Neurosis of power

Neurosis of power, occupy mouvement and coaching for political parties.

The main purpose of this article is to analyze the development of the Occupy movement, how it appeared in Spain in Puerta del Sol and spread from there. It also represents a new emerging voice ahead of the major transformations in the social, economic, political and technological world currently taking place. We have chosen just a few cities in order to analyze their demands: Madrid, London, and New York, just to mention a few and the differences among them.

The aim is to demonstrate how these changes are causing the movement to become political, and how power is retained and used in a way that has become obsolete. The emerging world is calling for new voices, new software of the mind, vulnerability, empathic listening and greater interdependence among people as an alternative form of power. The Occupy movement is something like an expression of these new values and mindset. We considered this movement as part of a process which began with the use of the new technologies and the attack on the Twin Towers and how these tools supported the expansion of the movement wherever it occurred. The message we want to convey through this analysis is that rather than disavowing or projecting the fears of the Occupy movement, we should learn from it in some sense, as an example of an alternative method of exercising power or leadership.

Key words: Power, vulnerability, political parties, Occupy movement, power shift, neurosis of power, emphatic listening, alternative ways of exersing power, etc.

Recent events have provided us with some pointers regarding the issues contained in the title of this chapter related to the political domain and the occupy movement,. Situations all over the world have been changing dramatically over the past 20 years. Starting with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism (1989), a new era called globalization, involving complexity and a systemic society began, with a consequent power shift all over the globe. Ten years later, the new technologies and the growing importance of networks followed. The terrorist attack which destroyed the Twin Towers also expressed a symbolic sense of vulnerability and fragility which was universally experienced. This can also be understood as a power confrontation between West and the Arab world. The scene was watched simultaneously by millions of people all over the world, and governments devised defensive responses.

A decade later, the crisis among politicians, their loss of credibility and power, corruption in organizations and the breakdown of the financial systems appeared as a generalized phenomenon. The change sequences now require new leadership models, as well as a power shift and new values on part of the leaders. In this chapter, I will address these issues by examining the following interconnected themes.

  1. The development of speed (Rifkin, 2000) and the consumer (Lipovesky 2006) society and its consequences.
  2. The collapse of the twin towers and the effects of the new technologies. Looking under the surface, we detect the vanishing of the myth of security. The terrorist attack (Jurgensmeyer, 2000) smashes the idea of potency, omnipotence and self-sufficiency as regards both individuals and nations, giving rise to feelings of vulnerability and fear.
  3. The neurosis of power and its counterpart: the Occupy movement with its utopian social dream actually experienced for a short while in the Tent City in London, plus a comparison between demands made in Spain and the United States.
  4. A new scenario of leadership needs and reflections on the whole process.

I. Speed and the consumer society and some of its effects.

Gilles Lipovesky, (2006) is a French philosopher, writer and sociologist, professor at the University of Grenoble. He called into question the concept of post-modernity, characterized by the excess that defines current democratic societies. In his research about the hyper-consumer society and its paradoxical happiness, he explains how societies developed through time to become what they are today. He presents it as the result of a long ongoing process. People have been weakened, becoming passive consumers instead of active citizens. He adds that “Paradoxical happiness ” is related to the fact that consuming brings about a feeling of joy, which does not last very long. The author claims that religion is being replaced by shopping malls, which he calls “consumer cathedrals”. Speed (Rifkin 2000) adds the fact that there is little time to reflect and what really counts is to be technologically connected. The Cartesian “I think therefore I am”, has been replaced by “I am connected therefore I am”.

During the attack on the Twin Towers, the new technologies were used as a response to a growing discontent on the part of the Arab world in relation to Western societies. This terrorist attack gave rise to a new form of social activism. An example of positive usage he was the Obama presidential campaign.

Another strong response to the dwindling of the Welfare State in Europe that of the Spanish Indignados (the Indignant People) who in 2011 changed the model of social mobilization. “These demonstrations’ impacted on the media and took place despite the absence of the usual information channels such as radio and TV”. (15) (Blogs, Wikis, FaceBook, YouTube, Twitter). A new generation of activists “added vitamins” to the networks from the streets. On May 16th, the Spanish protest turned into a world-wide topic on Twitter. The Spanish revolution overwhelmed the internet. Nor did the digital storm affect only the online world; it came out onto the streets. And it transformed itself into an unexpected mass meeting on May 17th at the Puerta Del Sol; summoned through the social networks, nearly 6,000 demonstrators gathered in the square that would later become the symbol of the protest.

The Spanish Occupy movement raised the visibility of young people and the way they use the social networks in a positive way to coordinate and exchange opinions and information, such as the case of “How to” (, which publishes and promotes methods, techniques and information about the peaceful occupation of public spaces

The members of the Indignados movement, like those of all social movements which have arisen in recent years, communicate and organize themselves through the social networks, and they have distanced themselves from traditional means of communication. (Oyarzo J. 2012) They have organized and boosted classical expressions of mobilization, and developed new forms, using the social platforms and artistic/cultural language, as well as the internet, via the social networks (Blogs, Twitter, Face book, Skye, etc.). The internet and the social networks such as, YouTube, MySpace, Twitter and FaceBook, among others, have played a key role as a forum for debate, politicization and the creation of a shared identity and heritage, as well as being a tool in the service of social mobilization. In the United States, they have even gone one step further, creating their own social network and platform, The Global Square.

II. New powers and forms of vulnerability. The collapse of the Twin Towers.

The collapse of the Twin Towers evoked the perception of new powers and forms of vulnerability in the West. My main idea is to reveal how it also gave rise to new possibilities regarding the mass media and the network society, one of the basic topics considered in this article.

Before plumbing this area in greater depth, however, we would like to briefly consider concepts of power and authority (L. Stapley, 2003). This author states that “a classical version of Power is the ability of a person or group to exert influence upon others”. A variety of forms of power can be seen to exist, including political power, organizational power, and power nuances within them. The author shows very clearly the difference between power and authority. That the terms are often used interchangeably is a factor which leads to confusion. From a traditional viewpoint, it is “the capacity that one person has to influence the behavior of another person”. To put it another way, authoritarianism exists at the expense of freedom.

September 11 revealed a new form of power represented by the use of the new technologies, an integrated communications network at a global level. The Information Era revolution meant that the whole world could watch, at the same time, in real time, the events that were occurring in New York. The time sequence, half an hour between each attack, had been carefully planned, in such a way that the whole world could simultaneously see what was happening. But relations among people also changed, bringing about what Philip Boxer (2012) called “The twitter revolution and how the internet changed us”.

In a survey of 3000 people undertaken by the Centre for Sociological Research in Madrid subjects were asked via what media they found out what was going on the 11th of September. 98% said on TV, 62% the radio and 48% newspapers. The second attack came via the media, with anthrax creating still more fear. What this implies is that the terrorist attack took place in the real world, but it also happened in cyberspace. People who were actually there (as I was – I had gone to New York to celebrate my daughter’s 15th birthday), as well as the those who were watching the media, confused the real with the virtual world. The time sequence as well as the intensity of the attacks provided a clear example of connectivity and the centralized control of the mass media. Networks imply complex communication channels and a parallel processing of information. They also represent the creation of new scenarios and the use of the new technologies in completely new ways and contexts.

III. The neurosis of power and the Occupy movement.

We verified this fact through the answers supplied by respondents on the question of the devaluation of the group in power. New problems needed new solutions and the Spanish population rejected the “arrogance of power”. According to data from the CIS (Centre for Sociological Research, Spain), politicians are not aware of people’s needs. Moreover when asked about their reasons for becoming politicians, 57% said they desired this role because of the attraction to power and influence; only 20% replied that it was achieve their ideals (Study CIS 2575, October 2004; Kaufmann, 2003). They also trivialized what was going on, denying the existence of a crisis. We now realize that this is extremely dangerous, as recent events in Spain have shown what happens when people fail to grasp reality.

Some of this turbulence is measured via the barometers of the Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas (Centre of Sociological Investigations) and companies involved in market research. These reveal that for decades the population has felt that it was poorly represented. This criticism increases the lower the age of those interviewed. In the United States, the most valued quality in a politician is usually said to be honesty (88% and 83% in the years 1995 and 1987 respectively), while the figures for being intuitive were 68% and 58% and competent, 63% and 67%. In Spain, the most valued traits were an understanding of Spain’s problems, honesty and intelligence (Study 1356, 1986). In the year 1989 honesty appeared in first place with 57%, efficiency 23% and prudence 11%. These features appear once again in study nº 2083 date 1994. For several decades, the population has called for honesty as the main value. In more recent CIS studies, politicians state that their reasons for seeking power spring in 57% of cases from the attraction they feel towards it; only 20% of them claim that they are interested in politics in order to fulfill their ideals.

It is the Occupy movement which has highlighted disillusion with politicians because of their remoteness, the crisis, corruption and the way they act as if they were in a bubble, disconnected from reality and from the needs of the population (Chomsky 2012). This shows that the people no longer believe in them, and this rejection has expressed itself as the various protests which have taken place. From a Political Sciences’ point of view and the current literature on this topic (Vallespín F.2011), politicians display three syndromes or common traits, regardless of their ideology, which can be understood from a psychoanalytical perspective as follows:

  1. Carl Schmidt Syndrome: The main hypothesis of this theory claims that the “essence of all politicians” stems from a permanent confrontation with an opponent. This is the essential criterion whereby an attitude expressed can actually exist. At the same time, we find the Dependence position identified by Wilfred Bion being fight-and-flight focused. Faced with the anguish of not being capable of surviving as a group, they adopt a behavior model of apparent pseudo-solidarity. They block any constructive initiative and their main feature is a predominance of the “primary psychic processes”. Only through the awareness of “these emotional phases” is it possible to understand group aggressiveness and fear in political parties, and rethink their leadership style and awareness of the context. Parties are not usually aware of the emotions at work within them. When they express these traits, archaic models prevail and evolution is blocked.
  2. Machiavelli Syndrome: According to this, politicians are interested only in gaining or maintaining power. They are obsessed with re-election and will use any means to achieve this purpose. According to Rocchini (1998) one of the major difficulties a leaders face is concealing the pleasure they experience in their role. Their role is difficult as the needs of the group and the citizens must be interpreted from an emotional perspective. They must be capable of decoding apparent and latent factors which boost a collective/ group experience. Their position exposes them to frustration more than most people, and this sometimes causes them to respond reactively. If we explore further, beneath these behavior patterns lies an intense sense of vulnerability and fear of losing their power. They must make an effort to understand, in an in-depth way, what is happening in their own party, and avoid the danger of losing contact with reality. In the unconscious factors that unite the group there exists an element which can appear in their social dreaming. If these aspects were understood, political life would have greater depth, and an increased ability to represent and to connect with the population.
  3. Robert Michels Syndrome: This claims that that in any organization, and particularly in trade unions and political parties, the will of a professional minority dominates. This means that there is no room for dominance by its grass roots or for internal dissent. This method of deflecting criticism represents an unconscious way to evade two basic anxieties: persecution anxiety (which is actually a child’s fear) and depressive anxiety (emotionally immature adults are not capable of tolerating frustrations). If permitted, this would lead to questioning the boss with the consequence of and individual loosing the child’s omnipotence and privilege, allowing for the establishment of “reality criteria”. Intrinsic insecurities inhibit this. This would cause the group to change from a basic dependency group to a working group, one aware of its limitations and possibilities.

It seems as if a real “resistance to becoming democratic” does exist. This is because if persons claiming to exercise power admit that the power lies only in our minds, it would significantly diminish their own power. We are witnessing a universal crisis of trust as regards politicians, and it is precisely this which the Occupy movements everywhere brought to light.

Taking some of these aspects into account we consider that from a psychoanalytical viewpoint, politicians frequently display the tendencies shown in table nº 1.Table nº 1: Psychoanalytical interpretation, politician’s syndromes and the neurosis of power.

Attack and discredit the opponent The essence is permanent confrontation with its opponent. Bion would say it is basic dependence on the fight-or-flight principle. There are no positive thoughts or autonomy, no real knowledge of one’s own limits, etc.
To gain power no matter how, and to keep it at any price Constant need for approval and positive valuation: 
“Narcissist neurosis”. The only interest is to keep in power. Omnipotence prevails, as a synonym of emotional immaturity. Like children, they place themselves in the centre of the Universe. They do not accept any type of check. Fear of drowning when the spotlight fades. Attachment to the armchair.
Prevent any internal or external dissidence Organizations, trade unions and political parties enforce the will of a minority. Internal dissidence is prohibited. Situations where power is questioned are eliminated. Predominance of “group think”. Distortion of reality. Attention to others is only instrumental.
Source: Alicia Kaufmann 2012.

What do people want right now? From a sociological viewpoint the Occupy movement placed the inequality of everyday life on the national agenda, influencing and reporting on the public agenda the language and the whole perception of the people of these topics. Inequality has increased significantly all over the world. The national discourse has changed in most countries, bringing to the fore topics unaddressed until that moment. It represents the single voice of a young, highly educated, angry, jobless generation. From a psychoanalytical view point it not only represents a demand for inclusion, being in front of Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London, but moreover, an absolute lack of inclusion because of the small likelihood of finding any work at all. It is a plea from the people with no money, with no voice, with no access to power, to become the focus of greater national attention and an expression of their massive indignation.

From my own perspective, their power lies in their vulnerability, in being an open system which accepts new members and listens to them. Politicians represent closed systems, with little communication inside their groups. No criticism at all is admitted and there is also a certain tendency to distance themselves from the outside world. The main centers of these gatherings were first at Puerta del Sol, which in Spanish means “Gate of the Sun” but could also be understood as a place looking for enlightenment, in New York, at Brooklyn Bridge, it was a way of overcoming differences or seeking integration.

In London, they were looking for protection and expressing their fears in the form of dreams, seen by the staff of the Tavistock Institute as an expression of the profound emotions which were driving their actions. London was the only place where what was going on under the surface has been explored. Nevertheless interesting differences and similarities could be found in the comparison between the demands in Spain, where the movement began, and the United States.

Table nº 2: Similarities and differences US – Spain.


  • The New York Indignados are closer to the Spanish 15-M than the Arab revolts. The Spanish have had an influence on Occupy Wall Street.
  • The Zuccotti Park functioned like the Puerta Del Sol. Both movements organized themselves through daily assemblies and decisions were taken through debates and consensus.
  • Social Networks had a key role. They both used them to communicate and the Americans even created their own (The Global Square).
  • The Indignados and “Occupants” sought to develop their strategies through specific actions: they denounce real estate repossessions and they called for the rich to pay more tax.
  • The legitimacy crisis of political institutions is the same in most democratic countries. Occupy Wall Street, like the Spanish movement, does not recognize individual leaders or spokesmen.
  • The Sol Camp was born out of a pluralistic explosion of outraged citizens who were fed up with political corruption and injustice of the electoral system, which is what triggered it. They were calling some change from an effective totalitarianism.
  • In New York, they focused on banks and Wall Street. Their main targets were large corporations and financial institutions.
  • Spanish camps included a message against the political class cutting across all levels. In the USA the message of discontent was addressed to Obama’s management.
  • Unlike the Indignados in Spain, the New York demonstrators accepted support from Trade Unions and celebrities.

Source: Alicia Kaufmann 2012.From the perspective of a socio-political analysis, we see in outline here the way in which this new social movement moved from a local to a global level. The mass media played a crucial role in the development and speed of information and gatherings all over the planet; the more they escaped governmental control the more dangerous they became for those governments.

“A new world is possible” could be read on some banners. When this group appeared in the USA, Barack Obama understood that a large proportion of the most educated generation in history were unemployed and frustrated, although repression was very intense on the Brooklyn Bridge, where demonstrators were cornered from both sides of the bridge by the police. The problem affects younger people and other social groups.

With globalization and massive eruption of the new technologies, we are facing an alternative model of society and a different way of relating to each other. Those we have known so far are fading and require new solutions. We are facing a new journey without a map to guide us. It is time that for us to really listen to the demands that the Occupy movement is peacefully making. They are not children of they hyper-consumer society; they represent the values of solidarity, and they are asking for greater participation and transparency in the contemporary world.

With the advance of neoliberalism and the weakening of the Welfare State, there has been a crisis in the legitimacy of representative democracy. In recent years, politicians, too, have begun to kowtow to the markets, which means a reduction in various social rights. The crisis has made us aware of the fact that we live in an unequal society, and work rates and hyper-speed are not compatible with a balanced life.

One of the most visible images of these events was what came to be known as Acampada Sol (Tent cities). Those who summoned the gathering used hash-tags in social networks such as: “Spanish revolution”, “Real democracy now”, “We are not leaving”, “15-M” or “We are not afraid”. After being removed, they headed to peripheral neighborhoods and established themselves as popular assemblies. The street turmoil emerged on 15-M, but it had been simmering for months. Politicians are afraid of losing their power and the visibility of their failures makes them more vulnerable. But the vulnerability of the Occupy movement, the fact that it has nothing to loose, as well its growing numbers, is giving rise to new strength, backed by many different sectors of the population.

Disappointment with the ruling class because of its remoteness, because of the crisis, corruption, and especially a lack of trust in their leaders, took the form of protests against their privileges. The ruling class is the third problem worrying most Spanish people, following unemployment and the economic crisis.

In the end, 1051 cities in 90 different countries joined in. These demonstrations were planned and promoted by the Real Democracy Now! Platform, coinciding with the Occupy Wall Street movement, which had widespread coverage on Internet and on the Twitter social network.

In the USA, protests had been taking place in New York since September 17th, under the slogan Occupy Wall Street. On September 27th they spread to Boston, Toronto, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Chicago. In Wall Street over 20,000 people gathered and there were confrontations between the demonstrators and the police in the Brooklyn Bridge area. The aim of the protest was against corporate greed and social inequality, to put an end to the government corruption and the unlimited power of large corporations, and to eliminate a system whereby 1% of Americans (bankers and financiers) create policies which are destroying everybody else’s financial safety. They demanded an increase in taxes on the rich and the corporations, expressed their support for trade unions, and called for universal healthcare for everyone.

The result of the gathering in front of St Paul’s Cathedral in London went farther in order to express a deeper understanding of what was happening via its demands and the underlying feelings of this growing worldwide movement. In order to explore the social phenomenon in general, the Tavistock Institute, initiated the “Social Dreaming Event” in London. The aim is to periodically reach the limits of their comprehension, where rational logic as it is taken for granted no longer provides adequate responses or meets the challenges of the environment. The resources of the unconscious mind allow access to the unknown and unspoken. They reveal the infinite possibilities of a dream. Among their conclusions they found that they arose as a moral protest against the excesses of Capitalism. It came into being as the financial crisis took hold. The London Occupy movement was a response in sympathy with the Wall Street Occupation and later became a global movement (http//

IV. New scenario leadership needs and reflections on the whole process.

The fact that we should no longer remain prisoners of the past reminds us of Einstein’s words: “If we do always do the same thing, we shall bring about the same results”. New situations require new solutions. Today’s leaders are the architects in charge of designing a new future according with the needs of the XXI century. The criticisms of politicians and bankers world-wide lie at the core of the demands of the Occupy Movement, although the priorities of what they want to be changed will depend on each individual country. As mentioned above, according to experts in political sciences, the neurosis of power is based on three syndromes, to wit:

  1. Constantly attacking to the opponent, to assert themselves. In reality it is the other way round, and a way of hiding their vulnerability
  2. Desire for Power above all things and the use of any strategy to maintain it.
  3. Prohibition of any internal or external criticism, thus becoming a “closed system”.

These syndromes have psychological implications, in addition to their political expression. The first inhibits all creativity. Based on negativity, it prevents the creation of new, updated solutions. Politicians’ answers reveal an internal fear of questioning, and this shows an emotional underdevelopment based on rejection of any criticism, whether internal or external, creating a distortion of the social reality based on a constant reinforcement of group thinking. Sometimes political parties turn into a kind of “mother-party”, a perverse place where one can find a protection that makes the kind of personal desires which it would otherwise be impossible to achieve individually come true. Post-industrial society has been replaced by the society of knowledge, and citizens must be treated as thinking adults.

Having very literate and critical populations becomes dangerous for ruling classes, more so if their main tools of communication are the new technologies. People become “aware” of reality and are therefore “less governable”. The young people supporting Occupy know their power is in their brains, that they are the brightest generation in history, but at the same time, they are jobless and locked out. They refuse to become a party so as to avoid reproducing the traits of the leaders they reject. Repression represents an attempt to stop the growth of innovative thinking, which is hard to stop now, mainly due to the internet. TV and its content can be controlled, but informal networks and communications cannot. 
The Machiavelli syndrome involves holding on to power, which Citizens feel is due to the arrogance of power; it is a “defense mechanism on the large scale”. Political parties have trivialized the demands of the Indignados – in May 2012 people who went to the march were asked to pay a fine. The Police avoided putting this order into practice. “The common good has been replaced by the good of political parties and their leaders”.

The third syndrome makes reference to the features of a “closed systems group” which shares the same beliefs and does not accept questioning of any type. There is an increase in corruption and an eagerness to obtain economic profit in order to obtain selfish goals that have nothing to do with the common interest. Citizens have lost their trust in their leaders and in the institutional referents. Omnipotence and the fantasy of remaining in power forever represent a childish behavior pattern which denies the reality of vital and professional life cycles. There are unconscious components, which, if they are not thought of, inhibit a real change in the political party structure, and therefore in society.

And finally, the new global social Occupy movements represent something different: it is precisely their vulnerability which is their power. Their demands are expressed in a peaceful way, there is a numeric visibility, and they express themselves with one single voice, which inhibits the projection and destruction of the movement through scapegoating. Some authors refer to the “twitter revolution” and how it affects us. Nicholas Karr (2011)) questions their superficiality and how it affects our minds, while Philip Boxer (2012) returns to Freud to refer to the different ways of relating and identification amongst people, going from the most direct face to face contact to the online experience. He refers to the revolutionary way in which we interact with each other. Reading a book represents an individual experience, whereas online experience is an interactive experience, in which, according to the author, it is not possible to be wholly private.

Interactivity constitutes a personal intrusion. The rapid connectivity through the net is what has permitted a fast expansion of the “hacktivists” and also gave them visibility. At the same time, it made the critics visible and not through the usual information channels. The latest slogan of the occupy movement is “let’s go slowly so that we can go far”. Its members are aware that changing mindsets takes quite a long time.

Great controversy exists with respect to its evolution and possibility of surviving. But what seems to be undisputed is the emergency and of a collective voice that has been growing for several years with different names and through several unusual channels. The question to be asked seems to be how to make this emerging phenomenon stand up as an alternative to the existing models that are being presented as a unique alternative. The other option would be to manage the necessary transformations in organizations, both public, private, mainly financial, as the effect of neo-liberal politics, in order to strengthen democracies, as a representation of their citizens. Some of the questions I ask myself are:

  • If greater pressure is applied by social movements and political parties continue to lose credibility, will they listen more and debate within and amongst themselves to address the needs of citizens of the XXI century or will they remain deaf to the people’s demands?
  • Could there be a slight possibility that political parties will listen to their vulnerability, and turn from dependency, fight-or-flight groups into working groups and be able to face their own limitations without projecting them into populations?
  • Is a good leader the one who is blind to needs or the one who gives voice to the people and therefore has loyal followers such as in many aspects has been the case with Mandela in Africa, or is the case of Obama now, representing another way of doing at the top ?

“There has been a transition from the tents to the heart and minds of the masses. For the majority salaries have pretty much stagnated and even declined, whereas, working hours have gone up. In reality the Occupy movement represents a class movement which captured a growing share of national consciousness. It brings to the public sphere the growing precarity all over.” (Chomsky 2012).


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