The superego

What are the functions that sets the standards, normalities, correctnesses and beauties that we consider are the 'right' ones, at a certain time, decides what is fashion, hip and politically correct? Are the answers within Psychology?

Here's Slovenian phychoanalyst and philosopher Slavoj Zizek at his wedding with his 'wife', argentinian model and literature student Analia Hounie, apparently the the daughter of a major Lacanian thinker. Zizek is a also a Lacanian and that is how I first got to know about him, as someone making the theories of Jacques Lacan understandable, by using examples from popular culture, Hollywood movies etc. Among huge amounts of articles and books he also talks about his thinking in two movies directed by Sophie Fiennes. The perverts guide to cinema where he talks human psychology and The perverts guide to ideology where he talks about ideology and psychology from his own Marxist perspective.

You might have some opinion about age difference in this picture, still I find it quite consistent to his writing and the parts that I find most interesting is that he acknowledges the fact that man is quite low and not so smart all the time. He acknowledges our human drives and can be interpreted as cynical in a sense. Today I believe he's most known for his political views. He's a Marxist and can be interpreted even as slighly totalitarian one, since he seems to approve of a certain amount of societal control. Also consequently because he does not believe we can fix the big issues like the environment, equality, social justice, rascisme etc. by ourselves. Criticists say he's trying to get away from responsibilities in life we all should carry, making an easy way out of having to care for environment, social injustices and conflicts, etc. And the answer is probably - Yes, I am, and that is because he believes we can not carry it all alone as individuals. In almost every step we take, every move we make, we step on someone's toes and trying to grasp it all would probably drive us insane. The solution for many of us is to buy some eco products, give a litle something to charity or talk some about an alternative and politically correct sprirituality and then feel content with those small actions with little impact. And that feeling of content, feeling of that you have done your part is a true danger if we want a real change to take place, but more of that in the next article, Nature the destroyer.

Following is a series of qoutes from a short, understandable and quite good book describing the thinking of Zizek; Slavoj Zizek, A graphic guide, Christopher Kul-Want & Piero

"The symbolic order is both any system of communication (such as language, discourse, a method of monetary exchange, a game or any system of signs) and the rules governing that system. "

"As An internalization of the father-figure and cultural regulations, the super-ego controls our sense of right and wrong and guilt."

"Zizek's polemical claim is that it is the Law, itself, that generates the desire for its own violation. ... When we obey the Law, we do it as part of a desperate strategy to transgress it, so the more rigorously we OBEY the Law, the more we bear witness to the fact that, deep in ourselves, we feel the pressure of the desire to indulge in sin. ... The Super-ego's feeling of guilt is therefore right: the more we obey the law, the more we are guilty, because this obidience effectively IS a defence against our sinful desire ... for every law or ideal of behaviour and conduct that exists in society, there is its implied crime or transgression (överträdelse) that is prohibited or frowned upon. "

So back to my initial question - What are the functions that sets the standards, normalities, correctnesses and beauties that we consider are the 'right' ones, at a certain time, what decides what is fashion, hip and politically correct?

Psychology and Zizek is talking about the symbolic order as any system of communication such as language, discourse, signs and that every such system has its limitations of what it can express. They are also talking about the  superego as the internal custodian of the symbolic order, the father figure and a guardian of society,s laws morals and codes of good beahaviour and proper conduct. So, we're closing up on the question here, now we know what controls us, what it is in us that makes us follow the stream, but we still don't know what makes up these morals and codes from the beginning and why we put up with this father figure.

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Inside of us we have a feeling of guilt because the Superego in many aspects speaks against our nature and this obidience to it IS a defence against our sinful desires. This may be why he refers to himself as a pervert in the movies. Is it better to be a pervert then, are you closer to your nature then? I don't think so and I don't believe Zizek does either. Maybe it's good to have this knowledge and understanding about it though. Accept the desires that we may bear within ourselves, work with them and don't feel too bad when we indulge in them in smaller amounts.

I think this also can be a reason for him seemingly accepting a certain amount of societal control. He wants to make it easier for us by removing some of the rules from our personal and moral superegos to the external laws and society. This may reduce our inner conflicts because someone else has set up the rules. The problem is WHO will set up these rules? The ones with experience and professional knowledge about the subject of each rule. But how can we guarantee that these people are the right ones doing it?

The reason why I find these thoughts interesting is maybe my subjective reading of what's considered beautiful and ugly. That is what we consider beautiful is considered as such by the superego and that the rules set up by the superego is not always in sync with our nature. So for me, acknowledging and questioning what's at first glance would be considered as ugly, unbalanced, incorrect, icky, frightening, perverted etc. is essential in my artistic practice and balancing that thin line is inspiring for me, and I often find that art that don't have a small amount of this tension between what is right -wrong, beautiful - ugly, art that does not in any way challenge at least something is quite boring.

As fast as I recognize such feeling, for instance feeling uncomfortable when meeting a person not behaving like I'm used to because he/she is coming from another culture or having an ADHD-diagnose, I find it interesting and I also think it is important that I accept my feelings because in such example it can be hard to tell what is prejudice controlled by the superego and what is my nature. And which one of them is more righteous one in each encounter? That is, what does the superego tell me to feel about the encounter and what do I really feel. Note that I certainly don't say that my true feelings are more righteous than the superego. Hopefully, mostly the other way around, the superego should be built on sound moral values while my true feelings which may be more of an egoistic, survival and desire driven nature. Sadly that is not always the case and that is why it is important to challenge the superego, to keep testing it. Because it seems as if our superego is more easy to tamper with than we are ready to admit.

As an example, If you're a racist your Superego says foreigners are bad, but your nature could in best cases be more neutral in meeting a fellow human being, foreigner, who has really done you no harm. If your an anti-racist your Super-ego might say you should hug every foreigner no matter what, because that is the politically correct thing to do, but your true self don''t really want to, because that foreigner does not behave like you're used to and that makes you uncomfortable and afraid.

Starting to sound like a preacher here, kicking in open doors maybe, but as the society seems to me go in the opposite direction with conservatism, higher borders, fear of differences, racism etc. Against stronger superegos with no open mindedness and no readyness to change. And with strong superegos comes repression of feelings which sooner or later will explode violently. It can't be wrong to preach such thoughts just a little.

Where do you want to go next?

1. Nature the destroyer


3. Objet d'art n'exist pas