Truthiness, Brands, Lies and Alternative ‘facts’

February 14, 2017 § 4 Comments


The core psyCommons proposal emerged from enquiries into how it was that three quarters of the UK population have no need for the professional services of the counseling, psychotherapy and psychiatric professions.

I became convinced that we survive, navigate, enjoy and struggle with life more or less successfully via three elements, rapport, chat and learning from experience, presented, together with the psy professions context, in psyCommons and Professionalised Wisdom.

Such perspectives are never complete and recent inquiries for another movie, currently in production, sharpened up my sense that in addition to the first three capacities in play in our daily lives, there might be another one, trance-induction, that can shed light on the truthiness, brands, lies and alternative ‘facts’ that presently seek to enthrall us.

Comments, enhancements and feedback are welcome.

Trance induction, aka hypnosis, is a well-understood psychological intervention in which we are invited to give intense attention to a single sensory input, so that the context of where we are is suppressed. While entranced we are likely to be highly suggestible.

This innate human capacity through words and gesture and presence, to entrance others and be ourselves entranced by a desire, a belief, of what counts as desirable or a necessity, has recently become weaponized by political interests.

Benefits of trance-induction
Humankind is primarily a wilderness of bodyminds in relationship, bodyminds that are made up of an internal wilderness of bone, muscle, nerves, neurons and grey matter. Trance induction helps us cohere psychically, interpersonally and socially..

Disadvantages of trance-induction
Our bodymind wildernesses have been vastly extended by the rapidly accelerating growth of technologies in recent decades. The scale of both our ability to communicate with others and the scale of how much we do communicate has been astonishing, the global village throbs with a 24/7 plethora of files, messages, images and video.

This TV, phone, text and image-based chat is great and it acts to create and sustain new forms of relationship between humankind wildernesses across frontiers and different languages.

However, the benefit we get from them is always accompanied by amputation, especially the loss of context. We see and hear a video or read a message but we don’t engage with the sender’s presence. The clues from feeling and intuition we would pick up if we met in person are missing. These clues are an essential element of trust.

To repeat: focusing narrowly, so as to concentrate on a sound or an image or a thought while its context is side-lined or absent, is the basis of hypnotic trance-induction.

Being entranced is commonplace, it’s a basic human capacity that, coupled with frequent reality-testing, means that we can navigate through life reasonably well.

A huge part of what minds do in our daily life is the generation and interplay of trance-inductions, opinions about people and products, for example where we work and where we play, and the trance-inductions of music. Alongside this, a key feature of getting on with other people, is fielding trance-inductions, checking out how far we can trust somebody and checking out what they are offering or what they are demanding.

Abundant messaging but missing context
In the global village all of us now inhabit, while messages are more than abundant, context in our communications tends to more and more scarce. This means that we can be way more susceptible to predatory trance-inductions, lies, manipulation, coercion, ‘alternative facts’, ‘spin’ and ‘brands’.

Trance-induction assertions
Examples would include claims that something is ‘inevitable’, ‘natural’, ‘evil’, ‘the truth’, and ‘essential’ as a means of focusing attention away from the wider context of what is being proposed.

Along with the local subtleties of our daily relationships, trance-induction has become a core part of political ‘spin’, and business, advertising and marketing and how they work. The Trump presidential and Brexit campaigns have provided signal examples, ‘lock her up’, ‘fake news’, ‘take back control’, ‘enemies of the people’.

Fielding trance-inductions
The elimination or suppression of context from the signals, images and messages we receive mean that we become very susceptible to trance-inductions that intend to manipulate us, or to coerce, control or persuade us. When context is absent, messages in the form of appetising lies can be difficult to refute. What goes missing is trust.

Capitalism and trance-induction
Capitalism continues to be a potent source of trance-inductions and interrupting its trance-inductions and those of its families and friends is very tricky. It means interrupting its ethos – that wealth does not equal righteousness – that capital accumulation may not be just or essential – that they are mistaken about the need for unlimited growth and unlimited debt – that the planetary damage and dissolution of trust this entails does matter.

Recognizing trance-inductions
Becoming trance-savvy seems to mean becoming alert, even to begin with, hyper-alert, about recognising trance-inductions when they are pointed at us, so as to have more choice in whether we follow what they are suggesting, plus diligently reality-testing those trance-inductions (such as this blog) that we generate.

Perhaps most important, when someone tries to insist that something is ‘natural’ or ‘inevitable’, this is likely to be a trance-induction, if so, look for the missing context.

The Commons – a new European concept? Inaugural meeting of the European Parliament Common Goods Intergroup.

May 31, 2015 § 2 Comments


As we gathered for it, this European Parliament Common Goods Intergroup meeting, promised to be intriguing… was the Parliament about to embrace the commons as a template for a more participatory politics?

It was indeed a political meeting, with the banners of the four parties who had come together in support of it prominent behind the podium, a coalition that, as Sophie Bloemen details in her excellent account of the intergroup’s formation, had required the mutation (dilution?) in its title, of ‘commons’ into ‘common goods’.

Such concerns were quickly overshadowed by the mix of culture shock, optimism, contradiction and sheer linguistic struggle that Europe-wide mutuality turned out to entail. But then this is 28 nation politics and I was new to it.

Lets start with the downside and get that out of the way.ParlPanoDSC07824CC4kpxEuropean Parliament Building Brussels

Shock and awe at the huge scale of the Brussels European Parliament building and the hushed modernity of its vast interior – the Charlie Hebdo effect piled onto the Bin Laden effect meant the whole place seemed imprisoned in that other aspect of modernity, security. There were also the twin Britshocks of realising during the meeting that what I was hearing were the voices of southern Europe, Italy, Spain, Portugal and France, and that of the 50-60 participants, I was apparently the only Brit. Coupled with this was the reminder that however good the four-language interpretation was, it put a huge burden on attention, and being able to grasp what was being said – Italian man speaking in the room – English woman interpreter in the ears.

The meeting started half an hour late, which despite effective facilitation put all the speakers under pressure. And speakers there were in plenty, arrayed in one-to-many conference style. There were repeated calls for ‘the need for debate’ but debate was overwhelmingly subordinate to a series of charismatic and often vociferous presentations mostly from the podium, peppered with multiple exhortations that the commons and common goods ‘were a good idea’, ‘we must…’ ‘we need…’ ‘we have to…’ etc., etc. Lot’s of talk about commons not much apparently from commons. When I spoke to ask the other delegates ‘who we were’ and how many had direct experience of commoning, around a third of the audience put up their hands, an indicator perhaps that less preaching to the converted would have been appropriate.

This was an inaugural meeting, so uncertainty and clumsiness can be excused, however on balance the presentations had a lot to say about common goods resources, i.e. a city’s water supply and much less about commoning, often a fragile flower growing out of peer-to-peer governance, commitment and emotional competence. The meeting certainly seemed in no doubt that a wider extension of the common goods theme might be one way to shape a new and very necessary politics. As Marisa Matias the impressive Portuguese MEP who had convened the meeting said at the end of her introduction, ‘the Left is lost’.

Was this a meeting then, as it perhaps seemed, where the old left was trying to befriend a new and promising flavour of the political month? There was no coffee break and apart from casual chat before the meeting, no interaction between the assembled delegates –the old paradigm of a representative polity?

And yet… in her introductory remarks Marisa Matias outlined two agenda items, ‘how to think outside the logic of the state’ and ‘how to handle the management of the commons’, both radical contradictions of neoliberal preferences. Perhaps this Common Goods Intergroup event was a way of introducing to an old politics, news of political innovation that was proving unexpectedly and improbably successful.

Only days before, Barcelona and possibly Madrid had elected officials with a ‘commons’ agenda; and… Anne le Strat outlined the successful Eau de Paris return of the Paris water supply to municipal ownership (paralleled by at least one other commune I know of in the Ardeche); There were several references to commons rights progress in Spain, and in Italy a supreme court decision had opened constitutional protocols to commons forms of organisation, along with the adoption of ‘beni comuni’ as a legal concept. Alongside this, as Benjamin Coriat outlined, in Barcelona the recovery of the commons appeared to be afoot.

A delegate from Transform made a reminder that there was a continuing need for recovery of the many public goods had been given to exponents of capital, she also argued for the establishment of a federation of commons. Paoli Napoli from CENJ, a French judicial research centre argued convincingly in favour of questioning the validity of state monopolies as a way of discovering commons. Ricardo la Fuente a Portuguese Free Culture activist drew attention to the scale of the capture of the internet commons by Facebook and Google, US dominated vertical monopolies that threaten the integrity and freedoms of the internet. He argued that safe-guarding access to the public sphere of the internet was a vital aspect of the commons agenda.

Michel Bauwens, a long-time peer to peer exponent, spoke about the digital commons, a driver of the unprecedented social change that underlies the commons movement. Bauwens outlined three digital commons institutions, one: the huge numbers of people who are contributors to the building of open public goods such as Linux, Arduino and Wikipedia etc (not to mention the countless millions of blogs like this!); secondly: the digital enterprises that feature peer-to-peer governance and transparency, he gave as examples: Loomio, Inspiral etc.; and third: for-benefit foundations such as the P2P Foundation and many others.

Bauwens warned that digital innovation presently tends to be compromised, since to pick up the resources to expand and develop an innovation, means becoming a ‘start-up’ with the likelihood of capture by venture capital. Devising alternative ways of financing commons innovation, he seemed to be saying, will be a vital part of an emerging commons economy. Bauwens left early to talk to the mayor of Ghent about another current proposal – Assemblies of the Commons – he also mentioned generating Chambers of the Commons, mirroring, at least in the UK, the ubiquitous ‘chambers of commerce’ and lastly the need, as he put it, to develop an ‘operating system’ for the commons. All welcome news.

In conclusion: Encouraging evidence from across southern Europe that there were a variety of instances of participatory politics inspired by, or already implementing commons/common goods. Great resources: the whole meeting was streamed live and by the following morning a video of it had been posted by the EFDD group with English interpretation.

And… the meeting had a classroom format – people sitting in rows facing expert speakers. As a groupwork facilitator I long ago learned that such a format inhibits or prevents the kind of face to face (and peer to peer) cooperation and communal knowing that commoning requires. This is not a minor matter, conversations are shaped by context. If this is the only Parliamentary format for commons/common goods discussion/negotiation/interpretation, I’d be concerned that this infrastructure could inadvertently exclude the intended benefits.

And yet… perhaps too much should not be expected from a body such as the Parliament which is devoted to scrutiny and correctivity, not usually a recipe for innovation. The European Parliament is an extant political forum, it mends and bends the proposals of European institutions. Diemut Theato, an MEP I happen to have met, some years ago demonstrated this when, due to her leadership and financial perspicacity, the entire European Commission had to resign. The Parliament’s potential ability to bounce back European legislation that ignores, compromises or damages the common good is very welcome. With regard to the common good, every little helps!

Video of the meeting:
Common Goods Intergroup members: the Greens, the left group GUE, the Social Democrat party (S&D) and the EFDD (joint president Nigel Farage) and which now includes Beppe Grillo with his Cinque Stelle party.

The Common Goods Intergroup and this meeting was facilitated by Elisabetta Cangelosi and Pablo Sanchez Centellas

The psyCommons and Community Psychology – Thomas Allan

August 23, 2013 § 1 Comment

Rapport is one of the basic elements of the psyCommons

As the psyCommons idea has begun to move out into the world it has set off chat about its value and context. The most recent take on the psyCommons was this article, The richness of everyday relationships in a leading UK Counselling journal, Therapy Today. A handy nudge in the right direction. David Bollier wrote a blog piece about it and so also, in German, did Silke Helfrich and in Spanish, Javier Jiménez Cuadros.

Some of the most valuable support and insight have come from Thomas Allan, and this guest blog entry by him features a collection of four reflections on the psyCommons idea, inspired by his enthusiasm for Community Psychology.


Having recently read “The Richness of Everyday Relationships”, I wanted to put my support behind the ‘shared power’ and ‘ordinary wisdom’ of the ‘psyCommons’. The article prompted me to reflect on the role of the professional in the helping professions, dominant forms of knowledge and language, and on my own values, commitment and accountability to marginalized individuals and groups in various community contexts.

The psyCommons is a name for the universe of rapport – of relationships between people – through which daily life is navigated. But in my view, the psyCommons is also a model for critical thinking and systemic wisdom.

As I read, the notion of psyenclosures became clearer: Psychiatry and Psychology – an enclosure of our ordinary wisdom and shared power? Solicitors and Barristers – an enclosure of our ability to resolve conflict? In our local community, the car garage has enclosed a monopoly market share by accumulating and sequestering expertise in fixing cars. How far does the metaphor of enclosure go? Does the Hairdresser enclose our ability to maintain our personal appearance? At what point is a community service an enclosure and at what point a shared community resource? It seems only a question of management, but it also raises questions of values and power.

An insight that struck me was the reference to the boundaries between the psyenclosures and the psyCommons; a kind of socially determined ‘mental illness’ that divides and alienates. In this context, boundaries signify inclusion or exclusion and, rather than being fixed, obvious and natural, are a human constructed limitation on what is the acceptable extent of responsibility and participation. It implies that some are able to participate in a given system, but others are not, and those who are not have been dispossessed of the reciprocal social ties and psychological supports necessary for their well-being. For me, it evoked Michel Foucault in Madness and Civilization of how society constructs diversity as deviance using ‘totalizing’ discourses that reflect the power of one group over another, where ‘psychiatry provides the grand narrative..’ (Prilleltensky & Nelson 2010).

Boundaries then, when used as a control mechanism, can also lead to social marginalization; economic and social disadvantage where individuals and communities are systematically blocked from rights, opportunities and resources (e.g. housing, employment, healthcare). It is possible to reduce what is from what is not in the medical world mainly through cause and effect relationships (Virus = Illness, Vaccine = Prevention, Treatment = Cure), but in the social world we need to contextualise in order to understand why or how something has happened. In the absence of objective certainty, the decision to boundary between social in-group and social out-group is not a scientific act of discovery but an act of power. The same kind of power is exercised by anyone who comes to control a jointly used resource where the right of others to use it is lost; a boundary or limitation has been established seen typically in the case of property rights and land ownership e.g. colonisation, enclosure of common land or corporate land grabs. In the context of the psy professions, Community Psychologists Carolyn Kagan and Mark Burton (2010) refer to this deeply problematic, simplistic and reductionist process as the ‘ideological definition of one’s identity in the interests of dominant groups’:


I find much in common in the psyCommons with Community Psychology (CP), a sub discipline of Psychology that seeks to understand people in context with communities and the wider society. It’s a values based approach that draws especially (but not exclusively) from constructivist and transformative paradigms. There are many practical applications and interventions but in brief CP has an ecological theme (the fit between people and their environment), stresses the importance of cultural relativity and diversity so that people are not judged by one single standard or value, and a focus on social change ‘towards a maximally equitable distribution of psychological as well as material resources’ (Rappaport 1977:3). A very useful quote by Community Psychologist Ed Trickett appears to link this approach to the psyCommons concept: “Human activity is not situated within a social vacuum; it is situated within a socio-historical and cultural context of meanings and relationships” (Trickett 1996; Prilleltensky & Nelson 2010). CP also promotes principles such as ‘Sense of Community’ and ‘Social Capital’, both of which I would suggest are principles shared by the psyCommons:

Sense of Community: Community Psychologist Seymour Sarason described it as ‘the sense that there is a network of and structure of relationships that strengthens rather than dilutes feelings of loneliness; the sense that one belongs in and is meaningfully part of a larger collectivity’ (Sarason 1988:41)

Social Capital: Speaks of the potential of communities to improve the well-being of their members through the synergy of associations, mutual trust, sense of community and collective action (Hooghe, 2003; McKenzie & Harpham 2006).

CP makes visible the dominant cultural narrative of ‘blaming the victim’: “What typically seems to happen is that the situation of marginalized persons is portrayed as result of their own characteristics. What is essentially a social and historical phenomenon is presented as a biological or an intra-psychic event” (Kagan & Burton 2010). Linking this to the psyenclosures, this creates demand for experts who are employed to define the reality of individuals by reducing their personal experiences to a set of pathologies with technical names and treatments.

According to this view, the existing social reality internalizes the ideological narrative (such as the stereotyping of the mentally ill or indeed the unemployed, elderly or the disabled – consider the TV comedy ‘Little Britain’ whose basis for humour was a set of sketches based entirely around poking fun at the victims of this process of marginalization) and ‘reality’ is then seen as a natural rather than socially determined state of affairs. Kagan and Burton’s view is that “psychology has often colluded with ideologies that blame the victim by offering endogenous ‘causes’ of the situations in which oppressed people find themselves”.

But by drawing from the value of holism and using an ecological metaphor, CP provides an effective antidote to medical model reductionism. An example of this is understanding mental illness not only at the level of individual characteristics, but as relating to other factors such as unemployment and debt, lack of social support networks or discrimination. This perspective provides a different lens through which to understand reality and implies that changes in human behaviour are possible when boundaries of the social and organisational environment can be changed. As the network of shared power, rapport and relationship between individuals in current and historical system dynamics, this theoretical approach shares a common principle with the psyCommons.

Social Ecological Model: pays explicit attention to the social, institutional, and cultural contexts of people-environment relations. This perspective emphasizes the multiple dimensions (example: physical environment, social and cultural environment, personal attributes), multiple levels (example: individuals, groups, organizations), and complexity of human situations (example: History: cumulative impact of events over time?)


What can be done in practice? Well, this needs further exploration, but by asking different questions; questions that prompt critical reflection rather than the questions that propose there is a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer. And rather than critique, as intriguing as it is, what would be useful is critical thinking in practice, prompting people to reflect on questions such as those proposed by Flyvbjerg (2001) ‘Where are we going?’ ‘Is this direction desirable?’ ‘Who gains and who loses?’ ‘By which mechanism of power?’, thus, we are now concerned with ‘how values and power play out in social change processes in various contexts’ (Prilleltensky & Nelson 2010).

I would also emphasise bringing a sense of shared history such as that of the Commons to the foreground. Smith (1999) states “to hold an alternative history is to hold alternative knowledge. The [learning to be had from] access to alternative knowledge is that they can form the basis of alternative ways of doing things.” I think developing learning towards a critical understanding of dominant cultural narratives, and developing alternative forms of knowledge alongside new structures of governance and processes of civic accountability is crucial. In particular, the work cooperative: “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise”(ICA), which explicitly embodies the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity, is particularly suited to meet these objectives as an alternative to the dominant bureaucratic organisation.


Other areas for exploration that came to mind when reading “The Richness of Everyday Relationships”:

Empathy: the need to reconnect to others through thought, feeling, listening, talking, deed, gesture, planning and action.

In an economics of enclosure, the psyCommons are fragments: fragments of thoughts, fragments of ideas, fragments of feeling, fragments of communications, fragments of understanding, fragments of the whole.

Empathy is a vital connecting quality enabling those who empathise to understand what they have in common as opposed to emphasising differences. It provides understanding of a diverse range of experience and it is this diversity that makes up the picture of the whole. Moreover, listening to the stories of others can make them real for those who care enough to listen, validate their experiences, help guide people towards their own solutions and empower people to re-claim their history.

Culture: Culture = Commons, Enclosures = Control of Culture?

Culture can be defined as ‘the knowledge, language, values, customs and material objects that are passed from person to person and from one generation to the next in a human group or society..’

The Commons is about culture and cultural change. What is needed is the reclaiming of culture, both economic and psychological, from an oppressive norm or societal status quo; e.g. enclosure, (monopoly) capital.

Discourse: Discourse Analysis is a useful way of theorizing culture, and “social processes operating in contested terrains, in which different voices become hegemonic” (Bratton 2010).

Metaphor: The importance of using metaphor to link social constructs to concrete things. “Metaphors reveal alternative ways of thinking about the origin and nature or organizing, its processes and the constructs that form its ontological roots” (Bratton 2010). Thus, using the enclosures as a metaphor, an historical antecedent and a current reality, in this sense, provides an alternative lens through which to understand reality (ontology).

Aristotle: ‘Midway between the unintelligible and the commonplace it is Metaphor that produces the most knowledge’

Organisation: Organisations and organizing play a central role to both the health of the psyCommons and the process of enclosure. The dominant metaphor as applied to organisations is overwhelmingly the machine metaphor and fits the objectives of the bureaucratic organisational form: ‘organisations were viewed as the primary vehicle through which lives were rationalised, planned, articulated, scientized, made more efficient, orderly and managed by experts’ (Bratton 2010).


Bratton, J. 2010 Work and Organizational Behaviour

Carter, P. & Jackson, N. Re-thinking Organizational Behaviour: A Poststructuralist Framework

Flyvbjerg, B. 2001 Making Social Science Matter: Why Social Inquiry Fails and how it can succeed Again

Parkhurst, J. The Social Side of Health (Blog)

Prilleltensky, I. & Nelson, G. 2010 Community Psychology: In Pursuit of Liberation and Well-being

Rappaport, J. 1977 Community Psychology: Values, Research, & Action

Restakis, J. 2010 Humanizing the Economy: Cooperatives in the Age of Capital

Smith, L.T. 1999 Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples

Sarason, S. 1988 The Psychological Sense of Community

A beginning

December 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

After 27 years as a psy practitioner and something like ten years as an activist in the task of confronting the micro-fascism of therapy professionalization in the UK, my attention shifted. Too much ‘against’, too much ‘they’re terrible’, not enough ‘what do we want’, not enough ‘big picture’.

And then I fell upon a big picture, or rather it fell upon me, the institutions that we had been opposing were offensive because they were fencing in, making enclosures, of a field of mutual caring, rapport and cooperation that belonged to all of us, a commons, the shared power and ordinary wisdom of the psyCommons.

I realized recently that I had written several separate introductions to the psyCommons, (see pages left) it was time to broaden the enquiry and to reach an audience outside the therapy world.

Welcome to the psyCommons blog.

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