tag: Psychoanalysis

Nov 2010

I’m Lovin’ it

Commercial advertising directed at children is one of the great evils of our age. Benjamin R. Barber’s excellent book, Consumed, examines the phenomenon in detail and presents sobering evidence that the aggressive marketing of consumerism is infantilising adults while simultaneously stripping our young of their childhood; ultimately commodifying even the bonds between human beings so that interpersonal relationships are becoming ever more pathological as new generations are forced to identify more with brands and media imagery than with family or friends.

Gregory Bateson’s work on what he calls deuterolearning (or “learning to learn”) suggests that serious social, cultural and psychological damage can be done when this process is perverted by those seeking to manipulate the development of the psyche for commercial or political gain.

Which is why, despite the fact that California may have let us all down with their failure to pass Proposition 19 yesterday, at least they’ve gotten one thing right this week. The city of San Francisco has passed a law ensuring that fast-food chains are now prohibited from giving away free children’s toys with unhealthy meals. This, by now ubiquitous, trend is a marketing ploy that frankly, is not a million miles away from child abuse.

McDeath logo

After all, the intention of this strategy is to link extremely unhealthy food with the receiving of fun gifts in the minds of children. It is a craven manipulation designed to generate profits at the expense of the health of children. And let’s remember, children are particularly susceptible to this form of emotional and psychological manipulation as they are still learning to learn. Indeed, all marketing aimed at children is no less than a conscious attempt to subvert the development of the young mind and train it to be a less critical consumer. When the marketing involves a product that is so unhealthy, it’s all the worse.

So well done San Francisco, and here’s hoping other places quickly follow suit.

1 comment  |  Posted in: Opinion

Jan 2010

The genie's out of the bottle

A message was recently sent to an online group of which I’m a member. Dealing with numerous issues, the group has expanded beyond merely “energy resources” and now tends to cover the broader issue of sustainability. Recently one member (Pedro from Madrid) suggested — quite correctly in many ways — that the problem is “technology”. He writes:

… I am very much in line with Einstein, when he said “We can not solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” And it is clear that something went wrong, specially since we developed machines (technology) and started massive exploitation of cumulated fuel resources from the lithosphere. We should not expect that using technology “wisely” we are going to solve anything. Better use our brain to change the paradigm. That way of living is over, whether we like it or not.

Now, that particular Einstein line is often wheeled out in discussions about sustainability and technology. As someone who has spent quite a bit of time studying Einstein’s work, and has a great deal of respect for him both as a scientist and a philosopher, I’m the first to acknowledge that there’s a great truth within that quotation. However, I think it’s somewhat unlikely that he would have agreed with the conclusions that Pedro has drawn from his words. Certainly he wrote “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity” but he was also realistic about the likelihood of reversing this trend (at least without total collapse).

And such a total collapse (what’s known in sustainability circles as a “die-off”) was obviously unthinkable to Einstein. He wrote:

I recently discussed with an intelligent and well-disposed man the threat of another war, which in my opinion would seriously endanger the existence of mankind […] Thereupon my visitor, very calmly and coolly, said to me: “Why are you so deeply opposed to the disappearance of the human race?”

I am sure that as little as a century ago no one would have so lightly made a statement of this kind. It is the statement of a man who has striven in vain to attain an equilibrium within himself and has more or less lost hope of succeeding. It is the expression of a painful solitude and isolation from which so many people are suffering in these days. What is the cause? Is there a way out?

Albert Einstein | Why Socialism?

Then later in that same essay, he writes

If we ask ourselves how the structure of society and the cultural attitude of man should be changed […] we should constantly be conscious of the fact that there are certain conditions which we are unable to modify. […] technological and demographic developments of the last few centuries have created conditions which are here to stay. In relatively densely settled populations with the goods which are indispensable to their continued existence, an extreme division of labor and a highly-centralized productive apparatus are absolutely necessary. The time—which, looking back, seems so idyllic—is gone forever when individuals or relatively small groups could be completely self-sufficient. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that mankind constitutes even now a planetary community of production and consumption.


Humanity clearly cannot continue along the same road we’ve been on for the past few centuries. We made a wrong turn at industrialisation (arguably even earlier; when we decided to take up agriculture) and desperately need to correct our course. But undoing the past is not an option. We can’t simply backtrack… return to pre-industrial pastoralism. Or return even further to a hunter-gatherer existence. I hardly need to explain why such options are unavailable to us. Perhaps if the planet got six and a half billion people lighter, such a course of action may be thinkable? But even then, it’s likely we’d just start the same process again.

Technology is a genie that won’t go back in the bottle. Are we to abandon electricity? What about the wheel? The plough? Sharp edges and lighting the dark places? Do we get rid of fire-making?

We’re tool-users, so the only option is to use technology more wisely. Perhaps Pedro is correct and this won’t “solve our problems”. Indeed, I’m rather sceptical that it will. But just like Einstein, I don’t see despair as an option. We should be seeking “a way out” of the mess we’ve created, even if the odds are stacked heavily against us.

We have to do the best we can. This is our sacred human responsibility.Albert Einstein

Let’s consider two hypothetical scenarios. One: some kind of “technological wisdom” allowing us to harness some of our tools and ingenuity and reduce our collective impact on our ecology to sustainable levels. Two: sustainability through a wholesale abandonment of technological progress.

While Scenario One has — in my view — a miniscule chance of success, Scenario Two is simply a non-starter. To pursue the second at the expense of the first (which is the only way to pursue it) is to succumb to despair. To admit defeat.

The major problems we face are not technical per se. Realistically the world has enough engineers to deal with whatever technical challenges we do face. Rather, the problems that need to be urgently addressed involve how we, as a culture, view the world and behave within it. They are essentially problems of group psychodynamics (yes, yes, I know I sound like a broken record, but I wouldn’t have spent the past few years studying the subject if I didn’t think it was important).

We are discovering today that several of the premises which are deeply ingrained in our way of life are simply untrue and become pathogenic when implemented with modern technology.Gregory Bateson | Ecology and Flexibility in Urban Civilization

The unfortunate reality is that we cannot go back. Certainly if we continue along our present destructive course we may well end up, greatly reduced in number, living in a world that resembles the past in some ways… an end to mass production, feudal political structures, and yes; a dramatic reduction in available technology. But so long as there’s still a handful of humans in this world, some of them will be sharpening sticks and lighting fires.

Abandoning technology is a pipe dream. Instead we need to use it more wisely (and likely, more sparingly). Einstein also wrote that technological progress was “like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal”. It seems beyond obvious that the long-term solution to such a situation is not to convince the guy to drop the axe for a while. The solution is to successfully treat the pathology.

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Dec 2009


Just a quickie… I’m heading into Trinners tomorrow (that’s Trinity College, Dublin for the uninitiated) in order to wear a very silly outfit and have a piece of paper handed to me confirming what we already knew… that I’ve spent more time than is sensible reading books about group psychodynamics and am now a bit of an expert on the subject. Yay me! After which there will be feasting and merriment.

Have a splendid day y’all. I certainly intend to, even if I have to wear a bow-tie.

6 comments  |  Posted in: Announcements

Oct 2009

Is AA Gill a psychopath?

OK, first up, let’s be clear about a couple of things. Although I have a Masters Degree in Psychoanalytic Studies, I’ve remained (as yet, anyways) in the academic side of the discipline. I have no clinical training or experience and am not professionally qualified to assess anyone’s mental health. I believe my grasp of theory is pretty strong by now, but diagnosis is its own unique set of skills and I make no claim to them.

Secondly, my entire knowledge of British restaurant critic, AA Gill, is gleaned from a single article in The Guardian containing but one or two direct quotations from the man. I’ve never read his writing as restaurant criticism doesn’t interest me in the slightest. So even if I did have the requisite clinical training, I don’t have anywhere like sufficient data to make a diagnosis.

I wanted to declare this because some of my regular readers, knowing my area of study, may assume that I’m making some kind of formal diagnosis here. That’s just not the case. On top of that, there’s a chance — albeit a slim one — that I may decide to pursue clinical psychoanalysis at some point in the future and I don’t want to be on record as doing anything so sloppy or unethical as making a public diagnosis of a person. Especially based upon such limited data. Even Freud himself, who was arguably rather cavalier about rushing to a diagnosis, would have balked at such a thing.

Nonetheless, when a person announces to the media that they have travelled to Africa and shot a baboon for the express purpose of getting “a sense of what it might be like to kill someone”, then they are pretty much inviting a public analysis of their behaviour. Such extreme, and I’d suggest spectacularly misjudged, pronouncements cannot be expected to remain unanalysed. Any semi-intelligent person who tells the world that they have an urge to be “a recreational primate killer” (his words) having already admitted that they were merely using the baboon as a stand-in for a human being, must accept that those of us in the field of psychoanalysis (whether academic or clinical) will inevitably view his comments through the lens of our learning.

And quite frankly, it’s a lens that does not show Mr. Gill’s claims and behaviour in a positive light. The Guardian article includes the following paragraph which — along with the “recreational primate killer” comment — reveals, I’d argue, a very dark aspect of his personality…

Gill admitted he had no good reason for killing the animal. “I know perfectly well there is absolutely no excuse for this,” he wrote. “There is no mitigation. Baboon isn’t good to eat, unless you’re a leopard. The feeble argument of culling and control is much the same as for foxes: a veil for naughty fun. I wanted to get a sense of what it might be like to kill someone, a stranger. You see it in all those films: guns and bodies, barely a close-up of reflection or doubt. What does it really feel like to shoot someone, or someone’s close relative?”

Those last four words are what lifts Gill’s statements out of mere testosterone-fueled bloodlust (which, sadly, we must accept is too common an element of human psychology to warrant classification as being extremely abnormal) and into something a little more chilling. The desire to kill is not itself psychopathic, but the specific urge to inflict the grief of bereavement upon a stranger’s family is certainly moving in that direction.

To then go one step further and act upon that fantasy suggests the sort of escalation in Gills’ “urges” that would almost certainly concern a psychiatrist or psychoanalyst if they witnessed it in one of their patients. It’s a cliché in fiction, but it is nonetheless true; violent psychopaths begin with fantasies of killing people, progress to killing animals, discover it doesn’t fulfill the urge they feel and, the worst of them, wind up going further. They often revel in — to the point of receiving a powerful sexual charge from — the suffering they have caused to those around their primary victim. It’s an extreme form of sadism.

Given this, one is forced to wonder whether perhaps Gill’s decision to publicly announce his sadistic fantasies might not be a cry for help?

“Stop me before I kill again.”

UPDATE 11:56: One commenter writes… “I’m gonna shoot AA Gill to get a sense of what it’s like to kill a baboon”. Well, it made me laugh.

11 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

May 2009

Financial crisis as symptom

Regular readers will know by now that I have some pretty definite views about the nature of capitalism and the society we have built from it. Views that are still quite a bit outside the mainstream (although it probably bears mentioning that the mainstream has begun its long, inexorable drift in my direction).

A few months ago I had a couple of meetings with an advisor / strategist for a very large financial institution. The credit crunch had just kicked off and mass panic was ensuing. At least, on the news it was. I myself never once saw anyone actively freaking out… not even the financial institution guy, and he was exactly the sort of person who was supposed to be screaming “Sell! Sell! For the love of God, Sell!” down the phone at some poor bugger in the midst of a heart-attack.

But instead he was taking leisurely lunches-slash-dinner-and-drinks with people like me in expensive Dublin restaurants. All in the interests of “canvassing alternative opinions”. Specifically, he was interested in my take on resource depletion / peak oil and what role — if any — it was playing in the current economic downturn.

I told him I had two responses. The first was that there was little or no link between the two. Simple, straight-forward and in the world of five-year futures and seven-year long-terms, undoubtedly true. Don’t get me wrong, there’s speculation to be done on the role that high oil prices may have played in accelerating the collapse, or upon the negative influence that continuing high prices will undoubtedly have upon the various infrastructure projects that governments have proposed as economic bail-outs. But the fact remains that this particular financial kerfuffle would be happening even if peak oil were not underway at this very moment (as I believe it is).

My second response was, I told him, a good deal more abstract. And it demanded a certain effort on his part. He’d read my thesis though, so was no stranger to the kind of effort I was talking about.

This more abstract response involved viewing the global financial system as one part of a wider ecology of systems. Of recognising economics as the imperfect model of reality that it is. And of getting his head around strange notions like the idea that phenomena as disparate as cancer, psychosis and unsustainability might actually be manifestations of a common tendency within complex systems. That they are, in a sense, the same phenomena. A disease of The Complex System, so to speak. And you can only begin to see this, and realise its significance, when you start viewing the world in terms of the network of interconnecting complex systems — the ecology of mind — that it is.

Pretty much the moment you’ve got your perception atuned to the ecology of mind idea, it becomes staggeringly obvious that the current financial collapse is properly viewed as a symptom of this systemic unsustainability / collective psychosis. It’s “an episode”. A dramatic one no doubt, and maybe it’s even the one that’ll deal the knock-out blow… the one where we whack our collective head against the metaphorical sink on that final plunge to the floor. But if it’s not, then it’s still a symptom of the sickness that will eventually kill western civilisation. The world of five-year futures and seven-year long-terms ignores that fact at its peril.

2 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Dec 2008

Where it's at

My hastily written post (Tories living in Stalinist Britain) about the arrest of British tory MP, Damian Green (or more accurately about the absurd statements made about his arrest by the tory party) got quoted all over the place. As a result my readership has more than doubled in the past couple of days. Not quite as dramatic as the infamous Joss Whedon link that saw thousands of people showing up, but a bit weird all the same. Of course, it’s pretty much guaranteed that none of the new folks will stick around to become regulars, but all the same, I bid you a hearty “Welcome!”

From what I can gather, I’ve mostly been cited or linked-to in a positive context (e.g. Bloggerheads, Chicken Yoghurt, Liberal Conspiracy, Shiraz Socialist, and more). Though there has been one clear denunciation, from a blogger called A Very British Dude (I know!), who accuses me of promoting a “pinko mythology”. As well as that, someone on the comment-thread on the Liberal Conspiracy post seems to imply that my position is based upon support for the British Labour Party.

Regular readers will — of course — realise just how absurd both accusations really are. However, many of my visitors right now won’t be regulars, so let me take this opportunity to dispel those misconceptions as well as provide a little bit of information about where I do stand (in the hope that it might, perhaps, provide some food for thought).

Firstly let’s point out that ‘pinko’ implies a kind of wishy-washy left-wing liberalism. According to Wikipedia (that font of all conjecture):

Pinko is a derogatory term for a person regarded as sympathetic to Communism, though not necessarily a Communist Party member. The term has its origins in the notion that pink is a lighter shade of red, the color associated with communism; thus pink could be thought of as a “lighter form of communism” promoted by mere supporters of socialism who weren’t, themselves, “card-carrying” communists.

I am not a communist. However, I am a collectivist. Albeit in a restricted sense. Certainly I am an opponent of capitalism and I believe that a free-market in non-renewable natural resources is both a symptom of, and a contributing factor in, a collective psychosis that dominates modern civilisation. If you insist upon viewing politics in terms of colours, then I guess I’d be dark green with enough red to create a kind of muddy brown hue, flecked with non-militaristic white.

The reason I balk at the “communist” label is because I strongly disagree with a whole host of traditionally communist positions which are common to both the Marxist-Leninist and Maoist flavours. Two points in particular make it utterly impossible for me to board the communist bus.

Firstly, there’s an emphasis on “work” — in the sense of economic activity — and “progress” within communism that I believe; (a) is almost identical to that found in capitalist ideology, and (b) leads inevitably to large-scale ecological destruction, which is little short of suicidal.

Secondly, communism — like capitalism — is an ideology which insists upon viewing the world primarily in economic terms.

I just can’t get behind that. I’m not disputing that the economic model of human activity has valid uses and is appropriate for many situations. However my own position is that the vast majority of people who subscribe to an economic and/or political philosophy are guilty of ignoring Alfred Korzybski’s famous golden rule: “The map is not the territory”.

I believe that our civilisation is facing an imminent crisis; one that we are ill-equipped to deal with. That crisis could be loosely described as “unsustainability”. In other words, we have developed systems of production and distribution upon which we have come to depend, but which cannot be sustained even in the short term because they rely upon the consumption of non-renewable natural resources at a rate that cannot be maintained for very much longer.

As a result, I do not believe that the economic model of human activity should be given anything like the prominence (indeed, the primacy) it has enjoyed during the last few centuries. Partly because economics is so riven by politics that it engenders a kind of tribalism in those who view the world in economic terms. A tribalism we can ill afford right now. And partly because economics is an extremely limited map; one that ends up actually contradicting reality when a certain narrow set of preconditions are not met. But because so many people fail to grasp Korzybski’s golden rule, those contradictions are simply ignored — occasionally even openly denied against all the evidence — by those who seek the comfort of a simple model of reality.

I’ve recently completed a Master’s thesis on Group Psychodynamics. I believe that a synthesis of psychodynamics and systems-theory will provide the best model with which to understand the issues surrounding sustainability. We should also be cautious, of course, about mistaking that map for the territory, but I believe that it will prove to be a far more useful one, all told, over the coming years and decades.

Leastways, it will do if anyone bothers to consult it.

Road to … where?

So broadly speaking, where would this map take us?

Firstly profit needs to be eliminated as the primary motive for the production and distribution of food, energy and all non-renewable resources. Concentrations of power and capital need to be curtailed in all but the most narrow of circumstances. Biodiversity should be preserved as a matter of extreme urgency and the conversion of currently ‘untouched’ land into agricultural or urban land should cease immediately.

Economic activity needs to be minimised. Not maximised as is the current trend. This is not a prescription for starvation. “Minimised” does not mean eliminated, and a policy of minimisation would involve differentiating between essential and non-essential activity; retaining the former in as efficient a manner as possible while eliminating the latter if it consumes any non-renewable natural resources.

Non-essential economic activity could continue so long as it is sustainable (under a strict definition of sustainability). In the words of Gregory Bateson:

[A sustainable civilisation] shall consume unreplaceable natural resources only as a means to facilitate necessary change (as a chrysalis in metamorphosis must live on its fat). For the rest, the metabolism of the civilisation must depend upon the energy income which Spaceship Earth derives from the sun.

It goes without saying that the replacement of our current unsustainable life-support systems (the production and distribution of food and other essentials) with sustainable substitutes will itself require a significant investment of those “unreplaceable natural resources”. This is unavoidable, though we should obviously strive to make the process as efficient as possible.

All of this needs to be done in an environment of rapidly decreasing consumption in those areas currently over-consuming and a planned, incremental increase of consumption (particularly food) in those areas currently experiencing shortages (this will hopefully prevent the movement of large populations which itself consumes resources in a number of direct and indirect ways).

A large number of powers currently enjoyed by central governments need to be delegated to local communities and the localisation of production and consumption should be encouraged where possible.

Conversely, some powers need to be denied to “the public” entirely. Whether or not a population votes to continue — for example — burning petrol in their private cars, is entirely irrelevant. Such activity is damaging to humanity and the planet as a whole, and those who decide to act in that way should be prevented. This is why democracy will have to be abandoned. Local communities should be organised along democratic lines, but their powers limited by a framework of rules defined by an understanding of sustainability.

Oh, there’s plenty more, but that should be enough to be getting on with. I trust, though, that I’ve provided enough information to demonstrate that I’m not a stooge of the British Labour Party trying to score partisan points against the tories in order to keep Gordon Brown in power…?

18 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Oct 2008

An announcement

I’m finished my thesis.

It’s done. It’s printing as I type.

Yeah, you heard me right… it’s done.

Holy crap.

The last two words are “epistemological lunacy”. How cool is that?

YES!!!! It’s DONE!!!

That’s all for now.

18 comments  |  Posted in: Announcements

Sep 2008

Me and Gregory

Time and again over the past few months I’ve found myself in discussions (both in person and online) with highly intelligent, articulate and well-intentioned people with whom I was completely unable to find a common ground. On a variety of topics… from economic policy to Climate Change, creationism to group psychodynamics, sustainability to local politics, the credit crunch to the oil industry… I find myself totally isolated and end up doubting myself… wondering if maybe I haven’t got it wrong after all.

At the same time, I made a promise to myself when I started studying psychoanalysis and group psychodynamics that I would follow my own research and conclusions wherever they led… even if they led to unpopular or unfamiliar places.

Even so, and I’ll only say this once to get it off my chest and I’ll then shut up about it, lest I appear like I’m whinging (though what else is a personal blog for, if not for whinging?)… I have reached the stage where I’m finding it incredibly frustrating and disheartening that everyone I speak with finds my views wrong-headed or mystifying or objectionable or silly. It’s almost like the only person in the entire world who agrees with me is Gregory Bateson.

And he’s dead.

2 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Jul 2008

The Tragedy of The Tragedy of The Commons

George Monbiot has written an excellent piece in The Guardian about the unsustainable nature of the modern fishing industry and the destruction it is wreaking on our oceans (Trawlermen cling on as oceans empty of fish – and the ecosystem is gasping).

The comments that follow the article are fairly predictable and fall into two broad categories. The first — and largest group — expressing their agreement with Monbiot and adding their voice to a collective lament about the stupidity of humanity. The second, smaller group, grudgingly admitting that Monbiot has a point (his article largely states obvious truths and refrains from making too many value judgments of the kind that provoke the typical Monbiot-backlash) but bringing up “the tragedy of the commons” to nip in the bud any notion that the reason for this ecological destruction might be free markets, capitalism or the profit motive. In fact, they reason, it’s only happening because we’re not capitalist enough!

The argument is a simple one. Because the fishermen don’t own the oceans, they have no incentive to take care of it. The answer, therefore, is to privatise it. So long as it’s just some indefineable collective thing… “nature”, for want of a better word… people have no interest in protecting it. As soon as it is turned into property, on the other hand, it becomes important enough for the owners to preserve.

Tim Worstall‘s comment sums this position up succinctly:

Yes, it’s the Tragedy of the Commons and as Garrett Hardin pointed out the only way to solve it is to apportion property rights. We can see that the bureaucratic apportionment of quotas doesn’t work for public choice reasons. We thus need to move to the alternative system, direct ownership for the long term of the fishing rights by the fishermen.

I’ve gone over that comment maybe half a dozen times, and I state without exaggeration that it is one of the most depressing statements I’ve ever read. Partly because of the sentiment it expresses and the profound disrespect for nature as a thing in itself that it accepts without resistance — indeed appears to embrace — but mostly because it may well be true. At least in the context of modern civilisation.

To me, the real tragedy of the commons is that we have come to think in such terms.

Unlike almost every other human culture that has ever existed (unsurprisingly, the vast majority of the few exceptions are the “civilised” or “city-building” cultures), we no longer have a sane relationship with nature. The Hopi people didn’t need to apportion property rights to know it was a bad idea to shit in the stream they drank from. There was a basic but very deep understanding that nature — the environment — was a large system of which they were merely a part. This leads to the, I would have thought, blindlingly obvious conclusion that any activity which is clearly destructive to the larger system, is almost inevitably going to be destructive to the culture… the people… the person carrying out the destructive act. And this is the case even if the impact is not immediately apparent. With cities (or perhaps it was large-scale agriculture, it’s hard to know) came the tendency to see a separation between humanity and nature.

To me this represents nothing less than a collective psychosis. A “psychotic break” in as literal a sense as that term could ever be used.

A simple analogy

It’s not at all difficult to follow. Just as an individual human being is part of a wider system (society), so our culture is part of a wider system (the environment*).

Now, imagine an individual who suffers from a delusion which convinces him or her that they are not part of society; that they exist separate and distinct from it; and in fact, it exists simply to satisfy their demands. This belief is so strong that they view and treat all of society, including the very people themselves, as personal property to be exploited as they see fit and without regard for any consequences to that society.

Such a person may well treat others acceptably because they do not wish to damage their property, but this isn’t an indication that they’re not psychotic. And nor is it a guarantee that they won’t cause a considerable amount of suffering with their actions if given free rein. I would certainly question the wisdom of anyone who felt the best thing for all concerned would be to provide them with the tools to act out their delusion and treat society as personal property.

Furthermore, such a person is almost certainly not well-qualified to judge the amount of damage they are doing and, therefore, cannot even be trusted to know when they have begun to threaten their own survival. Self-destructive behaviour is hardly unknown amongst those experiencing psychosis.

A way out?

I’m pretty much convinced that we’ve passed the point where we can simply “reinject” some sense of reality into modern civilisation — at least within the required timespans. Relearning an appreciation of nature as part of us, and of us as part of nature, probably can’t be done quickly enough.

On the other hand, we have actually developed a system, imperfect though it is, which allows us to regulate our collective behaviour with a degree of success… the law. See, when Tim Worstall insists that “the only way to solve” this problem is to apportion property rights, he is clearly mistaken. It would be theoretically possible to declare the oceans to be… oh, I dunno, a Vital Element of Our Survivial? (VEOS? Someone can come up with a better term). A sustainable fishing strategy would be developed (erring always on the sustainable side) and society would employ fishermen to carry it out.

And when Tim speaks of “public choice” being the primary reason why such a strategy might fail, then he may, in practice, be right. But it is clear to me that it’s wrong to allow a psychotic individual to seriously harm themself out of respect for their choice. We understand that there is a high enough probablility that they aren’t currently capable of sound judgment, to warrant intervention out of concern for their well-being.

Likewise, if the public demand fish at an unsustainable rate, then we’re not acting in sound (collective) mind. We need to make it clear to everyone that demanding resources at an unsustainable rate represents a collective madness. We need to make it clear that insofar as morality is linked with the prevention of human suffering, such demands are deeply immoral. We need to make it clear that while such ways of thinking may well be ingrained, we can no longer allow them to dictate our behaviour in the world. We need to ensure that everyone knows new rules — a kind of imposed collective super-ego, if you will — are now required to govern our interaction with the environment.

And yes, those found acting outside the rules would be viewed and treated the same way we would treat anyone who seeks to endanger the survival of millions.

* I say “environment” as opposed to “nature” because I include other contemporary human cultures in that system

10 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Jun 2008

The title

Apologies for neglecting this place, but the past few weeks have been pretty hectic. Right now I’ve got a bit of time to myself, though, so I figured I’d pop in and blow some of the web dust off the page lest it settle too deep and I start slipping into the “taking a break” section of that small handful of blogrolls discerning enough to carry me.

I do have a whole bunch of incomplete blogposts from the past couple of weeks. But I can’t seem to properly finish a thought at the moment. I suspect that’s got something to do with being neck-deep in research. Everything seems to return to the same topic.

So my observations on the Lisbon referendum campaign ended up being an analysis of the unconscious drives at work within the collective psyche of the electorate. My short piece about our New Glorious Leader, Brian (I’m not just ‘an Irish Gordon Brown’) Cowen began by explaining why actually, he’s not just an Irish Gordon Brown, and ended up examining the unconscious drives within the capitalist collective psyche. And my oil prices / peak oil / fuel protests piece? Well, let’s just acknowledge that there’s a pattern emerging and the phrases “unconscious drives” and “collective psyche” made an appearance. I also ended up explaining my belief that if you were to actually sit down and design a system to drive a culture completely psychotic, then you’d have a hard job coming up with something better than a free market in natural resources.

All of which may well be fascinating, but it’s also very dense stuff at the moment. Blog posts that require extensive glossaries are probably to be avoided. It’s all still percolating you see, and hasn’t yet really coalesced into something easy to communicate. All being well, for me the next couple of months will essentially be devoted to that very process.

Reading a lot of Gregory Bateson really changes the way you think about… well, everything. And that’s not hyperbole. It’s just how it is. And it’s worth pointing out that he’s not shy about making it clear that his intention is just that. On top of that, it’s long been recognised that reading a lot of Freud will seriously affect the way you think about… again, pretty much everything.

So there’s probably a certain inevitability in the fact that while researching a paper that hovers somewhere between a Freudian reading of Bateson and a Batesonian reading of Freud, there’s a tendency to view every issue through a psychodynamic prism.* Which is probably a very good thing from the point of view of writing the paper, but is less good when it comes to blog posts. It’s also a bit hit-and-miss when it comes to everyday human interaction… I’m trying to curtail the constant tendency to punctuate conversations with: “hmmmm, that’s a lot like Bion’s idea of the emotional storm created by interpersonal awareness really… I must write that down… … … … sorry, what were you saying?” That, and looking at people as though they’re mad because they don’t know who Isabel Menzies Lyth is**. Really need to cut that out.

What’s that, you say? The title? Well, my thesis supervisor stressed the importance of getting it down to ten words, but in the end I just couldn’t compress / focus it any further than twelve. So without futher ado… “Free Markets as Collective Pleasure Principle: Psychodynamics of an Ecology of Mind”.

What do you think? Sound academic enough? Personally I think it sounds academic as fuck.

It’s certainly a densely packed dozen words. Start unpacking them, and before you know where you are, there’s fourteen thousand of the buggers lying around looking to be put into some kind of meaningful pattern. It’s a dirty job………

Aaanyways, if you’re in the vicinity of the Trinity Postgrad Reading Room over the summer, pop in and say hello. You know where I’ll be.

* Psychodynamic Prism. A forthcoming 8 CD retrospective from ‘Yes’.

** For those mad folk among you, she wrote Containing Anxiety in Institutions (a collection of papers that’s been very influential on my thinking) and is recognised for carrying out the first psychoanalytic studies of large institutions. If I’m honest? No, I hadn’t heard of her prior to this year. Turns out there’s lots of people who’ve done remarkable; really remarkable; work who I’ve never even heard of. Always worth bearing that in mind.

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