Mayor, H. (1936). Applied: Melitta Schmideberg. 'Zum Verständnis massenpsychologischer Erscheinungen.' Imago, 1935, Bd. XXI, H. 4, pp. 445–457.. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 17:517-519.
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Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: Applied: Melitta Schmideberg. 'Zum Verständnis massenpsychologischer Erscheinungen.' Imago, 1935, Bd. XXI, H. 4, pp. 445–457.
(1936). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 17:517-519
When the civilized adult is able to deal with his instinctual urges and irrational anxieties by expressing them in a rational form, we call him normal. When he has recourse to irrational methods of gratification and control we say he has a neurosis. It is not enough simply to investigate pathological phenomena; we are bound also to consider the ways in which anxiety is worked over normally. This is as true of the group as it is of the individual.
The author proceeds to examine three of the 'normal' defensive policies adopted by the social group.
1. Work provides an outlet for primitive instinctual drives, but its psychological significance is not confined to this. It helps the individual to atone for his sadistic impulses; it relieves his irrational doubts and feelings of inferiority, i.e. inspires him with confidence in his powers; because of the monetary reward attached to it, it allays fears of helplessness and starvation and other deep anxieties; and finally it symbolizes a satisfactory relation to society. Unemployment leaves this line of defence in ruins. The grave psychological situation which ensues is brilliantly described.
2. The newspaper, which has always existed, if it has not always been printed, provides harmless substitutive outlets for the individual's sadism; enables him to place his irrational anxieties on a rational foundation (e.g. fears of poverty can appear suitably disguised as concern over the soundness of America's financial policy); and relieves his guilt and anxiety, since he reads also of disasters averted, measures taken to alleviate distress, etc.
3. Crime performs an important stabilizing function in the life of the community. It is a serious question whether in the event of punishmentbeing abolished and so ceasing to provide a channel for the discharge of sadism, the effects would not be felt in greater proneness to war and revolution, or again in an increase in neurosis or in the accident mortality rate.
The criminal provides us with a respectable cover for our animistic fears and helps to make it easier for us to overcome them (it is easier to conduct a campaign against crime than against evil spirits). Besides this, he acts as scapegoat for the criminal impulses of his non-criminal fellow-citizens. It is indeed for them that penal laws are really designed. The absence of such laws would be felt in increased mental conflict easily leading to neurosis rather than in an increase of crime itself.
No wonder then if the most laudable efforts to abolish crime and relieve distress have proved comparatively unsuccessful. Society might be
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compared with a neurotic who makes great conscious efforts to succeed but unconsciously does everything to secure misfortune. It would be important to investigate the unconscious factors obstructing social progress.
It will be for the future to discover precisely how psycho-analysis must be adapted to the investigation of group phenomena. But we have already learned some useful lessons from psycho-analysis of the individual, e.g. not to over-estimate the importance of precipitating factors, to pay attention to details, not to consider a particular manifestation in isolation. An idealanalysis of (say) a revolution would have to take into account the psychology of the supporters and opponents of the movement as well as of those who took no active part in it and of the outstanding personalities of the time; the interplay of economic and psychological factors; the question why this particular solution was adopted rather than another and why it was not adopted earlier than it was; the cultural achievements, religion, morality, the educational system and mode of life prevailing in the community in question and much else besides.
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Mayor, H. (1936). Applied. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 17:517-519
WARNING! This text is printed for the personal use of the subscriber to PEP Web and is copyright to the Journal in which it originally appeared. It is illegal to copy, distribute or circulate it in any form whatsoever.