Pride and Symmetry

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The so-called pride of the alcoholic always presumes a real or fictitious "other," and its complete contextual definition therefore demands that we characterize the real or imagined relationship to this "other." A first step in this task is to classify the relationship as either "symmetrical" or "complementary."118 To do this is not entirely simple when the "other" is a creation of the unconscious, but we shall see that the indications for such a classification are clear.

An explanatory digression is, however, necessary. The primary criterion is simple:

If, in a binary relationship, the behaviors of A and B are regarded (by A and B) as similar and are linked so that more of the given behavior by A stimulates more of it in B, and vice versa, then the relationship is "symmetrical" in regard to these behaviors.

If, conversely, the behaviors of A and B are dissimilar but mutually fit together (as, for example, spectatorship fits exhibitionism), and the behaviors are linked so that more of A's behavior stimulates more of B's fitting behavior, then the relationship is "complementary" in regard to these behaviors.

Common examples of simple symmetrical relationship are armaments races, keeping up with the Joneses, athletic emulation, boxing matches, and the like. Common examples of complementary relationship are dominance-submission, sadism-masochism, nurturance-dependency, spectatorship-exhibitionism, and the like.

More complex considerations arise when higher logical typing is present. For example: A and B may compete in gift-giving, thus superposing a larger symmetrical frame upon primarily complementary behaviors. Or, conversely, a therapist might engage in competition with a patient in some sort of play therapy, placing a complementary nurturant frame around the primarily symmetrical transactions of the game.

Various sorts of "double binds" are generated when A and B perceive the premises of their relationship in different terms—A may regard B's behavior as competitive when B thought he was helping A. And so on.

With these complexities we are not here concerned, be-cause the imaginary "other" or counterpart in the "pride" of the alcoholic does not, I believe, play the complex games which are characteristic of the "voices" of schizophrenics.

Both complementary and symmetrical relationships are liable to progressive changes of the sort which I have called "schismogenesis."119 Symmetrical struggles and armaments races may, in the current phrase, "escalate"; and the normal pattern of succoring-dependency between parent and child may become monstrous. These potentially pathological developments are due to undamped or uncorrected positive feedback in the system, and may—as stated—occur in either complementary or symmetrical systems. However, in mixed systems schismogenesis is necessarily reduced. The armaments race between two nations will be slowed down by acceptance of complementary themes such as dominance, de-pendency, admiration, and so forth, between them. It will be speeded up by the repudiation of these themes.

118 G. Bateson, Nauen, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1936.

119 Ibid.

This antithetical relationship between complementary and symmetrical themes is, no doubt, due to the fact that each is the logical opposite of the other. In a merely symmetrical armaments race, nation A is motivated to greater efforts by its estimate of the greater strength of B. When it estimates that B is weaker, nation A will relax its efforts. But the exact opposite will happen if A's structuring of the relationship is complementary. Observing that B is weaker than they, A will go ahead with hopes of conquest.120

This antithesis between complementary and symmetrical patterns may be more than simply logical. Notably, in psychoanalytic theory,121 the patterns which are called "libidinal" and which are modalities of the erogenous zones are all complementary. Intrusion, inclusion, exclusion, reception, retention, and the like—all of these are classed as "libidinal." Whereas rivalry, competition, and the like fall under the rubric of "ego" and "defense."

It is also possible that the two antithetical codes—symmetrical and complementary—may be physiologically represented by contrasting states of the central nervous system. The progressive changes of schismogenesis may reach climactic discontinuities and sudden reversals. Symmetrical rage may suddenly turn to grief; the retreating animal with tail between his legs may suddenly "turn at bay" in a desperate battle of symmetry to the death. The bully may suddenly become the coward when he is challenged, and the wolf who is beaten in a symmetrical conflict may suddenly give "surrender" signals which prevent further attack.

The last example is of special interest. If the struggle between the wolves is symmetrical — that is, if wolf A is stimulated to more aggressive behavior by the aggressive behavior of B — then if B suddenly exhibits what we may call "negative aggression," A will not be able to continue to fight unless he can quickly switch over to that complementary state of mind in which B's weakness would be a stimulus for his aggression. Within the hypothesis of symmetrical and complemetary modes, it becomes unnecessary to postulate a specifically "inhibitory" effect for the surrender signal.

Human beings who possess language can apply the label "aggression" to all attempts to damage the other, regardless of whether the attempt is prompted by the other's strength or weakness; but at the prelinguistic mammalian level these two sorts of "aggression" must appear totally different. We are told that from the lion's point of view, an "attack" on a zebra is totally different from an "attack" on another lion.122

Enough has now been said so that the question can be posed: Is alcoholic pride contextually structured in symmetrical or complementary form?

First, there is a very strong tendency toward symmetry in the normal drinking habits of Occidental culture. Quite apart from addictive alcoholism, two men drinking together are impelled by convention to match each other, drink for drink. At

120 G. Bateson, "The Pattern of an Armaments Race-Part I: An Anthropological Approach," Bulletin of Atomic

Scientists, 1946, 2(5): 10-11: also L. F. Richardson, "Generalized Foreign Politics," British Journal of Psychology, Monograph Supplements, 1939.

121 E. H. Erikson, "Configurations in Play—Clinical Notes," Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 1937, 6: 139-214.

122 13 K. Z. Lorenz, On Aggression, New York, Harcourt, Brace & World, 1966.

this stage, the "other" is still real and the symmetry, or rivalry, between the pair is friendly.

As the alcoholic becomes addicted and tries to resist drinking, he begins to find it difficult to resist the social context in which he should match his friends in their drinking. The AA says, "Heaven knows, we have tried hard enough and long enough to drink like other people!"

As things get worse, the alcoholic is likely to become a solitary drinker and to exhibit the whole spectrum of response to challenge. His wife and friends begin to suggest that his drinking is a weakness, and he may respond, with symmetry, both by resenting them and by asserting his strength to resist the bottle. But, as is characteristic of symmetrical responses, a brief period of successful struggle weakens his motivation and he falls off the wagon. Symmetrical effort requires continual opposition from the opponent.

Gradually the focus of the battle changes, and the alcoholic finds himself committed to a new and more deadly type of symmetrical conflict. He must now prove that the bottle cannot kill him. His "head is bloody but unbowed." He is still the "captain of his soul"—for what it's worth.

Meanwhile, his relationships with wife and boss and friends have been deteriorating. He never did like the complementary status of his boss as an authority; and now as he deteriorates his wife is more and more forced to take a complementary role. She may try to exert authority, or she becomes protective, or she shows forbearance, but all those provoke either rage or shame. His symmetrical "pride" can tolerate no complementary role.

In sum, the relationship between the alcoholic and his real or fictitious "other" is clearly symmetrical and clearly schismogenic. It escalates. We shall see that the religious conversion of the alcoholic when saved by AA can be de-scribed as a dramatic shift from this symmetrical habit, or epistemology, to an almost purely complementary view of his relationship to others and to the universe or God.

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