Russell Gardner, Jr, MD 28.8.92
Fax: 0101 409 772 4288
Herewith a farewell to Michael Chance, diluted with some ramblings of my own (3 PAGES IN
ALL). Antonia and I dallied for two
weeks after the conference in
Thanks to Michael Chance (ASCAP Sep 92, Vol 5, No 9, p 2-4)
Michael Chance has now completed his year of service as president of IASCAP, and as the new president it falls to my happy lot to propose a vote of thanks to him and wish him well. It was very appropriate that he should have been the first president of a society devoted to across species comparisons and psychopathology. At a time when the other great names in animal behaviour such as R.A.Hinde and S.A.Barnett were expressing pessimism about the value of across species comparisons, Michael was demonstrating several areas in which they were invaluable, not least in the relation between the agonic mode and psychopathology. It may be difficult for ASCAP readers to remember that twenty years ago it was thought that depressive and anxiety states were related exclusively to attachment behaviour, or rather, the failure of attachment behaviour. It was a matter for speculation how much of psychopathology could be accounted for by the failure of parent-child bonding, how much due to inappropriate pair-bonding or the breakup of pair-bonds by death, how much by failure of affiliative behaviour and how much by mismanagement of reciprocal exchange. All forms of competitive behaviour including agonistic behaviour were simply ignored. Bowlby and Hinde had spoken, and only Michael Chance had the intuition and courage to speak out and demonstrate that the various dysphoric states that constitute the bulk of human psychopathology make much more sense in the context of agonistic behaviour. His concepts of the agonic and hedonic modes, linked to his concepts of attention structure and reverted escape, have illuminated both animal and human behaviour.
is not to say that the failure of attachment behaviour is not important in
psychopathology. We know clinically that
many depressive states follow loss of some sort. But this is proximate causation. Underlying attachment behaviour, at a
phylogenetically earlier level of the brain, the mechanisms for agonistic
behaviour are "pulling the strings" and give an ultimate explanation
for the paradoxical apparent maladaptiveness of
depression such as the incapacity, the cognitive distortions and the inhibition
of affiliative behaviour. These cannot
be given an ultimate explanation in terms of malfunctioning attachment
behaviour, because they actually exacerbate any affiliative malfunction that
already exists; only
in the case of the rejected suitor can some function be seen, in that
depression may inhibit what would otherwise be inappropriate courtship
behaviour of the type we often read about in the papers, in the form of a
rejected suitor getting sent to prison for pestering or harming the person who
has rejected him. On the whole, however,
depression is maladaptive in cases of attachment malfunction, when usually
increased affiliative and other activity is required. Only in the role of the yielding reaction and
the inhibition of agonistic behaviour can the strange phenomena of depression
be understood in an evolutionary context.
Most ASCAP readers will be familiar with Michael Chance's book Fabrics
of the Mind, and his previous books are still well worth reading. His latest initiative has been to edit a
symposium on the two modes for World Futures: the Journal of General Evolution which is
due to appear in the September, 1992, issue; contributors are: Chance, Gilbert, Kemper, Power, Stevens,
and myself. I look forward to reading
this symposium and I wish it had been possible to circulate copies to ASCAP
readers. Anyone who has difficulty
getting access to World Futures can get a copy of the symposium by writing to
Gordon and Beach Publishers Inc, Frankford Arsenal Building 110,
In my contribution to the symposium I point out how the mode concept is applicable to marital relationships. The way a marriage can switch from the agonic mode to the hedonic and back again is something that is clearly described by novelists but is not conceptualised by social psychologists or marital therapists because, lacking the two mode concept, they could not talk about the pattern even if they could see it. See, for instance, Steve Duck's Human Relationships, 2nd ed (London, Sage Publications, 1992) where on pages 87-101 he discusses what happens when things go wrong in long-term relationships; having no concept of the agonic mode, the nearest he gets is "What happens when disagreements are detected is that people talk them out, so once again in everyday life conversation is an important tool for developing and sustaining relationships" (p87); the only possibility which Duck considers apart from this hedonic resolution by discussion is separation, preceded by a period in which each party runs down the other to other people; there is total agnosia for the agonic mode. In my contribution I mention the novel September by Rosamund Pilcher, and I have just read The Rector's Wife by Joanna Trollope (Bloomsbury Publishing, 1991; Black Swan, 1992, paperback), in which the clerical marriage switches to the agonic mode after the rector's wife takes a job against the rector's wishes - rather unfairly the author sidesteps the resolution of the agonic episode by killing the rector off in an automobile accident (although she is right in emphasising the adverse effect of the agonic mode on attention and concentration) - and also, the novel is an excellent description of a struggle for autonomy and the acquisition of the capacity for saying "no". I think it is true to say that the agonic mode in marriage is currently only described in novels, being too subtle for the laboratory and even for the consulting room. After all, in the nineteenth century novelists were the only psychologists they had, and I do not think they have been entirely replaced.
It is interesting to contrast the agonic mode in humans and in Michael's long-tailed macaques. We know from introspection and the reports of others how it feels to be in an agonic relationship. One feels angry with the other, wants to hurt them and wants to lower their RHP/SAHP/prestige/status. Macaques have little in their behavioural repertoire to express these feelings apart from actual fighting and possibly withholding affiliative behaviour such as grooming. Human beings, on the other hand, have quite an armoury of agonic techniques short of agonistic behaviour. We can, for instance, run the other down to a third party, thus lowering their prestige. We can hurt the other with a variety of techniques, and this is particularly true when the agonic episode occurs in a relationship characterised by affiliation such as a marital relationship. We can withhold love, or make statements denying love, or we can be unfaithful, all actions which appear to be part of affiliative behaviour but are in fact motivated by agonistic behaviour. This is one of the complex interactions between attachment behaviour and agonistic behaviour. So the agonic mode, which is one of orientation towards agonistic behaviour in the absence of overt fighting, is far more complex in humans than in animals and deserves intensive study.
Having said thanks to Michael, who stays on the executive committee of IASCAP in the capacity of past president, it is my pleasure to welcome John Pearce on to the committee in the capacity of vice president. Any ASCAP readers who have not read the book he co-authored with Kalman Glanz, Exiles from Eden should certainly do so as it is full of ideas and represents a pioneering attempt to apply evolutionary biology to psychotherapy. I think he will be a very valuable addition to our committee.
During the year of my presidency I hope to set in motion the arrangements for a meeting of our society, possibly as part of a larger meeting, and if anyone has any ideas on this they would be most welcome. I would particularly like to bring together clinicians who are interested in across-species comparisons and scientists who are actually working with animals.
In the meantime, I would like to ask for the help of ASCAP readers in compiling an anthology of episodes of agonic mode from fiction. If you encounter an episode in which friends, marriage partners or family members switch into the agonic mode, are described in it, or manage to get out of it by reconciliation or other means, please make a note of it and let me know.
Apart from the novels mentioned above, my list so far includes The Forsyte Saga, Trollope's Daniel Deronda, Somerset Maugham's Merrygoround, Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Daphne du Maurier's Jamaica Inn. I suspect there is still a long way to go. END OF FAX