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  • Maria R. de Almeida

What constitutes a MASS? What holds it together?


In "psychology of the masses and analysis of the ego" Freud sets out that the psychology of each individual is from the very beginning at the same time social and individual: the other fellow man are part of our psychic apparatus as adversaries, friends, colleagues, lovers... In this sense, we consider that from the beginning we are group subjects, the subject isolated does not exist. The ego is built by continuous identifications with the loved objects. The same mechanism takes place when a group of people comes together and constitute a mass.

The individuals who are integrated in a mass experience some variations: a limitation on their personal characteristics in favour of the common interest; an increase on the affectivity and a reduction of the intellectual capacity. It is important to remark , that contrary to what other authors claim, the human being is not gregarious[1] in the sense that there is not an instinct which leads us to come together. If that is the case... What leads to, first the constitution of a "group" and later to hold this mass together? Many authors have tried to explain this phenomenon in the past, Freud introduced a new concept which explains it quite well: the LIBIDO. " Masses are held together by libidinal bonds". What is the libido? Libido is a physical energy, the energy of the unconscious desire. We could also understand it as "love", love in a broad meaning: Not only sexual love but also, friendship , paterno-filial love, self love, love for the human kind in general, to specific objects or abstracts ideas. When Freud sets out this concept of love, he was accused of pansexualist. However, this concept of "love" that Freud sets out in his "Theory of the Drives and instincts" is the same as Plato set out with "Eros" or the concept of love proned in the Catholic religion.

==> How do we apply this idea of "libidinal bonds" to explain the mass phenomenon? To explain it, Freud used two permanent, enduring and highly organized masses: the church and the military. What is the main characteristic of these two masses? In both of them, in the church and in the military, there is a leader (Christ / the captain). In both of them, there is an illusion: the illusion that each of the members of the mass are loved in the same way by the leader. This idea that each of the members is loved in the same way by the leader is what allows the relationship among each others. Whenever we talk about a "leader" from a psychical perspective, that leader would be a substitute of the figure of the father. In the psychic apparatus the place of the father is always taken by a figure of authority. The leader is just a "place", what matters is the idea. The leader is the bearer of the idea. It does not matter who takes the place of the leader, what matters is the idea he bears. The true leader are the values, the ideas he bears.

In a mass, the individuals are hold together by a double libidinal bond: one with the leader and another one among all the members of the mass. According to Freud, not taking into account these libidinal bonds, led to the defeat of the Prussian military, for example. When these bonds are broken, they go panic. It is not (as many other authors consider) that they go panic and then the bonds are broken but the other way round: panic arises when the individual no longer thinks of the others, they don't count on the support of the others and think of himself alone. Then they go panic.

We have mentioned that libido[2] is what holds a mass together. However, Freud points out that there is always ambivalence in the relationships with others. Love holds us together, but whenever there is love, there is hate, hostility. There is not one without the other. Then there is self- love and love for the others. The other fellow will always set limits to my narcissism. Imagine a group of porcupines in a cold day[3]. To warm up, they will come together, but... they prick each others. They separate again but then... they get cold. They do this over and over again until they find a distance in which they are warm but don't prick each others. This is more or less what happens to us. This is the ambivalence. We can see hostility in day-to-day relationships. This is what we called "Narcissism of the small differences": In all affective connections between two people there is always a bit of hostility: marriage, friendship, paterno- filial... in order not to be perceived they are repressed. However, this is very visible in cases such as: Spanish and French people (two communities close but different); English and Scottish; the two respective families of a couple (one thinks is better than the other); when the subordinate murmurs against his boss... The bigger the difference, the bigger the hostility.

WHY this hostility? It is a manifestation of the narcissism of each of the individuals who takes each differences as an affront and criticism. If this is the case, what causes the hostility to disappear in the mass (temporary or permanently)? Individuals in a mass tolerate the differences of the others (Christians, a football team... ) They consider the others as "brothers", colleagues... Why? Because love is a limit to narcissism. Selfishness is limited by the love for the others. Love is a civilizing feeling. Love enables us to collaborate with others. Love makes it possible to move from selfishness to altruism. In reality, everything in the human being is done with libido[4].

If what holds the mass together are libidinal bonds... How and which are these bonds? There are two types:

- Identification

Primary Identification: " I am a human being"

Secondary identification: "I want to be like"

- Choice of object - " I want to have"

What is the Identification? This mechanism is present all the time and build us as human beings. The identification is the first libidinal bond. The first thing an individual does is to identify himself as a human being among the others. This first identification is asexual: "I want to be human". This identification also takes place in every new beginning ( " I want to be like that doctor").

The second identification which is related to the Oedipus Complex: is a transformation of the choice of object in identification: the child chooses as first loved objects the mother and then the father, and then he identifies himself with them. He identifies himself with the mother and also with the father. The identification is only to a characteristic, not to the whole. There is always ambivalence. The child, chooses the father and the mother as loved objects but at some point, the father interjects in the relationship with the mother and there appears the first hostility feelings. Also we can identify ourselves to something we love or... to something we hate.

The Ego of the individual is built by continuous identifications with the loved objects.

We could think that the libidinal bond among the individuals of a mass is an identification. How does this happen? Because all the individuals have chosen the leader (the idea[5]) as loved object, they can identify among each others. Not only that, but also the object occupies the ideal ego[6]. In the Catholic church it is very visible how all the Christians are related among each others because they are all "brothers" in Christ. Why? Exactly the bond of each of the members with Christ is what joins all the members together. Because all the Christians are related to Christ, they are related among each others. Same applies to the military.

We could define mass as: "group of subjects who have replaced their ideal ego by the same loved object. As a consequence, there is an identification of the egos among each others".

This text "Group psychology and analysis of the ego" along with others like "Totem and Taboo" and "Moses and monotheism" show the importance of the father[7] figure and how we are group subjects since we are born. All the processes that take place in the constitution of the human being (identification and choice of loved objects) also take place in the constitution of a mass. The others are always in my psychic apparatus. Not all reunions of people are a mass, there is a mass when there are libidinal bonds among the members.

[1]For more info about this topic, read the Freud's texts related to the origin of the culture, specially the ones related to the myth of the "primitive horde" by Darwin. There is not such a gregarious instinct: coming to an agreement is a process which implies renouncing.

[2] Love in broad meaning

[3] Schopenhauer parabole

[4] Remember here ¨love¨ refers to libido: love in braod

[5] Remember that the leader is in reality the idea (remember that it can be love but also... hate: when we are bonded by hostility against the same idea).

[6] An image of the perfect self towards which the ego should aspire

[7] To remark that not only the mother figure is important in psychoanalysis


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