If an alien were to visit our planet at the present time, and read any of the mainstream news outlets, they would have to conclude that humanity is an insane species. We so clearly need to nurture the environment, improve our wellbeing, reduce economic inequality, and end poverty. We know how to do these things, yet we don’t do them. Leader after leader throws up obstacles to basic, common-sense solutions. Why? Because we’re stuck in patriarchy, and patriarchy is an unhealthy form of homeostasis.
For the past 6,000 years, humanity is stuck in an unhealthy form of psychological homeostasis. We must get unstuck to survive.
What is homeostasis?
Wikipedia defines homeostasis as “the state of steady internal, physical, and chemical conditions maintained by living systems… Homeostasis is brought about by a natural resistance to change when already in the optimal conditions.”
French physiologist Claude Bernard first proposed a self-regulating internal environment in 1849. The term itself was coined by Walter Bradford Cannon in 1926. In The Wisdom of the Body, he writes that “The word does not imply something set and immobile, a stagnation. It means a condition—a condition that may vary, but which is relatively constant.” In other words, the body stabilises in the best condition it can, relative to its circumstances.
What the Wikipedia definition fails to recognise is that, as well as physical and chemical homeostasis, we also have a state of psychological homeostasis. Unlike its physical and chemical counterparts, it is not in optimal condition.
In The Function of the Orgasm, psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich describes the psychological homeostasis of modern society as follows:
“Civilized man, if he can indeed be called civilized, developed a psychic structure consisting of three layers. On the surface, he wears an artificial mask of self-control, compulsive insincere politeness, and pseudo-sociality.
This mask conceals the second layer, the Freudian ‘unconscious’, in which sadism, avarice, lasciviousness, envy, perversions of all kind, etc., are held in check without, however, being deprived of the slightest amount of energy…
Beneath it, in the depth, natural sociality and sexuality, spontaneous joy in work, the capacity for love, exist and operate. This third and deepest layer, which represents the biological core of the human structure, is unconscious, and it is feared.”
Patriarchy and homeostasis
Reich’s withering indictment of humanity’s psychological state—which is constantly borne out by public events—raises a question: was it ever so?
Has humanity always existed in an unhealthy state of psychological homeostasis, or did a disturbance happen that bumped us from a healthier form of homeostasis into the current, three-layered structure that Reich describes?
The answer is the latter. Humanity shifted to a new psychological paradigm—a new form of homeostasis—at the dawn of patriarchy some six millennia ago. Geographer James DeMeo has demonstrated that this happened due to climate change-induced drought, desertification, and famine.
In The Fall, Steve Taylor writes: “The main event in human history is a sudden, massive regression—a dramatic shift from harmony to chaos, from peace to war, from life-affirmation to gloom, or from sanity to madness” that occurred around 6,000 years ago.
Cultural historian Riane Eisler describes this as “a change so great, indeed, that nothing in all we know of human cultural evolution is comparable in magnitude.”
If we accept the evidence of Reich, DeMeo, Taylor and Eisler, the next question arises. How do we return our homeostasis to a healthier configuration?
We all want to live, experience, and express from Reich’s third layer with its spontaneous joy and capacity for love. Yet to strip away the veneer of the first layer and neutralise the noxious emotions of the second layer requires long and painstaking therapy.
This is called ‘shadow work’ or ‘inner work’. It’s the process of making your unconscious conscious. There are no shortcuts. Yet, every step we take along that path rebalances us and leads us to a better state of psychological homeostasis.