WILHELM REICH & PLATO’S GORGIAS Part I: Polus

Corrupting the Youth

The most glaring similarity between Wilhelm Reich and Socrates is that the two men were put on trial for crimes that were not crimes at all. Socrates was accused of blasphemy and corrupting the youth, ancient analogues of questioning the status quo and interfering with culture’s manufacture of docile workers. His defense consisted of claiming that he was rather a priceless benefit to society and that people’s anger towards him arose from their desire to wallow in ignorance. Reich, on the other hand, was arrested for contempt of court, among other things, after being accused of shipping orgone accumulators across state lines without FDA approval. He wrote to the court saying that it had no authority to evaluate scientific claims, something that can only be done by the scientific community. He allegedly died of heart failure in prison (1).

Like Socrates, Reich is certainly guilty of what some people would call corrupting the youth. He believed that providing privacy and contraception for adolescents is one of the most effective ways of combating all social ills. For a long time, the idea that sexual activity is not a medicine but a corrosive agent has enjoyed great popularity. After a failed sexual revolution, the idea is returning. But what is the mechanism of its corrosion? Let us look to the conclusions of clinical orgone therapy and its antecedent, character analysis.

Briefly, there is nothing mystical about orgone, despite what slanderers and New Age appropriators would have you believe. Reich discovered that upon an analysand’s divestment from cathexes, strange pulsations would occur in the soma. In other words, when one’s ego defense mechanisms are disarmed, various physiological phenomena such as flushing of the skin, vomiting, tremors, improved digestion, sensations of currents in the soma, &c. temporarily appear. I have listed the symptoms most relevant to our purposes: those which indicate waves propagated in the super-saturated fluid that is the human body. According to classical mechanics, waves do not propagate and bodies do not move without energy. This is the bare-minimum, most conservative definition of orgone I can conceive of. Reich’s more fantastic-sounding claims about orgone energy can be discussed later, but for our purposes, this will suffice. From a psychoanalytic framework, the ego is shown to exist in the soma as the sum of chronically held muscular contractions (muscle armoring) which conceal and consume this energy, while the pulsions of the id – the emotions – are identical to the freely circulating currents.

Now, back to sexuality’s corruption of the youth. We know from orgone therapy that muscle armoring functions to limit one’s vitality, desire and expression. It is the somatic component of the anti-libidinal character structure, whose erection is erroneously called psycho-sexual development. Rather, the historic character structure is for the most part pathological, hence the world it has created. It is founded on the negation of the pulsions that allow us to fulfil our needs and attain that which is necessary for survival. The goal of character analysis was to deconstruct the pathological character structure insofar as it inhibits the body’s natural, spontaneous convalescence and sex-economic self-regulation.

That is to say neuroses would spontaneously begin to resolve themselves were it not for the fact that the ego constantly disrupts this process. As soon as a child is wounded by the negation of his or her vitality at the hands of historic child-rearers, convalescence begins as it would with any other wound. It is identical to the expression of emotion, this itself entailing the pulsation of the soma and the movement of biological energy therein. And yet, this most basic reaction, exhibited by all life, is intolerable to the dysfunctional witnesses, the alleged guardians. Since children love their parents and fear disapproval, violence and abandonment, and since their displays of aliveness elicit hostility and disgust, they adapt to the situation by entering into and remaining in a pre-cathartic state. It is a chronic sympatheticonia, hence the contraction of the muscles which would otherwise be involved in the expression of emotion. Until these emotions are expressed, the muscles which are used to repress them will remain contracted, it has been found.

Neuroses, now known to be symptoms of more fundamental biopathies, are caused by this interruption of the cycle of arousal and relaxation proper to the expression of pulsions. Therefore, the purpose of Reichian therapy is to have the analysand divest from unnecessary energetic investments in sympatheticonia (libidinal cathexes). This is easier said than done because our character structures are comprised of layered defense mechanisms which form biographically. The structure’s oldest, most fundamental layers repress the rage any organism embodies when its sovereign libidinality is unjustly aggressed against, e.g. in the parent-child conflict. Due to socio-familial intolerance of expression, a pantheon of subsequent defenses must be formed to exhaust, divert and conceal libido. These manifest as segments of muscle armoring. The libidinal stases upheld by the oldest characterological layers cannot be accessed until the overlying layers are broken through. This is so because the overlying layers are themselves defense mechanisms which repress the more fundamental layers.

Orgone therapy and character analytic “vegetotherapy” have shown that libido, i.e. biological energy, is the only agent that can corrode the segments of muscle armoring which comprise the pathological, historic character structure. An increase in orgonotic charge, accomplished by deep breathing (א), always brings about a state of discomfort (feelings) and the orgonomist’s concomitant application of pressure to certain muscle groups is sure to bring about a cathartic expression.

The rigid sexual mores, technically persisting through the so-called sexual revolution (ב), even up to the present, are an extension of the historic character structure. This character structure functions to repress libidinality wherever it exists. I have found that it externalizes its characterological defenses onto all historic institutions. It is no surprise that various cultures have sought to handicap their members’ sexuality through customs such as circumcision, draconian punishments for adultery and general hostility towards infant vitality. Things like adolescent sexuality, whereby youths’ drive energy is exhausted in the most therapeutic, enriching way, deplete the libidinal reservoirs which have historically been channeled towards production. Since all the institutions of society are technically cathexes, their preservation requires a constant input of energy from individuals. Love, not the contactless orgies of the 1970s, makes us less like hydroelectric dams through the discharge of neurotogenic libidinal stases. Therefore, from the standpoint of the vulgar, the armored murderers of life, sexuality corrupts the youth through the corrosion of maleficial character investments.

Herr Doktor

The Socratic Method and Character Analysis

What does this have to do with Socrates? While it is true that any account of the Athenian directly expounding on sex-economy would have been neglected or destroyed, we do not need to make such incredible leaps in order to compare him to Wilhelm Reich. The Socratic interrogation is uncannily similar to the therapeutic method of character analysis.

According to legend, the oracular pythoness, intoxicated on natural gases venting out of a fissure in Delphi, stated that Socrates was the wisest man in the world. When this news was relayed to him, he was perplexed, believing that he really knew nothing. And so he began to interrogate various experts and found that they too knew nothing, but unlike Socrates, they did not know that they knew nothing. It seems that Socrates’s philosophy was concerned, at least in part, with destroying the inconsistent narratives people create to navigate the world. His student Plato, perhaps sensing the yawning void, worked in the opposite direction, endeavoring to construct a complete theory of everything. Philosophy since then can be considered a battle between those seeking “firm ground” to stand upon and those seeking to shake things up.

To understand the most profound implications that the figure of Socrates projects, be it historical or apocryphal, we must examine others’ reactions to his deconstructive methods from a sex-economic standpoint. The character analytic method begins by disturbing the most superficial layer of the character structure, the general appearance and presentation of the analysand. The superficial persona, like every characterological layer, has a specific, libido-metabolic function. It conceals an immediately underlying disposition by exhausting the drive energy that would otherwise be consumed in the expression of that underlying disposition. Should the superficial layer be surrendered, the libido it consumes will become apparent to the analysand and demand expression. We read about a case of neurosis described in The Function of the Orgasm:

Overtly, he was very polite; covertly, his fear caused him to be very cunning. Thus, he yielded in everything. The politeness represented the topmost layer of his structure. He produced material on his sexual tie to his mother in superabundance. He “produced” without any inner conviction. I did not enter into any of this material but continually focused his attention on his politeness as a warding off of the really affective insight. The concealed hate appeared more and more in his dreams. As his politeness diminished, he became insulting. Thus, the politeness warded off hate. I brought it out completely by breaking down everyone one of his inhibitions. Until then, hate had been an unconscious attitude. Hate and politeness were antitheses. At the same time, his excessive politeness was a disguised expression of hate. (2)

Reich’s disturbance of the analysand’s foremost characterological layer compromised its capacity to repress the underlying disposition of hatred. The superficial layer and its accompanying mannerisms served to consume the energy of the hateful pulsion, thereby preventing its honest manifestation as a discernible expression. The analysand dispensed with the polite defense, and that which it repressed was expressed. Disturbance of the character structure often evokes hostility and the expression of hatred. After all, armoring is inherently defensive and its disruption must be interpreted as an act of aggression. Since the historic character structure is formed partly to repress destructive pulsions (these themselves ultimately functioning to repress the erotic pulsion), its disturbance must result in the expression of this rage or other intermediary defenses.

It seems that Socrates’s interrogation had a similar effect. What then does this say about the libido-economic role of beliefs? A belief is a doubt turned inside out. An orgonomist might say there is an antithetical functional identity shared by belief and doubt, in that any belief is antithetical to its corresponding doubt, but its exposition is a disguised expression of doubt. For instance, when Socrates catches Gorgias contradicting himself about whether rhetoric is just or unjust, Polus, student to Gorgias, becomes enraged, presumably because he holds Gorgias’s opinions. Initially, Gorgias states that rhetoric is an art defined by its concern for justice. He later backpedals on this, disclaiming that the teacher of rhetoric cannot be held responsible for the student’s evil use of rhetoric, thus implying that rhetoric is not, in fact, centrally concerned with justice (3).

We can guess that Polus constructs some part of his identity from his relationship with Gorgias and is personally offended by Socrates’s logical cornering of him. He invests many hours listening to Gorgias’s instruction and doesn’t want to hear that it won’t pay off. Moreover, Polus seems to rely on the idea that he himself is just and a rhetorician as well and therefore, rhetoric must be just. His vehemence towards Socrates suggests to me that he is, on some level, quite uncertain of his own justness and on a deeper level, certain of his iniquity. In this case, his belief in the goodness and importance of rhetoric is a characterological defense. When its integrity is threatened, the anger and terrifying feelings of uncertainty which it represses come to the surface.

I am not any kind of physician, but I believe that Polus was disturbed orgastically. He is shocked to hear that anyone would forswear the seduction of tyranny if given the opportunity. Perhaps his ideas about rhetoric’s inherent justice conceal his lust for power or serve to mislead those he would manipulate with his rhetorical abilities. His failure to grasp Socrates’s ideas regarding the pitiful nature of tyrants is indicative, to me, of an impenetrable disconnect between ego and body. It is significant that Polus envies the tyrant’s ability to gratify his every whim. What Polus fails to understand is that the tyrant’s gratification nourishes his characterological defenses by exhausting the libidinal energy that would otherwise threaten the integrity of those defenses. The tyrant is therefore at liberty to keep himself in a perpetual state of excitation by exercising his powers and escaping convalescence and embodied being through distraction. Like a heroin addict who has just won the lottery, the tyrant is in deep doodoo, as it were. Viscerally, viz. unconsciously, he knows that in order to become healthy, he needs to descend from his excitation and express his repressed pulsions. He needs to relax his armored muscles. However, his character structure has been established for the purpose of preventing this and thus it chooses to resist convalescence. It is in the best interest of such a man to renounce his so-called power and allow his neurosis to resolve itself. Socrates correctly states that the tyrant is the most powerless person in the city; he is a slave to the intolerance of excitation, libidinally incontinent, rigidified and brittle. Polus is also a slave to libidinal intolerance and therefore envies the tyrant, who can escape to a higher degree. Weakness corrupts but absolute weakness corrupts absolutely!

Furthermore, Polus seems to be in a constant state of paranoia which prevents him from comprehending the nuance of Socrates’s opinions. He is apt to see the world in black and white, like a vigilant soldier guarding his encampment at night, anxious to see if some figure cloaked in darkness is a friend or a foe. An acute tension is evoked by the unknown and foolish assumptions are often made to collapse the uncertainty, so to speak. Armoring, though it is composed of discernible defense mechanisms, functions in a unified fashion to shield our biological cores from any external influence. The armored character is too inflexible to respond to the various elements of the outside world. Conversely, the genital character, he who has convalesced from neurosis, employs sympatheticonia partially or completely depending on the situation. There is nuance in his defensiveness and his relaxation is thorough. The armored character on the other hand, is constantly in a contracted, paranoiac state no matter what is going on in the environment. Either he upholds his armor, or the pulsions which the armor represses will come through, these at first being experienced as acute anxiety. This dilemma, the choice between numbness and terror, I believe is recapitulated in cognition, hence the armored character’s black or white thinking. That being said, I cannot guess the material mechanism for this. Even still, Polus is somewhat honorable because, although he is iniquitous, he is so in an innocent, naive way, making little effort to conceal it. This is the secret to his capacity to converse with Socrates for such a long time, despite Socrates’s frustrating deconstruction of the beliefs he has adopted. The clowns of the modern world employ so much energy concealing their twistedness that their tolerance for differing opinions often lasts less than one second.

The Doctrine of Socrates

Socrates’s doctrine is corroborated by Wilhelm Reich’s discoveries. The Athenian holds that it is better to suffer injustice than to commit injustice. The unjust character’s lack of empathy arises from his rejection of the world at large. ‘Empathy’ is from the ancient Greek ἐμπάθεια (empátheia, literally “passion”) (formed from ἐν (en, “in, at”) combined with πάθος (páthos, “feeling”)(4). Therefore, the degree of empathy must be inversely proportional to the degree of armoring, a disease which inhibits feeling and prevents contact with others and the world at large. Armoring is a foreign middle-layer situated between an erotic, biological identity and a personal facade. In the unjust character, armoring corrupts the erotic pulsion as it emanates from this somatic identity, transmuting it through refraction into thanatosic (ג) pulsions such as sadism. These are in turn repressed by the moralistic outer layers of the character structure. To many nescient people, virtue is thought to be a constant struggle of the “higher” values against the lower “base” desires, a struggle of the smart brain above against the yucky genitals below. One must perpetually exhaust one’s self treading water and resisting what is seen as natural and primary. I believe that a man becomes unjust after he is totally exhausted in this struggle and can no longer repress his sadism. Thus the committer of injustice is biopathically disturbed and of greater evil.

Conversely, the sufferer of injustice is open to the influence of the world, hence his vulnerability to injustice. Such is the genital character, who generally chooses remaining open and risking being hurt over the upholding of absolute defensiveness. His advantage over the unjust lies in the flexibility and spontaneity of his character structure. For the genital character, virtue arises effortlessly as a consequence of biological incarnation. The thanatosic drives erroneously considered inherent to man are absent in such a character because, in the well-ordered sex-economy, drive energy has no reason to actualize as sadism. This is so because sadism is merely a putrefied, delayed, and misdirected variant of the legitimate rage exhibited in sympatheticonia. There is no libidinal stasis from which the sadism can arise, because (theoretically) this rage would be completely and initially expressed to whatever agent inspired the rage. The vulgar hold that descending into a relaxed mode ends in ruin because they have no awareness of their armor and its devices. Thus they attribute perversion to the unconditioned because they cannot perceive anything behind their perversion. Obviously, not everyone who suffers injustice has a genital character structure, but one’s capacity to be vulnerable is a sure sign of strength and indicates a lesser degree of armoring. According to Devin Stauffer, Socrates believes that everyone except he himself has adopted a superficial belief in justice which conceals a hidden doubting of justice that in turn conceals an innate belief in justice (5). This is analogous to the Reichian theory of the triune psycho-soma, composed of a mask-like layer, a pathological layer of armoring, and a benevolent biological core.

Socrates diverges from Reich with his distinction between soul and body. By ‘soul,’ he seems to mean what we commonly refer to as ‘psyche,’ but the things he considers proper to the body in itself are really proper to the armoring of the body, to wit, the ego or character structure. For instance, while trying to convince Polus that rhetoric is not an art but merely flattery, he says this:

… for if the body presided over itself, and were not under the guidance of the soul, and the soul did not discern and discriminate between cookery and medicine, but the body was made the judge of them, and the rule of judgment was the bodily delight which was given by them, then … ‘Chaos’ would come again, and cookery, health, and medicine would mingle in an indiscriminate mass.

To me, such mind-body dualism seems incompatible with Socrates’s doctrine. I suspect this comes from Plato’s adulteration or fabrication. Regardless, Socrates seems to be unaware of the transvaluation of pleasure and anxiety which occurs in children born into societies afflicted by the emotional plague. To the armored caregivers, the libidinality of children is intolerable because it is a manifestation of the same energy which their character structures functions to repress. Therefore, children are punished, neglected or otherwise discouraged for exhibiting aliveness. The parent-child situation is characterized by wild, autonomic oscillations between spontaneous libidinality and terror regarding destruction (castration) and abandonment. As I said before, children take refuge in chronic sympatheticonia, thus armoring against their biological identity. Consequently, divestment from sympatheticonia, this necessarily resulting in true eroticism, becomes associated with the destruction of the subjective observer! Therefore, things that make a person anxious, viz. contracted, are called pleasurable in relation to the acute terror of relaxation. We mistakenly call that which postpones catharsis pleasurable. The things which Socrates thinks the body prefers are really preferred by the ego, while that which the “soul” supposedly prefers is preferred by the body prior to its affliction with the armor biopathy.

Being prevented from postponing catharsis is what Socrates calls punishment. He and Polus come to agree that punishment is to the health of the soul as medicine is to the health of the body. Therefore, it is a great misery for an unjust man to escape punishment. Socrates even goes so far as to state that he would prefer that his enemies forever evade punishment and further become immortal, that they may be damned to an eternity of misery. This would imply that criminals are in a constant state of excitation, living a fast life in order to suppress the visceral feelings – these being identical to emotions – that would arise should their stimulation be ceased. The longer this goes on for, the greater the degree to which their beings are eroded, until they are reduced to mere conduits for volatile urges. Their abstinence from the mode of parasympatheticonia degrades their bodies while their souls, as Socrates would put it, become chiefly concerned with self-deception. Ideally, punishment is supposed to interrupt this behavior like some sort of drug-use intervention and equilibrate the sex-economy. To explore one sort of punishment, there is (in theory) simply nothing that exciting in the ice box and therefore, a convict should descend to a state of health through the expression of the repressed. Obviously, this does not work because being in prison increases paranoia and, if such expressions could take place, they would probably be interpreted as rebellion or madness, or elicit violence from other inmates. Perhaps it would inspire a prison-break! Regardless, this is one of many examples showing how the armored characters at the helms of institutions are largely ignorant of the functioning of the human organism. That being said, they still operate in a quasi-rational way, although such rationale is buried under unfathomable amounts of macabre irony and ignorance. Perhaps in the ancient world, prisons were more effective at correcting the unjust, to their benefit.

Conclusion

If Socrates really went about irritating everybody as he does in Gorgias, his fate is unsurprising. As I hope to demonstrate in my upcoming book History & Desire, all the institutions of civilization are externalizations of characterological defenses. The armor biopathy extends deep into the macrocosm, and with it, all its myriad contradictions. The middle layer of the psycho-soma is utterly twisted, composed of diametrically inverted desires which war against each other for no reason other than to conceal the most basic and natural thing about us. Moreover, these defenses are inherently dishonest, each one tasked with preventing the visible manifestation of desire. For the psychologist who acknowledges both the layered structure of character, and the antithetical functional identity shared by psycho-somatic defense mechanisms and the pulsions they repress, the therapeutic process should consist of exploring these contradictions and liberating the energy invested in them. Similarly, the philosopher should challenge the contradictions inherent to the historic social fabric, not arbitrarily as it is now done in academia, but proceeding from functional knowledge of the living organism.

Socrates certainly possessed this knowledge to a degree, as evidenced by his above-described assertions and his claim that no one does wrong willingly. He consistently directs people’s attention towards profound questions. What is our essential nature? Are we naturally good or evil? Can we know anything? Who should rule? The state and its companion institutions have their own answers. We are naturally evil. There are those who know best and they should rule … did you not choose them? They are not thrilled to have such questions percolating in the citizenry because consistent, diligent and honest discussion thereof, as it exists in Wilhelm Reich’s oeuvre, eventually jeopardizes the state by calling its legitimacy and necessity into question. Similarly, consistent, geological inquiry into character structure will resolve neuroses and psychoses of all kinds. Socrates and Reich, like many other figures in history, are therefore akin to currents of libidinal energy in the macrocosmic soma, the body politic. But in the words of Jesus Christ, “every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither come to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved (6).” Thus when men such as Socrates and Reich shine light upon the world, they must be put to the cross.

The state, being the armor of the body politic, cannot tolerate such libidinality and must arrest it to preserve itself to the detriment of the citizenry. Regardless, such characters must be honored for their refusal to adopt the backwards ways of the masses and for their creation of new ways of being. I will try to cut this short before it becomes hagiography. The situation of the emotional plague is perfectly captured by this question put forward by Callicles:

Tell me, Socrates, are you in earnest, or only in jest? For if you are in earnest, and what you say is true, is not the whole of human life turned upside down; and are we not doing, as would appear, in everything the opposite of what we ought to be doing?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

(א) Suppose one takes a relatively conservative position and claims that all somatic orgone is reducible to bio-electricity. The reducing of oxygen gas in electron-transporting membrane bound protein complexes is responsible for the maintenance of voltage across a cell membrane. The less oxygen reduced, the less voltage, and the less an organism can do work, allegedly through the catalysis of molecular bonds. This means it has less potential energy. Wilhelm Reich would have believed that all the micro-biological machinery is secondary to the functioning of orgone energy. Regardless, it is clinically irrefutable that neurotics have chronically contracted diaphragms which fulfil the sex-economic role of limiting organismic energy and repressing emotions. Thus when this respiratory block is challenged, psychic content, catharsis and expression result.

(ב) I write not of people’s erroneous conceptions, but of the mores as they materially exist: the armored muscles of the historic character, unfazed and perhaps strengthened by the so-called sexual revolution. There has been no sexual liberation yet.

(ג) Thanatos or death drive, sometimes called “death instinct” is not an instinct at all. It results from the frustration of the instinctual sympathetic response and the inability to divest therefrom. The most important conclusion of character analysis is that antisocial pulsions dissipate after the deepest layer of repressed rage is expressed. Once this happens, orgastic potency appears.

(1) http://www.encyclopedianomadica.org/ (click Wilhelm Reich on the right-hand side)

(2) Reich – The Function of the Orgasm pg. 141

(3) Plato – Gorgias (my edition has no line numbers)

(4) https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/empathy

(5) Stauffer, Devin. “Socrates and Callicles: A Reading of Plato’s ‘Gorgias.’” The Review of Politics, vol. 64, no. 4, 2002, pp. 630. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1408743.

(6) John 3:20

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