Monday, July 16, 2007
Mark K-Punk on the psychology of the ruling class:
"Class power maims at precisely the same moment that it confers its privileges, which is why, in my experience, so many members of the ruling class resemble Daleks: their smooth, hard exterior contains a slimy invertebrate, seething with inchoate, infantile emotions. Dominic is quite right to insist on the distinction between inner phenomenological states and social confidence. The ruling elite will often be in states of profound inner turmoil (which states they often believe are terribly interesting, even if they are tediously generic); yet this doesn't affect their social confidence a jot. The behaviourist philosophy of Gilbert Ryle may prove surprisingly useful if we want to understand how this is so. Ryle's dismissal of the 'ghost in the machine', his claim that there was no inner entity corresponding to the Cartesian notion of mind, might well have been polemical overstatement, but his emphasis on the external and behavioural quality of mental states is essential to understanding how class power operates."
...which I think is an excellent piece of writing. It illustrates a problem vividly and concisely: economic forces; the Cartesian notion of mind; an image from popular culture concretely relating these ideas. We're then left to decide how applicable this model is. Objections to this argument could be made on various grounds:
1. Ethically: The pronounced gap between esoteric and exoteric presentations of self in Mark's model conforms quite closely to fashionable Lacanian ideas about psychology. Mark, however, isn't applying it universally, but only to one social group. This simple conceptual modification presents a psychology quite different, affectively, to that of Lacan. Instead of the obligatory chorus pronouncing that we are all suffering, one hears, if distantly, the catcalls of the mob. It seems unfair.
2. Aesthetically: Undoubtedly the figure of the Dalek does serve to poetically represent Descartes' theory of mind. But one has reservations as to whether a character from a television series is a philosophically appropriate object of contemplation. Can we really place the Dalek on a pedestal beside Lacan's heuristic figures?
3. Logically: Statistical research in psychology is of course dominated by institutions with their own political interests, which in this case are likely to coincide with the interests of the ruling class*. One could, nevertheless, extract concrete positions from Mark's observations and evaluate them with reference to the available literature.
*we need a consistant definition of this term "ruling class", which can be stretched to mean: those who give orders, so including the overseers of the working class; the upper middle class, including those who don't give orders; capitalists and state administration; or just the capitalists; or the ruling class in the last instance, the Generals and Chiefs of Police.