Psychology and politics are not easy bedmates. I say that as someone who works in psychology for a living, and who has come to political interests fairly late in life. My conclusion is that they need each other.
Nothing has made that clearer to me than the past few years of a Labour government. My concern relates to issues of control and the erosion of our freedoms – those comfort zones and ‘givens’ that we take for granted. Where have so many of them gone? They have been replaced, without our permission, with a whole raft of propaganda messages based on fear, control and ‘for-our-own-good’ - including the 4,300 new laws since Blair came to power in 1997. Who are they protecting, and why?
As Anthony Horowitz pointed out recently in the Daily Mail People of Britain! Rise up from the naughty step! it is children and not adults who need to be protected for their own good. I wonder if perhaps this has not contributed to the political apathy that we see as an election approaches. If we are treated as children then people will accept this and start to disenfranchise themselves, accepting their infantalisation and withdrawing from a responsible attitude to power – thus allowing the government to carry on by default.
So, what is the nub of this propaganda, and where is the sting? Just to give one or two examples: Can you use a ladder with reasonable safety? Not according to this government, you can’t. Can you manage to bring yourself up to speed on maths, counting, basic arithmetic – maybe at a public library, if you were sufficiently motivated? Apparently not. Do you know how to look for a job? Doubtful. Can you use a tissue? Unlikely. Would you like to see your insides after two glasses of wine, on a Friday evening at the end of a hard week, as you sit back with a bit of supper and the TV? Well, here it is in graphic detail complete with all manner of potential diseases.
I have left out the fags, the car crushing, the DVLA reminders, the strange fitness-for-life plasticine people we are encouraged to be like, and the fraught dangers of conkers.
What kind of mind-set thinks that our money should be spent on such nonsense? This is where the psychology has to kick in.
Without some psychological understanding we have only a few choices – to wonder mildly at such nonsense; to become enraged; to resort to satire (a very healthy option but sadly missing these days); or to comply without question.
The final option is of course more in line with the intention. That still does not answer why it should come to this.
Here are a couple of thoughts. First of all, it is all too easy to control any one person, or population. Find out what they want, then give it to them, and then - withdraw or ration it. If we think about it, this is exactly what has happened with credit for one thing. Toy Town has closed now – global times, you understand; no one’s fault. A glut of credit and then its restriction is one way to change our comfort zones and make us dependent and then grateful for what we are then allowed. Flooding the market with cheap alcohol and 24-hr drinking is another – next insert the controls by telling us how dangerous it is.
The other ploy is to send out a fantasy message that ‘the privileged’ ‘the middle-classes’ are receiving all the goodies ‘unfairly’. This creates a climate of envy which only a parental government can make good. In doing so, an underclass is created of the so-called ‘privileged’ – probably the hard working, over-stressed majority, now guilt-ridden for trying.
Then we come to reasons why a government should want to control by feeding us a constant stream of fear-driven propaganda - the kind that gives the hypnotic, drip-by-drip message overtly and subliminally that neither we, nor the world around us, is ever going to be safe again.
Come back to the psychology. There is a condition called OCD – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. This is not the same as depression (such as Churchill’s ‘black dog’), nor is it bullying – as in “what would you prefer, a shrinking violet or a football manager?”
Obsessional disorders come about because of the fear of suppressed chaos in one person’s psyche, which is then contagious. When it takes hold everything inside that person feels unsafe and threatening. This is then either denied, deflected or defended. It gives rise to feelings of persecution, rages, hysteria, and, specifically, the need to control the outside – that is you, me, ‘the world’, as a direct projection of an inability to trust what is going on inside. There is the fear of falling to bits, but it is denied on the inside and translated instead to the outside – where it must be controlled. That, I believe, is exactly the current state of our government and the reason for the swathes of mindless propaganda. It is OCD driven from the top.
It involves a simple process of projection, which psychology understands all too well. The difficulty is that something called ‘psychology’ meanwhile has a very poor press, and has managed by various collusions to hide its educational value and necessity under the general media cloak of ‘psycho-babble’.
But as C.G. Jung, the founder of analytical psychology said in his 1959 Face to Face Interview: “We need more psychology; we know very little; we are pitifully ignorant about it.” It is an ignorance that has helped put us at risk of being drawn into another five years of government’s obsessive compulsive disorder - where we are controlled to prevent them from splitting and disintegrating; where they are the source of the threat and the problem which they project onto those they rule over. It seems seductively reassuring and childlike to be offered security. The outcome will be more panics until we are truly grateful for all the effort Gordon Brown is making to look after us. It is crucial that we not only question, but that we actively reject, both the message and the seduction.