THE CIVILISING PROCESS

 

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In his book, Symbolic Exchange and Death, Jean Baudrillard examines the psychological consequences of the civilising process and concludes that while civilisation has pulled us from the primitive condition that revolved around the ideas of GIVING-RETURNING-EXCHANGING, it has sunk us into a much grimmer reality of KILLING-POSSESSING-DEVOURING.[i]

The irony that this observation reveals is that our so-called progression into the civilised beings we are, now must be seen as a bestialising process for humanity. Which means that civilisation is actually the exact opposite of what it pretends to be.

Once Baudrillard’s analysis is accepted civilisation is stripped of its pretentions to be what it says it is. The horrific consequences of civilisation have been seen over and over again throughout history, without diminishing civilisation’s own blind faith in its own existence: from the tremendous brutality of Rome with its perverse emperors; to the slave trading and war hungry empires of the modern era; to the epitome of civilised barbarity in the totalitarian regimes of Hitler and Stalin, of Mao and Pol Pot. In fact, humanity has paid an enormous price for the so-called comforts and pleasures that civilisation has brought us.

Perhaps it’s wrong to put all the blame on the civilisation process (and Baudrillard only implies the repression of civilisations without naming them), but the evolution from giving into taking (even by killing); returning into keeping and possessing; and exchanging into devouring, seems to flow with the same gravitational force that constructed the first great cities and their monuments.

In looking at the system’s death-drive instinct, Baudrillard says: “Freud installs the process of repetition at the core of objective determinations, at the very moment when the general system of production passes into pure and simple reproduction.”[ii]  For Baudrillard the radical nature of the death-drive is “simply the radical nature of the system itself.”[iii]

[i] Jean Baudrillard, SYMBOLIC EXCHANGE AND DEATH, SAGE, 1993, p. 139)

[ii] Ibid, p. 148

[iii] Ibid

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OUR UNCONSCIOUS DEMOCRACY

According to the Jungian psychologist Erich Neumann,[1] the evolution of consciousness began, in a mythological sense, with the ego submerged in the unconscious. For the ego to become what we understand it to be today it not only had to become aware of its own position and defend it, but it also had to “become capable of broadening and relativising its experience through the changes affected by its own activity.”[2]

Once we start to analyse our so-called democratic civilisation we almost immediately hit our heads on the paradox of subjectivity – how can the demos (the people) judge the system if it is the system? Only by stepping outside of the paradigm of democracy can we really see it for what it is. This objectifying of a subjective reality is precisely the task that psychology has taken upon itself, so, what would a psychology of system reveal? Can we psychoanalyse politics? As inventions of human minds might not our systems have a specular relationship to those same minds that created them?

If the answer is affirmative then we can propose that the ego of a democracy should be the demos. But… is that the case? How conscious of itself is this demos? What kind of character does the demos bring to the democracy itself? And… doesn’t the demos operate in an automaton way within democracy?

On a certain date, when it is commanded to, the unconscious automaton moves into action, casts a vote, and then goes back to its business of living. But is that singular act enough to deem it “conscious” in the governmental procedure? Once the vote has been cast, how active can the demos be in the government that belongs to it? Isn’t the functionality of the demos within the democracy a myth, maintained to provide the unconscious demos-ego with a sense of purpose?

In fact the potential demos-ego consciousness is suppressed by what Neumann would probably call the World Parent.[3] In other words, the demos-ego is deliberately locked up within the unconscious realm of democracy by those who really govern in order to divorce the demos from a proper understanding of exactly how they are being governed. If we continue to follow Neumann’s narrative for the primitive ego, this demos-ego, which is starting to grow more and more aware of its own repressed position, will reach a stage where it will need to not only heroically defend the awareness that it has already achieved of itself, but also have to fight for further emancipation of that awareness in order to win its rightful role of the commanding ego within the psyche of government itself.

We often hear it stated that democracy should not be taken for granted, but neither should consciousness. The ego of the individual within the demos is just as vulnerable as the demos-ego itself. In fact the two are interrelated: the deeper that the demos-ego sinks into the unconscious realm the more likelihood there is that the individuals egos will also drown.

Democracy is still only in its nascent stage. It has been conceived but will not properly be born until it becomes fully conscious of itself and is able to assert itself as a demos-led ego in full control of the governing psyche. Only then will the demos be truly conscious of itself and its dignity.


[2] Erich Neumann, THE ORIGINS AND HISTORY OF CONSCIOUSNESS, Princeton University Press, Princeton/Bollingen Paperback Printing, Mythos series, first edition, 1995, p. 5

[3] Ibid