Nigel Collingwood


(This statement was recorded when Mary, Mark and Patrick visited Nigel to have the coordination of Connect passed over to them – Nigel reluctantly agreed to be taped.)

Well, I think one of the main reasons I was interested in starting it (though I still insisted that it was started by all the people who founded it at the first meeting)... So as a co-founder my interest was that I had a number of friends and colleagues in the therapy world, and a number of friends and colleagues in the political world (who happened to be far left wing, but it doesn’t much matter, it was the political world). These friends of mine seemed to be talking in two completely different languages, and I had to translate anything in my own head from one to the other. They seemed to live in two different worlds, as well as having two different languages.

The idea of connecting them together seemed to me very important, because I was very interested in, for want of a better word, helping the world to become a better place, in some way or other. I saw this was happening both through therapeutic ways (not necessarily individual therapy, but group therapy as well) on the one hand, and through political work on the other. It seemed to me that each of those groups lacked the insights of the other. So that the therapists were politically uninterested and were rather superior about politics, as though it was some kind of mistake, some kind of ego trip or something: people hadn’t actually discovered themselves. If they had, they would drop politics like a hot brick, that point of view. On the other hand the political people felt that therapy was a complete evasion: it was staring at your own navel, instead of getting out on the streets and having the revolution.

It seemed to me that actually those were two absurd extremes, and that to be properly political you have to have discovered yourself in the therapeutic sense. Otherwise, what I think has tended to happen is you throw bricks not at your enemy but really at your father or mother or something like that. You haven’t sorted out who you are throwing the bricks at, or who your enemy is. So you’ve got to, if you’re political, have worked out your own psychological salvation as it were, as far as you can. It’s a lifetime’s work obviously for everybody, but you must be working on that, otherwise you’re not really knowing what you’re fighting. You’re probably fighting all sorts of personal battles in displacement from your own story into the world outside, some kind of projection going on.

Similarly, therapy, if it’s just thought of as an ideal solution for personal problems (and it’s better if you live in Hampstead because then your next-door neighbour can be your therapist and you can be a therapist of your next-door neighbour)... It seems very much a middle class hobby. Though it’s got great potential to change the world it doesn’t seem to be able to actually have much connection with the huge events that are happening all around. So it seems to me very necessary to connect the two: each set of insights is fruitful for the other.

Since then I’ve met two tremendously influential sources for myself, one of which is David Wasdell, who lives just opposite that great Canary Wharf skyscraper in East London. He’s done a tremendous amount of work on large groups and what happens to them, and what are the psychological determinants of their behaviour, particularly when they are in transition. He has come to the conclusion that it’s very very early material, mostly pre- and peri-natal that is relevant to what is going on in the big world at that level. So I have been tremendously influenced by him. The other one is Lloyd DeMause, who fathered the Institute of Psychohistory in the United States and says very much the same sort of thing. He also is convinced that the psychological origins of political behaviour have to be sought in very very early common experience, before birth as well as upbringing. His whole concept, like the history of childhood – he invented the subject and researched it exhaustively, as far as it can be at this early stage.

All that seems tremendously relevant, so that since being a co-founder in Connect I find at least two very, very powerful sources of relevant thinking where both these people take the political and the therapeutic seriously, and in some kind of combination. I don’t entirely agree with either of them of course, and particularly because my own political views are far left I tend to find I disagree with them on a political front. But then I think that there are quite valid arguments to have there, rather than just simply saying we don’t agree and we can’t do anything about it.

So the only thing that I need to add is that in the nine years that Connect’s been going, the interest in this sort of thing, although it isn’t very great, is certainly greater than it was. It’s much easier to find somebody who understands roughly what I am trying to talk about. If I can just say in the last five minutes, it was nine years ago, and I imagine in nine years time it will be easier still. I’m hopeful that Connect will contribute something towards making it easier.

Nigel Collingwood
Upton, Poole
14 November 1992
(transcribed by Mark Alexander and Patrick Henry)