Prof. Joseph Levine

Senior Psychiatrist




Conversation 26: The decisive importance of the internalized "secondary self" which we called "subculture"

By Prof. Levine & Dr. Salganik


Let's first recall the "social ego" model shown in the figure below:

First we note that the social self is mainly influenced by the external reference groups [in external reality] and even projects onto them what is reflected in the figure above. It was also said first that a structure is defined as a mental structure that expresses a defined function or functions, while external groups are defined as a group of people in external reality who have some common denominator and mutual interactions.

Below are definitions of the structures and concepts that appear in the above suggested model.

In this model we propose that one must first differentiate between the primary self [PRIMARY SELF] which is actually the basic biological core consisting of several innate structures and which is subject to development during life. and the social self [SECONDARY SELF] which is a structure that develops during the exposure of a person to social influence and consists of internalizations of figures significant to a person that originate either from external groups or from imaginary groups related for example to a character from a myth, from a movie, and more that had a considerable influence upon the person. We will note here that at birth there are apparently innate patterns for most parts of the self such as the social self and its parts that form nuclei for the future development of these structures.

The Secondary Selves include: 1] the variety of representations of the "I" that originate from attitudes and feelings towards the self and its representations in different periods of life; 2] the representations of internalized characters that often originate from significant characters that the person is exposed to during his life but as mentioned there may also be imaginary characters represented in books, movies, etc. that had a significant impact on the person; 3] person’s representations of the "subculture" [subculture refers to social influences in the milieu in which a person lives and are not specifically related to a specific person, [as we will see later, this refers to the combination of the existing culture and the subculture in which the person lives]. For convenience, we refer to the variety of internalized secondary selves as the "board" of internalized characters. We note that often one or more of the secondary selves takes precedence and dictates the attitudes and behavior of this directorate and he/they are referred to by us as "the Dictator Self" or “Dictator Selves”. The reference here is not to the dictator of a country, but rather to an internalized figure which is dominant in the board of the internalized characters.

The Bodily Self is defined as the set of experiences related to the perception of the body, its limits and sensations and also includes thoughts, attitudes and feelings towards the body and which begin with the innate bodily self which, as mentioned, continues to develop in human life.

And finally we include here the Reflective Self which is defined as a structure that develops following the development of the social self and enables a comprehensive insight [even supervision] to the individual's state of awareness and mental expressions.

In order to focus on our subject, we will not mention here this time the Sensitivity Channels that appear in the illustration above and their influence, you can read about them in previous conversations.

The current conversation focuses on the secondary self (or secondary selves) represented by the subculture.

We will first start with a brief discussion of what culture and subculture are as they are generally perceived:

In general, culture refers to shared values, beliefs, customs, behaviors and objects that characterize a group or society. It encompasses the entire lifestyle of a particular group and includes everything like language, religion, music, art, and social norms. A subculture, on the other hand, refers to a broad group within a larger culture that shares distinct characteristics, values, and behaviors that set them apart from the dominant culture. Subcultures can be formed based on a variety of factors, such as ethnicity, sexual identification, lifestyle or even a criminal society or regime opponents. They often develop as a reaction to the dominant culture, and members of subcultures may share a different sense of identity and community than the mainstream. Thus, while culture refers to the broad and shared values ​​and customs of a group or society, subculture refers to a relatively smaller and more specific group that shares distinct characteristics within that broader culture. While the subculture can be opposed to the dominant culture in quite a few issues [criminal subculture, oppositional subculture to the ruling regime, and in some cases subculture of the immigrant population, etc.], we note that often the members of the subculture will adopt many characteristics of the dominant culture in addition to their own characteristics.

In RGFT the term subculture refers to the effects of the culture together with the effects of the subculture as defined above. Pay attention then to this overall definition and perhaps a more appropriate language unit for it would be the “secondary self of the integrated culture". This is actually a subtype of secondary self that usually originates not in exposure to a specific person or to a smaller group such as a family or a university class, but rather to a wider group of people such as a tribe, a nation, a country and the subculture in a broad group within it that has similar characteristics. The main difference from a small group like a family is that in many cases we cannot attribute the influence of a larger group of dozens of people solely to specific encounters or events related to the person, but the influence of this group is "in the air", in the atmosphere that the person grew up in, and a metaphor for this is, for example, the water in the fish aquarium.

One of the features characterizing such a group is the particular language that the person acquires either in the earliest stages of his development, (usually mother tongue) or later along with certain habits, patterns of behavior which are simply "sucked in" from the being around him.

In general, if we expand on the subject, culture plays a significant role in shaping human behavior and beliefs. as a complex system of shared values, norms, customs and symbols, and these affect individuals and societies in different ways:

1. Socialization: culture is passed from generation to generation through socialization. This process begins at an early age, when people learn the norms, values ​​and expectations of their culture from their family, their educational institutions and their peers. This continues throughout life as people adapt to changing cultural norms and expectations.

2. Language: Language is a fundamental aspect of culture, shaping the way people think and communicate. Different languages ​​have unique ways of expressing ideas, concepts and feelings, which can influence behavior and beliefs. Language can also be used as a means of transmitting cultural values ​​and norms.

3. Religion and spirituality: Culture often includes religious and spiritual beliefs, which can profoundly shape a person's worldview, morality and ethical behavior. Religious and spiritual beliefs can provide guidelines for how to live life, influencing how people interact with others, face life's challenges, and understand the world around them.

4. Family structure and values: Different cultures have separate family structures and values, which can influence behavior and beliefs. For example, collectivist cultures often emphasize the importance of the group or family over the individual, while individualistic cultures may prioritize personal goals and achievements. These cultural differences can shape the way people perceive their roles and responsibilities within the family and society.

5. Customs and traditions: Cultures often have specific customs, rituals and traditions that influence behavior and beliefs. These practices can provide a sense of belonging, identity and continuity. They can also convey shared values ​​and expectations, such as how to treat others, how to celebrate important events, or how to grieve the loss of a loved one.

6. Art, Literature and Media: Artistic, literary and media expression can shape an individual's perceptions, beliefs and behaviors by reflecting and reinforcing cultural norms and values. They can also challenge or criticize social expectations and promote alternative perspectives.

7. Social norms and expectations: Cultures set social norms and expectations that determine how people should behave in different situations. Deviating from these norms can lead to social ostracism or sanctions, while complying with them can facilitate social acceptance and harmony. People often internalize these norms, which in turn shape their beliefs and behavior.

So culture has a widespread influence on human behavior and beliefs. It shapes our worldview, our relationships with others and our understanding of ourselves. As people navigate their lives in different cultural contexts, their behavior and beliefs may evolve, reflecting the dynamic nature of culture and human experience.

To conclude, subcultures play an important role in shaping at least some of the characteristics above and we argue here that this internalized secondary self [the integrated culture] that we have called a subculture differs from any other internalized secondary self in its basic being and meaning. Metaphorically, it can be compared to the foundations of a house: on which everything built above stands and depends on them in one sense or another.

In this context we can see the subculture [the integrated culture] as a certain type of internalized secondary self with all the features of the dictator self: a higher hierarchical position, and a function of "censorship" in accepting or rejecting messages from the environment and decisions about how the characters or groups are internalized. Therefore this secondary self belongs resolutely to the internal directorate of the board of internalized figures that build the self.

However, there is one essential difference between the subculture [the integrated culture] and other types of dictatorial selves. All other dictatorial selves have a certain set of attitudes, a basic emotional "tuning" and a set of behaviors. These are internalized patterns associated with a particular person or smaller group (real or imagined) that can be easily traced back to certain relationships with that person or smaller group.

In the case of a subculture [the integrated culture], on the other hand, these positions are based on identification with a larger group, on its laws and beliefs, which are often rooted in myths and historical discourse, traditions, religious dogmas. This is how we often identify a person as "Italian Catholic", "German Socialist", "Israeli Reformist", "American mobster" etc. These are expressions of the subculture as we have defined it. This identity (or, in fact, the subcultural Dictator Self) is so decisive that it can motivate a person to perform actions that he would never do as a member of a smaller group – such as killing a stranger (in a war or belonging to a criminal mafia subculture), submitting without hesitation to a person he does not know well (such as in the army, the mafia or a sect of believers), etc. It is important to understand, in our opinion, that the identification with a large group of a subculture [in the sense of an integrated culture] usually bypasses the principles that a person would obey if he were placed in a more private position, or, in other words, canceling out the attitudes of other Dictator Selves, based on personal exposure to smaller individuals or groups. This explains why such a large group of people may be indoctrinated by ideas or beliefs that contradict one's own ideas and beliefs.

The mechanisms that provide a large group with such decisive power are quite simple: this large group (identified with a leader or group of leaders) can punish a person in a way that a smaller group would have difficulty punishing – from isolating the person and removing him from the group up to imprisonment and, in extreme cases, the death penalty, it can deprive a person of his friends and his community and even his property. It also often possess mass media that can systematically exert influence on a large group of people and synchronize their actions so that a person will fight for ideas that he would not support if he followed his own principles and might even force him to sacrifice his life for them.

We found an interesting example of the influence of the subculture in the fascinating and unique case of Holocaust survivor Solomon Pearl, who recently died in 2023.

Solomon Perl [1925-2023]

Let's start by saying that Holocaust survivor Solomon Perl went through extremely difficult and threatening situations in his life and we would not be telling the truth if we said that he acted with extraordinary bravery and resourcefulness, but here we will only discuss one aspect and that is the effects of the subculture upon him that he encountered during his life.

Perl was born in Peine in Lower Saxony in 1925 to Jewish parents who immigrated to Germany from Russia and until the age of 8 he lived and was educated in the Weimar Republic. That is, he received a German education. Some propose [including us] that this education is characterized by the fact that the state is seen as of paramount importance, or in other words in the first place, and from there therefore comes the "Dictator Self" that expresses this subculture, while in this approach to education the family is in second place. On the other hand, with Jewish families the situation is often different since there is primacy of the family over the state and the "Dictator Self" that steers the board of directors stems often from the person’s family. With Solomon, both possibilities may have existed until he left his parents' home and their influence decreased. With the rise of the Nazis and the beginning of the persecution of Jews in Germany. In 1935, the Perl family moved to Lodz, Poland, where Solomon's aunt lived, after their shoe store was looted and Pearl was expelled from his school. Pearl mentions that he mourned his departure from Germany and it is possible that the German value system and this subculture was assimilated by him. After the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, when he was 14 years old, Solomon Perl and his brother tried to escape to the part occupied by the Soviets. Solomon was placed in a Komsomol orphanage in Grodno and here he apparently adopted the Soviet value system and subculture in which the state and its values ​​were usually placed above the family and now apparently a new "dictator's self" became influential in his board of figures. Perl escaped from the orphanage after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 when he was about 16 years old, and was captured near Grodno by the 12th Panzer Division. Since he was a native German speaker, Perl managed to convince his captors that he was a “volksdeutscher” (an ethnic German living outside of Germany) and was accepted into his captors' unit as a translator from Russian into German. Solomon knew how to like his unit in the German army and here again apparently the "dictator self" of the German value system and subculture became influential and dominant in his board of characters, being still a minor, he could not stay in the army. And he was sent to a Hitler youth boarding school. In Braunschweig, where he continued to hide his Jewish identity under the name Josef Fregel and attended classes about Nazi racial theory and pre-military training exercises. Perl was apparently divided because there was a side in him that identified with the German value system and this subculture and apparently the "dictator self" that reflects this, while the "dictator self" that reflects his Jewishness became more tolerant in his directorate of characters. It is interesting that years later it was stated that Joseph (“Yup”) remained inside him. Something that perhaps teaches that the secondary representations of the various subcultures continue to exist, but at different times and especially for the sake of social assimilation in a social environment and the need for survival, certain subcultures that are dictated by the environment become the ruling "dictator self" while others retreat.

Towards the end of the war, Pearl was recruited into the German army. In 1945, when he was 20 years old, shortly after being drafted into the army, he was captured by the United States Army, and was released the next day. Interestingly, he says that he identified himself with being a German soldier and it did not occur to him to tell that he was Jewish. Something that teaches that changes in the board of directors, such as the withdrawal of the "dictator self" of the external subculture from its dominant introverted role, require a type of mental processing and an appropriate period of time. After the end of the war he served for a short time as an interpreter for the Red Army. In 1948 he immigrated to the State of Israel and here the ruling "dictator self" became that of the subculture that reflected his Jewish and Israeli part.

Solomon's case therefore teaches us about the importance of the subculture role. And that the internalized subculture has an crucial position in the hierarchy between the secondary selves and it often serves as the "dictator self" among other "dictator selves" that retreat to less significant position.

Finally, with everything we said above, we’d like to make a reservation and say that in the end, understanding the social self is a complex and continuous process that requires careful observation and a willingness to explore the various factors that contribute to its identity. Our hypothesis above is regarding the roles of the secondary selves of the subcultures in construction of this social self.

That's it for this time, and until the next conversation,

Dr. Igor Salganik and Prof. Joseph Levine

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