So I have delayed writing this, due to the uncertainty as to whether I possess the necessary intellectual dexterity. In other words – because it is hard to write. But now that I come to it – I am finding perhaps it not so hard. What’s begun is half done. It is always ‘the before’ that is hard, ‘the waiting’ for the fight to begin, for anything to begin. It asks something of you and of me, patience, poise and precision. There is pressure and hesitancy, to this I confess. What I have to share is bound to initially ruffle some feathers and not just those belonging to the Feminists.
I have something of the Dark Side of life to distribute and once again. I intend to draw back the hidden veil of the unconscious and peruse that which should not be seen – that which is forbidden, Taboo. Oh yes, we still have them. Doubt this not. From my chair, in the counselling room – I am the custodian of subjects so secret, crimes so horrific that they can be hidden even from me. The subject of today’s sojourn – is the ‘Secret Business of Men’ or more specifically – of things Masculine, but before I reveal the unspeakable, we need a short lesson in the Anatomy of the Psyche. I am going to do what I can to cut this right to the quick. Should be easy – no? No. Not easy. But worthy.
Sons of Fatherless Sons ~ The Legacy
I have noticed for a long time in my work just how many men have grown up without Fathers and how many, consequently, are deeply unsure of their power in life, their Masculinity as Men, their ability to take charge of their lives and their roles in close relationships. The Men I have worked with describe Fathers who have either left physically due to divorce or were absent for another reason, sometimes they were physically there but not really ‘plugged in’ or maybe they were there but not really committed to being part of the family. They ‘were away’ having affairs or away for work or away because they did not feel ‘able’ to be Husbands, to be Fathers. This seems like a small thing. We have been told – it is a small thing but is it? Really?
I have travelled forward and backward in time, through literature, philosophy, science and history trying to understand where this has come from, seeking to understand the wreckage, the injury, the wound and if possible find a medicine. The damage is extensive. I would like to share some thoughts I have about my discoveries. I warn you – what I have found is not for the feint hearted. I am not even sure I will be able to articulate them fully. Maybe only nod in their gruesome direction.
To begin … a brief lesson in the ‘Anatomy of the Mind’, for this is where the damage lies.
Our Self has been called many things by everyone from Mystical Spiritual Leaders, to Literature to Medical Science. It has been called “The Psyche”, “The Mind”, “The Brain”, “The Self”, “The Personality”, “The Conscious Mind”, “The Unconscious Mind”, “You”, “Me”, “I”, “The Ego”. You probably have your own words to describe if only to yourself – Who you Are. I won’t go on about this but the Psyche or the Mind has an anatomy just like any other organ in the body, but to ‘see’ it you need to use your imagination.
Instinct or ‘Negative Emotion Helps Us Survive’
Emotion and our experience of emotion is a kind of hard wired signalling system that is designed to compel us to adapt, to keep us alive. Our emotional system operates a little like the weather. It is Self Organising in nature and has the dynamics of a complex open system, meaning – it is constantly striving for homeostasis and periodically erupts in to chaos, and recreates a better structure. Lost? O.K. how about this – our experience of negative emotion is like a cattle prod, it gets our attention on some survival choices. The experience of Emotion or Instinct is part of The Unconscious Mind. We know this because, you cannot ‘make’ yourself feel a true Emotion. You can remember one though.
“I” or “You” – Otherwise Known as “The Ego”
Briefly … “You” or the part of you that identifies with “I” – you know the bit you are referring to when you say things like, “I am !@#$-ed off!” Got it? That bit is the Conscious Part of you, the part you are ‘aware of’. You might say this part is ‘Self Aware’ or said another way, “Aware of itself” but there are also parts of your being that are not self aware. You might say these bits are ‘Unconscious’.
Stuff like digestion is unconscious, breathing, ummmmm a lot emotional reactions to this and that can be Unconscious. Freud came up with this idea from studying the anatomy of the brain. It made sense to him to see the ‘Conscious’ part of the brain as being capable of directing attention and therefore better adapt to survival challenges while the ‘Unconscious’ part of the brain was responsible for all the other activities needed to support life but that happened without constant monitoring or attention.
So what you think of as “I” (or “You” if someone else is talking to ‘you’) is largely the ‘Conscious’ part of your nervous system. Agreed? – OK, moving on …
The ‘Conscious’ part of ‘You’ is only half (actually much less than half), the equation. Most of the action, that is the mechanisms that construct ‘You’, happens where the ‘sun don’t shine’, that is out of conscious awareness and control. Most activities in the body that support survival happen in the ‘Unconscious Mind’.
‘The Ego’ is essentially an attention management system that serves a helpful purpose in life, it uses emotion as a kind of survival alert system, maybe a kind of emotional navigational system to keep you alive and if possible ‘happy’ or ‘content’. You nervous system collects an enormous amount of sensory data through your five sense, it gets processed by the Unconscious part of the brain and then presents dilemmas or choices to the Conscious Mind for The Ego to determine how to respond.
You are not born with an Ego. Self awareness or awareness of yourself grows as your body grows. The Ego becomes stronger and more separate from The Unconscious Mind as you become more and more successful at being independent, independently.
The Other or ‘The One Looking at “You”/”I”/”The Ego”‘
This brings me to the second item of the Anatomy of the Psyche reviewed here today – ‘The Other’.
‘The Other’ is a kind of imaginary representation of ‘the mind of the person looking at you’. The more a particular person had to do with your survival, the more information about them will have gone in to the construction of the unique and particular ‘Other’ that exists within your Psyche or Mind.
Geographically or Anatomically – The Other is located in The Unconscious Mind, let’s say within memory banks made up of layers and layers of experience interacting with people of all different kinds.
The Other is an extremely complex concept, so I am going to invoke a little poetic license with a metaphor for speed of clarity. ‘The Other’ is a bit like a self aware camera lens. Here’s another weird idea that I am going to ask you to accept for the moment. The Ego is defined by what The Other sees. Actually – not only what ‘The Other’ sees but what ‘The Other’ desires. The Ego is a direct reflection of what The Other desires.
Quick an example. So imagine you are a small baby very vulnerable and dependent on probably your Mother for food, comfort and physical care. In order to be a continued source of interest to her, thereby ensuring your survival, remembering the role of instinct or the adaptive nature of negative emotion – you are going to feel extremely interested in controlling and or drawing her attention towards you by doing things like well crying maybe, but there are many other options.
For most people, their Mother is their first – ‘Other’. The Conscious Part of your Mind or Psyche begins to grow towards choices that control her attention and keep it fixed on you.
As you grow, you encounter other ‘Others’ as well … this bit is also a bit complex, but to continue on this psychedelic journey towards the construction of the Self, imagine all those many experience little people have socializing and exploring our world. They are curious about everything and everyone. All this exploring is collecting and building up information and storing it carefully in sensory data banks we call “memories”.
However not all the people you encounter when you are small can make sure you will survive. These people are important to you, but not as important as the ones who feed, cloth, protect, comfort sometimes and house you. You discover there are two main ‘Others’ of interest to you during those important years where your Self or Ego begins separating itself from the Unconscious Mind. These ‘Others’ are not too hard to locate, they are your Parent figure persons. Very important Others because they influence to a huge extent what happens in your environment and determine, because of your dependence, whether or not you will survive.
The Body of the Mother
Parents as persons in life, are not all the same. One is a Mother and the other … a Father. I get I am inviting the rancor of Feministas everywhere – but sisters, sit tight – wait for the ‘reveal’. However the biology of how we all arrived on Earth required a meeting of a woman and a man. I did not make these rules … just reporting them.
Mother and Father refer to the gender of respective parent, but the role they play in the construction of the Psyche is qualitatively different. The ‘Mother’ being, who theoretically at least could be a man. Maybe? Not sure the biology agrees – but it is possible in theory. Like acres of volumes have been written on this but to attempt to summarize what Mothers do in terms of the construction of The Ego … here we go.
Mothers or more specifically ‘The Body of the Mother’ provides a child, the developing Ego, with a kind of emotional barrier and comforting quilt at the same time. Children under the age of about six will instinctively seek safety and comfort by going to their Mother or Caregiver, to their body and standing near or seeking to be picked up and held. Briefly the ‘Body of the Mother’ and that particular Mother’s ability to understand what her child needs teaches the developing Ego how to listen to, interpret and act on their instinct or emotions.
The ‘Body of the Mother’ contributes greatly to the construction of ‘The Other’, which in turn, reflects – ‘The Ego’.
The Paternal Signifier or Function of The Father
There comes a time in the development of ‘The Ego’ when the ‘Body of the Mother’ alone, is not sufficient to meet the growing needs of the body for independence. The experience of Negative Emotion grows more intense as the Mother’s Body fails to provide the comfort and safety it once did. The challenges to independence become more complex socially, intellectually and even physically. This is where Fathers and the Function of Fathers come in.
The Father person plays a very important role in the construction of The Ego. They do not necessarily need to be male, in theory, but … they often are male. There’s lots that can be and has been said about this but briefly, the Father assists The Ego separate from the Body of the Mother. Said another way, The Father helps the Ego adapt to the environment outside the field of influence of ‘The Body of the Mother’.
The Mother’s Body is the first environment the emerging Ego learns to adapt to successfully but her body is not sufficiently diverse to ensure survival in to adulthood. The Ego needs more informative maps, such as how to navigate the complex social world in which human beings live and more importantly, how to be powerful or said another way – independent, survive.
The Father starts out being a person, who is also a repository of knowledge about culture, philosophy, religion, the law but ends up become a symbol or a signifier for many other kinds of knowledge and information, such as – how we do things in the world? How do we hunt? And Survive? There are many’maps’ and skills the Father needs to teach.
The Father Function or Paternal Signifier refers to that which makes it possible for The Ego to separate from ‘The Body of the Mother’. The Other is the organ of the Psyche that kind of starts with a template of ‘The Body of the Mother’ then ads to this the experiences with ‘The Paternal Signifier’ and creates ‘The Ego’. A healthy ‘Ego’ is then capable of responding to instinct adaptively and repeating the cycle with their own children.
All Good? Sounds fine. OK. So – What’s the problem?
What happens when … there is no Father or the Father is … somewhere else? Or when say, a significant event in history dramatically changed the way Men did ‘man’ or Masculinity, such as … World War I and World War II. Let me come back to that …
Have you looked around at our culture with a critical eye recently? Do you like what you see? How about, do you like what you feel? Do you feel welcomed, safe, valued in your work place? In your family? By your children? By your parents? Your friends? Do you feel cared for? Understood? Do you feel connection with the people around you or do you feel afraid?
I cannot say exactly what is causing this, nor can I produce data to show you how widespread what I am about to report is but I can say – the Culture that is emerging all around us seems to be defined by soft traumas and silent abuses of all kinds. Many people are being bullied and traumatized at work and are unable to protect or assert themselves even though assertive communication skills are taught. Women appear to be targeting other women and the concept of relating or caring for each other has all but disappeared. I dimmly remember a culture from my childhood where Women were more kind, supportive and understanding but I cannot find any evidence of such a culture, anywhere. There is an absence of leadership that is so subtle, no one notices it until they need a dose of justice, stability, guidance. These things are the traditional domain of the Paternal Signifier, The Father Function and it creates stability – helpful if you want to survive as a group.
What’s happened to The Paternal Signifier, why so wobbly? No sure, but here’s a thought. The World Wars took out two consecutive generations of men, the bravest, healthiest, most capable able bodied men. They returned to their families and communities, if they returned at all – suffering from symptoms of PTSD. They experienced negative emotion alright, in the form of constantly being threatened, seeing their friends killed but were unable to adapt. Trauma being traumatized means that their nervous system was unable to cope and they did not recover. They returned to their communities, if they did return, with trauma symptoms in the form of rage, dissociation, substance use, inability to communicate their experiences, flash backs when awake and asleep. No one speaks of this. It is Taboo.
There is more. I will say this briefly, and leave these thoughts with you. They need time to digest. The Paternal Signifier is partly represented by our culture, that is, the squillions of rules, behaviours, attitudes, beliefs and practices that keep our culture, any culture – going. If that Paternal Signifier begins to look a lot like Trauma, then at least two things happen. Firstly the culture that emerges begins to be defined by Violence and practices that support Violence as an acceptable way to interact with each other. Secondly, The Ego does not separate from ‘The Body of the Mother’. A wobbly or absent Paternal Signifer creates a kind of deformed Ego, which cannot adapt to the environment outside The Body of the Mother. It creates a kind of psychosis!
What does this mean? If the Ego, does not encounter a strong Paternal Signifier that facilitates the separation and development towards independence – it will still feel the frustration and irritation with The Body of the Mother when it is finally time to test its wings but … The Ego will not ‘leave the nest’, will not separate.
Think Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ and Ellis’s ‘American Psycho’ – Norman Bates refuses to relinquish his mother even in death where as we never hear about Patrick Bateman’s mother just the failure of his female conquests to gratify. He expresses his rage at this, by murdering woman after woman. Psychoanalysis views all violent crime as a crime against ‘The Body of the Mother’ for failing to provide a strong enough Paternal Signifier!
I remember reading the final paragraphs of American Psycho living in my flat in St Kilda, in my 20’s at about 2:00am and I am just now scouring my book shelves to find the offending paragraphs. I see I have loaned it. Bugger! Bret Easton Ellis delivered a literary coup de gras in his final words which I will attempt to replicate from memory. Ellis has carried you along, allowed you a comfortable emotional distance between your Psyche and that of his central sociopath Patrick Bateman until the final words of the novel. In Brechtian tone, Ellis charges your Self with the crime of accepting the terms of survival offered by a culture that values a human being based on the label sewn in to the neckline of a shirt. That is, you are every bit one with the Mind you have travelled through – you are a Sociopath Your-Self!
Either that or he is imploring ‘The Other’ to transform they way they see him and the world. I threw my copy across the room and was so disturbed – I had to phone a friend. But they were all ‘asleep’.
This idea is intricate – but it speaks to the need for a Masculinity Revolution. Take it either out of The Shed or back to The Shed but … leadership is needed, remaking our culture is needed. If it does not happen, … nothing will change.
It is likely, there is more to say on this. Peace. Out.