Nigel Collingwood


Written 1990; for private circulation.

Psychopolitics: psyche and polis (“breath” and the community, as opposed to the buildings). What follows is an attempt to bring together our grasp of the experience of being people with “souls” (ie not robots) and an inner life, and of the experience of being people who are citizens, members of groups and communities, people with an “outer” life. Academia tends to separate these into departments of psychology and sociology (or political science). The hybrid social psychology does exist, but the present emphasis is different, in that the aim is to produce a political practice, a politics that is fertilised by psychological understanding, and a psychological practice, a therapy, that is fertilised by social and political understanding.

As will become clear later, the split between the inner and the outer life goes much deeper than a division of labour between academic departments. In fact it seems to go back to the division of labour itself. But the academic split insufficient to give rise to two different languages and two groups of people who each find it difficult to comprehend what the others are saying. Ihe The less academic movement of humanistic psychology attempts to root psychology in real experience rather than in laboratory experiments, and thus to see human activity in its social context. Yet, even so, the journal “Self & Society” leans heavily towards the self.

Thus there is a case for saying that there is a need to heal the split, and in particular to devise concepts that will be useful in both the individual and the social arena. The model offered here is many ways traditional, but what it lacks in originality may perhaps be made up by the relative ease with which it can be used across the boundaries of the existing disciplines and vocabularies.

A four-dimensional model

A four-dimensional approach to human being is indeed traditional. The tetterachotomy body-feelings-mind-spirit can be found in eastern systems (see Tansley 1977), in Wm Blake’s purpose-built mythology (Tharmas, Luvah, Urizen and Urthona or Los), in Jung’s four functions of sensation, feeling, thinking and intuition. What is added here (with acknowledgement to David Boadella’s work (1976, 1987)) is a basis in the developmental history of the human embryo, so that there is seen to be a material basis for the four dimensions. The charge of idealism can be forestalled!

On the side of social understanding a similar scheme in respect of the first three dimensions is offered by Marxism, with its 3-tiered model: forces of material production, social relations and ideology. There is nothing on the surface of Marxism to correspond to the fourth dimension: spirituality. Yet the most interesting part of the enquiry for me has been to see how the Marxist model is deepened rather than subverted by taking into account this fourth dimension.

NB: While the whole aim of the exercise is to combine individual and social realities, it is necessary to focus now on the former, now on the latter. But we must always remember that individual and society are abstractions: all we know are individuals-in-society, and society-consisting-of-individuals.

Individual focus: the embryological basis

Classical embryology has found three layers developing successively in the human embryo:

first the ectoderm: skin; sense-organs, nervous system centred in the brain, enabling contact within and outside the body;
second the endoderm: gastro-intestinal tube; later, lungs; functions of feeding & breathing; also a locus of emotional charge;
third the mesoderm: cardio-vascular system (blood); skeleto-muscular system; sexual organs (except for part of vagina).

However, this fails to take account of the aura and the possibility that an “organising field” surrounds the embryo. This is, of course, highly conjectural, but Boadella (1987) links these in a further “layer”, whose existence would precede the emergence of the ectoderm: the “morphoderm”.

The dimensions of human activity and experience that are made possible by the organs that develop from the 3 “classical” layers are fairly obvious:

ectodermal organ systems: communication, both internal and external;
endodermal organ systems: assimilation of matter and people (physical and emotional “digestion”);
mesodermal organ-systems: standing, walking, moving etc.

I call these respectively the Representational, the Relational and the Foundational dimensions. To correspond with (note the vagueness!) the possible morphoderm I set spiritual experience. Although much of the position taken here differs from Wilber’s (1980, 1981, 1983), I follow his often-repeated view that the essence of spiritual experience lies in its being non-dual; the gap between subject and object, knower and known, narrows to zero, so that there is a kind of fusion (my word, not his). Thus I refer to this dimension as the Fusional. (Wilber’s phrase “no boundary” can be helpful here.)

Social focus

The social analogue of grounding oneself on the planet as an individual,is the process by which a group of people (tribe, nation or class, for example) engages with its environment to produce what is needed for human life at a given cultural level. Thue the Foundational dimension is represented socially by roughly what Marx called the forces of material production.

The social analogue of individual assimilation is the process by which groups assimilate themselves to or dissociate themselves from other groups. Thus the Relational dimension is represented socially by Marx’s social relations.

The social analogue of the individual’s giving and receiving signals to and from without and within, is the network of human communication consisting of language and its various media. Thus the Representational dimension is represented socially by the whole process of the “social construction of reality” (Berger and Luckmann 1971). It includes the alienated constructions which Marx labelled “ideology” (= biassed in the interests of the ruling class). Domination is presented as ordinary and normal.

The social analogue of the individual’s fusional experience is three-fold. First there is the occurrence of fusion when people feel a womb-like security in a group. Second, there is the case of individual identity getting lost in e.g. the worship of a leader. Third, there is the pre- and peri-natal stress and pain which, according to Wasdell (1990), underly the human tendency to spilt into groups, projecting our “bad” parts on to other groups (a kind of mass paranoia) etc. Womb-like comfort would seem to be harmless and healthy. The other two cases are clearly alienated.

Healthy and alienated forms

Are there, then, alienated forms on the previous two dimensions as well, the Foundational and the Relational? Yes. Taking the social focus first: on the Foundational dimension there is “mis-production”, the abuse of the environment (here is the connection with ecology movement). On the Relational dimension, there is “mis-relation”, i.e. in our society the exploitative relationships of class distinctions. Taking the individual focus: the alienated forms appear as distortions of human character, which may or may not be socially approved and, to some extent at least, socially caused. I follow the Reich-Lowen tradition in seeing these as ways in which people armour themselves against stress and pain – and then the armour becomes habitual. As regards the Fusional dimension, healthy and alienated forms, in terms of realistic and idealising regression, will be discussed later. The healthy forms of the other dimensions are open awareness (Representational), confident assimilation (Relational) and free flow of emotions (Foundational). Throughout, “healthy” = “good enough” (not some ideal , perfect state). Thus in the social focus, good enough on the Representational dimension = non-dominative construing of reality; on the Relational one, it = synergy (where the benefit of work is shared by all, cooperation); on the Foundational one, it = sustainable use of the earth’s resources.

Dimension Way of being Individual focus Social focus
embryological analogue healthy form alienated form healthy form alienated form
FUSIONAL “no boundary” (morphoderm?) realistic regression idealising regression group as womb leader-fusion; paranoia
REPRESENTATIONAL communication ectoderm open awareness character structure non-dominative construing ideology
RELATIONAL assimilation endoderm take in confidently character structure synergy, cooperate exploitative class divs
FOUNDATIONAL self-support mesoderm muscles let emotions flow character structure sustainable production abuse of environment