The Self in Transition: From Bureaucratic to Interactive Social Character

by Michael Maccoby

Read at the American Academy of Psychoanalysis 43rd Annual Meeting, May 14, 1999. Washington, DC.

The values and attitudes of the most highly educated and productive Americans are changing to fit a new economic and social environment. This paper attempts to describe this change and its significance for psychoanalysis.

I use the term social character as it was conceived by Erich Fromm to describe how the psyche adapts to the dominant mode of economic production and sociopolitical structure of a society. Social character refers to conscious or unconscious emotionally laden values and attitudes which determine behavior and are common to a group in a society. These elements of the social character may have both positive and negative aspects.

Fromm described social character as a biological necessity for humans to adapt to their environment. Much of our behavior is not genetically programmed but must be learned. Character builds genetic and biological dynamic tendencies into a system of deep rooted values that give purpose and meaning to life. In other words, these dynamic tendencies become dynamic values when the child begins to internalize the beliefs and attitudes of his culture. These values which may or may not be conscious filter our experience and drive our behavior, so that we are not overwhelmed with the need to make decisions about every action we take, every reaction to threat or opportunity.

The need for meaning is distinctly human. Without meaning, as Durkheim showed, people become depressed and suicidal. Throughout human history, groups of people who share values and a strong sense of meaning have proved best able to survive, but only when ideals, conscious values, and ideology, connect with the social character and motivate behavior.

Character is not written on a blank sheet. Fromm considered individual character to result from solutions to existential needs for survival, relatedness and self expression. Social character results from culturally determined solutions tailored to an environment and learned in families, schools, and workplaces. This learning, molds a social character which is adaptive to the economic and social environment.

For example, the peasant's cautious, independent, parsimonious and hardworking attitudes and values are adaptive to an environment where no one can predict weather or market prices, but must prepare for the worst. A close-knit family with respect for paternal authority reinforced by a patriarchal religion strengthens an economic unit, provides emotional support, and security for old age.

Those people with the dominant social character control a culture and shape its institutions and ideals. They therefore form the social character of the next generation.

Furthermore, the social character can be more active and productive or more passive and unproductive depending on historical circumstances. Those villagers who were decedents of hacienda peons shared a submissive and fatalistic social character, and a corresponding sense of a powerless self.

When Fromm and I (1970, 1995) studied Mexican campesinos, we found that those who were more entrepreneurial came from somewhat different economic backgrounds from the traditional peasant farmers. Their families might have had a store or been involved in delivering mail to other villagers. Both their social character (exploitative vs. hoarding) and sense of self (entrepreneurial vs. conservative) were social mutations. These entrepreneurs took advantage of new capitalist opportunities, and began accumulating money and power. The new economic conditions resulted in a form of "social selection". The entrepreneurs took over political, educational and social institutions. They began to change the culture, and the more traditional peasants either adapted or fell behind.

When times change, those people whose social character no longer fits feel alienated. They may become depressed or angry, vulnerable to political leaders who idealize the past and demonize those who benefit from the changing world.

The Decline of the Bureaucratic Character

Although national culture, and language all make a difference to the sense of self, the social character of peasants in different countries is more alike than it is to that of their national urban counterparts. Likewise, managers in corporations throughout the world share a social character, and their attitudes and values are changing national cultures.

The changing economy has had a major role in transforming the American social character during the past 150 years. In 1840, 70 percent of Americans were farmers, and the dominant social character was in some ways similar to that of independent peasants throughout the world. A major difference, as described by Tocqueville in 1836 was the strong adventurous, entrepreneurial spirit of people creating a democratic society. The democratic institutions were reinforced by the Protestant religion which emphasized both individualism and cooperation with those who shared religious beliefs. During the latter part of the 19th century, entrepreneurs and inventors built new industries. The American social character after the Civil War became more exploitative, and self esteem increasingly depended on wealth.

As companies and government agencies grew in the twentieth century, work was increasingly organized in bureaucracies, which required new values and attitudes. Schools and families began to shape the most competent young people to fit into bureaucratic hierarchies and get promoted by passing tests and pleasing bosses. The bureaucratic ideal became economic security combined with autonomy gained by moving up the hierarchy and running one's own department. Men took pride in identifying self with a great company or organization.

Typically, the social character of men was different from that of women. Men learned to be achieving careerists. This process took place in the family as a boy identified with the father. It continued at school, work, and outside work. Young men became part of informal bureaucratic organizations by bonding with other men at sports and later joining the right service clubs, e.g. Lions, Kiwanis, Rotary.

Female values emphasized caring and mothering. However, wives were expected to support their husband's careers not only in the home but also joining clubs, churches and voluntary organizations, preferably with the wives of men who could help their husbands' careers.

At the high point of the bureaucratic social character in the 1950s, 70 percent of American families were headed by a single male wage earner. At this point in history, large American companies dominated the post-world war market. The prototypical bureaucrat, the organization man, appeared assured of lifetime employment in business or government.

The transformation of the bureaucratic character began when young people in the '60s and '70s identified themselves as rebels. They challenged extreme regimentation and stifling bureaucratic roles made more sinister by the vision of controlling information technology. Young men, afraid they would die in a meaningless war, questioned the legitimacy of authority and so-called expertise. Supported by a liberation movement, women rebelled against the limits of their roles and their dependency on men. More and more women entered the workforce and pursued careers. Birth control pills and availability of abortion freed them from unwanted childbearing. Economic abundance and consumer needs stimulated by television were spurs to earn and spend more. They undermined the hoarding attitudes of the bureaucratic character, replacing them with consumerism.

The family changed and with it the formation of social character. By the mid-'90s, fewer than 20 percent of families were headed by males as sole wage earners. Over 60 percent of mothers with children under 6 were working outside the home. Children no longer identified father with achievement at work and mother with the values of caring. Authority in the dual career family was shared. Furthermore, children could no longer count on their parents to be at home for them when they returned from school. They had to learn to become more emotionally independent and to find emotional support from strangers or peers.

Changing Work

While all of these factors weakened the institutions that formed the bureaucratic character, changing technology and modes of work in the 1980s and 1990s also shaped a new social character.

While jobs in manufacturing companies were shrinking, the service sector grew. (In 1999, it includes over 75 percent of the workforce). Service required enhanced interpersonal skills. The development of information and communication technology offered new business opportunities. These technologies further undermined traditional authority and bureaucratic seniority, since young people often knew more about them than their elders. Continual development of technology devalued the intellectual capital of older experts. Rather than accumulating knowledge, success in the information age required that knowledge workers continually learn and unlearn.

In the middle to late 1980s, large companies "downsized" to cut costs and to take advantage of automation. Loyalty and years of service no long guaranteed life-time employment. It became more cost-effective for companies to contract out services, sometimes to small entrepreneurial firms or to reduce labor costs by exporting work to Asia and Latin America. The more forward looking managers and professionals reinvented themselves as "free agents" who would work with whomever offered the best deal. They began to identify themselves in terms of their skills and projects rather than as part of a company.

To become more productive and satisfy customers, the bureaucracies began to redesign work. New modes of work required not only new skills but also new values. A new organizational ideology emphasized innovation, interactive networks, customer responsiveness, teamwork, and flexibility. The economic organizations creating the greatest wealth had to become interactive instead of bureaucratic. They had to manage intelligence rather than energy. Instead of the paternalistic bureaucratic manager, the interactive managers were expected to be coaches of empowered individuals and teams, of young employees who knew more about technology than their elders.

Organizational Social 
Character Chart

To summarize this shift, consider the chart: Organizational Social Character. It summarizes changes in socio-economic base, the social character, and the ideals, ideology, or social self rooted in the bureaucratic and interactive social characters.

Social Character and the Life Cycle-Bureaucratic vs. Interactive

Fromm's concept of social character lacks a developmental framework. The social character does not appear full blown in childhood but is formed throughout the life cycle.

I have used Erik H. Erikson's eight stages of life to explore social character and social self development. Erikson based his stages on the idea that people had to respond to the challenges of both their bodies and cultural expectations at different ages. How they met these challenges or accomplished these life tasks formed their competencies, values, emotional attitudes and sense of identity or self.

Positive Life-cycle 
Development Chart Typical Developmental 
Problems and Causes Chart

What Erikson first wrote in 1950 and revised in 1963 now seems dated and somewhat mechanistic. The different cultural roles Erikson describes for men and women fit the bureaucratic, not the interactive era. Furthermore, the idea of psychosocial developmental stages can be misleading. First of all, Erikson, like most social scientists, uses the concept of development without defining it. What do we mean by development? Is it just maturation? Or growth? Maturation is a biological process that occurs in all living organisms. Growth can be either positive or chaotic as in cancerous growth. We would prefer to define human development as growth of competence, a process in which individuals increase their ability to both determine and satisfy their needs . In terms of this definition, human development implies increased awareness and ability to frustrate compulsive needs that weaken a person, while reinforcing those needs that are consciously embraced and are strengthening. For the bureaucratic and interactive social characters, both the positive developmental outcomes and the typical psychological problems are different.

Optimal individual development for any social character requires a supportive community and ideals. Those ideals which best support human development emphasize values of freedom, love, and creativity in work, self-expression, and intimate relationships. These are the values of the great humanistic religions and philosophies. While no individual can fully realize them, the effort to live these values and with others to infuse them in society provides a deep sense of meaning and self esteem.

Secondly, while I find Erikson's eight stages a useful construct to think about psychosocial life tasks, these stages should not be considered mechanistically as though one moves through life on a track, stopping at fixed stations to wrestle with these challenges. I see development more in terms of complexity theory, as determining operating principles that direct a complex self organizing system to adapt continually to both its environment and its biological maturation.

Although success in mastering a life cycle task increases the chances of success at the next level, failure at a particular stage does not mean that an individual has forever lost the chance to develop. Some people master psychosocial tasks or challenges despite early failure, with help from others. Correspondingly, the stresses of life may undermine development. The individual may be driven by unconscious needs and forced to wrestle with old issues.

With these cautions in mind, I apply Erikson's framework to compare the bureaucratic and interactive social characters throughout the life cycle in terms of both positive developmental outcomes and typical psychological problems.

I recognize that this is a speculative framework which integrates some established findings from developmental psychology with my own observations and hypotheses.

1. Basic Trust vs. Basic Mistrust

In the bureaucratic family, the infant is focussed almost exclusively on the mother. The attitude of basic trust and love of life grows from connection with a loving mother and expectation that one's basic needs will be met by her. Ideally, the bond between mother and child includes a deep sense of knowing each other, sensing and responding to each other's needs.

The typical developmental problems at this stage have to do with over-dependency, inability to break the umbilical cord, sometimes because the mother who is so intensely focussed on her children wants to maintain the relationship in which she feels needed by the child. Of course, problems with basic trust also stem from a cold, frightened inadequate mother or a professionally frustrated mother who resents the mothering role which keeps her trapped at home.

In the interactive family, the mother usually starts out as the main infant caretaker, continuing the physical symbiosis of child bearing. But early on, others share this role, since she needs to return to her paid work. Ideally, the father also participates. As soon as is feasible, babies are put in day care centers or in the care of hired nannies.

On the positive side, as infants receive care from others, the sense of trust is expanded beyond the mother. On the negative side, children may lack the security of deep maternal attachment. Feeling insecure and abandoned, they become more distrustful, anxious, and self protectively avoidant. Later in life, this makes it harder for them to develop intimate relationships and accept the deep feelings of need for others that they have repressed.

2. Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt

About the age of 2, children show a rebelliousness to adult authority that is the start of achieving a sense of autonomy. They want to be able to do things for themselves, to express themselves without losing loving support from parents.

By this self-expression, children try to avoid the shame of being seen as babies who can't control their bodily functions, dress themselves, or handle a fork and spoon. They want to be able to do the right things to maintain a sense of dignity or self esteem. Ideally, parents treat this rebelliousness with a combination of play and setting limits.

In the bureaucratic family, some parents respond to the child's self expression with overly strict demands, such as too early toilet training. The danger is that the child will resolve the conflict between impulse and conformity by obsessive compliance, the up tight, super clean and humorless anal character described by Freud. Alternatively, the child is plagued by doubt and needs constant reassurance that he or she is doing the right thing. Extreme shaming of a child at this age can cause deep hurt and anger which may be repressed. However, without some homeopathic shaming, the child does not learn to conform to social expectations and is vulnerable to more serious humiliations later in life.

The child in the interactive family is often faced with various parenting figures, less consistency in treatment and less certainty on the part of authorities. Sensing the parents' insecurity about standards and their guilt about not being there when needed, the two-year old child learns to negotiate with parents for more freedom, things, or a later bedtime.

The danger is that lack of parental boundaries results in the child's failure to internalize adaptive elements of the social character. Uncontrolled impulsiveness and denial of shame makes it more difficult for the child to learn and to interact effectively with others. Ideally, the child starts to learn that increased freedom requires greater personal responsibility and that the grown-ups don't have all the answers.

3. Initiative vs. Guilt and Anxiety

Pre-school boys and girls separate for group play. Boys are more aggressive and hierarchical, while girls emphasize harmony and resolving conflicts. This is an age where children must learn to control their competitiveness and envy.

In the bureaucratic family, boys resolve their conflicts with authority by identifying with the father and his outlook on life, while girls identify with the mother and internalize her values. However, over-identification and obsessive conformity dampen spontaneity and flexibility and increase guilt.

Piaget describes this age in terms of moral development. While the child accepts the commandments of authority as law, other children become rivals for the authority's love and approval. This authoritarian - egocentric attitude becomes prototypical for the bureaucrat, submissive to those up the hierarchy and competitive with peers.

Children of interactive families are less dependent emotionally on adults and already by this age, more interactively competent, provided they have had secure attachments. The psychological pitfall for these children is not fear of parents which becomes internalized as guilt, but rather anxiety about being accepted by the group. This anxiety is especially strong if secure attachment has not been achieved in infancy. Anxiety can cause over-conformity to peers, sacrifice of self in order to fit in. Or the child may reject the peer group or form alliances with other "outcasts" who turn rejection into resentment and fantasies of revenge. These attitudes may return in adolescence with a vengeance as was the case in Littletown, Colorado in the spring of 1999 when they resulted in a murderous and suicidal rampage.

While bureaucratic conformity results in identification with an older role model, the interactive child becomes increasingly alert to the changing fads and fashions of the peer group. In his 1950 book, The Lonely Crowd, Riesman contrasted the inner directed individual as having an internal gyroscope while the other-directed person developed interpersonal radar. When Riesman wrote his book, other-direction was a new phenomenon. By the '90s, it had become the dominant form of social control.

What Riesman did not predict was the growing diversity in American society. This is the age when children begin to identify themselves in terms of race or national origin. These identifications can separate groups of children from each other, increasingly feelings of resentment of those who do not fit into cliques.

Nor could Riesman have predicted how the internet would provide a route of escape from failure at forming relationships into a world of unreal relatedness.

The interactive child may find an identity with others by consuming "cool" products advertised on TV and showcased by the fictional characters who have been adopted as the models of the moment by a peer group.

By the end of this stage, children of both sexes should be able to become more competant at maintaining cooperative relationships. Through play, they begin to work out their conflicts with oppressive authority. They should be able to win at games without being obnoxious and lose without feeling devastated.

4. Industry vs. Inferiority

When children reach the age of 6 or 7, they are ready to become workers. The first work depends on the culture. In peasant villages, boys followed their fathers to the fields, while girls helped in the kitchen and cared for animals and younger siblings. In bureaucratic society, children must perform in school to get good grades and move up the scholastic ladder. Rather than learning to use agricultural tools, the challenge of this stage is to use the tools of the schoolroom.

Development requires internal discipline, strengthening needs for learning and self expression, deferring immediate gratification. This development can be stunted either by punishing authoritarian discipline on the one hand, or on the other, over-indulgence.

In bureaucratic society, boys also were expected to play team sports and develop what Piaget called a sense of reciprocity, the ability to understand, follow and design fair rules. This capability tempers egocentric competition and authoritarian hierarchy. It also introduces children to the principles that support a democratic society.

The ideals of American bureaucracy develop at this stage. They combine accepting the goals and objectives of authority, but having autonomy in carrying them out. This includes the capability of forming teams to face a challenge, but returning to bureaucratic roles when the crisis is over. A prime example of these ideals in action was the Bell System, the telephone monopoly until 1984. The system was almost a caricature of extreme bureaucracy. At the frontline, technicians had to follow strict rules and procedures. However, when there was a fire, flood or hurricane which disrupted service, teamwork produced quick, effective response.

By this stage, children of the interactive era are already prepared for teamwork with advanced interpersonal skills. Use of computers and the internet provides them with a greater scope to experiment. The line between work and play is blurred as they surf the net or engage in team projects.

Even in the interactive organization, there is still tension in the American social character about being a team player vs. individual achievement. In professional sports, this tension is resolved by maintaining both team and individual statistics, as well as evaluating individuals on their contribution to the team. Furthermore, competent coaching that helps individuals both sharpen their skills and establishes trust makes a significant difference. This kind of sophisticated management is also required in companies, so that interactive free agents work will cooperatively and feel rewarded for their work.

Industrious future bureaucrats risked becoming narrowly focussed and unimaginative. Industrious interactive children risk becoming glib and shallow, with the illusion of knowing more than they do because knowledge seems the click of a mouse away.

In the bureaucratic classroom, the unsuccessful child would lose self confidence and self-esteem, triggering a vicious cycle of poor performance. While this might also happen to the interactive child, denial of failure is supported by the anti-bureaucratic popular culture and pop psychology which inflates the self and puts down authorities. Defending against the loss of self esteem, these children overestimate their capabilities and become impervious to coaching. Teachers who care and help these children understand the discipline required for learning and self-expression make a huge difference in their future ability to learn and play a productive role in the interactive society.

5. Identity vs. Role Diffusion

Erikson writes:

With the establishment of a good initial relationship to the world of skills and tools, and with the advent of puberty, childhood proper comes to an end. Youth begins. But in puberty and adolescence all samenesses and continuities relied on earlier are more or less questioned again, because of a rapidity of body growth which equals that of early childhood and because of the new addition of genital maturity. The growing and developing youths, faced with this physiological revolution within them, and with tangible adult tasks ahead of them are now primarily concerned with what they appear to be in the eyes of others as compared with what they feel they are, and with the question of how to connect the roles and skills cultivated earlier with the occupational prototypes of the day.

Youth is a time of exuberance and experimentation. Inner discipline, acquired earlier, guides a young person away from excessive and extreme behavior and toward an approach to life that balances work and play, that measures present enjoyment with future consequences.

Youth is also a time of connecting self with the larger society and its opportunities. In the bureaucratic age, the most competent young men of the middle class prepared themselves for careers in large business, government or the professions of law and medicine. They paid attention to how one must behave and dress for success. A small percentage of women, usually identified with their fathers, did the same, but most thought about making themselves attractive to those men most likely to succeed.

Youth is a time of idealism, committing oneself to an ideology or religion. The enlarged cohort of baby boomer youth in the 60s began the undermining of the bureaucratic character by contrasting dehumanizing rules, roles and technology with ideals of freedom and democracy. Its winners avoided falling into the temptations of rigid ideology or drug induced excess. They were able somehow to combine pleasure seeking and pragmatism. The losers were the ideological extremists, revolutionaries who became the disillusioned cynics, tribalistic cultists and addicts.

The society that emerged in the '80s and '90s favored entrepreneurial free agents of both sexes. The challenge for youth was to turn vocations into careers, play into business and to find meaning in work. For some, this involved caring for others in the helping professions like medicine and nursing. For others, it meant becoming experts who could work in many different organizations. For some future entrepreneurs, being a winner at the game of business and getting rich becomes the goal and meaning of their intense activity. Increasingly, for the interactive character, meaning is found in continual self development, both in work and interpersonal competencies.

Large companies and government are now viewed as post graduate training for more free wheeling careers. The identity of the interactive individual no longer emphasizes being part of a great company, but rather being a respected professional, able to commit oneself to meaningful projects rather than powerful organizations.

In the vibrant, dynamic labor market, those young people without strong values and sense of self have adapted by trying to be whatever the market has seemed to value. Those who are unable to adapt may seek an identity in cults, racial, ethnic or religious extremism that demonizes the global economy and the winners. Many Americans appear to have lost their moral bearings, substituting a tepid tolerance for moral convictions. (Wolfe, 1998)

6. Intimacy vs. Isolation

Achieving an intimate relationship requires trust in oneself as much as in another person. Without a strong sense of self as an active agent, intimacy threatens loss of self determination, being taken over by another person. An essential psychological task of maturity is to establish a loving relationship to overcome loneliness and create a family.

In the bureaucratic era, this meant forming a unit for mutual care and success, with clearly differentiated male and female roles. This intimate family might become isolated from the community, a tribalistic haven, held together by narcissistic self-inflation. "We are better than everyone else."

The developmental interactive family builds a network that goes beyond blood relations to connect with others who share values and aspirations.

The pathology of intimacy in the interactive era results from fears of the strong needs for mothering repressed in childhood. The detached, avoidant adult is both driven by these needs and repelled by their threat to flood the self with infantile yearnings. Because of this, there is superficial coupling and frequent break-ups.

Furthermore, two careers puts pressure on a relationship and requires mutual understanding, care, and compromise. If the partners lack emotional security and trust, conflicts are more likely to break up the relationship, especially when women no longer need husbands to support them economically.

In the interactive era, each family must define its role and the role of its members. Ideally, the family supports positive development. I have defined human development as an individual's increased capability to determine and satisfy needs. This means recognizing the difference between compulsive and developmental needs. Compulsive needs make a person less free, more driven. They include not only needs for substances and sex, but also security, constant reassurance, and excessive control. Developmental needs expand freedom and choice. They include understanding, knowledge, creative self-expression, competence and love. As individuals achieve maturity, they should become more conscious of their needs and values and more responsible for shaping them, therefore more committed not only to others, but to a concept of oneself, who I am, what I stand for, who I want to become.

Erikson reports that Freud once described what a normal person should be able to do as "lieben und arbiten", to love and to work. Beyond normality, perhaps happiness requires love in one's work and some working at love. Fromm taught that there is a general lack of understanding about the kind of love which strengthens the self and deepens trust. This is different from falling in love or narcissistic love that makes the other an extension of the self. Many relationships collapse because they are built on mutual illusion. After a number of kisses the illusion dissolves; the prince and princess become frogs in each other's eyes.

In contrast, love as agapé means deeply knowing the other person and caring about what is best for that person. Love is itself kindled by the kind of love which not only includes affirmation, but also necessary criticism, refusal to collude when the other person strays from the path both believe is best.

7. Generativity vs. Stagnation

With age and the achievement of a productive role at work and sustainable intimate relationships comes the challenge of bringing along the next generation, as a teacher, parent, or institution builder who articulates and defends values. This means taking responsibility for building one's society rather than merely enjoying one's rights and complying with the laws.

This role, at least at work, was clearer in the bureaucratic era, especially for men who could move up the hierarchy and expand their roles to mentor promising young men who in turn were attracted to them as father figures. The productive bureaucrat was an expert at something he could teach. Mentor and mentee enjoyed the emotional relationship and helped each other succeed. When women first entered bureaucracies, the ones able to create father-daughter relationships were best able to find mentors.

The interactive social character distrusts parental relationships as stifling independence and threatening self determination. The interactive individual seeks those generative adults who can help them and coaches without demanding submission or laying on them a "heavy emotional trip" that demands they become like the coach. Furthermore, interactive people feel more comfortable separating relationships at work from those outside of work. They believe that mixing the two spheres detracts from good relationships in both.

The new social character has a hard time becoming generative. The traditional bureaucracy allowed middle managers to be mentors at work and in volunteer organizations. There was less pressure, more time for bonding. The market pressure of the interactive organization leaves little time and even less energy for these forms of sociability.

The most generative individuals are leaders who express and defend moral as well as productive values. Some create new institutions or companies. These generative individuals have faith in others and their capabilities. They experience deep satisfaction in helping others to realize their talents and vocations. Religious faith and belief in democracy may influence their sense of meaning and self.

The interactive character may respond to leadership that engages and involves a person in shaping an enterprise, but he or she is uneasy in the role of protective authority. Beyond success, these people place tolerance as their highest value. Their moral code: "judge not that you be not judged." They do not see themselves as defending organizational values. They say "those are not my values and I am not a policeman."

The most generative of the interactive can accept the role of coach or facilitator but this is generally limited to a particular project. The interactive philosophy is that each person is responsible for self development.

Some interactive entrepreneurs treat their life and work like a game. They enjoy the strategy, tactics and the excitement of the contest. Winning becomes the overriding meaning of life, a kind of proof of God's favor. These people treat others as players to be moved around and replaced if need be.

Those of both social characters who fail the test of generativity stagnate. The bureaucrat became his narrow role, like a character in one of Kafka's novels. The interactive character never deepens knowledge and has nothing to teach.

The well-being of the next generation and that of society as a whole will depend on whether those of the interactive generation understand and accept the challenge of generativity. So far, the signs are not good.

8. Ego Integrity vs. Despair

According to Erikson, the last stage of life has to do with accepting one's life as it has been lived and facing death without fear or regret. He wrote this when he was in his forties and writing now, in my sixties, it seems rather incomplete.

People are living longer nowadays, and even after they retire from an active career, staying healthy calls for exercising mind and body. Generativity can last longer. I worked with W. Edwards Deming when he was 90, and this world renowned expert on quality was still lecturing and learning.

Integrity means one has not betrayed one's ideal self, or if so, has repented and found the path again. Despair means losing one's way and losing the hope of finding it. Those who have betrayed themselves live with self disgust and rationalizations that do not overcome their depression. But a sense of integrity is gained by a mature realism, a sense of what it has been possible to do, given one's opportunities and abilities and taking luck into account. It includes giving back to society more than one has received. Yet, the older person, or senior citizen, stays productive and vigorous so long as he or she remains engaged and generative, concerned and hopeful about the future as opposed to resigning from life and living in the past.

The integrity of the bureaucrat meant playing his role with dignity and effectiveness, resisting illegitimate commands and corrupting pressures. After retirement, it meant continuation of learning through reading, traveling and voluntary activities. For women, it meant providing care and emotional support while maintaining an intellectual capability through participation in voluntary organizations and cultural activities.

The despairing bureaucrat was like Tolstoy's Ivan Illich who only realizes on his deathbed that he has never really been himself, only what others expected him to be. Perhaps, the despairing interactive character will be more like Ibsen's Peer Gynt, who confuses self indulgence with self expression, self-marketing with intimacy and ends up alone and burnt out.

However, few with the new social character have reached old age. Maintaining integrity in the market dominated world seems to call for a pragmatic development and testing of one's ideas. For those who have been engaged in the complex market world, it means living with contradictions and uncertainty without losing hope. I believe this requires a faith that gives meaning to individuation and creative engagement with one's community which in the interactive age may include people throughout the world who share developmental values.

Society and the Life Cycle

Although the economic base of society, the dominant mode of production, is the major determinant of social character, social, political and religious institutions also make a difference. The market frenzy of the '80s and '90s showed that the work ethic in America has remained robust. However, the work ethic has changed from the bureaucratic careerism which supported stable institutions to an entrepreneurial, self development or self marketing ethic which becomes disconnected from the task of sustaining and strengthening democratic society. An essential key for America to maintain its vitality, is generativity. The question we need to answer is how we can best form the parents, teachers and leaders who will articulate and implement values of individual and social development.

We should recognize that the changing culture affects the developmental process in new ways. Increased freedom beginning in childhood requires increased understanding of alternatives, life choices and their implications. The absence of strong parental identifications intensifies the need to discover personal meaning through self development and ideally, participation in the development of a fragmented society. Complexity requires intensified learning not only of facts, but even more essentially, how to learn and how to create productive and sustainable relationships.

Given these stressful and sometimes confusing demands, psychoanalysis has a critical role to play in aiding individuals to meet these challenges of freedom, complexity and meaningful relatedness to others and the larger society.


There have been a number of attempts to chronicle shifts in social character, broadly defined, within the last 50 years in the United States. Riesman's (1950) The Lonely Crowd described a shift from a traditional inner directed character, socially controlled by guilt, to an other directed character controlled by anxiety. In The Sane Society (1955), Fromm described the marketing character, making the self into a commodity that had to be pleasing and cooperative in order to get ahead in the hierarchical bureaucratic structures that dominated American business and government. About the same time, Whyte's Organization Man (1956) reinforced this portrait of the corporate character.

Lasch's (1978) Culture of Narcissism proposed another shift in the American character from a more civic minded attitude to self centered consumerism following the collapse of liberalism, after the idealistic, war torn, decade of the sixties. In Habits of the Heart (1985), Bellah and his associates added their observations of a growing alienation and extreme individualism in the American character.

In The Gamesman (1977), Maccoby saw the first indications of a new social character among the top managers of some of the most innovative businesses in the United States. No longer the cautious, dependable Company Man of the 50's, the new leaders were risk takers, thrilled by the game of winning or losing in the corporate world. They were creating both the technologies and attitudes at the frontier of social character change in America. However, Maccoby pointed out that while they were deeply related to their work, they were emotionally detached in their personal relationships.


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