Political Psychology, but How?
I do not remember any more how it came to my knowledge that there exists a book by one Hans Norebrink which is titled ”Socialismens nederlag och människans natur”. Anyway it came to my attention in spring, I ordered it, the delivery was clearly slower than expected, but now, having returned from 6 weeks in Germany, I have had finally occasion to look at it. And I am not satisfied.
The author has certainly masses of life experience, also from working life. He has read masses of books (one could spend years reading all the books he mentions), is obviously also of the opinion that the study of primate behaviour is a VERY good way of getting an idea about human nature (mentions in this context especially the work of Frans de Waal, who is a REALLY worth while author in this field), and I, being myself a biologist who has since some 50 years tried to get very closely related apects into the heads of political activists (so far with little success) have really no objections against this choice of material. My objections, though, concern the way how the material is dealt with: Norebrink concludes, justly, that human behaviour has developed by (and is adjusted to) living in small groups in which everybody knows everybody rather well. And he draws the conclusion that society should be organized in ways which resemble this way of life, power being based on decisions in and by those small groups at the basis of society’s structure. To which I object that (a) I have trouble seeing a way how such a structure of society could come about, (b) I see near endless possibilities of something like ”tribal warfare” between those small groups arising (with lots of suspicions, bitter feelings, mutual obstruction, etc. – this also with horrible consequences for, e.g., the environment), and (c) I do not share his seeming belief that within small groups the most reasonable and constructive ideas would have the best chances of winning (my memories from my polical active years in student groups say something very different).
Well, as I do agree with his choice of material, where do I think that his reasoning goes wrong and how do I do differently? His mistake, I think, is in reasoning by analogy: as our behaviour has been developed by and is adapted to life in small groups, let’s return to this way of life and everything will be fine … . To which I reply: let’s follow the direction shown by Freud (although we have meanwhile VASTLY more material to work with, thus better chances to develop applicable ideas), study our material, find out the underlying (more or less unavoidable) MECHANISMS of human behaviour, and build a society in which these mechanisms can be handled without doing much damage. Thus, what I say where it goes wrong in Norebrink’s reasoning is the lack of (psycho-) analysis.
In addition: Do we have perhaps already examples of societies which were rather well organized? And here I feel like pointing to the Chinese crime novels about Judge Dee which were written by the late Robert van Gulik (there is meanwhile also another author by that name, who writes, though, about other matters) which were written for the very puprpose of introducing the reader to the classical Chinese system. The elements which I think are worth stressing in the description of that system are (a) the way to honour and power was by passing exams (i.e. there was a very careful SELECTION to whom power was given), (b) there was FEEDBACK from the people to the goverment by a functioning system for the handling of complaints (which one could call a type of democracy), and (c) the head of the local government was under obligation to prove daily (in public court sessions) to the public that he was competent and wise enough for his powwr position. Meanwhile we have of course better instruments for taking care of these aspects (for selection, e.g. batteries of psychological tests), have also science for better analyses of public problems (so that we do not need any more to blame bad harvests on ”the government having lost the Heavenly Mandate”), public school systems (which could, if they would want, enable people to less easily fall victim to public porpaganda), etc. – i.e. there WAS progress, which also COULD be usefully applied to the organization of society. And one could try to be active in order to achieve that this is also DONE.