The intensive and extensive interest in psychology is too vast to characterize; it includes those who seek relief from a malaise with society as well as disenchanted radicals who seek an alternative to the impoverishment of past political praxis; and this only begins the list. The very size and diversity of the list, however, if it resists characterization, promotes one conclusion: psychology is not a passing fad on the fringes of society; rather it is deeply entangled in the social reality. For this reason any study of psychology must simultaneously study the society and culture of which it is a part. The shift in social attention towards psychology is no accident, it testifies to a shift in the social structure itself. In baldest terms, the individual psyche commands attention exactly because it is undergoing fragmentation and petrification; the living substance known as the individual is hardening. The autonomous ego—always problematic—proves to be no match for the social collectivity which has at its call alternatively brute force, jobs, television, or the local newspaper. This is no conspiracy; rather it is ingrained in the social relations which both nourish and poison human relations. What haunts
Within psychology new theories and therapies replace old ones at an accelerating rate. In a dynamic society Freud is too old to be a fashion, too new to be a classic. The phenomenon of the newer replacing the new is not confined to psychology; it is true in all realms of thought. The new not only surpasses the old, but displaces and dislodges it. The ability as well as the desire to remember atrophies. Most of the social sciences turn radically ahistorical; one hardly studies Hegel within philosophy, Freud within psychology, Marx within economics, and so on.
To those who accept the premise of a dynamic society, this is proof of progress and vitality. The truth of such a premise, however, is in doubt. Dynamism can be perpetual motion without movement. In question is whether within the dynamism there does not inhere a static moment: the structure of society. The evident acceleration of production and consumption in the economic sphere, and hysteria and frenzy in life itself, does not preclude that it is the same spinning faster and faster. If this is true, the application of planned obsolescence to thought itself has the same merit as its application to consumer goods;the new is not only shoddier than the old, it fuels an obsolete social system that staves off its replacement by manufacturing the illusion it is perpetually new.
The American new left has not been untouched by subjective reductionism. The very effort to think through and back which in different forms belongs to the best of Marxist and psychoanalytic theory is undermined by a crisis of the individual that can only think about itself. Evidence of this is everywhere: on the left as well as in revisionist and conformist psychology. This crisis is no fraud; the chill of the social relations cuts into the core of the individual. The effort to keep psychically warm, to alleviate the coldness that seeps in, shunts aside any time or need for sustained thought or theory. Yet because the left is a left it retains a social analysis of society. The very problem, however, is that this analysis degenerates more and more into slogans, thoughtless finds of the moment. Fetishized subjectivity attracts magnetically fetishized slogans that serve more to sort out ones friends and enemies than figure out the structure of reality. This is a dynamic that keeps bourgeois society rattling along; the very breathing space that could give life to theory is lost in the desperate search for life itself. This search without theory mimics death: reified activity. It grooves along in the ruts of bourgeois society.
The defence of theory, however, if not boring, is suspect: it serves no purpose. Citations from Lenin on the importance of revolutionary theory for a revolutionary movement as a response to this change are insufficient. Rather theory if it is to become a force must comprehend why it is not; it is obliged to study not only a left that has junked theory, but a ‘counter-culture’—and culture—that has phased out books and words for images and feelings. Talk of a revolutionary
The duplications, as with other psychological and social thoughts, take the form of forgetting. This renders discussion of trends in the left doubly irrelevant; not only is such a discussion distant from the immediate needs of the individual, but it is obsolete, discussing political thought and slogans that have already been discarded and forgotten; so rapidly does the left change today. Evidently this is already part of the problem; attending to the emergency of the individual has absorbed sustained political theory; the slogans that replace theory shift with the moment. The shifts are not done through choice and thought, but ‘automatically’, thoughtlessly and unconsciously. If the latest political opinions are improvements over former ones, they have not surpassed, but more or less forgotten them. They pass as they arose, uncritically—and promise to return. Thinking falls under the spell of fashion: change without change. If ideas such as ‘smash monogamy’ are not promoted in certain circles with the same vigour as previously, this does not mean they have been subject to criticism and transcended, but simply dropped, to be elsewhere and later recycled and re-used. Inasmuch as this discarding and forgetting appears as a continual or at least continuing process, an examination of slogans and thoughts, even if they are obsolete—which is by no means clear—may indicate the forces that are hardly obsolete; they are as vital as bourgeois society.
Again to be repeated; this analysis is not intended to equate development within the left proper with those outside it, as if the two cancelled each other out, confirming the wisdom that it is best to do nothing. That a left and a non-left participate in the same drive towards subjectivity is only proof of the virulence of bourgeois society, not of the meaning-lessness of political distinctions. Further, it need hardly be said, the left itself is more and more fragmented; these thoughts are concerned with trends, which tend to exert themselves, but are obviously not evident everywhere; such an analysis does not claim universal validity. Also it should be noted, it is impossible to discuss the left without drawing material from the women’s movement, weathermen, etc. It would violate the very spirit and intent to read this as an indictment of specific groups. At best one could say certain groups express with greater clarity trends that are present everywhere. But nothing more; neither that such developments are restricted to particular groups, or more outrageously, that these groups brought them about. Here, as elsewhere, what is in question is society as a whole.