Our orientation to “self” and “group” (I/E)
The Self/Group Axis
The self/group axis is the oldest and most fundamental to human behavior. This comes to us from the very initial development of the vision system and its architecture as developed 570 million years ago in the Cambrian period. We share this axis with nearly all animals on the planet.
The distinction between self and group is fundamental to us and comes deep from the right brain. In our species, the distinction between self and group has become fairly intricate. Our right brain senses of “self” and ‘group” have been significantly modified and complicated by the left brain Ego and Group think.
Figure. The Self/Group axis is the oldest and most basic. This comes to us from the depths of our right brain, although the left brain has now played a significant role in this axis. This axis affects human behavior on a group and individual level more significantly than any other.
Self-desires vs. Group-responsibilities
Self-desires emanate from the desires of our ego and needs of our right brain self. Group-responsibility emanates from our group needs. Our self-desires are more fundamental to each of us. Our sense of group-responsibility has always been part of human behavior and has its correlate in the animal world. It goes very deep into the drive behind Darwinian species survival. Our sense of group-responsibility is a fundamental part of what it is to be human, and a fundamental part of life.
Our self-desires and group-responsibilities broadly categorize the motivators of our individual behaviors. When behavior is motivated by self-desire, the benefits accrue directly to the individual. When behavior is motivated by group-responsibility, the benefits accrue directly to the group and indirectly to the individual. Ultimately, group success is what is important to species development and survival.
Possibly the largest part of our individual human behavior and our needs is based upon our need to feel that we are contributing.
Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, was a psychiatrist who survived Hitler’s concentration camps and wrote observations of his fellow prisoners. These were people for whom life was reduced to almost nothing. Every material possession, every freedom, and nearly all hope had been taken from these prisoners. Their lives had been reduced to simple survival. He wrote: “A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how”.” Our needs to contribute to others and also to feel needed by others are very close to our human core.
Most of us have a deeply seated inner NEED to contribute to the whole that comes to us from the right brain…and even deeper. This is our sense of group-responsibility. It is deeply seated in terms of the length of time from our early human emergence and in terms of depth within our human core. Our need for one another and what we each bring to one another by our bonding is central to our mind and to our species. There is a crying human need to help and contribute. Life is not full without it. When we work together to meet those needs, we can seemingly do anything. Civilization is the result.
Group–responsibility and individual satisfaction
Our sense of group-responsibility is extremely close to the human core – it certainly has been part of what it is to be human since the first small bands of humans huddled around a fire. Group-responsibility is an essential part of the human core.
The pleasures we obtain from satisfaction of our self-desires are quite apparent. We obtain pleasures of the body and mind by satisfying our self-desires. The pleasures, or personal benefits, we receive from meeting our needs for group-responsibility are not as immediately evident.
When our behaviors are primarily motivated by our sense of group-responsibility, we are motivated by the needs of others, by the needs of the group, and according to the nobler principles of good morals and ethics. Such actions are directed towards helping other people - such as spending the time to take them to the doctor, or helping someone paint their house. A scientist who discovers a new treatment for a disease will likely receive monetary rewards and hence satisfy self-desires. However, s/he will receive even greater self-satisfaction from knowing the contribution that the treatment makes to those in need and to civilization as a whole. This is the same satisfaction that an architect receives when the building is built or that a hairdresser receives when their customer is happy. Also, when we take the higher road in life, we feel good about it. The higher road is always the self-less one. It is the one that is according to the higher principles and morals of the group and that contributes to the good of the group.
Freud proposed (see appendix) that when actions of the ego violate principles and beliefs of the superego, the superego causes feelings of guilt and self-reproach - highly damaging and undesirable feelings. However, when the actions of the ego support the beliefs of the superego, then the superego rewards with feelings of great satisfaction. The rewards of superego satisfaction are different than the rewards from meeting the desires of the id.
Meeting the needs of our group-responsibility gives us great satisfaction. When we act in ways that are against our group-responsibility, it causes feelings of guilt and self-reproach.
Think of the satisfaction that you receive when you can bring a smile to someone’s face because of an act of kindness. That satisfaction comes from our sense of responsibility to others. It is very self-satisfying because it is self-less. Think of the satisfaction that comes from doing a good job. These types of satisfaction are very different from the satisfaction that comes from meeting our self-desires.
We all certainly enjoy the satisfaction and pleasure that derive from meeting our self-desires. We enjoy going to the movies, driving a nice car, wearing nice clothes, traveling and going out to eat. We recognize these activities and commodities as being self-serving. We need not feel guilty about them – unless we experience them at the expense of others. They give us pleasure because it is pleasurable to meet our self-desires.
However, if our life consists entirely of meeting our self-desires, it feels empty. The activities and commodities that please our self-desires are those that money can buy. Although it is very nice to have money, money clearly does not buy happiness or true satisfaction with life. Money and the things that it buys to satisfy our self-desires cannot meet the greater satisfaction that comes from meeting our needs to contribute to the whole – our group-responsibility needs.
The key to individual happiness and self-satisfaction is fulfilling our deep inner need to contribute to the whole – i.e. fulfilling our group-responsibility.
Harold Kushner, author of “When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough”, writes: “…the key to our happiness…is the sense that we are using our abilities, not wasting them, and that we are being appreciated for it.” This is the fulfillment of our need to contribute to the whole – to make our civilization better for the fact that we were here. If we do so it satisfies us in ways that meeting our self-desires cannot.
When our behavior is motivated by our sense of group-responsibility, we are satisfying a need that is very close to the essence of life. This gives us great satisfaction, a type of satisfaction that transcends the pleasures of meeting our self-desires. We all have an internal need to satisfy our group responsibility, and meeting this need is what gives our life “meaning”. It also gives each of us strong shoulders upon which others can stand.
This is the essence of building the strength of the group. It is also the essence of Darwinian survival.
The Self/Group axis bears many similarities to the Jungian Introvert/Extravert axis. Carl Jung identified the I/E axis as the most fundamental to human behavior. This is also supported by the Sensory Mind theory offered herein. The Self/Group axis comes to our mind as one of the earliest concepts encoded by the sense of vision that has resulted in our right brain. It is likely that the sense of self/group was part of life even before vision developed in the Cambrian period.
Some people are more oriented towards the group. They can be very giving towards others in terms of providing care, attention, services, etc. They can be considered “selfless”. They are very good citizens of the group and great group members.
Others are more oriented towards the self. They are more prone to being loners and towards being into their self (“Selfish”) than into looking after the needs of others. Such people tend to march to their own beat in life on paths separate from the group.
The above concepts are very similar to the extraversion/introversion differences noted by Carl Jung. He described the differences in terms of energy flow: an extravert’s psychic energy flows outwards to others whereas an introvert’s flows inward. Extraverts feel more energetic in a group whereas introverts feel more energetic when alone. Another way to characterize introvert/extravert is that introverts gravitate inward when dealing with important issues whereas extraverts gravitate towards talking with others.
The Self/Group axis seems very similar to the I/E axis as defined by Carl Jung, but also seems to differ somewhat from the colloquial uses of “introversion” and “extraversion”. Common uses of both terms seem to most often refer to sociability which, although likely related to self/group leanings, can also be substantially different. Self/group refers to broader leanings and behavioral patterns. Those with a leaning towards self are better at self-expression in life and also towards satisfying self-desires. Those with a leaning towards group feel a stronger bond and responsibility towards the group. This difference can be very different than the presence or absence of good sociability skills that are a common differentiation between extraverts and introverts.
Sigmund Freud and self-group
This division into self-desire and group-responsibility has a correlate in the field of psychoanalysis. Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) developed a theory of psychoanalysis that was largely based upon his observations of the development of personality and human behavior from birth, through infancy and childhood, and into adulthood. Based upon his observations he developed a structural model of mind development. It is used as a basis for psychoanalysis and has been very influential in our thoughts about the human mind.
Freud divided the mind into three hierarchical parts: the id, ego and superego. As the baby emerges from the womb it has only very basic needs to eat, drink, defecate, urinate, stay warm, etc. These fundamental needs are requirements of the id – the needs of our right brain “self”. The “pleasure principle” governs our behavior in meeting the needs of the id. The infant demands immediate gratification of the needs of the id.
Figure. The Freudian id Ego, and superego are shown in relation to the Sensory Mind.
On the other end of the hierarchy is the superego, which is our conscience and sense of morality. According to Freud the superego is part of the unconscious mind and is internalized in the child based upon their observations and experiences with others - beginning with their parents. The superego is our sense of what is right and wrong. The superego is essentially our sense of group.
The ego is our conscious, or left brain, self and governs our actions according to the “reality principle”. The ego balances the needs of the id and the superego. As the child grows and develops the superego (sense of conscience and morality), it learns that pleasure satisfaction of the id must be tempered with judgment of what is right and wrong. Although pleasure satisfaction of the id would support crying behavior or taking merchandise from a store without paying for it, the superego understands that this is inappropriate. The ego, which governs conscious behavior, balances the needs of the id and superego. The superego enforces the rules of right and wrong upon the ego by causing feelings of guilt and self-reproach.
There are similarities between the Freudian model of development of the mind in a contemporary human and the model that results from the evolutionary development of the Sensory Mind presented herein. Behavior controlled by the Freudian id is very similar to that advocated as meeting the needs of the right brain self. The influence of the Freudian superego upon human behavior is very similar to the sense of group responsibility advocated herein. These similarities are not surprising because both models describe the same thing (the human mind); one uses the development of an individual person and the other uses the evolutionary development of homo sapiens.