It cannot be assumed that any freedom movement will have any chance of achieving its goals if it does not sharply and clearly confront the organized emotional plague with truthfulness.
The term “emotional plague” is not a derogatory phrase. It does not connote conscious malevolence, moral or biological degeneracy, immorality, etc. An organism whose natural mobility has been continually thwarted from birth develops artificial forms of movement. It limps or walks on crutches. In the same way, a man goes through life on the crutches of the emotional plague when the natural self-regulating life expressions are suppressed from birth.
No one will take it as an insult if he is told that he is suffering from a cardiac disease or that he is nervous. No one should take it as an insult if he is told that he is suffering from an “acute attack of the emotional plague.” We sometimes hear it said among orgonomists: “No sense wasting your time with me today, I’m pesty.” In our circle, when someone is afflicted with a minor case of the emotional plague, he deals with it by isolating himself and waiting until the attack of irrationalism passes. In acute cases, where rational thinking and friendly advice are of no avail, orgone therapy is used to remove the infection.
It can be seen again and again that such acute attacks of the emotional plague are always produced by a disturbance in the person’s love life. They disappear upon the elimination of the disturbance.
The acute attack of the plague is such a familiar phenomenon to me and to my circle of coworkers that we accept it as a matter of course and deal with it objectively. It is extremely important for students of orgone therapy to learn to perceive acute attacks of the plague in themselves before such attacks go too far, to know how to keep such attacks from getting the best of them, to prevent them from spreading into the social environment and causing damage there, and, by means of intellectual detachment, to wait until they pass. In this way, we succeed in keeping harmful effects in our cooperative work at a minimum. Sometimes such an attack cannot be dealt with and the afflicted person causes a certain amount of harm or even resigns. We take such misfortunes in the same way one would take the acute physical ailment or demise of a beloved colleague.
The emotional plague is more closely related to character neurosis than to organic heart disease, for example, but it can lead to cancer or heart disease in the long run. Just like the character neurosis, it is sustained by secondary drives. It differs from physical defects in as much as it is a function of the character and, as such, is strongly defended. As opposed to a hysterical attack, an attack of the emotional plague is not sensed as a symptom and as ego-alien. True enough, character-neurotic behavior is usually highly rationalized, but this is true of the emotional plague reaction to a far greater extent. One is hardly aware of it at all. How do we recognize a plague reaction and how do we distinguish it from a rational reaction, the reader will want to know. The answer is that we distinguish it in the same way that we distinguish a rational reaction from the reaction of a neurotic character: as soon as the roots or motives of the plague-afflicted reaction are touched, the result is invariably anxiety or anger. Let us go into this in more detail.
The man afflicted with the emotional plague will become restless or angry when the mechanisms of the emotional plague are discussed. Orgastic impotence does not always lead to the emotional plague, but every person afflicted with the emotional plague is either lastingly orgastically impotent or becomes impotent shortly before the attack. This makes it easy to distinguish the plague reaction from rational reactions.
An essential and basic characteristic of the emotional plague reaction is that action and the motive of the action never coincide. The real motive is concealed and a sham motive is given as the reason for the action. In the reaction of the natural and healthy individual, motive, action, and goal form an organic unity. Nothing is concealed. This unity is immediately evident. For example: the healthy individual has no other motive for his sexual acts than his natural need for love, and no other goal than its gratification. The ascetic, plague-ridden individual, on the other hand, uses ethical codes to justify his sexual debility. This justification has nothing to do with the manner in which he lives, which is there before the justification.
The healthy person will not want to impose his way of life on anyone, but he will cure and he will help others when he is asked and when he is capable. In no case will a healthy individual legislate that everyone “has to be healthy.” First, such a demand would be irrational, for a person cannot be ordered to be healthy. Second, the healthy individual has no urge to force his way of life upon others, for the motives of conduct are related specifically to his own life and not to anybody else’s.
The person afflicted with the emotional plague is distinguished from the healthy individual by the fact that he makes his demands of life not only on himself but, above all, on his environment. In situations in which the healthy individual makes suggestions and helps, in which he uses his experiences as an example to others, leaving it up to them whether they want to follow, the person afflicted with the emotional plague imposes his mode of life upon others by force. Individuals afflicted with the emotional plague do not tolerate views which threaten their armor or unmask their irrational motives. The healthy person is happy to be given an insight into his motives. The plague-afflicted individual is seized by frenzy. When views contrary to his own disrupt his life and work, the healthy individual puts up a strong rational fight for the preservation of his way of life. The plague-afflicted person fights against other modes of life even when they don’t concern him in any way whatever. He is impelled to fight because he senses the very existence of other ways of life as a provocation.
The energy which sustains the emotional plague reaction always derives from genital frustration, whether it is a matter of sadistic deeds of war or the defamation of friends. Stasis of sexual energy is what the plague-afflicted individual has in common with all other biopathies. I shall have a word to say about the differences shortly. The basic biopathic nature of the emotional plague is revealed in the fact that, like every other biopathy, it can be cured by establishing the natural capacity for love.
Susceptibility to the emotional plague is universal. There is no clear-cut line of distinction between those afflicted with and those uncontaminated by the plague. Just as every man somewhere in the depths is susceptible to cancer, schizophrenia, or alcoholism, so even the healthiest and most life-affirming among us is susceptible to irrational plague reactions.
Let us briefly outline a few typical areas in which the emotional plague is either chronically rampant or capable of breaking out in an acute way. We shall see immediately that it is precisely the most important spheres of life in which the emotional plague is active:
mysticism in its most destructive form; passive and active thirst for authority; moralism; biopathies of the autonomic nervous system; party politicking; familial plague, which I have designated as “familitis”; sadistic methods of education; masochistic toleration of such methods or criminal rebellion against them; gossip and defamation; authoritarian bureaucracy; imperialistic war ideologies; everything that falls under the American concept of “racket”; antisocial criminality; pornography; profiteering; racial hatred.
We see that the compass of the emotional plague coincides approximately with the broad compass of social abuse, which has always been and still is combatted by every social freedom movement. With some qualifications, it can be said that the sphere of the emotional plague coincides with that of “political reaction” and perhaps even with the principle of politics in general. This would hold true, however, only if the basic principle of all politics, namely thirst for power and special prerogatives, were carried over into those spheres of life which we do not think of as political in the usual sense of the word. For example, a mother who resorts to political methods to alienate her child from her husband would come under this extended concept of the political emotional plague. The same would apply to an ambitious scientist who works himself up to a higher social position not by concrete accomplishments but by intrigue.
There is another common denominator in all forms of the emotional plague: the lack of the capacity for natural sexual gratification leads to the development of secondary impulses, particularly sadistic impulses.
Thus, it is not surprising that truthfulness and straightforwardness, though highly extolled modes of behavior, are rarely encountered in human intercourse; they are so rare, indeed, that most people are amazed when they occasionally prevail. To judge from our “cultural” ideals, one would expect truthfulness and straightforwardness to be everyday, self-understood attitudes. The fact that they are not, that they are looked upon with astonishment, that truthful and straightforward men and women are considered freaks, a bit “touched in the head”, that, indeed, being truthful and sincere often entails severe social dangers— all this cannot be explained on the basis of the ruling cultural ideology. To arrive at an understanding of these contradictions, we must turn to our knowledge of the organized emotional plague. This knowledge alone is capable of providing an insight into the reasons why objectivity and truthfulness, the driving forces of all strivings for freedom, have been frustrated again and again over the centuries. It cannot be assumed that any freedom movement will have any chance of achieving its goals if it does not sharply and clearly confront the organized emotional plague with truthfulness.
The fact that the emotional plague was not previously recognized was its surest protection. An exact investigation of its nature and its dynamics will demolish this protection. The champions of the emotional plague will be right in interpreting this declaration as a mortal threat to their existence.
This will be clearly brought out in the way the champions and perpetuators of the emotional plague react to the following objective representations. On the basis of these reactions, we shall be able to and shall have to distinguish those who want to help in the fight against the emotional plague from those who want to preserve its institutions. We have seen again and again that the irrational nature of the emotional plague unwittingly reveals itself as soon as one attempts to go to the root of it.
This is understandable because the emotional plague can only react irrationally. It is doomed to extinction when it is sharply and clearly opposed by rational thinking and the natural feeling for life. It does not have to be attacked or fought directly. The plague will automatically and inevitably work itself into a rage when the natural functions of the living organism are objectively and truthfully described. There is nothing it hates more than this.
The Emotional Plague
by Wilhelm Reich
Originally appeared as Chapter 16
of Reich’s book ‘Character Analysis’
LIVE LIKE LEGENDS