Wednesday, 29 November 2017

The Psychoanalysis of Institutional Madness

So, Glynis Breakwell has gone (see The arrogance of superiority finally got her. How many others now, I wonder? I suspect other VCs, including my favourite - George Holmes at the University of Bolton - will be glad that the axe has fallen, blood has been spilled, and hopefully the whole "What the fuck are you paid?" thing dissipates. It won't. The reason is because it's not about money, or even about corruption: it's about hierarchy. Inflated salaries and corruption (of which there are both) are symptoms of hierarchy and the pathology whereby hierarchies are seeking to reinforce themselves in an environment which is ever-more ruled by uncertainty and ambiguity.

I've become more interested in this on a psychoanalytic level. Freudian language gave us the idea of "anal retention", and basically, this is what we see from all those at the top of institutions. They are so bound by "rules" and "prescriptions" - what Freud calls the domination of the superego over the ego, that they are afraid of expressing themselves freely - just as the child who is chided for shitting inconveniently will seek to withhold their bowel movements. This has another effect too - the anal retentive will find other, more sinister ways of expressing their libidinous instinct. Harvey Weinstein was the top of a hierarchy, he was anally retentive and his sexual predation was driven by a need to descend to the unconscious and dark level to expel all the shit that had been building up. I'm wondering if this isn't going on in all hierarchies.

Hierarchy is a fossil of human organisation. It was an established social structure which could deal with the uncertainties of life. It was formed against a context of communication which was largely restricted: before print (and what a difference print made!) hierarchy served as a route for society to manage its uncertainty through institutions like the church, government and the universities. Alongside it went deference, the law, torture, and military power.

Technology has given us untrammelled growth in uncertainty. Hierarchies are tied to a pathological positive feedback mechanism: they use technologies to help to manage uncertainty, but in doing so feed the uncertainty which they attempt to deal with.

Stafford Beer, in Platform for Change, has some fascinating diagrams. They are all tripartite: there is an institution, or a thing-with-identity, there is uncertainty arising from that thing-with-identity, and there is a function which seeks to manage the uncertainty. It looks like this (these are my versions). So religion might look like:
 But then I was thinking how similar this looks to the relation between the Ego, the Id and the Superego in Freud:
Where does Beer go with this? Well, he says that the metasystem is pathological: the superego eats the ego (as Freud says), and the Catechism rules the religion. How do we solve this? We need a new metalanguage. 

For a psychotherapy, I was wondering what the metasystem might be. I have come up with something like this:
I might add "Metalanguage of global consciousness and creativity."... Ehrenzweig's "Hidden order of art" is taking on a new significance for me.

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