The class war in our heads

1469799942301.jpg_5631408793549855746Why bother with Freud today, a century after his work and ideas first began to have their effect?  Is psychoanalysis really taken seriously anymore?  Isn’t the whole dirty, sorry, splintered image of psychoanalysis something to be forgotten, something to put behind us as one more moment of false enlightenment?

The image of psychoanalysis within the Western intellectual realm is deeply problematic, rejected by many as inherently unscientific, accused by others of being little more than charlatanism and self-serving duplicity and yet the practice remains, indeed it often appears like it is increasingly called for by health practitioners and state services.  If the intellectuals tend to relegate psychoanalysis to curious theory, the state and capital still find it to have some place in the tools of modern governance.  Why bother with Freud today?  One answer is that we have no option to consider Freud again and again because in modern capitalist society, if we are to think against the stream, against the state, against capital, then we are faced with the effects of Freudianism, of psychoanalysis, in the very tissue of our lives.  In the realm of advertising and public relations we encounter the legacy of Edward Bernays and the tradition of manufacturing consent, in the clinical practices of everyday life we find human lives can be affected, often positively, by psychoanalytic techniques and in the malaise or revolutionary politics we re-encounter – time and again – the problems of self-repression group psychology that Reich so notoriously placed centre stage.  The fact that Freud still haunts our streets and minds might, however, suggest a more radical surgery is needed, that we need to redouble our efforts to unmask the charlatans, convince others of the unscientific nature of the whole practice and finally eject the psychoanalysts from polite society.

A lingering doubt remains, however, that this is not the right course of action.  Not least this arises because of the peculiar polarisation of positions that can be encountered in modern debates about agency, politics, the mind and consciousness.

On one side we find the neuroscientists who increasingly develop their capacity to understand the wiring of the brain as well as their skill at re-engineering the mind.  There is no avoiding the fact that neuroscience is rapidly developing into one of the most fascinating and powerful new tools in the human arsenal of war against the given, a war led by science, which finds wonder and joy in the subjugation of nature and the extension of the possibilities of human life.  Neuroscience does already and will increasingly offer new possibilities for liberation and yet this is not its central purpose and it has equal potential to provide weapons of mass subjugation.  Neuroscience is powerless to answer the question of who rules the technology, who wields the policies and potentials of the capacities it will unleash.  It will no doubt produce those who cry out at the conversion once more of ploughshares into weapons but it has no inherent capacity to prevent such conversion and the likelihood of those who rule successfully using such tools as weapons is, as always with any technology, bordering on the absolute.   Nor does it have any power over the risks of the profit potential of the mass deployment of neuroscientific techniques, the insidious conversion of yet another piece of knowledge into a simple means of extending the range of exchange values regardless of the consequences.  Neither the state, nor the capitalist, care much for ethics, empowerment or human extension other than as means to their own inherent goals – those goals, as always, being distinct from often humanistic concerns that might motivate the neuroscientists.

On the other side, however, we find too often the simplistic claim that no matter how much the physicalist tells us about the psychical, there will always remain some leftover capacity to choose, to act against our natures, to make ourselves differently in the face of our biological destiny or structure.  We can affirm, in the face of the physical, the irreducibility of the psychical, although this crude dualism is often couched in far more sophisticated terms nowadays.  The realm of freedom, of self-giving laws, of loyalty to the idea, of choice, this, we are told, trumps the scanners and chemicals and scalpels.  If only that were so but who, today, can seriously hold to a concept of some mysterious power that appears to resist the physical in a simply willful way.  We can no more avoid our brains than we can gravity.  And yet…

It is not for a middle path that we need to look again, yet again, at Freud.  It is, instead, because of a completely different option opened up by Freud (and by Marx and Nietzsche), one that is not inherently fixed on the often unthought assumption that the goal is to determine the way things are determined, by reasons or causes or a mixture of both perhaps.  Freud offers one of the routes to the senses of production within which we might find both the production of determinations and the production of indeterminations.  These senses of production, modes of production, are more than simply determinations because they are the conditions of any concrete determinations.    They are – and this cannot be avoided – far more complex processes than any to be found in either the physical or the psychical.  The very distinction between a mind and a body is resultant from, grounded in, such modes of production and is no more a natural fact than the division between the ‘races’ or ‘genders’ or ‘classes’.  To put it crudely – and with a view to shunning away from this text all who are already inherently agents of capitalism – there is a class war in our heads.  Freud is worth turning to again because he was perhaps the first to encounter this, even if he distorted it as he did so.  To fight this war we cannot simply discard those tools of the enemy that work, they must instead be turned from weapons back into ploughshares.

If this emphasis on the class war suggests a partisan relation to the material at hand, then so be it.  Only those who are too stupid to know that tools need to work no matter what task they are used for would think that such partisanship perverts enquiry.  This emphasis is, of course, one that places universal abstractions and absolute truths in the service of some wider goal, the goal of the liberation of the working class and the oppressed from the disgusting spectacle of capitalism.  This language, however, is riddled with connotations that have little practical use any more.  The days of the Communist Party – official or otherwise – are over, the mass party having given way to the mass movement and thence into the mass war.  We have been living in the Third World War for the last twenty years at least, probably longer, a war not amongst nation states and the capitalist class but a war against the working class and the oppressed.  Yet the greatest single fact of this war is it is always ‘over there’.  If the front lines of the war ever reach you in the form of guns and bombs and drones this is just the particular technology deployed in specific geopolitical spaces.  At all other times the war ‘over there’ goes on everywhere and nowhere and the casualties mount up in so-called ‘symptoms of modernity’ – mental health problems, curious behaviours, collective impotence and the failure of politics as a place of solutions.   At one point the class war occurred in the factory and the streets.  Now it has occupied the mind.  There is a class war in your brain.

This is to state baldly, polemically, what needs to be argued for, it is little more than assertion at this stage and the task at hand is to offer some insight into this war and some tools with which to fight it that are not already in the hands of the enemy – and there is without doubt an enemy.  We are not ‘all in this together’ nor have we ever been.  We may only hope that if we fight and win we might be able, at some point, to remove the enemy from reality and consign the very concept to what will eventually become a pre-history of the new earth.

The cards are on the table.  Our first question arises from the basic problem, which is not an intellectual one, abstract and polite, but a problem of determinate social production.  The question is then, what, in the face of the onslaught of a capitalist society, can Freud offer us as tools of understanding and weapons of survival?  If you want the polite, but insidiously abstracted version of this question, we might naively say something like “In the face of life, how can Freud offer us means of coping, or helping others cope?”  If we did, however, use such insipid words then we would, at once, be complicit with the very problem that forces us to find weapons of survival in the first place.   This thus brings us to our second question – does psychoanalysis offer us the means by which we might arm ourselves?  The response to this is firmly, hysterically, negative.  The prison warder is no friend, even if the prisoner must at times smile and say “yes sir”.  We are not left with a simple rejection, however, and it is because of a curious problem that arises – we are not the first to note this of course – between Freud and psychoanalysis as an institution that we will explore whether the tools are instead to be found in schizoanalysis.  We think schizoanalysis might offer weapons of liberation – and we say ‘might’ very consciously and explicitly because we are not yet, perhaps never will be, certain of this.  The ghost of Freud will therefore be joined by those of Deleuze and Guattari.  Hopefully we have, at this point, driven away the last of the readers we wish to avoid.



Article written by

philosopher and filmmaker from brighton, currently teaching philosophy at the Free University of Brighton

2 Responses

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  1. matt
    matt at |

    I’m reconnecting with your writing and musings Matt.
    After a short stint in the teaching profession I’m undertaking, finally, my philosophical journey.
    I was a ‘thatcher child’, as the phrase goes, new town council-estate raised casualty of war. Put another way, I knew I was in deep shit from the start. I avoid saying ‘from an early age’ because doesn’t that imply that there is some horizon of mastery that I could theoretically acquire, or be later analysed to resolve my pain with?
    No I was simply in the middle of a class war. But how to express the terms of all this? class war is such a clumsy term…
    on mobile, more later

  2. Matt
    Matt at |

    It seems that history had determined that ‘working class struggle’, or whatever it was, as something very real to me but utterly unclear and attacked on all sides. Workerism never even began to take root with me, ignorant and harmful as working class people often are (not in terms of their redeemable behaviour, that is, just in terms of who – what – they ‘are’). So there was the war against the immediate, the look, taste and smell of life.

    Wanting to ‘drop in’ to society was always a cop-out; when I started hearing grey people talking about ‘opportunities for young people’ in the 90s I knew it was a betrayal of how anybody poor actually felt. And yet this weak line is the one people adapted themselves to and continue with today. As long as they reinterpret themselves as potentially happy as long as they have the right values, they are content (and touchy!). Very religious self-betrayal. And the politician-businessmen aren’t very good priests, after all. It just speaks to the demand for righteousness no matter the cost (i.e. that your family will always be poor, but the ‘biggest adult’ has their consolation), and the fear of any large task that real politics would demand.

    Learning to be more intellectual, which meant initially reading a couple of books, through to fumbling through a BA and MA Philosophy, meant that I encountered the betraying class – the middle class – as a neophyte of its order. Having had no real issue in those years accepting the kind of speaking and thinking required of being a smart member of society, as I grew more it seemed to be very heavily invested in walking a thin line of ‘reasonableness’ – an unreasonable amount of reasonableness, I suppose. It is the sickly sweet, cooperative, explain anything away nature of the voices, faces, gestures and impostures of the middle class that makes me very sick to look and to listen at them. The ethical line never felt OK that one should simply never take any action unless following some line of authority. Or in fact that all moral virtue is expressed in charity toward others.

    Given that the upper classes always needed the guillotine meant that there was no ‘working class’-ness to care about, no intellectual way out (of the betrayal of the working class), and a country that needed destroying before it could be rebuilt. Political? I have ended up being apolitical, although I still have in my brain all the ‘critical’ voices of the left-wing books and media I have ever read. At the moment I choose to ignore those voices as being beside the point. Whether people need to learn the standard political, cultural, economic critiques (or be comfortable expressing facsimilies of them) in order to ward off the crushing conservatism and economic, psychological superstitions of our times, I’m really not sure. In fact I feel like there is not time to do this, no time to educate and to learn (whilst always giving that false middle-class sense of self). There is no Zizek-style radical revolutionary warrior that needs to be awakened in each of us (for our own benefit) – Zizek and others have no idea just how bad everything actually is. If he, if the left-wing intelligentsia knew, just one account of a portion of a life, it would amount to more sorrow than is contained in any historical referent of the same, and force them out of study.

    So Matt yes, I agree, there is a class war in our heads, but only if our heads are not our heads, our thoughts not our own and our feelings needing more than redescription – by Freudian theory, by schizoanalysis etc.
    In fact they need that performativity, that access to absolute action that is not social that is called upon by schizoanalysis. There are definitely weapons out there – but piecemeal ones. It matters more who wields them, and there is no conceptual landscape to prejudge that by. All is betrayal.

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