In its search for a leader the [small therapeutic] group finds a paranoid schizophrenic or malignant hysteric if possible; failing either of these, a psychopathic personality with delinquent trends will do; failing a psychopathic personality it will pick on the verbally facile high-grade defective. I have at no time experienced a group of more than five people that could not provide a good specimen of one of these.
W. R. Bion, Experiences in Groups and Other Papers (London: Tavistock Publications, 1961), p. 123
How do we experience change, in society and its groupings? Wilfred Bion, with his experience as an officer in the First World War, and his training as a psychoanalyst, had some ideas:
Change can take place, but society needs to defend itself from change that takes place too rapidly, the catastrophic rate of change. The new ideas have to be appropriately contained and represented so that they can become accessible to the non-geniuses who represent the vast majority of any society. They have to pass the test of what Bion called the Establishment, persons whose established rôle it is to preserve the existing status but at the same time to allow for the slow incursion of new ideas. In the church this would represent the assembly of bishops, in the army what has been called the brigadier belt, that is, those persons whose ability does not fit them to rise above this relatively high rank but whose experience and capacity for testing new ideas is relied on to protect the army from wild ideas but at the same time foster steady change.
Malcolm Pines, ‘Bion: A Group-Analytic Appreciation’, Group Analysis 20, no. 3 (September 1987): 251–62,. p. 253
My last post was Gregory of Nazianzus’s advice to avoid assemblies of bishops. Carl Jung was even more pessimistic. He thought we should avoid all assemblies of any kind:
When a hundred clever heads join in a group, one big nincompoop is the result, because every individual is trammelled by the otherness of the others. There used to be a funny question: Which are the three largest organizations, the morale of which is the lowest? Answer: Standard Oil, the Catholic Church, and the German Army. Especially in a Christian organization one should expect the highest morality, but the necessity to bring into harmony various factions requires compromises of the most questionable kind. (Jesuitic casuistry and distortion of the truth in the interest of the institution!)…
Real virtues are relatively rare and constitute usually the achievements of individuals. Mental and moral laziness, cowardice, prejudice, and unconsciousness are dominant. I have behind me fifty years of pioneer work and, therefore, could tell a few things about these: there is, perhaps, scientific and technical progress. However, one has not heard yet that people in general have become more intelligent or morally better.
Individuals can be improved because they let themselves be treated. Societies, however, let themselves be seduced and deceived, temporarily even for the good.
Hans A. Illing, ‘C. G. Jung on the Present Trends in Group Psychotherapy’, Human Relations 10, no. 1 (1957): 77–83.
For my part, if I am to write the truth, my inclination is to avoid all assemblies of bishops, because I have never seen any council come to a good end, nor turn out to be a solution of evils. On the contrary, it usually increases them. You always find there love of contention and love of power (I hope you will not think me a bore, for writing like this), which beggar description; and, while sitting in judgement on others, a man might well be convicted of ill-doing himself long before he should put down the ill-doings of his opponents. So I retired into myself; and came to the conclusion that the only security for one’s soul lies in keeping quiet.
Gregory of Nazianzus, Letter 130 (to Procopius), cAD 382, in Creeds, Councils and Controversies: Documents Illustrating the History of the Church Ad 337-461, ed. James Stevenson and W. H. C. Frend, Rev. ed. (London: S. P. C. K, 1989).
from Elizabeth Lasch-Quinn’s 2006 introduction to Philip Rieff’s seminal work:
With nothing shared beyond a commitment to the self, which turns out to be a commitment to nothing, the individual lacks essential resources for flourishing in ordinary times and for solace in periods of great need. The anything goes mentality of niche marketing prevails, driving what qualifies as reading and thinking downward to new lows.
Elizabeth Lasch-Quinn, “Introduction (2006),” in Triumph of the Therapeutic: uses of faith after Freud, by Philip Rieff, 40th Anniversary Edition. (ISI Books, 2006), vii–xxvi.
The Mothers’ Union, a fabulous organization of enormous integrity, has as part of its raison d’être the responsibility to “promote conditions in society favourable to stable family life.” How true and how necessary. Too often in our culture, the work that is needed to be put into a family is thought of as secondary or incidental or unimportant compared with the work that is necessary to put into employment. Thank goodness for the MU standing against that.
How then to react to an invitation to a Mothers’ Union meeting which includes this sentence?
If this happens to fall on your ‘day off’ then we apologise, but please do take this opportunity to join us and we look forward to seeing you.
Clergy get one day off a week (not a ‘day off’ in scare quotes). Sometimes that might be the only sustained time that they can spend with their families, especially as the ‘day off’ is never a whole weekend, when the rest of society works at family life. The invitation asks for the one day off in a week to be set aside for a MU meeting. How is this putting families first?
According to David N. Livingstone, the historian of science soon discovers that
scientific claims… sound universal but turn out to be situated, theories… seem transcendent but are profoundly embodied. At the same time, the plurality of scientific sites bears witness to the protean nature of science. Indeed, there is much justification for suspecting that the term “science” is an imaginary unity masking the disparate kinds of activity that trade under the label.
[From: David N. Livingstone, Putting Science in its Place: geographies of scientific knowledge (London: University of Chicago Press, 2003), p. 15]
Jeremy Bowen, the BBC correspondent in Tripoli, reported today on the nature of the pro-Gaddafi demonstrations in the capital:
In Green Square the evening’s pro-Gaddafi demonstrations were starting. They’re always noisy, but their numbers are not big for a city like Tripoli, which has a population of more than 2 million. Regular attendance at the demonstrations leaves you with the impression that only one slice of the population is represented. They are people who share the regime’s world-view— seeing the outside world as hostile, condemning the activities of foreign news networks, especially Arabic satellite channels, blaming foreigners allegedly wanting to steal Libya’s oil, and also blaming Al Qaeda for Libya’s troubles. The anti-Gaddaffi protests are now concentrated on Fridays, after the noon pray. They consider it too dangerous for them to assemble at any other time. The protesters tend to be better educated than the regime’s supporters, often speaking foreign languages, and with university degrees from the West. (Six O’Clock News, BBC Radio 4, 7 March 2011)
In what way does that not describe the demographic of the Tea Party? (even down to blaming Al Jazeera for Libya / America’s troubles!)