Work developed for the Red May series curated by Hami Bahadori

What is it that today some of us are connected to all parts of the world via internet (and might even know hundreds of colleagues internationally) but we might not know any of the people who live with us in the same apartment complex? At the same time, many others around the world are in constant state of fear and paranoia form war and terror.

Punainen Toukokuu/Red May is a celebratory exhibition, simultaneous with Vappu at Alkovi in the neighborhood of Kallio. Kino Club and Reading Group are collaborating on a public performance for the opening of the exhibition. The performance will involve music and video screening followed by serving soup to the public. This will be the second year in which Red May exhibition happens in Alkovi.

The exhibition is supported by Kuvataideakatemi

Screenings:
#1 SEMAPHORE – Flatchestedmama
#2 SCREENINGS – Kasra Rahmanian
#3 WHY DON’T YOU SPEAK FINNISH? – Fatmir Mustafa-Karllo
#4 MEDIATED PRESENCE/ PERFORMANCE – Ksenia Yurkova
#5 GO BACK GO LEFT – Arash Akhlaqi
#6 SANTA CLAUS IS COMIN’ TO TOWN, (YOU BETTER WATCH OUT) #3 – Hami Bahadori
#7 WHO WILL SURVIVE IN AMERICA – Rosa Maria
#8 CHINOISE2018 – Jani A. Purhonen
#9 THE COST OF PRIVACY – Jessica Escobar
#10 61217 – Verneri Salonen
#11 ??? – Jo Kjaergaard
#12 PERUNA SAARI. KANAVA – Sashapasha
#13 RED PRESENCE – Esther Planas

A series of events, situations, and apparitions following up the work on the Red Spectre started in 2010 along time up to May 2018

Many variations and temporalities have presented us with challenges of what is it and what it means the Red spectre and Capitalist recuperations of it.
Meanwhile, the micro politics of the small keep their pace consistent with the imperceptible:

Issue 1

Alienation:

In the Capitalist grid, alienation is the main symptom. People relate to each other with the calculating mind of its principles. Relations become "capital symbolic" and only if useful things appear to work between peoples.

Today this spirit of profits, haunts all relations and connections. Not for nothing there is a theory of the Socialist spirit operating inside the Elites.

As if those affects once instigated by workers towards its companions and the hope of achieving the spirit in the Unions, had been long ago recuperated, learnt and assimilated by the powers of the "union" that requires the narcissistic tone of the groupings of today.

According to a recent study by the Red Cross in partnership with Co-op, more than nine million adults in the UK are often or always lonely. We are facing a loneliness epidemic, with Theresa May taking the step earlier this year of appointing Tracey Crouch as what some have dubbed the “minister for loneliness” to try to tackle the issue. 30 April 2018 at the Guardian.

Is for this, that the work around the figure of the one, of the self as isolated alienated is ongoing. There are many moments of connection, but are short, disperse and ephemeral.

The works on School of Calidity originated under this premises.

How to really find warmth that becomes also a revolution?


Red Presence Red Event Red May 2018 from esther planas on Vimeo.

A mad world: capitalism and the rise of mental illness

What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?

Mental illness is now recognised as one of the biggest causes of individual distress and misery in our societies and cities, comparable to poverty and unemployment. One in four adults in the UK today has been diagnosed with a mental illness, and four million people take antidepressants every year. ‘What greater indictment of a system could there be,’ George Monbiot has asked, ‘than an epidemic of mental illness?

A sick society

Experiences of social isolation, inequality, feelings of alienation and dissociation, and even the basic assumptions and ideology of materialism and neoliberalism itself are seen today to be significant drivers – reflected in the titles of a number of recent articles and talks on this subject, such as those of consultant psychotherapist David Morgan’s groundbreaking Frontier Psychoanalyst podcasts, which have included discussions on whether ‘Neoliberalism is dangerous for your mental health’, and ‘Is neoliberalism making us sick?’

Clinical psychologist and psychotherapist Jay Watts observes in the Guardian that ‘psychological and social factors are at least as significant and, for many, the main cause of suffering. Poverty, relative inequality, being subject to racism, sexism, displacement and a competitive culture all increase the likelihood of mental suffering. Governments and pharmaceutical companies are not as interested in these results, throwing funding at studies looking at genetics and physical biomarkers as opposed to the environmental causes of distress. Similarly, there is little political will to combine increasing mental distress with structural inequalities, though the association is robust and many professionals think this would be the best way to tackle the current mental health epidemic’.

It’s time we talk about the c word – capitalism

There are clearly very powerful and entrenched interests and agendas here, which consciously or unconsciously act to conceal or try to deny this relationship, and which also makes the recent willingness amongst so many psychoanalysts and therapists to embrace this wider context so exciting and moving.

Commentators often talk about society, social context, group thinking, and environmental determinants in connection with mental distress and disorders, but we can I think actually be a bit more precise about what aspect of society is mainly driving it, is mainly responsible for it. And in this context it’s probably time we talk about the c word – capitalism.

Many of the contemporary forms of illness and individual distress that we treat and engage with certainly seem to be correlated with and amplified by the processes and byproducts of capitalism. In fact, you might say that capitalism is in many respects a mental illness generating system – and if we are serious about tackling not only the effects of mental distress and illness, but also their causes and origins, we need to look more closely, more precisely, and more analytically at the nature of the political and economic womb out of which they emerge, and how psychology is fundamentally interwoven with every aspect of it. It was of course Marx who was the great analyst of alienation, showing how capitalist economics generates alienation as part of its very fabric or structure – showing how, for instance, alienation gets ‘lost’ or ‘trapped’, embodied, in products, commodities – from the obvious examples (such as Nikes made in sweatshops, and sweatshops embodied in Nikes) – to a wider and much more pervasive sense that the whole system of production and creation is somehow alienating.

As Pavon Cuellar remarks, ‘Marx was the first to realise that this alienation actually gets contained and incarnated in things – in “commodities”‘ (Marxism and Psychoanalysis). These ‘fetishised’ commodities, he adds, seem to retain and promise to return, when consumed, the subjective-social part lost by those alienated while producing them: ‘the alienated have lost what they imagine [or hope] to find in what is fetishised.’

Capitalism is in many respects a mental illness generating system

This understanding of alienation is really the core issue for Marx. People probably know him today for his theories of capital – how issues of exploitation, profit, and control continually characterise and resurface in capitalism – but for me the key concern of Marx, and one that is constantly neglected, or misunderstood, is his view on the centrality and importance of human creativity and productivity – man’s ‘colossal productive power’ as he calls it – exactly as it was in fact for William Blake, slightly earlier in the century.

Marx refers to this extraordinary world-transformative energy and agency as our ‘active species-life’, our ‘species-being’ – our ‘physical and spiritual energies’. But these immense creative energies and transformative capacities are, he notes, under the present system, immediately taken from us and converted into something alien, objective, enslaving, fetishised.

Pathological institutions

These traits, as Joel Bakan brilliantly suggested in his book The Corporation, are encrypted into the very fabric of modern corporations – part of its basic DNA and modus operandi. ‘The corporation’s legally defined mandate,’ he notes, ‘is to pursue, relentlessly and without exception, its own self-interest, regardless of the often harmful consequences it might cause to others.’ By its own legal definition, therefore, the corporation is ‘a pathological institution’, and Bakan helpfully lists the diagnostic features of its default pathology (lack of empathy, pursuit of self-interest, grandiosity, shallow affect, aggression, social indifference) to show what a reliably disturbed patient the corporation is.

Why should all of these contemporary social and economic practices and processes generate so much illness, so many disorders? To answer this I think we need to look back at the wider Enlightenment project, and the psychological models of human nature out of which they emerged. Modern capitalism grew out of seventeenth century concepts of man as some sort of disconnected, discontinuous, disengaged self – one driven by competition and a narrow, ‘rational’ self-interest – the concept of homo economicus that drove and underwrote much of the whole Enlightenment project, including its economic models. As Iain McGilchrist notes, ‘Capitalism and consumerism, ways of conceiving human relationships based on little more than utility, greed, and competition, came to supplant those based on felt connection and cultural continuity.’

We now know how mistaken, and destructive, this model of the self is. Recent neuroscientific research into the ‘social brain’, together with exciting developments in modern attachment theory, developmental psychology, and interpersonal neurobiology, are significantly revising, and upgrading, this rather quaint, old-fashioned view of the isolated, ‘rational’ individual – and also revealing a far richer and more sophisticated understanding of human development and identity, through increased knowledge of ‘right hemisphere’ intersubjectivity, unconscious processes, group behaviour, the role of empathy and mentalisation in brain development, and the significance of context and socialisation in emotional and cognitive development.

As neuroscientist David Eagleman observes, the human brain itself relies on other brains for its very existence and growth—the concept of ‘me’, he notes, is dependent on the reality of ‘we’:

We are a single vast superorganism, a neural network embedded in a far larger web of neural networks. Our brains are so fundamentally wired to interact that it’s not even clear where each of us begins and ends. Who you are has everything to do with who we are. There’s no avoiding the truth that’s etched into our neural circuitry: we need each other.

Dependency is therefore built into the fabric of who we are as social and biological beings, hardwired into our mainframe: it is ‘how love becomes flesh’, in Louis Cozolino’s striking phrase. ‘There are no single brains,’ Cozolino observes, echoing Winnicott, ‘brains only exist within networks of other brains.’ Some people have termed this new neurological and scientific understanding of the deep patterns of interdependency, mutual cooperation, and the social brain ‘neuro-Marxism’ because of the implications involved.

Capitalism is, it seems, rooted in a fundamentally flawed, naive, and old-fashioned seventeenth-century model of who we are – it tries to make us think that we’re isolated, autonomous, disengaged, competitive, decontextualised – an ultimately rather ruthless and dissociated entity. The harm that this view of the self has done to us, and our children, is incalculable.

Many people believe, and are encouraged to believe, that these problems and disorders – psychosis, schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, self-harm – these symptoms of a ‘sick world’ (to use James Hillman’s terrific description) are theirs, rather than the world’s. ‘But what if your emotional problems weren’t merely your own?’, asks Tom Syverson. ‘What if they were our problems? What if the real problem is that we’re living in wrong society? Perhaps Adorno was correct when he said, “wrong life cannot be lived rightly”.’

The root of this ‘living wrongly’ seems to be because we live in a social and economic system at odds with both our psychology and our neurology, with who we are as social beings. As I suggest in my book, we need to realise that our inner and outer worlds constantly and profoundly interact and shape each other, and that therefore rather than separating our understanding of economic and social practices from our understanding of psychology and human development, we need to bring them together, to align them. And for this to happen, we need a new dialogue between the political and personal worlds, a new integrated model for mental health, and a new politics.

Rod Tweedy is an author and editor of Karnac Books, a leading independent publisher of books on mental health and therapy. His edited collection, The Political Self: Understanding the Social Context for Mental Illness, is published by Karnac.


Self-harm, suicide and capitalist alienation

Recent figures reported by the BBC demonstrate that the “number of children being admitted to hospital in England for self-harm is at a five-year high”. In a study done by the Health and Social Care Information Centre it was shown that in the 10-14 year old age group, admissions of girls had gone up from 3,090 to 5,953 between 2009/10 and 2013/14, whilst admissions of boys during the same period were shown to rise from 454 to 659. This is an increase of almost 93% and 45% for girls and boys respectively.


Hope and Despair in the Modern Epoch

Capitalism on a world scale is in crisis. It has reached a stage whereby it has created wonders in the modern world; at the same time the vast majority of the population who work to produce such wonders are divorced from the results of their own labour. They are disenfranchised from the political process and isolated in their communities, which are ravaged by the scourges of de-industrialisation, unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse and other social ills.

Whilst it would be easy to look upon the above statistics and to despair and get upset, such a response would help no one, least of all those affected by the worst conditions inflicted on the mass of the working class. The figures related to self-harm and suicide should be seen rather as a cause of anger against a system incapable of providing the support needed by people in incredibly vulnerable circumstances.

Such figures should also be seen as only one side of a coin. Whilst many are stuck in a state of hopelessness and despair, there is also a wider development of consciousness in society, with layers of youth and the working class who are being politically radicalisation and are looking for a revolutionary way out. Self-harm statistics, therefore, by no means express everything about the ferment which we see taking place in the current period.

The same processes which lead to individuals succumbing to their alienation and despair are also the same which are propelling wider and wider layers of the working class to draw revolutionary conclusions and to seek a solution to the crisis of capitalism on a collective basis. From the mass movements in Hong Kong, Ferguson and Burkina Faso recently, to the general strikes in Greece, Spain and Italy, we are seeing a re-emergence of radical movements on a world scale, as the masses look for a way out to the present that engulfs the whole of humanity.

Examining Marx's theories in alienation was once of the basics for understanding this:

For the book by István Mészáros, see Marx's Theory of Alienation (book).

The 19th-century German intellectual Karl Marx (1818–1883) identified and described four types of Entfremdung (social alienation) that afflict the worker under capitalism.

Karl Marx's theory of alienation describes the estrangement (Ger. Entfremdung) of people from aspects of their Gattungswesen ("species-essence") as a consequence of living in a society of stratified social classes. The alienation from the self is a consequence of being a mechanistic part of a social class, the condition of which estranges a person from their humanity.

The theoretic basis of alienation, within the capitalist mode of production, is that the worker invariably loses the ability to determine life and destiny, when deprived of the right to think (conceive) of themselves as the director of their own actions; to determine the character of said actions; to define relationships with other people; and to own those items of value from goods and services, produced by their own labour. Although the worker is an autonomous, self-realized human being, as an economic entity, this worker is directed to goals and diverted to activities that are dictated by the bourgeoisie, who own the means of production, in order to extract from the worker the maximum amount of surplus value, in the course of business competition among industrialists.

Karl Marx expressed the Entfremdung theory, of estrangement from the self, in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (1932). Philosophically, the theory of Entfremdung relies upon The Essence of Christianity (1841), by Ludwig Feuerbach, which states that the idea of a supernatural god has alienated the natural characteristics of the human being. Moreover, in The Ego and its Own (1845), Max Stirner extended Feuerbach's analysis that even the idea of "humanity" is an alienating concept for individuals to intellectually consider in its full philosophic implication; Marx and Engels responded to these philosophic propositions in The German Ideology (1845).

Relations of production

Whatever the character of a person's consciousness (will and imagination), societal existence is conditioned by their relationships with the people and things that facilitate survival, which is fundamentally dependent upon co-operation with others, thus, a person's consciousness is determined inter-subjectively (collectively), not subjectively (individually), because humans are a social animal. In the course of history, to ensure individual survival, societies have organized themselves into groups who have different, basic relationships to the means of production. One societal group (class) owned and controlled the means of production, while another societal class worked the means of production; in the relations of production of that status quo, the goal of the owner-class was to economically benefit as much as possible from the labour of the working class. Moreover, in the course of economic development, when a new type of economy displaced an old type of economy—agrarian feudalism superseded by mercantilism, in turn superseded by the Industrial Revolution—the rearranged economic order of the social classes favored the social class who controlled the technologies (the means of production) that made possible the change in the relations of production. Likewise, there occurred a corresponding rearrangement of the human nature (Gattungswesen) and the system of values of the owner-class and of the working-class, which allowed each group of people to accept and to function in the rearranged status quo of production-relations.

Alienation of the worker from other workers

Capitalism reduces the labour of the worker to a commercial commodity that can be traded in the competitive labour-market, rather than as a constructive socio-economic activity that is part of the collective common effort performed for personal survival and the betterment of society. In a capitalist economy, the businesses who own the means of production establish a competitive labour-market meant to extract from the worker as much labour (value) as possible, in the form of capital. The capitalist economy's arrangement of the relations of production provokes social conflict by pitting worker against worker, in a competition for "higher wages", thereby alienating them from their mutual economic interests; the effect is a false consciousness, which is a form of ideological control exercised by the capitalist bourgeoisie through its cultural hegemony. Furthermore, in the capitalist mode of production, the philosophic collusion of religion in justifying the relations of production facilitates the realization, and then worsens, the alienation (Entfremdung) of the worker from their humanity; it is a socio-economic role independent of religion being "the opiate of the masses"

Influences: Hegel and Feuerbach

In Marxist theory, Entfremdung (alienation) is a foundational proposition about man's progress towards self-actualisation. In the Oxford Companion to Philosophy (2005), Ted Honderich described the influences of G.F.W. Hegel and Ludwig Feuerbach upon Karl Marx:

For Hegel, the unhappy consciousness is divided against itself, separated from its "essence", which it has placed in a "beyond".

As used by the philosophers Hegel and Marx, the reflexive German verbs entäussern ("to divest one's self of") and entfremden ("to become estranged") indicate that the term alienation denotes self-alienation: to be estranged from one's essential nature.[4] Therefore, alienation is a lack of self-worth, the absence of meaning in one's life, consequent to being coerced to lead a life without opportunity for self-fulfillment, without the opportunity to become actualized, to become one's Self.

In The Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), G.F.W. Hegel described the stages in the development of the human Geist (Spirit), by which men and women progress from ignorance to knowledge, of the self and of the world. Developing Hegel's human-spirit proposition, Karl Marx said that those poles of idealism—"spiritual ignorance" and "self-understanding"—are replaced with material categories, whereby "spiritual ignorance" becomes "alienation" and "self-understanding" becomes man's realisation of his Gattungswesen (species-essence).

Entfremdung and the theory of history

See also: Marx's theory of history and Dialectical materialism

In Part I: "Feuerbach – Opposition of the Materialist and Idealist Outlook" of The German Ideology (1846), Karl Marx said that:

Things have now come to such a pass that the individuals must appropriate the existing totality of productive forces, not only to achieve self-activity, but also, merely, to safeguard their very existence.

That humans psychologically require the life activities that lead to their self-actualisation as persons remains a consideration of secondary historical relevance, because the capitalist mode of production eventually will exploit and impoverish the proletariat until compelling them to social revolution for survival. Yet, social alienation remains a practical concern, especially among the contemporary philosophers of Marxist humanism; in The Marxist-Humanist Theory of State-Capitalism (1992), Raya Dunayevskaya discussed and described the existence of the desire for self-activity and self-actualisation among wage-labour workers struggling to achieve the elementary goals of material life in a capitalist economy.

Entfremdung and social class

In Chapter 4 of The Holy Family (1845), Marx said that capitalists and proletarians are equally alienated, but that each social class experiences alienation in a different form:

The propertied class and the class of the proletariat present the same human self-estrangement. But the former class feels at ease and strengthened in this self-estrangement, it recognizes estrangement as its own power, and has in it the semblance of a human existence. The class of the proletariat feels annihilated, this means that they cease to exist in estrangement; it sees in it its own powerlessness and in the reality of an inhuman existence. It is, to use an expression of Hegel, in its abasement, the indignation at that abasement, an indignation to which it is necessarily driven by the contradiction between its human nature and its condition of life, which is the outright, resolute and comprehensive negation of that nature. Within this antithesis, the private property-owner is therefore the conservative side, and the proletarian the destructive side. From the former arises the action of preserving the antithesis, from the latter the action of annihilating it.


István Mészáros, 1970
Marx’s Theory of Aienation
Fragments:
2. Alienation as “Universal Saleability”

The principal function of the much glorified “contract” was, therefore, the introduction – in place of the rigidly fixed feudal relations – of a new form of “fixity” which guaranteed the right of the new master to manipulate the allegedly “free” human beings as things, as objects without will, once they have “freely elected” to enter into the contract in question by “alienating at will that which belonged to them”.

Thus human alienation was accomplished through turning everything “into alienable, saleable objects in thrall to egoistic need and huckstering. Selling is the practice of alienation. Just as man, so long as he is engrossed in religion, can only objectify his essence by an alien and fantastic being; so under the sway of egoistic need, he can only affirm himself and produce objects in practice by subordinating his products and his own activity to the domination of an alien entity, and by attributing to them the significance of an alien entity, namely money.” [Marx, On the Jewish Question] Reification of one's person and thus the “freely chosen” acceptance of a new servitude – in place of the old feudal, politically established and regulated form of servitude – could advance on the basis of a “civil society” characterised by the rule of money that opened the floodgates for the universal “servitude to egoistic need” (Knechtschaft des egoistischen Bedürfnisses).

Alienation is therefore characterised by the universal extension of “saleability” (i.e. the transformation of everything into commodity); by the conversion of human beings into “things” so that they could appear as commodities on the market (in other words: the “reification” of human relations), and by the fragmentation of the social body into “isolated individuals” (vereinzelte Einzelnen) who pursued their own limited, particularistic aims “in servitude to egoistic need”, making a virtue out of their selfishness in their cult of privacy. No wonder that Goethe protested “alles vereinzelte ist verwerflich”, “all isolated particularity is to be rejected”, advocating in opposition to “selfish isolationism” some form of “community with others like oneself” in order to be able to make a common “front against the world.” Equally no wonder that in the circumstances Goethe's recommendations had to remain utopian postulates. For the social order of “civil society” could sustain itself only on the basis of the conversion of the various areas of human experience into “saleable commodities”, and it could follow relatively undisturbed its course of development only so long as this universal marketing of all facets of human life, including the most private ones, did not reach its point of saturation.

Work developed for the Red May series curated by Hami Bahadori

What is it that today some of us are connected to all parts of the world via internet (and might even know hundreds of colleagues internationally) but we might not know any of the people who live with us in the same apartment complex? At the same time, many others around the world are in constant state of fear and paranoia form war and terror.

Punainen Toukokuu/Red May is a celebratory exhibition, simultaneous with Vappu at Alkovi in the neighborhood of Kallio. Kino Club and Reading Group are collaborating on a public performance for the opening of the exhibition. The performance will involve music and video screening followed by serving soup to the public. This will be the second year in which Red May exhibition happens in Alkovi.

The exhibition is supported by Kuvataideakatemi

Screenings:
#1 SEMAPHORE – Flatchestedmama
#2 SCREENINGS – Kasra Rahmanian
#3 WHY DON’T YOU SPEAK FINNISH? – Fatmir Mustafa-Karllo
#4 MEDIATED PRESENCE/ PERFORMANCE – Ksenia Yurkova
#5 GO BACK GO LEFT – Arash Akhlaqi
#6 SANTA CLAUS IS COMIN’ TO TOWN, (YOU BETTER WATCH OUT) #3 – Hami Bahadori
#7 WHO WILL SURVIVE IN AMERICA – Rosa Maria
#8 CHINOISE2018 – Jani A. Purhonen
#9 THE COST OF PRIVACY – Jessica Escobar
#10 61217 – Verneri Salonen
#11 ??? – Jo Kjaergaard
#12 PERUNA SAARI. KANAVA – Sashapasha
#13 RED PRESENCE – Esther Planas

A series of events, situations, and apparitions following up the work on the Red Spectre started in 2010 along time up to May 2018

Many variations and temporalities have presented us with challenges of what is it and what it means the Red spectre and Capitalist recuperations of it.
Meanwhile, the micro politics of the small keep their pace consistent with the imperceptible:

Issue 1

Alienation:

In the Capitalist grid, alienation is the main symptom. People relate to each other with the calculating mind of its principles. Relations become "capital symbolic" and only if useful things appear to work between peoples.

Today this spirit of profits, haunts all relations and connections. Not for nothing there is a theory of the Socialist spirit operating inside the Elites.

As if those affects once instigated by workers towards its companions and the hope of achieving the spirit in the Unions, had been long ago recuperated, learnt and assimilated by the powers of the "union" that requires the narcissistic tone of the groupings of today.

According to a recent study by the Red Cross in partnership with Co-op, more than nine million adults in the UK are often or always lonely. We are facing a loneliness epidemic, with Theresa May taking the step earlier this year of appointing Tracey Crouch as what some have dubbed the “minister for loneliness” to try to tackle the issue. 30 April 2018 at the Guardian.

Is for this, that the work around the figure of the one, of the self as isolated alienated is ongoing. There are many moments of connection, but are short, disperse and ephemeral.

The works on School of Calidity originated under this premises.

How to really find warmth that becomes also a revolution?


Red Presence Red Event Red May 2018 from esther planas on Vimeo.

A mad world: capitalism and the rise of mental illness

What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?

Mental illness is now recognised as one of the biggest causes of individual distress and misery in our societies and cities, comparable to poverty and unemployment. One in four adults in the UK today has been diagnosed with a mental illness, and four million people take antidepressants every year. ‘What greater indictment of a system could there be,’ George Monbiot has asked, ‘than an epidemic of mental illness?

A sick society

Experiences of social isolation, inequality, feelings of alienation and dissociation, and even the basic assumptions and ideology of materialism and neoliberalism itself are seen today to be significant drivers – reflected in the titles of a number of recent articles and talks on this subject, such as those of consultant psychotherapist David Morgan’s groundbreaking Frontier Psychoanalyst podcasts, which have included discussions on whether ‘Neoliberalism is dangerous for your mental health’, and ‘Is neoliberalism making us sick?’

Clinical psychologist and psychotherapist Jay Watts observes in the Guardian that ‘psychological and social factors are at least as significant and, for many, the main cause of suffering. Poverty, relative inequality, being subject to racism, sexism, displacement and a competitive culture all increase the likelihood of mental suffering. Governments and pharmaceutical companies are not as interested in these results, throwing funding at studies looking at genetics and physical biomarkers as opposed to the environmental causes of distress. Similarly, there is little political will to combine increasing mental distress with structural inequalities, though the association is robust and many professionals think this would be the best way to tackle the current mental health epidemic’.

It’s time we talk about the c word – capitalism

There are clearly very powerful and entrenched interests and agendas here, which consciously or unconsciously act to conceal or try to deny this relationship, and which also makes the recent willingness amongst so many psychoanalysts and therapists to embrace this wider context so exciting and moving.

Commentators often talk about society, social context, group thinking, and environmental determinants in connection with mental distress and disorders, but we can I think actually be a bit more precise about what aspect of society is mainly driving it, is mainly responsible for it. And in this context it’s probably time we talk about the c word – capitalism.

Many of the contemporary forms of illness and individual distress that we treat and engage with certainly seem to be correlated with and amplified by the processes and byproducts of capitalism. In fact, you might say that capitalism is in many respects a mental illness generating system – and if we are serious about tackling not only the effects of mental distress and illness, but also their causes and origins, we need to look more closely, more precisely, and more analytically at the nature of the political and economic womb out of which they emerge, and how psychology is fundamentally interwoven with every aspect of it. It was of course Marx who was the great analyst of alienation, showing how capitalist economics generates alienation as part of its very fabric or structure – showing how, for instance, alienation gets ‘lost’ or ‘trapped’, embodied, in products, commodities – from the obvious examples (such as Nikes made in sweatshops, and sweatshops embodied in Nikes) – to a wider and much more pervasive sense that the whole system of production and creation is somehow alienating.

As Pavon Cuellar remarks, ‘Marx was the first to realise that this alienation actually gets contained and incarnated in things – in “commodities”‘ (Marxism and Psychoanalysis). These ‘fetishised’ commodities, he adds, seem to retain and promise to return, when consumed, the subjective-social part lost by those alienated while producing them: ‘the alienated have lost what they imagine [or hope] to find in what is fetishised.’

Capitalism is in many respects a mental illness generating system

This understanding of alienation is really the core issue for Marx. People probably know him today for his theories of capital – how issues of exploitation, profit, and control continually characterise and resurface in capitalism – but for me the key concern of Marx, and one that is constantly neglected, or misunderstood, is his view on the centrality and importance of human creativity and productivity – man’s ‘colossal productive power’ as he calls it – exactly as it was in fact for William Blake, slightly earlier in the century.

Marx refers to this extraordinary world-transformative energy and agency as our ‘active species-life’, our ‘species-being’ – our ‘physical and spiritual energies’. But these immense creative energies and transformative capacities are, he notes, under the present system, immediately taken from us and converted into something alien, objective, enslaving, fetishised.

Pathological institutions

These traits, as Joel Bakan brilliantly suggested in his book The Corporation, are encrypted into the very fabric of modern corporations – part of its basic DNA and modus operandi. ‘The corporation’s legally defined mandate,’ he notes, ‘is to pursue, relentlessly and without exception, its own self-interest, regardless of the often harmful consequences it might cause to others.’ By its own legal definition, therefore, the corporation is ‘a pathological institution’, and Bakan helpfully lists the diagnostic features of its default pathology (lack of empathy, pursuit of self-interest, grandiosity, shallow affect, aggression, social indifference) to show what a reliably disturbed patient the corporation is.

Why should all of these contemporary social and economic practices and processes generate so much illness, so many disorders? To answer this I think we need to look back at the wider Enlightenment project, and the psychological models of human nature out of which they emerged. Modern capitalism grew out of seventeenth century concepts of man as some sort of disconnected, discontinuous, disengaged self – one driven by competition and a narrow, ‘rational’ self-interest – the concept of homo economicus that drove and underwrote much of the whole Enlightenment project, including its economic models. As Iain McGilchrist notes, ‘Capitalism and consumerism, ways of conceiving human relationships based on little more than utility, greed, and competition, came to supplant those based on felt connection and cultural continuity.’

We now know how mistaken, and destructive, this model of the self is. Recent neuroscientific research into the ‘social brain’, together with exciting developments in modern attachment theory, developmental psychology, and interpersonal neurobiology, are significantly revising, and upgrading, this rather quaint, old-fashioned view of the isolated, ‘rational’ individual – and also revealing a far richer and more sophisticated understanding of human development and identity, through increased knowledge of ‘right hemisphere’ intersubjectivity, unconscious processes, group behaviour, the role of empathy and mentalisation in brain development, and the significance of context and socialisation in emotional and cognitive development.

As neuroscientist David Eagleman observes, the human brain itself relies on other brains for its very existence and growth—the concept of ‘me’, he notes, is dependent on the reality of ‘we’:

We are a single vast superorganism, a neural network embedded in a far larger web of neural networks. Our brains are so fundamentally wired to interact that it’s not even clear where each of us begins and ends. Who you are has everything to do with who we are. There’s no avoiding the truth that’s etched into our neural circuitry: we need each other.

Dependency is therefore built into the fabric of who we are as social and biological beings, hardwired into our mainframe: it is ‘how love becomes flesh’, in Louis Cozolino’s striking phrase. ‘There are no single brains,’ Cozolino observes, echoing Winnicott, ‘brains only exist within networks of other brains.’ Some people have termed this new neurological and scientific understanding of the deep patterns of interdependency, mutual cooperation, and the social brain ‘neuro-Marxism’ because of the implications involved.

Capitalism is, it seems, rooted in a fundamentally flawed, naive, and old-fashioned seventeenth-century model of who we are – it tries to make us think that we’re isolated, autonomous, disengaged, competitive, decontextualised – an ultimately rather ruthless and dissociated entity. The harm that this view of the self has done to us, and our children, is incalculable.

Many people believe, and are encouraged to believe, that these problems and disorders – psychosis, schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, self-harm – these symptoms of a ‘sick world’ (to use James Hillman’s terrific description) are theirs, rather than the world’s. ‘But what if your emotional problems weren’t merely your own?’, asks Tom Syverson. ‘What if they were our problems? What if the real problem is that we’re living in wrong society? Perhaps Adorno was correct when he said, “wrong life cannot be lived rightly”.’

The root of this ‘living wrongly’ seems to be because we live in a social and economic system at odds with both our psychology and our neurology, with who we are as social beings. As I suggest in my book, we need to realise that our inner and outer worlds constantly and profoundly interact and shape each other, and that therefore rather than separating our understanding of economic and social practices from our understanding of psychology and human development, we need to bring them together, to align them. And for this to happen, we need a new dialogue between the political and personal worlds, a new integrated model for mental health, and a new politics.

Rod Tweedy is an author and editor of Karnac Books, a leading independent publisher of books on mental health and therapy. His edited collection, The Political Self: Understanding the Social Context for Mental Illness, is published by Karnac.


Self-harm, suicide and capitalist alienation

Recent figures reported by the BBC demonstrate that the “number of children being admitted to hospital in England for self-harm is at a five-year high”. In a study done by the Health and Social Care Information Centre it was shown that in the 10-14 year old age group, admissions of girls had gone up from 3,090 to 5,953 between 2009/10 and 2013/14, whilst admissions of boys during the same period were shown to rise from 454 to 659. This is an increase of almost 93% and 45% for girls and boys respectively.


Hope and Despair in the Modern Epoch

Capitalism on a world scale is in crisis. It has reached a stage whereby it has created wonders in the modern world; at the same time the vast majority of the population who work to produce such wonders are divorced from the results of their own labour. They are disenfranchised from the political process and isolated in their communities, which are ravaged by the scourges of de-industrialisation, unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse and other social ills.

Whilst it would be easy to look upon the above statistics and to despair and get upset, such a response would help no one, least of all those affected by the worst conditions inflicted on the mass of the working class. The figures related to self-harm and suicide should be seen rather as a cause of anger against a system incapable of providing the support needed by people in incredibly vulnerable circumstances.

Such figures should also be seen as only one side of a coin. Whilst many are stuck in a state of hopelessness and despair, there is also a wider development of consciousness in society, with layers of youth and the working class who are being politically radicalisation and are looking for a revolutionary way out. Self-harm statistics, therefore, by no means express everything about the ferment which we see taking place in the current period.

The same processes which lead to individuals succumbing to their alienation and despair are also the same which are propelling wider and wider layers of the working class to draw revolutionary conclusions and to seek a solution to the crisis of capitalism on a collective basis. From the mass movements in Hong Kong, Ferguson and Burkina Faso recently, to the general strikes in Greece, Spain and Italy, we are seeing a re-emergence of radical movements on a world scale, as the masses look for a way out to the present that engulfs the whole of humanity.

Examining Marx's theories in alienation was once of the basics for understanding this:

For the book by István Mészáros, see Marx's Theory of Alienation (book).

The 19th-century German intellectual Karl Marx (1818–1883) identified and described four types of Entfremdung (social alienation) that afflict the worker under capitalism.

Karl Marx's theory of alienation describes the estrangement (Ger. Entfremdung) of people from aspects of their Gattungswesen ("species-essence") as a consequence of living in a society of stratified social classes. The alienation from the self is a consequence of being a mechanistic part of a social class, the condition of which estranges a person from their humanity.

The theoretic basis of alienation, within the capitalist mode of production, is that the worker invariably loses the ability to determine life and destiny, when deprived of the right to think (conceive) of themselves as the director of their own actions; to determine the character of said actions; to define relationships with other people; and to own those items of value from goods and services, produced by their own labour. Although the worker is an autonomous, self-realized human being, as an economic entity, this worker is directed to goals and diverted to activities that are dictated by the bourgeoisie, who own the means of production, in order to extract from the worker the maximum amount of surplus value, in the course of business competition among industrialists.

Karl Marx expressed the Entfremdung theory, of estrangement from the self, in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (1932). Philosophically, the theory of Entfremdung relies upon The Essence of Christianity (1841), by Ludwig Feuerbach, which states that the idea of a supernatural god has alienated the natural characteristics of the human being. Moreover, in The Ego and its Own (1845), Max Stirner extended Feuerbach's analysis that even the idea of "humanity" is an alienating concept for individuals to intellectually consider in its full philosophic implication; Marx and Engels responded to these philosophic propositions in The German Ideology (1845).

Relations of production

Whatever the character of a person's consciousness (will and imagination), societal existence is conditioned by their relationships with the people and things that facilitate survival, which is fundamentally dependent upon co-operation with others, thus, a person's consciousness is determined inter-subjectively (collectively), not subjectively (individually), because humans are a social animal. In the course of history, to ensure individual survival, societies have organized themselves into groups who have different, basic relationships to the means of production. One societal group (class) owned and controlled the means of production, while another societal class worked the means of production; in the relations of production of that status quo, the goal of the owner-class was to economically benefit as much as possible from the labour of the working class. Moreover, in the course of economic development, when a new type of economy displaced an old type of economy—agrarian feudalism superseded by mercantilism, in turn superseded by the Industrial Revolution—the rearranged economic order of the social classes favored the social class who controlled the technologies (the means of production) that made possible the change in the relations of production. Likewise, there occurred a corresponding rearrangement of the human nature (Gattungswesen) and the system of values of the owner-class and of the working-class, which allowed each group of people to accept and to function in the rearranged status quo of production-relations.

Alienation of the worker from other workers

Capitalism reduces the labour of the worker to a commercial commodity that can be traded in the competitive labour-market, rather than as a constructive socio-economic activity that is part of the collective common effort performed for personal survival and the betterment of society. In a capitalist economy, the businesses who own the means of production establish a competitive labour-market meant to extract from the worker as much labour (value) as possible, in the form of capital. The capitalist economy's arrangement of the relations of production provokes social conflict by pitting worker against worker, in a competition for "higher wages", thereby alienating them from their mutual economic interests; the effect is a false consciousness, which is a form of ideological control exercised by the capitalist bourgeoisie through its cultural hegemony. Furthermore, in the capitalist mode of production, the philosophic collusion of religion in justifying the relations of production facilitates the realization, and then worsens, the alienation (Entfremdung) of the worker from their humanity; it is a socio-economic role independent of religion being "the opiate of the masses"

Influences: Hegel and Feuerbach

In Marxist theory, Entfremdung (alienation) is a foundational proposition about man's progress towards self-actualisation. In the Oxford Companion to Philosophy (2005), Ted Honderich described the influences of G.F.W. Hegel and Ludwig Feuerbach upon Karl Marx:

For Hegel, the unhappy consciousness is divided against itself, separated from its "essence", which it has placed in a "beyond".

As used by the philosophers Hegel and Marx, the reflexive German verbs entäussern ("to divest one's self of") and entfremden ("to become estranged") indicate that the term alienation denotes self-alienation: to be estranged from one's essential nature.[4] Therefore, alienation is a lack of self-worth, the absence of meaning in one's life, consequent to being coerced to lead a life without opportunity for self-fulfillment, without the opportunity to become actualized, to become one's Self.

In The Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), G.F.W. Hegel described the stages in the development of the human Geist (Spirit), by which men and women progress from ignorance to knowledge, of the self and of the world. Developing Hegel's human-spirit proposition, Karl Marx said that those poles of idealism—"spiritual ignorance" and "self-understanding"—are replaced with material categories, whereby "spiritual ignorance" becomes "alienation" and "self-understanding" becomes man's realisation of his Gattungswesen (species-essence).

Entfremdung and the theory of history

See also: Marx's theory of history and Dialectical materialism

In Part I: "Feuerbach – Opposition of the Materialist and Idealist Outlook" of The German Ideology (1846), Karl Marx said that:

Things have now come to such a pass that the individuals must appropriate the existing totality of productive forces, not only to achieve self-activity, but also, merely, to safeguard their very existence.

That humans psychologically require the life activities that lead to their self-actualisation as persons remains a consideration of secondary historical relevance, because the capitalist mode of production eventually will exploit and impoverish the proletariat until compelling them to social revolution for survival. Yet, social alienation remains a practical concern, especially among the contemporary philosophers of Marxist humanism; in The Marxist-Humanist Theory of State-Capitalism (1992), Raya Dunayevskaya discussed and described the existence of the desire for self-activity and self-actualisation among wage-labour workers struggling to achieve the elementary goals of material life in a capitalist economy.

Entfremdung and social class

In Chapter 4 of The Holy Family (1845), Marx said that capitalists and proletarians are equally alienated, but that each social class experiences alienation in a different form:

The propertied class and the class of the proletariat present the same human self-estrangement. But the former class feels at ease and strengthened in this self-estrangement, it recognizes estrangement as its own power, and has in it the semblance of a human existence. The class of the proletariat feels annihilated, this means that they cease to exist in estrangement; it sees in it its own powerlessness and in the reality of an inhuman existence. It is, to use an expression of Hegel, in its abasement, the indignation at that abasement, an indignation to which it is necessarily driven by the contradiction between its human nature and its condition of life, which is the outright, resolute and comprehensive negation of that nature. Within this antithesis, the private property-owner is therefore the conservative side, and the proletarian the destructive side. From the former arises the action of preserving the antithesis, from the latter the action of annihilating it.


István Mészáros, 1970
Marx’s Theory of Aienation
Fragments:
2. Alienation as “Universal Saleability”

The principal function of the much glorified “contract” was, therefore, the introduction – in place of the rigidly fixed feudal relations – of a new form of “fixity” which guaranteed the right of the new master to manipulate the allegedly “free” human beings as things, as objects without will, once they have “freely elected” to enter into the contract in question by “alienating at will that which belonged to them”.

Thus human alienation was accomplished through turning everything “into alienable, saleable objects in thrall to egoistic need and huckstering. Selling is the practice of alienation. Just as man, so long as he is engrossed in religion, can only objectify his essence by an alien and fantastic being; so under the sway of egoistic need, he can only affirm himself and produce objects in practice by subordinating his products and his own activity to the domination of an alien entity, and by attributing to them the significance of an alien entity, namely money.” [Marx, On the Jewish Question] Reification of one's person and thus the “freely chosen” acceptance of a new servitude – in place of the old feudal, politically established and regulated form of servitude – could advance on the basis of a “civil society” characterised by the rule of money that opened the floodgates for the universal “servitude to egoistic need” (Knechtschaft des egoistischen Bedürfnisses).

Alienation is therefore characterised by the universal extension of “saleability” (i.e. the transformation of everything into commodity); by the conversion of human beings into “things” so that they could appear as commodities on the market (in other words: the “reification” of human relations), and by the fragmentation of the social body into “isolated individuals” (vereinzelte Einzelnen) who pursued their own limited, particularistic aims “in servitude to egoistic need”, making a virtue out of their selfishness in their cult of privacy. No wonder that Goethe protested “alles vereinzelte ist verwerflich”, “all isolated particularity is to be rejected”, advocating in opposition to “selfish isolationism” some form of “community with others like oneself” in order to be able to make a common “front against the world.” Equally no wonder that in the circumstances Goethe's recommendations had to remain utopian postulates. For the social order of “civil society” could sustain itself only on the basis of the conversion of the various areas of human experience into “saleable commodities”, and it could follow relatively undisturbed its course of development only so long as this universal marketing of all facets of human life, including the most private ones, did not reach its point of saturation.