Friday, June 21, 2013

On the Metaphysics of Freud

This post has been a stumbling block for me for a while.

Back at the end of 2011 I began writing an extended piece on Owning and Owing. About 10K words in I had to stop. I was trying to find a form of words to describe what was essentially a Freudian view on the birth of currency. But I was doing it without actually specifying 'what' that Freudian view was. Hopefully I can return to that essay eventually. My belief is that an examination of the arrival of the conceptions of Owning and Owing (which I equate to Freud's Totem and Taboo respectively) in human consciousness, can offer a powerful explanation for the birth of currency.

Anyway, in keeping with Freud's idea of the return of the repressed, my failure to describe effectively my own take on the Metaphysics of Freud has come back to haunt me on several occasions. Abandoned blog posts include titles such as 'A ramble on Money and Gravity', 'Banks don't Create Money', 'A Puritanical Storm' and most recently the repressed returned when I attempted to review 'Scribbling on Foucault's Walls' by Quiet Riot Girl. Any attempt I make to relate Money to self or mind - especially in my quasi-academic writing - falls down at this first hurdle.

Part of the problem for me is that the moment I explain my view of Freud's Metaphysics I start, naturally enough, to use metaphysical terms. You'd expect that'd help. But it doesn't. It just seems to result in a bigger knot. So I'm limiting myself to one sentence of quasi-metaphysical language in this post. Here it is; I think I'm an essentialist or realist, indeed in some senses I am a structuralist, whereas these days most of Freud's progeny are constructivist or nominalist and post-structuralist.

That's it for those sorts of words. I'm less and less a fan of big clever words these days. No doubt they'll creep back in somewhere but I'll try my hardest not to let them. One other thing, I definitely not a materialist, ok?

So, Freud.

I studied Freud as an undergraduate in a course run by Christopher Badcock called 'The Psychoanalytic Study of Society'. The course had a profound effect on me. It entailed reading a lot of Freud, and all his later works on society. I had to get 'permission' to do the course as I remember, being an Economic History student rather than Dr Badcock's more normal intake from the sociology department. Often times when you come to a new subject - a new way of thinking about the world - you have the key tenets or laws of the particular view explained and if these chime with the way you see things then, for while at least, it becomes your 'thing'. It wasn't like that with Freud and this course.

Instead of getting more and more particular and complicated, things worked the other way round. I remember starting off being keen to get an understanding of what exactly Freud meant by neurosis or psychosis - what were they? Did they describe neuronal patterns? Behaviours? The flow of mental 'energies'? Dr Badcock had set the course up, logically enough, to take us chronologically through Freud's writings; which was the way he had originally read Freud. The effect this had on me was a gradual reveal of what (for me) sits at the heart of Freud's explanation of mind - the idea of the Life and Death drives as the essential forces through which mental life is created.

Dr Badcock's claim to psychoanalytical fame was that he was the last person to be psychoanalysed by Anna Freud. He wrote this touching memoir last year. All the more surprising then, in fact shocking, that in 2009 he renounced Freud. The course he taught and that had such an influence on me ended in 2002. Dr Badcock's focus was firmly on giving a 'scientific' (i.e. genetic) basis for Freud's work. At the time of my course he was exploring how Freud's work could be related to evolutionary psychology. The subject was riding high - it was just before the human genome project took the wind out of its sails by discovering that there were far fewer genes than had been imagined. So many of those ideas about this gene accounting for this or that behaviour lost their currency.

But, this notwithstanding, Dr Badcock was an inspirational teacher. I'm sad that his original course has finished.  I should confess that the year after I left the LSE I did subject him to a long treatise on how I thought Freud's model of the mind related to Money. It says a lot about him that to him that he took the time to read my ramblings and offer a reply. A brief summary of his latest 'Imprinted Brain Theory' and his renunciation of Freud is here. The book he wrote when he was a young man, his first major work published in 1980 was this one below (direct from my bookshelf). Its a long time since I've read it but I do remember it being somehow prescient of the Thatcher era in its rejection of Catholic masochism. Great cover too (it's Christ of St John of the Cross by Salvador Dali)

So for a time after the LSE I did consider jumping a bit further into psychoanalysis. I joined the Orgdyne group (that I've mentioned here before) which was an online experiment in group psychodynamics. But it quickly became apparent to me that the real value I perceived in Freud's work was not the complexity of analysis it afforded, but rather the simplicity of the explanation it offered.

Specifically, to me it suggested an architecture of mind (id-ego-superego), a map of perception (subject-object) which when combined with the life and death force gave a description of our mental landscape. Mental life consists of two opposing forces that play out through the architecture of id-ego-superego, and within the limitations of subject-object perception.

Now, obviously Freud wasn't the first to divide the world into subjects and objects. Nor was he the first to talk about ego. On a recent visit to the Freud museum I strained my eyes in the dim light of Freud's study searching for the Philosophy of Money by Georg Simmel which, although published in 1907 when psychoanalysis was still young, seems to me to speak a similar psychoanalytical language; as if Simmel and Freud were drawing thoughts from the same intellectual plane. Where Freud was a pioneer and genius was in  exploring a pathway from the jumble of our experiences and our reactions to them, all the way back down to the twin fundamental opposing forces.

This essential dualism underlying our reality is mirrored everywhere; in religious conceptions of good & evil and yin & yang, within the dialectic itself and also between the dialectical & rhetorical, and it's in the physical world of expansion & contraction, creation & destruction, and order & chaos. It was also in my own musings prior to my reading of Freud. For example, I had attempted to explain British Industry in terms of Anglo Saxon Vs Celtic group forms. I was exploring the idea that a unique conglomeration of communitarian (broadly Celtic) and individualistic (broadly Anglo Saxon) social forms was what explained Britain's leap into modernity.

I was interested in Robert Owen and the Co-operative movement. I thought that sustainability and price could be married in an eco-label that would save the planet, and I was always aware that I was separated from the coal mines and steel works of South Wales by just one generation. But I was also a clasping clawing 'greed-is-good' 'you-don't-make-an-omelette-without-cracking-a-few-eggs' entrepreneur. I was a Thatcher-loving, red brace wearing, 'ya-I'll-fax-it-over' Yuppie, with a brick for a mobile phone.

So, Freud had no problem convincing me that our minds can simultaneously produce completely opposite emotions. It struck me too, that our feelings and even our thoughts would be reflective of this.


How this revelation squared with my ideas about Money is a long story, one that's being worked out on this blog. But a critical moment came in August 1999, the summer before my final year and directly after Dr Badcock's course. My wife and I had gone with the kids to Jersey to watch the solar eclipse occurring on the 11th August. Seeing the eclipse was moving and profound. There was moment - no more than a few seconds - when the sun moved out from behind the moon; instead of the sun being the Sun, it became a star. It was almost mundane. It transformed into a real thing, a big ball of burning fury, huge, powerful, but a long way distant. And the moon, that was a big old cold lump of grey rock so close you could almost touch it. And then seconds later they were back to being the Sun and the Moon again. That sort of thing puts you in the zone.

The book I had taken with me on the holiday Glyn Davies' A History of Money was a reward read. I'd been quite focused on sticking to reading lists for the subjects I was studying, which was hard for me as I really like to do my own thing. So to have this book to read in the atmosphere of that eclipse created, was wonderful. I didn't have to wait long for the first revelation;
"Loving and fighting are the oldest, most exciting of man's activities, so that it is perfectly natural to find that payments associated with both are amongst the earliest form of money." 
Glyn Davies A History of Money (1994) p.25
A proper anthropological study of Money was awaiting me on my return to the LSE, so this simple sentence, combined with Freud's reliance on the work of Frazer's Golden Bough in Totem and Taboo really fired me up.

And then, just four pages on from the first quote came this.
"...there is an unceasing conflict...."
An unceasing conflict. The words resonated.
"...there is an unceasing conflict between the interests of debtors, who seek to enlarge the quantity of money and who seek busily to find acceptable substitutes, and the interests of creditors, who seek to maintain or increase the value of money by limiting its supply, by refusing substitutes or accepting them with great reluctance, and generally trying in all sorts of ways to safeguard the quality of money." 
Glyn Davies A History of Money (1994) (p. 29)
Glyn Davies was a Welshman. At that moment I felt that was good enough to consider him family. He was a man who had the humility and wisdom to call his book 'A History', not 'The History'. And yet it is a book he waited his whole life to write. Born in 1919 in South Wales to a miner, he enlisted at the start of World War Two becoming a Desert Rat who fought at El Alamein. He took part in the Normandy landings, and twice narrowly cheated death. The first time when he was in the passenger seat of a jeep which was hit by a shell that went straight through the driver's body. The second when as he was closing the door of his armoured car, it was knocked shut by a glancing blow from a shell that failed to explode. After the war he became a primary school teacher while studying economics. He went on to lecture at Strathclyde University, was an advisor to the Secretary of State for Wales and held the post of Julian Hodge Professor of Banking and Finance at UWIST, Cardiff. He died about 9 years after the book was published in January 2003. He was still alive when I first read this quote, and I regret that I didn't write to him to tell him how much reading his book had meant to me.

If you know your history books then Glyn Davis' A History of Money is to Money what AJP Taylor's English History 1914-1949 is to English History. They are beautiful works.

My own father was born in 1932 in South Wales to a miner. He became a teacher, too. And then a headmaster. He was only six when World War Two began. But he did his national service after the war in Riyadh. I felt an affinity with Glyn Davies. And I still feel guilty today for not writing to him. If that doesn't prove Freud right, nothing does.


I still have the essay I sent to Dr Badcock, post-LSE. Of course, now I feel embarrassed by it. When I can bring myself to glance at it, apart from cringing, I realise how I much I try to deflect attention away from Money. The whole thrust of my thinking is that I believe Money to be related to the life and death drives. And yet I consistently seem to focus on either one or the other, either Money or life & death drives. I did do one thing that whilst it might seem arrogant beyond measure really helped me think about things. I renamed the life and death drives as l-force and d-force.

Firstly, I preferred to think about them (or at least not exclude the possibility) that rather than drives emanating from our brains (which is how I think Freud conceived of them), they could be forces that flow through our minds. So instead of getting hooked into the brain and it's material being - as Dr Badcock had done - I was much more open to the idea that l-force and d-force were fundamental universal forces that permeate our universe and our reality. It didn't seem necessary to believe this, in the sense that if you didn't believe it nothing worked, but on the other hand it seemed unnecessary to preclude it.

Secondly, renaming made the terms morally neutral. This is very important.

Most people think that numbers created Money. In other words, our ability to count preceded the cowrie shells, rings, and sacrificial spits of primitive currency. I don't think that. For me, Money precedes number. I appreciate that seems counter-intuitive. But whatever the truth, it seems clear that there is a very close relationship between Money and number.

What was to occupy my mind for the next decade was how number, Money, l-force and d-force could be related. The possibility that such a relationship could be expressed as an equation was not lost on me. So, it was very tempting to see money as a manifestation of d-force; as a manifestation of the destructive, chaotic element of mental life. This appealed to the part of me that was the grandson of a South Wales miner, that liked Robert Owen, and thought eco-labeling would save the planet. And even as late as 2010 I thought if only I could come to a conclusion about this my own life would be so much easier. I felt sure, I could cobble together some reasonable sounding academic proposal on this basis. Blending psychoanalysis with economics might convince some anthropology department in some university, somewhere? Maybe, not. But as is so often the case with what we think are original thoughts, I wasn't completely alone. I wasn't aware back then, but in July 2010 there was a 'landmark' conference on Psychoanalysis, Money and the Economy being held just down the road in London, at my wife's and Glyn Davis' old university. I only found this out recently on my visit to the Freud Museum.

Tempting though it was I couldn't bring myself to see money as a manifestation of d-force. There are two sides to a coin. The corrosion of a bond can be a liberation from the chains of slavery. I knew that Money wasn't 'just' anything. It wasn't 'just' d-force, it wasn't 'just' a manifestation of the Father or a product of anality as some psychoanalytical literature suggests. Money was my starting point. I couldn't allow it to be subsumed into a model just because it made my life easier. Plus, that red-brace wearing, Thatcher-loving Yuppie was still there. My thoughts on Money weren't born through reading. They were born from trading. They were formed on cold early mornings unloading a van with goods I had purchased and then exchanging them, hand-to-hand for coins and notes. They were formed by being amazed that despite the fact that each day bought a different set of people to my stall, with different desires, and each day I had different stock, I could reasonably accurately predict the amount of money I would take. And so could all the other traders. With so many random variables at play, this seemed to me a deeply remarkable phenomenon.

If I abandoned all that. If I denied that side of myself, and those experiences, then what's the point? I would be sacrificing Truth for a career whose purpose was supposed to be the pursuit of Truth.

None of this meant I was any closer to relating my conception of Money to l-force and d-force. I can't work out how the numbers Money produces through currency relates to these forces, nor to the mental structures through which they flow. And that's really where I'm at now.


I try not to read any Economics these days. As much as I can, anyway. Although, its hard to avoid when you do want to read about Money.

Any economic analysis requires three basic things to make any sense at all.

1. A theory of value
2. A theory of mind
3. A description/definition of Money

If you're not made aware of the writer's position on these three things, then what you're reading is really just the fantasy of a careerist. And as such, far more likely to reveal interesting insights into the writer than it is to say anything meaningful about the economy.

At various stages on this blog I've tried to address each of them, separately. But in truth they really inform each other. They're like a holy trinity; both separate and as One, at the same time.

What helped me think about them was reading Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Ostensibly, ZAMM is a theory of value wrapped in a narrative. But it also has something common to all three. To reach his conclusion that Value (or Quality as Pirsig refers to it in the text) is the fundamental force of the universe stimulating everything from atoms to animals to evolve, Pirsig re-envisages the Metaphysical landscape. He argues that Value sits outside Subject/Object Metaphysics. He says:
"The sun of quality does not revolve around the subjects and objects of our existence. It does not passively illuminate them. It is not subordinate to them in any way. It has created them. They are subordinate to it."  
Robert M Pirsig Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1999 [1974]) p.234

In his second book Lila his language is a little more formal but he's saying the same thing;
"What the Metaphysics of Quality adds to [William] James's pragmatism and his radical empiricism is the idea that the primary reality from which subjects and objects spring is value. By doing so it seems unite pragmatism and radical empiricism into a single fabric. Value, the primary test of truth, is also the primary empirical experience. The Metaphysics of Quality says pure experience is value. Experience which is not valued is not experienced. The two are the same. This is where value fits. Value is not at the tail end of a series of superficial scientific deductions that puts it somewhere in a mysterious undetermined location in the cortex of the brain. Value is at the very front of the empirical procession."
Robert M Pirsig Lila 2006 (1991) p.395
Pirsig's re-envisioning of Metaphysics with Value/Quality at its centre impacts upon your theory of mind and your description/definition of Money. Because both Mind and Money are so intertwined with Value we can't just apply our subject/object rules upon them. Both Money and Mind are clearly connected to the duality of our real world. But they are also connected to something that sits outside that world and those rules. They are connected to Value. So if you take Pirsig's theory of value seriously, your theory of mind and your description of Money must reflect that. Where I'm at, at the moment, is saying that Money reconciles the monism of Value and the dualism of human experience through the medium of Mind. Its not a perfect way to put it but its the best I can do at the moment.

So, in this way, Pirsig liberates my view of Freudian Metaphysics. Unlike Dr Badcock I don't have to try to link Freud's ideas to the material world. I can imagine l-force and d-force and not worry about whether they are really just organic drives, simply the result of genetic pre-dispositions, evolutionary imperatives, and big well nourished brains. I don't have to suggest a new field, like Rupert Sheldrake does with his theory of morphic resonance. My view of of reality is that it is created primarily between Value, Money and Mind. Everything else is after the fact.

If you stare at a coin now, you might wonder how I could claim that it relates to something more fundamental than matter, itself. How can Money come before atoms? It does seem an extraordinary thing to suggest. But all I'm doing is sticking to the best description of money that I've been able to muster over the past thirty years. That description is in itself quite mundane - Money is an aspect of reality that mediates Value and enumerates certain relations through currency. I believe that this statement represents the totality of our knowledge of money. Everything else said about it is conjecture.

To put it another way I don't feel bound by materialism either in my conception of money nor in my understanding of Freud.

Marc Shell expresses a similar sentiment in the opening line of his seminal The Economy of Literature;
 "Those discourses are ideological that argue or assume that matter is ontologically prior to thought." (1978) p.1
And that's really where I'm coming from.


I've been buying a few more books of psychoanalytical bent recently and digging out some of the old ones I already have. You may remember that I reviewed and rambled on William H Desmonde's Magic Myth and Money a few months back. And there was one particular book I noticed which I thought might help me write this sort of post.

But I also thought that it might also be just another way to put off writing this post. So in the end, what I've chosen to put down in words is my Metaphysics of Freud. I've not done any any specific reading for it.

If you're frothing at the mouth now, determined to seek vengeance upon me for my gross misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Freud, that's fine. At least you've read this far. In time, I'll read Tauber's book, I'll re-read some Freud and I'll carry on building my small collection of psychoanalytic writing on history and society from the 1950's. I might then be able to frame my thoughts in words that lessen the distance between a more conventional view of Freud's philosophy and and my own particular take on him.

I do suspect though that when I return to this post in the future my conception of the Life and Death drives as  l-force and d-force won't have changed too much. This is largely because in my view of reality it doesn't  matter whether the forces have any basis in material form. I approach them from Value, via Money. Just as Money can take material form, but does not depend upon it, so can these forces. Looking at brain chemicals to understand the mind, is as much use as looking at gold molecules to understand Money. I approach the Metaphysics of Freud on this basis.

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