[Marxism] U.S. most armed country with 90 guns per 100 people

Haines Brown brownh at hartford-hwp.com
Thu Aug 30 08:21:36 MDT 2007

> I believe Joaquin has built himself a little dispotian house of
> cards.  Let's do away with the BS first of all: the silly, and
> totally anti-Marxist view that the US "everyone has a pathology"
> nonsense.

Joaquin's argument seems to rest on his assumption that we live in a
pathological society, and so widespread gun ownership only exacerbates
the problem. 

I'm afraid I am also one who throws the term "sociopathology" about
without too much concern, but now that you draw my attention to its
possibly problematic status, I discover that it is not as conventional
and clearly understood as I had assumed. So here I'd like to address
the issue of sociopathology without carrying it over to the inference
Joaquin draws from it regarding guns. I'm offering a speculative essay
(i.e., long) in the hope that folks who are patient enough to read it
will add to it or criticize it.

Obviously, we should start with a dictionary definition. Right away I
discover that there is no such word as "sociopathology", although it
is obviously derived from "sociopathy". The first step is then to
figure out just what it might mean by looking at its root.

What is sociopathy? The dictionaries generally agree on the core
meaning, and sometimes expand on it. I here will try to explicate, as
carefully as I can, the definition they offer:

  a) Sociopathy is a mental disease. I suppose it must be
  distinguished from mere aberrant behavior in that it is a breakdown
  in the functioning of the mental system and therefore is persistent.

  b) The effect of this functional breakdown is that behavior is
  "anti-social". However, the dictionaries don't define just what
  anti-social is, and I assume that it must depend on the social norms
  of a particular time and place. That is, unlike the functional
  breakdown of the mind, which presumably is an objective fact,
  anti-social behavior is subjective - it is what a given society
  happens to say it is.

  c) Perhaps because of this vagueness, some dictionary writers felt
  they had to be more concrete. A couple offer specifications of
  anti-social behavior as being a lack of any sense of morality, or of
  a social conscience, or a complete ego-centricity. I suppose this
  means that a kind of autism that severs any meaningful link with
  society implies an indifference to or ignorance of social norms. In
  the US people probably first became aware of the existence of
  sociopathic behavior with the Loeb-Leopold case in Chicago.

Alright, that is cleared up, and so what then do we do with the word
"sociopathology"?  I assume it should not be used unless it conveys
either a meaning more efficiently or some new meaning. Does it do
that?  The remainder of this essay elaborates a positive answer to
this question. I believe the term sociopathology brings new meaning
because it refers to a phenomenon, the existence of which people were
not aware of until fairly recently.

Sociopathology clearly refers to a diseased society, while sociopathy
means a diseased mind of an individual. I believe there is good reason
to suggest that the concept of a diseased society is necessarily
fairly new, and, if so, using the neologism is justified.

An important aspect of this is that it implies that a diseased society
is distinguishable from the diseases of its members, and which in turn
implies that a) societies are real wholes and b) they do not reduce to
their members. While this realist and emergent notion of society is
pretty much the standard scientific view today, it is important to
mention its presumption here.

However, to speak of a society being pathological in the same way as
an individual does seem to raise a problem: how can a society act in
an anti-social fashion if it creates the norms that define what is
anti-social?  (to suggest that norms are ideals that conflict with
social practices does not address this issue). How can societies act
(actual behavior) other than the way they act (normal behavior)? I
believe the only way to resolve this conundrum is to distinguish
between emergent behavior (behavior that does not reduce to initial
conditions) and functional behavior (behavior arising out of initial
conditions). Emergent (so-called "negentropic") behavior does indeed
counteract the initial conditions that had made behavior possible in
the first place. That is, I must conclude that sociopathology is the
equivalent of saying a society is contradictory.

Another issue that comes up is whether we are cooking up a storm in a
teacup or if there really is such a phenomenon as a social sickness. I
feel that there is for a variety of reasons. For an example of a
widespread pattern of behavior that is socially transmitted and
socially destructive, I recommend Michael Zielenziger, Shutting out
the Sun: How Japan Created its own Lost Generation (Doubleday,
2006). Admittedly I've not had a chance to read the book myself, but
it is clearly relevant here, and I purchased the book because of its
positive reviews.

An issue that turns out to be ambivalent is the discussion of
religion. In one common view (typically by anthropologists), religion
is explained in terms of the functioning of the mind; in another
common view (typically by sociologists), it is explained in social
terms. One suspect this division is artificial, and so it may be that
the distinction between sociopathy and sociopathology I suggested
above might dissolve upon further study. For example, it may be that
people living in contradictory societies naturally have problems
establishing a constructive relation to society because of the nature
of society, and as a result acting in anti-social ways, such as
capitalism encouraging people to be greedy.

Finally, it might be recalled that Marx suggested that the effect of
capitalism on the worker is to reduce him to a biological existence
that offers the worker little opportunity to develop as a human
being. That is, we are able to house and feed ourselves, but
experience no development of our specifically human potentials beyond
what is required by the job we do. On this basis, it might be argued
that capitalist society is inherently more pathological than any other
kind of society for it generates the widest gap between what a person
could be and what a person actually is. This is a relative pathology,
not an absolute one such as is described in the book on Japanese
society mentioned above.

It is probably no accident that the writers of the dictionary
definitions offered a specification of anti-social behavior - a
collapse of "social being" that parallels Marx's own assessment, for
both are addressing a particular kind of society in a particular
historical juncture.

In sum, I believe it is warranted to raise the possibility today that
society can be pathological because a) we now agree that distinct
social wholes can emerge, b) these social wholes can be
self-contradictory. Secondly, Marx seems actually to have in a
fundamental way invented the concept sociopathology, even though he
obviously did not use the term.

Thanks for your patience while I indulged myself in this speculation.

       Haines Brown, KB1GRM


More information about the Marxism mailing list