Power, the Panopticon, the Crowd, and the Gaze – Part 1

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‘When you give up your privacy, your give up your power’ – Thor Benson

Foucault (1975) describes the panopticon as a particular type of prison within which lies a central observation tower. This tower is surrounded by cells that are, or could be, under constant scrutiny from the vantage point of the central tower, and as the observer is never visible to the observed, the mere knowledge that they could be observed and their behaviour surveilled, results in adjustments of behaviour that align with the understood expectations of the party to which the observed are subject.

Foucault’s panopticon is made manifest within contemporary society in various ways such as through the presence of CCTV surveillance, the monitoring of on-line activity, the monitoring of phone calls, messages etc. And yet it is most evident and operates most powerfully, in the form of observation through the eyes of each and every citizen who has internalised that society’s prevalent norms; an increasingly atomised society that is structured in such a way as to engender a loyalty towards those in power that exceeds any loyalty towards one’s fellow citizens. In this sense, and particularly in Western society today, the panopticon is a pervasive presence.

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This web of observation and scrutiny from the collective other – an other acting as a programmed and efficient ensemble panopticon – leads to widespread compliance in line with those thoughts, attitudes, and behaviours that have been deemed acceptable within the society in question. Thus, the ensemble panopticon, in turning its gaze upon its own constituent parts, observes itself. That its gaze is, or could be, focused on all parts is provision enough to bring about widespread behavioural compliance in line with the expectations of those in power.

The rule of law combined with the threat of punishment serve to underpin and give teeth to the successful operation of the panopticon in its broader sense. The optic element itself is achieved through the recruitment from birth of every citizen, and the engendering within them of a willingness to give over their eyes for the purposes of the panopticon. In so doing, the interests of those responsible for its establishment are then served.

However, the question arises as to why certain behaviours are established as norms and others are not, as well as the question as to whose interests are best served within such an arrangement, and what particular form such interests take?

Furthermore, why do so-called free citizens willingly give over their bodies, their minds, and their energies to the machinery of a powerful third party, especially where there exists neither overt compulsion nor threat to do so? And why do so many individuals willingly subsume themselves within the collective – into the panoptical crowd – when to do so is detrimental both to their own and to their peers’ best interests?

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Clarity on these matters is perhaps achieved by giving consideration to the crowd as entity. The individuals constituting a crowd have chosen to set aside certain identifiers of their uniqueness so as to forge a belonging within that collective. One key way in which the crowd preserves itself is achieved by ridding from its midst those elements of individuality that pose a threat to its cohesion. The individual whose uniqueness weakens the unity of the crowd must therefore either drive from himself those characteristics deemed to be undesirable, or else suffer being driven from the crowd and into social isolation.

Thus, the crowd acts as a distinct and discrete organism in possession of specific and particular impulses and drives. However, it is also observable that the crowd operates at a level that is more base than its constituent parts. The crowd, as an amalgam of individuals, fails to raise those individuals to a higher moral and intellectual state and, instead, diminishes the collective to its lowest common denominator, that is, to an animal state. The condition of the crowd, then, is animal, composed of compromised higher level individuations of humanity.

Since the crowd requires en-mass deindividuation in order to cohere, its behaviours are characteristically disinhibited as a result of the compelled stripping away of those elements that make its constituent individual members unique. Thus, the question is prompted: are the features of that which makes the individual unique and identifiable, synonymous with higher level, moral behaviours? The anonymity of the individual within the crowd leads to reduced levels of accountability, and increases the likelihood that he or she will escape punishment for immoral or illegal behaviours. Thus, it is the drive by the crowd towards deindividuation, in combination with the anonymity that the crowd provides, that brings about the threat, or indeed the actuality, of violence, chaos, destruction, and anarchy.

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From here, an additional question arises as to how the true expression of humanity can best be determined? Is the concept of humanity most truly expressed in the morally superior held-to-account individual, or is it, instead, found at the base level of the anonymous, disinhibited crowd acting as a single destructive organ? Or, again, is the complete picture one of greater complexity, one in which the destructive behaviours of those individuals possessing a propensity towards evil are kept in check via the day-to-day accountability that arises out of those individuals being uniquely identifiable, but which find their full expression within the anonymity afforded by the crowd? To come to such a conclusion is to accept that most members of a society are capable of evil since, it is argued, most individuals will embrace the norms and behaviours of the crowd whenever it is in their own interests to do so.

Since the crowd provides concealment for, and strips away accountability and inhibition from, its individuated members, the internet provides an ideal context for the expression of the crowd, where a coming together in the form of the virtual mob can occur. In many contexts the virtual mob has replaced the mob on the street as the principle expression of the crowd within contemporary Westernised society.

The crowd, acting out of a base drive, is capable of retaining a unity of purpose, along with a unity within that purpose. In order to maintain its integrity, the individuals within a crowd must each tap into the same pool of common beliefs, drives, and assumptions which are, at best, only poorly articulated and seldom questioned but which are, nonetheless, known and understood within the collective. But from where does such a pool originate?

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It is argued that the contents of such a pool are the expression of the core values and beliefs that form the very bedrock upon which a given society is constructed, and that those in possession of the resources necessary to fill it are, therefore, those responsible for establishing that society’s cultural, social, and religious agenda (religion here being defined as a set of beliefs and norms that interact both with the world, and with humanity’s place within it). Those same resources will be put to work to ensure that a uniform and comprehensive indoctrination programme, based upon those values and beliefs, is implemented across that entire society, being achieved covertly through the saturation of all channels of communication, education, and cultural expression. Such an approach is a proven and effective mode of societal manipulation (aka. cultural hegemony), and has been effected in one form or another within numerous societal contexts throughout history (see Gramsci, 1971).

Thus, the typical crowd in Western society (most often taking the form of the virtual mob), expresses itself out of a set of unifying base norms arrived at, neither by chance nor from an historical continuity, but as the result of a predetermined, planned, and carefully executed policy. Individuals, subject to the same common programming and drawing from the same common pool of core beliefs, values, and assumptions, will be ill-equipped to recognise the paradigm within which their entire collective operates. Those values and norms that saturate the culture and with which that society has been indoctrinated, are inarticulated givens which, on account of remaining unexpressed, also remain unquestioned; such is the effectiveness of this approach to the engineering of a culture and of a society.

These panoptical principles are most effective when they become internalised by the citizens of a society, such that they no longer modify thoughts, words, and behaviours through the instilling of a fear of negative consequences, but rather as a product of the remoulding of that citizen’s desires, wants, and preferences. The successfully programmed citizen will have developed the desire to do those things that serve the interests of those in power. He is, however, neither capable of recognising that this programming has occurred, nor that its key messages are continually being reinforced through that society’s cultural and educational channels.

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Yet, the self-protective behaviours of the crowd, enacted through the meticulous elimination of elements that threaten its unity, illustrate its true fragility. This inherent instability, in combination with the time-based nature of the crowd as an ebbing and flowing accretion of individuals unified for a short time period over a particular purpose, means that the crowd must be aggressive in its self-preservation. The crowd is instilled with an innate awareness of its mortality, an awareness expressed in behaviours that belie a primal and intuitive instinct for survival.

The power of the crowd lies principally in its all-encompassing animal nature, a nature driven both by its purpose and by its aggressive drive for self-preservation. This influence has the effect both of merging those individuals who have subsumed their full selves to the will, nature, and purpose of the crowd, and of drawing in those occupying the peripheral spaces. The compliance to the will of the crowd of this peripheral sub-group will primarily be achieved through fear, namely a fear of the threat of reprisals from the crowd. Such a fear is founded, not primarily upon the threat of violence, but upon the threat of shame and of social isolation. Thus, individuals on the periphery will suppress the expression of any views that run counter to the core schema of the crowd and, in this sense, the reach and influence of the crowd extends well beyond that of the mere physical space that it occupies.

 

Foucault, M (1977), Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Allen Lane

Hoare, Q. and Nowell Smith, G. eds. (1971), Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci (1926-1937), International Publishers

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Power and Touch

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“Humans get distracted when we see and touch something” – Dinesh Paliwal

Physical contact or touch between two people is both the extension and the fulfilment of that which is implicit in the gaze and even more so of that which is implicit in the voice (see upcoming blog posts on both of these topics).

The ultimate potentiality contained within the touch of another and the bridging of a boundary of space between two separate bodies will always take on one of two forms, the tendency towards:

  • Birth – nurture / a return to the womb
  • Death – annihilation

The full set of possibilities stretched out across the spectra associated with each of these two potentialities is contained within any form of interpersonal physical contact. Where the nature of such contact is ambiguous i.e. it is unclear in the moment as to which of these spectra the contact in question belongs, power dynamics will more readily come into play and can be most effectively leveraged, principally by the initiator of that physical contact.

Being touched will elicit one of three responses on the part of the recipient, namely:

  • Supplication
  • Aggression
  • Comfort (which may or may not be accompanied by arousal)

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Certain forms of interpersonal physical contact must be contextually interpreted such as a pat on the back, a kiss on the cheek, or the placing of one individual’s hand on top of another’s. A pat on the back can communicate friendship and equality however, given that it essentially involves the pushing of one person by another into a physically lower position, it can also be legitimately interpreted as an attempt to utilise physicality for the purposes of demonstrating social superiority.

Since a handshake involves the mutual engagement of the same body part between two people, and given that the distinction between initiator and non-initiator is typically less overt in such circumstances, the handshake tends to symbolise mutual trust and respect. Nonetheless, it is not unusual for one party to grasp the hand of the other more tightly or, indeed, with both hands, providing another example of physical intimidation (imbued with the underlying and ultimate threat of annihilation) being used to communicate superiority. Thus, the recipient of this type of handshake will respond either with supplication or aggression, depending upon the perceived status of the other party and the resources over which they exercise possession and/or control1.

Touching as a means of merging

Touch and physical contact is a fundamental way in which individuals relate to objects, especially those objects that are owned or coveted. It is normal to grasp and to hold a desired object, enclosing it within a part of the body in an effort to fuse it with the body and to fuse the body with it. This is done whenever ingestion of the object is unsafe, inappropriate, or physically impossible, i.e. because the object is too large. The eating and ingestion of an object is not merely an attempt to make that object a part of the body, but also reflects an attempt to bring that object as close as possible to the very core of the individual’s being in order to achieve a merging between object and individual. Food is an object which, when ingested, literally becomes a part of the body and in this sense achieves a closeness with an individual’s core being that is almost unsurpassed. It is for this reason that the act of sharing a meal is considered something of an intimate act across both cultures and time periods; an act that communicates mutual trust but also one that can lend itself to erotic connotations.

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In a romantic context two individuals hold hands in an attempt to enclose, or cathex, the other through the use of a part of the body. Kissing represents, through physical ingestion, another attempt to enclose and to fuse with the desired other at the level of the core being. The ultimate expression of all efforts to enclose the other in a physical way is sexual intercourse which for the woman involves ingesting, in one sense, the very essence of the man while, for the man, involves the placing of a part of himself inside another person. Both are expressions of the choice to subsume oneself and, thus, to merge and to lose one’s identity within the personhood of another. It should also be noted that the momentary but complete loss of identity at the point of sexual climax, the essential form of touch, is highly regressive in nature – an ultimate return to the womb.

The male preference for placing himself inside the object of his desire extends beyond the romantic relationship and can be observed in the way in which he relates to certain desired objects. For example, a man will place himself inside a sports car or into the midst of a crowd of sports fans; his identity becoming that of the car, or becoming voluntarily subsumed within the collective identity of the crowd.

The scarce and greatly desired resources of sexual gratification and nurture will often become a means of leverage within the context of an ongoing relationship, allowing one individual to control the behaviour of the other in return for access to that very specific desired form of touch. The transactional reality of such an arrangement will rarely be expressed openly, however both parties will have an implicit understanding of the nature of the situation as it becomes the default dynamic of the intimate side of their relationship.

The touch of complete resource provision

Chapter 8 of the Gospel of Matthew opens with the account of Jesus healing a man with leprosy. Here Jesus not only imparts with a touch the desired scarce resource of physical wholeness and wellbeing but also, in the act of touching the man – a social outcast on account of his disease – bestows upon Him spiritual cleansing, familial restoration, social reintegration, and the dignity and financial provisioning that comes with the capacity to work once more. Additionally, the very act of touching the man was of significance since Jesus, had He so chosen, could have healed the leper without touching him at all (see Matthew 8:8 ref. the power of the voice). Jesus’ reputation was already well established among the people and, while many took Him to be a prophet, some dared to believe that He was the promised Saviour of the Jewish people. Therefore, for Jesus to touch the leper not only imparted upon him manifold scarce desired spiritual, physical, material and social resources but also, in many onlookers’ eyes, elevated him to a place of greater standing than he had occupied even before he was afflicted with the disease. There is, thus, an evident comprehensiveness of power and resource-provision wrapped up in this single touch from the hand of Jesus.

The body as the subject of power

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The body is the principal subject of and conduit through which, the will of the other is translated from command into physical reality; the body being the means by which word becomes deed.

The Classical relationship between a soldier and his commanding officers, and “…the body as (an) object and target of power…” serves to illustrate this dynamic (Foucault, 1975). Within this context the body of another “…may be subjected, used, transformed, and improved…” by the more powerful party in order to achieve a particular set of desired objectives. Here bodies are programmed, firstly to be docile, secondly to be useful (that is, healthy), and thirdly to respond to specific commands in specific ways. The body becomes the vessel through which the more powerful party exerts its will while also becoming the very emblem and demonstrable expression of that power relationship.

The occupier (but no longer the owner) of the body in question is the subject of this programming endeavour. Such programming is most effective, not only when compliance with the will of the more powerful party is achieved, either through resource-based incentivising or where necessary, the instilling of fear, but also where the programming itself is the means by which subjects are instructed, albeit covertly, upon which particular incentives are to be found most desirable. It is no accident that these incentives will typically align with the resource-capabilities of the party in power, along with its particular aims and objectives relating to scarce-resource accumulation and power consolidation.

Foucault, M. (1975), Discipline and Punish, Allen Lane, pp. 136

  1. The table below lists the main forms of interpersonal touch (some of which make use of an intermediate object), the potentiality towards which each form of touch has a tendency, and the response that is typically elicited on the part of the recipient of that touch. A comprehensive analysis could certainly be written about each of the entries presented in this table:
Form of Touch Tendency Towards Response
Handshake Contextual Contextual
Pat on the back Contextual Contextual
Slap Death Supplication or aggression
Punch Death Supplication of aggression
Surgery Birth Supplication
Sex Birth Comfort / Arousal
Hugging / Cuddling Birth Comfort / Arousal
Massage Birth Comfort / Arousal
Kissing Birth Comfort / Arousal
Syringe (medical) Birth Supplication
Tattoo Death Supplication
Stabbing Death Supplication or Aggression
Shooting Death Supplication or Aggression
Maiming Death Supplication or Aggression
Burning Death Supplication or Aggression
Being cleaned / toileted Birth Contextual
Being carried Birth Supplication / Comfort

Responsibility and Power

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“Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility” – Sigmund Freud

Responsibility concerns the administering of scarce resources possessed or controlled and is, therefore, an inevitable and unavoidable function of the distribution of those resources. Wherever scarce resources exist and wherever these attract legitimate claims as to their management, utilisation, and distribution, a commensurate degree of responsibility will be found. Since it emerges both as a function of the legitimate claims of those impacted by the administration of a given set of scarce resources, and the particular nature and quantity of the resources in question, responsibility is an inevitability that can neither be created nor destroyed.

A question to consider in light of this then is: what takes place when the responsibility and expectations associated with a set of scarce resources is not in fact taken on by the party in control or possession of those resources? If responsibility can be neither created nor destroyed, where does it go?

Responsibility is something that can be given, but it is also something that can be taken and, therefore, not taken. In such circumstances responsibility avoided will typically be passed on to the party most negatively impacted by the consequences of the behaviour of the party in possession or control of the scarce resources. Thus, a workplace team containing a lazy or absent colleague will end up carrying the slack that this creates, or a smoker continuing to indulge in this habit despite her awareness of the health risks and who, therefore, fails to take responsibility for this, thus passes this responsibility on to the NHS and the rest of her fellow tax-paying citizens. The mum who fails to take responsibility for the care of her child passes this responsibility on to other family members or social services (the State), or else the bank that fails to take responsibility for investing sustainably without exposing itself to undue financial risk passes this risk and the responsibility associated with it on to the government and, again, the nation’s tax-paying citizens should the bank in question be deemed to be “too big to fail”.

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It is not unreasonable to label such an approach to the administering of scarce resources possessed or controlled as infantile since a freedom from responsibility is a distinctive marker of the experience of most functional children. Its prevalence, however, explains many of society’s biggest problems at both the micro and the macro level. A society lacking either the will or the capability to hold its most powerful individuals and entities to account for both the legitimate claims made over the administration of resources possessed or controlled, and for the failure to take on the responsibilities associated with these, is a society in trouble. Undesirable consequences include an increased concentration of resources in the hands of fewer and fewer individuals and entities, an increase in the overall rate of inequality within that society, and an increased exposure to the risk of tyrannical rule. Where the dynamics are such that the power a government is able to wield over a corporation is insufficient to deter that corporation from indulging in illegal or unethical practices – whether this relates to the management and utilisation of the scarce resources it holds, or the extent to which it assumes responsibility for its behaviours and decisions – the power of that corporation exceeds that of the government in question, rendering ineffective the threat of any punishment that might be imposed1.

A similar dynamic allows certain individuals to absolve themselves of the responsibility commensurate with those scarce resources that go hand in hand with the state and status of adulthood, and that go along with the attitudes and behaviours that can be reasonably expected from a functional adult of a certain age. In the absence of sanctions providing a suitable deterrent, (whether these sanctions are economic, judicial, or social), such individuals are at liberty to assume an infantile modality – one wherein behaviours such as denial, rationalising, the reframing of reality, lying, and the blaming of others are tolerated or even encouraged by others within their social milieu. This enables such an individual to maintain a perception of themselves that, in transactional analysis terms, they dwell as an Adult amongst Adults, whereas in reality their status is that of a Child amongst Parents.

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The individual that refuses to change or to grow, who says “that’s just me, take me or leave me but I’ll never change”, is effectively seeking to force all others to modify their behaviour and, in some cases, their very selves, in order to accommodate them. In so doing they are imposing upon everyone else the responsibility for all of the behaviour modification that is a natural and mutual function of any interaction between two or more individuals. Since responsibility does not disappear it has to be taken by someone and so the engineering of circumstances, perhaps through the leveraging of key social resources such as the fear of exclusion or by tapping into the desire in others to be admired for their good nature and benevolent acts, leads to those responsibilities being taken on by others and enables that person to remain a Child.

It is a jarring incongruence to encounter an adult in possession of the resources commensurate with adult-status who assumes, instead, a level of responsibility equivalent to that of a child; the expectation of benefits associated with those resources held or controlled is retained but with the responsibilities that reasonably go along with these removed. The response of an individual to responsibility, i.e. that it is a burden that must be avoided, is directly related to the extent to which they are able to embrace the connection between resources held and the responsibilities that go with these.

Since an individual does not merely internalise an action but must internalise the motivation for that action, and given such an individual’s particular paradigm which acts in concert with the enabling, protective bubble of the environment around them, it is hardly surprising that any confrontation that threatens to shed light upon the reality of their behaviours and which threatens to burst this bubble, is typically met with a responsibility-avoidant reaction. Thus, the response to being confronted with an infantile avoidance of responsibility itself takes on an infantile form.

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In transactional analysis terms, then, the shift that occurs both at the micro and macro levels is not merely a transfer of responsibility from the more powerful party to the less powerful party, but is also a transfer of roles. The role and the characteristics associated with the Adult are transferred in the same direction as that of the responsibilities, while those associated with the Child move the opposite way.

That such a transfer is successfully achieved is itself a function of the power discrepancy between the parties in question, whether such a discrepancy is based upon the possession and control of tangible resources such as food, water or arms, or of the intangible resources typical of various social milieux such as the scarce and sought after resources of popularity, approval, or the capacity to shame.

This then prompts a further question, namely: why do certain individuals, and indeed large entities and bureaucracies, take on and remain stuck in a responsibility-avoidant Child-like state?

Besides the obvious regressive and self-serving element, it is evidence of an inability to embrace the death of that which has to die before Adult responsibilities can be taken on. It also reflects an unwillingness to give up obsolete and out-dated notions and fantasies. On this subject, Eriksson (1959) has written extensively.

It should be noted too that only very few people want true freedom, namely the sort of freedom wherein an individual is held solely to account for each and every one of the decisions and choices they make in life. This sort of freedom and the extent of the associated responsibility is too overwhelming for most people to bear and it therefore serves as a great comfort, even for those living under the supposed ‘freedom’ of democratic rule, to be surrounded by governmental institutions, monarchies, familial histories, and ‘the System’, not only as a means of support for dealing with matters that are too difficult, expensive or unpleasant for the individual to handle on their own, but also as a fall back and a focus of blame for poor choices made and the resultant unwelcome life circumstances experienced.

It is also worth remembering that the avoidance of responsibility is ultimately concerned with the avoidance of pain. To some, the prospect of this type of pain is so frightening that extreme lengths will be pursued in order to avoid it, even if the side-effects of so doing are detrimental both to themselves and to those around them.

  1. Peck (1983) explores the linkages between the tendency towards evil and the dissipation of responsibility across bureaucratic organisations. Here the non-assumption of responsibility goes even further in that it can be considered not merely a negligent behaviour that might result in adverse consequences for the less powerful party within a given context but, rather, a malignant force that actively and purposefully pursues a very specific, destructive outcome.

 

Peck, M. S. (1983), People of the Lie, Arrow

Eriksson, E. (1959), Identity and the Life Cycle, International Universities Press

Power and Boundaries

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“The future condition of the conquered power depends on the will of the conqueror” Thaddeus Stevens

A boundary defines the limit of something. It defines the location of where something is and, therefore, where it is not. Boundaries define the location of where resources exist and from where they can be obtained. Boundaries can be crossed, either with permission or without. A transgression of boundaries against the will of the owner or controller of the space defined by those boundaries may result in the loss of resources. It may also lead to damage brought about by the unauthorised breaching of the boundaries in question and result, therefore, in a further loss of associated resources.

Boundaries can help to protect scarce and valued resources, but where boundaries are absent these resources can be easily removed and loss then suffered. Such an outcome may be the consequence of the level of aggression adopted by the resource-taker who finds himself in a position to remove without challenge the resources in question, or such an outcome may occur due to a general lack of clarity as to where the resources in question begin and where they end and to whom they actually belong. In either case, and whether done knowingly or not, the transgression of a boundary usually indicates a violation.

Examples of physical boundaries include the walls and fences erected around property and land, the weak points of which such as gates, doors, and windows requiring careful guarding to prevent unwanted transgression. Another variety of a physical boundary is the skin around the body, the weak points of which (the orifices), again, being in need of careful guarding. Another type of boundary can be established around the mind and the emotions, and another type again can be placed around the resource of time. Such boundaries are most easily identified at the point at which they are transgressed, for example when someone is the subject of emotional or mental abuse, or when someone is kept waiting by someone else running late.

Good boundaries are appropriate whenever it is considered necessary to define the limits of a particular set of resources and to be able to distinguish one set of resources from another. A lack of clarity around certain boundaries can result in confusion, not only in terms of the appropriate separation between two or more distinct sets of resources, but also in terms of the appropriate separation between two or more distinct entities.

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Where there exists both opportunity and motive, a more powerful party will seek to transgress a boundary in order to obtain the scarce resources that it wants or needs. A boundary is deemed to have been crossed whenever resources are removed from another party without that party’s permission, especially where suitable recompense has not been made, i.e. a ‘fair trade’. If a boundary is insufficiently strong or is inadequately defined, an attempted transgression will be successful and control or ownership of the scarce resources in question will transfer. Furthermore, a breached boundary may remain weakened, resulting in additional subsequent transgressions and the loss of yet more resources. Besides the tangible examples that are available of such a scenario it is equally applicable in contexts of an interpersonal nature wherein the emotional and mental resources of one party come under threat from another, more powerful, party.

In what way, then, can an emotional or mental boundary best be defined? And in what way can its violation best be expressed? It is suggested here that stress and anxiety are indicators of such a boundary trespass, however, the challenge remains in formulating a definition of such an activity that is objectively robust. For example, where an individual experiences stress and anxiety as a result of a perceived emotional trespass, has a boundary violation necessarily taken place? And if, from the perspective of the de facto power-holder, resources have not been removed (perhaps due to a genuine misunderstanding of motive), where have the resources in question actually gone?

If there are indeed boundaries that serve to protect our emotional and mental well-being, of what are these boundaries actually made? And, for those individuals where such boundaries are insufficient or are indeed completely absent – perhaps because of a developmental dearth and a failure to have them modelled at a formative stage – is it possible for an individual having reached adulthood to learn how to construct the boundaries that will protect those scarce and valuable resources associated with their mental and emotional well-being?

boundary me

Indeed is it possible in this scenario for the original party to have retained possession of the emotional or mental resources in question, but simply be unable to locate them? Such a dysfunction might require outside input in the form of therapy or counselling to help the individual locate those resources that they still possess but are unable to locate. It is important to distinguish this scenario from one in which an individual has truly suffered the removal of emotional resources as a consequence of a boundary violation. This will require support that will enable them to come to terms with their grief and with the loss of emotional resources that they might never be able to replace.

While certain powerful individuals, groups, or even nations will be willing to transgress a boundary out of a desire to obtain certain resources, there are circumstances too in which the more powerful party fails to perceive that a boundary exists at all or that the resources in question do not in fact belong to them. One extreme variety of such a phenomenon occurs where the more powerful party fails even to perceive that the other party exists as an entity distinct from itself. Thus, the less powerful party and every resource within its possession or control falls unquestioningly into the possession or control of the more powerful party. Subsequent attempts to re-establish damaged or missing boundaries and to garner appropriate acknowledgment of these will fail unless it can first be established that there are in fact two distinct entities and that the more powerful party’s identification with and as the other party is an objective falsehood.

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Such a dynamic occurs, for example, when an individual fails to see another individual as distinct from itself, such as in certain parent-child relationships. Typically this will manifest in the more powerful individual taking complete possession of all resources – body, emotions, time – belonging to the other person. The inability of a parent to perceive their child’s distinctiveness as an individual, the resources that belong to that child, and the boundaries that delimit these, can lead to developmental problems for the child who, in the parent’s mind, exists simply as an extension of themselves. The point at which the child seeks to exercise its autonomy will be met with resistance from the parent and will be suppressed as though it were a part of the parent’s own mind or body that were attempting to achieve independence. Consequently the healthy mental and emotional development of the child will be compromised. A similar dynamic is observable at a macro level whereby certain groups, or even nations, are subject to suppression from a more powerful party, resulting in damage to confidence and to developmental dysfunction, i.e. the Scottish nation’s lack of self-confidence in its willingness to break away from the covert and overt suppression to which it is subject within the political union of the United Kingdom.

Such a failure on the part of a more powerful party to perceive the boundary between itself and another individual can also occur within the context of close friendships and also in marriages, wherein the healthy balance between a ‘one-flesh’ dynamic and an appropriate separateness has not been achieved and the separating power of the physical death of one spouse hastens that of the surviving other1.

The question of damage wrought as a consequence of the inappropriate treatment of boundaries between individuals differs from that which can occur between individuals in the context of groups. The individual may relinquish their boundaries willingly, or instead conformity of thought and behaviour may be compelled or even enforced by the group. This will result in the subsuming of the individual and their mental and emotional resources into the group, a concept that will be further unpacked in an upcoming blog post.

  1.  An upcoming blog post will explore the concept of power and death and will include an unpacking of the example provided here wherein physical death is an event that is merely the final act in a long and slow voluntary merging, and in which the single merged identity that crystallises is a pale imitation of the dead personhoods of the two constituent spouses.

Power, Roles, and Projective Identification

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‘Control the Options: Get others to play with the cards you deal’ – Law 31, The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

(this blog entry begins with a discussion about the way in which roles are imposed, both as a means of exercising power and of extracting scarce resources from others, before analysing a recent example where this was attempted but failed during the recent Peterson / Newman debate on Channel 4).

An individual’s life is lived out through the putting on and acting out a series of roles and frequently these roles conflict both with the individual’s adopted identity, and with the identity assigned to them by others1. Such identity-role discrepancies deserve consideration, especially from a power-dynamics perspective.

In ‘Games People Play’, Eric Berne (1964) sets out a series of scenarios that he terms ‘games’. These games collectively encapsulate most of the dysfunctional group interactions that an individual will encounter in life, features of which, according to Berne, include a set of identified roles for each ‘player’, along with a protagonist (Berne uses the term ‘agent’) who seeks to have the other players ‘do what he would have them do’. Besides considering each game in terms of the resources at stake and the specific actions and outcomes that will result in ‘victory’, questions to be considered here are who is it that selects the particular game to be played, what is it that motivates their actions, and how do they go about assigning the requisite roles upon others?

cards

Expressed in terms of resources, the protagonist perceives that another individual is in possession or control of resources that they either need or want. Such resources might be material goods but will often be of the intangible variety: approval, respect, fear, desire, service, protection, worship. The chosen game thus becomes framed around the leveraging of resources that are controlled, with the purpose of extracting from others those resources that are not.

The protagonist will already be the most powerful member of the group in question and will therefore be in a position to select the game that is to be played. This selection will be based upon the particular game that they are most skilled at and experienced in playing, the game that affords them the most effective use of the resources already under their control, the perceived weaknesses of their opponents (which, in resources terms, can be expressed as those scarce resources that their opponents are most in need of), and the resources that the protagonist is actually seeking to acquire.

The game and the tactics employed will vary considerably between games and within different contexts. Certain games are played out on reasonably transparent terms where the resources at stake are clear and the protagonist’s relative power is readily apparent throughout. However, in other situations, protagonists might deliberately present themselves as weak and helpless in order to have others perform a task that they are supposedly too weak to perform. This will result in the apparent assignation of the role of ‘Strong One’ upon their opponent, whereas in reality the role that has been assigned is the role of ‘Slave’. There are situations where the protagonist will deliberately discredit themselves in order to manipulate their opponents into speaking kindness over them. This will result in the apparent assignation upon their opponent of the role of ‘Encourager’, whereas in reality this role is the role of ‘Worshipper’. And there are yet other situations where the protagonist will present themselves as stupid for the purpose of manipulating others into solving their problems for them. This will result in the apparent assignation of the role of ‘Wise One’, whereas in reality the role being assigned is that of ‘Parent’.

person on a leash

In order to engage others in the game of their choosing, the initiator of the game must assign roles. Since the game at hand will have been selected primarily with the protagonist in mind, the associated roles that require assigning may be ill-fitted to the individuals available. As such, and in order to extract, say, worship from individuals naturally disinclined to offer it, the protagonist may be compelled to leverage certain resources already under his control in order to obtain that which is desired, i.e. through the use of flattery, of bribes, the inducement of fear, or by employing some other tactic that exploits the perceived resource needs of the opponent. This can be viewed as a sort of trade where the balances are weighted heavily in favour of the protagonist. The attempted imposition of roles upon those perceived as being weaker or less powerful shares certain features with the phenomenon of projective identification whereby an individual splits off an unwanted part of his or her personality (such as anger), and places it upon another individual or group (Laing, 1969). This, however, is achieved through the use of interpersonal aggression or violence such that the target is forced into adopting those projected elements and into adopting the role, such as that of ‘Angry Person’, that has been assigned to them. For the target, such a development will often be accompanied by feelings of a loss of contact with the true self as they find themselves acting out their assigned role, often unaware of the interpersonal dynamics and events that have led to this outcome.

Nonetheless, while a form of projective identification might at times subconsciously influence the game that has been chosen, oftentimes the imposition of a particular role is a primary function of the drive to power itself, the drive to control the behaviour of others, and the drive to victory as an emblem of superiority.

PetersonNewman1

The recent Channel 4 debate between Professor Jordan B Peterson and the journalist Cathy Newman is a good example of an attempt by one party to impose a particular role upon another, and of the intended target, the opponent, resisting these attempts.

In Berneian terms Newman attempted to set up a classic three-handed version of the game ‘Now I’ve Got You, You Son of a Bitch’ (NIGYSOB). In this she sought to introduce a Parent-Child dynamic between herself and Peterson which in fact played out as a sophisticated Child-Child game that featured the on-looking public cast in the role of Parent and tasked with making a determination as to which of the two ‘children’ was in possession of the moral high ground and, thus, of being victorious. Newman repeatedly sought to impose upon Peterson the role of ‘Misogynist’ in the same emotionally violent manner characteristic of an individual engaged in projective identification. Her intended purpose for Peterson was utilitarian – a mere patsy in her pursuit of victory and of the desired scarce resource of worship, the prize to be extracted from the public at large at the point of victory. The object of the game was framed as a battle of ideologies, but the method by which ascendancy would be achieved was established early on by Newman as the obtaining of dominance through the attainment of intellectual superiority. It soon became apparent, however, that framing the game in this manner was a spectacular miscalculation.

Right away Peterson recognised what was unfolding and applied Berne’s recommended antithesis for NIGYSOB by acting in a meticulous, careful, and irreproachable manner. His ‘gotcha’ moment towards the end of the half hour was the fruit of these labours, underlining his resistance to Newman’s attempts at role imposition. Additionally, by maintaining this dedication to the antithesis and by keeping Newman focussed upon the game that she herself had formulated, he was able to covertly establish his own counter-game of NIGYSOB. The ‘gotcha’ moment was effectively the big reveal of what had actually been taking place – the successful imposition by Peterson upon Newman of a whole set of roles of his own design including ‘Lazy Journalist’, ‘Morally Inferior Person’, and ‘Intellectual Amateur’.

loaded-dice

Attempts to control others through the violent imposition of roles and through the setting up of games is not an activity restricted merely to those who might be considered pathologically manipulative. All individuals, to a greater or lesser extent, engage in such behaviour as a way of extracting from others that which is wanted or needed. Where this becomes pathological, however, is the point at which there develops an inability to relate to others in any other way and in circumstances where, unless an individual dutifully conforms to a certain set of prescribed behaviours within a prescribed role, the relationship, along with the autonomous individual in question, is considered to be of no value.

  1. It is important to note that identity formation is a function both of self-identification and of other-identification, acting together in concert (see previous post on this blog here).

Berne, E. (1964), Games People Play, Grove Press

Laing, R.D. (1969), Self and Others, Penguin

 

 

Power, and Identity as Consumption

cocoons

“The cell phone has become the adult’s transitional object, replacing the toddler’s teddy bear for comfort and a sense of belonging.”  – Margaret Heffernan

In the previous post on this blog, the deliberate subversion of the feminist movement was briefly explored. What had originally emerged as a well-intentioned campaign aimed at reducing the oppression of women was co-opted to further a divisive agenda of pitting men against women, increasing revenues from employment taxes, and removing infants from the care and influence of their mother from an earlier age.

This post will focus upon the last of these three aims and consider the reasons why this is important and why such an outcome might be beneficial to those occupying positions of power.

Child psychoanalyst William Fairbairn (1952), as part of his object relations theory, describes the loss of intimacy with the mother as a basic trauma that brings about a basic anxiety situation of helplessness for the infant. Such a trauma, if not successfully negotiated, will often result in dysfunction that continues into childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. The mother is crucial in the provision of support that the infant needs to negotiate its way through such a trauma, and in providing the assurance that the world is essentially a safe place – that those outside of itself, the ‘not me’, can be trusted. The early patterns that are established form the blueprint for the way in which the growing child relates to external objects as they grow and develop. If the anxiety that is brought about by a basic early trauma is not successfully resolved in infancy, then this anxiety and the infantile mechanisms used to cope with it, will form the object relating pattern that extends into adult life.

transitional obj

That such early-established patterns extend in some manner into childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, is broadly accepted and understood. Donald Winnicott (1971) describes the importance of the transitional object to the developing infant as a means by which it learns to cope with the absence of the mother and of the breast. The developing infant adopts an object from its immediate surroundings that best resembles the mother’s breast, an object that is always available to the child, such as a soft blanket or a cuddly toy. Such an object will often be a pale imitation of the object that it represents, however, it serves its purpose adequately in that it evokes the absent mother and provides a degree of comfort. This signals the beginning of the development of the capacity to symbolise, and this stage is synonymous with the development of language – the elements of which rely entirely upon the capacity of the individual to relate to the world in a symbolic way.

Winnicott observes that most children grow out of their attachment to the original transitional object, however, it is observed that this original object is merely replaced by new attachments to new objects and these objects are, in turn, replaced by newer attachments to newer objects.

Thus begins a life-long cycle of object-relating through the placement of a mantle of symbolic meaning upon one, or upon several, possessions, relationships, accomplishments, statuses, appearances, jobs, external institutions, or ideologies. This relentless cycle of endeavour seeks to alleviate the anxiety brought about by the basic trauma of lost intimacy with the mother by replacing the love, nurture, security and provision found in her, with a series of inadequate symbolic objects that always hold out the promise of their attainment.

manteddy

The extent to which this cycle is considered dysfunctional is typically framed around the manner in which the individual possesses the capacity to cope with the loss of one object, or the loss of its symbolic significance, along with the ease with which transition to the next object occurs. However, it could be argued that there is something fundamentally dysfunctional about the typical human condition that is hardwired to operate in this way. The ache to return to the cradle, or indeed the womb, never abates, but nor does it ever reach its fulfilment; there is no denying that symbols possess great power, yet they always remain symbols, and each time this reality emerges, a new object upon which to place the mantle of meaning is then sought.

Such a propensity is exploitable by those in positions of power who, with sufficient resources, are able to provide a range of appealing object options. The universal enslavement to the need for a transitional object at each of life’s stages is consumerism’s fuel and is the principal driver keeping capitalism and more specifically, consumerism, afloat. Each newly presented object promises the fulfilment of the search – the hope that this object will in fact be the substance of that which is longed for. We are talking here about idolatry.

In this regard, the human condition is in a state of deep disconnection from reality. What is also revealed is how little trust can be placed upon the ways in which human behaviour is rationalised and explained, and what the true motivations are behind that which is chosen, prioritised, and valued.

This propensity can also be utilised and deliberately engineered by those with motivation to do so, creating a society full of traumatised individuals driven into a perpetual loop of anxiety, and incapable of relating to the world in a way that trusts it to be a safe and secure place. Such a world is replete both with individuals in possession of dysfunctional object-relating patterns, and a plentiful supply of objects with which such individuals can dysfunctionally relate.

In combination with the early and deliberate separation of mother and infant, Minnicino (1974) describes the manner in which those in possession of power and resources (in this case The Rockefeller Foundation) have been able, in test environments and in co-operation with the UK-based Tavistock Institute, to establish artificial family environments. In these experiments environments were purposely set up so that vulnerable members would quickly come to perceive them as being both protecting and nurturing, and becoming for them, the latest transitional object.

Such experiments demonstrate the ease with which individuals, having been deprived of the traditional family structure and environment, can be placed within alternative ‘family’ environments. In such social settings it was found that any individual placed in a position of vulnerability could be easily manipulated into conforming with group norms. These findings have been successfully extended to encompass entire people groups, and indeed Western society as a whole; the understanding of that which is considered to be the prevailing view on a particular subject – and media co-operation forms a crucial element in the success of this strategy – brings about a real or perceived societal pressure upon the individual to conform to such an orthodoxy. It is also necessary that the consequences of any non-conformity, typically in the form of social sanctions, be made crystal clear for such a strategy to have the desired impact. This is easily and effectively achieved through public shaming.

kardashian

It was discussed in the previous post that a key stage in the formation of identity occurs during adolescence. It was also outlined that identity formation inextricably occurs within a broader social milieu and relies upon the understood perceptions of the external world. By the time adolescence is realised, the transitional objects at play are often those objects that are tied up with identity formation. Part of this process involves identification with a particular individual perceived to embody certain desirable traits – traits that in combination symbolise both respect and acceptance in the adult world, and the fantasy and play elements of childhood. An alternative expression involves the pursuit of a specific identity such as that of a musician, an actor, a sportsman, or a celebrity. These transitional objects in the development cycle of the adolescent are important transitional identities, embodying important symbolism for a period of time, before gradually losing this symbolism as new, more stable identity objects are identified and embraced.

For some, however, the symbolism attached to these transitional identities does not fade and, in a society eager to elevate those who appear to encapsulate adolescent identities, a natural consequence is the increased prevalence of those who remain stuck at the adolescent stage of identity formation, unable or unwilling to move on from it, and who retain an excessive reference to external world perceptions. Such part-child/part-adult identities retained long into physical adulthood typically extend beyond the narrow activity associated with the transitional identity itself such as music, sport, celebrity etc. The individual’s lifestyle as a whole will retain substantial elements of the adolescent’s grappling with and denying of the responsibilities and realities of the adult world.

motherandchild

Winnicott was emphatic about the importance of the mother’s role in the development of the infant: “…protect her from everyone and everything that gets between her baby and herself.” With this in mind, the primary purpose behind the subversive aspect of feminism has less to do with any beneficial or detrimental impact upon adult women per se, and has more to do with achieving a particular kind of impact upon the psychology of infant women (and men), as part of a broader social agenda. Such an impact has been, and continues to be, sought through the deliberate early separation of infant from mother and from the environment in which the infant learns how to love, and the opportunities for exercising control over the individual and over society as a whole that this strategy presents.

 

Fairbairn, W.R.D. (1952), Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality, Routledge

Minnicino, M., The Tavistock Grin, Low Intensity Operations: The Reesian Theory of War, The Campaigner, April 1974.

Winnicott, D. (1971), Playing and Reality, Routledge

Identity, Ideology and Power

identity - fingerprint world

“An idea is something you have; an ideology is something that has you” – Morris Berman 

Of all intangible resources, identity is arguably the most important. Identity is contingent upon an individual’s position within a social milieu, and this social milieu is fundamental to a wide range of physical and mental well-being outcomes.

Since the mature adult’s identity is a function of a social context, it will always be constructed and defined in relation to the ‘other’. As the bestower of identity this ‘other’ is in possession of power either to grant or to withhold this scarce resource, and to utilise it as leverage with the intention of enforcing a desirable action or behaviour.

identity - man in suit

But around what exactly does an identity form? In what manner is it constructed, and in what way can it be defined? All identity formation takes place as the outworking of an underlying ideology; without an ideology – that is, a system of ideas, ideals, beliefs and assumptions upon which an understanding of society and the wider world is formed and through which knowledge and events are interpreted and made sense of – no identity can emerge. Each individual and every group identity is the outworking either of an explicit or of an implicit ideology. A shared ideology is a key component of group cohesion and the means by which resources pertaining to mental well-being such as social acceptance, physical security, and protection against external threat are extended.

Significant resources will be directed towards the promotion, embedding, and strengthening of the prevailing ideology and, where opportunity exists to promote an ideology that encourages identity formation of the type that serves the interests of the primary power-holding group, such opportunity will be taken; the granting of resources that meet a particular set of needs on the one hand, with the aim of removing other, more fundamental and valuable resources on the other, can be utilised Trojan-horse style, to great effect. As referenced in a previous blog post, ideology formation that encourages individuals and groups to self-identify as commodities in service to the greater capitalist cause, reduces the degree of resistance experienced when a policy of incremental and gradual resource removal is subsequently put into effect. Since many believe that capitalism is fundamentally unsustainable as a long-term economic model, based as it is upon the ever-increasing exploitation of a fixed amount of physical and human resources1 and upon the deliberate and unsustainable expansion of a global-scale credit bubble, certain quantities of human ‘fodder’ are required to keep the system afloat, at least until a substantial macro-correction is triggered. Caron Bradshaw of the CFG may be of the view that capitalism is “…still the best economic model“, however the main beneficiaries of this model are shielded from its impact; impacts that are typically most felt by those living in the developing world.

identity - diffusion

The promotion of any ideology that encourages such self-commoditisation, whereby an individual’s time and bodily resources can be exploited, serves this purpose well; significant societal changes over the past fifty years indicate that such a programme has long been underway: for example, the legalisation and widespread availability of pornography communicates the message that human bodies are mere resources to be utilised. The acceptance or imposition of a collective ideology distinguishes the in-group from the out-group and, therefore, identifies those with whom it is acceptable to share collectively held resources.

The corruption too of traditional identity roles through the promotion of a particular ideology, such as feminism2, is no accident; the battle for the resource of identity is the direct outworking of a battle between competing ideologies.

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One recently emerged facet of the relentlessly promoted LGBT (etc.) ideology is the concept of gender fluidity, whereby the individual is led to believe that it is within their gift to self-identify insofar as gender is concerned. One of the consequences of the promotion of ideologies such as this, ideologies that seek to erode rather than to consolidate identity, is the formation of both an individual and a collective identity vacuum. This vacuum, once formed, can then be filled with any identity, or subset of identities, that have been formulated and promoted with the particular purpose of occupying this space; the resources of traditional identity formation have been apprehended and removed with the result that hungry souls are compelled to fill up on whatever scraps there are, regardless of their nutritional value.

Conceptually, self identification is consistent with the wider dehumanising ideology that promotes identity erosion, self-commoditisation and societal atomisation. This is achieved through the exchange of the lesser resources of apparent autonomy and self-determination, with the much more valuable resource of clear and established identity formation. This does not, however, reflect the individual’s lived reality, and falsely divorces the process of identity formation from its core social context. The truth of this becomes apparent at the very point where those who seek to ‘self-identify’ as a particular gender or non-gender, nonetheless insist upon the full buy-in of others. Thus, the way in which the ‘other’ identifies the individual is in fact an inescapably vital element of the way in which the individual self-identifies; it is clear that such a collaborative process is integral to identity formation, and its increasing replacement by coercion, threats of social exclusion, or even legal sanctions, serves only to confirm this.

Identity formation too is a contingent state, that is, a process within which certain conclusive positions are never achieved. As part of a social milieu, the validity of an individual’s self-identification is called into question whenever such an individual has the ability to alter and re-alter the way in which they self-identify. Self-identification is a function of the manner in which an individual perceives themselves and their wider context at a particular moment in time, and so the self selection of the gender element of identity is problematic because it must take place within the collective; identity is defined and determined not just by how we identify ourselves, but by how those around us – both the in-group and the out-group – identify us. Thus, it is argued, the removal of the process of identity formation from within the context of the social milieu, along with the creation of a construct that emerges from the coercion of those around us to assent to a self-defined label, cannot be considered true identity formation. Rather, it is a one-sided and individualistic pursuit, removed not only from its collective context, but also from established historical and cultural traditions that provide cohesion and indeed, meaning to society itself. The stripping away of meaning from the basic identifiers and symbols that underpin society will result in the eventual erosion and collapse of that society. It could be argued, given the deliberate channeling of resources towards the widespread and relentless promotion of this agenda and others like it, that the undermining of society has, in fact, been the very intention.

identity - wee men

Erik Erikson (1959) describes the journey of identity formation, emphasising the importance of adolescence as a key stage in the emergence and consolidation of essential elements of identity. It is no surprise, therefore, that a significant battleground for competing ideologies is that which centres around this age bracket since, to define the individual and the collective identities of those under the age of sixteen, is to define the identity of an entire generation. Control, therefore, of the ideology underpinning the education system and of media and entertainment outlets aimed at the pre-adult audience, serves a crucial role both in establishing unquestioning acceptance of key ideological tenets and, with this, embedding the manner in which essential and enduring elements of identity take shape and become established. In this way new forms of individual and group identity can be constructed, new norms established, and entire societies remoulded.

1. Note, for example, the change in business terminology during the 1980s from ‘Personnel’ to ‘HR’/’Human Resources’; the person has been stripped of his or her personhood becoming, instead, a mere resource to be consumed in the pursuit of profit.

2. It is possible that feminism is a movement that has undergone ideological subversion (Schuman, 1984), whereby a well-intentioned campaign aimed at reducing the oppression of women has been co-opted by a set of powerful and influential individuals who ‘spoke’ for the cause and covertly directed its progress towards achieving a set of objectives that differed from the publicly stated aims. For example, it is stated by Aaron Russo, that the feminist cause has been funded by an elite group of wealthy bankers (including David Rockefeller) as a means of increasing tax revenues through the introduction of greater numbers of women into paid employment, and as a means of indoctrinating children from a younger, more impressionable, age via the state-controlled education system. The broader purpose behind both of these objectives being the erosion of the traditional family structure, with the intention of bringing the general population under greater governmental control.

Eriksson, E. (1959), Identity and the Life Cycle, International Universities Press

Schuman, T.D. (1984), Love Letter to America, WIN Almanac Panorama, Los Angeles