THE INFLUENCE OF PSYCHOGEOGRAPHY UPON THE CONDUCT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: Clinical and Metapsychological Considerations
By Howard F. Stein, Ph.D
This essay approaches intergroup, specifically international, relations from the perspective of psychogeography. I argue that a psychogeographic understanding of people’s perception and investment in their own group and in other groups, and of consequent actions, contributes a needed dimension toward understanding the nature of international conflict. Although a plethora of studies of national character, ethnicity, and group identity have been written since the 1930s, little has been said of the relation between one’s sense of group identity and sense of place. Psychogeography, the psychoanalytic study of spatial representation (Stein, 1984c; see also Niederland, 1956, 1957, 1971a, 1971b; Volkan, 1979) is an approach that may help to unravel why who one is comes to be experienced as indistinguishable from where one is, and in turn where and who others are perceived to be in relation to one.
In its widest compass, psychogeography consists of the representation of developmental time and the playing out of its vicissitudes on the stage of space. Space is often used as metaphor—sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally—for time. Time becomes space’s drama; space becomes time’s stage. The topography of the mind wends its way into the topography of space. Space is parable. While geographical space may serve as the focus of a person’s or group’s perceptual, cognitive, affective, and behavioral activity, the actual motivationalsource of this activity remains unconscious fantasy, affect, anxiety, and conflict.
The study of psychogeography begins with the still radical Kantian assumption that reality is not neutral, not simply “there” for the seeing. Psychogeography is a study of how and why we mediate reality with the contents of our psyches. Culture is not automatically adaptive to or even accurately perceptive of the real social and physical world. Spatial “otherness” is largely projective (La Barre, 1972; Devereux, 1980; DeMause, 1982), which means that reality testing is a far greater (and more recent) achievement than we might imagine. To understand representations of spatial morphology, we must turn to the topography and structure of the mind.
The scope of psychogeography is the unconscious construction of the social and physical world. Men and women fashion the world out of the substance of their psyches from the experience of their bodies, childhoods, and families; they project psychic contents outward onto the social and physical world, and act as though what is projected is in fact an attribute of the other or outer. What we attribute (verb) to the world we subsequently take to be an attribute (noun) of the world. Environment is heir to psyche, which is why a psychoanalytic ecology is indispensable to our understanding of the relationship between man and environment (Stein, 1983b). All unfinished developmental business is played and replayed on a stage of “reality” which we expect if not coerce to comply with our inner dramas. Fantasies about the body and the family are transmuted into descriptions of one’s own group, other groups, into shapes and features of the world. Projected outward, the fate of the body becomes the fate of the world.
Psychogeography begins with the vicissitudes of selfhood in a human body within a family context, and proceeds outward to encompass the world. Schizophrenia and international relations, hypochondriasis and cosmology are alike psychogeographic phenomena. Metapsychologically speaking, the psychogeography of spatial representations and relationships is metaphor for developmental and generational time. The issue of boundaries takes us to the heart of psychogeography. Symbolic group-boundaries have the quality of dreamlike condensations. Through boundaries we express anxiety over body integrity or cohesion versus disorganization, maleness versus femaleness, pleasure versus unpleasure, animateness versus inanimateness, security versus danger, symbiosis versus emotional separation (representational differentiation), id versus superego. How these all are resolved finds ultimate expression in the delineation of inside from outside: what and who are to be included in the group, and what and who are to be excluded from it.
We animate other peoples and places with aspects of ourselves. Often more literally than figurative, nations become mother- and fatherlands and fusions of the two. We speak of a “family” of nations or of mankind. Enemies become “cancers” which threaten to invade or corrupt the “body” politic. People experience the integrity of the body as coextensive with the integrity of group (e.g., national) boundaries.
Intergroup conflict is frequently sexualized in terms of intercourse, sodomy, and rape. Social and physical space comes to symbolize unconscious process: that is, what is inside is unwittingly played outside ourselves on the stage of nature and society. Humans live out their fantasies on the stage of reality. People perceive and act toward other people, groups, and the phenomenal world as though these were extensions of one’s own body, parts of the body, one’s parental figures or parts of their bodies, and family members and relationships. What philosophers call the fallacy of misplaced concreteness is heir to the unconscious allocation of the inner world to the outer.
A news story on the eruption of Mt. Etna and of attempts to divert lava by explosives, begins with the following passage: “‘Our mother is the fire of Mount Etna, our father is the sea,’ said Enza Montepiano, a Catania University student, as she waved toward the hellishly glowing southern slope of the massive volcano. ‘Like any mother and father, sometimes they punish us,’ she added ruefully” (Schanche, 1983). This passage reveals not only how geography can be anthropomorphized, but familiomorphized as well. Moreover, this passage conveys both what parents are and what angry parents do. It further illustrates how concrete (not here metaphorical) thinking can function regressively in the mind of an otherwise (presumably) intelligent, rational university student.
Geographical representations and geopolitical issues have always been infused with psychological images, and bear the emotional burdens of these associations. It is, after all, only since Mercator in the Renaissance that our maps have become more than outlets for fantasy; and even with meticulous cartography, we superimpose upon geographically or geologically accurate maps the contents of our conflicts (e.g., those ubiquitously menacing black or red arrows in our daily newspapers that attest to where our “vital interests,” not to say “vital organs,” are being “cut off”—Ebel, 1980a). Psychogeography is a study of (a) the role of unconscious factors in the perception of natural and social reality, and (b) the consequences of that perception, i.e., how attributes of the psyche, once projected onto the world, become the basis for action in the world. In psychogeographic exploration, one studies how geography, maps, and perceived characteristics of one’s own group and other groups become targets, containers, and outlets for fantasy.
Why is it, as Auden put it, that “the living nations wait, Each sequestered in its hate”? Lewis Richardson, the British statistician, formulated the famed “Richardson spiral” of symmetrical escalation among adversaries, one which takes place between groups which square off as one paranoid against another, each provoking the other in projecting its own disavowed aggressivity. “The leader of Country A, fearing that Country B may increase its military budget, increases his own budget. Each thus validates the fears of the other (the pursuit of security often enhancing each country’s sense of insecurity)” (quoted in Shafer, 1982, p. 127). In the seventeenth century Blaise Pascal, while pondering war, asked:
Why do you kill me? What! Do you not live on the other side of the water? If you lived on this side, my friend, I should be an assassin, and it would be unjust to slay you … But since you live on [the other] side, I am a hero…. Three degrees of latitude reverses a jurisprudence … A strange justice that is bounded by a river! [in Shafer, 1982, p. 135].
One’s personal boundaries come to be felt as coextensive with and bound up with the fate of the geopolitical boundaries of one’s group. Aggression is mobilized in defense of the self (Rochlin, 1973), in the service of keeping a sense of goodness and completeness and safety inside, repudiating in oneself disavowed parts and impulses, putting these disavowed aspects into the enemy, intensifying them in the enemy, engaging them through the enemy, combatting them in the enemy, and restoring what the enemy is seen to have taken away. Disruptive feelings, fantasies, conflicts that could not be acknowledged (contained) within a developmentally early relationship and there integrated within the self are safely deposited elsewhere and become the target of one’s hatred (see Volkan, 1979).
Politics, domestic and intergroup, turns out to be considerably more than the “art of the possible,” “maximizing strategies” based upon a “rational calculus,” and so on. Rather, reality and rationality becomes conflated with and driven by fantasy. Ebel (1980b, pp. 484-485) writes that:
“Politics” … seems inextricably enmeshed with fantasies of boundarylessness, both in the ecstatic projection into one’s “leader” and in the fact that politicians are always promising to shore up our “defenses.” Terror of the invasion from without runs cheek-by-jowl with the fantasied eruption out of the envelope of the isolated self and the merging with one’s “party” as allegorically represented by the “leader.”
The hallucination that governs the military realm is that the enemy is threateningly close to you, even if he is in reality thousands of miles away. His psychic proximity overrides all mere geographical facts. He attracts your attention and obsesses your unreasoning process just like the “loved one” who is wall-to-wall Breast.
Political geography, geopolitics, and the like have as their consciously experienced referent events and places located in the outer world. They are, however, largely overdetermined if not caused by the topography of the mind. They permit us insight into the unconscious logic beneath the “fallacy of misplaced concreteness.” It is thus insufficient to become “expert,” say, on the Americans or the Soviets if one wishes to comprehend their conflict. One must better come to understand homo sapiens. What is called for, I believe, is a psychogeography of intergroup relations, in other words, a metapsychology of culture.
A framework of psychic primacy inverts or reverses the traditionally accepted causal sequence according to which outer historical events, geological features, intergroup conflicts, and other aspects of social and physical “space” simply impress themselves upon the mind and are internalized. Rather, the dialogue between inner and outer is based upon the search by the psyche for what Freud (1900) referred to as an “identity of perceptions” whereby the outer serves as a cathected vehicle for the inner. Any thorough discussion of human ecology and the problem of adaptation must include examination of the extent to which the environment is “polluted” with projections, externalizations, and displacements from the human psyche for safekeeping and retrieval. Psychogeography is neither a frivolous, esoteric, nor superfluous matter with respect to the real world of public policy, but is instead one of dire urgency, since humans act upon unconsciously motivated perceptions of themselves, others, and the world.
Politics and the Unconscious
Psychoanalytically oriented social scientists and culturally oriented psychoanalysts have made major contributions to the study of folklore, religion, and art. That is to say, the study of self-attributions to the world has been conducted thus far principally in the domain of what many anthropologists and other social scientists term the “expressive” realm of group life. On the other hand, we have tended to regard politics, law, and economics as more part of the “instrumental,” more practical, goal-oriented, and putatively realistic realm of culture. As a result, we have been disinclined to subject these to analytic scrutiny. Lasswell (1930) was an obvious early exception.
In recent years, Erikson on Ghandi’s India (1969) and Jefferson’s America (1974), Volkan on Cyprus (1979) and on Atatürk (1981), deMause on President Reagan and contemporary American political culture (1984; see review by Stein, 1984b), Mack (1982) on the children’s perceptions of the Soviet/American arms race are notable exceptions. Nevertheless, the tendency has been to engage in psychobiography rather than to study the interplay in a given era between the psychobiography of political leaders (and failed leaders!), the dominant group-fantasies of the time, and the widely shared child-rearing practices (which is to say, object relations) which undergrid the generation(s) involved in political ideologies, movements, and various forms of election.
We use politics for the same kinds of unconscious reasons and functions that we use, amplify, and modify our dreams, myths, and folklore. In his book on Apache childhood and folklore, what Boyer (1979, p. 26) writes of the mental functions of myth could be advanced as one of the principal expressive functions of intra- and intergroup political process:
Myths and related phenomena are group-accepted images which serve as further screening devices in the defensive and adaptive functions of the ego. They reinforce the suppression and repression of individual fantasies and personal myths. A shared daydream is a step toward group formation and solidarity and leads to a sense of mutual identification on the basis of common needs. Myth makers serve the community alongside poets and prophets, presenting communally acceptable versions of wishes which theretofore were expressed in guilt-laden, private fantasy…. Shared daydreams are instruments of socialization and thereby character formation. The myth must be remembered and repeated. The externalization of the impulses which give rise to fantasy make possible the process of sharing and potentiates the containment of fright and guilt through the means of art and symbolism. Folklore, art and religion are institutionalized instruments which bolster the social adaptation ordinarily made possible by the nightly abrogation of instinctual renunciation in the dream. In the genesis of myth, for both individual and group, only a kernel of realistic experience is needed. The revision or falsification of the past and its heroes by the group serves the purpose of defense, adaptation and instinctual gratification for the group and its individual constituents; it also serves in character-building.
It is my contention, if I may rewrite a sentence of Boyer’s (1979, p. 15), that symbols and motifs of political ideology (as well as those of folklore) consist of projected symbols of shared intrapsychic conflicts. The function of such symbols is to simultaneously express and disguise the latent content underlying such symbols. The image of one’s own group, together with the image of the enemy—like art, myth, and folklore, and like the dream upon which all are based—interweave the mental mechanisms of condensation, displacement, and secondary elaboration with the day residue of outer events. The shared fantasy about one’s own group and about others is thus not merely “like” (analogous in certain ways to) dream work, but is dream work of a very specific sort: one that supplements, continues, perceptually corroborates, and supersedes—in the sense of making acceptable for entry into consciousness (and memory)—individual nocturnal dreaming (see La Barre, 1966, 1975). If we must awaken from our slumbers, culture, in its dereistic and maladaptive aspect, is a way we are able to keep asleep while having to be awake.
Boundaries: The Problem of Aggression
While most social scientists pay greatest attention to the fact and content of cultural differences, we would do well to consider more closely what these cultural differences are used for in intra- and intergroup identity. When such differences barely exist, they will be enhanced, thereby creating greater difference, and will thereafter be rationalized by group members on the basis of “cultural difference” (or, when occurring within the context of a larger society, called “cultural pluralism”). Cultural difference, then, must be seen in part at least as something of a rhetorical device to give integrity to the boundaries of the group. That is, any content or size of difference can be summoned in the name of the cause of distinguishing between “us” and “them.” In the light of current knowledge, Freud’s concept of “the narcissism of minor differences” (1918, p. 199) might be more aptly termed the narcissism of group differentiation, thereby placing emphasis on the shared mental process and structure involved rather than on the cultural content itself.
I believe that by paying greater attention to group-boundary issues, their internal symbolic meanings and representations, and the psychodynamic taproots of intergroup opposition, we may better come to understand group identities. George DeVos (1975, p. 9) defines an ethnic group as “a self-perceived group of people who hold in common a set of traditions not shared by the others with whom they are in contact.” Such “secondary” groups and group relations as anthropology/sociology and family medicine/internal medicine or biomedicine/osteopathic medicine/chiropractic certainly are not invested with sentiments and attachments as primordial as those of the primary groups in which one was born and socialized. Still, DeVos’s definition, which encompasses communality within a group and opposition to those outside, moves us in this more “generic” direction.
Stanley Brandes writes of a similiar function for ethnic humor,
One of the most common views about humor and ethnicity is, as Walter Zenner has pointed out, that “it perpetuates negative stereotypes and that it constitutes a form of aggression against the out-group…. This view of ethnic humor fits the ‘superiority theories’ of humor which hold that laughter is directed at those who are considered inferior and is, in itself, a form of triumph and superiority”…. There is no doubt that a “limited good” type of mentality, in which people assume that there exists a finite amount of prestige or esteem in the world, underlies much ethnic joking: if one can deflate one’s opponents albeit only through ridicule and stereotyping, one may correspondingly enhance one’s own social status and self-image [1980, p. 58].
Max Weber introduced the concept of ethnic honor: “belief in a specific ‘honor’ of their members, not shared by outsiders, i.e., the sense of ethnic honor” (1961, p. 307). The split between honor/shame or dishonor, good inside/bad outside is a universal and, again, generic group identity and boundary issue. Group-identity boundaries serve as the borders that separate those to whom one feels a sense of kinship and obligation, and those to whom one feels unrelated—and worse, serving as what Volkan calls “suitable targets for externalization” (1979).
We need to begin to devote some effort to understand how and why groups come to embody self- and developmentally earlier self-object qualities whereby through externalization the group comes to be experienced as a superorganic entity that contains the self. Moreover, we likewise need to inquire into the evolutionary process (fueled perhaps by improved child-parent relations, to cite deMause’s model, 1982) through which individuals come to develop the capacities for identifying with larger numbers of persons and with those increasingly more geographically remote from them. It is as important to examine the psychogenesis and psychodynamics of inclusiveness as it is to explore that of exclusiveness. Safety on the inside is contrasted with and predicated upon danger and vulnerability from the outside. Perhaps such a generic “group” perspective can help us overcome discipline- and period-bound understandings.
Us and Them
A number of writers have commented on the human proclivity to subdivide the human species into “us” and “them” (see Spicer, 1971; Stein & Hill, 1977). Erikson (1966) wrote of each group’s tendency to view itself as a virtual “pseudospecies” and other groups as less than human. Every group has its own version of homo monstrosus (Malefijt, 1968), that condensed image of what Erikson (1968) termed the “negative identity.” However, the availability of a stable pariah group is not the same as vicious spasms of persecution. If, under universal conditions of growing up, the residues of inner splits are directed by oneself with the aid of one’s parents and teachers onto images of out-groups, thereby stabilizing one’s own and one’s group’s cohesiveness, under the destabilizing conditions of regression (often prompted by culture change, see La Barre, 1971), what had been residual now comes to the forefront and comes to function more as a delusion than as a mere belief.
Jerome Frank (1967, 1968, 1980) wrote of the ubiquitous “image” and “face” of the enemy: “This image is remarkably similar no matter who the conflicting parties are. Enemy images mirror each other—that is, each side attributes the same virtues to itself and the same vices to the enemy. ‘We’ are trustworthy, peace-loving, honorable and humanitarian; ‘they’ are treacherous, warlike and cruel” (1980, p. 951).
The connection between ubiquitous ethnocentrism and culture-conflict has long been recognized, if only tacitly. In 1906, William Graham Sumner, whose neologism we now use, wrote that “ethnocentrism leads a people to exaggerate and intensify everything in their own folkways which is peculiar and which differentiates them from others” (1906, p. 13). It was thus early recognized that the insistence on difference, if not its creation, was fundamental to the ability of a cultural group to identify itself as a separate entity. Olson offers a rich psychological description of the self-other enmity characteristic of ethnocentric feeling.
[Ethnocentrism] denotes the well-known tendency to make rigid ingroup-outgroup distinctions. Ethnocentrics make their own groups the normative center of all their thinking. Unable to love their own kind without expressing antipathy toward others, they draw sharp lines of exclusion. Insofar as they idolize and remain submissive to and uncritical of their ingroup, they are likely to blame outsiders for their own ills and regard them as both inferior and hostile [1963, p. 3].
Among the Zuni pueblo, for instance, not only is any display of aggression forbidden, it is said that any Zuni who is hostile is really not a Zuni, for no Zuni would harbor angry thoughts, let alone give vent to them. Moreover, the traditionally indigenous term of “enemy” wasapachu. When the presedentary Navajo-Apache entered the territory as raiders, they became a foil for the peaceful pueblo peoples (personal communication, Triloki Nath Pandey). Historically, the enmity is not a consequence of simple cause and effect, namely, predation and realistic fear. Rather, the Navajo-Apache became available as a transference target for group externalization.
Self-definition, then, is largely achieved by contrast with one (or those) whom one is decidedly not. In an allegorical account of “The Day the Soviet Union Disappeared,” Ebel (1983) refers to the “indispensable bogeyman” who enables each “to focus their sense of paranoid endangerment.” Interestingly, during 1983, President Ronald Reagan depicted the Soviet Union as “the focus of evil” in the modern world, a statement that condenses both the ambiguity over precisely whose evil is under scrutiny together with the identity of precisely where the evil is to be perceived and attributed. Such a “focus” is employed to deflect all ego-dystonic affects from relationships (together with their internal representations) in which one feels they would be intolerable if not disruptive. The ability to focus one’s anxiety also makes one feel safer; as a group solution to the free-floating anxiety of everyday life, the availability of a common enemy not only allows one to know where to look for danger but prescribes precisely where one should look.
This pastiche of perspectives should enable us to account for the essentially undifferentiated facelessness of the enemy during our most regressed moments—for instance, our inability to see the Soviets as human. This approach likewise helps us to account for the seemingly insuperable obstacles to the recognition at the affective level of human specieshood (despite Schiller and Beethoven). So long as the enemy is seen as wearing the mask we have superimposed onto it, we must inevitably see a face we despise when we look upon the enemy. The enemy, in essence, wears our disavowed features: that is the psychic function of the enemy.
Moreover, historic enemies cultivate one another. We tend our demons as diligently as we do our revered deities. A good enough enemy may be felt to endanger the very survival of one’s own group, or it may be felt to be the source of humiliation for one’s group; in either event the enemy must be experienced as capable of succeeding in its menace.
While it is true that the need for an enemy is part of a universal “we”/“they” affectively based splitting, certain adversaries are, so to speak, “better” than others. For instance, although the Soviet Union and the United States were allies against the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy, Japan) during World War II, this alliance was only a temporary aberration in mutual distrust that has dated to the Revolution of 1917 (see Henry, 1963). To put it formulistically: the best enemy is the one (or ones) which best mirrors and embodies the “negative identity” (Erikson, 1968) of the group, the one that can best focus and embody the “not-me.”
Now, as Spiegel (1971), Devereux (1967), and Stein (1985) have written, no culture’s values are altogether consistent. Russians piously bow to Tsarist and Soviet authority, yet admire the defiant spirit of the Cossacks. Americans prize individualism, self-reliance and egalitarianism, yet maintain undiminished fascination with autocratic bosses of politics and industry. As Devereux (1978) writes: “Every highly cathected pattern or belief has (in the same culture) also a less elaborated (and/or latent) contrary manifestation “man’s best friend”—“dirty dog”)” (p. 381). “Man affirms on one level what he denies on another level” (p. 397). What makes for the dangerous “fit” between the United States and the Soviet Union is that what is highly cathected by one is countercathected by the other—and projected outward as a despised attribute of the enemy.
The Soviet Union and United States personify one another’s “negative identity,” that is, what one most repudiates, yet secretly knows to be a part of oneself. Each develops a permanent relationship with the other—for only in the relationship is one continuously _completed_by and in the “other.” One conducts a relationship with others who embody and are perceived to act out one’s externalizations. In intergroup perceptions and conduct as in family life, one cannot altogether part with what one exteriorizes. To keep the horror of “going soft on communism” inflamed, we must tenaciously affirm the “specter of communism.” Yet that very “specter” remains a continuous source of fascination as well as dread.
From Freud we long ago learned to suspect the presence of a disavowed, forbidden wish where a great fear or prohibition exists. Unabating disdain for the enemy would seem to have a protest quality. It is trite to say that we hate our enemies, though the hatred is unmistakable. It is more psychodynamically apt to say that we need to hate our enemies—and likewise have enemies to hate—in order that we not despise and (we likewise fear) destroy ourselves. I have elsewhere referred to the “symbiotic” and “complementary” quality of adversary relationships (Stein, 1982). I would here add that in focusing upon the enmity itself, we observers and interpreters often overlook the importance of the relationship cultivated and preserved. For in enmity one maintains through the “other” a relationship with parts of oneself and early objects.
For instance, we “know” the Soviet Union principally through images of what the Soviets represent to us. International prognostication is a form of magical divination; our “experts” are largely those whom we appoint to mirror our fantasies and defenses. After long cultivation, the Soviets are now an image-become-fact. Not alone in our relations with the Soviet Union, intercultural knowledge is largely projective.
In intergroup feelings and perceptions (including between subgroups “within” a group itself), (1) any part or function of the psyche that is overvalued or devalued in one’s group can be “transferred” to outside groups; (2) incompletely resolved childhood complexes can be later symbolized and enacted in intergroup relations; and (3) one’s own group and groups that serve as targets of ignominy or idealization are powerful condensations in which all sorts of conscious incompatibles are unconsciously reconciled. Consider again the American perception of the Soviet Union. To begin with, we commonly refer to the Russians, as though Soviet Union = Russians. Yet there is great ethnonational diversity and conflict within the Soviet Union. The dizzying diversity in reality is collapsed into the image of a single, unifying scourge, a veritable “it.”
The American citizen or diplomatic negotiator can attempt to rid himself/herself of aggressive intentions upon foreign territory or resources by attributing those intentions to an outside aggressor, in this instance, the Soviets. As a result, aggression boomerangs and prompts further protective measures (while the Soviets symbolize us in similar fashion). It is as if to say: “I am not a bully. You are a bully. So I must defend myself against you—which permits me to bully you.” Technically speaking, not only is the drive derivative projected, but the association of that drive derivative with an unacceptable part of the self is externalized.
To take the point further: Americans prize “freedom,” a freedom which the Soviets are perceived as menacingly and unremittingly trying to take away. The U.S.S.R. serves as the image of what might be called The Great Depriver. Surely religiously devout Americans do not possess rebellious, irreverent impulses: it is those atheist Russian Communists (who are contending with resurgent Orthodoxy at home) who are bent upon taking away American religion. While Americans look longingly at the putative paternalism and maternalism of Japanese corporations, and reinstate religious fundamentalism and political authoritarianism at home, we keep our illusion of precious freedom by accusing the Soviets all the more of seeking to take it away. We enlist the Soviets to help us manage our ambivalence toward our own culture. In a phrase: “We don’t wish to lose our independence; they are the ones who seek to make us feel dependent” (see also Schmookler, 1985).
At a time of heightening American nationalism, Americans accuse the Soviets of being belligerently nationalistic. Both the Soviet Union and the United States are culturally and politically the products of revolutions against monarchies. Each, however, has reinstated strong, centralized authority in new guises. Each, too, has profound ideological aversion to counterrevolutionary ideas, and projects the lure of the ancien régime onto its currently historic enemy. The erstwhile group identity now repudiated yet not eliminated becomes the face of the enemy across the sea. Soviets and Americans alike view each other as that parentally autocratic threat to those freedoms for which the revolution had been fought. In disdaining the enemy, one further countercathects the forbidden wish that the image of the enemy represents: reaction formations shore up the externalizations. “Russians” are simultaneously Americans’ own feared lawlessness, aggression, and autocracy. At yet another level of analysis, one can identify the symbiosis of American anticommunism and Soviet anticapitalism: “communism” being the American counterdependent bogey, and “capitalism” being the Soviet counterindividuative menace. (Might this account for the American revulsion toward and fascination with George Orwell’s 1984?). Each embodies the threat that masks the disavowed wish.
There are yet other fateful equivalences that fuel Soviet-American psychological complementarity. What Tumarkin (1983) calls the Soviet “fear of disorganization” finds as its complement our fear of totalitarianism. The Soviets, who prefer an external locus of control, fear the presence of too little outer authority; while Americans, who espouse an internal locus of control, fear the presence of too much external authority. While, as Tumarkin argues (1983), the Soviets view themselves as “bad little children” in relation to the United States, which they view as the “bad parent” (punitive), one could likewise argue that the United States almost too eagerly accepts the delegated role of scolding, ridiculing parent, and at the same time experiences the Soviets as ominous parental figures who threaten an American, often adolescent-style, freedom (see Erikson, 1963).
The Soviet Union represents to the United States the return of the repressed (structural theory) and the threatened integration of split-off self and object representations (primitive object relations theory). To maintain a sense of pleasure and cohesion to the group sense of self, Americans must keep repressed and split off what the Soviets represent to us about ourselves, while we combat these aspects at a “safe” distance in the Soviets. (The converse, of course, is true for the American representations to the Soviets).
Compounding and obscuring what real dangers the Soviets pose to the United States, our obsessive dread of the “Red Tide” of the Russians will overtake us is psychologically our fear (itself containing a wish) that what they represent to us will overrun and overwhelm us. The face of the enemy, alas, is our own disavowed self. Solutions to insecurity only compound insecurity by heightening the danger. To safeguard group boundaries—to shore up repressions and inner splits—each adversary embarks on an expansion of its boundaries (e.g., invasions, allies). Disrespecting others’ boundaries in order to protect one’s own, each accuses the other of disrespecting boundaries. Ideologies of supra-ethnic and supranational secular messianism rationalize the offensive: the Soviets accuse us of imperialism, we accuse them of communism. The more each fears the threat of being overwhelmed by what the other represents, the more each feels compelled to expand its boundaries in order to protect the vulnerable core: after all, if I can expand to become the world (merger fantasy), there will no longer be any danger from outside, because there will at last no longer be an outside or other.
Resistance (in the psychoanalytic sense) to peace, resistance to rapprochement with the Soviets, can thus be comprehended to be a fervent defense of our externalizations and projections. From an eminently practical viewpoint, those engaged in international diplomacy must not only contend with the real and imagined threats the enemy poses, but must (and have not) address the threat which the prospect of an enduring peace would pose to the participants to international conflict.
“Case” Example: The Psychogeography of Everyday Life
I would like to turn momentarily from a discussion of psychogeography on a global scale to underscore its ordinariness in the fabric of human culture. The following anecdote illustrates the psychological significance of intragroup regionalism in the United States: in a sense, the regions of the mind played out in geopolitical regions of a nation. Having taught in the “wheat belt” of the United States for eight years, I have often heard medical colleagues and rural folk refer glowingly if not reverentially to this region as “God’s Country.” I knew that in part the phrase connoted the sense of pleasure at the sight of an endless expanse of flat wheatfields or snow-blanketed earth, together with a feeling of serenity and freedom that reached uninterrupted from horizon to horizon. But I gradually learned that there were unconsciously influenced moral, religious, and political meanings to the phrase as well.
On one occasion several years ago, I had just returned to northwest Oklahoma from a conference in New York City when a physician colleague, a devout Nazarene, declared:
You’re in God’s Country here. Peaceful, quiet, decent. None of that crazy stuff you find Back East [a common phrase] or on the West Coast. God’s Country is right here in the center; Back East and everything to the West is the Devil’s Country. Broken families, drugs, hippies, wierdos of all kinds. Here you have some space to yourself, some privacy, not wall-to-wall people. I wouldn’t want to go there. I wouldn’t want my children to grow up there; it’s not healthy.
Now, although this physician knows full well the geographic dimensions of the United States, when I asked him—and others—to describe the boundaries of “God’s Country,” they all emphasized, centered, and enlarged “God’s” country, while collapsing and reducing both of the “Devil’s” regions. These “bad” areas tended to surround and menace the “good” center. Such cities as St. Louis, Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, New York, Baltimore, and Boston all became virtual suburbs of one another, expelled from any proximity to “God’s” region; the same applied to the cities along the West Coast.
“Good” was enlarged and centralized in scope, while “evil” was diminished and lumped together into a single cultural heap (dedifferentiated), and extruded from the boundary of the “good” self. The “Devil’s” region became a condensation of sin, temptation, ambiguity, complexity, communism, threat to personal freedom, secularism, and godlessness. If “God’s Country” is the final redoubt of the punitive superego, the “Devil’s Country” is the unwelcome source of the unfettered id. In this psychogeographic depiction of the official division of labor between regions, respondents never utter a word about the high rates of alcoholism, teenage pregnancy, homicide, incest, and the like within the region; instead, the group myth of safety, freedom, and piety becomes a reality more compelling than reality itself, and what cannot be accepted about that reality magically becomes the distinguishing feature of the outgroups to the East and West.
This anecdote impressed upon me the importance of taking a psychogeographic approach to group identity and for understanding how a group’s inner divisions are represented and played out in intergroup relations (even within the same ethnic or national group).
What Would We Do Without the Enemy (and Vice Versa)?
On the face of it, no question appears more preposterous. How much better off the United States would be, Americans insist, if only the Soviets were peace loving (as we aver we are), for then we could turn our attention to pressing domestic issues. A different logic, however, undermines this consciously accessible one. The aftermath of the Soviet destruction of the Korean Air Lines passenger jet (in September, 1983) suggests that the Soviets not only threaten our national security, but that the Soviet availability as a menace is indispensable to that national security. Stated differently—and with my full awareness of its paradoxicality—we operate on the unconscious or implicit premise that we can only increase our security by heightening our insecurity. Much as we wish the Soviets to change, we depend upon them not to change. For the prospect of peace would eliminate their availability as the externalized focus and (symbolic) object or target of anxiety. So long as the Soviets remain psychologically indispensable to us in this way—and we to them—we will each labor to defeat each other’s peace initiatives, or advance only those certain to fail (while exculpating us from the failure).
The reader may at this point ask: “While this may all be true, there are real as well as fantasy threats going on. Does not nuclear reality itself affect the psychological mechanisms thus far discussed?” Much has been said recently about such responses as denial, resignation, fatalism, emotional numbing to the prospect of nuclear war, and a present-orientation in the face of a future too terrible to imagine. At the other extreme of responses—and resting upon reaction formation against the first set of responses—is the regressive use of such American values as optimism, self-help, self-reliance, and individualism, which taken together suggest an omnipotent, magical quality to current “survivalist” thinking and strategy from the local to national levels. Both extremes in the group trance presuppose the underlying split between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Thus these protective mechanisms require the very conditions of endangerment against which they offer protection (see Stein, 1984a).
Feelings of helplessness in the face of the prospect of nuclear war “feeds into” the preexistent splitting between the “good” U.S. and the “bad” U.S.S.R., since the focus of the dread remains the Soviet Union (surely our own defenses could not be “bad”). The dread only strengthens our resolve, individually and collectively, to better gird ourselves. It leads, for instance, to the proposed Star Wars scenario of spectacular satellite-based missile battles being played out in orbits about the earth. Stated differently, nuclear reality and those compensatory defenses which it elicits, intensify the original complementary defense mechanisms that have made the U.S.S.R. into an ogre in the first place. This in turn has the effect of increasing the likelihood that the nuclear fantasy will be realized. Nuclear war is arguably not merely an unintended outcome, but a solution in the sense of war-as-therapy (Fornari, 1966). Ironically—and dangerously—nuclear reality, rather than sobering fantasy, inflames it, contrary to our conscious intentions but as if fulfilling our worst dreams. Every attempt to protect ourselves only endangers us the more—as it is unconsciously intended to do. We create our diurnal nightmares as well as endure them.
Here at least, “reality” is very much analyzable. So heavily is the nuclear issue contaminated with contemporary nationalisms that it would constitute an “incomplete analysis” to construe mental defenses to be exclusively responses or adaptations to (or the effects of) altogether objective dangers. We must consider the unconscious contribution to the creation of this terrifying manifestation of reality. Heightened nationalism in both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. has fueled the nuclear reality in each, leading to further nationalistic and military escalation. At the group level, nuclear reality not only has a reality “all its own,” but is part of the vicious cycle of international psychology as well. In “The Location of Cultural Experience,” Winnicott (1967) wrote that:
The place where cultural experience is located is in the potential space between the individual and the environment (originally the [maternal] object) [pp. 370-371]…. The potential space between baby and mother, between child and family, between individual and society or the world, depends on experience which leads to trust. It can be looked upon as sacred to the individual in that it is here that the individual experiences creative living. By contrast, exploitation of this area leads to a pathological condition in which the individual is cluttered up with persecutory elements of which he has no means of ridding himself [p. 372].
What I would wryly call a “good enough enemy” is precisely one which is both heir to all “environmental failure” in the early family environment, and selected by one’s parents and wider group to represent (by displacement, externalization, and projection) all intolerable persecutory material from those early object relations.
Scholars, not unlike political and military strategists, spend entirely too much time and effort divining the nature and characteristics of the adversary, and devote virtually no time or effort into exploring the relationship between adversaries, together with the investment of each (and all) participant in that relationship. This proclivity, however deplorable it is in its consequences, is surely understandable: While many complicated and sophisticated ideas are condensed into the concept of “enemy,” at a fundamental level, our enemy is our pretext. To address the relationship and our (as well as their) tacit collusion in that relationship is to deprive ourselves of that vital pretext.
Following humiliations such as historical defeats in which childhood issues were invested, the group rebuilds self-esteem by short-circuiting mourning and longing for the restoration of what was never “really” lost (see Stein, 1983a, Volkan, 1984). One’s group nurses historical grievances with the secret hope of one day restaging defeats, reversing them into victory, and obtaining revenge upon those who once (even centuries if not millennia earlier) humiliated one’s progenitors. Historical defeats are in turn woven into group mythology and transmitted to the next generations as timeless hurts that “confirm” the integrity of the group, the evil of the enemy(ies), and the sacred duty of the succeeding generations to avenge history. The enemy becomes the means by which such vengeance can be exacted. The parents’ or earlier generations’ unsuccessful aggression becomes the succeeding generations’ inner obligation. Here, as elsewhere in culture, it is less the original problem than our heaps of failed and replenished defenses that endanger us.
Our historically feared yet well-cultivated enemies may endanger our lives (and now, everyone’s), but they also safeguard our identities. It is for this very reason that, during periods of greatest uncertainty and fragmentation of group identities that in-group love increases to the degree that out-group hate is kindled and enflamed. Any attempt to create a world order must begin with an acknowledgment of the childhood if not also neuroendocrine taproots of the purchase of group security through the persistent need to have an enemy.
Integration and Projective Identification
If the foregoing argument can be accepted about how and why groups “map” their goodness and badness, and act uncompromisingly according to those maps, clearly no realistic solution can magically dispel what may indeed be a combination of neuroendocrine and species-specific, early developmental contributions to the realities of group life (La Barre, 1968; Pinderhughes, 1979). Being human, we all tend to extend our self-model to the world, expecting the world to conform to the way we need and assume it to be. Ethnic or national difference is fertile ground for sowing misunderstanding and for reaping bad feelings, missed opportunities, and mistaken judgments. Cultural differences can quickly become a problem in which each participant assigns responsibility for the problem onto the other.
Intergroup relations, no less than generational succession, bear the burden of internal irresolution. Just as the Laius complex intensifies and tragically urges on to fulfillment in the next generation what the Oedipus complex would not alone do (Devereux, 1980; Ross, 1982), so with the vicissitudes of psychogeography. It is one matter to observe that us/them splits are universal, and to attempt to account for those splits; it is another matter to despair that change is impossible. For what appear to be human immutabilities are in reality vulnerabilities that are in turn exploitable by parents, peers, and leaders whereby group repetition compulsion appears to be the only (ego-syntonic) solution. In culture, we institutionalize our inner dreads, confirm their reality through consensus, amplify them through the synergy of events and interpretation, and transmit them to the next generation as a “given” of life. We enlist the next generations with the task of restoring what we—and they at our behest—cannot, must not, grieve. The beginning of hope lies in our still only partial understanding of the psychological source of these apparent psychogeographic necessities. The breaking of the deadly cycle begins with the recognition of the cycle itself—what Ross calls the “interlocking inner psychologies” (1982, p. 194) of generations and peoples.
The rigidity of the boundary between ethnic groups, “confirmed” by stereotypes, protects group members from the pain of those unintegrated parts of the group self-concept. Usually the exaggeration of differences bears the burden of a group’s negative transference, while the minimization of differences bears the burden of a group’s positive transference—both, however, distort reality (see Devereux, 1967, p. 209). A basis for hope in mending man’s inner and exteriorized divisions would seem to lie in a dawning awareness of people’s ambivalencetoward their own culture.
In his still revolutionary essay, “The Golden Rule in the Light of New Insight,” Erikson (1964) defined mutuality to be “a relationship in which partners depend on each other for the development of their respective strengths” (p. 231). He then proceeds to reformulate the Golden Rule in the light of a psychoanalytic understanding of human development: “… truly worthwhile acts enhance a mutuality between the doer and the other—a mutuality which strengthens the doer even as it strengthens the other. Thus the “doer” and “the other” are partners in one deed” (p. 233).
By withstanding the perennial temptations to provoke the enemy and thus confirm one’s paranoid fantasies and justify aggression toward the enemy (if not also defeat by and submission to the enemy), one can likewise begin to discuss group fantasies qua fantasies and not as inexorable realities. Specifically, one can begin to understand the inner compulsion to translate fantasies into necessity. A corollary to this recommendation is the paradoxical commitment to making the enemy feel safer, more secure, which resulting deescalation helps the enemy to realize that options other than greater defense, if not attack, can protect the group. According to paleologic, the more insecure you make the enemy feel, the more secure you will feel yourself. Aware of this tempting fantasy-solution, one can work more realistically toward a solution that safeguards all participants to the conflict.
A further corollary to this suggestion is the exercise of empathically trying to feel what it would be like to be the enemy oneself (e.g., how one would respond to the “enemy”). Disarmament can proceed only when members of a group feel safe enough to be able to protect themselves without vast storehouses of weapons; the goal of psychological disarmament is to leave all participants feeling that the new solution offers greater, not less, protection than before. Stated differently, disarmament can begin only as members of the group can recognize that the proliferation of arms and of escalating armaments races are a problem instead of a solution: that is, when aspects of a group-shared character disorder are felt to be ego-dystonic rather than ego-syntonic.
Physicist Freeman Dyson urges that we view nuclear weapons not in terms of supposedly intrinsic destructive or strategic qualities, but in terms of
… how different our view of nuclear weapons might have been if Hitler had in fact got them first … Hitler’s bombs would neither have changed the grand strategy of the war nor lessened our determination to fight it to a finish. What would have been changed is our post-war perception of nuclear weapons. Forever afterward we would have seen nuclear weapons as contemptible, used by an evil man for evil purposes and failing to give him victory. The myth surrounding nuclear weapons would have been a myth of contempt and failure rather than a myth of pride and success…
To understand Russian strategy and diplomacy, it is necessary for us to distance ourselves from our own myths and to enter into theirs. An understanding of Soviet views is the essential first step toward any lasting amelioration of the danger in which the world now stands [1984, p. 88].
To comprehend a group’s historic grievances is to know not only what it remembers, but how it remembers, and why it remembers.
What a group cannot fully grieve, it must enshroud in sacred memory; and what it preserves in memory, it eventually contrives to enact. Thus to understand a group’s “fixation” in its own emotional history is to be forewarned about that group’s vulnerability to restage its calamities on the stage of history in order to reverse them—or to be mastered once again by them. This provides vital information for any future historical partner who may unwittingly play out the counterpart and thus compel historical memory to become historical action. If there is any hope for breaking this vicious circle, it lies in a group’s dawning awareness of its own unconscious unfinished business and thereby in its increased ability to empathize with an enemy (or ally, for that matter) that is seen to have vulnerabilities much like its own.
To acknowledge the hurts of the other side gives the opponent the feeling of being at least partly understood (i.e., the other side is trying to understand us), decreases the sense of isolation, diminishes the outer confirmation of shared paranoia, and thereby enhances the climate for change. Concretely, for instance, the United States could better understand the Soviet wariness about American intentions if we but realized the bitter Soviet memory of the presence of American troops in the U.S.S.R. in 1917 to undermine the “Russian” revolution—a memory that condenses with the specifically Russian memory of centuries of invasion and occupation and oppressive subjugation. This is hardly an academic psychogeographic exercise; it is instead a psychodynamically informed strategy for the present. For make no mistake about it: to know a group’s grievances about the past is to understand its framework for the future.
We can begin to solve intergroup problems only when we have first defined their scope accurately, which is to say when each participant to the conflict comes to recognize that the location of the problem is within one’s group as well as external to it. The diminution of externalization/projective identification/projection is part of the solution: to begin to integrate the pain and its resolution within the group, rather than solving it by expelling it and managing it at a “safe” distance. The synthetic, integrative capacity of the ego is enhanced, and reality testing increased, leading to more rational (rather than rationalized) assessment of the “enemy” and decision-making strategies.
Leadership is a crucial therapeutic or antitherapeutic role. The group leader can exploit group fears by giving them symbolic form in the enemy and ritual solution in warfare. The leader can also take the risk of leading instead of following the group: e.g., helping his or her group to comprehend the scope of the problem (rather than to simplify it) and to identify where that problem is located (within as well as without). The leader can also help to humanize the image of the enemy, and concurrently, the image of one’s own group (e.g., recognizing some “good” in the enemy and some “bad” in one’s own group, and perfection nowhere). To recognize the universal need for an enemy is not of the same logical or psychological order as that need itself. By gaining some distance from that need, one has access to understanding it rather than acting it out.
The leader can also propose (with the assistance of his/her counselors) creative solutions to military escalation: e.g., to offer the enemy one’s most up-to-date defense system (and plans for new, improved ones); to act as if the enemy were human, and initiate bilateral affiliations that address common issues (environment, resources, arts, etc.) and thereby avert a compulsive narrowing of all discussion to disarmament (i.e., who will relinquish what/when?). The gifted leader can help his/her people to begin to acknowledge that they need to be “protected” as much from themselves (shared fantasies) as from the enemy: the leader can help the people to more clearly differentiate between “us” and “them” on a realistic rather than wholly fantasy basis (i.e., one which allocated inner splits to attributes of the real world). Such a self-critical approach need not foster the self-doubt that paralyzes thought and action, but can lead one to yet new insights and therefore better interpretations and interventions.
One might well despair that within the wider American cultural ethos, it is pointless to urge the teaching of premises that go so against the American grain. That “grain”—or any nationalism’s grain—is not, however, altogether homogeneous; subsidiary, even contradicting cultural emphases exist as well. Indeed, there are few nations on earth other than the United States in which one is relatively free to explore the influence of the unconscious. In our dawning awareness of unconscious influences upon group motivation and action lies our hope.
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