Psychologizing Subservience: The Era of Psuchikos Man
By Phillip D. Collins ©, Jan. 8th, 2014
I Corinthians 2: 14-15 establishes a binary opposition that defines the modern historical struggle in which man finds himself mortally locked. This passage of Scripture, as it is translated in the amplified version of the Bible, reads: “But the natural, nonspiritual man does not accept or welcome or admit into his heart the gifts and teachings and revelations of the Spirit of God, for they are folly (meaningless nonsense) to him; and he is incapable of knowing them [of progressively recognizing, understanding, and becoming better acquainted with them] because they are spiritually discerned and estimated and appreciated. But the spiritual man tries all things [he examines, investigates, inquires into, questions, and discerns all things], yet is himself to be put on trial and judged by no one [he can read the meaning of everything, but no one can properly discern or appraise or get an insight into him].”
Verse 15 presents the reader with the “spiritual man.” The adjective “spiritual” is etymologically derived from the Greek word Pneumatikos, which relates to the human spirit or rational soul. Pneumatikos is that which was breathed into man by God in Genesis 2:7. In fact, the word pneumatikos also pertains to breath, as is evidenced by respiratory-related terms like “pneumonia.” The concept of Pneumatikos forms the basis for the Christian doctrine of imago viva Dei, which teaches that man occupies the unique position as a creature created in the image of God.
In contradistinction, verse 14 presents the reader with the “natural man.” The adjective “natural” is etymologically derived from the Greek word psuchikos. It denotes the principle of animal life, that which men have in common with the brutes. It also connotes the sensuous nature with its subjection to appetite and passion.
Interestingly enough, the term “psychology” is etymologically derived from psuchikos. Through the interpretative lens of modern psychology, all those elements of man that initially fell under the descriptive category of pneumatikos are biologicized. With the soul divorced from metaphysics, every thought, feeling, and idea becomes biochemical in origin. Remaining consistent with its etymological root, psychology reduces man to little more than a brute whose behavior must be sculpted by those few conditioners who are accountable to no moral master.
The painter of this reductionistic portrait of man was Wilhelm Maximilian Wundt, a professor of psychology at the University of Heidelberg. His theories became canonical within the halls of institutional psychology and psychiatry. In 1911, Wundt declared: “The soul can no longer exist in the face of our present-day physiological knowledge.”
Astute readers will notice the parallels between the Wundtian view of humanity and the Enlightenment conception of man as a tabula rasa. Pre-Wundtian psychology was largely a philosophical discipline. Yet, Wundt subsumed psychology under the empirical sciences, thereby limiting the field’s postulates to that which is quantifiably and empirically demonstrable.
The promulgation of this doctrine would hold broader ramifications for the development of modern governance. According to Librarian of Congress James Billington, it is with Henri de Saint-Simon’s extrapolation of radical empiricism into the “the altogether new field of social relations” that one identifies the epistemological origins of this societal model. Adherents of Saint-Simon’s philosophy contended that “the key to diagnosing and curing the ills of humanity lay in an objective understanding of the physiological realities that lay behind all thinking and feeling.” Following this physiological interpretation of governance to its logical ends, Saint-Simon developed the precursor to Marx’s “scientific socialism.”
Saint-Simon worked under the epistemological assumption that the scientific method could be imposed upon the social body as well as the individual body, thereby developing a physiological interpretation of the state. According to this interpretation, society could be analyzed in terms of its physiological components: classes. This functional class analysis presaged Marx’s interpretation of economic classes.
Friedrich Engels described Marx’s theory as “scientific socialism” because both science and Marxism bestowed epistemological primacy upon observable phenomenon. Thus, radical empiricism provides the epistemological basis for all modern forms of scientific totalitarianism. Not surprisingly, later physicalist philosophers of mind would view certain models of communism as normative. For instance, B.F Skinner states in Walden Two: “… Russia after fifty years is not a model we wish to emulate. China may be closer to the solutions I have been talking about, but a Communist revolution in America is hard to imagine.”
The Wundtian subsumption of psychology under the empirical sciences repositioned the field on a decidedly pragmatic trajectory. In Paolo Lionni’s Leipzig Connection, Wundt is quoted as follows: “…it truly appears to be a waste of energy to keep returning to such aimless discussions about the nature of the psyche, which were in vogue for a while, and practically still are, instead, rather of applying one’s energies where they will produce real results.”
In other words, Wundtian psychology jettisoned understanding in favor of pragmatic application. E. Michael Jones provides an accurate definition of this new approach to the study of psyche while examining two of the field’s chief theoreticians, John Dewey and John Watson. He states: “People like Dewey were known as pragmatists for good reason. They were interested in the truth about the human psyche only insofar as that truth produced results. Like the physical sciences, which were not so much a means of understanding nature as they were a means of controlling it, the new science of psychology, as conceived by John Dewey, would be a way of controlling the human mind. Dewey was one of the architects of the twentieth-century liberalism, and one of the goals of liberalism was social control.”
Indeed, social control has been an overwhelming preoccupation of most twentieth-century liberals. Ultimately, “liberalism” is a rhetorical device invoked by the social engineers of the political left, particularly those who seek the establishment of a socialist totalitarian government. Synopsizing this contention, former U.S. Socialist Presidential candidate Norman Thomas said: “The American people will never knowingly adopt socialism. But, under the name of ‘liberalism’, they will adopt every fragment of the socialist program, until one day America will be a socialist nation, without knowing how it happened.”
Wundtian psychology promised to supply society’s would-be controllers with the psycho-cognitive surgical instruments for dissecting the human psyche. In turn, Wundtian psychology was, to a certain extent, informed by an earlier scientific theory: Darwinism. Like Wundt, Charles Darwin biologicized the pneumatikos elements of man, thereby confining him entirely to the descriptive category of psuchikos. Elaborating on this materialist propensity, Adrian Desmond and James Moore write: “He (Darwin) now routinely reduced thought and behavior to cerebral structure, boiling it down to bits of the brain. If wishes are a consequence of neural organization–evolving under the ‘circumstances & education’–then anti-social behaviour can be inherited. ‘Verily the faults of the fathers, corporeal & bodily are visited upon the children.'”
Herein was the rationale for social engineering. If aberrations like “anti-social personalities” are predetermined by hereditary, then it stands to reason that genes are destiny. Thus, the gene pool must be managed through selective breeding and compulsory sterilization. This contention provided the premise for eugenics. The full title of Darwin’s seminal tract on evolution was On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. This title prompts two disturbing questions. Exactly which race enjoys the “favour” of natural selection? More importantly, which race does not?
In The Descent of Man, Darwin reveals natural selection’s “favoured race” and the unfortunate people destined for extinction: “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphic apes… will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.”
The neo-Darwinian contention has been that Social Darwinism and eugenics were later additions to the “pure” evolutionary doctrine. However, Darwin’s own personal history clearly demonstrates that this was not the case. Darwin’s cousin, Sir Francis Galton, is considered the founder of the modern eugenics movement. Darwin dignified Galton’s ideas, commenting that “genius tends to be inherited.” Darwin quoted from Galton extensively in The Descent of Man. In fact, Descent opens with quite a candid endorsement of selective breeding: “With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.”
Darwin himself practiced selective breeding. In hopes of maintaining the “purity” of his seed, Darwin married the youngest granddaughter of his maternal father. The results of this inbreeding project were disastrous. Three of his six sons were chronically ill and regarded as “semi-invalids.” His last son, Charles Jr., was born retarded and died only nineteen months after birth. Two of his daughters also died at very young ages and his oldest girl, Henrietta, suffered a serious breakdown at fifteen.
Not surprisingly, Leonard Darwin, son of Charles and a member of the Cambridge University Eugenics Society, declared in 1912: “It is quite certain that no existing democratic government would go as far as we Eugenists think right in the direction of limiting the liberty of the subject for the sake of the racial qualities of future generations.”
Implicit in this statement is the denunciation of democratic government on the grounds that such a political system would stymie the allegedly “scientific” objective of eugenics. Democracy acknowledges moral and esthetic judgments. Because such valuations are ignored by the physical sciences, democracy is inimical to so-called “scientific” models of governance.
The contention that scientists should seize the reins of governance stems from the religion of scientism. Scientism is epistemological imperialism. It promotes the extrapolation of science into contexts that fall outside the ambit of scientific inquiry. When extended beyond its legitimate fields of application, science becomes a rigid template to which even the most complex of entities, like man, must conform. The scientific outlook acknowledges no moral master. It gives no assent to moral or esthetic judgments. In the words of B.F. Skinner, it “de-homunculizes” man, a being that was originally “defended by the literatures of freedom and dignity.” Not surprisingly, Richard Dawkins, who believes that science should inform moral discourses, has argued that the demarcations between humans and animals are “more fuzzy and less clear cut.”
When extrapolated into the context of governance, science becomes an oppressor. In the scientifically regimented state, the citizen becomes little more than an amalgam of behavioral repertoires whose every thought, feeling, and idea is the product of external stimuli. From the scientistic vantage point, the populace’s motivations can be calculated and systematized, thereby allowing those few conditioners who are accountable to no moral master to develop economic and technological stimuli that can produce the desired patterns of mass behavior.
The dangerous marriage between the State and science is also a propensity within modern psychology. This unhealthy union was being forged from the very beginning, as is evidenced by the fact that Wundt’s research was financed and supported by the Prussian political and military establishment.
Otto Von Bismarck, Germany’s “Iron Chancellor,” employed Wundtian theories in his effort to garner mass support for his war machine. Holocaust historians have noted that, in the 1930s, social issues were medicalized while people in German mental institutions were euthanized. These atrocities presaged Hitler’s mass murder of Jews and other ethnic enclaves in the 1940s.
Meanwhile, the Soviet Union witnessed the rise of so-called Psikhushka hospitals, where several political dissidents were branded as “schizophrenics” and were subjected to involuntary psychiatric treatment. Given this distinctly political criterion for the assignment of schizophrenia, one could reasonably argue that the Soviets were intentionally conflating medical diagnoses with punitive measures.
In 1963, American psychiatrist Thomas Szasz warned of the rise of what he called the “Therapeutic State,” a system in which unauthorized modes of thought and behavior are repressed through “pseudo-medical intervention.” While the ACLU and civil libertarians consistently promote the separation of church and state, perhaps a more necessary separation to argue on behalf of is the division between psychiatry and the State. In the absence of such a division, humanity could witness the emergence of psychologized subservience and the era of psuchikos man.