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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Social Systems as an Envious Attack

Envy has the potential for substantial destructiveness in social systems. Despite its fundamental place in the Kleinian psychoanalytic study of individuals, for several decades envy has been virtually excluded from psychoanalytic studies of social systems. This paper focuses on this omission, arguing that the Kleinian school established a paradigm focusing on 'social systems as a defence against anxiety'. The implicit delimiting of this paradigm has allowed no room for envy: envy is quite distinct from anxiety; and it is not defensive, involving unwarranted attacks instead. In recent years envy has emerged as the existing paradigm's anomaly. It is argued here that a new paradigm which has conceptual space for the notion of 'social systems as an envious attack' is required. Group, organizational and societal examples are offered to exemplify the dangerous and malignant potential of envy in such social systems.