The Politico/Psycho (Person/Ideas) Question

James Herod
January 1974

  I want to try to get to the root of this question, which has really been bugging me, and a solution for which is essential for the paper on `how we get there'.

  Although the issue has a long history with me (which I will try to at least outline momentarily) its sharpest formulation so far was in the discussion with Janet. (And Buck to lesser extent at about the same time. Buck had commented on how I seemed to be able to criticize ideas without attacking the person! I think this was his ideal that he was only projecting onto me.) Nevertheless, with Janet I worked out a theoretical defense of that position, of the need to separate ideas from the people holding them. The idea was that ideas are after all only abstractions and are thus clearly distinct from physical or biological persons, from eating, drinking, breathing persons, who have an existence apart from whatever ideas they might hold. I have never liked this formulation though and noted at the time even that the ability to separate ideas and persons would breakdown on the battlefield where I would be forced to shoot the person on the other side (the counter-revolutionary side) when the crunch came. I would thus no longer be separating ideas from persons and merely attacking a person's ideas. I would actually be attacking the person's physical existence.

  So this is the problem. It is clear that the way it has been formulated is false. People act out their ideas. Christians go to church and sit there as physical beings. Their beliefs thus shape their behavior. I am in general opposed do dualities anyway. So this is the problem. Now a few items from the past.

  I always objected to the politico-psycho split in the past. It was a major theme in the two abortive Righi communes, as well as in CRV and especially in the LG. By now I have seen this as part of a pattern that is an integrated politics – the New Left and the Old Left; harmony (smooth-over-the-differences) versus aggression (do-it-my-way). It was also a very big issue at Dean Street. The t-groupers (domestic and internally oriented) or touchy-feelies (but externally oriented) versus the rest of us.

  An occasion when the politics-psycho split got very explicitly formulated was during my opposition to Syd at GA II, at the session on communes. To me it was always clear that if we dealt only with politics, as Syd always tried to do, it was nowhere, very oppressive, not the road to liberation. On the other hand, it was equally wrong to deal only with interpersonal relations like so many others were inclined to do (the Nismeths, Eve). To me the two things were always the same: political and personal liberation demanded the same steps. This is in fact a key defense of the network idea and the egalitarian strategy. Under vanguardism it is impossible to integrate these two. Vanguardism is the politico side. So what is the dialectical position here? I just stated it. Achieve political liberation by overthrowing the ruling class, and establish democratic collectivity by setting up a network of workers councils united on the basis of direct democracy. Democratic collectivity liberates the person simultaneously from authoritarian oppression and from individualism.

  How does this relate to the person/ideas split? What must be done is precisely not to separate the two in this way. To separate them means that I criticize the ideas but continue to support the person. (Is this even possible?) It certainly means that I won't be taking the person's ideas seriously or responding to the person on the basis of those ideas. Thus we might even say that consciousness is the person, and the person's consciousness is the basis upon which relations with that person must be based. This is more like it. I have a whole critique of supportiveness worked out in my piece on `Four Way Criticism'. Consciousness is really what distinguishes people: Hottentots from British, cave dwellers from suburbanites, radicals from liberals. We don't relate to people on the basis of biology (except in peripheral ways), whether they are black, white, tall, short, skinny, fat, bald, or burly. To the extent that biology does enter the picture it is usually only as a form of prejudice.

  The consciousness of a person is the key thing. This is one of the main things that enables you to tell one person from another. The idea that we should separate ideas from persons then is way off. It is probably the case, if we look at it, that both politicos and psychos do separate ideas from bodies, each in their own way. Psychos smooth over the differences (ignore the differences, sweep them under the rug, love everyone, regardless). What about the politicos? Here the tactic is the coercive suppression of differences (do-it-our-way-or-else, believe). Everyone must subscribe to the same dogma and discipline. Thus consciousness is imposed, and imported, from the outside. It is not treated as something inherent to and belonging to the body of anyone. Ideas and persons are separated. Very exciting! Liberals (psychos) do not treat consciousness as important. It is not seen as serious. The real thing is the person (body). Authoritarians (vanguardists) do not treat the person (body) seriously, as the real thing, but rather only the dogma. For them the important thing is to subscribe to the dogma. Believe! (Not Love!, as for the liberals). Wild!

  Only when we treat ideas as real things and take them seriously can we begin to escape dualistic patterns. Perhaps it is wrong to even talk about ideas anyway as if they were things separate and apart, objects with a separate and distinct existence. What we are really dealing with is will, intention, perception, speech, orientation, direction, and so forth. The separation between behavior and ideas in our culture is weird, all pervasive but weird. It is hard to even think in non-dualistic terms. Try to imagine a singular something, not ideas and action, thinking and doing, thought and behavior, but one thing, ideas/action. What can we call it? Is there a name for it?