On The Psychological Implications Of The Economic Competition Based Culture

It is my personal theory that there are fundamental psychological implications inherent to and natural within an economic competition based culture. Thus I offer the following thoughts regarding both the human personality and the social predicament of life in an economic competition based culture.

Freud’s theory of the personality is based upon the concept of an ongoing conflict between three components of the human psyche. The basic instincts; known as the id, seek pleasure and self gratification without any concept of reasonable regulation or moral constraints. The newborn child functions primarily in accord with such base instincts, and thus cries out for comfort and instant self gratification with no regard for any conflicting concerns. The cries of a baby are instinctive reactions to discomfort, and are likewise indicators of a natural hedonism as our core instinct.

Left unfettered of course our instinctive hedonistic nature would destroy self or others in an irrational and amoral quest for instant gratification and self fulfillment. For example, a toddler who chases a ball into traffic lacks the reasoning capacity to comprehend the perils of their own pursuit of pleasure, and can thus prove a danger to their own self existence even though their actions are in accord with their base instincts. Or that same toddler might hit and dominate a weaker child in an effort to take away a toy that tickles their instinctive fancy. Chaos would ensue and the preservation of the self and our entire species would be questionable were we to never develop beyond our core instinct for pleasure without regard for consequences.

The human thus develops the faculty of reason; known as the ego, which coordinates and regulates the interaction of the instincts in real world relationships so as to pragmatically protect the individual from their own instinctive impulses for instant gratification. Self preservation is the primary concern of the ego, and thus the rational self regulates our base instincts towards that practical end. However, a reasonable sense of self preservation in and of itself lacks any moral direction with which to govern our quest for self gratification.

The human thus develops a moral faculty, which Freud termed the superego. The super ego thus serves to regulate both the instinctive hedonism and our natural sense of self preservation. Without any moral faculty there would be no safeguard to preserve our species against the chaos which would ensue from a world of beings whose instinctive hedonism was solely monitored by each person’s sense of self gratification.

In essence the Freudian theory of the personality is that of an ongoing conflict between and the coordination of three selfs within each person. The instinctive self seeks instant self gratification with no regards for the consequences to self or others. The rational self measures self preservation against the instinctive desires and so governs the wants in accord with one’s own self preservation. The moral self factors an ethical code into the reasoning process and so governs the will in accord with socially acceptable standards and a natural sense of compassion and empathy. The conflicts between and the coordination of the three selfs within each person function so as to allow each of us to emerge into mentally healthy and socially balanced individuals.

There are of course a variety of factors which conflict with the natural development of the tripartite human personality. Stress which arises from one’s social environment as a child can create a host of neurotic thinking and behavioral patterns which alter or even damages the development of the natural tripartite human personality. The expectations of accomplishments in a competitive social market imposed upon the individual as early as preschool ages through forums such as organized community sports programs creates social stress which is oftentimes escalated by fanatical adults whose addiction to the concept of winning creates a culture among mere preschoolers that labels certain children as more talented or less talented than others even as they are enduring the natural stress of entering Kindergarten.

The labels and class identification informally imposed upon mere children progresses and escalates through their entire childhood as the distinction between the physical and intellectual skills are insensitively exposed through a variety of competitive civic and school related forums. The psychological effects of unfulfilled expectations, perceived failures, guilt of “letting down” one’s community or family, and basically the transparent labels of “winners and losers” creates undue stress which impairs the natural development of one’s tripartite personality even before emerging into adulthood and “everyday life”.

Additionally the ongoing stress of the everyday struggle to survive as an adult in a competitive economic system which forces meaningless alienated labor and which exploits human efforts and energy inflicts psychological injury and emotional impairment. In such a system humans are reduced to the role of a mere commodity to serve as the transparent means to the beneficiary ends of an isolated elite. Psychological effects from the labels which distinguish success and failure based upon how one fares in an economic competitive society are by no means lost on adulthood. Meanwhile those who live a leisurely existence as a result of the efforts of others are insulated from the psychological suffering of insecurity and the mental degradation of being exploited as a mere commodity.

The ego of the exploited laborer thus conditions working class folk to function as a commodity in an economic system which affords no reasonable alternative. When survival is based upon a person having to sell their daily efforts and energies in order to enrich the economic ruling class, then the instinct to seek one’s own good serves to condition a submissive compliance with such a degrading scheme. The worker is thus ruled by their own capacity to reason through a scenario with limited alternatives to arrive at the conclusion that to be used and exploited is preferable to hunger and death. The psychological effects of compliance with an arrangement which renders the individual a willing slave to their need to survive surely impairs the natural development of the human personality.

One such manifestation is the general depression and chronic angst of working class people in economic competition based cultures. The economic insecurity of working class people who are overworked and underpaid, or who are unemployed creates undue stress which oftentimes leads to drugs, depression, general anxiety, and a host of other social and behavioral disorders. The constant fear of the loss of income, or the agony of budgeting bills when one lives paycheck to paycheck can oftentimes result in physical and mental illnesses. Stress is a slow killer, both physically and mentally, and the struggle for survival in a competitive economic market amounts to systemic stress and manipulated misery.

By nature the mind may protect itself by a variety of coping mechanisms. One such feature in dealing with the stress of the everyday struggle in an economic competition based culture is experienced through the socially conditioned superego. Oftentimes those who are victims of exploitation in such a culture cope with their circumstances by actually rationalizing their conditions of meaningless alienated labor on behalf of others as a natural experience or even more extreme yet as a seemingly noble endeavor. Protestant religion which emphasizes a strong work ethic and respect for authority seems a coping process of the superego for those who are so indoctrinated. Thus Protestant Christians are conditioned to accept the degrading experience of alienated labor and transparent exploitation in an economic competition based society as a matter of faith and duty.

Meanwhile the super ego of the economic ruling class is negated by their instinctive ego to serve their own good by using and exploiting other people. Their fixation on their own leisurely comfort negates any concept of right or wrong even when such exploits the lives of others. Predatory exploitation of the basic need of others merely for the purpose of mass accumulation is clearly unethical and socially immoral to those who are the victims of such an arrangement, yet to those who are the primary beneficiaries of the labor of others such is rational and reasonable. The negation of the super ego is a social impairment of those who condition their conscience to justify the utility of other human beings as mere commodities for their own enrichment.

The insensitivity of the ruling class with regards to the psychological and physical suffering inflicted upon the working class victims in an economic competition based culture is evident manifestation of a suppressed super ego. The moral interpretation of the super ego of ruling class folk conflicts with the natural aversion to suffering which is innate and instinctive. Subsequently, seemingly civilized people of the ruling class are able to rationalize and justify the suffering of the working class people whose alienated labor and transparent exploitation sustains their leisurely existence.

Even more so, the suppressed superego of the ruling class renders them capable of justifying further social atrocities such as collective murder in the name of war, genocide and occupation in the name of manifest destiny, and environmental irresponsibility in the name of progress. The standards of ethical and moral concerns are different for those of the ruling class, as their sense of entitlement and their lust for power have conditioned them to suppress the natural development of their superego so as to justify the psychological and physical suffering which they inflict as they use and exploit other people.

In essence, working class and ruling class folk each tend to cope with an economic competitive culture by living in denial. Each functions in accord with our natural hedonism in their daily quest for comfort. The ruling class is most comfortable when using and exploiting others in order to sustain their lives of comfort and leisure. Thus their suppressed super ego allows them to do so with a sense of assumed entitlement and a clear conscience. The ego of the working class meanwhile rationalizes that alienated labor and transparent exploitation are more reasonable than suffering and death, and so they submit to their daily degradation with a sense of dignity and self respect. The superego of some working class folk even embraces their alienated labor and transparent exploitation as a natural experience or even a noble endeavor. Living in denial is a natural safeguard of the human psyche.

For such are among the psychological implications of the social predicament of daily life in an economic competition based culture.

Dave Henderson
Denison, Texas