WHERE DOES SO MUCH STUPIDITY COME FROM?

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“… man’s continued nescience of his desire is not so much nescience of what he demands, which may after all be isolated, as nescience of whence he desires.

(Jacques Lacan, ÉCRITS, p. 689)

Our ignorance of where our desires truly come from, is the basis of all psychoanalyses. Might it not also be the foundation of all our socio-political disasters? Democratic processes give free reign to the expression of great, social desires and yet psychoanalysis tells us that we are in fact unaware of what those desires really are and where they come from. The modern trend of spreading Fake News in social media in order to sway elections or create systemic chaos, brings this problem of our ignorance of our desires to the fore. At the macro-political level, a nescience of desires creates a dangerous socio-pathology, that allows individuals to be easily manipulated and produces stress and anguish throughout the societies it effects. In order to desire what we truly need, we need to be able to understand what our desires really are, and where they come from. In order for society to progress in a purposeful way, it needs to understand its own drives. For societies to progress, there needs to be a political will to tackle head-on the question of whence our desires come from. More than ever before, societies need to place emphasis on educating our awareness of media manipulation. Big Brother IS watching, and we need to understand how that affects our own passions, longings and beliefs.

Ignorance is not an infirmity or an infection, it is a lack of knowledge and the capacity to deal with that information. When the society detects a lack in one of its fields that is detrimental to its own condition, then it must act and operate in the field in question, to fill the hole that has been formed within it.

However, in the case of social nescience, the field itself is lacking and needs to be created. Or, seen from the opposite perspective, the abyss that stands before us, and has always been there, must now be filled in and levelled out as a field, so that purposeful seeds of social-progress can be sown there.

The field to be studied could be called Manipulation Theory, that could be simplified to the subject of Wanting at primary levels of education. Recognition of desires and how they are manufactured and manipulated needs to be taught at the earliest age possible. Only through an educated populace, wise to the idea of where their desires come from, can a purposeful democracy ever truly be possible. Only when we are sure of the manipulation can we decide if we want to be manipulated or not. But in order to come anywhere close to having this capacity of understanding our part in the game, we have to create a culture of awareness and of aware individuals.

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OUR WINDMILLS OF IMPOSSIBLE FANTASIES

 

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The gospel of St. John, translated by King James, begins with the announcement: “In the beginning was the Word,” which is a glorious way of saying: “It all began with a word.” On the surface this may sound like little more than a nice piece of poetry, but within it is buried the simple but deep metaphysics of Idealism. Existence cannot really be said to have begun in any qualitative sense until there was the first named-thing.

It is unlikely that the first word uttered would have been an abstract concept like God, as St. John proposes. More likely it would have been a familiar object, or even more likely, the expression of a feeling; or an indicator you or me.

Language is our first musical relationship between the world and our perception of it. But did it begin musically? Perhaps not: perhaps language was first created graphically. Two lines intersecting representing a tree, the tree on the plain, where two hominoids would meet and wait to hunt the invisible beast.

This would have been a clearer beginning. In order to communicate the invisible, the invisible has to be recreated from memory and then turned into a representation of it. Rendered via some abstract – either graphically or through vocalisation. But, it’s not important which came first; the importance lies in the fact that eventually one always becomes the other – the graphic form must evolve into the vocal utterance and vice versa.

Of course, once the vocal abstraction was grasped by hominoid societies and developed to its full potential, it would nearly always be preferred to the graphic communication: it is simpler and more versatile through that simplicity.

Once language has been absorbed, minds can think and expand. It is our capacity for grasping complexity through the tool of language that makes us homo-sapiens human. But from where comes this need for complexity? Why do we bother? Isn’t the good life the simple one? Could complexity be a mistake? After all, this search for complexity was the very reason for our Fall from Paradise.

The religious notion we have that we must suffer for a nostalgia for the Paradise Lost, can be affirmed by psychology. Nevertheless, psychology would also argue that the nostalgia is more realistically our yearning to return to the perfect autocracy of the womb rather than some primordial memory of a Garden of Eden.

That is our human condition; buried in the word, and the complexity that word yearns to unveil.

Our nostalgia for simplicity, on the other hand, is a (non-Sapiens) animal one – the un-special part of us: the part without language; the non-Sapiens side of the homo sapiens.

The human being then is a dual being: both animal and Sapiens. The animal side yearns for a simple life of satisfied needs, whereas the Sapiens strives to unravel the complexity of reality in order to understand and preserve it. These two forces are, in practice, basically antagonistic to each other, even though there seems to be only one entity at work.

The struggle works on both the micro and macro-psychological levels. It is as much a battle between ego and Id as it is between Power and the People. On the personal level one may get bored and distressed by the lack of challenges in one’s life, or over-stressed and panicky by their over-abundance. In the socio-political realm, the will to simplicity and the quest for comfort is generated in order to create a passive herd of the animal class whilst the same Wealth-driven power that creates the herd, separates itself in an aristocratic way. By doing this, Wealth can appropriate the Sapiens ideal for itself; albeit through gross, anti-human segregation.

Meanwhile, words themselves become absorbed into the human struggle between simplicity and complexity. The forces of simplicity struggle, in a linguistic way, to make expression as minimally clear as possible. The lucidity and clarity of the slogan: if you can say it in a sentence, why write a chapter? If you can say it in word, why write a sentence?

Nevertheless, one can’t understand complexity by simply reducing it. An abstract of the complex does require a reduction of its complexity in order to become clear, but that reduction can never be an over-simplification of the complex nature, when by over-simplification we mean a loss of meaning via simplification.

The result of over-simplification is the creation of a perception of reality that does not quite make sense. Thus, we may live in a freedom-loving country and yet not feel particularly free at all. In the same way, one may marry the person one deeply loves only to shortly find out that they hardly love him or her at all. This radical shift in our perception of reality occurs not, as we immediately think, because conditions have profoundly changed, but rather because the words we defined our relationships with (in this case “freedom” and “love”) were never properly defined to start with.

In fact, if we follow Lacan’s chain of signification into that which does not exist, we find that neither of these terms really point to anything that exists either. They are therefore impossibilities, and because they are impossibilities we can only have the vaguest notion of them. To truly achieve clarity, we should abolish them. But instead, we do the opposite. We grab onto them as fulcrums from which we can form our own impossible fantasies around.

The impossibility of the Utopia is not one of praxis, it is a linguistic impossibility. If we want to create a better world, we have to choose our words more carefully. The word was vital for humanity and it is vital if there has to be any real human progress in the Big Arenas of the eradication of poverty and hunger; crime and war; and for real human to be made in health, creativity and technology.

Of course, the impossible desire is always functional, and it creates its own accidental results: some of which even seem to make the impossible seem real. For example, whilst one could argue that very mush been achieved in the name of “love” and “freedom”; our argument stems from the realisation that in fact so much has been overlooked, precisely because of that same obsession with the windmills of impossible fantasies.

PLEASURE, DESIRE & CULTURE … SADOMASOCHISM & ART

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There is an idea in Lacan that desire is always thwarted by pleasure. Perhaps the always is an exaggeration, but in trying to envisage how this could be, we start to see how the relationship works between desire and culture.

In fact, the development of the art of prolonging pleasures, that comes from the process of satisfying desires, is an integral part of culture. Likewise, cultural differences could be gauged according to the different ways they have of thwarting as well as prolonging, perpetuating and interpreting the pleasures of satisfying our desires.

Again in Lacan, desire is really desire for the other, and this psychologically tendency, that points toward a basic human altruism, is exploited by our Wealth-driven cultures to establish itself as the Big Other (either in the form of the nation-state or the God) in order to mould societies in ways that will ensure the fulfilment of its own needs. And, as such, by doing so, at the same time diminishing authentic human altruism in favour of nationalism and religious chauvinism.

However, aside from nationalist, racial, religious and class identities, most cultural differences can be measured by the kind of food on your table. The art of defecating is also cultural, although in a wider sense, as is the art of achieving orgasm.

Once we examine the cultural controls over our most basic needs, we enter a sphere of what Foucault called biopolitics, and hence bioculture.

Once this perspective on culture has been established, it could be interesting to analyse how nationalisms need to exploit the culinary extension of our satisfactions – which is decent – leaving the art of defecation – which is not – to the multi-national designers of toilets. The latter has relegated the hole in the floor to a curiosity status, whilst the sit-down stooling water closet has advanced into mostly all cultures without too much nationalistic resistance.

The other indecency, sex, has traditionally been put in the hands of God and, with the invention of bedrooms, performed out of sight, behind closed doors and curtains. What one does to prolong the pleasure is fine, as long as it’s not with a member of the same sex or a different species of animal. Because of this, the biopolitical-cultural struggle in terms of sexuality, has been as much one of opening the door and an attempt to make one’s particular indecency as legitimate as everyone else’s indecencies.

The cultural effect of such a revelation is that there are no cultural boundaries in sex at all, but rather they overlap all boundaries. As for the religious, well, it must be becoming clearer to them now, how they were duped into looking after culture’s dirty washing. In fact, it often seems that the laundering of sheets and towels is the only thing the church is good for.

*     *     *

But let’s return to our point of departure: pleasure thwarting desire. The thwarting of course is seen as the experience of desire itself, which wants to satisfy itself as quickly as possible. Desire is always urgent in its essence.

Lacan’s original idea was expressed in an essay on “Kant and Sade”.

The thwarting of desire and the subsequent pleasure derived from it, is made obvious in sadomasochistic rituals, but it is this same process of refining desire through the act of thwarting pleasure that creates cultures and forms the highest and most refined cultures.

But, does this then mean that high culture and sadomasochism have the same nature? Or that culture is a sadomasochistic thwarting of our basic drives? Affirming this doesn’t say much, but it might help us to be more honest with our motives. Which is not to say we must dress our gourmets in latex, yet if they did, at least we can now appreciate the logic behind it.

As for us, as Sapiens creators, the question that now arises is: if art is to be linked to pleasure, what is art’s relationship to desire? How does art thwart desire? What is the pleasure being prolonged in art?

Of course the answer cannot be pronounced generically, but the question may be pertinent for any analysis or criticism of art. It also may be key for understanding why art works for some people and not for others, and why some works of art are more universal than others. Likewise, it might give us some leeway into discovering why some works of art are more profound than others by examining profundity through the depth of the prolongation of the thwarting of desire. Art appreciation now becomes an analysis of the sadomasochistic experience.

Obviously, many art lovers would be surprised or offended if we analysed them as masochists. However, this may also explain why great art can so very often be rejected, and that the difficult is often too cruel for its audience to bear. Great art and high culture knows it needs an audience that are prepared, committed and willing to endure its torture in order to be appreciated. And fine, yes, let’s repeat it, the audience don’t want to be considered sadists any more than the audience want to be masochists, but, in truth, we must be, if we are to create and appreciate great works.

The artist must work at the sadistic art of thwarting the object of desire, for it is in this thwarting that the art takes place. Going directly to the object of desire is anti-art, or pornography.

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

THE PARANOID WORLD

What is more delusional: the paranoiac or the delusion forming civilisation that he/she is paranoid about?

To understand how enslaved we are by the system it is necessary to understand how vulnerable the human psyche is and how effectively Civilisation is able to manipulate this vulnerability in order to inhibit the natural, human instincts of progress.

Civilisation is, in effect, a monopolising of progress for itself. Only Civilisation has the resources to make progress happen. It not only decides to what extent it will happen, it also determines the speed at which the progress will unfold. Through the structure of Civilisation, a carefully controlled unravelling is carried out in a way that maximises the profit that those powers that drive Civilisation can make.

The combined creative potential in humanity is immense, and, if it were unleashed, societies would advance with incredible leaps and bounds. Nevertheless, Civilisation is designed to restrain this creative power in order to assimilate it for itself. Where progress appears cautious, it is because Civilisation hasn’t yet taken control of the innovations.

In this sense, Civilisation is paranoid about human progress. It is deeply concerned that creativity and know-how will develop societies in such a way that the profit from progress will no longer be guaranteed. Such an idea makes Civilisation extremely nervous. The accumulation of wealth is the basis of Civilisation, and it has grown addicted to it. It is time for it to go to rehab., but it says, no, no, no!

Our Lack of Humanity

What Civilisation lacks above all else is precisely the one thing we all share; our humanity.

Without the binding force that humanity possesses, societies feel fragmented; there is a sense that things are not properly put together; that everything is a mess. There is a feeling that the System enveloping society has no feeling for the society itself. Many parts of civilisation seem to be unnecessary or purposeless. The relationship that the individual parts have to the whole is not palpable and things just seem to be there, ad hoc, for no significant reason at all.

The result of this lack is that society becomes a neurotic collective of neuroses, and it becomes incapable of seeing the inherent contradictions in many of the values it upholds. In fact, it is a society that cherishes opposing sets of conscious values, but fails to appreciate the absurdity of the contradiction. It will worship freedom, but champion the needs for ever stricter controls. It will strive for peace, but does so by warring against its enemies at the slightest excuse. It will harken to the need for more human rights and social justice whilst enforcing economies that ensure the flow of money in a continual stream upward to the most privileged classes.

Civilisation desperately needs a psychiatric cure from the terrible neuroses that afflict it. Someone needs to lie our System down on the couch and explain to it once and for all what it is lacking and what it needs to concentrate on and recuperate. The cure is not so hard once the patient accepts the facts and looks for the lack within itself; for the cure is there, and always has been. In fact, it is the material that constitutes the very basis of civilisation itself. We call it “humanity”.

Humanity vs Pride

“… one characteristic seems to be pertinent for all neuroses …

pride governs feelings.[i]

 

The propagation and dictatorships of pride – from the personal pride to the national – is built out of a separation: the creation of borders between us and them; the manifestation of our need to measure ourselves and create an identity out of our differences (she’s got blonde hair, he’s got red hair, they’ve got black hair and the rest of us have all got brown hair). But the separation is also a superficial thing, created out of the obvious notion that we are all different in some ways and have certain similarities in others. However, in our societies there is a prejudice towards the differences via the superficial valuation that some differences are better than others (we would love to be blonde like her). However, once the difference has been established then, psychologically, it starts to get more serious and nasty. After making the separation we must conform to what seems to be ours. Certainly one can dye one’s hair, but, everyone knows that that is cheating. The rule of identities is that one must be proud of what one is, not what one should be or would like to be – and here begin all neuroses.

The sense of direction – where are we going? – is absent in the neurotic society because its “directive powers are weakened in direct proportion to the degree of alienation from self,” [ii] which is our alienation from humanity. Or, in other words, our pride in our identity, in that which makes us different from them, is denying us an identity with our real self, which is that we are all human beings.

The power of humanity, like Freud’s concept of the “ego” stands weak against the magnificent promises of the idealised society that is geared toward satisfying desires. Nevertheless, the macro-psychological ego, or true self that is humanity, may be the most positive and constructive force we could ever possess if it were allowed to be unleashed. Its weakness does not lie in its lack of potential, but rather in its lack of visibility. The problem with humanity is that we no longer perceive it: it has become a concept like “ghosts” or “flying saucers”, something that some of us may believe in, but hardly ever talk about, lest we be judged to be crackpots for having brought the subject up.

If, like a psychoanalyser, we were to examine society for traces of its humanity, we would find that very little of it is visibly operating. The structure of everything is built on division and differentiation. We might see possibilities; that certain beliefs and feelings seem authentically “human” and that the basic drives for progress and development contain an authenticity that transcends the simple selfish ones generated by the individual’s own pride, but, in general terms, “the human” remains shadowy; in the background.

However, if our analyses were to go deeper and we were able to draw society’s attention towards its humanity within our own individual psyche, then perhaps we could undermine the pride-based system, drawing it away from its own cynically defensive view of reality and instil in it an interest in the truth about itself.

Humanity must be allowed to assume responsibility for itself. This is the basic, but ignored, principle of democracy. Humanity needs to be allowed to make human decisions; feel human feelings; and develop beliefs and goals which further humanity.

In order for this to happen, awareness must be unleashed; an awareness that can only be created through an analytic process – we must put the System on the analyst’s couch and talk to it, question it; lead it towards a consciousness of its own positive force, which is its own authenticity. No matter how selfish it seems, the System is still basically a human one, and until humanity is rediscovered, it will remain a neurotic one, gasping for air in a stagnating ocean of ubiquitous pride.

[i] K. Horney, Neuroses and Human Growth, p.162

[ii] Ibid, p. 167

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NEUROTIC PRIDE AND THE LOSS OF AUTHENTICITY

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In our post On Neurosis[i] we looked at how neurosis seeps into the very fabric of society and how the System itself encourages the illusionary reality of the neurotic. But, to what extent is our Civilisation itself neurotic?

At the macro-psychological level, we live in an economic system driven by neurotic pride and fear. Vindictive triumph runs rich in the veins of the brutally competitive, consumer-driven system. If we look at Horney’s thesis on neurosis as vindictive triumph, neurosis is described as “a regular ingredient in the search for glory.” A system that advocates competitiveness as a virtue would, therefore, contain neurotic elements. Horney also warns that “If it is the dominant motivating force in life, it sets going a vicious circle that is most difficult to disentangle. The determination then to rise above others in every possible way is so gigantic that it reinforces the whole need for glory, and with that the neurotic pride.”[ii] Hence, the virtue of striving to be an achiever contains a neurotic pathology that must make the system itself questionable.

Yet, it is not all capitalism’s fault: the vicious circle that Horney mentions has been running incessantly through the entire anti-human historical process since the dawn of civilisation.

Neurosis, or at least neurosis according to Horney’s definition[iii], is a loss of authenticity. The neurotic individual becomes so lost in the ‘shoulds’ of society that he or she loses touch with her own authentic wants and needs. Likewise, the neurotic system itself has lost sense of its primary human condition and has drowned itself in a sea of non-authentic identities based on separation: identities that create vindictive pride, and are reinforced as identities by that same vindictive pride.

But, like the neurotic, the vindictive pride that motivates the system is twisted by its authentic self; in the macro-psychological self, by humanity. Humanity is also behind the man-made system, but more as an omnipresent stranger than as a recognisable member of the system itself. Humanity is more like a spectre, haunting our System-run lives, than any real motivator of them. Nevertheless, it is omnipresently critical, working like a subconscious superego that gnaws at us and makes us feel fraudulent, unsatisfied, or even displaced in the societies we live in.

As an anti-human creation, the System suffers from a massive, ingrained inauthenticity, which in turn has a retarding effect on the System’s own desires for progress. No matter how hard it tries to push forward, it keeps circling around within itself. Without an ability to embrace its authenticity, the System is doomed to crash into the problem of self-hate. Civilisation itself is torn by a deep rift of conflict between its despised, authentic self (its humanity) and its idealised creation of itself (personified in its many different forms of identities).

Civilisation’s condition is as Horney said of the neurotic: “there is a war on. And this is the essential character of every neurotic: he is at war with himself.”[iv] Every war throughout human history has been Civilisation’s neurotic battle with itself.

 

[i] See https://pauladkin.wordpress.com/2016/08/01/on-neurosis/

[ii] K. Horney, Neurosis and Human Growth, p. 104.

[iii] Ibid

[iv] Ibid, p. 112

FEAR AND FREEDOM

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Our global, capitalist civilisation is starting to feel like a training ground in fear and freedom that could be conceived as a deliberately engineered, vicious circle of social manic-depression.

Tests carried out in the 1990s showed that there was a link between depression and compulsive buying. Fear makes us neurotic and depressed, which is good for the consumer-based economy. In this way, bad news is profitable in the long run, especially if the bad news is propagated to as many potential consumers as possible.

Living in a city policed by heavily armed guards, is depressing; but at least it protects the way out of that depression, guarding the way to the ever-open doors of our next shopping spree.

And so, Civilisation tells us: “Fear the worst, but rejoice in your freedom to shop!”

ON NEUROSIS

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For the neurotic, reality is an intrusion. The neurotic is the one who says: “Life is awful; it is so full of reality.”[i] There is a paradox here: Is the neurotic disturbed because of his or her rejection of reality, or is reality itself something that actually makes life awful, and, therefore, creates the neurotic who finds it intrusive? The neurotic lives an illusion: but that illusion is that things should be better.

From a moral perspective, the neurotic is right – things should be better. But, if this is the case, why can’t we learn from the neurotic? If we listen to the one who thinks things should be better, we might be able to see how better things can actually come about. Instead we nullify the neurotic mind, tranquilising its Utopian-born anxieties with drugs. Civilisation tells us that neurosis is a terrible illness, not a path to enlightenment.

But, how is neurosis an illness? According to Horney the neurotic’s problem is that he or she makes claims on things that they are not actually entitled to.[ii] The result is indignation.

It is here that we see how neurosis seeps into the very fabric of society; through the fantasy of entitlement, which is itself created by the ambiguity of that same entitlement that is fostered by civilisation. How far do our rights go? How extensive are our entitlements? What does our democratic freedom provide us with? Once one starts to attempt to answer these questions, one is pushing oneself ever closer toward a neurosis.

But inspiration itself is a neurosis forming phenomenon. The illusionary reality of the neurotic is encouraged by the System itself: “You deserve that car that you can’t afford, and because you deserve it we will give you the finance for it – all you have to do is pay us back with interest.” The luxury car, in the neurosis creating system, becomes a neurotic need. Of course it isn’t an authentic necessity for anyone, but the system tells us that it is.

The neurotic is a passive creature, “all the good things in life, including contentment of soul, should come to him,”[iii] and the neurosis creating society must also fabricate passivity. A passivity which is linked through neurosis with consumerism.

[i] K. Horney, NEUROSIS AND HUMAN GROWTH, p. 40

[ii] Ibid, p. 41

[iii] Ibid, p. 50