Nigel Collingwood

Peace and Bodies: a first draft

In this paper I argue that our lack of peace can only be countered by action that takes account of the reasons why we lack peace. I suggest that the causes of violence in our society lie centrally in the ways in which we meet our bodily needs. I begin with a broad sketch starting from pre-history, and later attempt a slightly fuller account of the present position, making use of the five types of character structure discussed by A Lowen in his book Bioenergetics. I allude to spirituality in the concluding section. Written 1983, for private circulation.

Bodily needs and the whole person

When spiritual and peace-seeking movements get together, there is a temptation to forget the body. This is mainly due to the appeal of the idea of the spiritual person being a “person of peace”. Blessed are the peace-makers – although other words attributed to Jesus are I have not come to bring peace but a sword (Matthew 5.9. and 10.34.). The suggestion is sometimes made that if more people became more spiritual, e.g. through meditation, than peace would ensue not only between them and within them, but also in the world at large.

What seems to be forgotten is that we have bodily needs for food, shelter and clothing, and that conflict and war have arisen mainly through competition over the acquisition of the means to meet these needs. After all, conflict among animals is also principally a case of members of one species feeding off members of another.

It may seem absurd to speak of people forgetting their bodily needs. But this is a matter not of forgetting in the sense of actually omitting to eat, breath or sleep, but of forgetting to include, or take seriously, the fact of our having bodily needs when we construct a “spiritual” picture of the world, and hence when we construct plans for creating peace. The tendency of certain spiritual movements to see the body as a prison or tomb confirms this.

Therefore it is necessary, I suggest, to look at the causes of wars and violence not merely in the human psyche but in the human body and its needs. This need not imply a concession to dualism. In fact the view I propound will, I hope, be consistent with a holistic picture of human being in terms of the complex unity of body and mind and spirit.

Bodily needs and wars in earlier societies

Primitive hunting societies can be seen as repeating the animal pattern of preying on weaker species, although the relative weakness may be in terms of intelligence rather than of physical strength. As long as hunting groups enjoyed plenty of territory, it is difficult to see how there could be any reason for conflict between them. Incursions into a group’s territory by another group might call for resistance, as occurs among animals of the same species. Meanwhile cooperation between members of the group would be demanded by the different needs and abilities of young, old, mothers, and so on. There was little chance of stocks of food surplus to short-term requirements being amassed. Hence there was no point in attacking another group to obtain their surplus.

However, with the development of agriculture, harvests had to supply the needs of coming months, and stocks surplus to immediate requirements had to be stored. They could also be plundered. A reason for war, especially when a group was suffering from a local famine, now existed. The reason: fear of starvation. Later, more complex tribal organisation could lead to new fears. Chiefs could amass wealth and adopt means of securing it and passing it on to successors. W Reich (in The Imposition of Sexual Morality) interprets Malinowski’s findings to suggest that sexual repression originated from the power a chief needed to wield over children in his family. Again domination proceeds from fear about a person’s or a group’s survival.

As more surplus product became available with the division of labour, trade became possible. It was now possible to buy in order to sell, and traders became rich by selling things for more than they paid for them. They could exploit people’s bodily needs (and their desire for luxuries too, of course) for individual gain. A rational fear of not making enough profit to live could lead to a habitual attitude of seeking gain. New fears were leading to new modes of domination.

So far, producers of food etc. still owned their means of production. This was changed, in western history, when the Mediterranean empires developed an early form of capitalism based on slavery. Only occasionally did the resentment and anger caused by enslavement and colonisation (perhaps with only a few months’ expectation of life in the Greek mines, I believe) find expression in actual rebellion. Spartacus’ revolt is the best known. Wide spaces of land and time were rendered peaceful, e.g. by the Pax Romana, but a state of war tended to survive at the frontiers, which where often extended for fear of fear of invasion. In Rome there grew a huge urban proletariat, unable to be absorbed into the process of primary production, its bodily and emotional needs well caught in the phrase “bread and circuses”.

The beginning of modern capitalism

It was only in about the sixteenth century when enclosures of farmland began to drive into the hands of the wealthy owners of capital people who had nothing to sell but their labour. Technology was crucially more advanced than under the Romans, and the efficient exploitation of the propertyless at last became possible. Modern capitalism was born.

Hence the birth also not only of new techniques of violence, above all in weaponry, but new reasons to have wars. For now three different kinds of wars became necessary.

(1) Capital was being accumulated, with a need for new raw materials and new markets. Hence new areas had to be plundered by means of colonial wars. An example would be the ward between the British and the Dutch in the 17th century.

(2) The need to keep the direct producers of wealth from fruitful access to the land led to further enclosures. The enforcement of property laws by swingeing penalties could lead to tensions that erupted in civil wars.

(3) International trade led to fears for its safety, and hence to trading wars.

However, exploitation did not only give rise to these wars. It also led to internal repression of feelings among the exploited, with the psychological and physical stunting referred to by Reich as “character structure”. In utterly crude terms, the exploiting and the exploited lived in mutual fear, while the exploited also had to contain their resentment somehow. The Press Gangs typify the power of the exploiters as they forced the exploited to defend, out of fear, the exploiters’ wealth in war after war.

Current obstacles to peace at the international, interclass, interpersonal and intrapersonal levels

We can now look at the present scene in slightly greater detail. International capitalism is accompanied by small wars all the time and large ones occasionally. Competition between capitalist enterprises continues, but it now occurs in the context of competition between capitalist countries and groups of countries. The Soviet bloc is of course, not socialist but state capitalist in nature, and hence plays a main part in this process. Old-style colonial wars are still fought, e.g in the Falklands, and, in a sense, in Northern Ireland. But more important is the new version of the trade war, where an essential form of competition is the military kind. After the Second World War the Soviet found that its only chance of successfully competing with the USA was by increasing its military power. This forced the USA to reply in kind. Hence the Cold War. Apart from a period of detente, now over, this is all the international “peace” we have known: similar to the Anglo-German competition before 1914, but intensified by the nuclear threat.

What of interpersonal peace? There is a complex web of stress between the large group (e.g. class), the small group (e.g. family) and the internal group of the individual constituted by sub-personalities. Under late capitalism the following elements of the web are likely to be salient.

The exploited majority are under excessive pressure, whether in work or in unemployment. Even where there is enough money coming in to meet bodily needs, much goes into un-nourishing food and drugs. The vital months and years of conception and child-rearing are marred by maternal and paternal deprivation in both passive and active senses: i.e. mothers and fathers are emotionally deprived of resources, and deprive their offspring. Crudely, more stress leads to more battering. The intrapersonal consequence is the infant’s terror and rage, and the defences adopted to cope with them. This gives rise to an adulthood stunted in its turn by character structure (psychological and bodily), including tendencies to depression and submissiveness. The individual has valencies – proclivities towards a certain kind of behaviour in groups – which can be hooked by the requirements of capitalist society. Roughly, the schizoid character structure is ready to take a role as an intellectual analyser of events, emotionally distant, disconnected somewhat from the body. (Incidentally, it should be stressed that these are character types only: most people have elements of more than one character structure in their make-up.) The oral structure is ready to depend on a leader, as well as to fill “caring” roles which help to overcome an inner emptiness in the caring person, as well as offering genuine support to those cared for. The psychopathic structure is unable to treat persons as other than things, thus embodying precisely the dehumanising principle of capitalism charted by Marx. The repressive apparatus of the capitalist state has ample room for psychopathic personalities in its “security forces”. The masochistic element is submissiveness to the authorities, yet it is often able to switch to sadism in relation to an inferior. The rigid character structure provides the basis for the clocking-in regularity of behaviour needed by the productive process, transport services etc.

Every character structure is a way of avoiding reality, and hence of not noticing the political and economic reality of exploitation and military competition. The media, largely controlled by the exploiters, reinforce and seem to justify the attitudes that the system requires. In other papers I have tried to show the effect of character structure on attitudes to society (Politics and Bodies, and Class-consciousness and Bodies etc. listed below). In Party and Alienation I argued that capitalist productive groups, such as manufacturing firms, had features of the “destructive” group as described by Southgate and Randall on the basis of Bion’s work: early stages are marked by the Basic Assumption of Dependency, later ones by that of Fight-Flight, and the final one by that of Pairing. These Basic Assumptions can be seen to correspond to the valencies of the oral and masochistic character structures (in the case of Dependency); to that of the schizoid and psychopathic structures (in the case of Flight-Fight); and to the paranoid – also, I am inclined to think, to the schizoid – (in the case of Pairing). Thus the method by which our bodily needs are met breeds and encourages the stunted personalities that the method requires.

I have already touched on violence within the family, which all too obviously breaks the peace. It is also broken by the violence that is perpetrated by the very fact of exploitation (institutionalised violence). Nevertheless it is important to mean by peace not merely lack of violence or mere inactivity, but rather the creative conflict entailed by a “synergic” society, which is the opposite of an exploitative one: X’s gain is not at the expense of Y.

War, hot and cold

It remains to look at the effects of capitalism in terms of war. The schizoid element is ready to provide “back-room boys and girls”, prepared to develop, and plot targets for, nuclear weapons. The oral element will provide the “compassionate” side of the war machine, the welfare, the nursing. The psychopathic element will be ready to pull triggers and press buttons, where people with other character structures will be apt to do so only perhaps out of fear of the consequences of not doing so (court martial, summary execution). The masochistic element will submit to orders, and perhaps be capable of the sadistic switch already mentioned. The rigid element, present in virtually all members of the society, will give the war machine its reliability.

In a period of Cold War, the same qualities are important to the army etc. in its state of preparation and practice. Among the members of the society at large, the schizoid elements will be drawn away from facing up to the reality (this is related to the apathy stressed in Nicholas Humphrey’s Four Minutes to Midnight). The oral element will tend to turn anger at the situation into a private self-inflicted wound of depression. The psychopathic character structure finds opportunities on both sides of the symbiosis of crime: criminals on the one hand, police and prison authorities on the other. The masochistic element will simply accept the position without opposition. The rigid element will recognise some anger, perhaps, but hold it back with stoicism.

Peace and the spiritual

Finally, what of the spiritual? It is certainly arguable that it can have a part to play in the process of creative politics (I have attempted to sketch a role of this kind in the last article listed below). But the exploration of the transpersonal or spiritual realm cannot of itself dismantle an enormously complex and powerful system, deeply affecting, as I have tried to show, not merely our relationships but our psychological and physical characters. The system can contain, and ultimately disarm, a great deal of resistance. It can be dismantled only by the group in whose interest it is to dismantle it: the exploited class. Those who see this to be true need to work for the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual education of the rest of the exploited in preparation for the task of self-emancipation through the dismantling of the system. How to avoid an elitist or a patronising stance in so doing is another story, but at its core, I would argue, is the realisation that the educators are ourselves exploited (and maybe involved in exploiting, too), and the change must begin in ourselves. But if it ends there, the exploiters will be laughing.

June 1983

My other papers are:
Politics and Bodies
Class-consciousness and Bodies
Birth, Death and Bodies
Alienation and Bodies
Party and Alienation
Alienation and Introjection
Ecstasy and Politics (accepted for publication by Self and Society).