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From a Notebook on Psychology (Part 2)

From a Notebook on Psychology (Part 2)


Marx writes of communism as the ‘solution to the riddle of history’ and as ‘knowing itself to be so’. But what does this signify for the development of the human personality in communism and for the character of interpersonal relationships? There is an incredibly rich literature for studying this and related questions. For example, see…



Human conscious awareness is fundamentally a social creation. It is not simply a biological creation although, of course, it implicates biological processes within itself. It was, at root, the need to co-operate and communicate in the labour process which gave birth to language and necessitated the rise of consciousness itself. Language and thought are inseparable aspects of the same psychological process.

The relationship between instinct and learning found in the animal primate is transformed with the rise of consciousness. Originating conscious awareness transforms animal instinct into the human unconscious. In the course of this transformation, emerging consciousness establishes itself in dynamic dialectical 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 psychic totality of the human mind or “Consciousness” as a whole. The specific relation between instinct and learning found in ancestral primates is superseded (sublated) with the rise of consciousness which gives rise to the higher relationships and content of the human psyche as a whole.

The dialectical relationship between the conscious and unconscious sides of the psyche raises the following question : can this dialectic be resolved at a higher level in which both the conscious and unconscious sides are superseded into a higher form of the human psyche? So that the conscious (as we know it) and the unconscious cease to be? Is this dialectic between the two sides becoming resolved into a higher psychic synthesis as communist life continues to evolve? The resulting psyche is neither “conscious” or “unconscious” as we know it? Hence the human psyche ceases to be characterised by this dialectic of its conscious and unconscious sides? It becomes a “return” (a negated negation) to the pre-human form of awareness but in a higher humanised form? But not, of course, a return to the purely non-conscious awareness of the pre-human primate ancestry. The conscious and the unconscious would become only superseded moments in the overall life-process of this psyche.

The conscious and the unconscious are psychic opposites. Each is what it is only by virtue of its relation to the other. The rise of conscious awareness simultaneously engenders the human unconscious and, in the course of its origination, establishes the dialectical relationship between the conscious and the unconscious.

Perhaps the psycho-historical role of the origination and evolution of the “conscious psyche” is to prepare the ground and conditions for the emergence of this higher order of the human mind in consonance with higher, different forms of behaviour and human personality as communist humanity evolves? So that this social history is itself the unfolding of the conditions that are necessary for this ‘revolution’ in the mind? In this way, by evolving along this path, this higher psyche would be the negation of that of previous eras? This movement, of course, being expressed as a tendency in the human psyche in the course of the enduring evolution of communist society.

This return (negation of negation) could not be a simple repetition i.e. humanity cannot possibly return to the mere natural mode of life of ancestral primates. This return is also, at the same time, a real advance beyond both the natural mode of life of the animal and beyond the socio-historical periods of development of pre-class and class societies and the forms of conscious awareness corresponding thereto. In the reconciliation and synthesis of the naturalness of the ‘animal awareness’ and the conscious human social awareness is formed the higher relations of the human personality of classless society.

Human consciousness evolves and takes different forms in different epochs so that different stages in its development correspond to different stages in the history of society from its origins in the natural mode of life of animal primates through to the dissolution of class societies and the consequential emergence and onward development of classless society. But within this whole development, the dialectical relationship between the relative and the absolute is expressed in the alteration of the forms of conceptual content revolving around and integral to the enduring relationship between the conscious and the unconscious. This latter relation between the conscious and the unconscious becomes subject to a relativisation as communist life evolves with the emergence of a new fundamental absolute i.e. with the transcendence of this historically absolute relationship between these two intermediating sides within the human psyche. What are the underlying social processes driving the resolution of this dialectic within the psyche? To create a higher form of the psyche? This needs to be researched. It can only lie in the altering nature of human relations when communist life has irreversibly established itself and is evolving upon its own self-created foundations; when humanity globally as a species is so far beyond the legacies of class society that even the memory of these legacies no longer ties humanity to this distant past. Its growing realisation must lie beyond the ‘realm of natural necessity’ and within the evolving ‘true realm of freedom’

The evolution of human freedom in communism does not become subjectively acknowledged as ‘freedom’ as such. Just as communist humanity does not register psychologically its own communist nature. This is, of course, a paradox of human history. For only the truly ‘unfree’ can envisage but not directly experience such a state whereas the truly free have no need to envisage it in the direct immediacy of experience of such a state of human freedom. Truly free human beings will not be and can never be conceptually aware of their own state of freedom as a social condition. A truly free human society will be free of all concepts of freedom. A truly free human being can have no concept of freedom and has no awareness of being free. This human freedom will progressively deepen and widen, of course, but this will not be experienced negatively as the negation of an ‘unfreedom’ but positively as the augmentation and intensification of the quality of the freedom of the ‘true realm’. Only the ‘unfree’ speak of freedom. A society with concepts of freedom remains divided against itself; a society divided into classes; a society based on enslavement in one form or another.

In the transition to classless society, the forms of human consciousness, human relations and behaviour corresponding to this period of transition will continue to reflect a disappearing connection to and with bourgeois society showing that society – in this revolutionary transition phase – will not have completely disentangled itself from the psychosocial legacies of bourgeois society. As long as the historical umbilical cord connecting society to such legacies of bourgeois society – and the human memory of them – has not been completely severed, then human society has not re-founded and re-developed itself as an association of free human beings. At such a stage, the legacies of the relations of bourgeois society would continue to exert their influence, binding humanity (at least psychologically) to the forms of social antagonism of the past. Accordingly, under these conditions, the thinking, feeling, behaviour and interpersonal relationships of people would continue to be conditioned by the legacies of the exploitative relations and legacies of the class society which is in the course of being transcended during this period of transition.


If humanity creates a state of affairs where, initially, basic needs are identified and realised, if people have access to work, good quality housing adequately serviced, education, medical facilities, recreation, mobility and new cultural experience, all of these and more and this access is universal for every man, woman and child worldwide and always improving and becoming better in quality, then this must create the basis for a society which is more worthy of our humanity than the present bourgeois state of affairs. A state of affairs where millions are subject to chronic unemployment and will never work again, homelessness, a street existence and destitution, lack of healthcare, social support and educational development or none at all, no facilities for human recreation, fulfillment and personal development, the weight of systematised threat and humiliation (implicit violence), coercion, oppression and exploitation. All these and more creating the epidemic of stress, fear, anxiety, depression, suicide and many different psychological problems arising from this chaotic, unplanned, pandaemonium state of affairs. The establishment of a socialist society will go a long way towards providing the unfolding conditions for the elimination of all these psychological problems because they are all rooted in the continuing rule of capital. It must serve to alter, for the good, the whole character of interpersonal relationships and forms of human behaviour which can serve to wreck and destroy people’s lives. The gnawing dissatisfaction of people with their conflicted, stress-filled and unfulfilling lives under the rule of capital…

Dissatisfaction with oneself is either dissatisfaction with oneself within the framework of a definite condition which determines the whole personality e.g. dissatisfaction with oneself as a worker, or it is moral dissatisfaction. In the first case, therefore, it is simultaneously and mainly dissatisfaction with the existing relations; in the second case – an ideological expression of these relations themselves, which does not all go beyond them, but belongs wholly to them.

[Marx. The German Ideology. Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol 5. (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1976) p. 378]

The individual ‘self’ as the ‘ensemble’ of the prevailing social relations [Marx, Theses on Feuerbach]. Even the forms of psychological self-evaluation, evaluation-of-others and personality characteristics – within which such evaluation is psychologically grounded – as intrinsic to this ‘ensemble’ and developed within these relations and ‘belonging wholly to them’.

The existence of the nuclear family articulates a division between the private and the public space in the development of children. The nuclear family as socially porous and yet existing as a Janus unit of relationships with different faces for the inside and outside. This is a barrier which individuals traverse back and forth throughout life as children, adolescents and adults. This contemporary division is itself the creation of bourgeois relations.

The life and development of the child within and outside the family make up the two sides of the conflict between its private conditions of life and its wider social conditions of life outside the family. In bourgeois society, the psychological development of the child is primarily centred in the family i.e. within the social arena where its physical and other needs are met. It is the psychosocial medium in which children form their earliest and most significant psychological attachments and dependencies. The establishment, interplay and development of these attachments and dependencies form the psychological content of the inner relationships of the nuclear family within which children’s needs are realised or not as the case may be.

The relationship between the bourgeois system of social relations and the nuclear family are ambivalent. These relations tend to necessitate, maintain and encourage the continuation of the inner relationships of the nuclear family. However, at the same time, these same conditions and relations – in the course of their development – undermine the family and even are now creating the basis for the disintegration and supersedence of the nuclear family. The relationship between the nuclear family and bourgeois social relations is contradictory, here encouraging its reproduction and now there its break down and break up.

The conflict between the ‘public’ life of the individual outside the family and the ‘private’ life within the exclusive coterie of the nuclear family is one which can only subsist under general conditions of social alienation. This separation between the ‘private’ world of the individual and the individual’s ‘public’ world and role in society is a function of the rise and evolution of private property and not something inherently human. The very notion of ‘private’ is a creation of the historical process itself.

Marx notes that there is a dichotomy in the life of each individual. He writes that…

Individuals have always proceeded from themselves but of course from themselves within their given historical conditions and relations, not from the “pure” individual in the sense of the ideologists. But in the course of historical development, and previously through the fact that within the division of labour social relations inevitably take on an independent existence, there appears a cleavage in the life of each individual, insofar as it is personal and insofar as it is determined by some branch of labour and the conditions pertaining to it.

[Marx. The German Ideology. Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol 5. (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1976) p.78]

This social ‘cleavage’ in the life of each individual is reflected in the distinctions between the public and private psychology of the individual. This psychological contrast corresponds to the ‘cleavage’ in the social being of each individual. It is a ‘cleavage’ which is expressed in the form of the psychological contrast between the public persona of the individual on the one hand (embracing occupational/professional relationships, etc) and the inner egoism of the private world of thought and feeling of the same individual on the other hand. This antagonism between the private and public sides of the human personality is a feature of human relationships in bourgeois society. The continuation of the existence of bourgeois relations serves to cultivate and perpetuate this antagonism. In so doing, it serves to fragment the personality of the individual – opposing this side or that aspect to another, etc – in his or her psychosocial relationships.

The progressive dissolution of the family in communism means and ensures that the rearing and development of children takes place on an entirely different (indeed opposite) social foundation. Children are reared within the social conditions, and through the social relationships, of the commune. This seres to resolve the conflict between the private and public sides of the life of the individual. Children become ‘the children’ of the whole commune – are reared by the whole community – as the psychosocial relationships which characterise the internal structure of the nuclear family start to disappear. Biological parents cease to have the same degree of social significance which they have for ‘their’ children reared within the monogamous nuclear family. Each child has biological parentage, naturally, but every adult becomes the social ‘parent’ (guardian) of each and every child. Hence, the traditional family-based notions of ‘parent’, ‘father’, ‘mother’, ‘brother’, ‘sister’, ‘son’ ‘daughter’, etc – which express the social relationships of the nuclear family – will vanish and be replaced by relations which express a degree of freedom impossible in bourgeois society. Child-adult relationships become transformed in the commune where biological parentage does not have or confer any special, exclusive social role upon these adults. The child is reared by the whole commune and grows to maturity without any notions of family, mother, father, brother, etc. The narrow, exclusive mode of rearing children in bourgeois society is superseded. It will signify the emergence and development of the highest possible degree of individual human freedom where children and adolescents are nurtured by the whole community. These relations will become intrinsic to the life of the commune as the individual grows to maturity.

In capitalist society…

the ability of children to develop depends on the development of their parents and that all this crippling under existing social relations has arisen historically, and in the same way can be abolished again in the course of historical development. Even naturally evolved differences within the species, such as racial differences, etc,…can and must be abolished in the course of historical development.

[Marx. The German Ideology. ibid., p. 425]

‘The ability of children to develop depends on the development of parents’. The psychology of the child is a sensitive indicator of the general character of the social relations of the epoch. The dissolution of the nuclear family is the social transformation of the development of children in the commune. Their physical and social needs are unconditionally guaranteed and attainable outside the traditional constraining bounds of the nuclear family.

The maturation of children in the commune outside the nuclear family facilitates a higher degree of personal independence than can ever exist in bourgeois society. The psychology that is associated with the possible or actual non-attainment of needs – food, shelter, clothing, etc – disappears which, further, serves to dissolve the traditional ties of the nuclear family. The psychosocial relationships of the nuclear family – which grow out of the necessity to satisfy human needs under the conditions of exploitation of bourgeois society – become historically unnecessary and gradually disappear in the transition to and onward evolution of classless society. The individual that replaces the individual of the nuclear family is the ‘social individual’ who is a fully integrated and active part of the life process of the commune itself. It is only within the commune that each individual has….

the means of cultivating his gifts in all directions; hence personal freedom becomes possible only within the community. In previous substitutes for the community, in the state, etc, personal freedom has existed only for the individuals who developed under the conditions of the ruling class, and only insofar as they were individuals of this class. The illusory community in which individuals have up till now combined always took on an independent existence in relation to them, and since it was the combination of one class over against another, it was at the same time for the oppressed class not only a completely illusory community, but a new fetter as well. In the real community the individuals obtain their freedom in and through their association.

[Marx. The German Ideology, ibid., p.78]


Private property and the psychology corresponding to its existence.

The very notion of property itself must disappear with the negation of private ownership and the emergence and onward development of social relations based upon common ownership. The deep and profound significance of such a development for the human personality is obvious.

From the standpoint of a higher economic form of society, private ownership of the globe by single individuals will appear quite as absurd as private ownership of one man by another.

[Marx. Capital, Vol 3. Lawrence and Wishart, 1974, p.776]

Those personality characteristics which are intrinsically associated with the rule of private property – e.g. greed, acquisitiveness, possessiveness, etc – must and will disappear. Human relationships become free of their psychological effects.

Shaun May

December 2014




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On the Human Psyche as a Synthesis of the Social and the Biological

On the Human Psyche as a Synthesis of the Social and the Biological

Consciousness is not simply a passive reflection of social relations but is a most active element in the development of these relations. Vygotsky remarks that…

Any function in the child’s cultural development appears on the stage twice, on two planes, first on the social plane and then on the psychological; first between people as an interpsychological category, and then inside the child, as an intrapsychological. This applies equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory and to the formation of concepts. The actual relations between human individuals underlie all the higher functions. [1]

He proposes that the ‘inner dialogues’ of consciousness are intrapsychological transpositions of the dialogues and social interactions between individuals. These interactions become psychologically internalised in the form of ‘inner dialogues’ thereby reflecting the social structure and content of the actual relations between human individuals. Implicit in this conception is that social relationships and psychological processes mediate each other i.e. the whole process can be described by the term psychosocial. The inner dialogues of consciousness are an intrinsic part of this whole process and do not exist in separation from it but only in relation with and to it.

In the psychological internalisation of social relations, not only does consciousness arise in the individual but it also develops the ability to consciously monitor itself. In this self-relation of consciousness, that which is being monitored constitutes an organic dialectical unity with that which is monitoring: both constitute different sides of the same process of conscious thought.

This ‘monitor’ is an elevated function of conscious awareness. In this self-monitoring capacity of consciousness, humans possess the ability to reflect upon the process and progress of their own inner thought content. The individual becomes aware of his or her own thinking and feeling, involving the ability of humans to reflect upon the conceptual content and development of their own thoughts and feelings. This self-monitoring activity of consciousness constitutes what might be referred to as the internal eye of consciousness itself whose operation mediates the internal dialogues of consciousness.  This internal eye is the means by and through which consciousness monitors itself; consciousness elevating itself into its reflective mode whilst remaining itself in this monitoring ‘otherness’.  Hegel had this process of reflection in mind when he postulated that….

Mind, in spite of its simplicity, is distinguished within itself; for the ‘I’ sets itself over against itself, makes itself its own object and returns from difference…….. into unity with itself [2]

On a psychological plane, the origination and historical development of humanity is the enduring, unfolding process of an aware yet non-conscious natural being (the pre-human, animal primate ancestor) becoming a conscious social being, conscious of Nature and of itself (self-consciousness) as being in and a part of Nature.

Thought consciously monitoring the unfolding of its own conceptual content is an exclusive property of the human mind not found in animals or in higher primates. Animals are aware, are sentient, but ‘non-conscious’ natural beings and do not possess this capacity to reflect. For example, when an animal encounters its image in a mirror it merely sees, if at all, 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’ (ego) is a function of the reflective capacities of conscious beings.  Consciousness itself, as distinguished from the simple, non-conscious awareness of animals, is a specifically human form of awareness embracing and incorporating within itself an awareness of the ‘self’ involving the capacity to reflect.

The mind functions as a singularity. Each aspect does not operate in isolation from the others but only in unity with and relation to the others. Each side or aspect is only distinct and has its own particular functioning in its connection and relationship to the movement of the mind as a whole. Thus Hegel remarks that….

our own sense of the mind’s living unity naturally protests against any attempt to break it up into different faculties, forces or, what comes to the same thing, activities conceived as independent of each other [3]

We can recognise this when we consider the relationship between thinking and feeling. They constitute different sides of one single psychological relation. Thinking is both a conceptual source of feeling and a medium for its articulation and expression. Specific forms of thinking are related to specific emotions. The conceptual content, meaning and mode of thinking conditions the emotional life of the individual.  The origination and socio-historical development of consciousness brings with it all those emotions which are specifically human.

Therefore, thought and emotion, in their dialectical relation, mutually condition and determine each other and, in so doing, are simultaneously self-determining. They are, in their relation with each other, both simultaneously determining each other and self-determining. Thought becomes expressed in emotion whilst thought, in its movement, simultaneously expresses the emotions which it has itself engendered. The movement of this contradiction is continuously passing into new forms in the unfolding of the psychological processes in each individual.

The resolution of one form of contradiction between thought and emotion is, at the same time, the positing of a new contradiction between them which then develops towards its resolution. The relationships of human society are the ultimate source of these contradictions in the psyche which only possesses a certain degree of autonomy in so far as it is engendered and exists in relation to these established social relations. This does not deny, of course, that psychological processes are simultaneously a product of the human brain itself. But they are its social product.

In the process of thinking itself, an identity exists between thought as a socio-historical phenomenon and thought as a neurophysiological phenomenon. Thought as a socio-historical phenomenon (conceptual content) is, however, simultaneously distinct from the neurophysiology of the brain. It is a socio-historical product of the neurophysiology of the brain and therefore must become constituted in an identity relation with it.  This paradox of the human mind makes it a product of both the socio-historical and the neurological and therefore a synthesis of both. It constitutes a qualitatively distinct, human form or mode of existence. It incorporates within its development both the social and the biological whilst sublating and synthesising them into the psychological.

The conceptual content of human thought is socio-historical in origin. But thought is also a product of the neurological movement of matter in the brain. The neurophysiology of thinking links its animating conceptual content to the general physiology of the human body as a whole. This becomes manifest in the effects of emotional states on human physiology.

Neurologically, the brain is linked to the rest of the body through the nervous system, the cardio-vascular system and the endocrine system which is regulated and controlled by hormonal systems. The linkage between neurological processes and the general physiology of the body as a whole forms the material basis through which psychological states can alter the physiological state of the body. For example, studies in the area of psychoneuroimmunology has demonstrated the effects of mental states on the human immune system. In this relatively recent medical area of psychoneuroimmunology, the source of such modulations in physiology (for example, reduced blood counts of leucocytes) can be traced to the formation of mental states animated by specific forms of the conceptual content of thought and thus, implicitly involving the character of social relations conditioning the life of the individual. Scientists working in this area have shown, for example, a connection between anxiety levels and lowered resistance to infection as a result of the anxiety-mediated depletion of white blood cells.

The prevailing character of established social relations conditions the mental states and emotional life of human beings and, in so doing, contributes to the physiological modulations and state of the human body itself. Human thought – whilst being a social product of the brain – is simultaneously a neurological process which can, as a consequence of this relation between the social and the neurological, mediate and modulate the physiological state of the human body. Without an acknowledgement of this fundamental proposition, the scientific investigation of the impact of social relations on human physiology would possess no rational foundation and could not be conducted. Likewise, the study of the effects of psychotropic drugs on human perception, which is conceptually mediated, demonstrates – or must imply at least – that there is a connecting physiological mediation between neurological states of the brain and states of consciousness.

Specific forms of thinking are intrinsically related to certain emotional states which engender corresponding neurological states in the brain. These neurological states along with endocrinological responses to these states can then activate physiological changes in the body as a whole.  All these interrelated processes are monitored and regulated by the brain via the nervous system.  Out of the different forms of thought derive the specifically different human emotions.

The implication here is that a continuously changing conceptual content of the thinking processes in the individual is continuously altering – no matter how subtlely, discretely or indiscernably – the physiological state of the nervous system as expressed and registered subjectively in the alteration of feeling states or emotions. The individual subjectively registers these states as ‘feeling’. The socio-historical basis of the existence of conceptually-mediated feeling is revealed in the connection between the character of the dominant social relations, on the one hand, and the character of the individual’s relationships with others, on the other, during any given phase in the evolutionary history of society. The mind reflects the character of the prevailing social relations and human feeling expresses their general character in the life of the mind as registered subjectively in the life of the individual.

How does thinking influence mood and how is this, in its turn, capable of modulating the physiological state itself, of the CNS and human body? Must there not be some form of neurological mediation between thinking and altered states of mood and physiology? Thinking itself must have neurological correlates for this to happen. If my mood alters as a result of thinking about, .e.g., an emotionally “painful” experience, and this starts to make me feel anxious or depressed then there has to be a real neurological mediation in operation. Do not states of mood or “feeling” have to be neurologically correlated in order to be subjectively registered? In this way, does not the actual conceptual content of thinking processes actually influence, mediatively, “matter”, i.e. living matter. We cannot think without the active neurology of the brain and yet thinking itself – being linked to or associated/correlated with this neurology – must be capable of influencing this neurology. In other words, there is a dialectical relationship between neurology and psychology in operation which does not, at the same time, deny the essentially social character of the conceptual content of consciousness. This, to me, seems like an adequate synthesis of the social and the neurological as expressed in the psychological.

We can also recognise this relationship between the social and the emotional in the arts. For example, consider the capacity of music to evoke certain emotions and thoughts. The tentative question I would like to pose : does music evoke specific emotions because the experience of listening to a piece of music reproduces neurological states in the brain that are usually associated with the emotion or ‘mood’ which the piece of music is conveying?  For example, a melancholic symphony can engender neurological states which are associated with the emotion of sadness or despair. Human emotions and ‘mood’ become associated with corresponding neurological states. And these moods and emotions can be conceptually-mediated.

Psychologically, thinking and emotion intermediate each other’s movement and this dialectical process, in itself, can serve to alter and modulate mental states which actually affect the physiology of the human body. This is most apparent in the human response to threat or danger. The biochemical systems that are active in fear are necessary for human survival. They are evolutionary legacies of our animal ancestors stretching back millions of years. However, the overactivity of these mechanisms can exert detrimental physiological effects which serve to encourage the onset of, and aggravate existing, medical conditions and diseases. Hence existent social relations which are a real source of stress, anxiety and fear detrimentally affect the physiological functions of the human body.

Attempts to alter individual perceptions of these social relations does not, in itself, change their real existential character as stress-producing and illness-producing social relations. It merely acknowledges their real existence independently of the individual who is him/herself a product of these same social relations. This is why to alter the fundamental character of humanity it is the character of these social relations which must be revolutionised.

Herein lies the basic flaw and limitation  –  the Achilles Heel  –  of all forms of psychotherapy which may present in secular form but are essentially theological in their methods of approach. The different schools and branches of psychotherapy arise from the same epistemological stock and are fed and watered by the same concealed theological roots. Psychotherapy locates the individual in the ‘ideological form’ (Marx) and espouses and practices an alteration of thinking about self and others in order to transcend the psychological effects of social relations. This approach is, implicitly, a negative recognition of the real character of social relations rather than an effective attempt to transcend them in practice.

The collectively-practiced, psychotherapeutic precept acknowledges and asserts that it is possible for the suffering alienated human individual to transcend or, at least, resolve to the point of personal acceptance or ‘comfort’, the psychological effects of the prevailing socio-historical conditions of existence by means of shifts in consciousness or mental adjustment. It fails, in its self-preoccupation, to see the proverbial ‘wood for the trees’ in that any such shift or adjustment to a supposedly more ‘comforting’ or ‘enlightened’ state is, in this apparent negation, merely a reaffirmation of those historical conditions which form the individual and through which he or she actively lives life replete with problems and contradictions in the age of the reign of global capital. All psychotherapy therefore, whatever its character, is both an expression and implicit acknowlegement that alienation and estrangement continues to prevail in social relations and that a psychotherapeutic sticking plaster is utterly and completely inadequate for patching up the wounds which these relations daily inflict on the lives of human individuals. The psychotherapist is, usually unconsciously, the latter-day priest of the secularised mind.

Those biological mechanisms (mediated by the animal’s acquired learning and awareness of its surroundings) which enabled the animal ancestors of humans to respond to the immediate danger of threat became incorporated into the human organism in the course of its origination. In the life of ancestral primates, they were necessary in order to prime them to respond accordingly in threatening situations. The activation of such responses in situations of real imminent danger is therefore a necessary survival mechanism in the primate and hominoid ancestors of humanity. Implicitly, as long as the violent and aggressive character of human relations continues to exist, the operation of this incorporated survival mechanism will also continue to be expressed in the violence and aggression of these social relationships.

In the actual operation of this mechanism, where an immediate response is necessitated to imminent danger or threat, the processing of incoming stimuli by means of reflection would tend to hinder the survival of the individual in the face of such threat because it would require time to think and hence disadvantage the individual in responding to threat.Those biological mechanisms in ancestral primates which are mobilised in threatening situations are those which have become sublatively incorporated into the human mind as it originated and are active in anxiety and fear in humans.

However, we must also consider the proposition that with the historical emergence of humanity as a distinct species, the so-called ‘fight or flight’ response found in ancestral primates also became integrated with – and subject to activation by – the mere movement of the conceptual content of the human mind itself, even in the absence of any real, immediate threat. This relation, for example, is operative in the different forms of anxiety. This specifically human form of the activation of this response (anxiety) is distinguished from the fear of the animal as a response to direct threat from predators, etc. Anxiety itself is a social property of the human psyche; a function of social relations at a particular stage in their historical development. Even in its ‘autonomy’, mind is, therefore, essentially a social creation and is the finest, most perfect, mirror of history, arising and evolving as a product and function of it.

The fear in the animal in Nature is always a response to real or possible threat based on the immediacy of its conditions of its life, arising out of its direct awareness of the immediacy of its environmental situation. But the experience and psychological internalisation of violent, oppressive and exploitative social relations both helps to form and condition the conceptual content of the mind at any given point in the historical development of society.

The general character of social relations constitutes the basis upon and within which the human personality is formed and develops. Where such relations are mediated by malevolent forms of social control, violence and aggression, oppression and exploitation, the psychological corollary of these relations is inevitably a human personality characterised by fear and anxiety. These attributes accordingly come to arise in and mediate interpersonal relationships under such conditions. This is the characterisation of human individuality as the ensemble of social relations (Marx) in that..

human beings become individuals only through the process of history [4]

Each human being individually expresses the essential and universal characteristics of the historically dominant social relations of the period.  Each individual typifies the prevailing social relations and, in this sense, is a representation of the universal character of those relations. However, each unique individual expresses, in a particular way, the general character of humanity at a definite stage in its socio-historical development. These ‘particular ways’ – which give the individual uniqueness – are an outcome of the conditions and relationships of the individual’s personal history. These ‘conditions and relationships’ are an intrinsic part of the ‘life’ of society as a whole. Accordingly, individual human behaviour expresses the nature of social relations.

The individual is always, to a certain degree, self-directing, but only within the parameters and direction of the wider current of development of a given society. Thus, whilst the individual is self-directing, he or she remains a social creation in their self-direction and is accordingly both ‘directed’ and conditioned as such in their ‘self-directedness’. Freely-willed human behaviour is always determined, always conditioned. Individual behaviour always takes place within the historical context, conditions and parameters of society as a whole.


[1] Vygotsky, L.S. Development of Higher Mental Functions.  Psychological Research in the U.S.S.R. (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1966) pp.44-45.

[2] Hegel.  Philosophy of Mind. (Clarendon, Oxford, 1971) Zusatze, p.11.

[3] Hegel.  Ibid. p.4.

[4] Marx. Grundrisse : Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy. (Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1993)p.496. Notebook V.

Shaun May

revised June 2014





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