Labour Process, Co-operation, Language, Consciousness, Psyche
Consciousness emerges as a socially necessary form of awareness out of the need to co-operate in the origination and development of the organisation and relations of the labour process of hominids. This is its ontological ground and mediating basis The development of language and speech originate pre-conditionally and side by side with consciousness. The labour process in hominids necessarily involves social co-operation. This co-operation must involve the co-ordination of activities by means of intercommunication so that language, accordingly, asserts itself as a social necessity within the actual origination of the labour process itself. Language emerges because human beings must communicate with each other and speech – even in an emergent or rudimentary form – implies thought (consciousness or its beginnings). Language is externalised thought and conscious thought is internalised language. Practice (activity) necessarily gives rise to word and concept. In the beginning was the deed. From the point of their origination, word and concept mediate each other’s development and the totality of social activities. The need to co-operate and communicate in the labour process therefore gives birth to language and this, in its turn, necessitates the rise of consciousness itself and its development alongside and in relationship with language. Thenceforth, consciousness mediates social relationships and evolves with language within the context of changing socio-historical conditions.
The historic origination of consciousness is simultaneously the origination of the human psyche as a totality out of the non-conscious awareness of our animal primate ancestors. This period of transition took place over millions of years. The human psyche is not simply identical to consciousness. This psyche is more complex than mere consciousness alone. The rise of consciousness simultaneously engenders the unconscious as an intrinsic part of this psyche. Herein lies the fundamental distinction between consciousness and the psyche as a whole. Consciousness is an integrated form of awareness in the life of the psyche as a whole but to identify consciousness per se as the psyche is incorrect and denies this complexity of the whole. Its life-process is qualitatively more complex than that of consciousness alone. The different aspects of the psyche must be considered in their relation to each other. In this way, the nature and function of each aspect is understood as being a part of, and intrinsic to, the life of the whole. Each aspect, function and facility affects and mediates the activities of all the others, constituting a psychic whole which is higher than a mere aggregation and ‘interaction’ of parts.
The relationship between instinct and conditioned learning found in the animal primate is transformed with the rise of consciousness. Originating consciousness transforms animal instinct into the human unconscious. In the course of this transformation, emerging consciousness establishes itself in dynamic relation to its psychic opposite (the unconscious) to which it has given rise in the course of the transforming of instinct by the rise of consciousness itself. Each – the conscious and the unconscious – therefore arise and evolve as mediating the life of each other and, in so doing, constituting the human psychic totality. The relation between instinct and learning found in ancestral primates is superseded with the rise of consciousness which gives rise to the higher relationships and content of the conscious and the unconscious within the human psyche as a whole.
The natural mode of life of ancestral primates is mediated – in the forms of interaction and relations which constitute it – by the synthesis of a conditioned learning and instinct which form the basic elements of the simple, non-conscious (pre-conscious) awareness of these ancestral animal primates. The origination of consciousness transforms the relationship between instinct and learning in the primate ancestors of humanity into the psychological relationship between the conscious and the unconscious. The origination of consciousness is therefore synonymous with the origination of the human psyche as a whole.
The unconscious is the realm of the human psyche which arose in the hominisation process as a result of the rise of consciousness and the supersedence of the instinctive capacities of humanity’s animal primate ancestors. The instinctive in these primate ancestors becomes transformed into the unconscious in humans in the course of the hominisation process with the rise of consciousness. The intermediation of the conscious and the unconscious becomes a fundamental dynamic in the evolution of the human psyche.
The conceptual content of the psyche does not originate in the unconscious but this content mediates, and is mediated by, the neurophysiology of the unconscious. For example, the interrelationship between thinking and feeling involves the intermediation of the conscious and the unconscious (the interpenetration of the conceptual and non-conceptual).
The unconscious contains superseded within itself all those instinctive capacities formerly possessed by humanity’s primate ancestors. The unconscious is integrated into the total life of the human psyche so that these superseded (sublated) capacities are active in the life of this totality as a consequence of the origination and evolution of conscious awareness in the course of the hominisation process.
Is this relationship between the conscious and unconscious sides of the psyche an eternal feature of its structure and content? Or will this opposition be resolved into a higher synthesis in which both sides are sublated in the course of later social developments beyond the epoch of capital? Does consciousness have a ‘hidden’ psychohistorical role? To prepare the ground and conditions for the emergence of a higher order of the human psyche?
The transition between the animal and the human is the process of an aware yet non-conscious natural being becoming conscious of itself and of nature. A process of transition between the mode of life of the animal primate and the earliest modes of human existence. Reflection – i.e. thought consciously monitoring its own movement – is an exclusive property of the human psyche not found in animals or in higher primates. Animals are aware (sentient) but non-conscious and do not possess the capacity to reflect. For example, when an animal encounters its image in a mirror it merely sees the image of its physicality, itself as an object. When a human being looks into a mirror it observes not only a physicality but also the ‘me’ or ‘I’. For the animal there is no ‘I’ to which this physicality is intrinsic. ‘I-ness’ is a function of the reflective capacities of conscious beings. Consciousness itself, as distinguished from the simple awareness of animals, is a social product of the human brain embracing and incorporating within itself an awareness of the ‘self’ involving the capacity to reflect.
Animals are aware but, unlike humans, do not possess the capacity to reflect on the external world or their ‘inner world’. Humans possess the capacity to conceptually monitor the movement of their own thoughts and feeling. This capacity (self-consciousness, reflection, reflexive thinking) arises in the course of the transition from animal primate to human, developing and becoming richer and more elaborate in the inner complexity of its content, structure and relations with the unfolding of the socio-historical process. Human consciousness is demarcated from the simple, non-conscious awareness of the animal in both its structure and content (which in contradistinction to the animal is conceptual) and which, unlike in the animal, is reflexively involved with itself and thus internally dialogued (Vygotsky) in the process of its development.
Within the ‘internal dialogues’, the individual (the self) ‘converses’ and ‘communes’ with his/her own thinking and feeling. Individuals monitor the unfolding and progression of the conceptual content of their own thinking and feeling. Vygotsky further proposes that the ‘inner dialogues’ of consciousness are intrapsychological transpositions of the dialogues and social interactions between individuals. These interactions are psychologically internalised in the form of ‘inner dialogues’ thereby reflecting the social structure and content of the actual relations between human individuals. The social and the psychological are, within this conception, not separable.
This conception of ‘internal dialogue’ also forms an important element in our understanding of so-called ‘mental illness’, that is, in the psychogenesis and development of those mental states which the psychiatrists refer to as ‘psychotic’ or ‘schizophrenic’, etc. For example, the dissociation of one side of a dialogue from the other and the identification of one side (the ‘external other’) by the other side of the dialogue (the subject, the ‘I’) as coming from an external source outside of the thinking subject’s own mental process. For example, in what psychiatry refers to as schizophrenia, ‘hearing voices’, etc.
The learning-instinct relations and complexes of the pre-conscious, ancestral animal primate are adequate and necessary for the natural relationships of the modes of life of these primates but become inadequate and outmoded for the emerging social relationships of hominid and, later, human modes of life. Accordingly, this form of awareness must be and is superseded (sublated) into the higher formed structures, relations and functions of the human psyche. As this psyche originates, it dichotomises into the unconscious (which contains sublated within itself the instinctive capacities of ancestral primates) and the conscious (which contains sublated within itself the learning capacities of these primates).
It was the emergence and development of the labour process which necessitated social co-operation and which, in its turn, gave rise to the need for language as a means of communication. These were the most fundamental conditions that formed the ground upon which the non-conscious awareness of the animal primate became transformed into the conscious awareness of the human beings. This was the essential transformative element which formed the active basis for the origination of the human psyche itself as a whole. The rise of consciousness transforms the non-conscious awareness of the animal into the human psyche. The basic ‘conscious-unconscious’ structure and relations of this psyche originate in the course of this transitional period.
As human consciousness originated, it became integrated with the neurological legacy inherited from our primate ancestors. For example, those neurological and biochemical processes which prepared the primate ancestors of hominids to counter threat or evade danger; mechanisms which are intrinsic to the mode of life and biology of all primates. This meant that the human psyche in the making integrated all those neurological, physiological and biochemical processes from its animal ancestry which were necessary for the functioning, development and survival of hominids at a definite stage in their evolution and under the conditions of the origination of this psyche. This was passed on in later developments with the emergence of human beings proper. This ‘integration’ simultaneously alters this animal legacy, rendering it ‘human’.
The human psyche is, therefore, a complex synthesis of the social and the biological. This is illustrated by human emotional states where, at a physiological level in the brain, they are correlated with definite neurological states which come and go with alterations in mood. The emotional life of the individual expresses the specific character of the particular social relationships of the individual in a given society at a definite stage in its historical development. But this does not deny the ‘neurological aspects’ which reflect these relations. Moreover, the psyche of each particular individual represents, in one form or another and no matter how unique it is in its specific characteristics, the general character of the human psyche of a given society formed directly under the conditions and influence of its prevailing social relations. This general representation in each individual does not exclude the accentuation of particular aspects of the psyche which are only over-developments of such aspects, e.g. introversion, extroversion, ‘psychopathy’, etc, due to the specificity of the history of the individual’s social experience and its peculiar psychological internalisation. Each individual, irrespective of his or her psychological nature, has been formed under and within the complexity of the prevailing social relations which are organic to and condition the character of all interpersonal relationships.
human beings become individuals only through the process of history
[Marx. Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy. (Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1993) p. 496. Notebook V.]
The particular uniqueness of each individual always embodies and expresses, in one way or another, the universal characteristics of the social relations and ‘social personality’ of the age. Each individual is a unique, and therefore differentiated, manifestation of these universalities and therefore expresses the universal relations of the age in and through the distinctness and particularity of their unique individuality.
A most (if not the most) fundamental question that we must address concerns the nature and quality of the personal subjective life of the human individual i.e. humans as ‘feeling’ beings. Feeling is the eternal focal point around which the nature and quality of the subjective life of the individual revolves.
If I engage in activities alone or with other people which I find pleasing, pleasurable, enjoyable but my subjective experience of these activities merely serves to psychologically displace my own internal pain (mental, not directly physical) whether I am conscious of this or not, then these activities merely articulate the continuation of alienation in social relations. If I drink or drug myself because it drowns my sorrows then the ‘consolation’ which I may find in such activity is a faux consolation because it merely transmutes and expresses my alienation as an individual in a different guise. It does not transcend it but simply reaffirms it in a new form and therefore the existence of alienation as a continuing feature of social relations in general. It means that my ‘enjoyment’ is determined by and contaminated with my pain and therefore not enjoyment unmediated by this pain. Enjoyment which ceases to be mediated as such is not the crude ‘enjoyment’ as bourgeois man experiences it but of a totally different and qualitatively higher order. An enjoyment which only people freeing themselves from (or free of) the alienation of bourgeois society can truly experience.
How real people behave and did behave depends and always did depend on the historical conditions under which they lived
[Engels. From the Preparatory Writings for Anti-Duhring. Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol. 25. (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1987) p. 605]
If, in societies beyond the epoch of capital, social relations no longer serve as a source of anxieties and fears, how would this transform interpersonal relationships and human behaviour in general? How would this transform the way people feel about themselves and their fellow men and women? Surely it would transform the whole of human life into a realm which we today in bourgeois society would find unrecognisable and totally ‘alien’?
If I have never experienced the anxieties, fears and alienation intrinsic to bourgeois relations then I can have no awareness of their presence or absence. I am a totally different individual to that formed by these relations. Indeed, I can have no concept of these experiences, and what they mean, because they have been superseded historically in the course of social development beyond the epoch of capital. A truly free human being can have no concept of freedom and is not aware of being free precisely because s/he is truly free.
It would mean the end of aggression and cruelty between human beings and a complete transformation in our relationship with both living and non-living Nature in all its manifold and beautiful creation. Moreover, would it not totally alter the whole interpersonal character of sexual relations and the actual subjective experience of joy and pleasure itself? And when the ‘artificial appetites’ [Marx] and desires created by bourgeois relations lose their grip on human relations? When the commodification of our desires and pleasures ends? These alien, reified and idealised ‘things of thought’ in the epoch of global capital?
There is an element of truth – when specifically re-contextualised socio-historically beyond its ‘ideological form’ in Buddhism – in the identification of ‘suffering’ and ‘desire’. How suffering breeds desire and desire contains suffering latent within itself. Yet impossible to transcend this relationship under the conditions of the current epoch. But in later epochs?
The seeking of pleasure motivated by pain and the disappearance of its realisation as the re-emergence and repositing of pain in the psyche. Pleasure as the negation of ‘pain’ and, simultaneously, as its reaffirmation in its opposite form. Pleasure and pain as the mother and offspring of each other mediated by desire? The continuous re-positing and reaffirmation of pain in its negation by pleasure and vice versa. Their dialectical movement into each other. The ‘fetishisation’ of pleasure and pain as ‘things of thought’ in the current epoch of bourgeois relations? When pleasure becomes a ‘thing of thought’ (desire) does not this relation contain within itself the ‘pain’ of its non-realisation. And, moreover, the ‘pain’ of its loss after its realisation?
our desires and pleasures spring from society; we measure them, therefore, by society and not by the objects which serve for their satisfaction. Because they are of a social nature, they are of a relative nature
[Marx. Wage Labour and Capital, Marx-Engels Selected Works. Lawence and Wishart, London, 1973. p.83]
The need for consolation is only necessitated in and where human relationships are characterised by ‘loss’ and ‘suffering’. And if there is no longer any ‘loss’ or ‘suffering’, what then? If men no longer assert control and power over the lives of other men with all the coercion, threat, violence and aggression implied in such relations, how must this alter human relationships and their reflection in the psychology of people? An ‘unfettering’ of human potential in which humanity becomes free to socially develop its capacities without these hindrances, unrestricted by oppressive social relations and the fear engendered by them?
But what of the ‘fight or flight’ response inherited from our animal ancestors? This must and will be retained so it can be activated in response to real, imminent, extra-human threat to prepare people to respond to the presence of real danger in their relations with extra-human, natural conditions of life. But its presence in the social and interpersonal relationships between people will become redundant. Why? Because those relations and forms of behaviour [such as violence, abuse, aggression, threat, war, etc] which have mediated its activation in previous societies will have been transcended. With the advance of human knowledge, science and technology, even the possibilities of natural threats and disasters tend to increasingly diminish.
The psychological transformation of people starts to take place in the transitional period as capital is being progressively dislodged from the social metabolism. This is the coming-into-being of the higher communal individual, the ‘social individual’, the individual of the global ‘realm of freedom’. The realm where both private and state forms of property have been superseded and the new communal realm has established itself irreversibly on a global basis, developing and maturing on the social ground of its own self-created foundations. This is the realm of human beings no longer touched by the psychosocial legacies, in their various forms, of bourgeois relations and untainted by the memory of their impact and effects on people. When the very notion of ownership itself vanishes (because the Earth and the creations of human activity are truly without owners), this must serve as a liberating drive in the development of the human personality.