Anarchy 94/The machinery of conformity
I propose to discuss two central means of bringing about conformity. The first is upbringing, the second the activity of the State towards the adult nonconformist. The child has to cope with two environments—home and school. Both these, as we shall see, are remarkably potent forces for conditioning conformist behaviour patterns. No doubt anarchists are aware of this anyway, but I think it is crucial that we recognize the full depth and extent of it.In adulthood, the State copes with deviation in two ways—by sending the offender to prison, or giving him psychiatric treatment. Again it is obvious that this is so, but again I feel we must recognize just how important it is.
It is well worth noting in all this that the most successful method of conditioning to our society is love—at least to the more “liberal-
Society however produces various child-
It is more revealing to study the child-
The child was taught to slow down his eating, to carry out the whole process rather laboriously, and at the same time to think of getting rich—to concentrate on money and salmon. But he must also be convinced that he means the salmon no harm, and it is said that the fish only leaves its scales, which then turn into salmon on the nets—surely a throwback to the deprivation of the breast when the desire to bite arose, and thus guilt feelings for having wished harm, one might suggest. “All wishful thinking,” says Erikson, “was put in the service of economic pursuits.” He adds: “Later, the energy of genital daydreams is also harnessed to the same economic endeavour. In the ‘sweat house’ the older boy will learn the dual feat of thinking of money and not thinking of women.” Apparently in fact the wife is paid for: the status of the wife and her children is determined by the price the would-
The association between the frustration of oral satisfaction and the wish for money and salmon is, as we have seen, made clear. The removal of the breast at the time of biting, reinforced by the general atmosphere of frustration, at the time and later—the whole system of making the child feel uncomfortable, frustrated and thus anxious—is directed into economic gain energy. And thus the Yurok are a money-
It has been said that “conformist individuals in abnormal cultures—such as the Yurok or the—are in fact abnormal in an absolute sense, even though they find complete acceptance within their own culture.” ( : .)
Ours is a competitive society. Ninety per cent accept this situation and act out their desires for self-
But we are discussing the modern, and much more effective techniques. For in the traditional method there was the inherent danger that resentment would be transferred from the master to the ruling class. In the modern method this danger is dealt with. The children feel solidarity with the teacher against the failure. The shame is therefore far greater.describes a concrete example of this technique of linking competitive success with praise and failure with shame.
A teacher invited a pupil to reduce 12/16 to the lowest terms. He had trouble with it. She ignored the other pupils howling to supply the answer and concentrated on him, telling him to “think”, although he was probably mentally paralysed. Finally she turned to the rest of the class, asked the question, and selected one of the children to supply it. Henry comments: “Boris’s failure made it possible for Peggy to succeed; his misery is the occasion for her rejoicing. … Such experiences force every man reared in our culture, over and over again, night in, night out, even at the pinnacle of success, to dream not of success, but of failure.” (
Henry also observes another phenomenon in education. The teacher did not ask who had the answer to the next question, but who would like to provide it. “A skilled teacher sets up many situations in such a way that a negative attitude can only be construed as treason.” Thus the shame is added to by the sense that in failure one has betrayed the group: and how many children want to feel an outcast?
Perhaps, though, the method of the future will be that now present in some primary schools and—the permitting of the child to tackle the subjects it wants at the rate it can cope with. This does seem possible, perhaps more so than the method discussed by Henry. It has one setback—that it is less compatible with society, apparently.
Society can only accept this as a total system if the end is seen as contributing to a career, or to spare-
But these free development techniques are at present confined to primary schools and secondary moderns. In the latter, the assumption is anyway that the children are of average intelligence or below. It may well be that we will get the same techniques in bottom streams in, but for the higher levels it seems reasonable to expect a firmer direction being provided by the teacher—a job to aim at being selected and worked towards, particular standards to be reached to get into University.
It does seem possible, on the other hand, to see psychological techniques being introduced more and more, and the use of these to achieve the desired effect (desired by society) even in a supposedly free-
A third professor concluded a solution: “Perhaps we can avoid this by holding our beliefs with a certain amount of tension … with an attitude that ‘I believe in this, but recognize that there can be other beliefs in opposition to it’. In this way we can subject any belief which we hold to the tension and pressure of its own limitations and of other alternative beliefs.” Lifton comments that this third professor “grasped records a faculty seminar discussion following his having given a talk on the relationship of education to thought reform and ideological totalism. One professor declared that there was no difference, that at this college they did brainwash the children. Another declared that “We do not care what the girls believe when they graduate. Our main concern is that they learn something from their college experience”, but questioned more closely it emerged that she did care what her students believed and what they would become.
But the skilled teacher has succeeded in persuading the child to accept him as someone to be looked up to, like a parent. Therefore the child is more likely to accept his views. The skilled teacher will be able to maintain her authority through the troubled years of adolescence, but being prepared to talk out dissident views.
And it seems not unreasonable to expect that teachers’ training colleges will, in providing techniques, evolve those most likely to induce conformity. The very act of becoming a teacher, indeed, implies a sense of responsibility to the community (whatever the psychological basis for this sentiment), which can be reinforced, and dissident views negated. The teachers would be encouraged to look forward, but within the context of the existing structure—thus any idealistic tendencies would be turned up the blind alleyway of reformism.
Another point that it is important to remember is that adolescent revolt is only a passing phase: we can be sure those who operate the education machine are aware of this. Even in revolt the teenager often continues to hold the same views: but those who move on to the plane of ideological rebellion (a small minority, unfortunately, especially in this country) will move back to earlier conditioned patterns of behaviour and thought. The adult nonconformist will continue to be something of a rare being. In this connection a recentsurvey of teenage opinion is interesting: it gave surprisingly high figures for the percentage of those who stood by outdated prejudices. Even among the teenagers, a referendum would, apparently, bring back hanging and make life uncomfortable for residents of other pigments.
Even if the next generation are going to be more liberal, this doesn’t mean much for us—it is only faintly comforting to think that the social services will be improved. Indeed, this is likely to happen—care from the cradle to the grave, with legislation constantly being introduced, as it is now in the motoring sphere, to reduce loss of life, regardless of the cost to what liberty there is left.
Laing supplies a very relevant comment to round off the discussion of both home child-
The libertarian must be quite clear on his attitude to this. He has no common ground with the liberal. Our basis is totally opposed to theirs. They say society is sane, even if it needs humanizing a little: we say, as the Marxists do, that society is of its nature dehumanizing and degrading. The liberal sees modern techniques in rehabilitation as an advance: wee must see them as, in the hands of society, lethal. Never before has the State been able to use so much knowledge of man to bring about his conformity. It is increasingly recognizing this: the deviant must be helped, not by punishment, which reinforces inner alienation, but by the psychological manipulation of our very being—to twist us so we are no longer alienated from society. We cease to be human beings in the process but the liberals, seeing welfare capitalism as the epitome of freedom, are blind. They are so wrapped up in their middle-
Thought reform is a euphemism for “brainwashing”. But ours is an open society, protests the liberal. We do not brainwash people. We only coerce them to prevent them hurting themselves or others. How blind can you get. You are free to do as you like as long as you conform, as long as you remain within acceptable limits. Step out of them and we will incarcerate you. Mind you, we will persuade you to change your mind. We would not use physical violence as they did in. We will just lock you up in a cell and feed you drugs and electric shocks to block what is inside you and allow our carefully conditioned patterns of conformist behaviour to reassert themselves.
What if I do not conform then, the outcast replies. We’ll just do the whole thing all over again. We do not care how petty your revolt. If you persist in it, we will make you suffer—at the same time of course we’re glad to say we’ll try and show you the Light, the Way of Truth and Honesty. The way of truth for the liberal—and so we die.
Psychiatry has a number of approaches to the deviant, of whom the neurotic is the easiest to cure, except if obsessional. However, this type of illness, obsessive neurosis, is in fact usually a symptom of some underlying, deeper problem, such as depression or latent schizophrenia.
The first of these is. The effect is to chemically counteract the deviant behaviour patterns, thus allowing the culturally conditioned patterns to reassert themselves. This is brought out especially in schizophrenia, where after a long time they can produce apparent “normality”, but the removal of the drug brings about a rapid return to the former state of mind. In depression—in less fundamental deviations generally—the drug seems often to get the person over that particular bout, as part of a medical programme.
The second is
However, an experience with one psychotic patient suggests an alternative. He had, up till his first
Either through the solving of the problem in dream, or a return to pseudo-
This is nothing more or less than the factory brought to hospital. The person is of course helped to adapt to it and so on, but the whole purpose is to get him so that he can go out of the hospital, if not on to the labour market, at least into a sheltered workshop, where he is making his contribution to the perpetuation of the system, and helping the capitalist to keep up his rate of profit. Or, in the terminology of the System, so that he can make a useful contribution to society.
In fact, both these forms of therapy have the objective of making the patient ready to work. The former, as we have noted, also stimulates concentration—not always a requisite of factory work but perhaps one the System would like to see in it. Concentration is of course important in such things as keeping yourself smart, and in fact generally fitting into the culture, if you are inclined to lapse.
Finally, we have the various types of analysis, andThis is a method of “resocializing” the patient by providing the use of group pressure as well as the satisfaction of psychological needs. As in occupational and industrial therapy, the ability of the group to provide or withhold psychological satisfaction is a potent force for coercion into conformity. The patient is able to talk out his problems in communication with the others and assist them to work out theirs. Both by the advice of the psychotherapist and by the fact that it is something all the participants, or most of them, share, it is culturally conformist patterns of experience and behaviour that are worked towards. Group psychotherapy is in fact probably the closest thing we have to thought- . We will deal first with group psychotherapy.
Analysis, whether direct, or with the aid of drugs orAnd, as we believe, a person is only fully human if he is free to seek his own fulfilment unrestricted and unconditioned—and that in a free environment with such inner freedom he will not indulge in a complete free- , is aimed at discovering the primary causes of the “disorder”. It works on the principle that every symptom has a traumatic origin, which is correct, but ignores the fact that the cultural conformist pattern of behaviour is equally abnormal—since analysis takes conformism as the ideal. It also, by its nature, treats the person as a collection of parts, rather than a whole. This must be so, because to liberate the whole person from inhibition and repression is to make him human, and thus incompatible with a dehumanized society. The analyst can only release what is incompatible with society. Modern psychoanalysis sees a place for the —yet the sole function of the superego is to inhibit our natural instincts.
Group psychotherapy has also appeared, in particular, in “special prisons”. The violence of the aggressive psychopath criminal is stimulated by the sense of imprisonment, the desire to escape, and directed into tremendous group pressures to conformity, as each feels that his way out is to pretend conformity, and in interacting, inauthentic psychological violence on each other to which is added the unavoidability of the situation. For the psychopath is prepared to use any means to achieve his aims and each affects the other possibly more than superficially.In its crushing of his positive emotional being his family situation has made him the ultimate caricature of the capitalist ideal—it has shown in him all that goes to make up the successful businessman, the successful politician, that society prefers to close its eyes to. But it cannot face its ideal gone to far. It must tone him down, make him less extreme, his crude self-
People always turn most violently on those who epitomize their own being, the being that they cannot face. So it is with capitalism. But with capitalism the horror that it cannot face is the very ground of its being—not some repressed and contradicted element.
As time goes on we can see the invasion of the prison service by psychiatric techniques, in spite of the rearguard struggle of the upholders of free will and morality. The crude system of punishment is a failure: it works with a few, but compared to the increasing possibilities of psychological manipulation it is archaic. The System simply says the criminal is sick. Perhaps it does not even realize that its methods are manipulation, or will not face it. It is just the product of the social environment, and as such it meets its needs, irrelevant of who produces it. TheWe see in thought reform the increasing use of psychological knowledge to achieve conformity. The purpose of this manipulation is to negate the nonconformist, deviant patterns of behaviour, even modes of experience, though this is a joy in store still a little in the future on the whole, and to allow the conditioned, conformist patterns of behaviour to assert ourselves. For it is vital to remember that thought reform already has these patterns of behaviour instilled in the deviant: it simply has to activate them. They need reinforcing as well, but the groundwork has already been carried out. It only needs to be elaborated on. too regard thought reform as a purging of abnormal behaviour patterns.
And we must remember the problem of our conditioning especially in dealing with ways of bringing up our children.
But a contradiction arises here. We must at the same time create a free environment and liberate ourselves. The process must in fact be an interacting evolution. To liberate ourselves before we have a free society is to face ourselves with the impossible task of working within a coercive structure—that is the quickest way to a. What is necessary is to establish a libertarian environment as far as we can, and then work towards setting ourselves free, at the same time with the environment evolving to this change in situation.
But this requires that everyone wants to be free, whereas most are successfully conditioned. How do we break out of this?Surely it requires, in fact, the establishment of libertarian environments within the coercive society, started by people wishing to be free,
The most essential basis, then, is the will to be free, and to accept that, conditioned as we are to a coercive, stratified society, we have only a faint inkling of what it means to be fully free and human. To be prepared to accept that the community we form in the beginning may appear free to us, but it is only so in terms of our largely culturally conditioned being. And thus, as I have said, to evolve inner and outer freedom in the interaction of one with the other.
In our study of cultural coercion, we dealt first with the techniques of child indoctrination, and secondly with thought reform on its various levels. In our study of anarchist solutions it is clearly necessary to reverse the scheme, since it is adults with the will to freedom that one expects to set up these potentially free communities.
As has been made clear, the evolution of freedom is an interaction of increasing psychological freedom with increasing environmental freedom. But since the outer reality is moulded, ideally, to the inner image, the start must be with psychological freedom. The expression of this growth in the environment will influence the inner evolution by showing certain lines of development valid and others, at that stage, invalid.
Such a liberatory process demands extensive involvement of the identity and the personality with the group, a source of potential pain as well as satisfaction. And yet it demands that a person only becomes involved to the extent he chooses, because this is the essence of a libertarian outlook. But this is a conflict that will resolve itself, as the person unwilling to involve himself at depth finds the depth-
: Childhood and Society (Pelican).
Andrew Crowcroft: The Psychotic (Pelican).
: Politics of Experience (Penguin).
: Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism (Pelican).
Tony Parker: The Unknown Citizen (Penguin).
: Dreams and Nightmares (Pelican).
R. D. Laing: Divided Self (Pelican).