have largely accentuated tensions. In every sphere life has become depersonalized and unsurvivable, society disintegrated and unstable.
The complicated social machinery has brought a differentiation of functions which had led to the differences in claims for social recognition and privileges. Various large-scale organizations lack adaptation to each other's functions which results in the cancellation of each other's effectiveness. Social stability is tried to be maintained by a differentiation of classes having conflicting social goals, and the clashes are generally suppressed by the application of force.
Consequently, modern life is characterized by split-personality and social disintegration. There remain no basic permanent values in social life; everything is scattered and confused. The confusion of norms leads to "the destruction of the network of socio-cultural relationships, resulting in the demoralization of the individual or an increase in his psycho-social isolation?'.
The large-scale employment of the media of mass communication worsens the situation by which the majority is kept unaware of the crises and power is concentrated in the hands of a minority. "In a hundred ways, the modern shrewd technician of influence can reach the individual, as employer or employee, as consumer, student, sportsman, in days of health or sickness. The result is general disorientation'". Propaganda tends to blunt the individual's capacity to think freely.
In economic sphere the technological expansion has substituted the concept of power for that of value. For technology inculcates a domineering spirit--a feeling of assertion of power over others. The prevalent mode of production is characterized by the centralization of power and the control over wealth, tools skill, and big machines by the few. Rigid division of labour has destroyed elasticity in the mode of production and the work is made dependent on administrative hierarchies.
Population agglomerated in the cities and the agglomeration has shattered the autonomy and control of the family and the neighbourhood. Though there exists vast production yet because of profit motive selling prices are not low; though it be a state of abundance yet it is a state of scarcity. For, on the basis of its quantitative success, this technological advancement should have provided boundless satisfaction whereas its massive actual result is con fusion, frustration, impotence.
The mechanical expansion of each and every human appetite registered by present technological world, whether it be the appetite for goods, or the appetite for power or the appetite for sensation, has lost all relations to the ordering of the means of existence for the fulfilment of human needs. The latter process requires a scale of human values and a priority schedule between those values. The modern society of conspicuous consumption and conspicuous waste has rejected all such: scales and has leaned completely on the assumption that the new is better than the old.
The mechanical better than the vital. This pace of untrammelled productivity and insatiable appetites has brought a state of moral anaemia marked by the lack of occupational ethics. "For, a nothing restrains the active forces and assigns them limits they are bound to respect, they tend to develop haphazardly, an come into collision with one, another, battling and weaken in themselves".
Emphasis on quantification and expansion of the realm of the material have been associated in direct proportion to the progressive abandonment of the inner and fast negation of the subjective in every form. The result has been the opening up of the external world but the imprisonment of the self, the enlargement of the horizon but the contraction of the center. The world such as ours "with its over-charges of empty stimuli, its perpetual miscarriage of technique, its materialistic repletion, its costly ritual of conspicuous waste, its highly organized purposelessness'" suffers from a feeling of impotence, alienation and resentment.
"Never before was this feeling shared by so large a portion of the whole mass. We are living in an age when men's ego-feeling, their sense of success and personal importance, is associated with what they can get from other people'". This operation of the process of atomization, wl1ich is the very negation of the idea of 'togetherness' and of close human relationship, characterizes, what Lewis Mumford calls, 'the fabrication of the Mechanical Man'.
Similarly, the control of the political power by the few has established a new religion of the sovereignty of the nation and the State. Within the nation, the individuals are controlled by different power-hierarchies and these power-hierarchies are, in turn, controlled by the super-hierarchy of the State. Such control essentially employs coercion. A similar process follows on international level, where the State assumes the form of a lesser hierarchy and submits itself to the super-hierarchy of one of the power-blocks. A cold war between different power-blocks exists which implies that though there may not be an actual outbreak of war between the blocks yet there exists an acute tension between them; feelings of hatred and aggression are piled upon every pole and hectic preparations in armament are made.
With the plea for 'self-defence,' here remains no distinction between peace and war. The period of peace is spent in the preparation for war. But are we not already at war? Allowing the pollution or depletion of water resources, the inhumane treatment of animals, unsafe employment for people, classism, contributing to global warming, to ozone depletion and all other environmental villainy, to the unfair distribution of the earth's resources and therefore creating poverty, destroying agricultural societies, ecological destruction, extinction of species of animals and plants, ignoring world hunger and starvation, invading countries.
Massive deforestation, poor health research, education and care creating obesity, heart disease, cancer, etc., promoting sexism and producing a culture in which women are repressed and abused, subjugation of native peoples, wasting the natural resources and wealth on war and world-wide imperialism--we fail in sanity index.
Can we claim psycho-social normalcy if black-marketing, bribery, cheating, cruelty, depriving legal heirs of inheritance, discriminating against because of skin colour, disobeying parents, drinking alcohol to excess, false accusation, forbidding people from doing good and encouraging them to do evil, greediness, hypocrisy, ignoring rights and sentiments of others, indecency, injustice, insensibility, jealousy, kidnapping, lack of discipline, law-breaking, looking down upon others, materialism, misuse of resources, not honouring promises, not returning borrowed things/money, obscenity, oppression of any kind, partiality, rudeness, sectarianism, territorial-regional and linguistic prejudices and hatreds, smuggling, stealing, telling lies, terrorism, ungratefulness and wrong education of children strangulate and suffocate our life and living?
Avik Gangopadhyay, an author, educationist & columnist, writes from Kolkata, India