A Freudian Understanding of History:
The Development and Interactions
of the Minds of Groups
A new book by Joel Markowitz, M.D.
on the way the minds of groups have shaped history and the role of the Libido Theory
My goal is public awareness of Freudian theory. I present this book free of charge.
For more than 50 years, I've tried to bridge the gap between a psychodynamic perspective and the traditional mindset.
I WOULD appreciate your comments-- even if you read only part of this.
Joel Markowitz, M.D.
I’m an 85 year old psychiatrist. Many people I know have found it of great value to understand themselves through Freudian-based psychoanalysis. Let’s use those same principles toward understanding the nature of the groups in which we live -- that is: the minds of the English, French, German and other groups that have controlled-- and that still control-- the minds of people in those groups. Yes: groups-- such as nations-- have active minds. There were practical reasons that we avoided knowing that fact -- that we wanted to believe that groups were passive and mindless collections of people. To believe that we individuals were in charge. That individuals were the only human organisms. In fact, nations are giant, intelligent, continually active, highly experienced, and potentially immortal human organisms. And they think like we do. But their motivations are different from our motivations. And nations have always used us toward their purposes. Therein lies the problem. Now, for the first time, we now have the motivations-- and we have the “tools”-- to understand and to direct the groups we inhabit. There are good reasons for us to take control. ----------------------------------------------- How did this all come about? We are social animals; and like all social animals, we make two investments. We invest in our individual selves -- in satisfying our personal needs. And we also invest in our groups. Our personal concerns are separate from those of other people; they “disperse” in their effects. But our investments in group-thinking combine with those of other people to form powerful collective minds. Those group minds which have largely controlled our thinking. The minds of our groups have conditioned the thinking of our ancestors since pre-human times. Group mores have taught us how to behave, what to believe, what god to worship, what language to speak ... All ideas come, of course, from individuals. But it’s our group minds that tell us which ideas to accept and how to use them; and which ideas to attack or reject. We scatter our self-involved thoughts in dealing with individual issues. But the psychic energies we invest in group-mind influences are highly directed toward group purposes. The group “voice” broadcasts to us continuously-- through the media; through our legal and political directives; through our long-standing traditions; through our schools; and through our social and family interactions-- all of which have been programmed by collective influences. For four million years, the investment of prehumans and humans in the needs of their groups empowered those groups in their shaping our thinking and behavior. ----------------------------------------------- For much of history, it was practical for us to deny even that group minds existed. Our unquestioning and automatic obedience to group directives enhanced group effectiveness. It was, thereby, an evolutionary advantage to not know the extent to which groups ran things. As social animals that were dependent on group survival and success, it was practical that we sacrifice our individual prerogatives unquestioningly to satisfy the needs of our groups. Our survival as individuals depended largely on the survival of our groups. Our personal fortunes have depended largely on the military and other successes of our groups, from which we benefitted secondarily. It was, for most people, a workable partnership-- however costly it proved to be for some. And over most of history, group-mind decisions were, in fact, superior to the decisions of almost all of their individuals. Groups tend to be much wiser than individuals tended to be. They were far older and more experienced; and they also had continuous access to the vast fund of information which history provided. Which is primarily why we, like our prehuman ancestors, have intuitively obeyed the mores of our groups, and why we’ve permitted group-mind thinking to shape our thinking for so long a period of time. It’s not misleading to see ourselves as complex cells living out brief existences in the bodies of potentially immortal giant organisms. They have projected their attitudes, values and personnas onto us. We have accepted those directives and personnas -- i.e., we are-- and behave as-- American, English, French, and other individuals have learned to behave-- and we are also in other ways tiny representatives of group self-representations. Our brains serve groups as very temporary elements in their brains -- which groups continually replace with new brains -- as we die and infants are born. -------------------------------------------- Now, for the first time, we can take control of that partnership. And, for the first time, we have the “tools” to take control. We can now know that, however much we have benefitted by the survival and successes of our groups, group thinking has always directed us to sacrifice our own interests (including our lives) in their pursuit of their projects. Group motivations have been very largely responsible for many tragedies. ------------------------------------------------ Let me present a recent example. History is primarily the story of the evolution of groups and of their interactions with other groups. When historians focus only on the influence of individuals, much of history can’t be understood. John Keegan was among the eminent historians who admitted to that lack of understanding. He couldn’t understand why World War I took place. He ended his book on that war* ------------------------------------------ * The First World War; Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc.; 1998. (p. 426) --------------------------------------------- ... the First World war is a mystery. Its origins are mysterious. So is its course. Why did a prosperous continent, at the height of it success as a source and agent of global wealth and power and at one of the peaks of its intellectual and cultural achievement...? and: Why... did the combatants decide nevertheless to persist in their miitary effort ... [despite so much] pointless slaughter? [Emphasis: mine] ------------------------------------------------ Let’s see how the motivations of group minds might enter into our understanding of those events. Following the Industrial Revolution, in 1914 many people realized that Europe was entering a Golden Age-- very likely the most-Golden Age that humans have ever known. Events and circumstances seemed uniquely positive and workable. Incomes had burgeoned beyond all precedent. Tourism flourished. Inventions followed one after another. Innumerable books were published. Endless new opportunities emerged. The benefits of education and literacy lifted the quality of European life to unprecedented heights. Those benefits to innumerable individuals were, of course, contingent on the continuation of peaceful commerce and communication among nations. Everyone knew that there was every reason to predict even further progress as long as Europe’s long peace continued. War was, therefore, unthinkable. Such was the perspective of individuals. But what was the thinking of Europe’s group minds? They cared little about such benefits to their individuals. Group minds don’t enjoy what we enjoy. Nations don’t enjoy sex, good food, literature, music, or a walk in the park on a nice day. In 1914 -- as in all other periods of history-- the personal pleasures and cultural enrichment of individuals bore little relationship to group-mind motivations. Groups care primarily about surviving; about competitive success; about dominance, about owning territory, about wealth, power and prestige. And war had been a highly-favored group device toward those goals. However expensive wars are to individuals, the alpha-male dominance of group minds has been fundamental to human evolution thus far. (As it is fundamental to the natural selection of wolf packs, lion prides, baboon troops and other higher mammals.) ----------------------------------------------- So: while groups think like we do (how else can any human organism think?), their physical differences from us lead to different-- sometimes antithetical-- motivations. Groups don’t suffer age, illness or physical pain. They don’t necessarily die-- although some group-minds have died. Knowing themselves to be potentially immortal, groups are more motivated to avoid death than we are. They care more about the natural selection that history imposes. The extinction of group minds-- of the Sumarians, Assyrians, Babylonians and many others-- such extinctions are less relevant to people than they are to groups. About material things, we say: “we can’t take them with us.” But group-minds that survive can take things with them-- indefinitely. Which is why groups are more motivated to succeed materially than we are. ------------------------------------------- And group minds have always known that they were in control of their individuals. Relatively few individuals have resisted group-mind efforts to exploit them, which permits groups to readily sacrifice individuals. And since the late 19th Century, nationalism enabled groups to mobilize their entire population to serve group purposes. Moreover, especially in 1914, group minds were aware of their unprecedented military powers. Technology had given them the most-powerful-- and the most-exciting -- weapons that had ever existed. Among the many group-mind concerns: the German group ... resented its lack of colonies and envied England; Austria-Hungary worried about controlling its restless subgroups -- and worried also about Serbian and Romanian designs on its territory ... And in addition to their needs, all group minds feared the growing military power of their neighbors. Germany was then militarily superior to all other groups. But Germany’s neighbors were arming rapidly; and they would soon have military parity with the German group. Britain worried about the growing power of Germany’s more-modern fleet ... ------------------------------------- There were warnings that war was possible. In 1899, Tzar Nicholas II had convened an international conference to prevent war. He warned about “the accelerating arms race...” and that it “will lead to the very catastrophe it seeks to avert.” There was a response-- “the Hague Conference”-- which took place that year, and agreed to limit armaments. And until the war took place, there was much talk among diplomats-- and much thinking that the crisis “could be talked out.” But because those individuals were unaware of the overriding influence of group minds, events moved inexorably forward. Groups felt compelled to plan for the possibility of war. Partial mobilizations by some powers provoked the full mobilizations of others. Violent incidents were inevitable. Among them were the killing of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. And some Austrian troops fired at some Serbian troops who had strayed too close to the border ... A remarkable number of frantic diplomatic decisions and counterdecisions to prevent war took place. But, as had been the case throughout history, the needs and fears of group minds made war inevitable. Russia’s full defensive mobilization provoked the German attack on Belgium-- to force passage into France in hope of a quick victory. ------------------------------------------ A later circumstance was even more indicative of group-mind control. The power of modern weapons caused enormous initial casualties and made the Western armies entrench. It then became evident that-- either victory would be impossible-- or that even a victor would not only suffer crippling losses, but would inherit a ruined Europe. There would be, at best, enormous human and material costs for little significant gain. Simple common sense suggested ending that costly stalemate with negotiations leading to peace. Yet negotiations were not made. So we must ask: why did the war then continue for four ruinous years? Why did those groups fight until their armies had been bled white; until 15 million people had died; until Europe was ruined; and until those nations were too drained, damaged and exhausted to continue fighting? And why did very much the same thing happen a generation later? Virtually all wars have been struggles between groups waged by group minds. Like wolves, lions, baboons and other higher mammals, groups have been committed to struggle for alpha-male dominance over other groups-- regardless of the costs to individuals. During World War I and II, those costs were particularly terrible, and were largely without benefit to either groups or their people. ----------------------------------- The Future What would the world have been like had we understood group-mind motivation in the early 1900s? Let’s suppose that we thereby prevented those two great wars. Can we even begin to visualize the Golden Age that might have followed the Industrial Revolution and the early years of the 20th Century? I don’t believe that we will have wars on even a much smaller scale in the 21st Century. We may have more “police actions,” which will solve problems far more economically. But we are already facing unprecedented problems, some of which seem, currently, to defy effective solutions. Some may turn out to be more dangerous than wars have been, and more difficult to solve. Thus far, humans have problem-solved entirely intuitively. We’ve thought and functioned subjectively. We’ve depended on our subjectively derived perspectives to understand reality. That’s one reason that our problem-solving, our social evolution, and our history have been so costly in lives and other destruction. We’ve been flying blind. We’ve accepted the costs as inevitable. We’ve considered no alternative approach. That’s the situation of people who enter psychoanalysis. They had been functioning intuitively to the best of their ability. By enlisting psychodynamic understanding, they acknowledge that they had been doing something wrong; and that they don’t know what the mistake has been. In effective therapy, mistakes are revealed and “worked through.” Realities become useful-- undestandings that were never considered and/or had been defended against. Unrecognized, dysfunctional patterns are confronted and (more or less) dismantled. The future is approached with clarity that is fortified by insights into the self and into others. The minds of groups now have access to even more-effective therapy. As self-analysis helps us take charge of ourselves, an understanding of our groups will help us take control of group-mind processes. We could begin that process today. We could direct the “NIMH” -- our National Institute of Mental Health -- to select and train a corps of psychodynamic experts to study the mind of this nation and other nations. We need a subgroup-mind to understand group minds. As analysts do with individuals, those specialists would study the deeper nature of collective thinking. they would reveal potential dangers as well as other important information. They would communicate with political leaders and institutions, and with the public through the media. Group minds are much easier to understand and to treat than are individual minds. A therapist- subgroup has immediate access to the group’s entire history-- from the most-primitive origins of groups. Incomparably more is known about groups than we can ever learn about any individual. Experts will eventually delve into the ocean of historical evidence to understand every aspect group-thinking and functioning. They will examine details of earliest and subsequent group-mind development; group traumas and successes; the details of their thinking-- all have been reported on and documented by an army of talented observers, critics and writers. We know a great deal about the lives of their most-influential individuals. We can analyze group-literature and art for further clues ... Let me anticipate an intuitive resistance to the above: This is not mind-control! It is the opposite; it is the freeing of minds from neurotic limitations, distortions and obsolete patterns of control. ------------------------------ The therapy of group-minds has far more supports and other advantages than has the therapy of individuals. Group-minds will make far more-rapid and more-extensive progress. Because group-minds continuously replace their brain cells, their patterns are in continuous flux. Group-minds easily phase out obsolete forms of thinking (and some neurotic patterns) by the physical replacement of brain cells. Older people die; and infants bring new brains for group processes to program. ( For the first time, we can even intelligently influence that new programming.) Group-minds can even quickly remove entire dysfunctioning patterns of thinking “surgically”-- as the German group removed the Nazi subgroup. Group-mind therapy won’t be troubled by circumstances that inhibit individual therapy-- which people people also use as resistances: financial worries; advanced age and illness; family trouble; changes in their job locations .... Our media will continuously broadcast new information about group thinking and functioning. Because group-minds observe each other; the comments of other groups will add to every group’s self awareness. And: while a patient in therapy must share the focus of one therapist with many other patients, the group in therapy receives the full-time professional focus of an entire group of extremely competent therapists. Moreover, unlike the individual therapist, the therapist subgroup never dies. Its understandings may grow forever. It could enrich our understanding of the ocean of historical, artistic, literary and other ifnromation we have created and gathered. It could use our new understanding of that material to better understand the group-mind processes. It was those processes, after all, that gave rise to that great store of material. As the therapeutic subgroup itself matures, It could lead the larger group in early-mature understanding and functioning. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ That subgroup would be of immense benefit to individual therapists within the group; and that benefit would rebound to improve the thinking of the therapeutic subgroup, and of the group itself. Therapists have had no reliable way to connect with the collective mind they inhabit. Not only is psychodynamic thinking very young; not only does it have little experience in dealing with collective problems; not only does it speak a language that is alien to the collective language; but the collective mind has resisted learning information about itself. Like many individuals, it has defended against Freudian-based thinking. Many therapists have wanted to communicate to the collective mind. But how to reach it? How to overcome its resistance to Freudian-based thinking and communicate useful insights to it? No reliable “bridge” yet exists between the many individual therapists and the collective mind. Therapists preach largely to the choir-- to their own therapist subgroups, and their specialist journals. What about letters from psychodynamic specialists to the media-- e.g., to a “Letters to the Editor” column? Some have been written. They are rarely published-- not only because of resistance, but because editors are unfamiliar with psychodynamic ideas, and can’t judge their validity or relevance. To have a letter accepted, a therapist must dilute it in content and reduced it in size to a degree which destroys much of its value. Many therapists have abandoned trying to communicate with the collective mind and have returned to communicating with the few people who seek-- and who can process-- this new type of thinking. The subgroup of the NIMH subgroup could represent that bridge between therapists and collective mind. That subgroup would be eager to receive contributions from therapists. And the existence of that subgroup would, in turn, motivate innumerable therapists to study and write about collective issues. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Psychosexual issues Do you know what I found most surprising about group minds? It’s that they’ve gone through the same stages we go through in our journey toward psychosexual maturity. Despite not being sexual. What IS psychosexual maturation? It’s the journey traversed by our psychic energy-- our libido-- from its “Oral Stage” beginnings toward maturity. You may not realize this, but you’re all -- at least somewhat-- familiar with aspects of Freud’s Libido Theory. Snippets have percolated down into the public domain. Some people now speak of one’s excessive “orality,” or of the “anality” of some meticulous person; or of the “oedipal” preoccupation of a particular man with his mother. We’re-- collectively-- becoming familiar with our developmental stages. But people are largely unaware of the period we’re in today. Which is latent-oedipal development-- psychic “preadolescence.” And MOST people can’t develop significantly beyond the stage that their group’s experience. Which is why you and I are still largely preadolescent. Preadolescents repress their sexual fantasies and impulses; and they submit to parental authority-- and, similarly, Western groups were sexual repressed and submitted to hierarchical authority for two thousand years. We’re just beginning to come out of that-- to experience the very beginnings of Early Mature development-- especially since the Youth Rebellion and the Sexual Revolution. But that’s very recent. As therapists know, there’s still a lot of sexual trouble from residual Christian Era-based sexual repression. ---------------------------------------- We suffer also from major self-image problems. The Christian Era directed us to actively abase the self in order to more effectively extol the Father. More fundamentally, we were to avoid oedipal excitement. Not just sexual pleasure, but the other component: all equivalents of pride. To feel the excitement of pride was to usurp Father’s role. To intrude on Father’s turf. “Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that humbles himself shall be exalted.” Matthew 24:12. For two millenia, self-words had to criticize, demean and denigrate the self: “selfish”; “self-centered”; “self-serving” ... The self was to be sacrificed. To be “good,” one had to be unself-conscious and unselfish ... The self-conscious person wasn’t self-aware; he/she was in trouble. Increasingly today, the Early-Mature adult must know and accept himself. We’re reversing the connotation of self-words. The newer self-words emphasize that we require self-acceptance; we must be self-aware; we must have self-respect; we must self-actualize ... It’s so early in this Transition that few people go into analysis thus far for self-understanding. Many people still see self-analysis that’s still seen as too self-indulgent. Education had once been the province of an elite few. Similarly, in time, people will consider analysis and self-analysis as necessary. ---------------------------------------------- What was most surprising to me is that group minds go through the same periods of psychosexual development that people go through-- despite their vast physical differences from us-- and the fact that groups aren’t even sexual. That they’re like us during the first two phases-- (the childlike) pre-oedipal and the (“phallic”) oedipal periods-- is not surprising. All other higher mammals competed toward alpha-male dominance; but when we were gatherer-scavenger-hunters, we couldn’t afford to compete. Arboreal pre-humans had been small insectivores. They had been hunted by chimpanzees, hawks and eagles. Four million years ago, the forests receded, and our ancestors became terrestrial (as did the ancestors of baboons). But the situation of our ancestors was far more precarious than those of baboons. Prehumans were ill-equipped for terrestrial living. They were hunted by terrestrial predators; they were very slow runners; they lacked long canines; and they had fingernails (to grab insects) instead of claws. Their new diet of nuts, berries, rough fruit, and edible roots was difficult for them to digest. They must have been perpetually malnourished and frequently ill. To survive, they had to be cooperative, friendly, non-aggressive, sexually benign in their behavior, and otherwise pre-oedipally childlike. When we discovered agriculture, copper metallurgy and animal husbandry, we could afford to become pagans-- i.e., oedipal in our thinking and behavior -- competitively sexual and aggressive-- and to challenge father-surrogates toward alpha male dominance. We had arrived at the normal state of higher mammal development. That was the Pagan Era. The achievement of oedipal success had been the upper limit of psychosexual development of social mammals for millions of years. No higher mammal had ever developed beyond that phallic-pagan stage. Like other mammals, pagan cultures aspired to alpha male dominance. Dominant males had power, sexual possession of the most-desirable women, and wealth. Their self-esteem related to the extent to which they could increase those successes. Wars were undertaken almost automatically whenever military success seemed likely. Competitive-aggression and competitive sex led to rebellions assassinations, pillage and rape. A developmental cycle came into existence that made fundamental progress impossible. Conquests might be followed by the establishment of rich cultures. The primitive nature of oedipal-level thinking then led to little more than pleasure-seeking and waste. Then: more-primitive groups would attack and conquer those decadent, militarily weakened groups. The conquerors would impose their primitive cultures, sweeping away the advantages of the conquered group. Ruins of civilizations would be layered on top of ruins of prior civilizations. There was no fundamental progress. For thousands of years, that was the collective human condition. Nor was there any reason to expect it to be otherwise. Humans, like other higher mammals, are powerfully motivated primarily to compete for sex, power, prestige and wealth. The gods that the pagans worshipped were no less phallic-pagan in their motivations. And there was no reason to expect any change in such basic motivations. Which is why pagan philosophers viewed history as, fundamentally, the story of the rise and fall of states. They had no reason to believe otherwise. ...................... About 3500 years ago, a small Jewish group made a remarkable contribution to the human condition, complicated everything, and that set history on an entirely new course. Most important, it ended the non-progress of paganism. In fact, we owe this new way of thinking the continually escalating progress of the past two thousand years. The Jews worshipped a god that was not only different from prior gods, but a god that seemed motivated to destroy paganism. The new god criminalized the oedipal impulses and fantasies on which pagan thinking and behavior depended-- namely: the competitive-sexual and competitive-aggressive impulses and fantasies that are fundamental to the thinking and feelings of four year old boys during their oedipal period of development. The god was asexual. He could see into the conscious minds of his people! And he would punish people (and groups) severely if they were to consciously entertain those forbidden fantasies and feelings. So-- what to do with those normal fantasies-- which included the pride and excitement that every four year old child experiences? They had to be repressed. They had to be “pushed down” into the unconscious mind, where even the individual himself/herself couldn’t see them. The fear that drove that regression was: “If I can see them, the punishing Father can see them! Extreme punishment will follow!” A very similar repression and sublimation takes place in children during their brief oedipal period. Oedipal fantasies and impulses can’t be erased; but they can be repressed-- “pushed down” into their unconscious minds. They become “latent-oedipal.” Some are disguised and transformed-- unconsciously-- through “sublimation” into acceptable forms of expression. In the latent-oedipal groups of our Christian Era, wars were still waged-- but only “under God.” That is, they had to be justified. That was easiest to do in religious wars; but, of course, other justifications could also be contrived. Nevertheless, such justifications (however implausible) set up a new type of evolution. It will contribute to war being abandoned-- which will probably happen during this century. --------------------------------------- Sexual pleasure and pride were also proscribed. Future scholars will discuss how such deprivations could be inflicted on entire pagan groups for two thousand years. But once established, such injunctions and restrictions bore fruit that strengthened them further. The energies that were repressed in individuals were used by groups to their own benefit; and their individuals benefitted secondarily. Those energies were sublimated into inventions, into more-complex thinking, and into other advantages. The anticipation of an afterlife in which individual sacrifices were eternally rewarded became the most-powerful incentive to self-sacrifice of any anticipation humans have used. Groups that used such those sublimations consistently defeated, otherwise outcompeted, and almost invariably converted pagan groups. They took us out of pagan non-progress. They ended the automatic warfare of paganism; they took us out of pagan rebellions, assassinations, pillage and rape; out of conquests followed inevitably by decadence, defeat, and ruin. They created the progress we later enjoyed. We must appreciate the intuitive wisdom of those group-minds over those last two millenia. The costs to individuals were an extreme reduction in the quality of our sexual function, in much other excitement and pleasure, and in self-esteem. --------------------------------------- With regard to Freud’s sexual emphasis: Freud considered sexual repression to have played a major role in neurosis and in the Human Condition. Christian Era repression was and is still powerful. Freud’s sexual emphasis is still widely rejected. When I was a child, I remember an intelligent adult protesting “We’re not animals!” In fact, we became the most-sexual of animals in order to survive. The brain and head of the human infant grew too large to travel through the birth canal; so all human infants are born three months prematurely. (Yes, YOU were all PRIMIS!) Mothers, burdened by the care of helpless primis, couldn’t forage; and they became dependent on men to bring home food. So sex became our most-powerful pleasure. Natural selection favored the sexiest men-- those who were the most motivated sexually; and it favored also the prettiest, softist, roundist, most- hairless women-- and those who were most talented in seduction. Chimpanzee females haven’t had to evolve in any of those ways.
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