‘Sin your way to heaven and get slaughtered: A byzantine general problem of the self’ (part six)

Filed under:Sin your Way to Heaven and get Slaughtered — posted by Schizostroller on April 30, 2018 @ 11:13 pm

In the last article we ended with ‘active ignoring’. I now want to introduce ‘priming’. Referring back to the first article on E.H. Gombrich and pareidolia, Reisberg notes the theoretical proposal on ‘priming’: “We perceive most easily, and most effectively, when we are prepared for the upcoming stimulus” (p.85) – to select an input we prepare for it. “Obviously we don’t prepare for distractors as we don’t want to perceive these, so we have a mechanism that is the inverse of ignoring: to ignore, our action focuses on the distractor stimuli – we block them, while we don’t block the desired input. Preparation, in contrast, does the reverse: The action is focused on the desired inputs, not the distractors. We take steps to facilitate the perception of the former, while we don’t take those steps for the distractors”.
This covers a certain amount of issues of focus and concentrated perception, including ‘leakage’. One does not perceive the contents of the unattended channel , but, what if the unattended channel contains your name? Your detectors are well primed for this. The same goes for fire alarm training and rehearsals. And inverse the same structure goes for stage rehearsals for a play. But what of other priming, for example its relation to anxiety, exploited by the famous underworld ‘game’, the Jesus Con (as mentioned in the TV series Sneaky Pete, sung about (the process, although not mentioned by name) by the band NoMeansNo on the album Small Parts Isolated and Destroyed, where someone is gas lighted into breakdown, and then another member of the con-team comes in to ‘save’ them). And does this behaviour ideologically relate to the Shock Doctrine and austerity? And what effect does that have on mental health. Is it really all just subjective paranoia? To be saved by the more individualistic and self-disciplinary recovery methods, the contemporary ‘Kill or Cure’ of EP Thompson’s 18th century Methodist.
We are minded here of the first article’s reference to Freud’s theory of anxiety. I wrote that: “Freud argues that anxiety is an affective state “that is to say, a combination of certain feelings in the pleasure-unpleasure series with the corresponding innervations of discharge and a perception of them” (p.113). He distinguishes realistic anxiety from neurotic anxiety. In realistic anxiety we have an increase in sensory attention and motor tension and a sense of preparedness for flight or flight that will can be limited to a signal (triggered by repetitions of old traumas) allowing the remainder to adapt itself to the situation. There are three types of neurotic anxiety, the first a free floating general apprehensiveness; secondly ‘phobias’; the third that can emerge independently as an attack or more persistent state, “but always without any visible basis in an external danger” (p.114).” What kind of climate do sanctions, ‘brown envelope syndrome’, the recent rulings on PIP and ‘agoraphobia’ due to the unbalanced prejudice towards mental health that the PIP is seen as embodying, the UN council’s ruling on the treatment of disability, the Bedroom Tax, create with regards ‘external danger’, yet in a world saturated with media imagery of the ‘underserving benefit claimant’, DBT for Personality Disorder, the Layard report that has led to recommendations of CBT for even psychosis? A world where complaining of such threats is seen as ‘unrealistic’ by mental health professionals who for the increasingly strictured work environment and their long term careers would rather not (at least amongst some/ enough) acknowledge. Where homeless death is on the increase such dynamics are closer to a ‘vital’ relationship with finitude and threat for people already suffering severe mental health issues than under other economic and social policy environments, where those sanctioned include large numbers of people struggling with mental health issues, and a large number of those homeless also having mental health issues. The issue is not one solely based on self-neglect. During the rest of the next couple of articles I shall relate government technologies to the actions of the Superego. In his book the Introductory lectures on Psychoanalysis Freud describes the Superego as follows: “The superego applies the strictest moral standard to the helpless ego which is at its mercy; in general it represents the claims of morality, and we realise all at once that our moral sense of guilt is the expression of the tension between the ego and the super-ego” (p.92). He comes to the idea of the Superego through encountering mental patients who struggle with the phantasy of being observed, “they complain to us that perpetually, and down to their most intimate actions, they are being molested by the observation of unknown powers – presumably persons – and that in hallucinations they hear these persons reporting the outcome of their observations… Observation of this sort is not yet the same thing as persecution, but it is not yet far from it; it presupposes that people distrust them, and expect to catch them carrying out forbidden actions for which they would be punished. How would it be if these insane persons were right, if in each of us there is present in his ego an agency like this which observes and threatens to punish, and which in them has merely become sharply divided from their ego and mistakenly displaced into external reality?” (p.90). The onus is on me in the next few articles to make solid the connection with ideology, but let me first point out Peter Miller and Nikolas Rose’s theory of technologies of government and action at a distance.
“’Government’, of course, is not only a matter of representation. It is also a matter of intervention. The specificity of governmentality, as it has taken shape in ‘the West’ over the last two centuries, lies in this complex interweaving of procedures for representing and intervening. We suggest that these attempts to instrumentalise government and make it operable also have a kind of ‘technological’ form. If political rationalities render reality into the domain of thought, these ‘technologies of government’ seek to translate thought into the domain of reality, and to establish ‘in the world of persons and things’ spaces and devices for acting upon these entities of which they dream and scheme.” (p.32).
Freud, after noting the experience of the paranoid mental patients formed the idea that ‘the separation of the observing agency from the rest of the ego might be a regular feature of the ego’s structure’ (p.91). “The content of the delusions of being observed already suggests that the observing is only a preparation for judging and punishing, and we accordingly guess that another function of this agency must be what we call our conscience. There is scarcely anything else in us that we so regularly separate from our ego and so easily set over against it as precisely our conscience. I feel the inclination to do something that will give me pleasure, but I abandon it on the ground that my conscience does not allow it. Or I have let myself be persuaded by too great an expectation of pleasure into doing something to which the voice of conscience has objected and after the deed my conscience punishes me with distressing reproaches and causes me to feel remorse for the deed. I might simply say that the special agency which I am beginning to distinguish in the ego is conscience. But it is more prudent to keep the agency as something independent and to suppose that conscience is one of its functions and that self-observation, which is an essential preliminary to the judging activity of conscience, is another of them. And since when we recognise that something has a separate existence we give it a name of its own, from this time forward I will describe this agency in the ego as the ‘super-ego’.” (p.91).
Miller and Rose suggest that with regard ‘technologies of government’, “we use the term ‘technologies’ to suggest a particular approach to the analysis of the activity of ruling, one which pays great attention to the actual mechanisms through which authorities of various sorts have sought to shape, normalise and instrumentalise the conduct, thought, decisions and aspirations of others in order to achieve the objectives they consider desirable.” (p.32)
Freud looks to the origins of the ‘super-ego’ he says, “even if conscience is something ‘within us’, yet it is not so from the first. In this it is a real contrast to sexual life, which is in fact there from the beginning of life and not only a later addition. But, as is well known, young children are amoral and possess no internal inhibitions against their impulses striving for pleasure. The part which is later on taken by the super-ego is played to begin with by an external power, by parental authority. Parental influence governs the child by offering proofs of love and by threatening punishment which are signs to the child of loss of love and are bound to be feared on their own account. This realistic anxiety is the precursor of later moral anxiety. So long as it is dominant there is no need to talk of a super-ego and of a conscience. It is only subsequently that the secondary situation develops (which we are all too ready to regard as the normal one), where the external restraint is internalised and the super-ego takes the place of the parental agency and observes, directs and threatens the ego in exactly the same way as earlier the parents did with the child. The super-ego, which thus takes over the power, function and even the methods of the parental agency, is however not merely its successor but actually the legitimate heir of its body” (p.92-93)[italics my own]. Freud goes on to note though that the severity of the super-ego does not stem solely from the disciplinary parenting, although it does seem to take the disciplinary, punitive aspects, even when ostensibly and for the most part the home circumstances were a loving, caring one.
Miller and Rose try to point out that in their discussion of ‘technologies of government’, they are not talking solely of ‘totally administered societies’. But in fact from the nineteenth century, the problem for liberal democracies became one of ‘governing a territory and population that were independent realities with inherent processes and forces’. “With the emergence of such an idea of ‘society’, the question became ‘How is government possible? That is, what is the principle of limitation that applies to governmental actions such that things will occur for the best, in conformity with the rationality of government and without intervention’ (Foucault in Miller and Rose)” (p.33).
for this reason Miller and Rose look to the ‘indirect’ mechanisms of rule in liberal democracies, that is ‘those that have enabled, or have sought to enable government at a distance’. In order to conceptualise this, Miller and Rose look to the theories of ‘action at a distance’ of Bruno Latour. This concept relates to “the complex mechanisms through which it becomes possible to link calculations in one place with action at another, not through the direct imposition of a form of conduct by force, but through a delicate affiliation of a loose assemblage of agents into a functioning network. This involves alliances formed not only because one agent is dependent on another for funds, legitimacy or some other resource which can be used for persuasion or compulsion. It is also because one actor comes to convince another that their problems or goals are intrinsically linked, that their interests are consonant, that each can solve their difficulties or achieve their ends by joining forces or working along the same lines. This is not so much appealing to mutual interests as… the construction of allied interests through persuasion, intrigue, calculation or rhetoric… one actor or force is able to require or count upon a particular way of thinking and acting from another… Hence persons, organisations, entities and locales which remain differentiated by space, time and formal boundaries can be brought into loose, approximate and always mobile and indeterminate alignment. Language, again, plays a key role in establishing these loosely aligned networks, and in enabling rule to be nrought about in an indirect manner.” (p.34).

Freud, Sigmund – 2: New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1975) Pelican
Miller, Peter and Rose, Nikolas – Governing The Present (2008) Polity
Reisberg, Daniel – Cognition (1997) Norton
Thompson, E. P. – The Making of the English Working Class (1984) Pelican

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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace