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Developing a Progressive Vision for Society
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We live in troubled times: COVID-19, police racism and climate change are just some of the challenges we are currently facing. Never has there been such a need for a new politic – nor such an opportunity for one.

To create a world in which people thrive, we need to know what thriving is. Over the past century, psychotherapy – and its parent discipline, psychology – has built up a rich, vibrant and highly practical understanding of human wellbeing and distress. This book shows why we need, and can create, a progressive politics that is profoundly informed by insights from the psychotherapeutic and psychological domain, moving us from a politics of blame to a politics of understanding.

In this vision of the world – surrounded by a culture of radical acceptance – all individuals can live fulfilling lives. We need progressive political forces to develop greater understandings of psychological needs and processes; and to work with others in a spirit of collaboration, dialogue and respect.

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This chapter discusses the development of the socialist humanist tradition: an international movement that advocated a humanistic psychological reading of Karl Marx’s work. In doing so, this chapter shows the depth, richness, and complexity of analysis that can be achieved by integrating humanistic psychology into a progressive political base, and provides a means of introducing several of the key principles for the present book. A discussion of the limitations of socialist humanism also helps to identify some of the challenges that a psychology-informed progressivism needs to overcome. The chapter begins by discussing the background for the development of socialist humanism: a reaction to totalitarian, dogmatic interpretations of Marx. It then introduces the model of human being that the socialist humanists developed – as agentic, in-the-world, and directional – and how capitalism creates the conditions in which there is alienation from this basic nature. The creation of ‘false needs’ – as articulated by Erich Fromm, Herbert Marcuse, and the Frankfurt School – is then described, and how people can become blinded to this process through ‘false consciousness’. The chapter concludes with limitations of socialist humanism – that it can be elitist; and that it lacks a more in-depth, contemporary psychological understanding – which the present book strives to overcome.

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The aim of this chapter is to describe a comprehensive, detailed, and contemporary psychological framework that can serve as the basis for a progressive vision for society. This framework is based on the principle of psychological equality: that we should try to understand others as human beings like ourselves, with needs and wants that are understandable within that person’s context. This leads on to the principle of ‘directionality’: that human beings are always actively striving to fulfil certain needs and wants. This is an understanding of human beings in terms of motivation and purpose. Drawing on such contemporary psychological models as Bill Powers’s ‘control theory’, the chapter then shows how these needs and wants can be conceptualised as existing in a hierarchy, from the things that we are most fundamentally striving for down to the more context-dependent means through which we might try to get there. This leads on to a critical discussion of the most fundamental needs and wants that all human beings may be considered to have (physiological needs, safety, pleasure, growth, relatedness, autonomy, self-worth, and meaning/values).

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Building on the previous analysis (Chapter 3), the aim of this chapter is to provide a means of conceptualising wellbeing and distress that can underpin a psychology-informed progressivism. The chapter begins by defining psychological wellbeing in terms of the realisation of fundamental needs and wants – with distress as the failure to realise such directions. The chapter then discusses four reasons why these failures may come about: the first due to ‘external’ (that is, socioeconomic) restrictions; and the subsequent three due to more ‘internal’, psychological problems: internal conflicts, ineffective means of realising our highest-order needs and wants, and unrealistic expectations. In this way, the chapter indicates how greater wellbeing can be brought about by both external, sociopolitical changes; and by internal, psychological changes. By demonstrating the centrality of cooperation, at an internal level, to psychological thriving, this chapter lays the groundwork for developing common, intra- and interpersonal principles for good functioning.

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The aim of this chapter is to show the alignment between a psychological understanding of the intrapersonal world (as described in Chapters 3 and 4), and a progressive understanding of the interpersonal, socioeconomic world. The chapter shows how the core concepts introduced in Chapters 3 and 4 – directionality, wellbeing as the realisation of directions, conflict as problematic relating, and cooperation as healthy relating – can all be mapped from the intrapersonal to the interpersonal ‘level of organisation’. The chapter draws into this account some well-established interpersonal theories – Basic Human Needs theory, preference utilitarianism, and game theory – to develop and evidence these parallels. This account provides compelling support for a progressive perspective because it shows that progressive values and modes of relating (such as the development of cooperation and synergy in relationships) are universal, system-wide means towards improvement. It also provides a framework in which learning can be shared across different levels of organisation. Drawing game theory into this discussion helps in the development of a more formal analysis of the structures and processes associated with positive change.

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The aim of this chapter is to describe, across different levels of organisation, the principles that are associated with positive change: that is, with the development of cooperation and synergy, and thereby greater overall benefit. The principles described in this chapter are: see the ‘bigger picture’ (that is, mentalisation); take responsibility (that is, leadership); trust; be nice; prize difference and diversity; be assertive; communicate; and be fair (that is, equality). A discussion of these principles shows, again, the striking parallels across different levels of organisation, whether within individuals, between individuals, or between communities and nations. Some of these common principles are established elements of progressive thinking. Here, the chapter demonstrates support for a progressive perspective by showing how such principles are underpinned by a more encompassing, system-wide logic. Some of these principles, however, tend to be less central to current progressive thinking (for instance, trust). Here, the chapter lays out a particular, ‘re-visioned’ way of thinking about progressivism – that is psychological and relational, as well as socioeconomic, in nature.

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This chapter focuses on five areas for activism and policy work that can be key levers to the implementation of a psychology-informed progressivism. These are concrete ways of implementing the cooperative principles discussed in Chapter 6. Action points for each strategy are given – for both policymakers and laypeople. The first strategy is positive parenting: a way of supporting the wellbeing and capacity for cooperation of children and young people. The second strategy, social and emotional learning, extends the development of these skills into the school environment. Nonviolent communication is a set of guidelines by which all people can relate to others – particularly in situations of conflict – in more constructive and cooperative ways. An emotionally intelligent politics extends these principles of intra and interpersonal cooperation to the political arena, proposing that progressives adopt a politics of understanding rather than a politics of blame. The development of a wellbeing economy is a nation-wide means of putting wellbeing at the centre of a progressive agenda. Through mapping these strategies out, the chapter demonstrates what a rounded and integrated progressive agenda might look like: one that can support positive change in psychological as well as socio-economic ways.

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The aim of this chapter is to explore the nature of a psychology-informed progressive utopia. That is, the kind of far future society which would allow for the full development of each individual, community, and the planet. The chapter begins by setting out why utopian thinking may be important for progressives, and then defines utopias in terms of the realisation of highest-order needs and wants. On this basis, the chapter uses the eight fundamental directions set out in Chapter 3 (physiological needs, safety, pleasure, growth, relatedness, autonomy, self-worth, and meaning/values) – as well as the principles and practices set out in previous chapters – as the basis for considering what an ideal society might look like. Key, here, is the creation of synergy: finding ways in which multiple highest-order needs and wants – within people and between people – can be realised together. This leads to an emphasis on creativity and the proliferation of diversity. The aim here is not to pin down – definitively – what a progressive utopia should look like. Rather, it is to stimulate reflection and consideration on this question. Ultimately, the chapter aims to help progressives create a vision for the future that is coherent, meaningful, and compelling for others as well as ourselves.

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In the tradition of literary utopias, this chapter presents a narrative, fictional account of what it might be like to actually experience the psychology-informed progressive society discussed in Chapter 8. That is, the chapter aims to give a concrete and vivid sense of what that better world might look and feel like. The focus is particularly on a future in which people are able to realise their creative and relational abilities; with the skills to communicate honestly, warmly, and effectively with each other – and their world. In the narrative, the author accompanies a ‘somatic artist’ as she strives to complete an installation for her city’s community arcade. As the author and artist meet the artist’s friends and colleagues, and journey to the installation space, the artist explains the workings of her society. This is not a perfect and final world, but one in a constant process of questioning and evolution. Although this chapter presents just one particular vision of a progressive utopia, the hope is that it can stimulate progressives to develop – for themselves – a clearer, more concrete, and more compelling sense of the society that they, ultimately, want to see.

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To conclude the book, this chapter focuses on specific political strategies by which a psychology-informed progressive politics might be brought about. The chapter discusses collaboration across political parties, the development of contemporary fora in which such collaboration might happen, and the possibility of developing a progressive political organisation, party, or campaigning organisation that might have a specific psychology and wellbeing focus. The chapter also considers whether there is a natural human and social tendency towards forms of organisation where there is more cooperation and synergy. The second part of the chapter then draws together and summarises the principal thesis of the book – that we can develop a more comprehensive, coherent, and compelling progressivism through the integration of psychology. In summing up, the chapter emphasises the revolutionary nature of what is being proposed. However, this is a revolution of compassion, cooperation, and openness rather than a revolution of conflict or antagonism. This is a progressivism that truly embraces humanity (both ours and that of others) – as well as our planet – as a diverse, creative, and beautiful whole.

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