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Lectures to the Chinese by Alfred De Grazia

PART ONE:  The Eight Bads

5. Dividing the soul Against Itself

Before being sentenced to imprisonment and exile, in 1972 the Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky told the court: "Our society is still sick. It is sick with the fear that has come down to us from the Stalin era." The sick fear that pervades Russian institutions and politics consists of the massive paranoia that communism encouraged by closing up the society and that Stalin caused to spread and infect politics deeply.

I pointed out to you earlier that suspicion and paranoia are endemic in America and that measures have continuously to be taken to prevent them from becoming epidemic. The sickness of soul that I am discussing in this lecture is much more general. I call it anomia. It comes from the conditions of American life, and one of its manifestations is an increasing trouble with paranoia. But it is far broader. Permit me to explain.


By my estimate, based upon studies others have conducted in urban and rural areas of the country, about one quarter of the population is afflicted with-or has afflictions from other sources that are complicated by-disturbances to the character resulting from (and reacting to) four general conditions. These are community sickness; movement sickness; job sickness; and goal sickness. When I say that people are afflicted, I mean that, for some considerable part of their lives, they are unable to function normally and are so deeply troubled that they have to resort to bed, drugs, or erratic behavior.

We have at least two hints from historical literature on the nature of the problem. One is Karl Marx's famous concept of alienation. He saw that workers treated like machines by their employers, and having no command over either machines or their employers, engaged in passive revolt against the system, a revolt that took the form of drunkenness, loss of family affection, ineptitude at work, and general dullness and sullenness. He thought that work conditions, and particularly the capitalist setup, were enough to account for this common malaise, and that worker ownership would end it.

Emile Durkheim, writing as a sociologist in France a little later, coined the term anomie to enlarge the concept of alienation to include a general despair and disenchantment with society, manifested in suicide or at least in suicidal behavior. He argued that the disease came from the destruction and disintegration of the system of social and political beliefs and rules that held the society together. Hence he stressed the organizing of society according to its natural functions.

As is its way, America has carried both phenomena to a higher level of sharpness. And it has often done so with the typical humor that accompanies despair. In a print shop, a sign hung on the wall above the bustle of the workers and the movements of material through the machines may say: "If you think we are confused, it's because you don't understand the true situation." Or a musical comedy plays on Broadway with the title: Stop the World-1 Want to Get Off.

Among all peoples, the Americans are first in the attention that they give to psychology-their own mental state and that of other people. The interest is provoked by the problem. Still I would warn you against assuming that other societies are without mental problems endemic to the population. When I took the occasion recently to rank the American population among the various cultures of the world, I found it necessary to place Americans lowest in the incidence of personally conditioned (mostly organic) mental illness, and highest in socially conditioned mental illness. I rated china 80 compared with America's 100 (as an arbitrary index) on the latter. Western Europe was rated at 95. The disease of decomposed authority, for instance, which corresponds most closely to Durkheim's anomie, is universal in the world today. If it seems to be absent in the masses of a certain country, who are far removed from power, you can be sure that it is found in a rampant form among the political classes, especially the intelligentsia.


A political community exists when a people share an interest in matters of mutual concern. The modern belief in political community makes some psychological leaps that are astonishing. That a community could be formed from a group of people larger than a small city and its surrounding farmlands was strange to the most ancient peoples. Confucius developed the concept for China in the sixth century B.C.

The belief that all humans were worthy of respect regardless of their ethnic, religious and racial background was to be found everywhere, but in a feeble form. Against the main current of history as a succession of tribal and dynastic conflicts, there ran an undercurrent that recognized our common humanity.

To develop a full range of community affiliations, such as Americans must contemplate nowadays, makes complicated psychological demands upon people. Americans must share an interest among themselves in all that concerns the political society. They must reconcile conflicts of interest between their local and national communities. They must share an interest with non-Americans in all that concerns the world society and be prepared to reconcile conflicts between the world society and the other societies too. Americans also have a functional interest, an occupational interest, a job interest; this and other interests, such as a religious interest and an ethnic interest, will force their way into people's loyalties to other communities and even sometimes dominate those loyalties.

The typical American, then, is or must become a citizen of several subsocieties if modern society is to work properly as a whole. If a large and dominating part of the Americans did not possess well-developed senses of identification covering these several spheres, the whole structure would be likely to collapse.

Still, one cannot move on beyond this fact without once again expressing astonishment at it. Here is a pathetic human animal, beset by personal problems of survival, trying to cross the perilous stream that divides the close life of the family into the world beyond. Although half-trained, half-aware, half-successful in this task, the same person is asked as an everyday fact of life to cross and re-cross the equally perilous streams that divide job from city, city from state, state from nation, nation from world, world from religion, and then do it all backward and diagonally.

Many say that the creature cannot tolerate such a precarious state of mind. The old Confucian solution was to integrate tightly the Chinese family, to set up the Emperor as the father of the families of the realm, operating with the mandate of heaven and the expert assistance of scholars administrators. The Romans developed a system of local autonomy of peoples whose laws were subsumed under the great Roman code of laws, with the Emperor divine, yes, but somewhat apart from the hierarchy of law.

In the modern state, especially in America, we see the full complexity of the problem: an abundance of breakable bonds, and some final authorities operating under a law that is the best they can arrange. There is no intention to let the common people rule themselves in conservative ways and to let the elite rule the nation. Authority is known to be valuable, but anti-authoritarianism is a common and accepted principle. In the same year that Chairman Mao cursed his mean father and left home forever, a million Europeans crossed the ocean to America, leaving their fathers behind.


Now we need to strike a complex balance and we are far from that goal, whence the disease of anomia. The whole of society can be viewed as a network of groups, and even the individual, for purposes of group theory, can be cut up into his identifications and allotted to different groups. You cannot denounce this theory any more than you could denounce a blood bank because it contains the blood of many people separated from its original creators and divided into several types.

This is one of the hardest lessons to teach in social science, especially when one is addressing humanists in the name of the self-fulfilling and autonomous person. Immediately a cry is raised that we are heading toward the mindless monster of collectivism. But, as we share blood, we share traits. You can not have a functioning society without for some purposes treating individuals as collections of interest that are separable.

There can be no law that is not a pulling away from a number of individuals of a trait that they share regardless of their individuality. When we speak in debate or in legislation of the "disabled" or of the "super-rich" or of "car owners" or of "persons over sixty" we are taking away a trait of an aggregate of people and imposing a restraint or liberty, or a good or evil upon those who possess that trait.

Despite the absolute clarity, necessity, and abundance of this kind of group thinking and group ruling, there are those who imagine that, once upon the track of treating people as groups, we can never treat them as individuals, and that there is a complete contradiction between individual happiness and group belonging.

Nowhere is this false distinction more abused than in the discussion of community and anomia. On the one hand, alienation and anomia person is socially a sick person, who cannot be counted on absolutely for the survival of the community (or of any of his groups if he is totally alienated). On the other hand, it is false humanism to deny that this person is to be cured by strengthening his bonds with society.

Furthermore, it is said, among the shortsighted realists, that the community tie has no basis. It is hopeless, that is, to expect, in an honest society, where people recognized their real interests, that any such person will sacrifice for or even behave cooperatively with his city, his state, his country, or the world. He will not cooperate, so it is said, even with his factory, his family, his church, or his school, where a tangible hard interest is manifest. Since the insufficiency and multiplicity of these ties cause in the first place the alienation of souls, why should the sheep return to the fold?

If this is so, why then are there always, under the worst situations of alienation, and depending upon the size of the community, dozens, hundreds, thousands, even millions of persons who are willing to defend their community even when it goes against other interests that they have? Obviously, we should search for the basis of this community because it does exist so far as these persons are concerned.

As the year 1973 ended, in New York City the firemen of the city were considering a strike that would have denied all but minimal protection to the buildings and people of the city. The leaders of the union of firemen assured the city government that they would strike in order to achieve their demands, whatever the consequences, and that, indeed, the consequences of a strike would be the responsibility of the government for not acceding to the demands. A strike vote was held among the firemen and it was reported to be very favorable to the leaders' positions. Meanwhile other institutional leaders of the government, the press, and a great many people in casual conversation expressed their view that a strike by firemen was direct threat to the existence of "the community."

The strike was ended several hours after it began; concessions were made on both sides. It turned out later that the vote of the firemen had been miscounted, perhaps through the illegal actions of the union leaders, and that they would not, in fact, have voted to strike.

Now, we ask, why did not the firemen wish to strike even under what they believed to be unjust discrimination against them by the city government? The following facts should be noted:

A sense of community dedication was obviously strongly felt by all the firemen who voted not to strike. Their image of themselves as community guardians was threatened.

Opinion in the community also was strongly against the strike. Their image, of firemen, was threatened with disillusionment. The firemen could feel this reproach.

A number of those who voted to strike probably believed that in a "real" fire emergency they, too, would man the fire trucks.

Probably, too, some of the public has an exaggerated image of "flames sweeping the city," and the real effects of the strike would have been tolerable by comparison with other strikes of "vital" services.

The conclusion is that a community did exist, and worked its effects strongly upon both firemen and the public. The same community might be discovered at work in millions of cases involving areas other than fire, not only in sensitive areas such as police, transportation, hospitals, and sanitation, but in areas of lesser anxiety such as bribery, corruption, incompetency, ethnic relation, and groups conflict.

The question then is not whether a community exists at all, but whether a community exists to the point of overriding continuously and in million of similar cases the special interest. Here the answer must be negative.

Today in America the local community feeling has deteriorated to an alarming degree. I believe that the same is true in Russia, China, Europe, and elsewhere. The national community, with all of its defects and dangers, steps in to control the local community. The Peking radio sweeps the nation. The great American networks sweep the U.S.A. The Communist Party leaders tell the locals how they must behave. The Washington bureaucrats do the same.

In despair because he could not recognize any progress by aiding the American cities after four years, George Romney, head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, shouted to a meeting of Detroit civic leaders that the cities were leaderless. Until they could help themselves, he declared, they could not be helped by anyone. But shouts are like the beating of drums and gongs against chaos; they will not help. The locals thrust their problems upon the arrogant national government; the national government thrusts them back. Neither device succeeds and the people are in despair.


Divide Americans into those who are politically and economically active and those who are not. Then consider those who are active. They divide again into two: those who are fixed locally and those who are cosmopolitan. The locals are the cement of society but the cosmopolitans are those who give society its thrust and verve. There are millions of them in America and they are found in government, para-governmental organizations like political parties, businesses with broader than local markets, and independent associations of which there are many thousands.

The cosmopolitan American typically carries a little book of names and addresses of friends, relatives, and acquaintances, with their home and business addresses, and often the names of their spouses and children, so as not to forget them. The address book corresponds to the diary that is so often kept by Chinese and this shows the difference between the two countries. The Chinese burns his book only if he is about to be arrested, or substitutes a fake diary full of correct communist Stimmung. About every two years, the American copies some of the addresses into a new book and throws away the old; then he fills the new book in a couple of years and throws it away as it too becomes defunct.

For these Americans are in motion-geographically, socially, technologically, affectionally, and finally, of course, mentally. One changes friends and acquaintances and they change too. The affectional tie becomes largely a sweet memory. One changes residence every several years; but so do one's friends, relatives, and acquaintances. One changes jobs, and with jobs, technical interests, and with that, the persons with whom one spends time. So do his friends, relatives, and acquaintances. One earns more, or earns less, and shifts his or her favorite restaurant, bar, club, church, vacation place, and even residential area. One of the strange results is that this person can at any time refer, say, a daughter or nephew to an acquaintance or through an acquaintance to someone else practically anywhere in the country or world. You may not sense this far-flung American network because China has not been open to Americans. If you were in Taiwan or Hongkong or in one of the numerous Chinatowns of the world, you would perceive it.

How does this cheerful and wide network of relations produce gloom and spiritual disorder? It unfortunately implies that one cannot rely deeply upon a family or local group. No one can be a deep friend when the world offers many friends. It also implies that one's bonds and loyalty, and therefore morale with respect to any given institution, must be equally tenuous. Americans are adept at transferring loyalties, but therefore are usually indifferent about retaining them. Nevertheless they have developed a respectable kind of honesty in their dealings even with persons who have no profound claim to be dealt with conscientiously. Not all Americans, I warn you, just a surprising number, a number I think greater than from any other country.

As with loyalty to persons, so with loyalty to machines. When an American says to another, "What are you driving these days?" he implies that since their last meeting, which may have been a matter only of months, the other has sold his automobile and bought another type of car. Americans are ever ready to junk one device and adopt another. Beautiful old furniture sells for less than ugly new furniture. But much of this kind of information about America has been contained in books such as Future Shock, and I have bigger fish to fry. I leave the subject with the suggestion that the booming psychological counseling industry in the U.S.A. owes its existence to a general need: people who have no deep friends as confidants and have no time for intimate exchanges resort for a price to a trained, consistent, regularly available hearer of woes, analyst of involvements, and prescriber of feasible conduct.


American culture, like Russian culture and Chinese culture, centers a person's life around the holding of a job. This is an ancient idea, born in the beginnings of mankind long before the struggles of capitalism and communism began. In the Soviet Union and China, continuous efforts are made to put everyone to work. That "everybody is employed" is a fetish of the state.

America is somewhat different. There, the governments seek to find jobs for all, directly and indirectly. But if one has money and doesn't work, one is not a criminal. Still, there is some popular feeling against such a person.

A government report recently declared:

Because work is central to the lives of so many Americans, either the absence of work or employment in meaningless work is creating an increasingly intolerable situation. The human costs of this state of affairs are manifested in worker alienation, alcoholism, drug addiction and other symptoms of poor mental health.... A great part of the staggering national bill in the areas of crime and delinquency, mental and physical health, manpower and welfare is generated in our national policies and attitudes toward work.1

Despite their seemingly advanced technology and luxury, Americans are still ideologically centered around work. When strangers meet, the first thing they ask of each other is "What do you do?" meaning "In what line of work are you?" Indeed the reason for meeting is often that they are in the same line of work; individuals, and conventions of thousands, are continually brought together on this pretext.

Almost all of the rich work, and spend relatively few months and years in the pursuit of spending. Fewer women than before offer the legitimate excuse that they are mothers and housekeepers. Students, no matter that they may be in their teens or twenties, explain that they are studying for a job. Generally, retired people, if able-bodied, are loath to think of themselves as not working , although they have worked hard between eighteen and sixty-five and might well be thought to be exempt from any compulsion or conscience.

To alter the job mentality would be most difficult. Still, it would amount to a revolution that would immediately consign both capitalism and communism as you and I have known them to the museum of dead cultures. Look back at ancient times in China and the West. Each man, woman, and child had his work, but the work was imbedded in family affairs, social intercourse, the local market place, the religion, and the system of government. Work was a facet of the jewel of life. You could not say life was centered on the job because the job revolved with the other facets of the stone of life.

Today the job is separated from the rest of life; it is the altar on which all else must be sacrificed. Then, since whatever demands sacrifice demeans what does not, the rest of life tends to become senseless; or, what will just as surely, though indirectly, bring ruin, the person attempts to place other facets of life above the job. Thus, in America people are often heard talking about "the demands" of their job.

What they are saying is that the job asks too much of their energies without giving them what they ask of it. Thus it has happened that the most advanced forms of industrial relations have been invented and developed in America, where all values of the worker have been taken into account in fitting him to a job. Both benevolence and cunning are there. A job is now construed as a setting where a person can achieve power (through collective bargaining, through offers to resign, and even through controls over the movements of the assembly line); there he can also achieve respect, affection, self-development or education, physical well-being, and finally the good income that once was thought to be sole determinant of a satisfied worker. The whole system is in disorder, however, so it is not possible to solve the country's problems simply through improvement of work relations.

In February of 1974, 163,039 persons applied to take an examination to become sanitation workers in New York City, although no opening were then available. How would this be explained? Why do ordinary people crowd in to become street sweepers and garbage men?

Suppose that you were to pursue the format of the six values already stated. Then the applicants would be anticipating a wide range of benefits. Power: Sanitation is mechanized; sanitation workers operate huge mechanical trucks; they receive tips if they deign to be scrupulously neat in their work; they legitimately disturb people's sleep; they can call in the police to ticket vehicles; they work for the sovereign government; they are unionized and if they strike the city is in misery. Health: Because of the frequency of minor injuries, the workers have claimed and received almost unlimited medical, hospital, and sick leave benefits. The work is outdoors, and the workers move around at a varied pace. Compensation: The pay is equivalent to that of college professors and minor banking executives and retirement on a good pension is possible after twenty years; hours of work are like the banker's hours. Respect: Work is respected in itself in America and respect comes too with strong organization and good pay and benefits; in the heterogeneous, unstratified "classless" city, small distinction is made by the mass of people of the type of work. Education: Only special segments of American society value education in itself; the mass media and advertising continually reassure those with little education that they are in fact educated and that it makes no difference if they happen not to be. Affection: Despite their mechanization, the sanitation workers are in touch with people constantly; they work in small groups; they have a visible clientele to whom their good will is important.

The reasons for the avid interest in the work of collecting garbage are therefore clear. In Russia and China, communist societies, or in India, a semi-caste society, the "street cleaners" and "garbage men" and workers generally are far from achieving the all-round status of the American worker. Is it surprising then that appeals to "class consciousness," "class struggle," and communist ideology fall upon deaf ears?


It appears unlikely that the Americans will pull out of their various spiritual difficulties until they manage to decide upon their goals as a nation. Too many Americans are content to mouth old slogans that lead nowhere. Too many as well believe that somehow the country's scientists will come forward with solutions to the gravest problems of the human mind. Of these Professor Paul R. Zilsel, a physicist, has said well:

Without integrative understanding, without theory, science is not really possible. All the electronic computers in the world, both those to be built, storing and analyzing all the myriad pieces of detailed information, produced by countless technical workers, do not constitute science, because they cannot provide effective knowledge and understanding for us, for human beings. They cannot make a meaningful, humanly livable world for us. Unless we understand, unless we feel at home and in harmony with our environment, unless, in fact, we succeed in so ordering man's relations that we can feel in harmony with the world, all the facts and data and "knowledge" can only be "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Many of the youth go about saying that they are "trying to find their heads," which is one way of putting it. The older generation, including most of the political leaders, feel confident, and are at their best when dealing with problems of the moment. As soon as a problem appears to branch into the future-five, ten, or twenty years ahead-the actual time when most large problems will blossom, they appear to ignore or suppress it.

Foreigners are prone to assert that Americans are self-satisfied, and that such is the reason why they do not promulgate more profound and generous goals. But complacency is not the problems. The Americans are an anxious nation. Even while they engage in all the practices that constitute the symptomology of anomia, they are resentful of them but know not where to turn. After all, the pragmatism of John Dewey and perhaps of most Americans is that of Menicus: "A man can mend his ways only after he has made mistakes. It is only when a man is frustrated in mind and in his deliberations that he is able to innovate ..... We survive in adversity and perish in ease and comfort." I think most Americans would agree with Mencius.

Yet they would assert also that matters have gone too far in this direction. And it is true. When one stands off from the hurly-burly of daily life, one can see that the disorders of the present are preventing measures to prepare for the future. The world cannot be stopped; if you do not move at the speed of the Earth, you will be crushed to death as the Earth overruns you.

Can one let the social storm pass, while taking care of oneself? So most Americans believe. They do not yet have the heart for the disagreeable concessions they must make if they are to seek general solutions of their problems, especially if all the peoples of the Earth are to join in the process.


Are their solutions rational? Can anomia be cured except by social collapse and rebirth? Can the sick change themselves? There are problems of will and problems of science. For instance, a great many Americans feel that the newspapermen, filmmakers, televisors, publishers, and advertisers are not to be trusted. It is understood that these are contributing to the four sicknesses of anomia: to disturbances of community, mobility, job, and goals.

But they are loath to tamper with the practically absolute freedom granted to the owners and managers of the press. They have an accurate perception of what has happened to the press in fascist, communist, and militaristic countries. The outrageous insults to the mind committed elsewhere make them accept the less damaging habits of the American press. The insufferable dullness of the press elsewhere is a poor bargain to exchange for the super-sensate American press. Further, there is always that precious 10 percent of the television, newspapers, movies, books, magazines, and advertising that gust with freedom, new ideas, constructive criticism and solutions, and aesthetic merit.

Whatever the anomic waste in the passion for the trivial, almost no Americans are ready to accept the alternative route of censorship or governmental control. Indeed they feel, and I feel, that the press is not well-enough equipped, owing partly to its financial weakness and dependence upon advertising, to penetrate into as many interstices of society as it should, and I think that the government should be constrained to put less interferences in the way of the press, including the interferences that comes simply from hiring many public relations and information officers who are presumed to help the press but in effect act as bodyguards of the bureaucrats.

The Americans do not have an easy way out, whether we speak of problems of the press or of other problem areas. There is little world experience to draw on, I have indicated. Other countries, both communist and plutocratic, are following rather than leading into the future. If I may conclude with a suggestion rather than a solution, I would say this: America cannot tighten up nor can it loosen any further than it has. What it may be able to do its over-oganization, reduce its demands and expectations according to a new set of social priorities. American education has to hammer away at the problem of stating priorities and cutting back all obstacles to simplicity, directness, and scientificity.

The organizations and institution of society are not like the organs of the body, which, once born, are there for life and cannot be changed in form and function except within the narrowest of limits. The organizations and institutions of society must be conceived as channels for conduct, dug for the goals of the times and capable of being rechanneled continually as the waters of the system must flow. On the personal and individual side, the Americans must continue on their way toward a type of character that, under control against excesses, can give the desired commitment and energy to, now, a general institution such as the world or nation, and, then again, an intimate institution such as a family or a neighborhood group. A person must be flexible enough to accept obligations of likeness and obligations of differences, and to swing from groups and roles wherein he finds his close likeness to groups unlike him where he has to assume roles of reconciliation.

I have a feeling that my suggestion has grown inordinately complex. Let me therefore substitute one of Chairman Mao's injunctions:

In order to root out the cause of disturbances, we must stamp out bureaucracy, greatly improve ideological and political education, and deal with all contradictions properly. If this is done, generally speaking there will be no more disturbances.2


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