- Category: Occidentalogy
- Written by Mouood
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Religious traditions, according to Maslow, no longer have the exclusive right to talk about unseen worlds and hidden depths of meaning, or even their own intellectual and cultural expression. Maslow extrapolated the insights of religious traditions and reworked them into psychological ideas. In so doing, he transformed an ostensibly ‘religious’ phenomenon into a ‘secular’ product, which survives today in ‘New Age’ magazines and corporate business personal development programmes. After Maslow, spirituality became the new addiction of the educated, white middle classes, something that showed a rejection of the abuses associated with traditional religion but which celebrated freedom and individual expression. Privatised spirituality emerges here as the new cultural prozac bringing transitory feelings of ecstatic happiness and thoughts of self-affirmation, but never addressing sufficiently the underlying problem of social isolation and injustice. In an environment where many experience a lack of meaning in their lives, spirituality offers a cultural sedative providing individual rapture. What is masked behind this addiction to private religion is the way in which it exacerbates the problems of meaning associated with materialism and individualism in the very desire for some kind of escape from the world. Such capitalist spiritualities thereby end up reinforcing the very problems that many of its advocates seek to overcome.
The irony of Maslow’s work, as with Allport’s psychological theories, is that the very rejection of religion and the appeal to aTM private religion relied upon the adoption of another authority and another system of constraint. In the very act of freeing the mind from
embedded in psychology as part of its freedom from social control, the dogma of religion, consumers now entered the thought-control of individualism. As we saw earlier, while many see the individualism
this has prevented them from seeing how individualism is also a key element in the market creation and control of human desires. The assumption that ‘psychological individualism’ provides greater freedom or a more effective means of social organisation needs to be questioned. Once the individual is abstracted from the interrelated needs of the wider community, their individualism becomes a site for political and economic control. Rejection of the Church, the synagogue and the temple is replaced by the new authoritarianism of the market and capital. Spiritual self-actualisation is a marketactualisation, clever for its very concealment. While ‘New Age’ followers dance the gospel of self-expression they service the financial agents and chain themselves to a spirituality of consumerism. While they selectively ravage the feel-good fabric of ancient cultural and religious traditions, their disciplines and practices can easily isolate them from the resources of social justice and community to be found within those same traditions. The ancient religious traditions of the world, of course, are not without their own dark histories of thoughtcontrol, oppression and violence. Nevertheless, what they also offer are ways to overcome the pernicious consequences of individualism, selfinterest and greed throughout history. The illusion of religious free expression in private spirituality is the prison of capitalism, because it fails to acknowledge the interdependence of self within community and the ethical necessity of countering the abuses of power within market societies. It restricts the individual to a unit of consumption rather than a dynamic of relation and creative expression.
Maslow’s idea of a ‘spirituality’ of mutated religious ideas is welcomed by the business world for its motivational qualities. Indeed, at one point Maslow spent time at the Non-Linear Systems Inc. plant in Del Mar, California, and wrote in glowing terms about the effectiveness of his ideas for corporate
forces with the business world. Spirituality, once deeply entwined culture. This application of his work continues today and illustrates how a Maslovian spirituality joins in cosmologies that related the individual to society and the cosmos as a whole, is now dissected and decontextualised for corporate capitalism. The silent takeover of religion is accomplished through this psychologisation and, through this process, market forces encroach upon yet another area of human life. As Deborah Stephens (2000: viii) poignantly notes:
the reason Maslow matters today, nearly three decades after his death, is precisely because of places like Silicon Valley . . . As we embrace innovation and human capital as prime factors in competitive advantage, Maslow matters more today than when he lived.
POPULAR PSYCHOLOGY AND CAPITALIST SPIRITUALITY
In the attempt to understand religion from a ‘scientific’ psychological point of view, with all the restrictions upon its methodology, psychology has produced a new ‘religion’ of the self (Vitz, 1977). This religion of the self is effective because of its allegiance to the free market of individual choice. Economists, from Adam Smith onwards, have realised that you need an underlying model of the self in order to facilitate market forces. The political and economic structures allow private forms of spirituality to integrate with consumerism. As the media transmit ideas of private spirituality, so the quest for an individual meaning to be purchased and consumed reinforces the sense that spirituality is indeed private and individualistic. Psychology provides a way for the market to embrace religion through the language of ‘spirituality’ and politically removes its threat to the status quo. In effect, the territorial takeover of religion by psychology (individualisation) is the platform for the takeover of spirituality by capitalism (corporatisation). As we shall see in Chapter Four, this is not a completely smooth transition. Nevertheless, ‘heroic individualism’ is the framework through which the entrepreneurial culture of the 1980s emerged. Psychology makesTM religion into a product for private consumption and, as the fabric of the old institutions crumble, so the alienated masses start to
question of religion or not, ‘but which kind of religion, whether it is one worship at the new altar of capitalism, even when it is dressed in the outer garments of traditional religion. It is not, as Fromm indicates, a furthering man’s development, the unfolding of his specifically human powers, or one paralyzing them’ (Fromm, 1978: 26).
The problems with this psychological-capitalist spirituality are numerous, both in terms of appreciating psychology and its limits and in terms of social ethics. The investment in psychology provided, as we have stated, a framework for governing society, but the values of psychological methods of hypothesis-testing and empiricism have been lost in its enslavement to ideological models of individualism. Psychology can only have value today if it recognises its limits as a science, not by assuming ontological rights over the nature of human beings in its philosophical and political adventures. One of the central problems of psychology has been its adoption of a closed self, which it assumes is scientifically given rather than socially created. Theories of perception, memory and cognition, for example, operate on this notion of a closed system, but such unified models of the self conceal the divided self of social inequality and the multiple selves of our social and linguistic functioning. The illusion of a unified self is the market subject, the consuming agent, necessary for the function of late capitalistic markets. Its illusion is that the self somehow exists in isolation, when it is in fact a product of a complex network of economic, political, cultural and social interactions. Moreover, in its self-description as an objective ‘science’, psychology as a discipline has refused to acknowledge not only its own intellectual debts – namely, the pre-modern cultural heritage that constitutes its formative history, but also its own social location.
One of the problems of private, psychologised spirituality is the way in which it reinforces the idea that the individual is solely responsible for his or her own suffering. It supports a world where meaning is a private reality and where individuals make sense of their lives in isolation – a self-styled and custom-built spirituality purchased in the marketplace – rather than one generated through theTM social and historical lines of transmission within communities. However, the private spirituality supported by psychology is a collective political reality
of ‘isolated individuals’ in the language of free will and choice. When offering an ideology of separation. This ideology of privatisation breaks the social self and conceals, as we have noted, the collective manipulation spirituality is built upon such a model it becomes locked into isolating practices that alienate people from each other and from moral responsibility for the collective good. While not denying the reality of the individual agent, it is important to realise the many and varied ways in which such agency remains intrinsically woven together with that of other human beings in terms of language, culture and identity. To overcome the alienating practices of psychologised spirituality, it is necessary to challenge the boundaries between self and other and to recognise the importance of interdependence. In recent years, following work in social psychology and social constructivism in the 1970s, there has been a group of psychologists who have started to critically examine the discipline and practices of psychology. They attempt to identify the social and political context of psychological thought and rethink the subject according its cultural determinants and its relation to social justice. They even question the foundations and possibility of psychology as conventionally conceived (see, for example, Sloan, 2000 and Carrette, 2001). This approach has become known as ‘critical’ psychology and has allowed for a rethinking of the discipline in terms of the politics of knowledge. It is now possible to see how psychology supports the political regime of capitalism by providing a model of humanity premised upon individualism, privatisation and a closed self. Political ideologies and economic regimes carry with them an underlying philosophy of being human and the correspondence between the history of psychology and capitalism bears witness to such an alliance. The political critique of psychology also results in questioning any simple reduction of individual suffering to our private psychological world and rejects the separation of our sense of self from the contributing social and economic factors. As David Smail has so powerfully demonstrated,
The ills we suffer are not consequent upon our personal inadequaciesTM or moralistically attributed faults; they are the inevitable result of publicly endorsed and communally practised forms of indifference,
greed and exploitation, and require a moral reformation of our public, not our private ways of life.
(Smail 1998: 152)
The psychologised forms of spirituality that have developed over the last century attempt to locate meaning within the individual according to a selective valuing of intense experiences within the self and a closed system of cognition. Practitioners within the mental health field, for instance, often appeal to the need of western societies to appreciate the spiritual side of patients and clients in a world where materialist and rationalist judgements prevail. They believe that this search for the ‘spiritual’ within each person will counter the abuses of a wider instrumentalism and materialism. However, while there are important and valuable dimensions to such ‘holistic’ approaches in providing personal integration, meaning and a sense of value, the privatised and individualistic aspects of such practices can often conceal the social and political realities that are carried forward in its palliative, pastoral message. Spirituality, in this way, can easily become a virtuous, if somewhat deluded, attempt to deal with the ‘whole’ person, but still in rather isolated terms. In a similar way, ‘New Age’ groups argue that traditional religions have failed and new forms of spirituality should be embraced to unite people to the earth, to the cosmic reality and to hidden mystical powers. Unfortunately, this appeal is misguided if it fails to understand the political forces behind the will-to-power of psychological ‘truth’. As ‘New Age’ followers and healthcare practitioners uphold ‘spirituality’ as a way out of oppressive material worlds, they can paradoxically reinscribe the forces of isolation by focusing upon the individual. The isolation provides, as Parker (1997: 133) has identified, the basis for ideologically shaping the individual: