"The silent majority refers to an unspecified large majority of people in a country or group who do not express their opinions publicly." Wikipedia goes on stating that the phrase before getting politically corrupted had been in use for much of the 19th century to refer to the dead--the number of living people is less than the number who have died. Today it may refer also to those who are intellectually dead, have not the courage of expressing own opinions, or are victims of so called political correctness, which is the subject of Howard Schwartz's book Society Against Itself.
This is an important and timely book, an example of rare civil courage in research on aspects of unperceived moral crisis and societal decay, which has the same effect on the reader as the author's earlier The Revolt of the Primitive (2003). A series of sharp analyses of detailed case studies feels like blows of "Aha! insight" which the reader will repeatedly feel later on when reinterpreting the meaning of many daily news and comments in our press and media. Its message appears as fitting perfectly my long experience and strong feelings about what happens in universities, business, and society at large, especially in what concerns human relations. It is a matter of questioning the family institution and religions, feminist influences in legislation, homosexual or "LGBT" movements, focus on diversity, sexual harassments and paedophilia, expanded vague definitions of rape based on degree of consent and, not the least, the academic turn away from organizational systems thinking towards the eclecticism of postmodern design and aestheticism (see the book's p.175).
Howard Schwartz, professor of organizational behavior with a background in philosophy presents a series of case studies of destructive processes in particular organizations. The purpose is to understand "drives" and their source in the structure of members' mental processes, their irrational elements, emotions rooted in the family and psychoanalytically represented by the primal roles of the Father and the Mother in their relation to their children, i.e. images and relations as basic structures of our understanding. Schwartz goes on in the whole book with case studies where politically correct (PC) processes, characterized by weak influence from the Father, because of their intrinsic irrationality, inhibit rational debate, consensus, and appropriate action. On the symbolic plane this rejection of the Father and its social role representing external reality and societal exigences, combined with a sort of umbilical symbiotic reunion with the Mother leads to expectations of a motherly caring society which adapts to the needs of the individual, and is "anti-oedipality".
BUT: Does this explain too much? How did it come that the whole, mainly Western, society after centuries of evolution came reductionistically to revolve around the Oedipus complex, or the Oedipus myth, if not from a wholesale subscription to Freudian thought despite the book's vague theoretical disclaimer (pp. xiii-xiv)? Are there other culture-directing myths or forces beyond Oedipus and anti-Oedipus? Many feminists would not acknowledge it but they seem to subscribe rather to the Demeter-Kore myth. Has it any relation to Oedipus? In other terms, the question is whether it is legitimate to see "the organization" as a monolithic, or oedipally bi-polar agent which in a Darwinian survival of the fittest should never be destroyed or commit suicide. The organization should perhaps be seen, as it most often is, as composed of various social groups or stakeholders, shareholders, management, employees with their labour unions, and the all important customers, each one with its particular directing myth. In this case, the supposedly independent neutral organizational consultant or researcher is simply one additional group trying to contribute with its particular (Oedipal?) myth to the organization in its relation to individuals and the social environment.
An important question is what could counteract the failure of the Oedipal struggle, considering that from the beginning the Oedipus tale was a tragedy, rather than a sort of engineering challenge to be solved by the objective observer, researcher, or spectator of the tragedy. But I see the main merit of Society Against Itself in its opening up of novel insights and research about most important, if not tragic, organizational difficulties. Because of limited space I will not dwell on occasional perceived shortcomings at the level of detail of the book's case studies but, rather, focus on its research context which shows which areas can be studied further.
Otto Kernberg studied borderline personality in groups in Internal World and External Reality (1980), especially in part 3 on "the individual in groups". The question is to which extent anti-oedipality also explains borderline phenomena including (epidemics of) pathological narcissism. And, in this case, why Schwartz did not attribute the organizational phenomena he studied to that. Alternatively, why did Kernberg not satisfy himself with attributing the most phenomena he studied to anti-oedipality?
One most powerful precursor of Schwartz is the neglected Alexander Mitscherlich in his early Society Without the Father (1970, orig. 1963) where he denounces "the dissemination of an infantile demanding attitude" in society and opens up venues for more dimensions of understanding the death of the Father. It completes Schwartz's exposition an analysis of the fundamentally relevant historical role of technology in its associated politics of capitalistic economy, as if it were a far fetched, forced "anal-Oedipal" (cf. Schwartz, p. 164) interpretation of Martin Heidegger's famous analysis in The Question Concerning Technology (1977, orig. 1954). That may be the origin of the feminist understanding, contrasted with Schwartz's Oedipal one, for not believing that the Father anymore represents external reality, since it is taken care by the paradoxically "masculine" technology appropriated and used by women on behalf of Motherhood and children. Indirecly Mitscherlich also uncovers his unfortunate endorsement of the problematic ethical-religious standpoint of classical psychoanalysis in his chapters with such symptomatic titles as "The precariousness of moralities" and "Prejudices and their manipulation" especially on the "sacrifice of the intellect".
As things stand in today's discourse, however, Schwartz contributes indeed to the legitimate understanding of the ethical-religious dimension of the struggle against PC, which also facilitates that humble self-examination and sense of compelling obligation which would prevent PC. This is done in his chapter on "Religion against Itself" where he considers the roots of Christianity as lying in the faith in the sacrifice of Christ for redemption of sin (p. 79). In this, I believe, he almost inadvertently touches, but unfortunately soon also leaves, one main if not the only root of the PC-problem, ultimately subscribing to Freud's unfortunate view of science or, rather, scientism vs. so called mysticism (p. 199). I myself have come to the conclusion that religion and theology stand at the basis of it all, not because I must have faith but because they are the ultimate language for discussing the grounds of rationality. As I remember a Vedanta quotation: "Where science ends, starts philosophy, and where philosophy ends, starts religion". The attempt to define, understand and counteract PC by recourse to the Christian message (by all means not Christian in the problematic critical sense of the book's case-study image of the United Church of Christ, UCC) is extremely difficult to grasp even for orthodox catholics. Christianity decrees man's faith in God, in order that he neither divinizes himself nor idealizes others, and through faith in Christ avoids playing victim and from turning others into scapegoats; Christ is the ultimate scapegoat which allows man to hope for forgiveness for his own sin, instead of projecting it into scapegoats, in which he ought to see Christ's suffering instead of scoundrels' ultimate evil. The other way round: such an understanding prevents the even worse phenomenon of self-victimization, being trapped in a self-image of victimization (victim mentality), or of victim playing by manipulators who self-righteously claim to be unjustly persecuted while self-proclaiming themselves as innocent saints (a secular version of the biblical "Book of Job"), or even identifying themselves with Jesus Christ, the easier the less they believe in him. And Christianity, to be seen even by non-Christians or atheists at least as good as any mythological narrative, works out presumed anti-oedipality through the image of the Father and the Son (and the Spirit of the Holy Ghost) in their relations to the dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary (and "Mother Church"). Agains such background, mainstream feminism shows indeed a regress to the primitive paganism of goddesses and priestesses, which in my mind also recalls the ongoing ecological divinization of "Mother Nature" (cf. Schwartz's book p.88f).
I estimate that in all this the great merit of Society Against Itself is to open the doors for the need, on one hand, of further sheer "evangelization" and, on the other hand, further serious research on human psyche and relations, beyond the very relevant group-dynamic studies by Mitscherlich and, Kernberg, mentioned earlier. In general, the book's strenghts, consisting of exemplifications in particular organizations, should be broadened to include a deeper and pragmatic understanding of ignored dimensions of gender differences or supposed anti-oedipality. This has been done in the past and the insights should be rescued for present and future applications. We have for instance Lou Andreas-Salomé and her work on psychoanalysis, religion and sex, grounded in her bindings to Freud, Nietzsche and Rilke, as analyzed in Angela Livingstone's book on her life and writings (1984). Approximately at the same time Carl Jung was developing what came to be called analytical psychology after the schism from Freud which is very significant for our purposes. This is portrayed in his chapter on "Anima and Animus" in part 2 of the essay on "The relations between the Ego and the Unconscious", in Two Essays on Analytical Psychology (Collected Works vol. 7, 1966/1953). On this account PC is mainly due to Animus-Anima obsession, rather than to anti-oedipality. Before that, we had the most interesting and relevant Franz von Baader's "philosophy of love", as Ernst Benz shows while digging in The Mystical Sources of German Romantic Philosophy (1983). Baader, whose philosophy of love seems to be available in the German collected works or in the edited Ramon Betanzos' Franz von Baader's Philosophy of Love (1999), offers interpretations of the gender issue which are radically different and deeply ingrained in the history of natural science, philosophy, and theology. They are also symptomatically totally ignored by present main currents of feminism and social critique. As a matter of fact, the origin of the perversion of the gender issue which stands at the core of the PC-phenomenon is to be searched at the dawning of reformed Enlightenment and the French revolution. The political point of view in the PC-issue was focused by Mitscherlich but his approach including a contemptuous view of religion (pp. 16, 188, 249) should be examined in its endorsement of the so-called Critical Theory, for its implications at the confluence of psychoanalysis, politics, and theology. Mitscherlich gives there his problematic answer to the question which Schwartz ignores: WHAT-TO-DO. Compare the controversial but revealing essay by Bill Lind about The Origins of Political Correctness (2000). Ultimately one may turn to the political analysis in historical and modern terms by Tage Lindbom in his The Myth of Democracy (1996), on a misunderstood democracy which has clear consequences for the spreading of PC.
In other more controversial summarizing words, to get the most out of this timely and extremely courageous book and its valuable empirical content, and to avoid its pitfalls, try to bridge it back to the problematic but all-encompassing Mitscherlich, bridge its Freud to Jung. And bridge the book's implicit use of the (Schwartzean Father's) rather naive Lockean, positivistic, consensual, "democratic" view of external reality as criticized in Churchman's The Design of Inquiring Systems (1971) to non-Nietzschean post-Kantian philosophy, Hegel, Schelling, Baader, and further, to the philosophy of technology, ending up in theology and religion. And, why not have a meditative reading of the Bible's Ecclesiastes (Qoheleth) and Apocalypse (Revelation) which eventually indicate why the apparent hopelessness of AND- SO-WHAT, WHAT-TO-DO lies beyond its reduction to oedipality vs. anti-oedipality, to the point of it erroneously appearing as a failure of a failed Messiah.
[For a longer version see my homepage.]