Tomkins is interested in the affective infrastructure of ideology: What are the affects that orient individuals or societies toward particular ideologies? And how do the ideologies of individuals and the formal ideologies that govern societies resonate with and reinforce each other? Tomkins defines ideology as “any organized set of ideas about which human beings are at once most articulate and most passionate, and for which there is no evidence and about which they are least certain” (“Affect and the Psychology of Knowledge,” 73). He thinks of ideology, then, not simply as a cognitive creed or a sociopolitical standpoint or an economic effect; it is also an affectively structured stance. Ideology materializes from the social traffic in affects and from the particular socialization of affects that have scripted individual lives (more of which later). We think that Tomkins’s framework for thinking about ideology might be invigorating for the current critical scene. Because it attempts to integrate personological approaches (in-depth understandings of the personality of a specific individual; see chapter 11) and those knowledges that foreground social norms, networks of power, social stratification, or discursive regimes, Tomkins’s work on ideology offers some hitherto underutilized tools for thinking about the dynamics of sociopsychic formation.
Tomkins’s work on affect and ideology is part what he calls “the psychology of knowledge” (see chapter 13). An analog of the sociology of knowledge, the psychology of knowledge is concerned with “the ebb and flow of affect investment in ideas and ideology, in methods and styles of investigation, and in what is considered acceptable criteria of evidence” (“Affect and the Psychology of Knowledge,” 73). Reviewing a huge literature of controversies in metaphysics, mathematics, the philosophy of science, epistemology, jurisprudence, aesthetics, political theory, educational theory, psychiatry, and psychology, Tomkins finds a persistent ideological bifurcation in these fields. He argues that these intellectual disputes orient either toward a humanistic pole or toward a normative one. Humanistic ideologies idealize the human being as “an active, creative, thinking, desiring, loving force of nature” (3:26), whereas in normative ideologies, the human being is fully realized “only through struggle toward, participation in, and conformity to a norm” (3:26). That is, irrespective of the content of a particular dispute (mathematical or legal or political or psychiatric), knowledges tend to be structured according to a consistent, recognizable ideological polarity: humanistic–normative (or left–right). This ideological polarity is structured by affective concerns:
the humanistic position is the one that attempts to maximize positive affect for the individual and for all of his interpersonal relationships. In contrast, the normative position is that norm compliance is the primary value and that positive affect is a consequence of norm compliance but not to be directly sought as a goal. Indeed, the suffering of negative affect is assumed to be a frequent experience and an inevitable consequence of the human condition. (3:28)
It is perhaps unexpected that Tomkins thinks of ideology in terms of a polarity, given his allegiance elsewhere to theories of multiple, coassembling affects and his interest in interdependencies between the various components of a psychological system (affects with cognitions with drives with socialization scripts with neurological firing). Indeed, Irving Alexander (Tomkins’s student, collaborator, and friend) worries that such an approach is uncharacteristic of Tomkins’s work:
When I reflect on the content of his contribution to ideology, I am struck by one feature that seems not at all typical of the way he worked: to cast things in a binary framework or to treat them in a typological fashion. In this instance, I am referring to his dichotomization of the right and the left wing. (“Ideology,” 105)
We argue that the uses of polarity are different, in Tomkins’s hands, from the more rigid structures and cleavages of binaries that Alexander identifies. The sense of oppositionality and exclusion that is baked into the definition of a binary is leavened by the magnetic, chemical, and biological senses of “polarity” as a tendency to orient. What we see at the core of Tomkins’s work on ideology, then, is not a division of psyches and societies into two distinct and exclusive types (humanistic vs. normative; left vs. right) but a thick description of the scripts, histories of socialization, and resonances that join individuals, affects, and societies. Indeed, Tomkins first outlines his account of ideology (“Left and Right: A Basic Dimension of Ideology and Personality”) in a book of essays in honor of Henry Murray, his mentor at the Harvard Psychological Clinic. It was at the clinic that Tomkins was first introduced to Murray’s “personology”: a way of thinking about personality that was concerned with understanding specific individuals through a variety of overlapping measures (psychoanalytic, biographical, physiological, behavioral, observational, statistical) (see chapter 11). It seems to us that Tomkins’s account of ideology is more indebted to the vicissitudes of personology than it is to the strictures of binarized thinking.
This understanding of polarity as a general orientation rather than a forced choice is formalized in the instructions for Tomkins’s Polarity Scale—a little used and curious tool for assessing an individual’s ideology. The scale presents subjects with a series of paired items, for example,
- Numbers were invented/Numbers were discovered
- The mind is more like a lamp which illuminates whatever it shines on/The mind is like a mirror which reflects whatever it strikes
- It is disgusting to see an adult cry/It is distressing to see an adult cry
Rather than require that test subjects choose one item in the pair over the other, the Polarity Scale gives subjects a number of ways to respond: “Consider each of the following 59 pairs of ideas and check which of them you agree with. If you agree with both of them check both of them. If you agree with neither do not check either one.” That is, Tomkins’s pairs are not dichotomized alternatives; they are prompts to be pondered and interpreted in a more open-ended fashion. The scale allows a subject to breach the law of noncontradiction and claim, for example, that numbers were both discovered and invented. The middle has been asserted rather than excluded. In fact, Tomkins argues that the middle of the road can be a radical ideology rather than a weak or compromising stance (see chapter 13). It is not clear to us, then, that Tomkins’s key concern in his ideology theory is simply “the incompatibility of the two value positions [humanistic/normative],” as Alexander claims (“Ideology,” 105). His theory of ideology puts in place a distinction, not to consolidate oppositions, but seemingly to—once again—build a system in which the components might have multiple degrees of freedom to link and delink.
The dynamic and interconnected nature of ideologies becomes more evident in Tomkins’s account of how individual postures coassemble with social formations. He argues that ideologies are predicated on ideo-affective postures. An ideo-affective posture is “any loosely organized set of feelings and ideas about feelings” (“Left and Right,” 74). An authoritarian attitude would be an example of an ideo-affective posture: children should be firmly disciplined; familiarity breeds contempt; those who break the law should always be punished for the good of society. All individuals have ideo-affective postures, Tomkins argues, but not all individuals have an ideology (“a highly organized and articulate set of ideas about anything” ), for example, a clear set of guidelines about how to regulate the behavior of children in educational settings. What is interesting, for Tomkins, is how the more loosely structured beliefs and feelings of our ideo-affective postures are engaged by ideology and how (when they are sufficiently alike) they resonate with, reinforce, and strengthen each other. Ideologies are most compelling when they are closely aligned with an affective infrastructure: “The distinction which we have drawn between the basic ideo-affective postures and ideology proper is a fundamental one, and societies can and do die when their ideologies atrophy through increasing irrelevance to the changing ideo-affective postures” (78).
Two key questions emerge for Tomkins: How are ideo-affective postures fashioned through the socialization of affects in childhood? What is the relationship between such ideo-affective postures and the more highly structured ideological positions we might adopt as individuals or societies? Take, for example, the socialization of distress. When a child cries, the parent (following her own ideo-affective postures and ideological commitments) may either soothe the child (picking the child up, perhaps converting negative affect into a rewarding scene) or may attempt to fight the distress, demanding that the child suppress his response (“If you don’t stop crying, I will give you something to really cry about” [3:27]). What is generated in such scenes is a particular ideo-affective orientation in the child that will have broader ideological significance:
If the child internalizes his parent’s ideo-affective posture and his ideology, he has learned a very basic posture toward suffering, which will have important consequences for resonance to ideological beliefs quite remote from the nursery and the home. (3:27)
A similar case is true for anger. In two remarkable chapters on ideology and the socialization of anger, Tomkins outlines the various ways in which anger can be socialized punitively (where the child is taught to control anger but not to modulate or tolerate it) or in a more rewarding fashion (where the child is taught to cope with the sources, experiences, and outcomes of anger). In both cases, the child is being prepared for “ideological partnership according to the predominant ideologies of his nation, class, ethnic[ity], gender, and religion, as well as the idiosyncratic biases of his parents” (3:216).
This socialization of affects does not operate in a singular fashion to determine an ideo-affective posture. Rather, the differential socialization of distress or anger is amplified by the differential socialization of the other affects, in this and other scenes. Nor does Tomkins limit the meaning of socialization to the unilateral effects of parental behavior on a child:
Instead of describing a socialization of anger as involving physical punishment for a display of anger or aggression, we would include both the sequence of interactions which led up to such punishment and, most critically, the immediate and delayed responses by the child to the punishment, as well as the further responses of the parent to the child’s responses. (3:218–19)
That is, ideo-affective postures (or what he will later call scripts; see chapter 9) emerge out of a sequence of affectively intense scenes that are experienced in quite specific ways. Tomkins argues that three things must happen in relation to such scenes for them to become ideologically consequential: the child must hear the parent express a certain ideology, the child must also see these words translated into action, and the child must see the affect frequently displayed on the parent’s face. For example, in the punitive socialization of disgust, the child “hears the parents frequently expound an ideology that asserts the worthlessness of man” (2:351). The child also sees the parents act in a way that is consistent with these ideologies. Here Tomkins has a devastating inventory of parental disdain:
Stray animals are thrown out of the house if they are brought into the house by the child. The friends of the child are derogated, and he is asked not to entertain them at home nor to visit them, since their parents are contemptible or suspect. Minority groups are discriminated against, and the parents express satisfaction whenever life becomes harder for them. Underdeveloped nations, disaster areas, appeals for help in the fight against disease, these and numerous other appeals for time, money and energy are ostentatiously and piously declined. Civic and other duties are declined on the ground that they are not worthy of support. (2:352)
And finally, the child must see the parent display disgust: “belief and action require the amplification by [parental] affective display to entirely capture the imagination of the child” (2:307). It is the confluence of ideology, action, and affect that will establish the child’s ideo-affective posture, and this in turn will likely resonate strongly with a wider set of ideological positions available in the child’s world.
Tomkins first outlines his theory of ideology in “Left and Right: A Basic Dimension of Ideology and Personality,” and he discusses ideology and anger scripts at length in chapter 8 of AIC3 (“Ideology and Anger”). If readers are interested in an example of how Tomkins’s work on ideology has been used in empirical contexts, we refer them to Rae Carlson and Julia Brincka’s study of the ideological and gendered scripts governing subjects’ perceptions of candidates (Reagan, Bush, Mondale, Ferraro) in the 1984 U.S. presidential election (“Studies in Script Theory: III. Ideology and Political Imagination”). This study is structured by an ideo-affective preference for the middle ground.
The Polarity Scale was published by Springer in 1964, and Tomkins gives a detailed account of the origins of and uses for the scale in “Affect and the Psychology of Knowledge.” Nonetheless, the scale has not been widely used in the social science literatures. For some examples of its use, see Marjaana Lindeman and Minna Sirelius on food choice ideologies (“Food Choice Ideologies: The Modern Manifestations of Normative and Humanist Views of the World”); Donald Mosher and James Sullivan’s formulation of a modified Polarity Scale (“Sexual Polarity Scale”); and Vicki Ashton and James Dwyer’s correlation of ideology and left–right laterality in the body (“The Left: Lateral Eye Movements and Ideology”). Virginia Demos discusses the ongoing usefulness of Tomkins’s polarity theory in The Affect Theory of Silvan Tomkins for Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy (154–62).