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[The Political Analysis of Postcommunism. Kyiv: Political Thought, 1995, pp. 227-237.]

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The Social Pathology of Postcommunist Society


1. History of the Problem of Social Insanity

Many postcommunist states have had to pay too high a price for freedom and independence: civil wars and massscale violence, a drop in living standards and rising crime, interethnic conflicts and all-pervading corruption, degradation in the fields of science and culture.

This cannot but raise a question: have the on-going changes dulled the human brain and the people been seized by mass-scale insanity? And do the analysts of today have the right, like thinkers of the Roman Empire in the times of Caligula and Nero, of France during the Jacobin terror, of Russia during war communism, of Germany under Nazism, to call their peoples insane, who know not what they do?

"It was again the wrath of gods and human insanity that provoked them into fighting each other." Thus spoke Cornelius Tacitus about Romans destroying each other each other for the sake of a short-lived triumph of just another princeps.28 A millennium later the Byzantine historian Leo the Deacon wrote about the insane plot of Phocas and his sympathizers who were "incurably ill with a cruel and inhuman desire to kill and plunder" and thus provoked a civil war.29 Another millennium passed, and Ivan Bunin, a witness to the "fall of the Third Rome," the Russian Empire, characterized popular state of mind during the Russian Civil War as "overall madness".30

But it is not only wars and revolutions that are associ-/228/ated with mass psychosis. Analyzing the reasons for the loss of the spirit of resistance to the national oppression suffered by Ukrainians in the Russian Empire, Mykhailo Hrushevsky explained this phenomenon by the strong fear of and aversion to the cruel punishments administered in the Empire which were, in his opinion, "organically alien to the Ukrainian nature." Being raised from generation to generation in a fear of political terror, Ukrainians, according to Hrushevsky, finally lost any mental resistance to such terror. It resulted in a "sociopolitical demoralization of Ukrainian civil society, a 'splitting' of its soul".31

But if a split personality is a symptom of grave mental illness, then what consequences can a "split soul" have for a whole nation? Is the double nature (ambivalence) of mass political awareness in today's Ukraine noted in sociological studies32 and manifested in simultaneous orientations towards the diametrically opposed political alternatives (the choice of economic freedom, on the one hand, and socialist paternalism, on the other; striving for political independence, on the one hand, and nostalgia for the Soviet Union, on the other, etc.) only one historical form of mass psychopathology which threatens to develop into complete degradation of the population in the postcommunist countries and disintegration of the latter as a result of the progressive mass psychosis? Or is this ambivalence, nevertheless, a natural and quite appropriate response of the human psyche to the real double nature of postcommunist society which has lost its social foundations after rejecting the old system of ideology, economy, political order and failed to find the new ones indispensable for the normal functioning of a social body?

The answer to this question is relevant not only for Ukraine, Russia, and other postcommunist countries. It is also no less important for the West European community which now enjoys relative prosperity. But what is the price of this current prosperity? And has the West forgotten political insanity forever? The present-day problems of the West may be far from the danger of an overall revolutionary neurosis which expresses itself in "contagious fear," "patriotic /229/ flagellation," an epidemic of suicides, and the triumph of the possessed and maniacal about whom certain researchers have written in an attempt to explain the pathology of consciousness and deviations in mass behavior during the French Revolution.33 But what is much nearer to our epoch (and fraught with much graver consequences for human civilization) is another kind of insanity which began under the patriotic bravura of World War I, brought Communism to Russia, and gave birth to Nazism in Germany. And it continues to exert a deleterious effect on public life in the postcommunist world.

As an analytical method, a psychiatric interpretation of this form of social insanity and social pathology has generally proved to be most convincing. This interpretation was upheld most consistently by Karl Jung. As he wrote: "I have always held the opinion that the mass political movements of our times are mass epidemics or, in other words, mass psychoses... Germany suffered a mass psychosis which inevitably led to criminality... The psychic problems of the common man...making his way through the social and political field assume the form of mass psychoses, such as wars and revolutions."34

Erich Fromm also explained the spread of Fascism as a psychological pathology of mass "necrophilia." He associated not only the past but also the future prospects of civilization with the danger of mass psychosis: "I believe we have every right to speak of a 'mentally ill society'... If society generally produces people suffering from grave schizophrenia, it will endanger its very existence".35 This viewpoint is shared by certain prominent representatives of the psychoanalytical school on the role of psychopathology in society. Similar opinions are aired by many European philosophers and cultural critics.

For example, Johan Huizinga came to a conclusion in a quite aptly subtitled work, A Diagnosis of the Spiritual Distemper of Our Time, that "any comparison in the social and cultural fields is no more than medical" and therefore he characterized the pre-World War II period as a time of "wild, delirious fantasies,...haunting hallucinations as a re-/230/suit of heavy damage to central nervous system. Applied to the phenomena of modern culture, each of these metaphors has its own specific sense."36

Of course, Huizinga primarily stressed not so much the medical as the metaphorical sense of psychiatric terms. But the obvious relevance of such metaphors for understanding processes detrimental to culture and civilization make it possible to find adequate analogies in the field of psychic norms and pathology. Using the vocabulary and concepts of psychiatry in analyzing sociopolitical processes, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari developed the concept of schizoanalysis as an alternative to traditional psychoanalysis. They view the application of psychoanalysis to the problems of mass neurosis as a deviation from an explanation of the true pathological nature of social conflicts and upheavals. Drawing a line between clinical schizophrenia and the schizophrenic process of the revolutionary transformation of a social field, and purging it of the obsolete semantic codes, Deleuze and Guattari give their own interpretation of what they believe to be key problems of the modern world, capitalism and revolution: "We can speak about capitalist paranoia and revolutionary schizophrenia because we do not proceed from the psychiatric meaning of these words; on the contrary, we proceed only from the social and political determinations of their psychiatric application under certain


Therefore, schizoanalysis, with its vocabulary saturated by psychiatric terms, maintains, above all, a symbolic aspect in explaining social processes with the aid of psychopathological language. It thus challenges the position of those representatives of psychoanalysis who apply the diagnosis of mass psychosis to mass political movements, wars, and revolutions in a strict psychiatric sense.

Is social and political insanity a metaphor or a mental disease? This question is of paramount importance for an adequate understanding of not only the past follies of humankind. We think it is extremely important in assessing the prospects for the postcommunist world to escape from the desperate social situation in which it finds itself after /231/ the first tempting steps towards a society of freedom and individual initiative.

2. From Metaphors and Psychiatric Labels to a Theoretical Analysis of Social Pathologies

With all respect for the authority of Jung and Fromm, it is hard to take on trust their belief in the psychotic nature of revolutions, world and civil wars in the twentieth century. One must take into account that Jung and Fromm, though differing from their teacher, Freud, in understanding the guiding motives behind social behavior, still were always staunch supporters of the psychoanalytical paradigm in understanding and explaining social phenomena. Freud's daring idea of curing a society of mass neurosis by psychoanalytical methods was transformed by his disciples into a desire to explain the horror and absurdity of World War II as mass psychosis. Freud's followers have transformed this doctrine into a hope of showing humankind a plausible way of overcoming the disease of modern civilization which manifests itself in uncontrollable outbursts of political violence and social aggression.

However, this road diverts society from solving political problems and conflicts rather than promoting their "cure." The point is the problem of diagnosing mental diseases, even applied to individuals, still awaits commonly accepted solutions in psychiatry. The variability and uncertainty of the boundaries of psychic norms and pathology (as a whole and between mental diseases) are so great that the supporters of "anti-psychiatry" generally consider psychiatric diagnosis as a kind of label attached by society, in violation of fundamental human rights, to people experiencing various difficulties of social adaptation (Robert Laing, Thomas Szasz, et al.). But even if the anti-psychiatric school is to be treated as necessary in obvious cases of individual mental disfunction, further extension of psychiatric diagnoses to a society is nevertheless justified no more than serious discussion of the question of "digestive disorder" or "heart disease" in this same society. /232/

Finally, if wars, bloody revolutions, and other social deviations initiated by people and carried out by them are to be treated as outbreaks of psychotic epidemics, one has to admit that these mass psychoses are entirely different in nature from individual psychotic disfunctions. Otherwise it would be impossible to explain the indisputable fact that in periods of "mass psychosis" the rate of individual psychosis need not rise. For example, no increase in psychic disorder rate was ever noted in the former USSR during the decline of perestroika or in the chaotic life of the "post-Soviet" countries. And if individual and mass psychoses have nothing in common, it is quite legitimate to conclude that social insanity must be regarded not as traditional psychosis but as a specific pathology of a social organism which develops according to its own laws and is not subject to psychiatric interpretation and intervention.

Yet, it is psychiatric terminology which has occupied a key place in the current vocabulary of the social and political sciences. It has become a matter of good taste for representatives of the political and intellectual elite to state publicly that the country has gone crazy and that what is happening verges on delirium.

Wide currency is enjoyed by both everyday-language "diagnoses" (insanity, irresponsibility, etc.) and specialized psychiatric terms (psychosis, euphoria, apathy, hysteria, neurosis, phobia, etc.). Diagnoses of this kind are easily transformed with respect to society as a whole and acquire legitimate diagnostic status in mass awareness. Some concrete examples of the "diagnostic creativity" of politicians, sociologists, and political pundits were cited in our previous publications.38

3. Social Pathology as a Problem of Postcommunist Society

The issue in question is the existence in society of a specific form of pathology which is entirely different both from mental disease as a subject of psychiatry and deviation from the social norms of behavior as a traditional subject of /233/ sociology and political science. This form of pathology has been defined as social insanity. Unlike psychosis and deviance, social insanity is not a digression from acceptable norms and values in the form of the psychological disorders, immoral or antisocial behavior which exist in any society irrespective of its specific historical and cultural conditions. It is, first of all, a mass phenomenon associated with the destruction of a value- and standard-related regulation system of social behavior.

Unlike psychopathology (mental illness) when an individual has his social adaptation mechanisms disturbed (e.g., his orientation in time and space is lost), social insanity is a pathological form of behavior brought about by the destruction of the adaptation object, with the previously developed adaptive mechanisms preserved. It is the "wholesome" striving of people with fully preserved adaptive mechanisms to become accustomed to the uncertain and unstable system of norms and values of a transitional society which provokes the sensation of chaotic impulsive activity, resembling somewhat the behavior of a mental patient. Hence a haunting desire to discuss things like the "insane society," "mass psychoses," etc.

Social insanity is not a metaphor or an allegory, nor is it a heuristic pattern of symbols used essentially by the founders of schizoanalysis to denote "revolutionary schizophrenia" and "capitalist paranoia." It is real-life social pathology which we describe as social pathologies, i.e., mass-scale disturbances of social adaptation caused by the absence or excessively rapid change of an adaptation object, with the old adaptive mechanisms fully preserved or changing with insufficient speed.

4. General and Specific Social Pathologies

Social Pathology is a specific subject of sociological research which cannot be expressed in psychiatric terms as a matter of principle. Moreover, the substitution of the psychiatric terms for the sociological ones is by no means harmless. For example, constant use of the notion of an "insane /234/ society" gradually instills in politicians and at the grassroots a complex of irresponsibility: "What's it got to do with us? The society is crazy!" It is in this way that the mentality of a "mental patient" is formed: the latter can bite the first person he bumps into and go scot free.

But especially dangerous is the use of psychiatric diagnoses in a literal medical sense to characterize mass social subjects. For example, Ukraine has already become a true victim of and participant in the abuse of mass psychiatric diagnosis for quite unseemly ends: radiophobia, a diagnosis which gained great popularity when official attempts were made to explain the influence of the Chornobyl disaster on the health of millions of people.

It is beyond doubt that the Chornobyl disaster became a powerful stress-inducing factor for those who suffered through it, and the very fact of raising a question about the effect of this stress on people's mental health was not inappropriate. But when the population of affected was proclaimed radiophobic on no real grounds, the political purpose of this diagnosis was demonstrated, i.e., to shift responsibility for the most grave aftermath of the accident from the direct participants of the campaign in order to deliberately misinform the public and shift responsibility onto the latter by labeling it "mentally deranged and crazed with fear."

However, psychiatric experts failed to find any mass symptoms of phobia among those affected by the accident, while sociologists exposed the hidden political agenda behind the term "radiophobia" as applied to these people.39 Yet, the abuse of psychiatry for political purposes still continues and the diagnosis of "radiophobia" is still employed by advocates of a psychopathological interpretation of Chornobyl's influence on public health.40 The current disdainful attitude toward disaster victims who are forced to resort to actions of mass protest may have been caused largely by the purveyors of such false diagnoses. Their unprofessional psychiatric "investigation" groundlessly accused hundreds of thousands of people of manifesting a pathological reaction to compulsory resettlement or to health-threatening /235/ radiation doses received during the Chornobyl clean-up.

In studying social pathologies within a given society a distinction must be made between locally specific and general social pathologies. The latter may occur whenever there is social instability, radical changes and a dramatic drop in the people's living standards. When the old system of values and norms is ruined and a new one is not yet formed, a situation arises which Emil Durkheim called anomie (lack of norms) and which is reflected in the awareness and behavior of people who lose firm social support and experience alienation from the present and uncertainty about the future.

Robert Merton showed that in the condition of anomie there is no conformity between the socially significant goals of human activity and the socially acceptable means of achieving these goals.41 As a result, some people try to achieve new goals by old means, while others - to reanimate the old ones by new means (e.g., the communists appeal to democratic norms in an attempt to lift the ban on their party). As shown in studies, this pattern thus is revealed in postcommunist society: the majority of the population, being oriented toward the new democratic values and goals, prefer the old totalitarian means of achieving them. For example, while supporting the building a law-governed state, most respondents in public-opinion polls favor such clearly unlawful measures as granting law-enforcement bodies the right to take into custody officials suspected of bribery for an indefinite period.42

What also constitutes a general social pathology is the social intolerance which arises whenever living standards drop and people start looking for those they can blame for their current hardships. During the first years of perestroika public-opinion polls unambiguously showed that the role of "scapegoat" was meant for the Party apparatchiks and employees of the "socialist trade system." As hardships increased, intolerance acquired a more indefinite nature extending to representatives of various socio-professional and ethnic groups. True, this phenomenon is not at all specific in comparison with other countries and nations which were or still are in the grip of an economic or political crisis. The /236/ specific social pathologies of our society stem from its specific history and are somewhat unique. The analysis of mass awareness and behavior patterns in postcommunist society allowed the singling out a number of specific social pathologies which broadly determine the relevant manifestations and potential of "social insanity."

Nowhere in the world, except the former Soviet Union, can there ever have been in such a comprehensive form as the confrontational strategy of reaching social harmony according to which any constructive process was regarded as struggle. It was not only a struggle against the ubiquitous external and internal enemies but also struggle "for" for meeting and exceeding production targets, for peace and friendship among peoples, for a rich harvest, etc. The principle of fighting on all front-lines formed a peculiar "trench mentality" which even now tells those who want to stand up and raise their eyes that this is an extremely dangerous thing to do, and that it is better to wait until an "all-out attack signal" is sounded. And woe betide that sovereign part of the former USSR where this signal is given by the unscrupulous politicians obsessed with self-assertion by affirming the idea of their nation's grandeur. For, until recently many people considered the values of struggle more significant that those of creation.

The specific social pathology of our society is also exemplified by the phenomenon of an acquired social helplessness rooted in the long period of total state paternalism which formed a basic type of personality unable to assume responsibility not only for the society in which he lives but also for his own life in that same society. The system of social links formed by communist theory and practice still continues to reproduce the phenomenon of an acquired social helplessness. True, the thoughtlessly accepted idea of an "almighty Party leading us to a bright future" has given way to a no less popular idea that it will suffice to exorcise the "communist devil" to bring us to the democratic pastures of heaven without untoward effort.

One can also highlight the socially pathological culture of contacts, which means a method of interaction among /237/ people whereby the participants in direct and mass communication are not interested in establishing feedback. This style of contacts was formed during the triumph of "democratic centralism" meaning in fact two unequal lines of communication: orders from top to bottom and reports from bottom to top. At present the most vivid example of a residual lack of interest in feedback among the subjects of communication is the steady unwillingness of the authorities to take serious account of the public-opinion poll returns. Not knowing public opinion as a whole, politicians are only guided by those forms of its manifestations which involve the most politically active strata (rallies, demonstrations, petitions, etc.) and often create a resonance incommensurate with their true influence on the broad masses. Hence the increasingly strong impression of an "overall madness," when the few but vociferous followers of an unbalanced political leader take part in clearly anomalous actions. In fact, the mass occurrence of psychiatric labels also testifies to a socially pathological culture of contacts which cannot express itself without using a psychological diagnosis.

In addition to those reviewed above, the following social pathologies are worthy of note: the postcommunist ambivalence of political awareness expressed by conformism and nihilism, deprofessionalization and confusion of the status-and-prcstige criteria of human interaction, as well as by the deactualization of values. These still await detailed study.

Social pathology as a specific pathology of a postcommunist society can destroy the "social body" or check its democratic development. To overcome the former it is to necessary to foster the feeling of self-respect in society and the personality. Without this feeling, an individual country can create an anything but civilized state worthy of the civilized world community's esteem and interest in its future development.

28. Cornelius Tacitus, Selected Works in Two Volumes (Moscow, 1993), Vol. II, p. 34 (In Russian).

29. Leo the Deacon, History (Moscow, 1988), p. 62. (in Russian).

30. Ivan Bunin, The Accursed Days (Krasnodar, 1991), p. 57 (in Russian).

31. Mykhailo Hrushevsky, On the Threshold of a New Ukraine (Kyiv, 1991), p. 12 (In Ukrainian).

32. Yevhen Holovakha, "The Peculiarities of Political Awareness: the Ambivalence of Society and Personality," Politolohichni chytannia, 1992, No. 1, pp. 24-29 (in Ukrainian); Yevhen Holovakha, and N. Panina, "The Development of a Democratic Political Identity in Contemporary Ukrainian Political Culture," Nationalism, Ethnicity, and Identity: Cross-National and Comparative Perspectives, ed., R. Farnen (New Brunswick, NJ, 1994), pp. 403-425.

33. P.-J.-G. Cabanis, and L. Nass, The Revolutionary Neurosis (St. Petersburg, 1906) (in Russian).

34. Karl Gustav Jung, On Modern Myths (Moscow, 1994), pp. 228, 229, 241 (in Russian).

35. Erich Fromm, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (Moscow, 1994), pp. 307, 318 (in Russian).

36. Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens. In the Shadow of Tomorrow (Moscow, 1992), p. 266 (in Russian).

37. "Capitalism and Schizophrenia: An Interview of Catherine Clement with Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari," Ad Marginem '93: Yezhegodnik, 1994, p. 405 (in Russian).

38. Yevhen Holovakha, and N. Panina, "The Pathology of PostTotalitarian Society: from Psychiatric Self-Diagnosis to the Analysis of Specific Social Pathologies," Filosofskaya i sotsiologicheskaya mysl', 1993, No. 5; pp. 19-39; Y. I. Holovakha, and N. V. Panina, Social Insanity: History, Theory and Contemporary Practice (Kyiv, 1994). (in Russian).

39. Yu. A. Alexandrovsky et al., Psychogenics in Extreme Conditions (Moscow, 1991) (in Russian). N. V. Panina, "The Legend of Radiophobia," Filosofskaya i sotsiologicheskaya mysl', 1990, No. 1, pp. 30-37 (in Russian).

40. G. D. Berdyshev, "Radiophobia and Genocide of the Ukrainian Population," Chomobyl and the Press (Kyiv, 1992), p. 66 (in Russian).

41. Robert Merton, "Social Structure and Anomie," Sotsioligiya prestupnosti, 1966, pp. 299-313 (in Russian). /355/

42. Y. I. Holovakha, and N. V. Panina, "Kyiv: Democracy with a Totalitarian Subconsciousness: The Results of Sociological Studies," Vestnik informatsionnogo agenstva Postfactum, 1990, No. 13, pp. 9-13 (in Russian).

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