Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Future of a Delusion

There is no happy wrap-up here, so good luck figuring out this snarl; I don't solve the problem, merely pose it.

Camus, in “An Absurd Reasoning,” wrote that the question that is of first importance for philosophy is whether it is worth it to continue to live. Why not suicide? What I intend to get at here is not that it is a delusion to want to continue – Camus thought suicide was a mistake. The delusion has to do with life, but, once suicide is out of the way, the question of first importance after that will come into view.

“Man never thinks so much as when he is suffering,” wrote someone who sounds wise to me. I am not “really” suffering; there will nearly always be someone who will or who will have, or who is suffering, more than any speaker; yet Alain de Botton tells us not to disparage ourselves for what suffering we do endure, nor to disparage our suffering itself as unimportant. Such is most of my suffering: mental, emotional, spiritual, rather than physical. Goethe wrote, “What are the pains of the flesh compared to the agonies of the spirit?”

My “super-ego” is typically an obnoxious drunk sitting next to me at a bar … this imaginary person spouts what passes for wisdom among the parroting thoughtless. This person always has a put-down ready. One has to be humble enough to admit one does suffer from one's problems. Suffering, to my super-ego barfly, is false: it insults their vanity. Unless you are suffering in a narrow way and more than anyone else, the idea that one is suffering is ruled out, in the ternary opposition of this subhumanizing fool. One is either “truly” suffering, which is ruled out; one is close to an unfeeling neutral (one's above having any feelings); or one is in the ecstasies of drugs or sex. Finer gradations simply don't occur or are unworthy of consideration.

My super-ego is an average fool. With a comfortable job, no commitments admitted, he or she inhabits an inane interstitial paradise of low-level intoxication, where dullness turns into supercilious know-it-all-ism. You've likely met, and detested, this person. This imaginary person, “based on actual events,” is suffering, in an insufferable way, from a delusion.

It's not as simple, here, as concluding one's own self-importance, alone, is at issue. Perhaps it is a constellation of signs and symptoms, a syndrome with multiple dimensions. It is a complex in this sense. (While I have used the psychoanalytic term, “super-ego,” I do not intend “complex” in a precise psychoanalytic sense.)

The status quo, for our super-ego companion, is simultaneously unquestionable and held up as obviously inevitable. “Obviously” – the fool will berate me if I disagree, and will treat me as if they think I am stupid. Maybe the delusion has a significant eristic component: the fool will try to “win” the conversation at any cost to reasonable thought. It is as if it is a battle not of wits but for existence. This used to be clearer when I was ten years old. Now there are too many confounding factors, and I quickly become confused in areas like this one.

The companion, stalking through my mind's recesses – popping in to irk me – seems to think I am out to get them. Out to obliterate them. It's either them or me, in a struggle of life and death. It is a Sartrean encounter: the hateful look is used to take away my status as a fellow human being. It is an attempt to destroy my subjectivity, to nullify my existence: my super-ego is trying to kill me.

My experience of this onslaught is protection against the mob. Regardless of the metaphysical status of the mob's “mentality,” there is a characteristic lowering of thought in a towering chimeric giant formed out of individuals. The “shitstorms of the Net” have their basis in mobs of bodies. I have a super-sensitive self-censor, who functions to protect me from having my subjectivity nullfied by fools, by playing the parts of them in my imagination. I am advised to stay indoors!

Where can such self-censorship lead? The “anti-psychiatrist,” R. D. Laing, wrote that we say we are pressured by “society,” but that it is we who apply the pressure upon ourselves. That's what seems to be going on here; but why apply it at all? Society. And we are society. We are part of the miasmic “society,” a popular enough villain, so often invoked whether for praise, or in dismay or outrage.

This sort of self-curbing has led to a society in which children no longer play outside unsupervised. It is better, says the chimeric super-ego, to keep them within reach and indoors. Connected to the neural-drip of the shitstorms of the Net. Safe in body and assailed in mind, in spirit. Turpitude as brain food!

Is the delusion in question the belief, that one can escape the self-censor? Or is it that one cannot (and so the censor must be obeyed)? Is it both: to escape the censor we must obey it? I think Zizek has spoken of this paradoxical trap in some way.

I have no happy ending in mind; rather, my super-ego companions are rattling my cage with their insistence on banal conclusions. And you have already known them all!

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