In our post On Neurosis[i] we looked at how neurosis seeps into the very fabric of society and how the System itself encourages the illusionary reality of the neurotic. But, to what extent is our Civilisation itself neurotic?
At the macro-psychological level, we live in an economic system driven by neurotic pride and fear. Vindictive triumph runs rich in the veins of the brutally competitive, consumer-driven system. If we look at Horney’s thesis on neurosis as vindictive triumph, neurosis is described as “a regular ingredient in the search for glory.” A system that advocates competitiveness as a virtue would, therefore, contain neurotic elements. Horney also warns that “If it is the dominant motivating force in life, it sets going a vicious circle that is most difficult to disentangle. The determination then to rise above others in every possible way is so gigantic that it reinforces the whole need for glory, and with that the neurotic pride.”[ii] Hence, the virtue of striving to be an achiever contains a neurotic pathology that must make the system itself questionable.
Yet, it is not all capitalism’s fault: the vicious circle that Horney mentions has been running incessantly through the entire anti-human historical process since the dawn of civilisation.
Neurosis, or at least neurosis according to Horney’s definition[iii], is a loss of authenticity. The neurotic individual becomes so lost in the ‘shoulds’ of society that he or she loses touch with her own authentic wants and needs. Likewise, the neurotic system itself has lost sense of its primary human condition and has drowned itself in a sea of non-authentic identities based on separation: identities that create vindictive pride, and are reinforced as identities by that same vindictive pride.
But, like the neurotic, the vindictive pride that motivates the system is twisted by its authentic self; in the macro-psychological self, by humanity. Humanity is also behind the man-made system, but more as an omnipresent stranger than as a recognisable member of the system itself. Humanity is more like a spectre, haunting our System-run lives, than any real motivator of them. Nevertheless, it is omnipresently critical, working like a subconscious superego that gnaws at us and makes us feel fraudulent, unsatisfied, or even displaced in the societies we live in.
As an anti-human creation, the System suffers from a massive, ingrained inauthenticity, which in turn has a retarding effect on the System’s own desires for progress. No matter how hard it tries to push forward, it keeps circling around within itself. Without an ability to embrace its authenticity, the System is doomed to crash into the problem of self-hate. Civilisation itself is torn by a deep rift of conflict between its despised, authentic self (its humanity) and its idealised creation of itself (personified in its many different forms of identities).
Civilisation’s condition is as Horney said of the neurotic: “there is a war on. And this is the essential character of every neurotic: he is at war with himself.”[iv] Every war throughout human history has been Civilisation’s neurotic battle with itself.
[ii] K. Horney, Neurosis and Human Growth, p. 104.
[iv] Ibid, p. 112