I entered the field of psychiatry forty-seven years ago imbued by Jung’s theory of a collective unconscious. Jung felt that Freud’s concept of his superego was an attempt to make the collective unconscious personal instead of “universal and deeply historical.” As I began to think in evolutionary terms, Jung’s mysterious spiritual repository of distilled ancestral animation from the ages became the lost continent that I set out to explore. From the beginning, it has been clear to me that the motivation for dominance in apes individuals has somehow evolved into the collective motivation that we call authority in humans. It is obedience to authority that gives civilizations their power.
We usually think of authority as being exercised by designated individuals, but my study of schizophrenia threw into bas-relief the hidden mental process whereby the authority of the values of a given group are constantly being communicated to their members. The most central symptom of schizophrenia, the most mysterious of all maladies, is the perception that one is receiving thoughts from an external source of intelligence. A major facet of the disability involves “falling out of” the normal striving for status determined by group identities and affiliation. In the remarkable book Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, author Andrew Solomon writes, “The rich culture of Deafness, the LPA [Little People of America]-centered empowerment of dwarfism, … the self-actualization of the autism rights brigade—none of this is really present in the world of schizophrenia.” I eventually came to the conclusion that the reason for this failure of group identity in schizophrenia is that the very means by which groups communicate their values is itself disrupted.
Psychologist Jonathan Haidt, in his book The Righteous Mind (2012), offers evidence that the differences between Republicans and Democrats involve the differing emphasis that each group places in six belief categories: important issues to Democrats are care/harm, liberty/oppression, and fairness/cheating, whereas for Republicans the most important issues are loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/ degradation. In the thinking process, one is in constant communication with the various nested groups within which one is absorbed (via watching a favorite cable news channel, for example). We are unaware of the process of believing in systems of values because we are immersed within the medium of our beliefs in the same way that fish swim together in water.
Because schizophrenia is such a crippling and consistently widespread disorder, and because it leaves spoken language ability largely intact, I started to consider that the aspect of communication function that it disabled, which operates in the background, is a vestige of something that had been far more central to prior species of hominins. In other words, this one facet of modern communication that serves to transmit group beliefs and competitive loyalty had been the only form of language communication and therefore essential to our ancestral species’ survival.
I concluded that, prior to modern humans evolving our complex, multifaceted vocal language, communication was solely motivated by obedience to the evolved authority of groups. The goal of their constant communication was to piece together bits of “authoritative” information distributed among the individuals of a group in order to mutually ascertain how they should coordinate their behavior as a unit. This would be analogous to a group of believers discussing how to behave in a manner consistent with their shared beliefs. It is likely that this ancient component of our modern language, which has receded into the background of our communication, is disabled in schizophrenia.
As a result of these researches, I determined that, far from being a recently acquired cultural construct, authority is the long-evolved expression of our unique capacity to share, and to pull one’s oar in our evolved collective will to survive. A sense of this process can be discerned in expressions of authority in a work meeting. When someone attempts to speak with authority, take note of how the voice changes. It drops an octave and comes from deeper in the throat, and its tone is a balance between the dominance-of and submission-to authority. This individual is speaking not just on his/her own behalf, but, as in our ancestral species, the group is now talking through that individual, and then is evaluated for its authenticity.
The main question is what motivated the stark shift from hierarchical dominance competition to the sustained engagement needed to coordinate group behavior? Early in my career working in a prison setting, I noted the heavy presence of a sense of justice in the inmates’ dealings with one other, despite their criminal backgrounds. I had the vision that morality was the result of countless generations dispensing justice, and that, indeed, the appearance of authority in the form of justice has defined our hominin tribe’s humanity since we split from apes. Over four decades, I have collected much convergent evidence that this indeed had been the case.
In this liberal conception of the human evolutionary narrative the central motivator is not the survival of the fittest individuals or groups struggling against one another for scarce resources, but the passive emergence of the most productive bonds, made possible by the evolution of the capacity to dispense and obey justice. Why? Because, whether it be a pair-bond or a nation, justice is the most productive social system imaginable. Ironically, it was Adam Smith who made the connection between justice and productivity. He is well known for attributing wealth to the division of labor in The Wealth of Nations (1776), but is less known for The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) in which he singles out justice as being the one moral sentiment that is indispensable to productive social functioning. I concluded that an operational definition of justice is: that social structure that most optimizes the productive coordination of the individuals within it. It became my thesis that Adam Smith’s “invisible hand,” which coordinates the division of labor, was the result of six million years of human evolution.