I feel both moved and a little bit anxious about speaking on this subject tonight. I’ve been involved for many years with Reich’s work. I’ve also been involved in a number of other ways of thinking including psychoanalysis and traditional sociology. But I keep coming back to Reich’s work as a kind of nagging, unfulfilled kind of thing both at personal level and at a scientific level because much of the work is simply non examined. That is not to say people aren’t interested they are destructively interested, by and large so vividly so that many of Reich’s best hooks were burned in 1956. Reich was imprisoned around the same time and died in prison. And I don’t mean that just the books on the or gone accumulator, which you may or may not have heard about, were burned; also many of his writings on human beings were burned, as “advertisements” for the accumulator, a claim which was absurd. Also, the present ignorance is due in part to the fact that Reich’s hooks weren’t republished until the early sixties, when some of them began to appear in paperback. By and large, they still have not really been reviewed.
While I certainly don’t agree with all that Reich has written or stands for, and while I am incompetent to say whether 1 agree or don’t agree with much of it because i haven’t studied it that closely, my thesis is that Reich has always been ignored concerning the essence of what he was talking about. What has been picked up are the less essential parts of Reich that can he assimilated into various traditional positions, e.g., psychoanalytic and sociological.
I have been currently concerned in thinking through Reich’s relationships to the biosocial revolution of our time. One of the things that is often said about our time is that lots of things are happening socially and lots of things are changing, but that we lack a coherent theory of what’s going on. It is my thesis that Reich provides such a theory. I won’t define in any great detail what I mean by the “biosocial revolution” but will merely suggest some of its connotations. It includes certainly the changes in sexual attitudes which have been going on for a while, but which seem to he accelerating. There is even talk about repealing abortion laws in Massachusetts, which is pretty good. And the whole cultural to one of the mass media, particularly the movies, contain a much greater affirmation of sexuality. This serious look at what is involved in sexual relationships, in sexual feelings, in sexuality generally is something new under the sun. This is a profound and I think an exciting and also a very dangerous thing dangerous because people who grew up under strongly sex negative attitudes must be quite terrified by what is going on. And I feel I have enough of that in myself to know what they are going through. It’s all over the place miniskirts, movies, nudes in magazines, etc. From a certain perspective, it’s terrible i.e. from the perspective of an organism that has learned to control these feelings and to have a veneer of social ness, compulsive marriage, of getting along in life. I don’t think that perspective of what Reich called the armored organism should be ridiculed.
It takes an awful lot of courage to keep going when you feel empty inside. Many people have to do that. They have to make great sacrifices to do it internal sacrifices. And then they see young people coming along who are not making the same kind of sacrifices. Some of these young people are doing very positive things, but others are doing very negative, destructive things. And in most it is a mixture of positive and negative things. This is an era when, as you know, it can “all hang out” from the most genuine positive impulses to all kinds of distortions, destructiveness, and so forth. The veneer is breaking down. It has been breaking down for some time. So that the anger of the average armored person, the person who is just “getting along,” minding his own business, is directed toward both the secondary, destructive level and also toward the primary healthy life forces. The average older person doesn’t like either part of this breakthrough. Understandably, they dislike the breakthrough of destructive impulses, but they also dislike the emergence of the healthily spontaneous ones.
Let me arrive at this viewpoint a little more chronologically by reviewing the development of Reich’s work. What I would like to do is clarify his relationship not only to contemporary pro and anti-sexual attitudes but to other aspects of our culture such as the “new politics.”
There is a growing awareness that something new is going on politically among young people. The young are unwilling to sacrifice the present for some revolutionary “pie in the sky” whether that pie is the withering away of the state fifty years from now, which never seems to wither away, or any other kind of ideological dream of something nice in the future while the present reality is very different. The discrepancy between rhetoric and reality I think is a very strong element in the youth movement and it is also very strong in Reich’s work.
One other aspect of the present “cultural revolution” relates to the sexual question, but it is so widespread that it deserves separate comment. I am referring to a whole series of therapeutic and quasi therapeutic activities which increasingly involve the body as opposed to purely verbal forms of psychotherapy which have been dominant since Freud. I am referring to therapy centers such as Esalen, where there is a great deal of emphasis on bodily expression; the living theater, Albert Pesso’s psychomotor therapy, Paul Goodman’s Gestalt therapy, and the like. I could cite many other examples. The common denominator is awareness that neuroses using that word to cover most of us in the sense of the term “normal neuroses” are anchored somatically in bodily rigiditiesas well as in a series of psychic complexes. I think it is a growing awareness and that it owes a great, often unacknowledged debt to Reich’s work.
There has also been in the last few years a rediscovery of Reich’s sociological work of the 1920’s and 30’s. There has been considerable enthusiasm for this aspect of Reich among college students and others. Reich’s radical social perspective was stressed in Paul Robinson’s book, “The Freudian Left”. The Women’s Liberation movement also reflects this kind of trend in an important way.
In regard to Reich’s own career, what is very fascinating is that he did not start out with a particularly social viewpoint at all. So that it has the quality, as you read it, of a discovery rather than a kind of preconceived notion of cultural change. He was not at all a political person in his early manhood and his early years as a psychoanalyst. One of the things that is also interesting is that his career spans a long, important, and recent period. He started very young he was only about 22 years old when he first became a psychoanalyst in 1919. This was very close to the time of the Russian Revolution and its enormous impact on Europe. While he was an analyst in Vienna and Berlin during the 1920’s and early 1930’s, he experienced first hand not only the influence of the Russian experience on the European radical parties, but also the rise of Nazism. Like so many of his generation, he was also a political refugee during the 1930’s, moving from place to place in Europe and finally settling in the USA in 1939.
But, to return to our story, he started as an analyst much interested almost from the beginning in the question of what is the goal of psychoanalytic treatment. Now this was an important question because at that time the goal was rather narrowly conceived as relieving people from certain kinds of symptoms. People at that time came to psycho analysis for fairly circumscribed symptoms compulsions, and the like. Psychoanalysts, in the main, didn’t treat psychotic patients at that time. There was a more clearly defined sense in those days of ill and normal. Ill were people with symptoms and the really crazy people, and the normal were the rest of us. If you drank too much and were not very happy, that was tough that was life. As Freud said of psychoanalysis, we must be content to replace hysterical misery with ordinary unhappiness.
But Reich was not content with so modest a goal. Tie first became involved with the technical problem that you often couldn’t replace “hysterical misery” or the symptom without also altering the patient’s total character structure. Furthermore, he noticed that the patients who were permanently relieved of their symptoms were also the patients who were able to achieve healthy sexual functioning. That kind of functioning increasingly became what he saw as the goal of therapy namely, the establishing of the capacity for full genital experience. Now it is right here that we are at a fundamental misunderstanding concerning Reich because this therapeutic goal was never accepted by psychoanalysis. Much that I will discuss was accepted, but this wasn’t.
The argument was made and it still is made that there are plenty of people who are sexually healthy but who also are very neurotic or even psychotic.
This kind of argument led Reich to give a much more detailed description, which still is not known very widely, of his concept of full genital functioning or “orgiastic potency.” To quote Reich’s The Function of the Orgasm,
The more exactly I had my patients describe their behavior and sensations in the sexual act, the firmer became my clinical conviction that all of them, without exception, suffered from a severe disturbance of this genitality. This was especially true of those men who bragged the loudest about their sexual conquests and about how many times a night they could do it. There was no doubt: they were erectively very potent, but ejaculation was accompanied by little or no pleasure, or even the opposite, by disgust and unpleasant sensations. An exact analysis of the fantasies accompanying the act revealed most sadistic or self satisfied attitudes in the men, anxiety, reserve or masculinity in women. To the so called potent man, the act had the significance of conquering, piercing or raping the woman. They wanted to give proof of their potency, or to be admired for their erective endurance. This “potency” could easily be destroyed by laying bare its motives. It served to cover up serious disturbances of erection or ejaculation. In none of these cases was there as much as a trace of involuntary behavior or loss of alertness during the act.
Without going into the full description, as important as it is, of what Reich meant by “orgiastic potency,” I would like to call attention to what he found invariably missing in patients, i.e. the capacity for involuntary contractions of the organism and the complete discharge of the accumulated excitation. This capacity for involuntary contraction and discharge of excitation equivalent to the buildup of the tension were the characteristics of human genitality that he was most concerned with and they were the characteristics that had been most neglected. To quote Reich again (The Function of the Organism):
Clinical experience shows that man as a result of the general sexual repression has lost the capacity for ultimate vegetatively involuntary surrender. What I mean by “orgiastic potency” is exactly this ultimate, hitherto unrecognized portion of the capacity for excitation and release of tension. Orgiastic potency is the biological primal and basic function which man has in common with all living organisms . All feelings about nature derive from this function or from the longing for it.
I would still maintain that in most summaries of Reich the concept of “orgiastic potency” has not emerged clearly. People usually just talk about some kind of “sex prophet” but without making clear the nature of his prophecy. In terms of the technique that Reich evolved to get at the basic biological level of the human being, many are drawn to his technique initially not through an interest in the capacity for full genital experience but as an aid in helping patients with their problems, whatever they might be. What Reich found was that releasing the unconscious ideas behind a particular symptom was often insufficient to produce a change in the patient’s behavior.
In addition to particular unconscious ideas, the neurosis was also embedded in certain characteristic ways that the person defended himself against repressed feelings and ideas both psychologically in terms of rigid character traits and somatically in terms of bodily armoring. Reich’s interest in the matrix, if you will, of the neurotic symptom namely, the total character, became an important part of his therapeutic approach. And this is what has been incorporated in psychoanalysis not the goal of character analysis in the sense of orgiastic potency, but aspects of Reich’s technique of character analysis. Many therapists became aware that you couldn’t just deal with symptoms, you had to deal with the total personality. They also realized that Reich had a point when he stressed that there was a certain logic and order in how you should deal with the material that the patient brought up, if you wanted to influence the symptoms and other disturbing aspects of the patient’s life. There came to be much more emphasis on what was called the “defense mechanisms” and other character defenses first stressed by Reich.
This emphasis on defense arose from Reich’s concern as to how the organism defends itself against feelings in general and genital excitation in particular. Nietzsche once said: “All the regulations of mankind are turned to the end that the intense sensation of life may be lost in continual distraction.”
Well, the question is: how does the organism defend itself against intense sensations, and what function do those defenses serve? Taking the latter question first, the function is to protect against pain. When the intense sensations are connected with punishment, as they often are, or and this Reich later put more emphasis on lack of response, which also has a frustrating, punishing effect, the organism responds by “armoring up” against strong feelings which lead or has led in the past to painful consequences. I may add parenthetically that this emphasis on the frustrating aspects of non responsiveness was a very important distinction because in the early years of his work the twenties and early thirties Reich emphasized the more overt frustrations a child masturbates, somebody slaps his hand and threatens to cut off his penis, ergo, fear of genital sensation and an armoring against having to experience again the sensations and the fear and guilt that went with them. However, during the 1940’s and 1950’s he also emphasized the damaging effect of non responsiveness. For example, the baby with its strong oral impulses encounters a preoccupied mother who is feeling empty and un-alive. She may not be consciously hostile at all she may believe in all the good things and even try very hard to respond in the “right way”. But if she is not alive biologically, she cannot truly respond. Thus, there is no more mistaken idea than the common notion today that, well, we have had a lot of this permissiveness, and it doesn’t work. True, there is much guilt ridden permissiveness that doesn’t work but we haven’t had permissiveness in the sense that Reich was talking about it. He was talking about affirmation of these deep biological impulses that you can’t just permit indifferently you must respond to them. And the capacity to respond to them has been severely damaged through people’s own negative childhood experiences. So that we constantly just keep repeating this cycle of armoring, in spite of the best intentions. Now that can he altered. It is being altered to some degree. It isn’t an absolute thing. There are quantitative differences which become qualitative. And there are important changes going on. But it isn’t as though it just comes about that you take down some taboos and then there is permissiveness and then if there are still problems, ergo, permissiveness doesn’t work. Or as many people say today. we have still got a lot of problems: it must be aggression. You know, supposedly sex is free now, and if we still have problems, then aggression must be the problem. We should now pay attention to aggression. But from Reich’s point of view, sex has not been free at all in the deepest sense. The ground has been softened and much has been done that will permit more and more to be developed in terms of the deeper levels of biological functioning. But it isn’t as though this has been freed and we can go on to other matters. It is nowhere near as mechanical as that.
I want to go back a bit to the character analysis part. I think Reich did a marvelous job on character analysis the details and specifics of how character armor develops and its function in warding off both pleasure and pain.
In discussing character development, Reich compares the layers in the character to:
geological or archaeological strata which, similarly, are solidified history. A conflict which has been active at a certain period of life always leaves its traces in the character, in the form of a rigidity. It functions automatically and is difficult to eliminate. The patient does not feel it as something alien to him, but often feels it as something rigid and unyielding or as a loss or diminution of spontaneity. Each of these layers in the character structure is a piece of life history which is preserved in another form and is still active. It was shown that by loosening up these layers, the old conflicts could more or less easily be revived. If the layers were particularly numerous and functioning automatically, if they formed a compact unit which was difficult to penetrate, they seemed like an “armor” surrounding the living organism. This armor may he superficial or deep-lying, soft as a sponge or hard as nails. In each case its function was to protect against un pleasure. However, the organism paid for this protection by losing a great deal of its capacity for pleasure. The latent content of this armor were the conflicts of the past. The energy that held the armor together consisted mostly in destructiveness which had become bound. This was shown by the fact that destructiveness would be set free as soon as the armor began to crack. Whence came this destructive and hateful aggression? What was its function? Was it primary, i.e., biological destructiveness? It has taken many years to solve such questions.
I found that people reacted with intense hatred to any attempt to disturb the neurotic equilibrium which was maintained by their armour.
So we should not be too surprised when Judge Hoffman gets very angry when people start talking about sex and begin to prance around. They are disturbing his armor. They don’t often do it in a therapeutic fashion. They do not create an alliance with some part of him which wants to work with them on getting rid of his armor. If you don’t have that relationship, all you do is provoke destructive hate which is not worked through.
To continue Reich’s description of character armor:
Gradually I began to comprehend the latent hatred which is never lacking in patients. If one did not let oneself be deceived by the patient giving associations without any affect, if one was not content with dream interpretation, if, instead, one approached the patient’s character defense, he would inevitably get angry. At first this was puzzling. He would complain about the emptiness in his emotional life. If, however, one showed him the same emptiness in the manner of his communications, his coldness, his bombastic or artificial behavior, then he would get angry. A symptom such as a headache or a tic he felt as alien to himself. But his fundamental personality that was himself. He felt disturbed and angry when it was pointed out to him.
He goes on to talk about the hateful disruptiveness bound up in the character which is nothing but anger about frustration in general and denial of sexual gratification in particular. If the analysis penetrated to a sufficient depth, every destructive tendency gave way to a sexual one.
Now this is not to say there is no destructiveness in the human organism. Obviously, if it is confronted by threats, it will react destructively. If the organism is irrational, it will react destructively to imagined threats. But, therapeutically, it was found that beneath this destructiveness was a spontaneous biological substratum, if you will, which in the absence of real threat, would react in a nondestructive way.
Let me go on and briefly mention that Reich also focused on the form the character took, not just what the person said. The patient’s whole manner now became an object of scrutiny whether he was, for example, aristocratic, sly, ingratiating, or whatever. One can look at a person and see what kind of dominant tone and configuration is emerging in his emotional expression. This emphasis on the form of emotional expression led in time to an enormously important discovery, i.e., the muscular armor. The resistances to deep emotional expression were seen as embodied not only in a character trait of shyness or meekness or bombastic ness or what not, but also in a more literal armor, i.e., bodily rigidities. Thus, when we talk of somebody being stiff necked, for example, that is not just a way of speaking; it denotes very often a real stiffening in the body, including the neck, which is the somatic side or anchoring of the characterological attitudes of stubbornness. In short, when pleasurable impulses are frustrated, anger results. When anger is punished, crying results. When crying is punished, one becomes anxious. To be anxious for a long time is also very painful. So you bind the anxiety in various character and bodily spasms that absorb this free floating anxiety making it temporarily, at least, less uncomfortable for the organism. You don’t have to go around feeling so anxious, you can go around feeling dead. And, to repeat, this deadening process takes place not just in the character but in the body, in a whole series of particular kinds of rigidities that were later to be called muscular armoring. These “armor rings” are cross-sectional, in contrast to the movement of energy in the body which flows longitudinally from the head to the toes. Thus, an impulse may start to go through the body and then be blocked it may get caught in the throat, or in the eyes. There is a logic in the technique used to dissolve those blocks so that the energy can flow freely. With the successful dissolution of these characterological and muscular armorings, there is a free flow of energy, an experience which the organism subjectively perceives as a pleasurable sensation in connection with respiratory expiration. The person is then capable of surrendering to the most intense expression of these sensations in the act of love. In general, the person is capable of “self regulation” of a spontaneous sociality and a lack of need for rigid internal or external “thou shalt nots “.
This is not to imply that, in Reich’s view, discipline or constraint are unnecessary and that everybody can live in a continual orgy of self-indulgence. It is to say that discipline becomes a much more organic or self regulative process than that which takes place in the presence of heavy armoring. The highly armored organism needs a central nervous system to dictate to him “now you will do this, now you will do that,” the kind of “living machine” who gets his orders either from his own brain or from somebody else’s brain. The latter is preferable because over time one gets tired of ordering oneself around; you prefer to have somebody else to order you. You just march in formation. Obviously, somebody who is encumbered by this load of armor will turn to a “leader.” This takes us now to Reich’s social concepts.
Reich first became interested in a more radical social perspective on the etiology, treatment, and prevention of emotional disturbances when he started working in a psychoanalytic clinic which saw working class patients instead of the usual upper class persons. Working in this setting he began to see several things very clearly. To quote the lessons Reich described from this experience:
Neuroses are widely prevalent, like an epidemic; they are not a fad of pampered women, as was later claimed in the fight against psycho analysis.
Disturbances of genital function far outnumbered any other forms of disturbance as the reason for seeking help in the clinic.
If one was to make any headway, the establishment of prognostic criteria in the treatment of diverse cases was indispensable. Previously, no attention had been paid to this important question.
Equally decisive was a clarification of the question as to why one achieved a cure in one case and not in another. This would give a means of better selection of patients. At the time, no theory of therapy had been formulated.
Neither in psychiatry nor in psychoanalysis was it customary to ask patients about their social conditions. That there was poverty and need, one knew; but somehow that did not seem to be relevant. In the clinic however, one was constantly confronted by these factors. Often enough, social help was the first thing necessary. Suddenly, the fundamental difference between private practice and clinic practice was evident.
After some two years of clinic work it was clear that individual psychotherapy has a very limited scope. Only a small fraction of the psychically sick could receive any treatment. Working with this fraction, one lost hundreds of hours’ work because of failure due to unsolved technical problems. There remained a small group which repaid the efforts made. Psychoanalysis has never made a secret of this unfortunate state of affairs in therapy.
Nowadays, everybody says we have got to get out of the private office and do something about preventing this epidemic of neuroses. Reich was saying “Let’s do something about it” over forty years ago when he worked in clinics and found such a high incidence of disorder. People would come with all kinds of inner and external difficulties. There were all kinds of social frustrations. Abortion was illegal, contraception you couldn’t talk about. Housing was crowded, material conditions were very poor. And he became much more aware of the importance of material conditions lack of housing, worry about food in addition to all the internal difficulties which were harassing the poor. Even with internal problems the wealthy could more or less plod along with all kinds of secondary satisfactions that would at least soften the blow of the internal pain. They did not have to worry about where the next meal was coming from. Thus, through clinical work with the poor, he became much concerned with the social issues that were agitating Europe of the 1920’s.
Another stimulus to this concern was the Russian Revolution. You may have no idea what hope the Russian Revolution aroused of economic equality as well as a liberalization of social-sexual attitudes. When the Russian Revolution initially started, marriage laws were changed, marriage and divorce became very simple procedures. Provisions for day care centers and other things that Women’s Liberation is talking about now were in the original constitution of the Soviet Union. Initially, Reich was very hopeful that these kinds of social change would help prevent neurosis.
Reich and Freud quarrelled about the significance of the Russian Revolution as well as about the role of psychoanalysis in influencing social change. Freud was very sceptical about the whole idea of ever preventing neurosis. According to Freud, the whole logic of civilization worked against it. In his book, Civilization and its Discontents, Freud powerfully describes man’s tragic condition in society. This book grew out of evening discussions with Reich and others.
Reich was arguing: let’s get into the political parties, let’s get rid of abortion and contraception laws, let’s get rooms for the youth. If neurosis stems from sexual frustration, let us free sexuality. Freud wasn’t prepared to get into all that. In addition, he thought that civilization depended upon sublimation, upon considerable sexual frustration. You don’t hear much about that now, but you heard more about it at that time when psychoanalysis, initially under attack as an advocate of sexual chaos, argued that through knowing the unconscious one could better renounce the instincts and go on to “higher things.”
Also Freud’s later concept of the “death instinct”, a primary destructive force reflected in sadism and masochism, militated against a concern with social change. If there is a death instinct, and if further you need sublimation for civilization, then neurosis is not preventable. You could soften, dilute, manage, control to some extent its development, but basically it is built into the man civilization dilemma. Reich argued that it wasn’t built into the human condition. Sexual fulfillment and civilization were incompatible in some senses, but not in the important ones. On the contrary, according to Reich, orgiastic potency, or the absence of neuroses, was the best characterological basis for healthy productive work and genuine sociality, two fundamental characteristics as associated with a “civilized” person.
We come then to the profound question of where does the armoring come from? Why is there an armoring in man? Why did armoring arise only in the human species? Originally, Reich took a rather Marxist view on this question, namely, that armoring developed with exploitation when a patriarchal form of kinship replaced a matriarchal one. Matrilineal society had a much more permissive upbringing for children with considerable sexual freedom. Reich used Malinowski’s work on the Trobrianders very effectively, I think, to show their lack of much secondary behavior, e.g. sadism, homosexuality, severe neurosis. Matriarchy, lack of economic exploitation, sexual permissiveness, and relative psychic health were found among the Trobrianders, and, according to Reich, this association of characteristics was not accidental.
What social function does it serve to stop children from masturbating, to stop adolescents from sleeping together, compel people into monogamous, life long, compulsive forms of sexual relationships during adulthood? What functions does all this serve?
And his answer as a good Marxist but an answer he would maintain at least in part until the end was that it served to keep people submissive that if they were subdued in their vital energies, they would be less critical and more willing to go along with “the system” whatever the system might be. Now in the twenties, Reich made this sound quite political almost a kind of conspiracy. The capitalists think, “… how can we keep them down on the farm? Aha now, we’ll kill sexuality, they won’t he critical, and they’ll just go through work mechanically doing their job, and we can exploit them.” The trouble with that is that the capitalists were caught up in the system of armoring and sexual suppression as much as the workers. They were all the victims of a system that transcended any of them and that reproduced armoring from generation to generation. The family was the transmission belt which prepared the growing organism for authoritarian society.
Again influenced by Marxism, Reich emphasized that technological changes tend to break down this system. There was a lag between new technological forms and character attitudes developed at an earlier time which perpetuated themselves somewhat independently of the technological changes.
Without going into all the details of Reich’s analysis of the relationship between the individual and society, we may summarize that he began to see the basic mechanism of repression particularly vividly in the suppression of childhood impulses, particularly genital impulses. lie was concerned with such things as toilet training, the restrictions on natural forms of aggression to be a good little girl and a good little boy restrictions on masturbation and on childhood genitality, which as far as heterosexual play goes and even masturbation Is still not affirmed, as he would put it. You can read Spock, who is supposedly the bible of the permissive generation, and if you read about masturbation, he still says, distract the child, get him a toy when he masturbates. It is unclear why you should, but you better do it, because otherwise he will become lonely or something. If you say, well, what about if it’s heterosexual play where loneliness doesn’t come into it, that question you can’t even ask. He doesn’t deal with the subject of heterosexual play which still is not talked about very much. And where it is talked about there is once again the recommendation to distract the children. But you can’t distract children from heterosexual play without creating guilt, you can’t distract them without making this play an unacceptable activity. Since children pick up our attitudes consciously or unconsciously, this is very important. It isn’t just a question of “accepting” or not “accepting” the impulsive life of children. It is a question of a basic attitude toward the free expression of deep emotional mobility, which is most vividly expressed often in sexual life. And you can’t change that attitude automatically. We all have our anxieties over instinctual life from our own upbringing, but at least one can be aware of this very important dimension that isn’t even talked about very much.
So there was infantile sexuality which was prohibited, there was also adolescent sexuality which was prohibited, and still is but to a lesser extent today. Finally, as a third crucial area of sexual suppression, there was the whole question of compulsive marriage and compulsive family life. In connection with the latter, he very much stressed the need for independence in women so that they did not have this deep extrinsic, economic investment in marriage. Marriage should be separated from issues of economic dependence and the woman’s lack of a life of her own. This living of the woman through the man that people are talking so much about today has been an added incentive toward life long monogamous forms of marriage. Also, related to the issues of non compulsive marriage was the question of collective forms for the upbringing of children. (One can readily see the similarities between what Reich was talking about regarding the implications of non compulsive marriage and many of the emphases of the Woman’s Liberation Movement.)
Reich never worked out in detail the whole question of child upbringing and family life, and I frankly don’t think it can be worked out in detail. It is impossible to say the kinds of social forms of living people will have who are not heavily armored. Our forms of living today reflect this armoring, and I don’t think we should try to chart exactly how unarmored people will arrange things will we have the kids in kibbutzes, will we do this, will we do that? We don’t know. All we can do is try and I think this was Reich’s position to see to it that the living is protected as much as we are able to protect it. Then we will see what will develop. In the 1920’s and ’30’s, many people opposed Reich’s concepts on the grounds that they would destroy “cherished institutions” such as “marriage and the family.” And in a sense they were right. If you don’t have early frustration of sexuality, you are not likely to have people who are prepared to go through the marriage ceremony and remain monogamous “until death do us part”. You have to have gone through a certain wringer to be able to accept that kind of concept, to accept it really and genuinely. And the wringer is the social sex suppression from age 0 on. But Reich would say that vital marriage is destroyed anyway by that very wringer because early sex suppression makes it impossible for people to enjoy happiness in marriage. Suppression is destroying it functionally, anyhow. Plus the breaking down of lifelong monogamy for many people in any case whether people read his books or not.
He himself was much concerned with changing these social forms he thought we could at least eliminate what was obviously negative. And he took a lot of personal risks to do that. If you read The Sexual Revolution, written in 1933, it is still the clearest affirmation of adolescent sexual life that you can find. I should also briefly mention that around the time The Sexual Revolution was published, Reich was in a very difficult position. He had been kicked out of the psychoanalysts’ organization for stressing its social consequences. Lie had been kicked out of the Communist Party for stressing that economic revolution itself is not enough. Because the Communists were saying, “Never mind all this sex business, first let’s get people fed and then somehow sex will take care of itself.” It didn’t. And he was right in saying that it wouldn’t and that a revolution which did not move to change human character structure, would end up as a repetition of what had been only in a new guise. In the USSR all the old anti sexual laws came back, with even more rigidity than before. True, certain important social changes had occurred, but the kind of Communism Marx and Engels had been talking about did not emerge in its human dimension.
Following the failure of the Russian Revolution and also many of Reich’s own activities in terms of creating major change in human character through various short term measures, Reich faced a difficult situation. Lie was adrift, as we have mentioned. But even more important were other disillusionments. He began to see that various changes, such as contraception for the young, while they were helpful, were insufficient. He had hoped, rather optimistically, that he could create massive changes in young people through very practical kinds of help. I think to some extent he was disillusioned on that score. It wasn’t that he didn’t remain committed to the affirmation of healthy adolescent sexuality. He did remain committed. But also he became much more aware of the difficulties, the problems, the early damage that had been created in many adolescents during their infancy and childhood. He became aware of how hard it was for many of them to change very much, very fast. And he saw how quickly youth could get into what he termed “secondary”, i. e. distorted, expressions of energy indiverse political forms. Nazism was the most dramatic example of how youth flocked to a kind of jazzed up, emotion laden political ideology which clearly appealed to certain instinctual needs while providing a moralistic guise for their distorted expression. However, his experiences also with leftist parties led him to become very suspicious of political organizations in general.
During this period of social upheavals and disillusionments, he continued to make progress in his technical therapeutic work on muscular and character armoring. However, he remained unshaken in his conviction that individual therapy could never be a socially effective measure because it is just impossible to reach many people with it. With a 100,000 therapists one could still only treat a small fraction of those who need help. If individual therapy was socially ineffective, and if broad scale political change was ineffective in terms of changing individual character structures, what do you do? He faced that question forty years ago. We all face it today.
His own answer was an increasing emphasis on organic, slow, individual and social development. People who knew what they were doing should quietly work and set an example so that life positive concepts and techniques would slowly, organically spread and influence others. This principle applied in education, psychiatry, sociology, and later in his biological and physical work. His point was: let work itself and the interconnections between workers dictate development. Let us eliminate the usual agitations in their usual political ideological forms.
I would like to mention one or two lines of thinking which are confusing in terms of understanding today’s culture. I have already mentioned the simplistic notion that now since “sex is free”, and there are still problems we’d better goon to something else like aggression. Another unsatisfactory answer represents a palliative kind of psychoanalytic tradition: one is supposed to manage things so that people become a little less tense, a little more aware of certain things. I don’t mean to minimize the value of this piecemeal approach. It has accomplished a great deal in many psychological directions. But it by no means gets at the obstacles in the way of biological impulses whose expression poses a real threat to many existing social institutions. Even worse, this way of looking at life is not aware, even in principle, that man and his social life could be radically different, radically better. In understanding today’s welter of confusing images of man, Reich’s three-layered concept of man is useful. The first layer represents a kind of facade what Laing and others call the “false self”, compulsive morality, rigid politeness, restraint, and so forth. Beneath that first layer is a second anti social layer the incestuous wishes, sadism, hostility, guilt, and so forth and so on. These two levels are well known. What is less known is the biological core of personality which according to Reich, is spontaneously social and capable of self regulation. This third layer is riot to be confused with a kind of wild LSD trip. It includes the capacity for sustained, pleasurable work and the capacity for lasting sexual relations. In this view, the Don Juan is a disturbed as the timid, fearful so who stays in the marital strait jacket out of guilt and fear. Promiscuity, as well as compulsive morality, are two sides of the same coin. There exists a deeper level of sexuality which is qualitatively different from either compulsive morality or pornography. And the same thing applies to the passive and meek (the first layer) versus the wild and destructive (the second layer). There is a third unarmored style of aggression which can be destructive where it is appropriate, but in general is aggressive in the sense of outgoing, not sadistic and not caught up in self-aggrandizement and the like. What we are experiencing today is the need to distinguish among phenomena in terms of these three levels. Part of the current debate about much of youth’s “counter culture” relates to the question of whether one prefers the first or the second layer. The social facade level has its merits. At least it doesn’t hit you over the head. It has been a magnificent way of making certain that we keep things going half-dead, to be sure. The legal code is a marvelous instrument for restraining the second layer though at the same time it also often restrains the third level as well because neither the wild criminal nor the saint can manage within the average man’s law. How much you are willing to take your chances on the wild criminal coming out along with the saint as the social facade level breaks down is often a value question. In his earlier years, Reich was more concerned with breaking down that facade, even at the risk of a lot of impulses coming out destructively, chaotically, as indeed they must when they erupt outside very controlled therapeutic conditions.
But after one lives through Nazism, Stalinism, and the like one is a little more respectful of just ordinary old fashioned compulsive restraint, even at the cost of the considerable suffering that such restraint entails and even at the cost of the considerable suppression of the third level of biological functioning. All one can ask is that one knows what one is doing, that one at least tries to distinguish which of the expressions is appearing around what kinds of issues and how one and others order their priorities concerning expressions from the three levels.
A third relevant issue is the attitude of youth to science. Theodore Roszak in his book, The Making of a Counter Culture, well describes the negative attitude of many youths toward science. Some of their accusations are that science embodies a technocracy, exploited by the ruling class, which is killing us all. More basically, there is suspicion toward highly cognitive mechanistic instrumental modes of thinking which science represents in contrast to the emotive, affective, humanistic approaches of art and religion. Once again, Reich’s distinctions are important. We recall that psychoanalysis gave a tremendous emphasis to the issue of control which was executed by the intellect or the ego. Knowledge of the irrational, which, incidentally, was equated with the emotional, was stressed the better to understand, the better to control “the emotional.” This emphasis did an injustice to the non cognitive forces because the non cognitive is not necessarily irrational. There is nothing irrational about a baby reaching for the mother’s breast. It is a very rational act. Thus, deep rational emotions became lumped together with the irrational in the sense of destructive, antisocial, “senseless” feelings. The older generation still says, down with the irrational, up with reason, thinking things through; many of the young at the other extreme say down with sterile thinking, up with feeling.
At this point we may be involved in Reich’s final speculations, not long before his death, concerning the origin of human armoring a question that had preoccupied him for several decades. When one is trying to counteract thousands of years of armored living, one is always close to the questions: maybe I am wrong? Perhaps armoring is necessary for some reason or other?
His final very tentative speculations had to do with the whole question of the cognitive process. He had, you will recall, never believed that sexual frustration helped thinking. On the contrary, he believed that it hindered it. One is preoccupied with sexual fantasies and thereby distracted from productive work and thought. For Reich, there is a clear alteration between genuine sexual gratification, on the one hand, and work and thought on objective problems on the other. There is a conflict if you try to think and experience sexual pleasure at the same time. If one is thinking about sex during the embrace, it is going to interfere. Poetry, we recall, is emotion recollected in tranquility . At the height of emotional experience, it can he very damaging to do a lot of thinking about what you are experiencing. But you can separate them temporally, and each can he added to by the intensity of the other. Thus he never split off thought and feeling, as so many do. Moreover, if you read his work carefully, you will find that while it contains much that is dogmatic, you will find a love of good, hard thinking and objective argument integrated by an extraordinary capacity for conceptualizing empirical findings. Thus, he liked thought. And he did not see it as hostile to feeling or sexuality. But he also speculated that at some far gone time when man started to think about what he was feeling, a sensation of being dazzled, a kind of self-consciousness emerged. Cogito ergo sum. I think, therefore i am. This awareness of being aware Is, I believe, unique to man. (I don’t know for sure since I have never talked with an animal but it’s hard to think of a dog thinking to himself, “I wonder who I am. What is the meaning of it all? This short life etc….” you know?) Man alone seems to have developed this capacity, and Reich speculatively relates the origin of this capacity to the origin of the disposition toward armoring. If a centipede were to ask himself how he walks, he would get all mixed up. And when man began to think about his feelings, there may have been some tendency to split his awareness. One sees this most clearly in schizophrenics who get so caught up with the “who am I” question that they are badly crippled in their functioning.
Today we may be getting to a point where we can be “self conscious” in the good sense through knowledge without being “self conscious” in the negative sense of alienation and armoring. This is the problem and we see it enactedin wild swings today: “Oh thought is important, catharsis is terrible; no, feelings are important, in the Living Theater who needs thought? Down with discipline….” We are surrounded by these cliches and oversimplifications. The solution is not either/or, but both/and. One must be aware that everybody this is a point Reich made very early in his career is right in some way, it is a question of finding out in what way they are right. Then the task is to incorporate that awareness into a deeper synthesis and a deeper way of being. I don’t pretend that any of this is easy. My argument is that Reich’s work, carefully studied, can help us to understand the truly chaotic and revolutionary situation we are in right now. And it can help us to clarify progressive and retrogressive directions confronting us, and the obstacles, internal and external, in the way of the development of a free man in a free society.Talk on Wilhelm Reich´s Work