March 27, 2007

THE WAR WITHIN, plus the privatization of war and global inequality

Caption: Seamus McGoogle's main psychological conflict is due to his inability to break the window and get to the bird feeder.

This is the second installment of Goat Rope's official Fun With Freud Week. This means that in addition to snarky commentary and links on social justice issues, each day will highlight one aspect of ol' Sig's thoughts that are still interesting today.

(Disclaimer: El Cabrero is not a psychologist and is also fully aware that a lot of what Freud talked about not only would not hold up to scientific investigation but is on the order of science fiction. Good though.)

One idea of Freud's that I think is a keeper is the vision of people not as totally rational animals nor yet as robots conditioned by stimulus and response but rather as inherently conflicted critters.

We are divided and the different parts of ourselves do not always or even usually play nicely with each other. Much of human life consists of trying to reconcile drives and demands that aren't all that reconcilable.

He believed that not only is the human mind partly conscious and partly unconscious but that it it also divided between the id or "it" that wants what it wants when it wants it (usually RIGHT NOW!), the superego or "over-I" of internalized social norms whose job is to tell the id it can't have what it wants, and the ego or "I" that has to deal with the demands of the external world and try to mediate the demands of the other two warring factions.

Actually, this idea is way older than Freud. Plato in the fourth century BC used the analogy of the rational soul as a charioteer trying to control two very different horses, one of which is "is a lover of honor with modesty and self-control" while the other is "companion to wild boasts and indecency...shaggy around the ears--deaf as a post--and just barely yields to horsewhip and goad combined." Elsewhere Plato talks about the soul as having three parts, the rational, the spirited, and the appetitive.

St. Paul also spoke eloquently of the war within. In the Epistle to the Romans, he says

The good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do...I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. (7:19, 23)

and in Galatians

For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. (5:17)

For Freud, the war within goes on pretty much all the time, sometimes overtly and sometimes covertly. It makes human life not only tragic but interesting.

THE WAR WITHOUT. In Joseph Heller's classic Catch-22, the hyper-capitalist Milo Minderbinder says "Frankly, I'd like to see the government get out of war altogether and leave the whole field to private industry." What was once a laugh line is becoming a reality. In the April 2 issue of The Nation, Jeremy Scahill has an interesting feature on the privatization of war titled "Bush's Shadow Army."

GLOBAL INEQUALITY. A brief item in the Spring issue of Yes Magazine highlights the wealth gap on a world scale:

A new global study of personal wealth shows that the richest 2 percent of adults now own more than half of global household wealth. The study by the World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University, Helsinki was based on data from the year 2000. It showed that the richest 1 percent of adults (those worth at least $500,000) controlled 40 percent of global assets, and that the richest 10 percent of adults (those worth at least $61,000) owned 85 percent of the world total. Meanwhile the bottom half (those worth less than $2,200) together owned barely 1 percent of global wealth.


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