The Demonology of the Superego
In Paul Goodman’s roughly 25,000-word essay, what we have is a long, anguished, soul-rending cry of pain for the crucified adolescent. The society (not the parents) has eaten sour grapes, and the children, die arme Kinder, their teeth are on edge. In the first section Mr. Goodman tells us that in his seminal talk with the youths on the beach of Hamilton, Canada, he turned away with burning tears in his eyes and a pain in his breast. These tears have continued to blind him so that he is to be excused from the demands of logical categories, coherent discourse, objective analysis, or rational argument. Instead he presents himself as an Old Testament prophet intoning woe unto Nineveh, repent Babylon, cleanse thyself Jerusalem, cast out the devils, the false gods. We are so moved by his deeply felt pity and identification that it matters little that he speaks from the heart, not from the head.
Let us then pass over his errors of fact (the false picture of the 19th-century farm as not oriented to a market, the fallacy of current teen-age poverty); his contradictions (more progressive education, but resurrect shame as a prime child-rearing technique); the use of jargon (Marxist, Freudian, Hip); the use of loaded terms (“front-politicians,” “boondoggling production,” “tribes of middlemen,” “wise opinion swamped,” “enterprise sabotaged”); false dichotomies (“Either one drifts . . . or one dissents totally,” “either society is a benevolently frivolous racket . . . or society is serious”); oversimplifications and generalizations (“A missed revolution makes irrelevant the community that persists,” “With the increase in population and crowding the number and variety of human services increase geometrically”); global parentheses [“(Let me make an analogy from psychotherapy: When a patient is schizoid, you give reassurance, protect the weak ego; when he is neurotic and can take care of himself, you attack the character-resistances.)”]; irrelevant quotations (such as from the National Recreation Congress); distorted interpretations (the aim of the Civil War was not to win “social justice and factual democracy” but to preserve the union; Pacifism appears to have some vitality as witnessed by Southern Negro youth’s CORE program); slapdash categorizations (Honesty, No Child Labor, Permissiveness); and even inaccurate language (“inherited prejudice,” use of “small” when he means “young”). Mr. Goodman is a polemicist not a scholar; a journalist, not a social critic, an ecstast, not an analyst. . . .
Let us then listen to Mr. Goodman’s cry of pain and attempt to translate it so that we can assess it more accurately. What issues have been overstressed, what issues distorted, what issues omitted in his description of “youth in the organized society” (as opposed to the unorganized society, the non-organized society?).
Let us first note some omissions. The words home, family, parents, father, mother, marriage, wife, girl, woman occur seldom if at all. From my own point of view, the place to begin an analysis of youth or its culture in relation to society is within the family, that prime representative of society, noting the changes that have been wrought in the family as we have been traditionally accustomed to view it. At the same time, we would be led to a consideration of the most striking difference in the modern family, the emancipation of women. Certainly this has some consequence for the mother-son relationship, and certainly it has some consequences for the job market, competition, adult roles, masculinity, etc. (Who knows, it might even be the twenty-third uncompleted revolution of modern times.) At no time are we offered any of the specific anxieties that girls or women face today. Are we then to assume that with the increased marriage rate, the younger age at marriage, the increase in the birth rate, that marriage and the family are sound institutions today, that girls are excused from adolescent crisis, and are not subject to modern pressures, that young men suffer only in terms of the job market and marriage represents a conflict-free area?
I think not. Instead, let us assume that in any society the adolescent of either sex is faced with a crisis, and that the rites de passage of primitive groups serve to symbolize the struggle. What is unique for both sexes in industrial society is that for the first time immensely large numbers of adolescents are permitted the luxury that only an affluent society can afford, to prolong the stage at which an individual assumes his adult, social, occupational, familial role. Previously only the nobility, the aristocratic, or the upper-middle-class youth were free to experiment with adolescent adjustments. There is no lack of documentation of these solutions available from folk tales or novels. The playboy, the wastrel, the prodigal, the remittance man, the perpetual student, the revolutionary student, the nihilist-anarchists, the Luftmenschen, the nebbish, the cynic, the sophisticate, the drugstore cowboy, the sheik, the young buck, the young Turk, the smoothie, the dandy, the decadent; Alcibiades, Werther, the Artful Dodger, Studs, Huck, Penrod, Pollyanna, Holden Caulfield: we recognize the guises of adolescent rebellion and its resolutions. Aside from illegal devices (the Artful Dodger), all of these characterizations belong to members of the middle class. The middle-class adolescent with his traditional problems is today joined for the first time by his lower-middle-class brethren who with their less-advantaged social conditions are that much further behind in making their particular adult choices. Mr. Goodman entirely fails to deal with the class differentiation in their problem of adolescent adjustment. (The Angry Young Man is not a Teddy Boy, the Existentialist is not a blouson noire, the Stilyagi is not a hooligan.)
At the same time, all adolescents in industrial societies face certain other circumstances which Mr. Goodman fails to appreciate. Modern science and discovery have changed the nature of society and our characteristic means of viewing it. Change itself has become institutionalized so that the stability of traditional values has been disrupted. No one is guilty unless one follows a fundamentalist Amish point of view. Simultaneously man’s position in the universe has been drastically altered: he no longer is the center of it, and in viewing his own nature he now finds that he cannot control even himself. Man has become more insignificant as his technology has become more overwhelming. Durkheim’s concept of anomie might well have been discussed here.
In addition, youth and the middle-aged as well, have become disenchanted with the concept of Progress. It is not a question of x or y numbers of uncompleted revolutions but that the flaming banner of revolt has turned to ashes as each enactment brought with it unanticipated consequences and as some of the nature of the positive character of what had been destroyed reached awareness. Mr. Goodman notes that faith and honor are lacking. Their primary source from earlier periods was derived as a communicant in a church and as an adherent to a code that was bound up with notions of class. Today both religion and class have lost much of their vitality as appeals for integrating behavior; the knights of gang wars are not appealing figures for identification, but they exist more concretely than the religious-aristocratic Knights Templar. Democracy with its parallel strands of egalitarianism and secularism make it difficult to keep these values alive, whether in Athens or America.
What I am suggesting is that there may be a basic dynamic between the factors of the division of labor, democracy, secularism, and egalitarianism and that one need not have recourse to prophetic denunciation in order to understand problems. We need the demonology of the superego only if we want to condemn, not to understand. Perhaps a more adequate statement of the problems that confront youth would be to recognize that there are legitimate, conflicting interests within a society, that the degree of social integration possible is in part limited by the structural features of the society, that industrial society is not wilfully evil and at the mercy of dark forces.
As for the tender emotions, love is defined by Mr. Goodman as a “temporary psychosis,” and he does not mention it again except in passing reference as part of the “rat race.” Courtship and marriage are not mentioned at all. So much for the poet manqué. The clinician manqué then takes over and we are treated to a scattered series of comments on sex, advice for both children and youth. Among these, sex per se, without any particular content, not heterosexual, homosexual, or even auto-erotic, appears as a liberating force in the personality. In contrast, Freud had a great deal to say about fixation and anxiety as possible resultants of the overstimulation connected with precocious sexuality. Nowhere is there any mention of civilization and its discontents necessarily resulting in the repression of infantile sexuality, nowhere is there any mention of the concept of sublimation as offering some kind of gratification, nowhere is there any discussion of the concept of fusion and neutralization of sexual instincts. Whether or not one agrees with Freud, as I take it Mr. Goodman and Mr. Reich do not, what forms of social organization does he propose for his youth-growing-up-with-a-need-for-sex-without-love? With love reduced to a temporary psychotic reaction and sex a kind of nonspecific genital irrigation, Huxley’s anticipation of drugs (soma) as a substitute for both offers new insight into today’s young pushers. Drugs are more effective as a stimulant (do-it-yourself-club) than sex without love. No, love is not an important emotion for Mr. Goodman, and I suspect from his articles he would substitute anger and disgust in its place. Ira not Eros makes his world go around.
Adolescence is generally noted as a time when young people seek one another and form friendships: another manifestation of Eros. Yet Mr. Goodman makes no mention of friendship as an important concept (though in all honesty he does mention “peer-group” and “peers” once). His adolescents stand alone, crushed by the brutal adult world or else band together in asocial gangs. Once more some kind of personal association seems lacking in his picture. Similarly the asceticism, idealism, and theorizing of adolescents that Anna Freud discusses are omitted by Mr. Goodman. Their transformation into athlete worship, YMCA piety, Graham quackery, bobby-soxing, and science-fiction are similarly omitted.
Freud once commented that we might well measure the attainments of a man by noting his ability to work, to love, and to play. As I indicated, Mr. Goodman doesn’t think much of love, and he has some strange ideas about play. He calls it leisure, but with a difference. For him it must be “serious leisure,” with “community necessity,” to “avoid shame and achieve grandeur.” General de Gaulle might very well approve of this, but poor Einstein or Sherlock Holmes, fiddling away for relaxation, would have to go to the foot of the class. The concept of play as a temporary regression to a non-serious occupation from which one emerges refreshed is not to be permitted.
The core of Mr. Goodman’s article appears to be, if I read him correctly, and I am not at all sure that I do, that our society is poisoned by the profit motive and that this infects the whole area of work (which, incidentally, is not distinguished from labor, despite Hannah Arendt’s efforts) and politics. Yet isn’t it clear by now that it is the problem of mass society, whether capitalist or socialist, that is the major source of difficulty? Mr. Goodman’s nostalgic references to the Greeks reminds us that an aristocratic, slave-owning democracy was possible because they had only a few thousand free citizens, a small geographic area, and a high degree of homogeneity of population. I would like to see socialist China, minus our whole tainted apparatus of popular culture and profit, duplicate this with its 700-million population and its millions of square miles. Can either India or China move from a village economy to an industrialized society without mass culture, centralized planning, and the disruption of traditional institutions such as the family, the church, and the community? To ask if the benefits of science and industrialization are worthwhile would be more radical, even though the issue may already have been decided. To wail instead for a futuristic Disneyland which never was intended and never will be may drain off whatever non-sexual energies remain, but it won’t solve the problem.
It is good to find a person of Mr. Goodman’s passionate nature concerned with youth and its relation to society. After he has done his homework, some of his vagueness will pass and he should have some worthwhile things to say.
Department of Psychology
Mr. Goodman Replies
Since happily I do not know Mr. Rosenblatt, I have no idea what is eating him. The latter parts of his little essay seem to spring from desire to make a speech of his own, which is fine by me; but include me out. He certainly cannot read very well.
Nevertheless, in the main burden of his complaint, that I “omit” the problems of family and love, although he is 100 per cent wrong, he is not unjustified; for there is an unavoidable misunderstanding. The COMMENTARY chapters were culled from a book, Growing Up Absurd, that has thirteen chapters, of which two are devoted entirely to family, parenthood, sex, and love. But these were specifically not chosen for the COMMENTARY series, because they might be too rough for too many readers. When Mr. Rosenblatt says that modern marriage is unsound and causes trouble, I could not agree more; also I don’t know any ready solution. (By the way, I am not such an amateur in psychology as he and some of my other critics seem to think; I have for many years been a teacher of psychologists, psychiatrists, and pastors in the East and the Middle West, and am the author of a well-known text.) The strategy of my new book is first to deal with specific topics, isolated as far as possible, and then to construct a few whole models; and the chapters objected to happen to come from the first part. I am pleased that Dr. Popenoe, of the American Institute of Family Relations, was not put off, and praised what he did read; I hope he will like the rest as well. The topics I deal with are Jobs, Public Speech, Class Structure, Aptitude, Patriotism and Community, Marriage and Sex, and Faith. It will be seen that I proceed to what I think is more central.
My low estimation of love seems to be inferred entirely from the alleged sentence that “love is a temporary psychosis.” Luckily I said no such monstrous thing. The actual words are, “If a young man falls in love, a temporary psychosis. . . .” and for this newsy epigram I could call to witness Socrates, Shakespeare, Freud (I shall provide texts on request), as well as my own and my friends’ experience. I am indignant, however, as to what passages in anything I have ever written could lead to the rhetorical question, “What forms of social organization does he propose for his youth-growing-up-with-a-need-for-sex-without-love?” I am afraid that this reading comes from Mr. Rosenblatt’s own fantasies. Although I am not a Reichian, I should agree with Dr. Reich that without love there is no sexual satisfaction. The only possible form of “social organization” would be providing therapy. Concerning the various erotic aberrations, there is considerable discussion in Growing Up; how could there not be? But did not the often reiterated theme of “proving” ring any bells for this perceptive critic? What does he think I mean when I say, “It is a poor kind of community they have; friendship, affection, personal helpfulness are remarkably lacking in it; they are ‘cool,’ afraid to display feeling”?
The problems of the boys and girls are not identical nor similar; Mr. Rosenblatt is mistaken. An average woman always has a worthwhile, capacity-using, and unquestionably justified career to aim at—the children—and with that background, to work just for money is not necessarily virulent. Her present problem, and it is a desperate one, is that there are not enough manly, independent fathers; and one of the strongest indictments against our Organized System is how it cynically invades and undermines the home and creates an ersatz suburban home life. A further complication for women, to which teachers at the great colleges for women will testify, is the common need to go through the song and dance of preparing for a “career” without really meaning it; this comes, for instance, to getting jobs at publishers which they sensibly quit at the first offer of marriage. (Mind, I am speaking of the average.) Delinquency, of course, has a corresponding pattern. “Incorrigibility” and sexual offenses are big items for girls (for obvious reasons); they are hardly considered delinquent for boys.
I am told I pay no heed to class differentiation (as I pay no heed to rites of passage, though I call delinquency a religious crisis!). It happens that my book is structured on class differences, four chapters on the underprivileged, four on the middle class; but if Mr. Rosenblatt had read even what was printed, instead of blindly misreading, he must have seen many contrasting sentences, to underscore the differentiation. Indeed, given the fact that the analysis of the rat race in the second printed article is explicitly organized on this class principle (“Like the rat race, the class struggle had a dominant and an underprivileged group, etc.”), to show how youth of various backgrounds are variously disaffected, I can only conclude that at this point in his fury, Mr. Rosenblatt is lying. If I made no use of class difference, what would be the point of my repeated insistence on the peculiar new likeness of Organization Man and Underprivileged Delinquent, to denigrate earnest lads either poor or rich? Mr. Rosenblatt’s own list of kinds of middle-class rebellion is interesting; I think that on a closer look he will find that my own, “Beat, Angry, Wino, Existentialist, etc.” will match fairly well as the present-day developments; and the item that he singles out as exceptional, the Artful Dodger, blossoms into what I mean by Role-playing or “Hip.”
It is frustrating to be an author. Since the purpose of the chapter on Religion (plus the one on Patriotism) is to spell out anomie as a reaction to loss of human scale, it is onerous to be lectured on this very subject by a man who has not gone through the labors I had to write Communitas. The use of exploring the missed revolutions is to find something to do about it, to find a program. As the author of a vastly praised work in regional planning, used in every school in the country that has such a department, I could hardly think that the industrial system is a “wilful evil” and not beautiful and serviceable; but it is damned well time that we start to pick and choose in our production and distribution; and I do think that the forces of money and control often deliberately ride roughshod and exploit, are vulgar and cynical, make the rules and then give out that there is no other possible game.
Mr. Rosenblatt’s best wisdom is his sentence, “A more adequate statement of the problems that confront youth would be that there are legitimate, conflicting interests within a society, that the degree of social integration possible is limited by the structural features of the society.” In the conclusion of my first article I expressed the same thought by saying, “Our society has evolved a social plan, a city plan, an economy and physical plan, in which this delinquent youth is an organic part. The problem is not to get them to belong to society, for they belong a priori by being the next generation. The burden of proof and performance . . . [is] for the system of society to accommodate itself to all its constituent members.” I don’t see that his statement is more adequate, but it is always useful to have a good thing said twice.
Let me quickly run through my particular errors alleged in his beginning. I say the “Jeffersonian ideal .. . energized settling the West”; Agrarianism was a Myth, but an efficacious one (this is the whole point of Henry Nash Smith’s work). Teenagers indeed spent $11 billion annually on their junk (figure of Life and cf. Eugene Gilbert), but the underprivileged youth in the big cities are not these teen-agers. There is no contradiction between using shame and progressive education; I make the very point the critic does and show it is a poor one. “Marxist” and “Freudian” are not jargon when they are used accurately—I use them accurately; “Hip” I define and use technically as a key concept. I do not use “loaded terms,” I mean to riddle these people with contempt; does the critic think I am writing detached sociology? The dichotomy “either one drifts . . . or dissents totally” is explicitly and several times called by me an exaggeration, that, however, is believed by the Beat boys, with consequences. The missed revolution and the geometrical increase of human relations can be observed as causality operating in our society; I use them as middle terms, not as “generalizations.” How can an analogy not be “global,” since its purpose is to illustrate by a quick whole picture? In a discussion of religious beliefs, what is irrelevant about citing a speech by a distinguished academic calling for a “new ethics”? The aim of the Civil War was indeed to preserve the Union, but from 1863 the Civil War won formal rights for Negroes, which is what I say. As a long-time pacifist, pacifist editor, and kind of pacifist counselor, let me tell Mr. Rosenblatt that my friends and I would say that the pacifist revolution has been entirely missed, though we rejoice when nonviolent tactics prove their vitality, and we hope that some day we can use them to stop war. (The bother throughout here is that Mr. Rosenblatt is a man of no life experience in these matters and doesn’t know what he’s talking about.) As for the slapdash “categorizations” (sic) of the revolutions, I should like to see this critic try to give as much information in as little space without resorting to this kind of shorthand. Does he think that any reader mistook my “inherited prejudices” to mean genetically inherited? (What is eating him?)
I suppose I ought to say something about the closing buffet, that I don’t do my homework, since other profound scholars, e.g. Dwight Macdonald, have accused me of the same. (Indeed, I seem to some people to be a village idiot.) Now Aristotle points out that it is the sign of an ignorant man to be more precise than the subject warrants. In books like Growing Up, Gestalt Therapy, and Communitas I am trying to say something about the whole man in an indefinitely complicated organism/ environment field. My experience in reading in this interesting subject is that those authors say the best things who keep their visions central and concrete, insisting on the glaring big features, who draw on what they know intimately, and are not afraid to risk being passionately involved. Their strong errors, as St. Thomas says, are better than weak truths.
My chief difference with Frances Jordan [April “Letters”] seems to be about standards. She thinks that forty is a permissible size for a class; to me it is impossible for good teaching. I think the grammar school optimum is twenty. She asks how one handles “emotional release.” By the calisthenic techniques of character analysis and by dramatics, creative dramatics, and eurythmics. “Mis-educating” is failing to woo forth the child’s nature and actualize it by providing opportunities in the culture.
Hilton Kramer is correct in that my wording is elliptical: I mean, “great—so he thinks.” I thought this would be clear from the following sentence, “he knows by the evidence of his senses that nothing could be better.”
I agree with everything that Mrs. Slawson says about the need for social work. I am carelessly prone to underestimate the molecular work which, with vision, is the most important thing of all. Without vision, and simply carrying out administrative holding-the-line programs, it can fairly be called “gimmicks or social work.”
Finally, a word for Ellen B. Hill [May “Letters”]. There has gotten to be, in the behavioral sciences, too strong an emphasis on background conditions. A good gestalt requires both a clear background and an adequate foreground figure which, in the present discussion, would be an objective opportunity. (Certainly the success of the Higher Horizons experiment in P.S. 43 is evidence for this.) The emphasis on the background makes perfect sense when dealing, like Freud, with neurotics; but the craze to treat social problems so, without regard for political change, institutional change, real jobs, real sex, real art, true religion, must be viewed suspiciously as trying to get people to “belong,” to no matter what. My guess is that her “qualified” investigators with their “specialized” training and “grants” will discover nothing, because they are not scientists. They do not make the relevant experiments. The relevant experiments, taking seriously the whole human being, are “open” experiments in real life situations aiming at real values that can energize high grade behavior. They are, I submit, precisely risks at political, moral, and institutional change. I would urge her to study the Peckham experiment as a model.