[Translation of radio broadcast by GegenStandpunkt Marburg, August 27, 2008]
There are some basic views of psychology that many feel are so self-evident that they no longer need to be argued. Nevertheless, the question is still admissible whether these standards of psychological argumentation are really as self-evident and plausible as they are generally thought.
Psychology is known for the rather wide range of its subjects. Whether it is work or love, Christianity or suicide, school or war – with all these topics it knows its responsibility for the explanation of the role that the subject plays in the process. And it is undoubtedly the case that the subject of all these activities, to which psychological theories dedicate themselves, is the human: without humans, no work, no religion, no war, no nothing at all.
Counter-argument: It is no good at all for an explanation to take attention away – with this incontestable, but also scarcely illuminating fact – from what humans do in order to direct it to the fact that it is humans who do “it.” From the negative determination “without humans no work, no religion, etc.,” by no means does psychology’s positive conclusion follow in a particularly compelling way: ...then the key to work, love, religion and war must lie within the person – literally – in his inner being, his psyche! Whoever still regards this conclusion as self-evident is not then logically interested in the contents of the subjective achievements, and thus in the question of how humans actually become subjects of the different actions in which they are surely somehow involved. Rather, the science of psychology has given itself the research assignment of looking in the human for something which produces his behavior, to explain his subjective performances from something behind the respective actions. With this small but decisive shift in perspective, the foundation is laid for the peculiarity of psychological explanations – namely:
Psychology assumes in its investigations that the key to the behavior of humans is to be sought in the inner world of the individual. As it sometimes explicitly stresses, the performance of human will and consciousness count for it as the mere “surface” which must always be scratched in order to discover the hidden processes “lying behind” it. And it also knows the evidence for its treatment of these subjective performances as existing only on the level of “observable consciousness,” which without further ado is not to be trusted at all:
First, as everybody knows, the human psyche does not lie before us “like an open book” which we only have to read;
second, people indeed do all sorts of seemingly contradictory and unreasonable things and
third, they often have wrong, blurred or no consciousness of their actions and feelings. That is the extent of the evidence of psychology.
Counter-argument: From a need to explain what people do and what they think about God and the world, the compelling conclusion psychology wants to have drawn by no means follows: “then” – from the need to explain all kinds of expressions of consciousness – will and consciousness are really to be regarded as a sphere of delusional fantasy, and are by no stretch of the imagination to be taken as what drives someone and why. With this perception one declares (glorifies) human action to be only this quite fundamental enigma whose solution lies absolutely “behind” it, in other words: it must be searched for and found beyond the consciousness that somebody has. Yet the fact that people take part in all kinds of nonsense does not prove that only their inner world can be responsible for it. Psychology does not at all take into consideration that somebody might have formed an incorrect judgment, because for psychology the content of a thought is not worth examining – it takes it as neither serious nor true, but counts it only as a reflection of mental processes. Equipped with this very methodical certainty – “but there must be something behind it!” – nothing stands in the way of the psychological excursion into the ego.
If the person is capable of every activity possible, then psychology would like to clarify what enables him to do it; then it is a matter of fathoming the laws of human behavior and its cause therein. Discovering “behavioral disposition” from typical, recurring behavior purportedly serves to better understand the inner -- as well as the outer – world of the individual.
– A certain precondition without which certain activities can not be done is still not by a long shot the same as the reason why someone does it. The fact that the person has something, e.g. a mental ability, does not explain by any means why he goes to school for a several years and is graded there ...
– With this mistake – from the ability to .... the reason for an action – it is already somewhat dogmatic to exclude from the start that what one causes could depend on such a thing as the purpose that he may set or which he must obey. What an individual does, wants, thinks, feels – psychology immediately takes as more or less arbitrary expressions of those powers inserted in him which it had already previously assumed to be the driving forces of human behavior.
– The human is thereby doubled in theory, into what he wants to do and that which drives him to do “it.” It makes no difference whether at the moment his instinctual life, a block box, an innate talent or an acquired motive is held responsible for it – how he behaves and acts is every time said to depend on one of these internal forces and juices. Behavior is a dependent variable of internal and external factors which causes what we do and what we don't. This is the determinism of psychology: if one acts one way or another, then that will probably have an inner necessity – one is (constructed) somehow or other and can therefore doubtless behave no differently.
– As an explanation, the designation of certain dispositions, abilities, cognitive patterns, etc. as traits of certain observable phenomena is incorrect. So, for example, the finding “war is a form of aggression” grasps just the most unspecific aspect of war. One is guaranteed to get no closer to identifying its reason, its subject; on the contrary: this action of the state has now become confused with all other possible “damages to the individual”!
The propositions of psychology thus exist in a circular procedure. One must only gather again after the event that abstract common characteristic which was previously read into all possible types of force (power, competition, etc., everything is for psychologists interchangeable and apparently also the same!): namely at one point as its trait, at another as its driving force. Thus the driving force for “aggressive behavior” is crystal-clear: the “aggressiveness” in humans. Or it is to be interpreted vice versa as a mere “reflex” to external circumstances which in turn raises the fascinating question about a disposition to react to these circumstances “appropriately.” In its Notionlessness, this sort of explanation directly produces a deep understanding of all the large and small events of life, from the struggle for success on the job to the marital quarrel: the personality of a person is always responsible.
Since everything that a person amounts to depends on the state of his inner life, psychology offers a diagnosis of the personality. It investigates characteristics, capacities, and aptitudes whose individual development decides the chances and prospects which one has in professional and/or private life. Intelligence and personality tests transfer this assumption into practice and are said to provide knowledge about the chances which the individual has on account of his capabilities.
Counter-argument: Since when are the chances that are offered to someone “to make something of himself” in this society really adapted to who that person is and what his abilities are? It is after all the reverse: people have to adapt themselves to whatever abilities are generally required. They must show them or learn them in order to be able to measure up to certain positions. Meaning: it is always set up that there is a hierarchy of occupations and wages. Likewise, it is certain from the start – before somebody or other would need to look at the “abilities” of people – that there are always winners and losers because the people are to be distributed into this hierarchy. And only because it is not yet fixed who lands on top or below, should the saying be true that one should untiringly strive with his chance?! From the rather banal statement that everybody is measured by what they bring into the competition for these positions and depend thereby on their efforts, it does not follow by a long shot that personal abilities decide what becomes of one.
However, it is simply the ideology of this competition that people have control over their own success and therefore only have to vigorously polish their “abilities”; this is certainly not true, but useful – namely for justifying success and defeat. Psychology therefore first agrees very much with the modern dogma that the abilities of the individual “to make use of his chances” determines what he attains in life (not only in employment), and second elevates this to a method of scientific palm reading: “Show me your characteristics and I will tell you how you will turn out and what you had to turn out to be!” So success is easily concluded from a “success seeker,” just as, vice versa, a “failure” betrays a “loser.” As a reason for it, an “individually distinct ability to succeed” is given just as easily. With this suitable linguistic monument – ability to succeed – the image of a “predisposition,” a property which decides (in advance) the success (or failure) of the endeavors of people in all spheres of life in which they want or have to be active, thus which “somehow” determines it, denotes very appropriately psychology's own personality racism. This is a severe accusation of the humanitarians of the psychological guild. Therefore, of course, another detailed reason:
The most popular offer of psychology ultimately consists of advising people in how to deal with themselves and helping them when they come into difficulties in the process.
Counter-argument: Just ask yourself, in what is one helped. One could notice that the philanthropy of these offers to care by psychological practice feed off the same prejudice that already distinguishes its diagnoses: if somebody or something fails, this is what you are and it lies within you – and I want to help you at this! This diagnosis is already fixed before the client has entered the practice, because the psychologist always applies it. And that is to say, he promises help for a “failure,” completely beyond any examination of what he may fail at and why. Whether somebody was fired, sits in jail or their sweetheart ran away: a therapist regards all these incidents from the start as givens which his client must be able to get along with. The only thing that interests him in his “cases” is that they must dutifully deal with themselves. Whether a special “case” has become the victim of a hostile interest, has perhaps made a mistake in the pursuit of his own interest, disgraces himself by the moral standards that apply in this society, or whatever – the psychologist cannot evaluate and expressly does not want to judge, let alone criticize.
The people cared for by him should turn exclusively toward the question whether their attitude towards their problems is correct – and the clients also obviously have to expect no other “understanding.” And when is the attitude “correct“? If people are not thrown off track by an incident which damages or troubles them or produces discontent! A psychological consultation never promises those seeking help that it will be or can be helpful in removing the occasion and/or reason for a problem, but rather always only helps one position oneself differently towards it. A completely instrumental use of the mind is thus advised every time: simply look at the issue in such a way that it does not disturb you! In plain English: Don't worry, be happy. If you have fallen on your face in this harsh world – you may not allow this to damage your self-confidence, that is the essential thing; if you have no success in the jungle of competition – reflect on the fact that you just have other, higher qualities ...
The tips from psychologists therefore all go like this: here a dash more “self-confidence and self-esteem,” there a pinch more “motivation,” here a little less “concern for appearances” – in every life situation there is a matching, because functional, attitude for the mind, and the person is then “psychologically healthy,” and the doctor of the psyche is pleased. Giving people more self-confidence – this success is not to be denied to psychological help.
And a public which is recruited from all sectors of this capitalist society thankfully takes notice and calls upon their services. Admittedly, less the unemployed and the welfare recipients than the enforcers in matters of preparation for the professional future – teachers, managers, and politicians. All participants in psychological help are more or less successfully supervised in coping with their problems. And they are richly provided with clientele. Like we said, a very functional arrangement which psychology pursues as a practice and founds as a science ...
Psychology of the Private Individual:
Critique of Bourgeois Consciousness