Thursday, February 21, 2013

Identity, between the psychic and the discursive

Hegemonic discourses always compete to hook up on and exploit the invisible, yet mighty powerful, psychic forces of individual. Once internalised, those discourses become Bourdieusian doxas informing our habitus: in plain English, values that determine our behaviour. 

What needs to be made visible is how that hooking actually works. Many seem to be able to intuite that and it is sort half-recognised in the domain of common public knowledge: e.g., how advertising uses sex to see nearly everything. 

Commercial advertising, however, is a recent contender to manipulate our lives to its ends, we are more easily aware of its attempts. More established human life energy abusers become perceived as Weberian traditional authority: thus, for example, we believe that the Queen has an inherent undeniable right to rule Britannia "because it has always been so". The fact that her people arrived not such a long time ago from Germany seems to bypass any kind of rational conscious. An invented tradition is only legitimised once it internalised on the subconscious, "irrational" level.

Members of Parliament and other elected power-contenders have a bit tougher run for their money, as we only accept their right to rule us, once they are elected. Their rational authority still needs a bit of conscious persuasion. So we are invited to rationalise: well, since it is us who elected them, we need to put with them no matter what, it was our choice after all.  The fact that, say, Obama was elected by just over one half (51%) of the voting age population (80%) who bothered to come and vote (57.5%), means that essentially he was voted in by about 21% of the population (65,899,660 out of 313,914,040). To make us oblivious to that simple maths a whole fantasmagoric rigmarole has been invented and enforced.

Once we have been tricked into  giving legitimacy to "the democratic election", our assumption that once they are in power they will "take care of us" is again utterly irrational. It is the same projection of a father-figure sentiment that Freud (1927) insisted lied at the heart of every religion. However, we go to the voting polls in complete confidence that we are acting as rational human beings (cf. the Homo economicus myth that so many of us buy into  together with economists' explanations for the strategies used to govern our lives). Thus notwithstanding what Spencer (1970:129) argues about democratic being a value-rational type of authority, a closer look reveals that it is, in fact, but a face-value-rational authority.

Charismatic authority, irrational by default, hooks us up on the psychological mechanisms of group socialisation that can be based on staggeringly spurious criteria (Elliot 1968, Tajfel 1970). Ben Anderson's (1990) observation that charisma does not travel across borders can be explained exactly by the fact that  it is projected onto a group: in case of nations, one imagined within certain linguistic-geographic borders, thus using the same subconscious mechanisms responsible for group dynamic and ultimately instrumental in our collective survival as a species. 

As “identity is constructed at the point of intersection ('suture') between external discourses and practices and the internal psychic processes that produce subjectivities” (Hall 1996), whoever controls the discourse will hold the strings tied to the powerful forces in your subconscious. When that relationship is not consciously recognised, the subjectivity is but a marionette jerked around in the Foucauldian "nexus of knowledge and power", and the individual agency is but an illusion. It is the individual effort to disentangle themselves from those strings that can bring true liberation, not the Marxist kind of mass salvation from alienation.

(Some Wikipedia articles have been cited above for the sake of a more popular appeal. More academically inclined readers can easily track down the original peer-reviewed sources, should they wish so.)

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