Psychoanalysis is the study of neuroticism. As such it is also a study of civilization, namely, a psycho-sociological account of how the formation of a subject is informed by a cultural paradigm. One implicit premise in this assumption is that psychoanalysis as a study is a historical event, which it is; and that therefore, part of the reality of this history, is that the culture which produced it, was one in which a vast majority of its subjects were mentally “sick,” or neurotic.
We may take the terms neuroticism and mental illness to be synonymous, for our society is still one in which this problem is epidemic. We may no longer think of mental illness in terms of neuroticism, but nor has this society progressed any further in the form of a “cure.” Rather it seems the base underlying condition of neuroticism, has remained; it has simply been addressed through mass medicalization, a way of addressing the underlying problem which actually prolongs it, indeed, prevents it from being overcome, or cured. My argument as to why is because this “cure” would actually take the form of a social transformation.
Neuroticism is a psycho-sociological phenomenon; mental illness is a collective problem. The sickness of mind doesn’t develop in a vacuum, but rather is deeply rooted in a specific political formation and social relation. Part of what makes its “treatment” so untenable in the society is the way it has been individualized. The instance of mental illness is isolated as a singular instance, and often other relevant factors are excluded or minimized. For instance the general alienation of the culture is taken as a given akin to nature, and other basic facts of the naturalness of the organism are made to seem alien to the subject who is expected to subordinate this naturalness to a far more “natural” culture. Nature is made subordinate to culture in a hierarchicalized structure, although the necessary conditions of dichotomy, for a hierarchical structure, don’t exist between nature and culture in actuality. It is the same as asserting that there exists a dichotomy between body and mind. No such dichotomy exists in actuality. Thus to treat mental illness as an individual instance separate from the larger social reality, according to this logic, is simply an error of naked fact. The individual no more exists isolated from the society than the mind exists isolated from the body.
No wonder one of the prime discoveries of psychoanalysis was in the assertion of an etiology of neurosis or mental sickness, in a history of the body; certain bodily patterns, mental associations with the body or certain of its natural functions, and finally of course associations between how the body and by extension, mind, of the individual, or vice versa, is supposed to interact and relate with others and the society. It is my assertion that the dominant political and social structure in the society, our present culture, generates a dysfunctional relationship among individuals, or produces a neurotic body of subjects. By “dysfunction,” we may view this concept as interrelated with the concept of alienation, and the fact of social control. By social control I mean precisely that form of control which originates from without, the externally imposed, compulsory form of control which is often set in a paradoxical relation with anti-sociality, by having the perverse effect, of actually exacerbating it.
Social control or rather social coercion
By social control we might think of how the biological imperatives of the organism are “hijacked” to serve a social imperative. Naturally, the biological imperatives of the human organism, are also social imperatives. However, in modern society, or since the dawn of history and what is called “civilization;” or rather the fixing of authoritarian forms of social formation, in which there is a real poverty of freedom and equality; this “hijacking” of the organism, is essentially to serve ends which benefit this unequal form of society, and enrich an elite class of individuals who control and reproduce this form of society. We may also call his “hijacking” social coercion.
In other words, it seems conceivable that social coercion depends on a systematic redirecting of the natural imperatives of the organism to serve a preconceived structure of society. So for instance the desire for self-preservation, is controlled through the fear of death, the threat of force that backs coercive imperatives in our society. The need of food, shelter, clothing, etc., a sense of belonging, is controlled through the construct of money. Such a construct is clearly ideological, and is associated with numerous other aspects of ideology in the culture, such as nationalism, religion, patriarchy, etc. One way of construing what ideology really is, at least social coercive forms of ideology, in the context of the association between neurosis and our society, is that it represents a kind of schism between the mind and body of the organism. This makes a great deal of intuitive sense when we again consider that social coercion is essentially the putting to work of the body of the organism to serve ends which are in contradiction to the actual health and desires of that organism, or at the very least, represent a thwarted, basically alienated and exploited form of realizing one’s “dreams” or desires. Paraphrasing the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, the thwarting of the natural desires in the organism creates a distortion in the psychic life that leads to anti-social fantasies. In his own words: “In its sexual life, the primeval period of mankind adhered to natural laws, which established the foundation for a natural sociality. Using the energy of suppressed sexuality, the intermediary period of authoritarian patriarchal society of some four to six thousand years has produced the secondary, perverse, distorted sexuality of modern man,” (Reich, The Function of the Orgasm).
If psychoanalysis is the study of neurosis, and neurosis is a product of distorted sexuality, a contingent factor of our current form of society, then I would like to make an assertion, perhaps controversial in our day and age. But “sexuality” is not a “preference.” It is an attitude of the organism towards life, towards the world, towards “the other.” Sexuality is thus a measure of happiness and sociality, a measure of purpose, a metric of health.
What we have called here “hijacking” is to suggest that the general ground of social control, or of the ideological coercive force in our society, has to do with a distortion of our natural impulses, and a mode of compelled behavior, through the deprivation of our basic needs. The final point is to suggest that if our desires are manufactured beyond our understanding; to be able to take conscious control over this, would be in a way a social liberation.