Guy J. Manaster

Alfred Adler, though a realist, was an optimist. His theory was optimistic and positivistic. That, in part, is probably why we are here. We share his optimism and his theory. We assert that humans are rational, creative, goal oriented, and social – responsible for their own behavior. In itself that view of man is positive. There are none of the strange and mysterious doings of psyches decreed by instincts or inherited cultural characteristics. The individual is not captive to conditionings and reinforcements that determine who he is. People learn from their environment and create who they are. As Chekhov stated, “man is what he believes.”
Man’s social nature, man’s embeddedness in the social world, forms the basis for much of Adler’s understandings of individuals, his awareness of individual’s mistakes, societies’ mistakes and the potential for individuals and societies to overcome these mistakes and make a better world. His holistic perspective incorporates the creativity of the life style and the mistakes, the biased apperceptions. Selectively then, a person’s life experiences are what they seem to the individual, not necessarily as described or evaluated by others, and the individual moves toward the goals he or she has created as appropriate for, or necessary in, the world as he or she sees it. This description and understanding is holistic and inevitably circular. As we cannot think holistically and describe involved beings holistically, we have to try to capture that makeup circularly. 
Even the notion of striving for superiority is circular and holistic. In the ways a person feels himself inferior he strives to be superior, a constant and continuing movement. When Adler drew the inferiority – superiority line it was a vertical line, going up and down and up again. It is said that Adler drew a social interest line that was horizontal. It signified equality, a being with and a part of others. Movement in the social interest is not circular.
Quoting Adler: “Social interest means… a struggle for a communal form” (Adler, 1964a, p.275). “It is not a question of any present-day community or society, or of political or religious forms. On the contrary, the goal that is best suited for perfection must be a goal that stands for an ideal society amongst all mankind, the ultimate fulfillment of evolution” (p.275) “It means particularly the interest in, the feeling with, the community sub specie aeternitas (under the aspect of eternity). It means the striving for a community which must be thought of as everlasting, as we could think of it if mankind had reached the goal of perfection” (Adler, 1956,p.142). 
Dreikurs stated “the ideal expression of social interest is the ability to play the game (of life) with existing demands for cooperation and to help the group to which one belongs in its evolution closer toward a perfect form of social living” (Dreikurs, 1953,p.8). Lewis Way (1962) stated that social feeling is the ideal Goal of Perfection, the goal at which all religions and moralities aim, since… the community is the fundamental concern of all. It is also the ideal norm of human behavior, which should serve us as a measure for every deviation” (p.203).
In these accounts social interest is linear. Social evolution in the name of social interest is linear, a direct, though hazy, line from now to a never ending future of equality, democracy and harmony. The ideal Goal of Perfection, the ideal community, appears in these accounts as if it is knowable, or actually known.
As Adlerians, we believe in social interest, we have had a vision of the direction or aim of ideal communities, local and international. And I admit that I have agreed with this vision. This paper questions that vision in these times and the effect of these times on our visions.
This will sound trite, and maybe it is, because in a sense it is always true – the world is changing. We are told that the age we have known as ‘modern’ is ended and that we have entered a postmodern period. I confess that I do not understand postmodern as an age. It seems to me to be defined by what it is not and seems to be a time without a center. I think it must be an intermediate period or a transitional stage. We have moved from belief in modernity to disbelief without a replacement. If ever there was a description of the substance for anxiety, an environment prone to anxiety, this is it. Being in a time where superordinate and universal directions and goals have vanished, or are confused, and are without a replacement, without a new vision, is a time of anxiety. 
Of course we don’t know what it means and how it feels to move in our lifetime from one age to another. We have a sense of what it means and how it feels to move from pre-war to post-war from our own perspective within an involved country. Some of us have felt the change from before the Bomb to after the Bomb, from before the Soviet Union broke up to after. We have a sense, in the United States, of a change from pre to post 9/11. We know good times and bad times in our families, in our work, in the economy that affects us. But we don’t have experience with the changing of our age, change in the fundamental givens under which and through which we understand our lives and live them – such changes do not occur frequently or quickly, as in a lifetime.
I knew of one set of ideas by the Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico (1668-1744) that I thought might be helpful here. I have to admit to you that I made an attempt to understand more of Vico and made very little progress. However the ideas are still useful and I feel somewhat better at not mastering Vico seeing that Alasdair MacIntyre wrote “that Vico’s scattered insights are useful only when ‘detached from their place in the sterile systematics of Vico’s new science’.”
The idea, relevant here, is that “Vico conceived human society as developing through three ages – that in which men lived and thought in terms of gods, that in which they lived and thought in terms of heroes, and that in which they lived and thought in wholly human terms” (Verene, 1891,p.62).
These ages, these structuring principles may be viewed in Western cultural history as a pattern of repeating cycles in which faith (acceptance of the non rational), logic (understanding of empirically determined phenomena) and power (direct attempts to control events) are successively employed. Although all three structuring principles are present in the culture at all times, only one is dominant at a time. (Hershenson, 1983, p.3).
Hershenson (1983) proposed ‘that the Hebrew prophets (faith), Athenian philosophers (logic) and Roman Empire (power) constituted the first cycle in western culture. The second cycle consisted of the Middle Ages (faith), the Renaissance (logic) and the empires of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (power). These structuring principles were preserved in the dominant philosophies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries’ romanticism, rationalism and materialism.
What is the dominant structuring principle in Western culture today? I don’t think we can say. In Western culture, faith, logic and power are all prominent values, but no one is dominant. We can see that in our own lives and in people around us. But we can also see people for whom one principle is dominant and the same for nations and subgroups, voluntary groups with which people affiliate in the name of a particular structuring principle.
Globalization in technology/materialism, in science/academia, and globalization and communication and technology in religions, confuse the matter even more. The historical ages that Vico defined were only applicable, to the degree they were, in Western Culture, possibly only to the end of the eighteenth century. 
The last two hundred, one hundred and especially the last fifty years have seen stark changes in the makeup of the ‘Western’ world altering, maybe diluting, the traditional culture and injecting other cultures within its societies. Eastern culture has incorporated all manner of Western thought differentially by nation and religious orientation. Vast areas of Latin America, the Middle East, the Far East, and almost all of Africa are now amalgams of their own traditional culture, nearby cultures, and Western culture and technologies. The rates of changes and the mix vary across cultures and nations and within them. 
The rate of change and the mixing of cultures places the Western world and the entire world in an age without a dominant structuring principle. No matter that George Bush acts as if power were dominant while speaking of a particular faith and the logic of democracy. No matter that the Ayatollahs and Mullahs preach faith while garnering modern weapons. No matter that scientists and the vocabulary of science dismiss the strength of faith and the illogic of nation dominating nation. In sum they all need the other views and methods and thus their quest for domination is lacking.
“In 1963, the historian Thomas Kuhn published the most influential book written about the philosophy of science. “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” observed that history was divided into long periods of ‘normal’ science followed by shorter bursts of ‘revolutionary’ science. Normal science ‘does not aim for novelties of facts and theory, and when successful finds none’. In times of revolutionary science, by contrast, the most fundamental ideas are there for the taking – just as they were when Copernicus declared the ear went round the sun.
“Kuhn called such changes from one scientific world model to another ‘paradigm shifts’ and noted that they often required a generation to accomplish. Controversially, he argued that reason alone can never compel a scientist to switch allegiance from one paradigm to another, however good the evidence: in part, this kind of mindshift would always have to be an act of faith.” (Turpin, , 2005, p.W2).
In our diverse globalized world we hang in the winds of all manner of thought and ideas without consensus on views and common purpose. The global community is a whirling mass not a community. With no dominant organizing structure, people grasp ferociously to single ideas, single principles, single groups, to something, anything, to give them the feeling that they know what is going on, that they belong and have an identity.
When Cushman (1990, 1995) speaks of the ’empty self’ he is describing the individual who has no organizing principle on which to fit himself. “The ‘bounded, masterful self’ of modern times, left to its own devices, almost inevitably collapses into an ’empty self,’ or into an even more devastating kind of fragmented and superficial ‘multiple self'” (Richardson & Manaster, 2003, p.131). The ‘multiple self’ grasps at ideas and roles that allow it to fit in as appropriate to a situation. But there is no central, core identity.
At the end of modern times, as post moderns, in the midst of a paradigm shift from modernity to a new, as yet unknown structuring principle, we are blown about in the winds of contrasting and conflicting thoughts and forces. Then we grasp at definites, absolute logic, total power, complete faith. Individually we choose a structuring principle and we choose the one that relates, as possible, to a group with which we can identify or affiliate.
The result, it seems to me, is masses and masses of fundamentalists – religious fundamentalists of all persuasions, scientistic fundmentalists from all fields, and power fundamentalists – patriots of nations and do gooders for a cause. Masses of single issue persons, persons clinging to a structuring principle or part thereof, whose sense of themselves revolves around something definite. “If a man doesn’t think much of himself – and in secret most men don’t – he takes his pride in his tribe” (R. MacLeish, The first Book of Eppe. NY: Random House, 1980).
When many adhere to unbending, unyielding single positions with no interest in compromise, which would feel like being thrown back into isolation, confusion and anxiety, discord is the sole outcome. When communities of like minded people get their meaning, purpose and personal identities from not compromising, disagreements between communities is constant and continuous. And, of course, these absolutists are surrounded by the confused, the unsure, the searchers and the lost.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, in his book “Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations” writes:
“On the one hand, globalization is bringing us closer together than ever before, interweaving our lives, nationally and internationally, in complex and inextricable ways. On the other, a new tribalism – a regression to older and more fractious loyalties – is driving us ever more angrily apart. One way or another, religion is and will continue to be, part of these processes. It can lead us in the direction of peace. But it can equally, and with high combustibility, lead us to war. Politicians have power, but religions have something stronger: they have influence. Politics moves the pieces on the chessboard. Religion changes lives. Peace can be agreed around the conference table; but unless it grows in the ordinary hearts and minds, it does not last. It may not even begin… (p.7).
“Peace involves a profound crisis of identity. The boundaries of self and other, friend and foe, must be redrawn. No wonder, then, that as Sir Henry Maine observed; War appears to be as old as mankind, but peace is a modern invention” (p.8).
{Interestingly, the chapters following these quotes in Sacks book highlight tenets central to Adlerian theory: responsibility, contribution, compassion, creativity and cooperation.}
We seem to be coming full circle. Sacks asks for a new age, a new era, new cultural and personal identities. For our contentious times he notes that “the greatest single antidote to violence is conversation, speaking our fears, listening to the fears of others, and in that sharing of vulnerabilities discovering a genesis of hope” (p.2). He also speaks, of conflict resolution in relation to faiths, but I will generalize his point for nations, economies, all groups and individuals: we require “a candid admission that, more than at any time in the past, we need to search – (each faith, nation and interest group in its own way) for a way of living with, and acknowledging the integrity of those that are not (like us)” (p.5).
This echoes Richardson and Manaster (2003). “We have to open ourselves to other perspectives, let them call us to account and interrogate or interpolate us and allow at least some degree of what Gadamer (1989) calls a ‘fusion of horizons’ to take place, a melding of insights that incorporate old ones and new in a transformed outlook. In doing so, we sometimes incur, in Taylor’s phrase, a deeply personal, sometimes painful ‘identity cost'” (p.127).
Maybe now, or soon, the next age will not be as Vico explained. Maybe now, or soon, a new era will emerge that rests not on power, faith or logic but on all three in concert or with a different take on these three constructs – a new era of security (as sufficient without a need for power), faith (that respects all faiths) and logic (that includes understanding).
We may now be on the verge of a horrible conflict of civilizations, within our cultures and nations and across cultures and nations. Or we may be on edge of a new era in which social interest, properly understood, opens us to “help the group to which one belongs” (which must now mean the entire human group) “in its evolution closer toward a perfect form of social living” (Dreikurs, 1953,p.8).
For this to occur we must understand that our vision of a world with social interest is a world of becoming. Social interest does not imply that we know what that perfect form of social living is. Social interest implies that we know how to live in harmony as we always try to move closer to the goal of perfection. Social interest implies that we are equal members with other equal members in an ongoing conversation, a hermeneutic dialogue, about the perfect form of social living we seek. The implication is that we attempt to reach a ‘fusion of horizons’. “The goal that is best suited for perfection must be a goal that stands for an ideal society amongst all mankind, the ultimate fulfillment of evolution” (p.275). This is the goal we cannot envision – it is over the horizon. With each other, and with all others, our goal should be to see the ideal that works for the other and for all. 
Social evolution in the name of social interest is linear, a direct line from now to a never ending future in which equality, democracy and harmony move us toward a horizon beyond which we cannot see with clarity, but beyond which we have to continue to move with equality, democracy and harmony.
We should be content with an understanding of social interest that is clearer about our path than about goal. As Gwyn Thomas wrote:
“The beauty is in the walking. We are betrayed by destinations.”
As we work with individual clients we are faced with the goals of their individual life styles. In this paper I am suggesting that we are and will face people clinging ever more desperately to mistaken and exaggerated goals. They may themselves see their goals as personal and unique, to fill their empty selves, because they cannot see unanimity on principles and goals in their environment, in their lives. The therapist’s job may be that much harder because we cannot guide our clients to ways of living that adhere to a societal consensus. We will have to retrain them to walk on the path of social interest among those who are convinced they are right and those who are without conviction. 
Would it not be good for the world and for the individual if we all felt comfortable in ourselves and our place in the world knowing we were looking together at a future without domination of one faith, group or point of view – that we were all on the path equally and together.


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Dreikurs, R. (1950). Fundamentals of Adlerian Psychology. Chicago: Adler Institute.
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Richardson, F.C. & Manaster, G.J. (2003) Social interest, emotional well-being and the quest for civil society. Journal of Individual Psychology. 59 (2), 122-135.
Sacks, J. ((2002). The dignity of difference: How to avoid the class of civilizations. London: Continuum.
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