Tag Archives: Psychology

Class Consciousness

Originally written as a short speech for S.U.A.C. given at Surrey University.
This article is available to purchase for use at my scribd account

 

 

class′ con′sciousness
n.

1. awareness of one’s own social or economic rank.

2. a feeling of identification and solidarity with those belonging to the same social or economic class as oneself.

 

Class consciousness is very hard to define but I see it as the self-emergent property that we see and experience phenomenologically, as the dialectic between the group of society that controls the means of production and the group of people tied to working for the production as a means to survive.

Karl Marx talked about ones social class as dictating ones social life and that the people that own the modes of production can dictate the lives of their workers. Stating that a class is defined by a group of people who share similar socio economic and political ideals, values or needs and one’s own social class is defined by how one sees themselves within the socio political system.

He isolated the idea of an economic scale as the common denominator for the analysis of social systems. That is, that you have to become existentially aware of your state within the world to be aware of where you are situated within ‘class’ consciousness.

Marxism considers these social classes to have their own objective identities and interests. Though this could be considered to be over-anthropomorphasising somewhat.

The state of any given class is determined by its history, i.e. one can follow the path of the upper class from feudalisms through its merger with merchant traders to where it is today. For one to be aware of this historical structure and its relevance in consciousness you have to see the world in groups of equality and inequality, and associate ones social class, and position within it, with the quality of social life one can lead. Looking at the world in this divided way can provide an opportunity for the development of a dialectic. This dialectic can be seen as a catalyst for social change (an innate and required property of social evolution). To develop a social state that can ultimately lead to these changes being brought about, the workers need to see themselves as one unit – to bring about change for themselves. One of the main steps in developing this – is understanding false consciousness.

False consciousness is an attitude held by a class that does not accurately reflect their objective position in the work and production scheme. i.e. thinking in terms of I and ME (like I am being exploited by MY boss, rather than alternatively WE are being exploited by OUR boss). This narcissistic tendency, characterised by many pop culture icons that are regularly thrown into the media spot light forms the foundation of one of the many methods used to stunt the development of social change.

The development of class consciousness – relies on the proletariat understanding the nature of the dialectic and its role in the development of current socio political climates, furthur more they must acknowledge the ruling classes dependence upon the production of the proletariat. This indicates a unique quality of the proletariat class in that the proletariat was the first to be able to form an identity and develop a class consciousness, as they can see the nature of the structure of the wage slavery and the dependence of the ruling classes. Allowing them to negate the very identity of the bourgeoisie.

Incidentally it can then be said that the bourgeoisie ‘s class consciousness is intrinsically a false consciousness, there idea of their class consciousness is dependent on the existence of the proletariat class consciousness. The bourgeoisie cannot completely perceive there own history as long as they maintain the idea that capitalism as an ideology is not just a phase in social evolution but rather something innate to human psychology.

So it is not so much a facet of bad judgement but an illusion which they hold to be the truth, though it remains important to differentiate between the class consciousness and the consciousness of the individuals of the class.

Ones social class can act as a filter, limiting the perspective that one may have of the world around them, identifying the intrinsic alienation of human experience. The solution for this comes not from strengthening intraclass bonds but from educating people of all classes to approach reality from multiple perspectives. Although it is considered that not every form of knowledge is affected in this way, for instance maths and science are not influenced by class consciousness.

 

“In a seminal redefinition, the sociologist Michael Mann examined different dimensions of class consciousness: – class belonging and identity, class antagonism, class totality (the idea that social classes encompass the entirety of society), and the vision of a classless society.

Those dimensions not only are formal subcategories but correspond to experiences that generate class awareness and class solidarity. For instance, the experience of economic exploitation can lead workers to recognize that they have a stake in each other’s well-being, and from there they will develop class consciousness and class solidarity.”

 

So, for the mode of production and the profits thereof to be equally distributed amongst the population the workers first need to overcome their false consciousness. The existence of class consciousness in its classical terms relies heavily on the class history. Marxists define classes on the basis of their relation to the means of production, whereas Non-Marxist social scientists distinguish various social divisions upon the income, occupation, or status. I would say that alienation of the individual is key to the modern interpretation of class consciousness.

Another idea is that and person’s social class can be defined by his own awareness of it. As an individual moves into the working sector – contributing to the production of commodities, it can lead to the individual becoming alienated from the rest of the world. Due in part to the dissociation of his identity as a person – as his sociological influence, as a facet of the result of his production, take the foreground and by the production of his labour acquires its own identity.

Specialisations of types of production can further lead to the development of new domains here, whose relevance only truly becomes apparent when looking at the dialectic of the inter relationship of these factors on a global scale. Leading to the development of such theories as the invisible hand.

Hegel provides a good analogy of this is his book Weltgeist, or ‘world spirit’. Where the proletariat, represented by the ‘world spirit’, develops its own history through the action of Voltgiest, ‘the spirit of the people’.  Though this idea holds many mythological connotations its grounding in sociological and materialistic object relations lends validity to the concept.

‘The possibility of class consciousness is given by its history, which transforms the proletariat into a commodity hence objectifying it.

This allows us to displace our understanding of awareness – with ones position in society becoming a signifier for the symbol that is class consciousness.

But this alone does not do justice to the dialectic that evolves here. As the now objectified class’ consciousness is aware of its self, displayed in its constant adaptation to its socio political environment. This destroys the objectivity of the object and allows a window into the complex dialect of transcendent collective ideas.’

Due to the proletariat’s unique position, its consciousness of its self is also a consciousness of totality, an awareness of the entire social and historical process. Thus when the proletariat becomes conscious of itself, it can transform the very structure of reality. The laws of economics can then be seen to be nothing more than a facet of the dialectic between the present state of history, –  that lead to the current state of each of the classes of this collective consciousness – meaning that they can become subject to change.

It has been posited that the theoretical consciousness of the working class could be present in a political organism that considered its self to be the carrier, regardless of what the actual working class is or wants. Though a notable Kafkaesque notion that is possibly an over anthropomorphism it is still pertinent to social theory.

One of the many reasons that class consciousness may be less prevalent in the modern psyche today, is that the state sees the idea that their citizens perceive society in this way as a threat to their sovereignty. Some critics of Marx argue that he confuses class with cast, whereas others state – that class consciousness is only relevant in social structures where cast is fixed, i.e. slavery, where slaves thus share a common motive for ending their disadvantaged status relative to other castes, and certain religious sects also posses qualities displaying similar properties.  Another critic is that the lines between modern classes are drawn too arbitrarily. Others have stated that to advance the ideas of class consciousness empowers totalitarianism.

One of the main problems with class consciousness – is that its appeal is not in its scientific truth – but in its psychological form. This may somewhat account for its falling out of the common psyche – but may also highlight a way in which it can be brought back and to be used as a more effective tool.

For an empirical change to occur within the socio political realm – it is necessary that both the reality of and practical situation of the present or current class consciousness must be aligned with theory, otherwise we facilitate the procession of the historical nature of the class system. To have a goal for class consciousness is essential but it must be objective. This, on its own is insufficient,  requiring the struggle of both humanity and the proletariat for class consciousness.

 

Duncan Thomson

Psychology and Mythos

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Mythology has been a key tool throughout the development of psychology and is often used to help describe and digest some of the more complex ideas that are presented. One of the most well known of these is the myth of Oedipus, a narrative developed by Freud to help explain some of the ideas that he happened upon. Though the theory itself is often discredited in modern psychology, it is a great example of how mythology and story can be transcripts of the unconscious mind. In this case the archetypal mythology of ‘the monster/ dragon fight’, is more applicable.

 

There are many examples of the use of mythology to communicate underlying psychology throughout literature from the ancient mythology described by the Greeks, with Zeus (the all father) and Aphrodite (love) etc. and throughout modern literature, a good example being, comic books with the joker (chaos or disorder, the trickster) and the batman (law and order, structure). The interactions of these characters or ‘archetypes’ (an idea we shall explore future later on), form the basis of most mythology and in fact most stories.

 

It must be considered that when the ancients shared myths they were usually thought to be true stories or of a historical or prophetic nature, and served the societal role of binding groups of people together or ‘justifying’ the existence of populations on something above themselves. They formed the heart of communities and provided histories and roles in life that people could aspire to. This is just one of the things that modern mythos plays on today.

 

Some Greek myths, for instance  Homer’s Troy, where based on what was once thought completely fictional events which have become reframed upon the finding of the ancient city of Troy. Modern mythos may reflect this in that they are based on fictional realities but upon future investigation it may turn out that they are analogous of the authors personal psychology or surrounding psycho-geography and their relationship with it. As is considered with other more main stream writing styles where the works of some authors are seen as reflections of the events and views held by people of the authors time and location.

 

Though in Plato’s Phaedo we can see that some of the ancients had a greater understanding of the use of narratives or storytelling to communicate something that was beyond language and that the story was a tool for the development of such complex ideas. Here Socrates, here the protagonist, give a lengthy description of the afterlife of boats carrying one around the earth on serpent like rivers that eventually engulf the world. Following this he states,

‘Of course, one can’t expect anyone with any sense or education to believe that what I have just said is exactly what happens literally. But what I have just said is more or less how it is, and we can think of it in that way.’

 

Many people consider ancient myths to still be relevant to today’s society due to their ability to teach one of moral values and of qualities of the world around them. This may be similarly said of modern mythos and literature but now it may be better to consider them analogous of the world that was present in which the author lived. Though many of these lessons may still be pertinent as many Archetypes persist through the ages of humanity, i.e. love, hate, good and evil. Moreover they may be reflections of the psychology of the writer through the use of symbolic interactions and wording, (to further explore this please look at object relations theory).

 

There are  several examples of how important ancient mythology was to the development of the modern world and society, from the re-appropriation of the word Olympic for the Olympic games through the word panic, meaning Chaos or Pandemonium, originating from the Greek god of the woods and fields and his actions therein (a notable theme in Lovecraft’s short story Dagon), to the modern description of herculean feats another re-appropriation of the name of an archetypal character from a myth about taking on impossible tasks. In fact many of the constructs of the modern world view and of the psychological structure are directly influenced by myth. It could be said that the stories and myths that are created by modern writers are indirect products of ancient mythology and psychology as well as the way we view the world now.

 

This may point at the underlying psychological structure of humanity that almost all ‘mythological’ literature seems to be attempting to divulge or explore. Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’, is a fantastic example of the incorporation of the mythological view of the world being incorporated into the modern world, utilising Gods of highways, television, credit cards and corporations to help develop the story. Though not very Lovecraftian it is an excellent example of modern mythology and its present relevance.

 

Freud first posited that the mind is essentially composed of the conscious and unconscious and that our aware selves basically consist of our conscious mind and our unconscious mind functions mainly as a rubbish bin. When thought left in the unconscious is not processed correctly, for instance repressed trauma, then it ‘ferments’ and begins manifesting in the conscious mind – he, called this phenomenon neurosis. Whereas another later psychologist Carl Jung suggests that the mind is more complex than this.

 

Jung describes the mind as consisting of the conscious, unconscious and collective unconscious. He believed that we were all parts of the mind but that the conscious mind was used for processing logic and reason, where as the personal unconscious digested all of the unsayable and incommunicable thoughts. That much more complex ideas, for instance the thoughts one has of the death of their parents, the pain juxtaposed with the relief of them having been released from their own pain, whilst feeling happiness and jealously, as well as the apparent presentation of your own mortality in the face of the fulfilling of theirs, feelings that you are not meant to have and will never really understand.

 

Jung did not believe that Freud was that far off using story and mythos to help people understand the unconscious but that he was wrong in using the Oedipus myth so broadly, that in fact this mythos was personal to Freud, his own Archetype, and that everyone had their own Archetypes and utilised their own personal mythos. Later psychologists elucidate to the concept that these personal myths could be viewed as cognitive structures and schemas, further exploring the relationship between mythology and psychology, as David Feinstein explains that whilst considering the relationship of cultural mythology to personal mythology an understanding of personal mythology can be used to “enhancing individuals’ control over their lives.” (http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/ort/49/2/198/).

 

Archetypes are, according to Jung, the ‘universal symbols that form the basic understanding of human existence'(C.G. Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, 1996). Jung believed that, much like there are only so many different stories you can write before they become variations of themselves, there are only so many roles in life for people to play and these can be considered archetypes of the unconscious. These archetypes and variations formed by combinations of them, can be considered the symbols understood by the unconscious. He believes that the unconscious and emotions can only truly be communicated in symbols due to the nature of their complexity. Also, that rituals and practices help us process and digest the complex ideas within our subconscious, allowing one to organise the unconscious and better effect ourselves in life.

 

“My thesis then, is as follows: in addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature and which we believe to be the only empirical psyche (even if we tack on the personal unconscious as an appendix), there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited. It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic contents.” (C.G. Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, 1996, p. 43).

 

It is from here that many of the ideas that are pervasive in society may stem and from the discrepancy between ones perception of one’s self and the societal structure of these Archetypes that may be responsible for the psychology that creates the dissociation from self and society that affords what we see in H. P. Lovecraft’s work. There are many persistent archetypes that he uses throughout his writing, for instance the use of the ‘dragon’ Archetype from myth occurs regularly, which is alluded to in Dagon and directly addressed in the Cthulu mythos.

 

The dragon and other Archetypes that Lovecraft utilise serve to vividly develop his writing and lace all them with common themes. Furthermore, the use of these Archetypes facilitates the development of the Cthulu mythos that we associate with his work, linking them together with similar underlying themes. These Archetypes can also be seen in many Lovecraftian works which include at least one, and more often than not several of the Archetypes he employed. In particular, it seems that the interaction of antipodal Archetypes in a deconstructive manner resulting in unbearable cognitive dissonance is what characterises Lovecraftian works.

 

Lovecraft uses a writing style that is rife with long and complex sentences that elaborate often disturbing body horror as well as consistently using the interaction of these often familiar Archetypes and symbols, in the semblance of similar or even the same characters or environments to elucidate more complex ideas that are often not apparent in just the wording alone but come to the surface when one looks at the interaction of the characters over time. He also often chooses archetypes that do not so much produce a positive interaction that develops the story but are often antipodes of each other, as in At the Mountains of Madness where a hyper developed race pre-dating man is discovered and yet even on earth they have had to confront an evil which they hesitate to address. Which inevitably, when the explorers stumble upon causes, one of them to lose their mind. The idea of which is developed well in the readers imagination through Lovecraft’s use of one of his favourite tools, that some things are indescribable or beyond words and can only be insinuated as if one can only bear to see the shadow it cast or the outline it creates. (Lacan’s use of the signifier and signified may be good to explore here)

 

These stories almost always lead to deconstruction of commonly held ideas and preconceptions of self or other as the stories move forward, leaving the reader with the feeling of the absence or loss of something, further adding to the depravity and indescribably awe-inspiring terror that his works are inscribed with.

 

The use of these common themes throughout Lovecraft’s works suggest a lot about his own psyche and the times that he grew up in and gives us a window to the world he inhabited and his own personal mythos, as Jung described. It also gives a lot of information about the personal psyche of his fans and why we are all drawn to his works and style of writing. Though we all have our own ways of dealing with and looking at the world there is an arrangement or configuration of the archetypes of our collective unconscious that we are all drawn to. It is this that makes Lovecraft’s works so pertinent for a few but particular group of people and that best describes the link between his fans and the emergent development of his mythology in modern literature.

Duncan Thomson.

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