Significance: Psychological bias
Human Development Project |
1. Appropriation by institutions
The social dimensions of human development described above are not widely
accepted, although the limitations of economic development and structural
adjustment are increasing sensitivity to them. But even this social sensitivity
filters out certain dimensions considered essential by others, or at least
leaves the question of their presence or absence a matter of ambiguity,
permitting the more subtle features to be expediently dropped at the first
hint of ever-present controversy. Whilst each such interpretation seems
to contain the essential key words, the meanings attached to them are not
What, for example, does the World Health Organization mean by "human
potential", or the International Labour Organisation by "worker fulfilment",
or UNESCO by "development of personality" or UNDP by "self-fulfilment"?
Under the normal political and financial pressures on programme priorities:
the promotion of positive psychological health must of necessity be limited
to the elimination of physical disease by WHO;
the promotion of worker fulfilment must be limited to the reduction of
unemployment by ILO;
the development of personality to the inculcation of reading / writing
/ arithmetic by UNESCO; and
the promotion of individual self-fulfilment by UNDP must be limited to
the ability of the individual to express himself through the acquisition
of a more individualistic range of products.
The same situation must prevail in the equivalent national agencies. To
what extent are such terms appropriated by institutions precisely in order
to encourage people to believe that more is intended than is in fact planned
in practice ?
The 1990 Human Development Report of UNDP, noted above, is also
admirably ambiguous in its attempt to define human development. In its
human development index "Longevity and knowledge refer to the formation
of human capabilities, and income is a proxy measure for the choices people
have in putting their capabilities to use." It is not difficult to
see how this understanding of human development lends itself readily to
a limited focus on expanding the choice of consumer products and services
as embodying an ever greater sense of well-being. Many will favour this
interpretation because of the way in which it reinforces existing policies.
But such a definition could possibly also be interpreted in terms of expanding
the range of those inner choices which enable people to function with greater
insight (through altered modes of awareness), effectively increasing their
sense of personal fulfilment (their "psychic income") and prolonging their
active lives. There is no implication in the report that this aspect will
be explored, whether or not this is done for rhetorical purposes.
2. Avoidance of significant dimensions
The report of the United Nations University project, cited in a previous
note, is remarkable for the skilful manner in which it avoids any discussion
of the forms of human development with which people can and do identify.
These are dismissed as "individual development" in contrast to "human-centred"
social development that concentrates on the relationships between people.
This supposedly corrects the over-emphasis on individualistic development,
despite the fact that the most elaborate explorations of individual development
derive from eastern cultures in which non-individualistic social relations
prevail. Similarly the Bernard van Leer Foundation's Project on Human Potential
is remarkable for the manner in which it avoids reference to human potential
as experienced by the "developee" in favour of discussion of the issues
raised for the "developer", whether parent, educator or planner. Given
the immense interest in altered states of consciousness by young people,
as indicated by the increasing dimensions of the drug problem, some reference
to the relationship of such altered states to human potential would seem
appropriate. In part such avoidance may simply be due to recognition of
the inability of the mainstream psycho-social disciplines to respond effectively
to such dimensions.
It would seem that official bodies are embarrassed by matters which
touch upon the nature of human potential and the stages and processes in
the psychological development of the adult human being with which people
themselves identify. This is particularly so at a time when even the social
element is being excised from the concept of development, as in the debate
within the United Nations on the establishment of a New International Economic
Order. Many would argue that the subtler concepts of human development
are a private subjective luxury that must be ignored until the basic physical
needs of every human being are satisfied. Or, as the political philosopher
Herbert Marcuse argues: "The traditional border-lines between psychology
on the one side and political and social philosophy on the other have been
made obsolete by the condition of man in the present era: formerly autonomous
and identifiable psychical processes are being absorbed by the function
of the individual in the state - by his public existence. Psychological
problems therefore turn into political problems: private disorder reflects
more directly than before the disorder of the whole, and the cure of personal
disorder depends more directly than before on the cure of the general disorder."
3. Psychological maturity and social change
The Constitution of UNESCO states, in the oft-quoted phrase: "...that
since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the
defences of peace must be constructed...a peace based exclusively upon
the political and economic arrangements of governments would not be a peace
which could secure the unanimous, lasting and sincere support of the peoples
of the world..."
But such arguments over-simplify the situation faced by humankind in
developed or developing countries. Unless the human beings - whether ordinary
voters or members of privileged elites (with control over power and resources)
are themselves exceptionally mature and well-integrated individuals, they
will be insensitive to the needs and concerns of all those who may benefit
or suffer from their decisions. Hitler is only the most obvious example;
he is neither an isolated case, nor the most recent. Less extreme examples
are numerous at all levels of society. Neither this well-researched fact,
nor the meaning and degrees of maturity and of personality integration,
can currently be made the subject of discussion within official bodies
- where examples of immaturity are a matter of corridor gossip, even within
the leadership of intergovernmental organizations. There would seem to
be a myth that the good of society as it is defined by democratic and political
processes is unaffected by the degree of integration of the key personalities
and by the psychological maturity of the voters themselves. These factors
are only incidentally related to formal education and to physical health.
There is increasing recognition of some form of hierarchy of needs,
from the most basic survival needs to those associated with self-realization.
In neglecting the subtler needs, policy-makers easily forget that it is
only through the cultivation of such subtler needs that people (including
policy-makers and voters) come to recognize the value of responding to
the basic needs of others.
4. Missing essential factors
The importance of these points, and of the focus on the more subtle
aspects of human development, is illustrated by the following:
(a) Belief and personality systems: In reporting on an investigation
into the nature of belief systems and personality systems, Milton Rokeach
(18) states: "To say that a person is dogmatic or that his belief system
is closed is to say something about the way he believes and the way he
thinks - not only about single issues but also about networks of issues.
The closed mind even though most people cannot define it precisely, can
be observed in the "practical" world of political and religious beliefs,
and in the more academic world of scientific, philosophic, and humanistic
thought. In both of these worlds there is conflict among men about who
is right and who wrong, who is rational and who is rationalizing, and conflict
over whose convictions are dogmatic and whose intellectual... The relative
openness or closeness of a mind cuts across specific content; that is,
it is not uniquely restricted to any one particular ideology, or religion,
or philosophy, or scientific viewpoint... Is it possible to say that the
extent to which a person's belief system is open or closed is a generalized
state of mind which will reveal itself in his politics and religion, the
way he goes about solving intellectual problems, the way he works with
perceptual materials, and the way he reacts to unorthodox musical compositions?"
Further, an individual whose intellectual or belief systems are poorly
integrated may harbour logically contradictory beliefs. Rokeach continues:
"Orwell, in his book 1984, has more picturesquely called this "double-think".
In everyday life we note many examples of "double-think": expressing an
abhorrence of violence and at the same time believing that it is justifiable
under certain conditions; affirming a faith in the intelligence of the
common man and at the same time believing that the masses are stupid; being
for democracy but also advocating a government run by an intellectual elite;
believing in freedom for all, but also believing that certain groups should
be restricted; believing that science makes no value judgments, but also
knowing a good theory from a bad theory and a good experiment from a bad
experiment." He then notes: "A person sometimes judges as "irrelevant"
what may well be relevant by objective standards... Often enough, though
not always, the judgment that something is irrelevant to something else
points to a state of isolation between belief and disbelief systems. It
is designed to ward off contradictions and, thus, to maintain intact one's
own system." It is not unknown for individuals in positions of power
to have closed minds harbouring contradictions in the sense used here,
and in fact to have been placed in power by supporters holding similar
views. There is even some recognition of what is termed psychosocial isomorphism,
namely relations within a personality structure leading to formally similar
relations within a social structure, and vice versa (William Eckhardt (1972),
Emmanuael Todd (1983)). An extreme example being the structural equivalence
between war propaganda and mental illness (William Eckhardt, 1972).
(b) Psychological change and cultural change: Commenting on the
nature of psychological change and its relation to cultural change, Lawrence
Kubie (1968) notes: "The fact which confronts us is that cultural change
is limited by the restrictions imposed on change in individual human nature
by concealed neurotic processes. At the same time there is continuous cybernetic
interplay between culture and the individual, ie between the intra-psychic
processes which make for fluidity or rigidity within the individual and
the external processes which make for fluidity or rigidity in a culture.
It would be naive to expect political and ideological liberty to give internal
liberty to the individual citizen unless he had already won freedom from
the internal tyranny of his own neurotic mechanisms...Therefore, insofar
as man himself is neurotogenically restricted, he will restrict the freedom
to change of the society in which he lives. This interplay is sometimes
clearly evident, sometimes subtly concealed; but it is the heart of the
solution of the problem of human progress."
(c) Transformations of man: In concluding a historical survey
of the transformations which man has already undergone, Lewis Mumford (1962)
notes: "The relations between world culture and the unified self are
reciprocal. The very possibility of achieving a world order by other means
than totalitarian enslavement and automatism rests on the plentiful creation
of unified personalities, at home with every part of themselves, and so
equally at home with the whole family of man, in all its magnificent diversity...
In brief, one cannot create a unified world with partial, fragmentary,
arrested selves which by their very nature must either produce aggressive
conflict or regressive isolation. Nothing less than a concept of the whole
man - and of man achieving a consciousness of the whole - is capable of
doing justice to every type of personality, every mode of culture, every
human potential. At this point a further transformation, so far not approached
by any historic culture, may well take place."
5. Inner limits and constraints
Ervin Laszlo, who directed the Club of Rome's project on Goals for Mankind,
stresses the importance of "inner limits", having noted the importance
of the "outer limits" identified in many international reports (1989).
"It is said that more than half the effort in solving a problem goes
into identifying it. Regrettably, much current effort has been wasted:
it has identified the wrong problems and identified them on the wrong scale."
He argues that it is not that the most-publicised problems are illusory:
"they are real, but they are global, not national or local, and they
are not the ones to which to direct our primary attention. They are outward
manifestations of inner causes: the symptoms of malfunctions, not the malfunctions
themselves....It is forgotten that not our world, but we human beings are
the cause of our problems, and that only by redesigning our thinking and
acting, not the world around us, can we solve them." He concludes that
the critical but as yet generally unrecognized issue confronting mankind
is that its truly decisive limits are inner, nor outer. "They are not
physical limits due to the finiteness or vulnerability of this world, but
psychological, cultural and, above all, political limits inner to people
and societies, manifested by individual and collective mismanagement, irresponsibility
For Laszlo "Many world problems involve outer limits, but most of
them are due fundamentally to inner limits. There are hardly any world
problems that cannot be traced to human agency and which could not be overcome
by appropriate changes in human behaviour. The root causes even of physical
and ecological problems are the inner constraints on our vision and values."
6. Psychological development
There is no lack of work on human development from a psychological perspective
although very little of it is considered of relevance to the challenges
confronted by the international community. Much of this work is concerned
with explaining the emotional and cognitive growth of the individual and
is primarily valued for any bearing that it has on human development perceived
as education or training. Some of it is concerned with attitude formation
and is valued for the insights it offers for mass communication efforts
as an approach to education, training and opinion formation as forms of
collective human development.
Psychology has tended to focus on behaviour rather than experience.
For the most part it is concerned with observed behaviour rather than subjective
phenomena. Furthermore, in academic psychology it has been customary to
focus upon regular or 'normal' phenomena rather than those that might be
described as unusual or of low frequency. This tendency to ignore or actively
avoid anomalous instances continues to prevail. Those phenomena that do
not readily fit psychological models are regarded as, at best, messy and
Psychology continues to find it difficult to clarify what is meant by
a highly developed individual. A few psychologists are prepared to outline
the goals of individual development in adults, as opposed to the stages
of development to adulthood, for example: "From the point of view of
psychology, a high level of development in personality is characterized
most essentially by complexity and wholeness. There is a high degree of
differentiation, a large number of different parts or features having different
and specialized functions; and a high degree of integration, a state of
affairs in which communication among parts is great enough so that different
parts may, without losing their essential identity, become organized into
larger wholes in order to serve the larger purposes of the person... The
highly developed individual is always open to new experience and capable
of further learning; his stability is fundamental in the sense that he
can go on developing while remaining essentially himself." (Sanford
7. Psycho-social health and psychotherapy
There is increasing emphasis on individual health as opposed to disease,
and increasing interest in psychological health and human potential, although
the degree of importance attached to these changes is not always clear
from official reports.
The World Health Organization in the report of a Scientific Group on
Human Development and Public Health (1971) delimits human development as
follows: "Human development embraces every aspect of the maturation
process, including its physical, biological, psychological, and social
aspects. To bring about healthy human development and to realize human
potential, it is necessary to draw upon many areas of scientific knowledge
and many components of the health service. Such areas as nutrition, communicable
diseases, human reproduction, mental health, handicaps, and many others,
together with the corresponding services, are related to human development.
Many of these services have their greatest impact on development when they
are employed early in the individual's life." (9)
The World Health Organization does not in fact have any definition of
mental health as such. Its approach to the question is currently based
on premises elaborated in a document on the "Social Dimensions of Mental
Health" (1981): "Man is a thinking being; inner experience linked to
interpersonal group experience - in other words, mental life - is what
makes people's lives valuable. To be human is to think, feel, aspire, strive
and achieve, and to be social. Promoting health therefore must not only
be concerned with preserving the biological element of the human organism:
it must also be concerned with enhancing mental life."
The WHO report continues: "Economic growth and social change exert
significant influences on the mental life of individuals and the structure
and functioning of families. When insufficient attention is given to this
fact the cost of progress, in terms of diminished quality of life, may
be unnecessarily high. The application of mental health knowledge could
help to prevent harmful psychosocial consequences of socioeconomic change
and facilitate harmonious development....Mental health skills can be used
in developing positive attitudes towards community participation in health
programmes. They can also help in persuading social sectors to adopt health
as a motivating value for action. A mental health perspective in general
health care can counter the dehumanization of medicine, and make health
services more effective and less costly."
The increasing importance of psychotherapy has however been described
as a stop-gap effort to fill the spiritual void left by the demise of religion.
From this perspective, it has endeavoured to meet unmet metaphysical needs
without recourse to mythical ideologies or magic ritual. In doing so it
has ignored the assumptions that guided "soul care" in the past, adamantly
believing that it bears no relation to earlier spiritual traditions and
practices. (Benner, David. Psychotherapy and the Spiritual Quest, 1988).
In the case of psychiatry, a Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry
investigated the phenomena of mystic experience in the USA. Their report
explored the subtle dividing line between mystic experience and mental
derangement (GAP Committee, 1976). It distinguished the various categories,
stages and phases leading through to religious conversion. It also describes
the different interpretations mystics put on their experience. The report
did not reach any consensus, concluding that from one point of view all
mystical experiences may be regarded as symptoms of mental disturbance,
and from another, they may be regarded as attempts at adaptation. They
were however satisfied that such phenomena were explicable in psychiatric
terms. The conclusions of the report were criticized by one dissenting
member (A Deikman, 1988).
8. Corporate psychological training programmes
Most work in psychology avoids the "humanistic" or "transpersonal" dimensions
which, as emerging disciplines, continue to be marginalized within mainstream
psychology. However there is a growing professional interest in the phenomenological
quality of experience as opposed to observable behaviour. Ironically it
is the interest of the business community in these dimensions, as a means
of facilitating creativity and team work, that is leading to greater acceptance
in practice, if not in the theory of the discipline.
Many leading companies are sending executives on management training
courses which are designed to make use of new and experimental psychological
techniques, some of which have been developed by quasi-religious groups.
They may be described as "human potential" or "personal growth" seminars.
The past decade has also seen many examples of employers investing in programmes
of an experiential nature as a means of reducing stress in employees and
increasing working potential, especially where creativity is a factor.
The techniques may involve disorientation, demoralization, group meditation,
group confession, peer group pressure, love bombing, rejection of old values,
presentation of confusing doctrines, removal of privacy, time sense deprivation,
uncompromising rules, sleep deprivation, chanting and singing, financial
commitment, change of diet, fear, leader dependence and verbal abuse.
For many people such courses are beneficial, improving self-confidence,
self-esteem and performance at work. It is for this reason that the business
community is so active in exploring them. However, given that many of the
techniques are experimental, the results for some can be profoundly disturbing
psychologically. This is especially the case where the courses are deliberately
designed to challenge ingrained, habitual modes of thought.
The existence and use of such techniques is a matter of some controversy,
especially to those who are poorly informed about them and to those anxious
to safeguard particular patterns of thought at all costs. Understanding
is especially difficult for those who are unable to discriminate between
their benefits and the abuses of religious cults and political re-education
("brainwashing"). The issues is exemplified by corporate interest in challenging
executives physically to develop self-confidence and more fruitful modes
of behaviour. The most dramatic example is leaping from a high bridge with
elastic ropes tied around the legs. In this case the individual is called
upon to face fears and take physical risks. In other cases the risks are
more subtle and the changes possible more significant.
In selecting employees, especially at the highest executive level, much
importance is attached to such subtle qualities as "maturity", even if
psychologists have the greatest of difficulty in defining what is meant
by this in theory. The same may be said for other results of human development,
such as qualities like "balance" and "insight".
9. Vindication of subjectivity
A Latin American collective report on human scale development chose
to include a section on the "vindication of subjectivity" in which it is
argued that: "The ways in which we experience our needs, hence the quality
of our lives is, ultimately, subjective. It would seem, then, that only
universalizing judgement could be deemed arbitrary. An objection to this
statement could well arise from the ranks of positivism. The identification
which positivism establishes between the subjective and the particular,
though it reveals the historical failure of absolute idealism, is a sword
of Damocles for the social sciences. When the object of study is the relation
between human beings and society, the universality of the subjective cannot
be ignored. Any attempt to observe the life of human beings must recognize
the social character of subjectivity....Yet there is great fear of the
consequences of such a reflection. Economic theory is a clear example of
this. From the neo-classical economists to the monetarists, the notion
of preferences is used to avoid the issue of needs. This perspective reveals
an acute reluctance to discuss the subjective-universal....Whereas to speak
of fundamental human needs compels us to focus our attention on the subjective-universal,
which renders any mechanistic approach sterile." (Human Scale Development,
It is a tragic symptom of the times that subjectivity should need to
be "vindicated" to those concerned with the development process. It suggests
that developing countries are paying the price of an unhealthy western
obsession with objectivity. There are no institutionally acceptable indications
as to the nature of a healthy balance between subjectivity and objectivity.
From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential