The Little Man


In the summer of 1945 psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957) wrote a riveting essay entitled Listen, Little Man! – addressing all the forms of the ‘Little Man’ and ‘Little Woman’ who pulls people down, projects their fears onto others and unknowingly lives a limited life. With his mental yardstick he measures everything he encounters: if it falls outside of his parameters of normalcy, he simplifies, ridicules and attacks. In doing so, he makes great men and women go into hiding. The damage to society, Reich wrote, is enormous:

It is you, Little Man, who makes a pariah out of the great man when his thought is correct and lasting and your thought is petty and ephemeral. In making him a pariah, you plant the dreadful seed of loneliness in him. Not the seed of loneliness that produces great deeds, but the seed of the fear of being misunderstood and maltreated by you. For you are ‘the people’, ‘public opinion’ and ‘social conscience’.

Wilhelm Reich, Listen, Little Man!, Orgone Institute Press, 1946

A week ago on Sunday morning, one Little Man attracted lots of attention on Dutch public television when he proclaimed that instead of buying art, people should be funding weapons of war. It is no coincidence that he desired the money for bombs to come from art, not stocks or real estate, because art is an expression of the living, of nature.

D.H. Lawrence, Solzhenitsyn, Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky and many others have written extensively about this type of thought in modern man, who in the relentless pursuit of perfection is eliminating the living. Reich studied this pattern in many of his books on what he called the ’emotional plague’ and the ‘armoring’ of man against the omnipresent energetic currents of natural life.

“The technician of physics, whose thinking was formed by the mechanistic world outlook (…) his world picture is based on the fact that planes can be guided by fine apparatus so that the living pilot is excluded. (…) In his ideology, the living has no place.”

Wilhelm Reich, Ether, God and Devil, Orgone Institute Press, 1949

Humans have the propensity to think in erroneous ways, and Reich set out to find out why. Each bad idea builds upon an older bad idea, like a house of cards. After the newer bad ideas have taken hold, the older bad ideas aren’t allowed to be questioned any more, perpetuating humanity’s viscious circle of thinking errors.

Books on the harm done by the contemporary Little Man are popular. A 2015 essay The Coddling of the American Mind describes the worst ideas that are provoking mental illness among students – the 2023 book version is The Cancelling of the American Mind. Or, for instance, The Parasitic Mind by evolutionary psychologist Gad Saad from 2021. Jordan Peterson has been exposing bad thought for many years, as has Emerson teacher Warren Smith. Dr. Phil decided to join them with his new book We’ve Got Issues. They all offer insights and reasoning but none are as comprehensive as Reich’s heavily censored writings.

“I am at odds with my friends who correctly criticize the status quo in social affairs but do not go back to its common denominator, the armored, biologically disrupted human structure which produces this status quo.”

Wilhelm Reich, Ether, God and Devil, Orgone Institute Press, 1949

The Little Man is continuously exploited in power games, because tyranny equals pettiness. And so the search for the foundations of erroneous thought continues today. Many, including cognitive psychologist Donald Hoffman are working on this despite immense backlash. While the Little Man in the television studio promotes the bomb business at art’s expense, it is up to those who have long since defeated their own inner Little Man to work twice as hard to turn a shrinking society into a great one.

Post scriptum: Thousands of kilograms of Wilhelm Reich’s writings were burned by American authorities in 1956 and 1960. He died in prison in 1957. All of his writings published after his death have been edited, re-translated and cut up without version control, I therefore recommend prints from before his death. Or, if you can wait a few years, buy the book I’m working on.

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