Society and Leadership

Wilfred Bion believed that societies operate according to one of three basic assumptions. These are – dependent – broadly where society looks to a leader to depend upon; flight- flight – where there is a perceived external threat where the leader galvanises and curdles (my word) society; and the pairing group – where there are two leaders (archetypal parents). In this latter group system there is a hopeful expectation because the true leader, the future leader, is yet to be born. Bion termed this the messianic idea.

Bion observed that we are each as humans essentially social animals. We have these group structural tendencies within us, even before we are operating within a group.

“Our individual psychic make-up is intimately related to others, both the tendency to form constructively working groups and the potential for forming any of the basic assumption mental states when in a physical group setting with others”.

Societies do seem to me, practically to group as Bion suggests. It also seems to me that there is a tendency for dependent societies to flip to fight-flight and back, and that pairing groups emerge only after a period of stability. A quick personal review:

Russia (now) – under Putin. Dependent, but he introduces external enemies because he is failing to provide (the basic function of a dependent leader) – therefore moving toward fight-flight. This is also reflected across many middle-eastern countries, the difference being the “religious” archetype that their leaders draw upon, introducing a twisted and unreconstructed medieval view of Islam to create an enemy (all of the rest of the world). In Britain I would suggest we had a dependent/fight-fight society right through to Margaret Thatcher, but that this moved with Blair-Brown and now Cameron-Clegg toward a pairing group society. (Who will the future Messiah be for British politics, we sure are looking for one!). The USA was perhaps set up in the first place as a pairing group society (checks and balances!). It’s why it doesn’t (it seems to me) work so well when either the Democrats or Republicans have ALL the levers of power – Senate, President, Supreme Court, Congress – and why this happens so seldom. The leaders in Scotland, most recently of course attempted to carve out a new fiefdom by drawing on the dependent and fight-flight models. We are now moving back to a pairing group structure between Salmond-Sturgeon – which reflects the reality of the fundamental pairing group of Scotland-England. (Salmond as a UK MP, Sturgeon as First Minister of Scotland).

Foundational to Bion’s view is that humans are interdependent, part of one-whole.

The chapter on Bion’s study of groups in Symington’s review of Bion’s work has a quote from Vladimir Soloviev (Russian 19th century Christian mystic and philosopher), which sums up this basic tenet.

“The self-deception in virtue of which a human individual regards himself as real in his separateness from all things, and presupposes this fictitious isolation to be the true ground and only starting-point for all his relations – this self-deception of abstract subjectivisim plays terrible havoc not only in the domain of metaphysics – which, indeed, it abolishes altogether – but also in the domain of the moral and political life”.

Soloviev, though, goes much further, and prefigures Teilhard de Chardin with his observation that all is connected and interdependent, all part of one.

Social thermodynamics

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

This applies to societies. The internal construct, what holds society together, has an external resonance. This sets up a chain of reactions which in turn impact on and shape society. It matters how groups are born and what holds them together.

Nationalism is always, in the end, corrosive. This is why. Societies, like the individual, are shaped in the mirror of those outside them. The other. The internal character is a reflection of the external reference. Whatever the start point, nationalism ends up by defining itself by reference to “the enemy” – which is of course only other ordinary men and women – but externalised and dehumanised. Made other. We project out  all that is negative.  It is the politician’s cheapest trick; to set up the reviled “other”, blame them for anything that is wrong and consequently draw “us” together.

How then can just society arise?

If the impulse that draws us together as community is love, then this will lead to a projection of good on to others. This com-passion with and for others –  in all their glorious differentiation is reflected back, bonding and reinforcing a sense of our greater human community. Simple. First love your enemy.

But loving one’s enemy is HARD. It takes an overwhelming outside force. I personally struggle with it. It is possible though, but only with outside help. One definition of God might be just that. The force of love as an external agency. And the opposite is also a truth. All and any love is God, by whatever name. Only by reference to this external and eternal force can a just lasting and joyful society hope to work. All else is illusion. Strip away any preconceptions about organised religion and focus on what makes for a just society.

You arrive at something like this:

Love other as we love ourselves. Love Love above all. Keep responding with love not war even after 490 provocations. Judge what is right by results not words.

This is of course has been said before, by someone who lived the words.