So how does this play with today’s parents? We know that a secure and stable, predictable family environment is necessary for producing confident and functional adults. We hope to show that a similar process takes place on “larger circle” community and societal levels. As in the case of families and children, a necessary ingredient for a functional, successful, durable culture is predictability and stability. Not an absence of challenges, rather a group “agreement-understanding” that produces respect, trust, commitment and cooperation among the members; whether they be family members or community members (government and citizens). Historically, this fortunate situation (see Scandinavian societies as an example) is a rarity for most countries on the globe. As in families where the parent is not reliable or trustworthy, if the government is not trustworthy, responsive and benevolent, the citizens, not trusting the leaders, will not find the resources to trust or harmonize with each other, and will revert to overt or covert forms of more or less primitive factional tribalism (What we in the west call “dysfunctional”). In a reciprocal- non-linear "systems" manner, this political-economy lack of trust, will feed down to foster a “family-tribal” family structure where the idea of trust and harmony are disdained. On the other hand, if and once, those positive trust foundations in the larger governance and the economy are in place, we hypothesize that growth towards individuality, creativity, endurance, frustration tolerance, cooperativeness and the ability to think logically and independently will ensue, personally, as well as culturally in a society's values and institutions.
Societies need and seek stability. Families and citizens need and seek safety and stability. The methods used in these quests differentiate the societies, the families, their institutions and their offspring.
How much we value individuality, separateness and personal identity, is partially, a societally determined variable.
Murray Bowen emphasized the ever widening systemic circles that surround the individual. His focus was on the family and its members, both close and extended. We focus our thoughts and observations, on the larger circles of societal and ethnic background and identity that constitute the largest of those system circles. We believe that a system's outlook on what it means to be human will be governed by the general principle of “ever-widening circles.”
Dr. Bowen assumed that the family was a living breathing, self-balancing entity. The principles governing this family systems therapy picture that Dr. Bowen formulated, should also be used in examining the framework of larger CULTURAL-ETHNIC circles of human behavior. These Bowenian systems processes are thought to be intertwined and reciprocally influenced by principles of macroeconomics and the political economy as well as long term multigenerational history. In formulating the principle of homeostasis Dr. Bowen addressed the family’s need for stability and balance - a feeling of security. On a personal level the mental health community has described “defensiveness” as one reaction to perceived emotional threat as in a troubled marriage. In the wider circle dimension, similar processes take place. The long term fear or anticipation of danger or unbalance, produces certain societal and characterological consequences that may also be called “defensive”. Also, the multi-generation transmission process described by Dr. Bowen for families, has consequences for a societal political economy.
Western developmental psychology has formulated the road that leads to individual maturity and inner stability. What leads to societal stability? What does non-linearity mean in a societal context?
For instance, a more stable and "citizen focused" (as opposed to "oligarch or tyrant focused") "rule of law" social order is a major component of western modernity. Over time, if the singular larger group, (the community and the nation,) more or less predictably assumes responsibility for meeting enumerated and agreed upon needs, there will be less need for the smothering pre-industrial tribal entity. If the stable productive, respectful political economy can be trusted as responsive, fair and useful, that gestalt will filter down to citizens (parents, kin) and families to be trusting, reliable and honest with each other.
In short they will respect each other's boundaries; legal, physical, personal, spiritual. In turn when those children reach adulthood they will have internalized certain character traits of trusting, honest, forthright, and not "under the table", “black marketing” functioning. Their political loyalty will not be to tribe but to the nation and its laws; the nation and personal identity will again travel parallel lines. "Reciprocal processes within the elements of a larger system" is a key concept here.
This process, in turn, when it travels up, reaches a societal level, favors institutions of individual initiative, mutual trust of strangers, and the ability to be self-directed, responsible and stable. It will favor precision and prudence (rather than impulsive action socially as well as personally) in the economic aspects of the citizens' lives. Boundaries of all sorts are integrally interactive: family member boundaries will not long be respected by parents, if over generations, citizen rights and boundaries are not respected by societal institutions and government.
In addition to the theories of Bowen, MacFarlane, and Banfield, we introduce the concept of “social character” postulated in the 1960s and 1970s by E. Fromm and later by Michael Maccoby.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
"The social character is the central basic concept of the analytic social psychology of Erich Fromm. It describes the formation of the shared character structure of the people of a society or a social class according to their way of life and the socially typical expectations and functional requirements regarding socially adaptive behavior. Social character is essentially adaptive to the dominant mode of production in a society. According to Fromm, the concept integrates Marx's theory concerning how the mode of production determines ideology with Freud's concept of character.
While individual character describes the richness of the character structure of an individual, the social character describes the emotional attitudes common to people in a social class or society. The social character is acquired substantially in the family as an agent of the society but also developed in other institutions of society such as schools and workplaces. The function of the social character is to motivate people to accomplish the expected social tasks concerning work and interaction, education and consuming. Arising in the interaction of the socio-economic social structure and the social libidinous structure the social character makes it possible to use human energies as a socially productive resource.
Erich Fromm emphasizes the social necessities, which must be obeyed by the members of a society. So that a society functions adequately, their members must acquire a character structure which enables them to do what they need to do in order to prosper. It is for example expected in an authoritarian society that people are motivated to subordinate themselves to a hierarchy and fulfill selflessly the instructions brought to them. In peasant society, people are socialized to save and to work independently. However, in the permissive consumer culture people are socialized to consume gladly and extensively.
Thus the character structure in every society is formed in such a way that people can fulfill expectations quasi voluntarily. Although everyone develops character traits and character orientations that distinguish them from people who live in other cultures, people in every culture with the same mode of production share basic elements of the social character.
As a theorist of the society Fromm is not interested in the peculiarities by which the individual persons distinguish themselves from each other but he asks what is common to most people in their psychological reactions. So he examines the part of the character structure which is shared by most members of a society. Fromm describes this general core in the character as social character. The figuration of the social character takes place in most societies at cost of the spontaneity and freedom of the individuals.
A consumer demand economy is not compatible with a tyrannical government but rather with a democratic structure. Individual economic freedom is necessary for democracy and will influence the family structure over time. The same is true on the dimension of personal boundaries. The agrarian-village boundary structure (encouraging boundary merging) is not compatible with a demand economy. Tyrants feel free to intrude on personal, political and economic boundaries. This combination of societal qualities and citizen character (virtues) were the requisites for first, the Protestant Reformation in the Germanic lands in the 1600s and later the Industrial Revolution starting in England and the northwest in the 1700s. This northwestern revolution eventually morphed into the post-industrial western social phenomenon (preindustrial > industrial > post-industrial, global - modernity) that changed the lives of everyone on the globe.
A societal protection of individual rights (boundaries) feeds into the issue of citizen’s freedom to "feel" free and actually be free. The principle of gestalt psychology that emphasizes the “wholeness” of the human personality tells us that over time, it doesn't work if the governance and family structure patterns are at odds. Innovation, the inner ability to think freely, is part of democratic, political, economic and family respect and personal freedom. A society can't have a demand economy without freedom because producers must feel, and legally be, free to follow consumer and industry demand. Industry must be free to follow free consumer demand. That’s another way of describing an Adam Smith “free market” but it also shares a family respect-freedom component. On a personal level, definitions of love, respect, humility, civic responsibility etc. are all defined differently in an individual vs tribal societal framework. Post-industrial Northern Europeans and Americans who are encouraged to be separate individuals economically as well as in the family and interpersonally, must reckon with the market-society that is made up of other individuals of a similar bent (the individual baker, butcher, friend, policeman, spouse), The tribalists must reckon with the tribe, not so much with separate-identity individuals. We see this in the “glob” described by Dr. Bowen. Their standing and place in the tribal structure, not their individual deeds, determine self-esteem.
Going in the other direction, we view the destructive effects of intra-family abuse to have a parallel process in the society.
When threatened, the rational part of the human brain takes second chair to the more primitive, reflexive and automated part of the neural-hormonal system (fight/flight). It also takes place in children, on a neural level when the threats of abandonment or submergence (once threats to survival) are experienced in the early years.
Repeated, long-term invasion, occupation, exploitation (as old as the hills but lately referred to as “imperialism”) and resulting chaos and tyranny lead to a society of tribalism. These situations are as abusive to a free society as family sexual, physical and tyrannical abuse is to individuals. They eventually lead to similar dysfunctional character defenses in the citizens as well as warping in the institutions of the victimized society.
The inherent rigidity of tribal affiliation is always a reaction to long term societal distress. Poverty, invasion, disease, tyranny, exploitation, are all on a societal level. The same is true in the smaller circles of village and family. Tragedy brings people closer so they can lean on each other. When it's really long term, i.e. multi-generational, a self- perpetuating boundary merging cycle comes about and only drastic events will be able to implant any long lasting more flexible alternative.
In hypothesizing that certain parallel processes take place in the lives of individuals, families, communities and whole societies, a serious knowledge of history, principles of political economy and the macro-economy are crucial for the practice of family therapy. Similarly, a knowledge of family systems theory, (especially the following principles: non-linearity, reciprocal influence, anxiety reduction through triangulation, self-perpetuating non-linear patterns, multi-generation transmission process and boundary definitions, vectors of power distribution) are crucial for economists, political scientists and historians.
We hypothesize that the principles governing the family systems therapy picture should also be used in examining the framework of larger CULTURAL-ETHNIC-INSTITUTIONAL-CHARACTER circles of human behavior. These Bowenian Systems processes are thought to be intertwined and compatible with principles regarding biology, macroeconomics and the political economy as well as long term multigenerational history.
In order to explore the wider circles of Dr. Bowen's "Family Systems" approach, an in depth understanding of history going back hundreds of years is necessary. This can't be appreciated without an understanding of principles of macro-economics and the political/economy of Adam Smith, Hume, Marx and other western thinkers. In order for economic historians to see the relevance of Dr. Bowen's concerns regarding connecting to the wider society, they would need to be familiar with concepts, mentioned elsewhere, concerning family processes that are currently best studied in post graduate institutes. We know of no attempts to present this integrated approach to an academic multi-departmental advanced curriculum.
No wonder there has been no integration or multi-disciplinary exploration.
Please excuse any redundancy in the descriptions of our concerns and purpose. We welcome all questions and comments.