Preface (to a new book forcing itself upon me…)
The idea of this book is that once we stop seeing ‘psychology’ as something inside people’s heads or ‘minds’, and instead as potentially observable events in their contexts, a lot changes. In my last book I explored the ramifications of this with respect to what is called ‘mental health’. I now wish to explore how, when an internal ‘psychology’ is no longer seen as a determinant, people might change behaviour to face the current and future issues arising from capitalist, bureaucratic and ecological disasters.
One position which was clear from examining mental health was that there was no proper divide between suffering from ‘mental health’ issues and from other problems and stresses arising from our contexts—social, economic, historical, and otherwise. An artificial division had occurred in the late 19th Century when problem behaviours which seemed to have no easily observable source were given to medical specialists to handle—specialists who were accustomed to finding solutions inside a person and who had little expertise in observing the full contexts of a person’s life situation. This meant that they ‘did not look hard enough’ and instead built theoretical models of what must be going on inside a person’s head. But the ‘difficult to observe’ sources actually turned out to be the changes in social relationships and opportunities imposed by the full capitalist system and the accompanying bureaucratic systems, although psychiatrists and other medical people were not trained to see these.
So what might things look like if we treat people’s suffering as all connected without a specialized area existing in a person’s mind which can only be dealt with by an expert in ‘inner theories’? As I wrote, “my goal is to get rid of the ‘interior design’ approach to psychology, as it were, and replace it with a plausible form of ‘landscape gardening or ecology’”.
Once we see people’s behaviour as arising from their contexts rather than a hidden and mysterious agent within an inner sanctum known only to them, we must observe the person’s world a lot more carefully, and this includes all the social, economic, political, linguistic and cultural structures already in place for their worlds which determine much of their opportunities and their barriers, and we can then begin to see how even very individual-looking thinking and actions actually arise from these larger structures.
The trick we get to at this point, therefore, is that to help alleviate people’s suffering it is not enough to talk in an office with a stranger-professional who does not know you, a procedure predicated on theories of inner conflicts which a person carries around with them, but instead we must work with their contexts. The trick is that to alleviate what we call individual suffering we must also work to reduce those issues arising from the social, economic, political, linguistic and cultural structures we do not choose. It is not that we can talk for an hour in an office and sort out the inner emotional and cognitive issues, and then go back into the world to either knuckle under the system or work to improve the system. Neither can we fight the system and then after the revolution fix up all our inner problems. Rather, the emotional and cognitive issues arise from the very social, economic, political, linguistic and cultural structures that form a person’s life and so these must be dealt with to alleviate suffering in a very real way. Even personal social relationship issues arise in these contexts—one cannot deal with modern relationship issues without placing them in the stranger or contractual relations currently imposed by capitalism.