Tom Ormay’s theory of the fundamental social nature of all human beings

The Social Nature of Persons: One Person is No Person


By presenting a series of interconnected studies, effort is made to approach timely questions regarding the social nature of human beings. A new part of the structural theory of the personality is presented, called “nos”.  Instead of attempting a definition at the beginning, it is more expressive of our subject if slowly, chapter by chapter some of it emerges, always from a specific viewpoint. Such method may not satisfy some disciplined minds, as it lacks a tightly organised frame in which everything duly falls into its place. I want to introduce the subject not only from an intellectual viewpoint, but allow relevant feelings to come in also. The result awakens not only our logic, but hopefully the whole person.

In the present work I intend to give the basic ideas to a theory of nos, and not an exhaustive presentation of the whole topic. The latter would be the task of another work, based on a more rigorous rendering, the order of which would be created by the subject itself. If we believe that inclusion of feelings do not agree with scientific thinking, then woe to the scientific image of human beings that presents us with a complicated machine we keep repeating, or make more complicated.

To put it simply, it emerges that a person lives and grows in social surroundings. For performing and understanding the process we have a special social function, based on biological foundations we call instinct or drive.

Some people talk about instinct, others call it drive or motivation. Recently we have been talking about the influence the genes have on the personality. Freud thought it important to include instinct theory into psychoanalysis because he wanted to create a psychology that contains a systematic relationship to the body. By systematic he meant a body with its reflexes, nervous system, viscera, and evolutionary character being not an afterthought, but an essential part of the human picture. While psychoanalysis developed in groups according to the laws of group dynamics, its practitioners concentrated on the patients’ jealousy or their envy. It is surprising how little impression all the social events in psychoanalysis had on its theories. In spite of the fact that Ferenczi outlined a social foundation of personal relationships, an ego-centred outlook dominates to the present day.

Starting off from ego-centred psychoanalysis, Foulkes the father of group analysis could not put his group theories on an instinctual foundation. If we look at a person from the ego’s point of view, an ego-centred person appears, if we take a look from nos, a social person comes up, but we are not talking about two different people; we look at the same person, from two different viewpoints. In various texts we find the same word: ‘person’, and the given content determines which side is applicable.

In the 1960s biology scientifically demonstrated the social instinct. Subsequently it took years until the new result slipped through the various epistemological layers, and slowly we are in a position to be able to declare a social function based on social instinct, uniquely common, that makes us perform social acts, not out of masochism and fear of punishment, but from a relevant drive of belonging, in the interest of the whole race, the big family of human beings.

The idea of a social function appeared earlier, as a result of speculation. Before scientific demonstration of the social instinct somebody either believed it or not that we were fundamentally social beings. For lack of scientific evidence, it was a matter of belief.  What I offer here, as a contribution to psychoanalysis, is an instinct-based social function called nos (“we”, in Latin) that enriches the structural theory and replaces the id, ego, superego model with a new one that comprises the id, the ego, and nos. In the new model the superego does not disappear, it forms a bridge between the ego and nos. In as much as it is the internalised image of our childhood parents it belongs to the ego, but as far as our parents passed onto us the values of our society, it is a part of nos. The new structural theory is big enough to unify the various psychoanalytic theories that developed in diverse directions in the last few decades. Our profession needs to open up to the social field for two reasons. Partly, as a result of the forever developing systems of communication we live in a world that is getting smaller and smaller in terms of being able to reach each other. Therefore we experience each other forever more closely, regardless of cultural or racial differences, and only a socially more aware psychotherapy can help in the new age. Partly because if we want to survive as a profession, we need to find our place in the new social world, where individual isolation is no longer possible.

I owe gratitude to many people; I mention only two. Malcolm Pines’ theory of the moving context, his thoughts on the social unconscious, and on the many forms of the self helped me a great deal. Earl Hopper, particularly on the social unconscious and his fourth basic assumption deepened the meaning of the social.

I have been a psychoanalytic psychotherapist for the last forty years and a group analyst for the last thirty years, in private practice. My motto is: “One person is no person”, we are fundamentally social. In my view most problems are based on people not valuing themselves and each other. Apart from working with patients I taught in the Royal College of Art and in Goldsmith College in London, and also in various professional institutions. Presently living in Hungary, I am teaching in the Loránt Eötvös University of Science Budapest, in the University of Physical Education Budapest, and in the University of Szeged. I am the editor of Group Analysis, the journal. My interest has been the social nature of human beings for a very long time, and I continue working on the theory of nos.

232464Tom Ormay

A.P. Tom Ormay, The Social Nature of Persons: One Person is No Person (London: Karnac Books, 2012)


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